Thursday, July 21, 2011

Nutrition for the frugal 3

And finally to carbohydrates. This is a confusing one, and usually gets broken up into 2 to 3 groups---grains and legumes, vegetables, and fruits. Carbohydrates are basically sugars, but they're sugars our body needs to work right.

Grains and legumes (and potatoes) are the starchy ones. They supply calories and slower burning energy, and many of them supply at least some protein and fat, helping support those parts of your diet. That's one of the reasons that they're often treated separately from fruits and vegetables. They generally are not nearly as high in most vitamins as the fruits and vegetables, but you do get a lot of B vitamins and fiber from most of these.

Fruits supply a lot of energy in the form of simpler sugars, and tend to be very high in some vitamins, plus the fiber. The same for vegetables, though they're mostly high in a different group of vitamins and may or may not have much fiber. Eating these alone will tend to give you a lot of energy...briefly. Then you'll usually be ready for a nap.

No matter how badly you want to lose weight, don't eat just the fruits and vegetables. That's like piling up a handful of twigs, dousing them with kerosene, and wondering why they flare up and burn to ash in just a few minutes. Include some legumes and grains and at least a little fat---some avocado or a boiled egg or some low-fat milk or yogurt.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Nutrition for the frugal 2

Which leads me to fat. It has such a bad reputation these days, why should we eat any? Well, first, fat acts a kind of slow burning fuel for the body, so a little helps give you more energy. Second, many nutrients can't be used properly in the absence of fat, and it's not clear whether stored fat works nearly as well (or at all) for that purpose. In other words, if you don't have a little fat with your meal, you might as well not have eaten the calcium and vitamins A, D, and E, as well as other fat-soluble nutrients.

If you're worried about heart disease, replace animal fats with vegetable fats. If you're worried about calories, just make sure you include at least a little with every meal. Keep in mind that removing all fat from the diet can actually cause you to gain weight (an odd but true fact). Vitamin E not only needs fat to be digested, it's almost impossible to get it at all from non-fat sources. Keep in mind that most breads include a little fat, and there are unusual sources like avocados.

I would suggest avoiding hydrogenated fats such as those in shelf-stable peanut butter and in margarine. I think in recent years these have been connected to several health problems themselves. I use the kind of peanut butter that's just ground peanuts and has to be refrigerated after opening. More expensive, but no hydrogenated fats, and the taste is SO much better.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Nutrition for the frugal 1

I started yesterday with an explanation of complete vs. incomplete protein, and together with a discussion I had with my oldest about nutrition and poverty in the US, reminded me that people in the US actually know very little about nutrition. When I was a kid, they used the 4 food groups and/or a pie chart; more recently they've used a food pyramid, and generally the schools seem to think that's enough information. I remember even as a kid being a bit offended when my teacher told me that a glass of milk could either count as a dairy or a protein food for the day, but not both. That implied that if the body used the calcium in milk, it couldn't use the protein and vice versa, which is absurd.

Let me start by reminding you that I'm not a trained nutritionist, just a self-educated one. A better simplified explanation is that foods provide three main things: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. They tend to be classified by what they provide the most of. Lean meat is mostly a protein, but it usually has some fat. The same with dairy. Whole wheat bread supplies a lot of carbohydrates, but it does have some protein and fat. Some fruits and vegetables supply almost entirely carbohydrates, but most of them are very high in vitamins and minerals that you don't get from the high-protein or high-fat foods.

The estimates of how much protein you need in a day varies, but despite what writers say, it's the food people are mostly likely to skimp on, particularly women. I like to aim for 60 grams in a day, which isn't as hard as you might think, but I focus particularly on protein at breakfast. My favorite nutrition writer (one who wasn't afraid to REALLY explain nutrition in detail) suggested that studies supported 22 grams of protein at breakfast as an ideal, along with a small amount of carbohydrate and fat, preferably including some fruit.

Why? This level of protein, when supported by the other foods, after "fasting" all night, raises your blood sugar to a good level (lots of energy) and keeps it high through lunch. Less protein, especially if replaced with sweetened foods, tends to give you a high level for a short time, then drops below what it was before you ate, making you very tired. If that happens, even a high protein lunch won't get that energy level back. But if you had that good breakfast, then a light lunch with at least a little of each, you should keep that energy level all day. A high fat breakfast, on the other hand, will raise your energy some and sustain it, but not nearly as much as the high protein breakfast.

