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Thursday, November 13, 2014

$100 Proof of Concept Month

I set out to prove our Thrifty Month in a real-life experiment. "Haven't you done this before?" you might rightfully ask. Well, that's a darn fine question and the truth is that I'm not terribly great at sticking with anything or following rules so we had pretty much followed it and I based the meal plan off what we actually ate one month, but I wasn't able to say with certainty that we hadn't cheated.

First, my definition of what I mean by a $100 month is that two adults and two roughly 13 year old children can eat three meals and about two snacks per day without being hungry. This is not enough to make you stuffed every day, but also isn't so little that you have to go to bed hungry. This means 120 breakfasts, 120 lunches, 120 dinners, and about 200 snacks, loosely using the following breakdown of food cost per meal:

breakfast - $5
lunch - $33
dinner - $47
snacks - $15

What I found was that I had cheated more than I thought I did and current prices had changed a bit, but, overall I claim 90% success. If you knew there was really no more food coming, you would need to eat some smaller portions some days than we did and perhaps add a few more dollars (to make up for the meals we ate out) but it would absolutely work in an emergency month.

In our case, this was not an emergency situation and we did eat out several times so a true meal count didn't happen. We had a very busy month where we were out of the house a lot for a variety of reasons and while that isn't a great excuse, it is what it is. Here is that breakdown:

  • 2 Colton's (leftovers added to bean dip and muffins) - We had a fundraiser for Project Graduation one night and just went to see daddy one day. *4 dinners, 4 lunches*
  • 2 hot dogs and 2 pretzels at concession stands for Kolbi and Lucille - It is really hard to sell things and not eat them... *1.5 dinners*
  • 1 small pizza for Doug and Kolbi - late night munchies :-) *2 snacks*
  • Volleyball banquet - We took a salsa potato side dish, but ate a whole meal *3 dinners*
  • Pantry meeting at Panera for Kolbi and Lucille *1.5 lunches*
  • Big kids ate at Culver's for Student Council fundraiser *2 dinners*
  • Chick-fil-A for everyone while we were cleaning our rental house for the new tenants.  *4 dinners*
  • Pizza for everyone - A new place opened around the corner, how could I say no, seriously? *4 dinners*

Totals: 18.5 dinners (15% or $7.05), 2 snacks (1% or 15¢), 5.5 lunches (5% or $1.65) or generously $10 would need to be added to make up for all the meals eaten out.

In order to make sure I didn't cheat by using things not on the list, I removed all the food other than the spices and condiments from the kitchen.

I did all the shopping for the month in one trip to avoid any temptation to buy extra, with the exception of half the bananas and a loaf of bread because they wouldn't still be good by the end of the month.

I will admit to cheating by adding 1/4 pound of bacon ($2.29 for the whole pound) to some black bean and potato soup. It turned out so well I added it to the latest version of the print book. It would have still been good without it, I'm sure, but I had a craving so I caved and splurged on 57¢ worth of bacon .

More cheating:  I let Paige keep some frozen fruit and flax seed that she uses for smoothies (about 3 cups of mixed fruit, plus she used 3 bananas that were on the list.) I also increased the amount of flour and added vegetable oil and apples to the original list printed in previous versions of the book, but added them to the updated grocery list (below) and it still was close enough to $100 (before tax) that I think it counts.

Paige and Doug were each sick for two days so they didn't eat much those days.

I didn't follow the meal plan exactly because some days we simply felt like something else, but I didn't buy any more food, just used it differently. I consider this an acceptable deviation.

Updated grocery list:

flour (10 lb)
baking powder
milk (1 gal)
eggs (3 dz)
old fash oats (2)
brown sugar
olive oil
vegetable oil
bouillon cubes
sugar (4 lb)

tomato sauce (32 oz)
tomato paste
can diced tomatoes (4/14 oz)
can crushed tomatoes (2/28 oz)
carrots (2 lb)
celery (1 stalk)
onions (3 lb)
potatoes (5 lb)
bananas (20)
apples (12)
green bell pepper (4)
sandwich bread (2)

can chili beans (3)
can pumpkin
can tuna (2)
refried beans

frozen mix veg (32 oz)
CA blend veg (60 oz)
frozen corn (16 oz)
frozen peas (16 oz)
whole chicken (3/4-5 lb)
rice (3 lb)
lentils (1 lb)
penne pasta (2 lb)
elbow pasta (2 lb)
spaghetti (1 lb)
dried beans (6 lb)
peanut butter
tortilla chips
jar alfredo sauce
crackers (3 boxes)

So what does that amount of food look like? More than I expected, honestly;

The middle shelves (with the toaster and wine glasses) hold my spices. I admit that not everyone would have quite as many as I do, but I don't feel like I need to add any to the grocery list as most people would have enough to make do and I did include chicken bouillon and salt.

