Back at it!

It’s been too long since I’ve blogged! Since my last visit, we’ve moved from Podunk S. AR to Miami, FL. Woohoo! I am so excited to be able to participate in activities with my kiddos. We’ve been here for a month and we’ve already been to the railroad museum, the children’s museum, History Miami, Jumparoos, and a few other events. I didn’t realize how sensory deprived I’d been for the past two years. 

We’ve been somewhat clean since we’ve been here, but there has been too much going out and the past few days have been loaded with birthday party leftovers! 

  

 My new challenge has been feeding 5 adults and 2 children and meeting various diets, allergies, and food sensitivities. I haven’t done perfectly, but it’s a learning process! It is definitely expanding my horizons and encouraging me to try even more new recipes.

Here are some things I’ve made that have gone over well with everyone.

Chicken veggie stir fry served over arugula with balsamic baked brussel sprouts.
Veggies, hummus, and black bean, corn, avacado, tomatoes salsa (my lunch of leftovers). The salsa was originally served with baked tilapia. There were about 2 tbs of the salsa left at the end of the meal!

   

 Whole wheat pita sandwiches including sprouts, tuna salad (mustard, onions, and a dab of Greek yogurt – no mayo), cucumber sauce (cucumber, dill, Greek yogurt, s/p), tomato slices, cucumber slices, optional cheese, and mushroom slices.  
    

Shrimp fajitas  – I usually use regular sour cream. This was a new salsa bought. It was ok, but it could have used a little more seasoning or something. And cilantro makes everything better!   

So, this week’s menu: 

Breakfasts: Smoothies – I add the spinach and almonds right into my packets. I vary the fruit as well (I don’t like raspberries in my smoothies.)

 Banana oat pancakes – I make a bunch and freeze them – mostly for Puppe. Macho and I don’t care for pancakes of any type.

Lunches: tuna salad, veggie pita sandwiches, veggies and hummus, homemade chicken nuggets, and fruit, fruit, and more fruit for my little bottomless pits!

Dinners:

T- Fish tacos with red cabbage slaw – trying a new recipe with the slaw

W- baked ck thighs, roasted butternut squash, green salad 

Th- Lemon garlic shrimp w/ wilted spinach and cauliflower mash (I made this a couple of weeks ago and it has been requested twice.)

F- Aspargus, heart of palm salad (I stumbled on this searching for an artichoke salad. The recipe didn’t actually include them, but it was really good. This time I will leave them out and see how it is.) 

Sa- Quinoa/sprouted rice stuffed peppers and salad (I made and froze these last week – I love stuffed peppers as a freezer meal.) I don’t really follow a recipe anymore. I chop up whatever veggies I have, mix them with some cooked quinoa and tomato sauce and stuff them in a blanched bell pepper. Bake at 350 for about 30-45 minutes.

Su- Mango, black bean chicken quinoa bowls – I plan to just use a bowl or lettuce wrap instead of the tortilla in the recipe

M – caprese pasta salad (gf pasta).

I’m working on creating schedules, routines, menus, etc… But, it’s an adjustment for everyone. We all have different food needs, different schedules, and different budgets. 

Here is to expanding my clean eating menu and improving as I go along.

Cleaning out the pantry!

We set a move date. We haven’t sold the house, and Papi hasn’t gotten a job offer that makes any sense to take. The job market where we are is pretty small for such a specific area of law and we have just decided that we need to leave a situation that has become toxic to our family. While most of my food “plan” leans toward clean eating, we are eating too much, drinking too much, and moving too little. It’s time to be with family in a place where we can move forward with our life goals.

With that being said, my grocery list last week was built around what was in the pantry and freezer. My grocery bill was actually under $100! As with all weeks, it’s altered slightly as we go. 

Here was the plan:



Our schedule was immediately thrown off on Sunday. After I got home from the grocery store, we got a call asking if the house could be shown at 4:30. My food prep and crockpot rotisserie chicken flew out the door and we planned for an early pizza dinner out. There isn’t a whole lot to do on Sunday afternoons in a small town in the Bible Belt.

So, I shifted slightly and did the chicken on Monday.