Think of the carbohydrates like twigs for a fire. Fat turns the twigs into longer-burning logs, and protein is like a draft control, supplying just enough air to burn well without so much that it burns out too fast. Not a very good analogy, but you get the idea...

Protein for the frugal

Ami asked for an explanation of complete proteins, so here's the "quickie" answer; keep in mind this really over-simplifies it (which sounds funny since my post runs on so long), but it's enough information for practical use.

To "build" protein, there are a number of amino acids necessary (called the essential amino acids by some writers). Some your body can produce from other nutrients, some it can't, but if it doesn't have all of them, it can't produce the protein that your body needs. And it has to get all of the ones it can't produce at about the same time, within about an hour I believe.

Meat, eggs, milk, soy and most nuts are complete proteins, that is, their protein includes all of the essential amino acids your body can't produce. If a meal includes a serving of one of these, you can probably use all the protein in the meal. There are other foods whose proteins include some but not all of these essential amino acids. These include grains---corn, wheat, rice, barley, millet, and oats--- and legumes---peanuts, beans, peas, and lentils. These are incomplete proteins. However, the protein in the grains mostly lack the amino acids that the legumes have and vice versa, and they can "complete" each other.

That means if you eat a slice of whole wheat bread (a grain) with peanut butter (a legume), you've given your body all the amino acids at one time. Beans and brown rice or split pea soup with whole wheat bread or corn tortilla with black beans are other examples of combinations. And if you have an incomplete protein with a complete protein, you're fine too. I can't recall right now where sunflower and pumpkin seeds fall, complete or incomplete, and there are a few others.

This probably sounds complicated. But it's really a lot simpler. If you have food from at least two protein groups (meat, dairy, nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes) at a meal, you should have a complete protein. Drink a glass of milk or soy milk with every meal, and you won't need to think much about this.

Just a note: there are a very few research studies that suggest your body might store the incomplete proteins for later combination, but I believe a lot of other research contradicts that. Probably safer to go with the more conservative one hour figure (and I aim to get them at the same time when possible).

Monday, July 18, 2011

Simple snacks

These are the simplest of healthy snacks, those that even complete non-cooks should be able to manage.

Popcorn is a favorite, simple and low-cal, and very cheap...if you avoid the microwave type. If you get a hot air popcorn maker (which seem to be making a bit of a comeback), you can buy popcorn in large bags for less than a box of the gourmet microwave popcorns. And you can completely control how much butter and salt you use. I say butter intentionally because we've found that margarine tends to make the popcorn turn soggy while butter does not. And if you want fat free, keep in mind that all microwave popcorn adds some fat, while none is required for hot air popping.

Crisp cold raw vegetables. Carrots, cucumbers, celery, cauliflower, mushrooms, brocolli, zucchini, radishes, onions, green peppers, and ripe (red, orange, or yellow) peppers all are quite good served raw. Cherry tomato or low-juice tomato slices are also good, but have more potential to be messy. Serve with a simple dip---I like to mix 2 parts plain yogurt and 1 part olive-oil based mayo with a bit of seasoning (things like onions, chives, parsley, dill, salt, pepper). Or use salsa. Carrots and celery are quite good with a little peanut butter. Pick vegetables that are in season and don't overdo the dip, and this is not only nutritious but cheap and filling.

Fresh fruit. Grapes, berries, sliced apple, pear, pineapple, and bananas can be eaten with a sweet dip...I like plain yogurt with some honey stirred in. Again, pick things in season and go light on the dip for nutritious, cheap, and filling.

Berries and milk. This is one of my favorite desserts, something I only get to enjoy for a few months of the year. Wash the berries. Cap them if they're strawberries, and slice large strawberries into quarters. Put the berries in a bowl, pour on enough milk to cover. Crush and add some unsalted nuts and toss on a few chocolate chips. Sprinkle a little sugar on top if the berries aren't very sweet. A cup of berries is about 45 calories, half a cup of skim milk is about 45, a 1/4 cup of nuts is about 50 calories, and add a few chocolate chips and some sugar, and you have a great dessert for between 175 and 200 calories. You can mix several types of berries and nuts or have just one kind of berry and nut each. I leave off the sweeteners sometimes when berries are really cheap and have a bowl for breakfast with a slice of peanut butter toast.