The beer and wine shown are obviously not in the grocery list. The things shown that I did not list that we used are pickle relish, margarine (one tub of regular and one tub with garlic added), and two eggs that were left in the carton. It should be noted that only one half gallon of soy milk is shown, but the grocery list is made with one gallon of cow's milk. In actuality, we used about three quarter's gallon of soymilk (there is some in the door.) These items are also found in the door of the fridge: mayo, ketchup, two kinds of mustard, syrup, sriracha, barbecue sauce, worcestershire sauce and soy sauce.  

And the receipt to prove it:

One question that may come up is, "what did we do with all that flour?" We are certainly not gluten free, everyone in the house absolutely loves bread. Ten pounds is equal to about 38 cups, and this is how we used it:

  • 4 batches of muffins: 2 pumpkin, 1 banana, 1 sweet potato (1 1/2 c each)
  • 1 batch banana pancakes (2 c)
  • 2 batches scrambled pancakes with sugar glaze (yeah, it's not a health food, sorry) (1 1/2 c each)
  • 3 batches of biscuits (2 c each)
  • 2 pot pies with biscuit topping (2 c each)
  • 2 batches of tortillas (2 c each)
  • 1 loaf bread (4 c)
  • mini pizzas (3 c)
  • 16 cinnamon rolls and 16 dinner rolls (5 c)

We did end up with some extra food that came to us for free:

  • 1 biscuit mix from The Pantry (2 partial spilled bags that couldn't be used there)
  • 1 small head broccoli from a community garden
  • 5-10 cherry tomatoes from our garden (we actually harvested a lot more than that, but diced and froze them for after this month, these were the ones we snacked on while dicing)
  • several bunches of fresh basil from garden used for a pesto-like dip and pasta
  • about 2 cups pasta salad from church
  • sandwich size ziploc of raw carrots, celery, and broccoli from church
  • One pint salsa verde from our garden
  • Halloween candy

What is left over after our month? Not a lot as you may suspect:
  • over half a can of baking powder
  • about 1 pound of shortening
  • 4 bouillon cubes
  • about 2 pounds of sugar
  • 1 cup of oats
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • about 2 cups vegetable oil

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cheap and Easy Decorating - Towels

Sometimes I make updates that make a huge difference and I wonder what the heck took me so long to do it. I am challenging myself to try to make the house look less like a single 24 year old man lives here and more like adults with jobs and such. I've even employed (in the free type of employment) my lovely cousin, Jaimi, who has a terrific sense of style but is also frugal to help me out. She was here for 15 minutes before fixing the entry area that Doug and I have been trying to figure out for a year (pictures of that soon.)

Today's post, though, is about towels. I have always been of the opinion that if a towel absorbs water after you bathe, then it is a keeper, regardless of its appearance. I finally decided to upgrade the towels and even coordinate with our new bathroom. We had four nice brown towels that were a gift and four pretty decent white towels that I actually bought here and there, but the brown didn't really match the gray and black bathroom. It did match the kids' upstairs blue, green, and brown shower curtain, so they got the brown and two of the white. I kept two of the white and bought some new green bath towels and even a matching rug and hand towels, like a grown up! I was amazed at what a difference it made. The kicker is that I actually got rid of the crappy towels (turned them into rat bedding) so I am not tempted to use them. Wanna see a picture?