Made the soup from leftovers on Tuesday:



And then, I decided to jump to the enchiladas on Wednesday. I didn’t follow a particular recipe for this meal. I plopped two frozen chicken breasts in the crockpot and sprinkled them with cumin, chili powder, garlic salt, and oregano. After 2 hours on high, I shredded the chicken, sprinkled it with each of the seasonings again, and let it cool in the crockpot.







This week, I did not make my own tortillas. I really was just at the end of my physical and emotional rope. So, store bought tortillas it was. Sorry clean eating. 





I had both homemade red enchilada sauce and green tomatillo sauce in the freezer, so I decided to make “Christmas” enchiladas. I really tried to choose a favorite, but they are both really good.





I served the extra sauce, sour cream, cilantro, and salsa. None of us used the salsa though!



Pretty!



We ate this for leftovers again the next night.

Friday was meatless for Lenten Friday. 

For lunch, I made tuna salad…with a twist. I mixed it with cilantro, salsa, and a little sour cream. Then I roasted some bored out tomatoes, stuffed them, and then melted some cheese on top. 





Originally, I planned to make shrimp stir fry for dinner. But, then I took another look at the plan and the pantry. I decided to mess around with some ingredients and make the lasaga roll ups planned earlier. Usually, I make the roll ups with whole wheat pasta, but we had a box of regular pasta left from when my mom came and made lasagna. So, I sautéed mushrooms and garlic, added some sundried tomatoes, chopped up the small shrimp and added some white wine and Parmesan and truffle salsa. I mixed the filling with skim ricotta, and a little Mozarella. Then, I topped it with a marinara sauce and some shredded cheese.

Papi was a little unsure….

And then he killed 2 1/2 rolls. I had 1 1/2 and Macho had 1 roll along with a serving of green beans. That means we have leftovers! And, we have another batch of 8 rolls in the freezer for next Friday.



Tomorrow, I need to do some shopping. Both Papi and I mentioned how empty our fridge was today. So, I need to revisit our stock (lentils, ww pasta, pinto beans, a couple chicken breasts). Next week, we count down to two weeks until the move!

Meat free? Sure, no problem!

Fridays during Lent inspire me to seek out new meat-free recipes. Yes, we could eat fish every Friday, but where is the adventure in that? This week, I thought a recipe for butternut mushroom enchiladas with a tomatillo sauce sounded very interesting. The recipe blogger mentioned that this meal was not a quick one. Good grief, was that an understatement. 

There are options that I took upon myself that made this recipe a mini little jaunt to hell and back.

1. My kids were home, awake, and had no other caregiver around. Try cleaning and roasting tomatillos with a baby pulling down your pants.



2. I don’t buy precut veggies. Let me say, butternut squash is one of the only times I regret this! Have you ever peeled and chopped a butternut squash? I do find popping it in the microwave for a few minutes softens it up enough to make the chopping process a little less painful. Luckily, I now have 7 extra cups cleaned and chopped in the freezer.





3. For some reason, I cannot make a flipping corn tortilla to save my life. If I hand roll them, they are all wonky shaped. So, I bought an electric press that cooks them too. Uh, yeah. I’ve managed to botch that too. That being said, this became an enchilada casserole instead of rolled enchiladas.













Even without my poor choices, there is a lot of cleaning, chopping, roasting, and assembling. This is not a quick week night dinner. 



The tomatillo sauce is really good though and I used one of my exploded tortillas (don’t ask) to dip in the sauce. Yum! Maybe we’ll just use the leftover sauce for that.







I pretty much do not care how tasty this turns out. I never want to make this again! I was going to make Puppe’s banana oat pancakes today, but I am wiped out! It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, right?

Update: Damn it, it’s really good! We all liked this recipe a lot. The good news is, I have butternut squash already cubed in the freezer and the tortillas left in the warmer were actually pliable later. Also, the tomatillo sauce made extra, so I might have enough for another batch. Plus, we still have a lot left over!

Here is the recipe, if yo want to try it out! Butternut mushroom enchiladas





Snow day!