Peanuts, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds. These are generally pretty cheap and fairly nutritious. Peanuts are not a complete protein, I'm not sure about the other two, and if you're watching sodium, you probably should consider avoiding the salted varieties.

Dried fruits. These can be a bit expensive, other than raisins, and sometimes dried cranberries, but a great energy source if you like them.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Groceries for the week of July 16th

Not a bad week, though we did a bit more stocking up, $70.30, but we got some really good deals.

We spent $3.58 on meat, $18.96 on dairy, $16.24 for produce, breads and grains were $10.87, and $20.65 on miscellaneous soups, nuts, and such. My best deal were cans of diced tomatoes with chili peppers for $.15 a can, and I got quarts of strawberries for $1.38 each, as well as some other good ones. I don't think I got a bad deal this week, really.

Coffee's so high that I bought a box of really cheap tea bags as an alternative to try out. We've always had green tea and herb teas around, but not as our everyday drink.

Oh, and the tomato/chili cans paired well with the corn tortillas we bought last week. I warmed up beef broth, a can of the tomatoes and chilies, added about a cup of frozen onions, and some seasonings (salt, pepper, garlic powder, cayenne pepper), brought it to a boil, and added some strips of corn tortillas. It was pretty good served with plain yogurt (as a substitute for sour cream) and a little salsa. It was a bit spicier than I like. Next time, I think I may try making it in chicken broth with a little chicken added and possibly some beans if I have some already cooked, or something that will soak up some of the spice. It could be made with corn, but I'm not a big fan of corn myself. Most of the recipes I've seen either use tortilla CHIPS or fry the tortillas, turning them into chips. I treated them like noodles and it worked pretty well. It was relatively low calorie; even with the tortillas and yogurt it was probably less than 200 calories per person. And cheap: I think the whole pot of soup was less than $.60, but that's because I combined several sales items.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thoughts on simplicity

Has anyone else noticed that very few of the free recipes available online are simple ones? And the supposedly thrifty ones often aren't (at least not for ordinary people)? I think some of them would add 3 or 4 extra ingredients to instructions for making a grilled cheese.

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing at all wrong with options or variations on a recipe. But honestly, does tortilla soup really require 8 or 10 different spices, not to mention several other ingredients that I've never seen in tortilla soup? This may make a better version (or may not, more complex isn't always better), but it's certainly not necessary. I went to one Web site that's changed hands since I last looked, and the nicely practical, basic thrifty recipes have mostly been replaced with complicated or expensive recipes. The bulk cooking recipe Web sites used to be great too, but most of the recipes now seem to call for pricey ingredients.

I think there are several reasons for this. One is kind of like the change Mother Earth News underwent from the really genuine back to basics stuff when it began (fruit-loopy as some of it was) to the trendy stuff that only appeals to the upper middle class who have a lot more money than the poor; profit tends to push things to target them. Second is also an economic one---recipes are a great way to sell more of some item, and I suspect a lot of things online are directly or indirectly financed by the vendors. Third is also an economic one---people want to produce original versions of recipes and the "best" version so people will pay for their cookbook or classes or something. But last, I suspect a lot fewer of the working class and poor spend much time online, either from lack of computer and internet or from lack of time.

Search engines are also set up to push results of companies that pay for the favoritism up in your results. An example was when I searched for "basic bread recipe yeast". In the first 5 or 6 results there were several from prominent recipe sites that were anything but basic. None of those results was for a non-knead dough either, and while a batter bread recipe isn't great for sandwiches, it's perfectly delicious, and easier to make. Much less intimidating for someone experimenting with making bread for the first time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Groceries for the week of 07/10/2011

This past weekend, we did a bit of stocking up at one of our secondary stores, with a total of $83.34.

We spent $9.51 on dairy, $37.08 on meat and eggs, $17.11 on produce, $9.18 for grains and bread, $2 for coffee, and $8.46 for odds and ends. That's a lot of money for meat, but we got over 20 pounds of (boneless) meat, and $10 of that went to stocking up on my fat free hot dogs that were on sale.

