Last Updated November 7th, 2008

Bake Bread – Free Fun Friday

This is something my kids love to do. Mostly we just use the bread machine, as kneading bread dough is a lot of work, but the final shaping is done by hand because I don’t like the shape of loaf that my machine makes.

To me this is somewhat better than free, once you have a bread machine. You’ll save money on bread and know exactly what you put into it. Bread has gone up in price in the past year or so. Homemade bread can be very cheap to make.

It can even be something of a science experiment. Yeast can be interesting to watch grow over a few hours. You can make your own starter for sourdough… although that takes a number of days. It’s easy to get the kids involved in checking on and feeding the starter. I wouldn’t suggest having it replace the family pet, of course.

Don’t forget the delightful smell of bread baking. It’s a great way to make the house smell wonderful too.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

Last Updated October 21st, 2008

Saving Money By Buying Whole Chicken

We’re still on a really tight budget here. There’s just so much to recover from after my husband was out of work for so long. I don’t exactly trust to the stability of his new job either, as it’s in the travel industry. Not exactly prime for this kind of economy.

One thing I do right now is to buy whole chicken, rather than just boneless or bone-in parts. The initial cooking can take a bit of extra effort, but the savings makes it well worthwhile. Sale prices on the whole chickens are less than sale prices on the various parts.

Thank goodness whole doesn’t include head or feet, though! Not quite ready to deal with that much.

One chicken means several meals. The first one is your basic roasted chicken. My favorite is a slow roasted variety that takes about 5 hours in the oven. Not something to do on a really hot day, even though the temperature is low. The chicken is rubbed all over with seasonings, stuffed with garlic and/or onions, and cooked at 250 degrees F. Comes out very tender.

The leftovers are currently sufficient for dinner a second night, although I don’t expect that trend to last much longer, as the kids are getting bigger. But they can also be used for lunches. Leftover chicken goes great in salads, for example.

Next comes the homemade chicken soup. I don’t necessarily make this right away; the leftovers go just fine in the freezer so I can save them for when the weather is right for chicken soup.

These meals come out to be very inexpensive. They also taste really great. The amount of chicken soup I make in each batch lasts for several meals, and my daughter has often enjoyed it in a Thermos at school. Sometimes I even freeze excess.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

Last Updated August 29th, 2008

Cook Together – Free Fun Friday

A little time cooking can be a great activity for parents to do with kids. You just keep the kids’ parts age appropriate, and of course make it fun. Although some kids do enjoy helping make dinner on a regular basis.

Cookies are the classic choice. If you don’t have a favorite recipe, one of the beautiful things about the Internet is how many ways you can look for one you’d like to try. The number of variations on the classic chocolate chip cookie alone is pretty amazing.

You can make some treats a bit healthier. My kids love my whole wheat waffles, for example. These freeze well, so you can make them any time of day. Reheat in the microwave and you have a good breakfast. My kids, at least, don’t notice the whole wheat at all.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

Last Updated July 23rd, 2008

Easy Cold Treats

The weather is hot, and so the kids are always asking for something cold to snack on. And of course if I want them to go outside, I’d better be ready to cool them off during or after. Otherwise they won’t give me any peace to do anything else.

Not to mention how miserable they get. A drink of cold water is satisfying when you’re hot, but not nearly as fun as getting a treat.

On my budget, I don’t like to buy a lot of popsicles and such. They add up too fast. But making treats at home is really easy. All you need are some popsicle molds and ingredients for popsicles. Other treats are also easy to make.

Fruit Smoothie Popsicles

Fruit smoothies make great cold, healthy treats, but they also make great popsicles. After you’ve poured them some smoothies, pour any excess into popsicle molds. They’ll freeze up pretty quick, and are just as healthy as the original smoothie.

Smoothies are easy to make. I take some frozen fruit, apple juice, a banana, carrot or whatever else looks fresh and likely to taste good in the smoothie. You just need enough juice to keep the mixer going, which is a bit lower than the top of the frozen fruit once you’ve put it into the blender, in many cases. The more liquid you add, the more runny the smoothie. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, so don’t worry too much.

Add some honey while the blender is running. If you add it while the blender has stopped, it will solidify too quickly and may just stick to the sides of the blender, not mixing into the smoothie. A little sweetening really helps most smoothies, and I’d sooner add honey than sugar.