Today, the icy rain coated all surfaces in a shiny glaze and then big fat blobs of snow started to mix in. Eventually, it settled into a steady sticky snow that covered all that glistening ice in a white fluffy layer. Sounds pretty, huh? Well, as much as I hate to admit it, it was. And since I only had one errand that was easily cancelled, we were able to stick safely close to home. 

Macho, who was born just outside of Boston at Thanksgiving time, doesn’t remember snow since we’ve lived in the south since he was 15 months old. So, his little 3-year-old self thought today was quite the adventure! Papi took him out, after a fight over putting on his big coat, and taught him the fine art of catching snow flakes on your tongue, having a snowball fight, building a snowman, and well…the snow angel didn’t turn out so hot. 

All this play made him super ready for a nap, and that is where the day turned weird. Macho was sleeping and Puppe was having a bottle to get ready for her nap. I was feeding her in the living room when I saw a camo clad figure out my front window. I waited for a knock or the doorbell to ring, but it didn’t. So, I got up to look outside only to see about 10 kids with sleds tromping all over my front yard.

Ok…admittedly, when we built our house, one of the first things I mentioned about the front is that it would be an awesome sledding hill. 

See what I mean?



But, I didn’t know any of these kids. So, I figured kids being kids, they didn’t think to ask. Then, I noticed that six parents were standing in the driveway across the street. Apparently, one mom saw me standing in the window and she made her girls come ask if “y’all don’t mind”. 

Here’s the thing. I don’t mind at all. However, would it kill one of those adults to come knock on the door, introduce themselves, and ask before the kids started sledding? Then, one of them pulled their truck in front so the parents could stay warm and all the moms were taking pictures of their kids…in my front yard.

I know I haven’t been the most outgoing neighbor. First, I am painfully shy and an introvert at heart, but we had met a couple of our neighbors here and there. But, other factors contributed to me not making the rounds as well. We moved in when I was pregnant. It was a very difficult pregnancy, I was on restricted activity, went into labor at 30 weeks, and then spent 8 more on bed rest. Nope, didn’t get out to meet my neighbors! Guess how many stopped to say hi or bring a casserole. Yeah, I’ll narrow it down to between -1 and 1. Yet, you expect that you can just spend a couple hours on my yard and not even bother to ask or say hi? 

When the 10 or so kids came back for a second run, Papi took Macho out for his first sledding experience while there was still some snow left. One dad was standing in our driveway and shocker, he was a former coworker of Papi’s. While they chatted, the 5 other parents still stayed across the street. They yelled thank you, but it really had lost any meaning by that time. It would have been so awesome to be the coolest sledding hill in the neighborhood if us parents could have at least shared a coffee, hot chocolate, or a glass of wine. You’re welcome random kids, I’m so glad you had fun on today’s snow day. Hopefully, the next owners of this house will meet your parents’ friend requirements.

Now, for the awesome parts of the day! Snow and ice just lend themselves to crockpot cooking. Today, I made taco chili and it was awesome! I’ve made this before and it is something all of us really like. I keep the chilis mild so the kids can eat it too. I’ve linked to the recipe, because I’m no chef! I follow “as is” the first time and then adjust after that.

Crock pot taco chicken chili



The tomato sauce was made originally for pizza. I package the extra in “can size” (14-15 oz) amounts to freeze for future use. I also cook beans in bulk and do the same thing. It’s cheaper to buy a big bag of dry beans, cook them all at once, and pop them in freezer bags, than to buy by the can. The chicken is from the 2 large packs I bought two weeks ago at $1.99/lb. I put them on a cookie sheet and froze them and then put them in a freezer bag to pull out as needed. Two packs cost about $15 and will make about 4 meals or more for us. 



I added a little red onion, shredded cheese, a dollop of Greek yogurt (or Daisy sour cream) and a little avacado to take this over the top. 

This recipe makes enough for 2 meals for our family. It’s also a great freezer meal option since you can throw all the ingredients into a freezer bag and then just take it out and pop it in the crockpot (defrost first).

With our snack supply running low and inside time at an all-time high the past few days, Macho and I decided to make some graham crackers. Below is the recipe I used, but this time we left out the cinnamon. Also, I used whole wheat and white whole wheat (instead of AP) flour. 