We've needed a trip to this store to restock on a couple of items, but we'd been watching for a weekend with unusually good sales, which this was. Our best meat purchase was ground chicken for $.99 a pound. A lot of produce was at a good price. We didn't exactly need the coffee since we'd bought some last week, but the small canister was about the equivalent of $6 for the large, so more than worth it. Unfortunately, there was a one-item limit. Our best buy was a very large package of corn tortillas for $.99 (I don't remember the exact number, but I think it was 90). That's a lot to use up, even for us, but I'm planning to try tortilla soup later this week, and we have baked enchillada at least once a week, and migas for breakfast.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Groceries-week of 07/02/2011

I've been offline for a couple of weeks due to computer and car problems and exams in my class. Hopefully I can get back to posting regularly.

Just to keep the weekly record of grocery buying complete, I'm going to jump back to the weekend before last. We spent $48.29, so another payoff week. We spent $3.19 for dairy, $14.04 for meat, $15.85 for produce, $2.19 for bread, $9.44 for coffee, and $3.58 for brownie mixes.

The total would have been even lower except this included food for the 4th of July plus brownie mixes that we made up to take to someone as a thank you for help with the car. The worst deal was the coffee. The price has gone up in the last few months and seems to be staying high. I could have gone a few more weeks, but I hate to chance running short too. Next time I see a good sale, though, I'm buying 3 or 4 cans even if I have to store them on top of the cabinets. Some of the produce was a particularly good price.

However, they had apparently made too many rotisserie chickens because they had a lot of them marked down quite a bit. One of our meat purchases was a really large BBQ chicken for $4.79 (at least twice the size of what's usually sold at that price) that provided lunch and supper that day with enough meat frozen to provide at least 8 lunches for me. I consider it a great deal since it saved us the work and time and avoided turning on the oven in this heat.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

This week's groceries, a little late

Sorry about being off for a few days...

We picked up groceries on Saturday, a good week at $47.03. Meat and eggs ran $15.45; dairy was $8.88; produce was $15.32; bread and other items were $7.38. Eggs were still our worst deal at $1.43. My best deal was my brand of natural peanut butter for $1.50 a jar.

I did experiment with the wok last week. I cut up a chicken breast and cooked it most of the way before adding a mix (from frozen) of asparagus, red and yellow pepper, corn, and a little shredded zucchini and carrot, seasoned with low-sodium soy sauce, salt, pepper, and garlic. We served it over the soba noodles, and apparently it came out pretty well because my daughter asked if we could have it again.

It wasn't one of our cheapest meals, probably about $2.50 total, but it took less than 15 minutes total to make. I'm in love with the noodles, they cook in 3 minutes, so we'll definitely be buying them again. Probably not as nutritious as brown rice, but they're ready in a fraction of the time.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


I'm taking a couple of days off from writing while I study for a test. As much as I love writing for this, I have to have my priorities, lol...

Monday, June 20, 2011

Reducing consumption 4

Now, how much difference can small things like this make? Probably more than you think. I haven't done a math crunching exercise in a while, so here goes, using some very generic numbers...

(I'm working with $.20 a kwh, probably on the low end for many of you.)

Turning off a computer monitor for just one hour a day when you leave the room saves $.25 a month for a newer LCD monitor, at least $.50 a month for an older CRT monitor.

Putting a computer to sleep for one hour a day when you aren't using it will save you about $.92 a month.

Turning off a TV for at least one hour a day when you're out of the room will save at least $.74 a month (this will be over $2 a month for a big screen tv)

Turning off the playstation or XBox for one hour a day will save about $1.20 a month

Saving 15 minutes of use of an electric stove burner a day will save about $1.24 a month

Cutting the time a coffee maker is on by 30 minutes a day (an item I forgot to list) will save about $2.80 a month

Replacing four-60 watt bulbs in fixtures used 4 hours a day with equivalent CF bulbs will save $4.16 a month (plus reducing cooling costs during the summer)

Reducing the use of an electric oven by 30 minutes a day will save $6.20 a month (plus cooling costs)

Omitting the drying cycle on a dishwasher that's run once a day will save at least $3.10 a month

Reducing the AC use by the equivalent of an hour a day will save about $22 a month. Heat is closer to $50 a month.

All those small items, not including the AC or heat use reduction? Add up to $20.61 a month, or $247.32 a year. Just the three smallest items save almost $2 a month alone. Add in the AC and heat savings, assuming three months of AC and five months of heat would bring the total up to $46.94 or $563.32 a year.

Just removing the trickle drain of appliances and electronics on standby could save you $2 to $3 for each item per month. If you have half a dozen small appliances and electronics, that's $15 a month just to keep things on standby.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ethical frugal living

This is written for my dad, the most ethical person I've ever known...

