Friday, April 25, 2008

Frugal Cooking Carnival

Mary from Owlhaven is doing a Frugal Cooking Carnival today, where you're supposed to plan out three days worth of meals and figure their cost. I thought it would be interesting to do, since I've been trying to do more cooking from scratch lately to save us money. This will probably be a pretty long post, and you might not be interested if you came looking for cute pictures of the kiddos. :) I know this isn't the kind of post I usually do, but it just looked fun. Plus I'm excited about visiting all the other participating blogs and getting some new ideas.

If you're here from Owlhaven, welcome! I've got a little bit of a different situation than most people participating- I run a daycare in my house. That means for breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack, I'm cooking for myself and seven kids. Then dinner is me, my two kids, my parents who live here (if they're home for dinner), and my husband if he's not traveling for business.

A few guidelines I have to work with: I'm on a federally funded food program, so I have to follow the rules about the types of things I feed the kids. Breakfast has to be a carb and a fruit, with liquid milk. Lunch must be a protein, a carb, 2 fruits and/or veggies, and liquid milk. Snack must be 2 items from any two different food groups. In addition, I have one child with a severe nut allergy (no big deal to work around, just something for me to keep in mind), and my mom has celiac disease. That means I can't do as much baking from scratch as I otherwise would. For example, I know homemade waffles are healthier and more frugal, but the "puff" of flour going into the air contaminates the kitchen. Usually I pay attention to sales and buy LOTS of waffles when I find a good deal. We eat gluten products when they're contained, but I have to go out on the porch to do any mixing or baking and that generally just isn't feasible in the craziness of my day.

Also, I decided at the last minute to do this, so basically I just tracked what we ate for three consecutive days rather than planning the most frugal stuff I could find. So I don't have pictures of all the groceries. I do have a few pictures in the individual recipe posts though.

We drank 2 gallons of milk ($6) during these three days, so I'm adding $2 to each day's total.

Day #1:
Breakfast- biscuits (1.59), mandarin oranges(.97), milk (reduced fat buttermilk Grands, 0 grams trans fat which I like, Dole oranges I got on sale) = $2.56
Lunch- fish sticks(4.19/bag, there are a few left but I'm saying we ate the whole bag anyway to save my number-fried brain, and as long as they eat a whole serving (5 sticks) apiece the breading counts as our carb), canned carrots(they ate a can and a half at .59/can), apple slices (red delicious on sale 5/$2, they ate 2, so .80), milk = $5.87
Snack- raspberry yogurt (.25/container Kroger clearance, which counts as protein), milk = $1.75
Dinner- Burgundy Beef Tips ($6.04), (see below for breakdown) rotini noodles (.99), green beans w/almonds for me and dad(1.49), kids ate the other half of the second can of carrots from lunch (.29). = $8.81

Total Day #1: $17.24 + milk= $19.24

Day #2:
Breakfast- nutri-grain cinnamon waffles (we ate 10 out of the box of 12, which I got on sale for 1.54), banana (we ate 7 at .44/lb, but I'm not sure exactly how much that was), milk = $1.98
Lunch- Friendship soup, green beans, milk = $5
Snack- Strawberries ($3, I think the container was, and we didn't eat it all), milk = about $2
Dinner- leftover beef tips and apples- just me and the kids that night = bonus meal, so free

Total Day #2:$8.98 + milk = $10.98

Day #3:
Breakfast- Strawberry Poptarts (well, Kroger brand on sale for .50 a box, they ate 5 of the 8 about .30), mandarin oranges (.97), milk (I know it's oranges again, but it wasn't two days in a row, and it's their favorite. I didn't have any other different fruits in the house and I had to duplicate something, so it might as well be this.) = $1.27
Lunch- homemade macaroni and cheese ($3.69), peas (1/2 can, about .35), milk =$4.04
Snack- Goldfish crackers (.50/bag on sale at Kroger, about .25), milk = $.25
Dinner- Here's the part where I admit I ran out of ideas and was tired- we used a Sonic gift card I had gotten for my birthday. Free, but not a helpful idea for you guys. Sorry. :) Real life enters in.... We also could have eaten leftover Friendship Soup, because there's a TON of it left, but I think I'll freeze it and pull it out in a few weeks.

Total Day #3: $5.56 + milk = $7.56

Burgundy Beef Tips:
stew meat ($6 B1G1, so $3)
cream of mushroom soup .95
1/2 cup red wine ? borrowed my mom's :) can use water or cooking wine or whatever
5 T homemade gourmet Grandmother's Sunday Roast seasoning (I sell this stuff so I always have it around the house) $1ish
1 can mushrooms, undrained .59

Throw it in the crockpot on high 4-6 hours. Cost: $6.04 and I usually get at least two meals from it.