Graham crackers



These are so simple a 3-year-old can make them! Ok…almost. The rolling and the oven are tricky.

You  can use cookie cutters  to make these cute, but we find squarish shapes taste just as good!







All in all, it was a fun day! We had lots of play, our house smelled fantastic all day  long, and our bellies were filled with delicious, healthy food. Happy snow day to you and yours.

Now, get off my lawn!

Plan, shop, prep!

Woohoo, simultaneous nap. I admit it, I do a happy dance when both kids at least overlap a little on their nap time. It means I can shut everything off and just have five minutes of quiet. Don’t get me wrong, I know how lucky we are to have two healthy kids who are growing and developing right on target, but good grief does it get noisy. Normally, the kids go to Mother’s Day Out (MDO) on Tues/Thurs which gives me time to work and get a few other errands done without having to drag the kids along. But, with yesterday’s ice storm…no MDO and two kids with cabin fever means not a lot is getting accomplished today. Oh, well. We knew the storm was coming, so we took the kids out for lunch on Sunday. We went to a local pizza buffet that is family friendly and has an arcade where Macho could spend his commission (money he earns doing extra jobs) and burn some energy. Here is where I reiterate that we do not eat 100% clean! 😉 But, this special little jaunt threw off my normal Sunday routine a bit and so my typical weekly prep has been spread out more than normal.

Each week, I plan out our dinners, I go grocery shopping on Sunday before the church crowd gets out, and then I spend the afternoon prepping for the week. I found a ton of cute menu planning boards on Pinterest. Um…yeah, I use a whiteboard and a plain black marker. I usually check the freezer and pantry to see what I have on hand and then refer to my Pinterest recipes. I have a board of clean recipes to try and then I move them to a board of recipes we like or I delete them if we don’t like them. Here is my plan for the week (sorry, it keeps loading sideways) that was already thrown off by our Sunday pizza binge. 









I bought two big packs of chicken last week and I had lentils, beans, and quinoa in the pantry. Plus, it’s supposed to be cold and icy most of the week, so there is a lot of soup and slow cooker items on the menu this week.  I made the veggie bean soup on Sunday, which we were all too full to eat. But, it turned out so spicy that I ended up making chicken nuggets and Mac and cheese for the kids when we ate it on Monday. Be careful when using fresh cayenne from Grandma’s garden!



On that note, I do make my own chicken nuggets and mac n cheese. Chicken breast cubed up, coated with egg and shaken in a bag with some corn meal is really good! I make a bunch and freeze them for times like this one! I used whole wheat pasta, real cheese, and some almond milk for the mac and cheese. Both kids loved it.



I prepped the stuffed peppers yesterday so we can have them tonight. We also have a ton of soup left for either lunches or another dinner. Stuffed peppers take some time to prep, but I make double filling and freeze it for later. Or, the stuffed peppers already prepped freeze well too. I kept the filling separate because I’ve also started making stuffed pepper soup. It’s all the same ingredients except just chopped up and tossed in the slow cooker. It’s yummy and less work. But, I just didn’t want another soup. The kids won’t eat the pepper, but the filling goes over well and I’m happy to eat the pepper. 





Last, but not least, I made some little oatmeal balls for snacks. They have oatmeal, unsweetened coconut, raw local honey, natural peanut butter, chia,  vanilla, and dark chocolate chips. They are no bake and take about 5 minutes to mix and ball up. Oh, and they don’t suck! Mmmmm.



Ultimately, my weekly planning does a few things. First, I spend less money because I buy with a purpose and a specific list. It also helps me rotate food so items don’t spoil or expire. We eat healthier because we rarely get take-out. And lastly, it relieves a lot of stress. There is no worry about what I’m going to make for dinner each night. Since I’m not working full-time, that isn’t asking of a deal now. But, it was great when I was working, doing daycare drop off and pick up, and trying to fit it all in. 

What to do when you’re feeling “bleck”.