So much better, right? And that, to be perfectly honest, isn't what the towels normally looked like before, they were much more, umm freeform in their placement. What did this big decorating event cost? Millions of dollars, probably since I spend so long putting it off... Or, by shopping at Kohl's 60% off rack, $7.50 each for the big, luxurious bath towels, $6 for all four hand towels, and $10 for the softest rug I've ever felt. $46 total, plus I have a card that gets me 15% off plus they were having a special that gave me $10 in Kohl's cash to use later. So, a grand total of $33 to look like I'm some sort of put together. Crazy.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Basil Avocado Spread/Dip

I have a lot of basil growing right now. A LOT of basil. I love basil, thankfully, but you can only have tomato basil pasta and pesto so many times before you start looking for other avenues. This is a "throw everything that I need to use up today into the bowl" recipe and it turned out wonderfully.

Basil Avocado Spread/Dip

1 cup basil leaves
1 ripe avocado
1 small tomato
1/4 cup onion
1 large clove garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
s/p to taste

Throw it all into the food processor or blender and process until it is a smooth as you like. Tip - change the basil to cilantro, the lemon to a lime, add a jalapeno and you get a great guacamole.

I toasted some crusty bread slices in olive oil and served it as a spread for dinner last night and today ate it with tortilla chips, both ways were delightful!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Flushable Cleaning Wipe?

I am a lousy housekeeper. I keep thinking that at some point I will get it all together, but... So, anyway, I see people using the Clorox Wipe-type products and I see the appeal, but just can't get behind disposable chemical crap. There are some wipes that use essential oils and non-toxic liquid, but that still leaves the wipe itself. I checked every package our Target had and they ALL say, "Do Not Flush." So I came home and did a little research and found that these wipes, paper towels, ultra-plush toilet paper, and even the new "flushable wipes" are causing problems for sewage treatment plants to the tune of millions of dollars in new shredding machines and repairs to fix clogged and damaged pipes.

A study by the Portland Water District in Maine in 2011 analyzed what was causing clogs in their sewer pipes and came up with this analysis:
— 42 percent paper products, including paper towels
— 24 percent baby wipes
— 17 percent hygiene products, including feminine pads and tampons
— 8 percent "flushable" wipes
— Remainder, other items, including household wipes, cosmetic pads and medical materials.

My mission was to create a flushable wipe that didn't have any nasty chemicals on it that would break down in a reasonable amount of time to satisfy hippy-me and conventional-me. Basically, I failed. Any wipe that is sturdy enough to hang out in cleaning solution waiting for you to use it, is too sturdy to go into the septic or sewer system. Makes sense, right?

Here is my 18 hour dissolve test paper towel vs toilet paper:
Definitely not sewer safe.

But, this wasn't a total failure, I did make a wipe that cleans and disinfects naturally, is easy to use, and inexpensive. It would also "probably" be compostable, but only in a healthy, thriving compost system because the tea tree oil could potentially kill the healthy microbes in the pile.

Now, after the longest intro ever:

Wipes (2 packages):

1 roll single-ply paper towels (I used Bounty Basic Select-a-Size)
2 gallon zip top bags
1 t dish soap
2-3 T Borax (there is some confusion about the safety of Borax, rest assured, it is fine, ask Crunchy Betty)
10-20ish drops essential oil/s (see note*)

Use a serrated knife to cut the roll of paper towels in half. Remove the center tube (some will just slide out, some need to be convinced). In each zip top bag, put a few drops of dish soap, 1-2 T Borax, 5-10 drops oils, and about a cup of water  and shake it all up:

Pull up the very center towel a little and then place the whole roll in the bag. Add a little more water if they aren't saturated and dump out if there is a lot of excess (the amount varies based on the type of towels):

To dispense, just pull one at a time out from the center of the roll.

 *Note - I use tea tree in the bathroom and a combination of tea tree and peppermint in the kitchen because we have an ant issue right now and ants hate peppermint. I recommend always using tea tree because it is antimicrobial and will keep your wipes from mildewing and disinfect whatever surface you use them on. Lavender also does this to a slightly lesser degree, so is another option. Some citrus would be nice as well, just customize to your heart's content.

I bought a package of 8 rolls (on sale for $7 for 103 sheet rolls) because we have a business where the health department requires us to use paper towels, so I could but the extras there; otherwise it would have made more sense to buy a single pack even if it costs a bit more per roll just to avoid storing all those paper towels. This recipe costs around $0.50 per package, but no matter what towels you choose, this is waaaaay cheaper than buying wipes.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Recipe of the Day-ish 9 Enchiladas

Don't be a chicken! I think the biggest reason why I know how to cook is so simple. I'm not afraid to fail. I try things and sometimes they aren't great. I have cooked often enough to be able to salvage most meals even if they aren't exactly what I envisioned.