Grand Breakdown:
3 Day total= $37.78 for nine meals and three snacks, feeding 7 kids during the day and at least four people at night. That works out to an average of $4.19/meal overall, and either $1/person if it was dinner for four, or $.59/meal if it was just the kids. I bet I could do better, but that's not too bad, I don't think. I used to be able to keep my weekly grocery bill under $100/week, but lately it's been creeping up. I think everybody's in the same boat with that.

Thanks for reading all this, and I hope it was helpful. Email me if you're interested in any homemade gourmet, I'd love to get you started on it. :) I can't wait to get some new recipes from everybody else!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Belated Japan Day

Here are some cute pictures of the kiddos trying out their chopsticks. Snow kept calling them tweezers. Hey, whatever works. :) They were much better at using them than I expected. I can only do them myself if I hold them still and use them like a shovel. I never got the hang of the whole tweezing thing.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Yummy Mac and Cheese

I'm getting ready to participate in the Frugal Cooking Carnival Owlhaven's hosting on Friday, so I thought I'd put this recipe up ahead of time so I can link to it later. Several people have asked me how to make it lately anyway.

I go back and forth with whether I think it's an especially frugal recipe, because buying 3 boxes of the store brand orangy powder stuff would be a lot cheaper. Certainly not healthier though, and I have to add real cheese to those boxes anyway if I want the meal to be approved by the food program as a protein. This is a great way to sneak lots of veggies in and it tastes a lot better, so this is what we do.

It makes me laugh to take a picture of the ingredients. The Pioneer Woman I am not. Plus I forgot to take a picture of the food when it was done, and the kids have already eaten it all. Let's just make do with what we have, shall we?

Here's the fabulous cast for today's performance. Ignore the Pam, it's not part of this, it just snuck its way in there when I wasn't looking.

Cost breakdown:
  • pasta on clearance for .85- I don't usually buy the cutesy stuff but it gives them a thrill when I do it. It probably still would have been cheaper to use elbow noodles or a store brand of something else, but hey, we splurge around here every now and then.
  • Lawry's- practically free, I'm thinking. I've had that in the cupboard awhile, although thanks to the Pioneer Woman I'm whipping through it now at an alarming rate. I have no idea how much it will cost when I need to replace it.
  • that baggie is 1/2 cup pureed butternut squash. I've had it in the freezer awhile but I think the original squash was about $3 and it made 6 servings, so this would be... 50 cents?
  • 2 T butter- $2 for the box of 4 sticks on sale, I'm estimating then about 15 cents for that much.
  • 1 cup milk- gallon was on sale for $3. I'll cry if I have to do the math to figure out how much one cup cost. I go through 4-5 gallons a week and that includes drinking and recipes. Okay, now I have to... that would make a quart .75, and 1 cup about .19. I think.
  • cheese- I think that big bag was $7.54, and I used 2 big handfuls. Surely not more than $2.
  • Also 2T flour, which I forgot to put in the picture. Again, practically free.
  • Oh, and I added some homemade chicken stock that I had in my freezer because the sauce was too thick. Not sure how to calculate that, but I don't think it adds much.
  • Total: $3.69 by my calculations, which is pretty good considering I ate 2 big bowls and 6 kids each had at least three helpings. It comes out to .53 per person.
1. Cook noodles, drain.

2. In hot pan, melt 2T butter and add 2T flour. Stir to make paste.

3. Add 1 cup milk all at once and stir till thick.

4. Add cheese and squash. Today I also threw in a baby food cube of green peas/ chick peas that I had leftover in the freezer from making it for O'Malley and Eeyore awhile back. I only used one cube because I wasn't sure how green it would make it, but you couldn't tell at all. This dish is awesome for hiding veggies- just puree them into sauce first. It's SO MUCH EASIER than fighting the kids to take one bite; this way I know they got more than that, even if it doesn't turn out to be a whole serving.

5. Stir and it'll probably feel too thick- I usually add between 1/2 cup and 1 cup of chicken stock, or sometimes more milk, depending on what I have handy.

6. Dump all the noodles back in, add Lawry's to taste, and get your shovel. It's that good. Everyone but Ariel eats so fast they forget to use their forks at all.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Not Being the Enforcer

I love It's Not All Mary Poppins. She's been doing daycare for a lot longer than I have and she's got some fabulous tricks up her sleeve. Today's post, Better Parenting through Laziness, is an awesome idea. I find that this is happening to me multiple times a day- several of my angels are getting very big into tattling. I think her strategy is going to work well for at least one of them. Check it out- what do you think of her ideas?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mother Nature in Action

We've been having a great time the past few weeks watching the family of doves that has roosted on top of the playroom AC unit.

The kids always want me to hold them up to look at the nest and we talk about what it's made of (sticks) and how the mama keeps the eggs warm and all that fun stuff. This week they hatched! There are two little babies and they are so cute. The daddy of this species gets involved too, so we've been doing a lot of running commentary as they tag team in and out. "Oh look! I bet the mommy has to go potty, or maybe take a nap! Do you think the daddy will watch tv with the babies while mommy's gone, or do you think they'll do some coloring?" He even makes milk. Who knew?