There is a point in being frugal that crosses the line into the unethical, and it's important for us to stay aware of that line.

I used to have a friend who owned a restaurant, and I was appalled at the things people did. Stealing a dish or silverware in a restaurant is still stealing, however petty, and each time someone does that, a business owner has to include that cost in calculating the costs of services, so we all pay, indirectly, for that theft. The same goes for towels in a hotel.

And smaller things... Yes, when you go for fast food, they expect you to take napkins and packages of condiments. And it's reasonable to take a LITTLE extra---two or three napkins per person in case someone spills a drink (possibly an extra couple beyond that if you have a small child), an extra package or two of salt, pepper, or ketchup in case one turns out to be empty or gets dropped. Most places give you plenty of these when you get takeout (one close to us tosses in 4 or 5 napkins with a single burger), and I put away anything that's leftover for later use. That's just being thrifty.

But I have encountered people who grab a big handful of napkins when buying fast food so they don't have to buy them themselves between visits. The same with condiments. And that's crossing the line into the unethically frugal. Every customer of that business will pay, even if it's only a fraction of a penny, for each time one person does that. And it adds up. My friend with the restaurant said that as much as 5-10% of her overhead was the result of theft. Think about that. For a $10 meal, $1 is paying for theft by fellow customers.

Another example: It's perfectly reasonable to use the restroom at work just before heading home. In my case, although my drive home is usually less than 5 minutes, I always stop because more than once, I've had to wait 10 extra minutes on a train or go the long way due to an accident. I dunno about you, but an extra 10 or 15 minutes can be uncomfortable if I needed to go when I left work. The fact that it probably saves a little on utility use and TP at home is a fringe benefit but not the reason I do it.

But taking a roll of toilet paper or stack of paper towels from work so you don't have to buy them at home is unethical, however you may feel about your boss.

There are also things where the line can be vague and depend entirely on your own comfort level. Very few people will pick up a penny in a parking lot then walk into the store to hand it to the cashier (very few people will bother to pick up a penny at all these days). Many would probably turn in a twenty or a check (though this sort of thing tests people's honesty). Some, but fewer, would turn in a ten. Most would not turn in a one, I think. I think the fuzzy dividing line for most people would be a five.

I probably wouldn't turn in a one, simply because it's very unlikely that someone would come back looking for that amount. I would turn in a five if there was a logical place to do so-say it was in the parking lot of a gas station or small store, but maybe not in the parking lot of a mall. A ten I would definitely turn in, unless there was no logical place (it was blowing along the road, not near any shopping or home). A twenty is an amount I would consider reporting to the police. I would report even a one to the police if I found it about the same time as some incident it might be connected with. 

The line is obviously somewhat subjective for any of these, and will depend on your own sense of what is ethical. But ask yourself about that line any time you think about something in the name of frugality that essentially takes money from someone else's pocket.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Weekly groceries-06/18/2011

A good week, only $38.95. For the most part, we're pretty well stocked up, so this is a "payoff" week. 

Of this total, $6.97 was for dairy, a whopping $21.58 for produce, $6.47 for bread and grains, $1.43 for eggs (no other meat), and $2.50 for odds and ends.

As I said, we're stocked up right now on almost everything, particularly frozen meat. We're taking advantage of the good prices to indulge in a lot of fresh produce. I also bought a few canned vegetables that were on sale for my storage foods, the one thing I'm a little short on. And a 10 pound bag of white rice. We didn't strictly need the rice yet, but it was on sale at $.45 a pound, and we're going through it pretty quickly now with the rice steamer.

Our best "buy" was probably 2 quarts of strawberries for $1.88 a quart. Our worst buy was probably the eggs, at $1.43 for a dozen.

By the time this posts tonight, I should have shredded zucchini and carrots and chopped up the green bell pepper and some spinach, and packaged them for stir fries. I also got a pint of pre-chopped fresh onions on sale ($.79) to use for those as well. Sadly, asparagus and ripe peppers were expensive this week. I also plan to wash and cap the strawberries and wash and cut up a couple of cucumbers and some of the carrots to make snack sticks for work day lunches. The berries won't stay on sale much longer, but some other fruits and vegetables should start dropping soon. I can't wait for fresh tomatoes and cucumber for salads and riatas...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Reducing consumption 3

Continued from yesterday...