Fruit Juice Popsicles

You don’t have to get all fancy and make a smoothie to make homemade popsicles. You can just freeze some fruit juice in the molds. Trust me, the kids won’t mind that there aren’t chunks of real fruit in them.

Then again, fruit juice with small chunks of fresh fruit do work.

Frozen Yogurt or Pudding

Take either of these and put into popsicle molds. To save on packaging I suggest buying the larger containers of yogurt, but if you have the single serve style you can try just adding a popsicle stick to these. Just remember that’s rather a large popsicle.

Similarly, I suggest just making the pudding at home. You can use the instant mix or be really brave and mix it from scratch.

Snow Cones and Shaved Ice

These were a huge hit at my daughter’s birthday party earlier this year… bigger than the birthday cake itself.

A shave ice maker doesn’t cost all that much, nor do the flavors. We experimented with blending some frozen berries with brown sugar and water to use in place of the syrups you buy in the stores, but these are much, much harder to shave. The flavor is good, though. I’m some concerned about whether this might wear out our shave ice maker too quickly, though.

Ice Cream in a Bag

You can see the instructions for ice cream in a bag by following this link. It’s pretty simple but I will warn you that five minutes of shaking can be a very long time for children, even with ice cream as a reward.

Of course if you have an ice cream maker you can just use that. The kids find waiting for the machine to finish to be pretty exciting too, but their hands don’t get tired or cold… unless you have the old hand cranked style.

Frozen Grapes and Other Fruits

Some fruits freeze delightfully. Grapes, for example. Get a bunch, rinse them off and either remove from the stems or don’t. Once they’re frozen they’ll still come off pretty well, so you can decide how lazy you want to be with this one.

We also buy frozen berries, and the kids love them as snacks.

And you can’t forget frozen bananas! The classic way is to put them on a stick and dip them in chocolate first, but you can also slice them thinly before freezing. Just make sure the kids eat them before they melt and turn into goo.

All of these are a lot of fun for the kids, and most are pretty healthy too. Do you have any other cold summer treat ideas?

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

Last Updated April 2nd, 2008

How to Control Your Food Budget as Prices Increase

Food prices have been hit hard by inflation of late, with the worst increases in about 20 years. Meat, milk, bread, eggs, produce all cost more than they used to. It’s getting harder and harder to feed a family healthy meals.

food budget

Fortunately, it’s not necessarily impossible, merely more challenging.

One of the simplest things you can do to help your food budget is to cut waste. Here in the United States tremendous amounts of food are wasted by most families. If you work harder on using up your leftovers you can save a significant amount of money.

For example, pack up dinner leftovers for lunch the next day. You can eat them yourself or send them with an ice pack with the kids to school if it’s something that tastes good enough cold. A thermos bottle can help with foods that should be eaten warm. Just make sure you heat the food hot enough that a good thermos will keep it over 140 degrees F.

Think also about what you’re eating. If you can cut back on the amount of meat you consume in a meal and/or have the occasional meatless meal you can save quite a bit. Beans, rice, lentils and such can be significantly cheaper than meats. Vegetarian meals can be quite tasty.

Similarly you can reconsider the cuts of meat you buy. Cheaper cuts can still taste quite good if prepared correctly. Crock pots are great at making even cheap meats tender.

With chicken, buying a whole one can have advantages. It’s enough for 1-2 meals, depending on the size of your family, and you can make soup from the leftovers for yet another cheap meal.

But much of your savings come down to how you shop for food. Start paying close attention to the flyers that come from grocery stores near to you. You won’t save if you’re driving too far, but if you’re lucky you will have at least a few stores to choose from. You may as well shop each for the items they have at good prices.

Keeping a price book can be a big help. You can do it alphabetically or by the order of the items in the store you shop most, but know what regular prices are and what standard sale prices are. This helps you to figure out if it’s an unusually good deal that you should stock up on if you can, or if you need to figure out an alternative that week.

Coupons can also be a help if, and I emphasize IF, they are items you would be buying anyhow. If you weren’t going to buy it, you can end up spending more money and ending up with things you aren’t going to use up.

Plan your meals around the coupons and deals that you find each week. By planning ahead you can buy only what you need and reduce your food waste still further. It also helps to limit your spontaneous purchases if you can tell yourself you aren’t going to use it.

For those who have the space and a sufficiently green thumb, gardening is another option. A good garden is exercise combined with a food source. It’s also great for teaching children about where their food really comes from. And of course homegrown produce simply tastes better.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

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