Thursday, March 31, 2016

This makes me happy

Look at all my pretty babies!  I'm excited to watch them grow.  It's hard to believe that some of these little guys will be taller than me in few short months.  All living things start out tiny and fragile.  I'm  grateful for the chance to be a nurturer!

My garden in miniature

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

How to use it all up

I read a few years ago that 40% of the food that comes to us (either through the store or to restaurants or other various places) is thrown away.  Forty percent!!! That means almost half of the useful things God has placed on this earth for our benefit gets thrown away.

The Hubby and I went through a time when attaining those necessary things was extremely difficult.  I mean, really difficult.  For a little while, we could only budget about $50 a month for groceries.  You read that right.  We had only $50 a month to buy enough food to support a family of 4.  In case you are wondering, that's about enough for some vegetables, some chicken, and some milk. How did we do it? (that's another post)

First, I have to acknowledge that it was only through the grace of God that we made ends meet some months.  I remember many times laying in bed puzzling over our financial situation and not sure how we managed to pay everyone that month.

The experience taught me not to waste food.  I HATE to see food wasted!  It didn't grow and I didn't spend money on it just so that I could throw it away!  I've been working on a system of not wasting food for several years now, and I do still have to throw things away here and there.  But for the most part, we don't waste food in our house.  If I had to put a percentage on it, I would estimate that we are able to eat about 98% of the food that comes in the house.  I like those odds much better. Here's what I do:

I kept a food journal:  not for eternity, just for three months.  I wrote down everything we ate and how much.  I had a chart that I just filled out at the end of the day.  The information this gave me was very valuable!  By doing this, I realized that we eat a lot of the same vegetables.  By keeping track of what we ate for three months, I could project about how much of each thing we would need for a month. 

I make a menu:  In case you didn't know, making a menu is hard.  It's hard not to put the same things on there over and over.  It's hard to coordinate with what is in season, what's on sale, and what you already have.  When I kept a food journal, this helped me know what we eat the most of.  (like Spaghetti.  We love Spaghetti.  And Tacos.) When I am getting ready to go grocery shopping, I start by making a menu of dinners for the next two weeks.  (Hint: it's a lot easier to come up with dinner ideas if you're hungry.  Be hungry when you  make the menu, be full when you go to the store.) I also keep each menu I make.  Then it's easier to pull out a new menu every two weeks.  Here is a sample of what my menu looks like:  

I keep track of the variety of meats on the left side.  (we eat mostly chicken and hamburger, and then there are four meals that are "other"  where we eat fish, pork, something new, or even vegetarian.)  On the top, I keep track of the carbs.  We usually have potatoes, rice, pasta, or bread.  This is just to make sure we have variety (and aren't having potatoes every day).  Next to the title of the dinner, I have written the things I need to get that aren't usually on my grocery list.  #4, for example, is fajitas.  I need limes to make the sauce.  So I wrote it down to remind me to put it on my grocery list.  The chicken, peppers, onions, and tortillas are all part of my regular shopping list.  The chart at the bottom is just a calendar that tells me what I am making each night.  L stands for "leftovers."  I want to emphasize that the chart is just a guideline!  I give myself permission to stray from the schedule.  If I've got fajitas scheduled, but I didn't have time to make the sauce, then I choose something else from the list.  It's great to have a plan, though.  Half the battle of making dinner is trying to decide what to make. 

I buy the same produce every trip: There are some things I just know we are going to use because they are part of our diet.  Potatoes, for example, are a big seller at my house.  I buy 20 pounds a month.  Celery, carrots, peppers, apples, bananas...these are all things that are omnipresent in the house.  They have several uses, and I can use them up in different ways to make sure they don't go bad.

We have leftovers for dinner every Thursday:  Any leftovers that are um, leftover (ha ha!) need to also be taken care of.  If there is enough for another full family meal, I freeze it.  Then on those inevitable days that I don't feel like cooking, or we don't have any time, we can thaw something from the freezer instead of heading for McDonalds. If there isn't enough to freeze, then it's time to get creative about using it. ( See my post here for garbage soup) My kids love garbage soup (aptly named because it's basically whatever is left in the fridge thrown into a pot and simmered into a soup.) If there is leftover garbage soup, I freeze it.  (by the way, freezing leftovers is a great way to serve others.  I can't even tell you how many times I've taken dinner to a sick friend just by pulling the soup and some bread out of the freezer.)

The day before I go grocery shopping:  I clean out my fridge and my freezer and my cupboards.  I wipe the fridge out with hot soapy water so everything is clean when I come home with new groceries.  Doing this also forces me to take care of the older things before they go bad. Everything in there is preserved somehow.  This is usually on a Thursday, so leftovers are eaten for dinner.  Here is a sample of this weeks leftover vegetables and fruit:

we've got a couple of pears and some oranges, a bag of carrots (they were on sale, so I bought two.), a couple onions, some spotty bananas, and some celery.  Also, not pictured is a small bunch of cilantro and some green onions.

I am blessed because I have a commercial dehydrator.  I will be blogging about what you can do with each individual thing, but for today, it's just the short version.  I would grate and dehydrate the carrots.  I would chop and dehydrate the onions, and green onions, and celery.  I would dehydrate and then crush the cilantro.  The pears I would probably just feed to my kids for lunch, but if that didn't work, I would either freeze or dehydrate them as well.  (Dehydrated pears taste like fruit snacks!)  The oranges would be a challenge, since they don't dehydrate well.  I could peel them and freeze the slices for smoothies.  Or I could chop them and serve them in a salad for dinner.  Oranges keep for a long time, too, so depending on how they look I might just put them back in the fruit bin for another round.  I might also use the peel to make candied orange peel ( link coming) or pot pourri (link coming).  The bananas I would either make banana bread (link coming) banana pancakes (here) or freeze for smoothies.  (both banana bread and banana pancakes freeze well, too, although they don't last long in my house).

I take a list to the store with me.  I shop the sales.  I buy more of what I know we'll eat.  When I get home, I put the food away right away (including wrapping, labeling, and freezing meat.) and during the two weeks, I keep a close eye on what's in the fridge.  And honestly, I don't keep a lot in the fridge anyway, because I know once I make it, it will need to be used.

Any kitchen scraps (carrot peels, apple cores, orange rinds, onion skins, etc) can be tossed into a compost or a worm bin.

Keep track of what you're eating!  Don't let anything hide in the dark, dank places of the fridge!  The food that comes into your home is a blessing, don't waste it!

If you found this blog helpful, or if you have any questions, please leave a comment.  Maybe your question will inspire another post! 

Use it up! Wear it out!  Make it do! or do without!