Yesterday, I just felt cruddy all day. My husband was inspired to make French toast for breakfast. It was delicious, but since I haven’t tackled my own bread making yet, it definitely did not fall into clean or lo-cal! But, the kidlets loved it and I didn’t have to cook! Lunch was leftover chicken and dumplings, which is a nice revamp of one of my favorite comfort foods. The husband likes the clean dumplings well enough, but every time I make them, I hear “ah, clean dumplings.” I’ve also started making my own broth after I cook a whole chicken, so it’s a great way to get another meal without having to buy more meat. So, that was two meals I was able to do nothing for!

However, I knew that dinner was looming ahead. This is where having a stockpile of freezer meals or some quick and easy recipes comes in handy and will keep you from ordering a pizza. Since we are moving soon, I’ve depleted our freezer meals. So, that option was out. However, I try to keep a bag of frozen vegetables around all the time and I always have some brown rice. That led me to another comfort food from childhood….fried rice. I decided to make pork fried rice because I had some frozen pork already chopped up and frozen. You can get a big pack of assorted chops for much less than chops of all the same thickness. I will buy a pack, pull out enough for dinner, and then chop and freeze the odd size ones for days like this.

Ingredients I used:
3c of frozen mixed veggies (great when fresh aren’t in season plus they are already chopped) – about $0.70
2 oz fresh mushrooms – $0.50
1c brown jasmine rice – about $1.00 – I love the flavor over regular brown rice, so I don’t mind paying a little more
1 lb pork – $2.30
3 green onions – these were leftover from the sweet potato kale soup I made earlier in the week, so they cost about $0.30
For this meal, I used low-sodium soy sauce because I still have it to use up. – $0.15. Liquid aminos can be subbed for soy sauce to keep things clean – it’s a little over $4 a bottle, but you tend to use less because it’s a spray.
2 eggs – $0.40

This meal cost just over $5 and we had about 1 serving leftover even after Papi had seconds. I realized that it had a lot of meat so I easily could have double the rice and veggies and still have had two very meaty meals for just about $7. It was a big hit for all but the 3 year-old old food critic of the house, but I’m pretty sure that is because Papi took Macho for ice cream before dinner!

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Clean eating on a budget

I’ve been addicted to food my entire life. It’s been a battle since I was a kid and I fight it every day. Now that I’m a mom, I want to make sure my kids never have to experience the pain of being morbidly obese. The constant teasing, stares, physical and mental pain are something I would never wish on another living soul and especially not those I love most in the world.

Between improving my health, wanting my husband healthy, and hoping to teach my children good habits from the beginning, I’ve steadily moved toward “clean” eating. Basically, I want my family filling their bellies with natural, healthy foods.

Here’s the kicker. Eating clean can be expensive! Six months ago, I could have blown $200-300/wk to feed us. But, life changed and my old habits of doing as much as possible with as little as possible kicked back in. However, I refuse to go back to cheap processed food. So, my updated goal is to eat as clean as possible as our budget will allow.

I’m starting to do some research on food budgets with “assistance” be it WIC, SNAP, etc… We aren’t quite there yet, but once unemployment runs out, I need to be prepared. Also, after living in a community where the more have more and the less have less, it reminds me that my life goal is to help others. Long term, my goal is to take my findings and spread it to the community. How I’m going to do this, I’m not sure. My idealized view would be to take what I’ve learned and hold community classes for those receiving various types of assistance and walk them through budgeting, shopping, meal planning, and cooking. Ideally, it would be awesome to take that group and create a freezer meal group where they could get even more bang for their buck.

But, this all starts with me and our family journey. So, I plan to document the ups and downs and then one day, I hope to take this to others.

Tonight,is the first Friday of Lent. We need to be meatless. For lunch, we had tuna salad on bread with a slice of provolone and tomato. Yum!

For dinner: white fish (ours is Swai from Walmart. It’s about $7 for 2 lbs. I’m baking it with asparagus ($4), tomato ($2), lemon ($0.50), and basil (free- dried from a friend’s garden), and 1c of brown jasmine rice($0.50). That is about $14 or $3.50 p/p. It is not 100% clean and it isn’t our cheapest meal. The kids and the husband all loved it, so success!

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