Yesterday my niece and nephews came to visit and so I held my four year old nephew up to see the birds. He was Highly Suspicious.

"Is that the mama bird?"
"Yes, and see, there are the babies behind her, aren't they cute? How many do you see?"
"I don't know five I guess. She looks like she's going to peck us."
"What? No, she won't peck us. We're being slow and careful and she's pretty used to us."
"mmhmm. What about NOW? Is NOW when she's going to peck?"

Apparently my sister has really talked up having respect for wild animals and keeping distance, and he was just sure that any second that mama would fly in our faces and go to town with the pecking. The look on his face still cracks me up every time I think about it.

Later that afternoon, after they went home, we went back outside and only one baby was in the nest. Snow White and Ariel found the other one sitting in the grass against the fence looking terrified. Of course they wanted to get very close to it and ended up chasing it into a corner.
The mama and daddy were both sitting on the top of the fence just staring at us and quivering as we got closer to their baby. I figured if there ever WAS a time they might peck us, this would be it. Poor baby stuck on the ground, at the mercy of curious three year old fingers? I'd be thinking of doing some pecking if I was that mama for sure. Yes, NOW! NOW is the time they will peck! Back away!

I corralled all the kids and made them stay on the other side of the yard for awhile, and the parents were able to get their baby to hop up onto the fence and into the bushes. I haven't seen him back in the nest yet, and I hope he's okay. At least we're learning to keep a healthy distance and have respect for animals. You know, just in case they peck. :)

Friday, April 11, 2008

China Day

We've gotten a bit behind on our "around the world" work since the weather's been so nice. I'm a huge fan of playing outside and we do that all morning when we can. So we're stretching this out a little, but that works for me because we are all loving the theme. We've done Japan Day (which I need to blog because they ate rice with chopsticks and I took pictures!), Mexico Day, and today is China. We made really cool multi-colored paper dragons out of chains that took forever!!! but looked neat. Duchess was upset with the eyes because they were made out of cotton balls and she says eyes should "be the same stuff as the face". So she's spent the next little while with crayons and paper drawing a Proper Dragon As It Should Be. It's so funny the little quirks they all have about different things.

Then we spent quite a bit of time on the Panda Cam. Ariel's totally in love with it and kept coming back to see what the panda was doing. "bamBOO! HE EATING MORE bamBOO!" I think she would have sat there for an hour, just watching him walk back and forth and eat. The only thing that would have been better is if the poor thing needed to poop. It would have made her day in a BIG way.

This afternoon we're building the Great Wall of China with our blocks, and I may see if I can find an episode of Ni Hao Kai-lan on demand to sit down and watch with them. Although since it's another beautiful day, we may go outside and fly our dragons around instead.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Toy Giveaway!

Two Weeks of Toys - Giveaway Event

5 Minutes for Mom is doing tons of toy give-aways in the next few weeks- go on over there and see if you can win one! But don't try too hard, because we want to win stuff for the playroom!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Suitcase Surprise

I love the curriculum we order. Over the last few months they've revamped it and integrated a bunch of new things to make it better. My favorite is the Writer's Workshop, as a former English teacher and lover of creative writing for kids. Today we made our first class book. Our theme for April is Around the World, which I think is my favorite by far in the last 2 years I've been ordering. I love maps and geography and landmarks and I do a lot of that with the kids anyway, so it is awesome to have all this stuff to back me up.

We talked about the seven continents today. Most of the big kids already can list them, since we sing a song about them every morning. We're working on identifying them by shape and being able to list them out of order instead of only singing the song. I gave them a few facts about each one, and then their book page was to tell me a story about which continent they'd like to visit, what they would do there, and what they ought to pack in their suitcase to go. Then they illustrated their page and wrote their name on it and I'm going to bind it and keep it here for them to read.

Duchess: "I want to visit Asia so I can play in the sand and water and see all the panda bears. I want to visit J and G in China. {her friends who moved there.} Next I would go to that very chilly place to visit the penguins, oh, that is called Antarctica. In my suitcase I have a bunch of clothes and hairbrushes- two at least!"

Ariel: "I'd like to visit the penguins in Antarctica. It's cold there. The penguins like me because they like to laugh at me when I make funny faces at them. In my suitcase I have my Ariels {what she calls her barbie dolls} and then some Dora panties and then... my mommy will pack the rest for me."

Buzz: "I want to visit Grandma- she lives in Texas. I don't fly on the airplane! I ride in my car. I have a fast racecar. Then I look at toys with {my cousin}. In my suitcase I have my backpack and a little dog. I not take clothes! just toys. I will wear underwear."

Snow White: "I want to go to the Eiffel Tower SuperFast! It is in France. I going to play at the top. My mommy comes too. In my suitcase I have toys- a new bouncy bouncy ball. Red shirts and blue pants and kittycat shoes."

Sebastian was at the doctor this morning and Marie and O'Malley just colored and grinned at me. We have a marvelous book.