Today, I tried something new and it turned out pretty darn good. :-) I have made enchiladas a lot of times but I always buy the canned enchilada sauce. Thanks to the lovely internet, I found this recipe: Ten Minute Enchilada Sauce and found that I had enough of the ingredients to try (also, I know that self-rising flour is just flour with baking powder and salt, so could substitute). I also did it in the microwave because I was hungry and ten minutes seemed like a lot of minutes.

I had some rice and beans and also some refried bean dip in the fridge so I mixed those together, warmed them in the microwave and wrapped them in a tortilla, covered them in the sauce and threw it in the oven for about ten minutes. Delish!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Recipe of the Day-ish 8 - Stretching Chicken

When I recommend to people that they eat chicken thighs and leg quarters (because they are juicy and delicious!) I realized that I forget to tell them *how* to eat them.

First, why should you stretch the chicken?
Meat Consumption
"Let's start here: Average Americans eat WAY too much meat, in my opinion, and I am in pretty good company in that opinion. Nearly every organization that deals with health and nutrition agrees that a serving of meat should be between two and four ounces and some groups think even less! I wrote a whole post about it :-)"

So how do we meet those recommendations most days? Taking what appear to be single serving size pieces and turning them into family servings:
Look, two thighs= two servings, right?

Yum, two delicious servings...

But wait! When you take the meat off the bone, it magically turns into enough for a family!

Bonus, you get bones and skin to make a small pot of crock pot stock!

Look! 2 cups of rice, 16 ounces of frozen vegetables, and about 1 1/2 pounds of cooked chicken (about 2 cups). Six - eight very hearty servings!

So good!

So, go forth and stretch your chicken!

Meat Consumption - Seriously Americans?

 Let's start here: Average Americans eat WAY too much meat, in my opinion, and I am in pretty good company in that opinion. Nearly every organization that deals with health and nutrition agrees that a serving of meat should be between two and four ounces and some groups think even less!

Go to most American restaurants (including ones I love!) and you will not find ANY meat options that fall within the recommended guidelines. Even the kids' menu items usually have more meat than is recommended for an adult portion! No one can possibly feel good after eating a 16 ounce steak? Right? A pound of meat in one sitting! Even the "dainty" portion of a half pound is so much. Do I do it sometimes? Yup. Do I feel sluggish and a little icky after? Yup.

American Health Association
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans and Nuts: 2 to 3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry or fish; 1/2 cup cooked dry beans; or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter.

San Francisco Chronicle
Consuming around 46 grams of protein per day if you're female and 56 grams per day if you're male will meet your protein needs, whether you get your protein from meat or from plant sources. A 3-ounce portion of meat contains 21 to 24 grams of protein. Three 3-ounce meat servings per day would supply all your protein needs, but this much meat could include a large amount of saturated fat, which could increase your risk of heart disease.


There is a ton of awesome info here, including a nifty calculator for how much you should eat a day (mine is below), but their total protein recommendation is between 4 and 6.5 ounces PER DAY!

Daily Food Plan

Eat these amounts from each food group daily. This plan is a 1800 calorie food pattern. It is based on average needs for someone like you. (A 39 year old female5 feet 3 inches tall, 135 pounds, physically active less than 30 minutes a day.) Your calorie needs may be more or less than the average, so check your weight regularly. If you see unwanted weight gain or loss, adjust the amount you are eating.
6 ounces
2.5 cups
1.5 cups
3 cups
Protein Foods
5 ounces

Harvard School of Public Health

I like these even more than the government guidelines and the website is super.


Because I talk so much about food cost, it is easy to assume that I eat less meat to save money. The truth is that it is a happy accident that eating healthier is also cheaper. Plus, I can spend more money on beautiful vegetables if I'm spending less on gooky meat. :-) Most of the recipes I make have either beans as the protein or about 3 ounces of meat, usually chicken. Even Paige, who is definitely my biggest meat fan is satisfied with those portions.