  • Only water lawns as really necessary
  • Consider replace a grass lawn with appropriate low-maintenance-and-low-water-use landscaping (well done, this also looks a lot more attractive than a grass lawn)
  • Water efficiently
  • Take showers instead of baths
  • Take short showers (I'm guilty of losing myself in the shower)
  • With caution, consider a space heater in one or two key rooms and turn down the thermostat for the rest of the house
  • Don't drink a glass of water and put the glass into the dirty dishes. Use a single glass for the day
  • Don't spend money on bottled water. The dirty secret of that industry is that it's not only LESS regulated than the water from the tap, it often IS water from public sources. Buy a filter system if you don't trust your local water system
  • If you have house plants, wash vegetables and drain rinse water from rice and beans and cooking water from pasta into a dishpan, then use that water to water the house plants. You get a second use from the water, and the plants can often make use of the nutrients in the water   
There are lots of other ideas, of course, these are just the ones I could come up with in a single, quick brainstorming session. My last post on this particular topic will be in two or three days...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Reducing consumption 2

Continued from yesterday...

  • Turn off TVs, stereos, computers, etc. when not in use.
  • Consider putting all the electronics in the entertainment center in a single accessible strip with a power switch, and turn it off when you leave the house or go to bed. This unfortunately resets digital clocks, but saves the trickle use of power to all these items.
  • Do the same with small appliances in the kitchen and with computer workstations.
  • Turn off your computer monitor if you're stepping away for more than a minute or two. They warm back up very quickly, and monitors are not only a big energy drain, they generate heat.
  • Turn off the computer or put to sleep if you're leaving it for more than 5 minutes.
  • Don't let water run unnecessarily
  • Use a clothes line, if practical, at least for some things (sheets that air dry smell great)
  • Keep the freezer close to full.
  • Use the oven efficiently by fixing several items in it at once, especially during the summer, and limit or avoid using it during really hot weather.
  • Make efficient use of an electric stove's burners. Keep in mind that the burners take time to warm up AND cool down. This means, for some items, you can turn the burner off before the food is entirely done, and it will keep cooking for a minute or two longer. 
  • Another way I take advantage of this is using the same burner in succession. I heat the water for my coffee in the morning while I prep whatever I'm going to cook. When the water boils, I have the fry pan or sauce pan ready to go on the same burner. Since the burner is already hot, the pan is ready to cook as quickly as on a gas stove.
Continued tomorrow...

    Reducing consumption 1

    One way to cut on your bills is to reduce consumption. Start by looking at utilities. As with anything else, small changes can add up to more than you might think. Most of these are commonly known, but listing them together can help think of new things.
      • Turn off lights when you aren't in the room
      • Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents wherever possible
      • Turn the thermostat for the AC up a couple of degrees or the heat down a couple of degrees when you're going to be out of the house for more than a couple of hours. I'm not always good about this with the AC because our unit can struggle to bring the temperature back down
      • Turn the thermostat up or down more when going out of town for a day or two
      • Take advantage of natural light in rooms. 
      • Mirrors can reflect light and make a dark room brighter (any other fans of the Mummy movies?)
      • Reduce the cost of outdoor lighting by installing solar path lights
      • Put heavy drapes on windows to keep heat in or out (depending on the climate and time of year)
      • If you can't afford to replace weather stripping, make draught extruders (basically a tube filled with some insulating material that you put against the bottom of the door).
      • Change the air filter on central heating and cooling units
      • Clean the outside unit for central heating and cooling units, especially after mowing
    Continued tomorrow...

    Wednesday, June 15, 2011

    Make it last 2

    Routine household maintenance has stayed the same in some things, but there are some new things to try to remember that can save you money on repairs or early replacements. One of the biggest is to clean a computer regularly, at least once or twice a year. The frequency probably depends on the amount of dust, pet hair, and smoke in your home. If you dust regularly, but knock it down onto the computer or stir it up into the air, you probably need to clean the computer more regularly too.

    Keep in mind, I'm not a computer expert. On the other hand, I do speak English most of the time when talking about computers. So, why clean the dust out of the computer? It can cause overheating, particularly if it clogs up a cooling fan, slowing it down. That can cause the computer to run more slowly or parts to burn out entirely, which can be a very expensive repair if the motherboard goes.

    You need a can of compressed air and a screwdriver. Turn off the computer and unplug it. I'd recommend giving it a few minutes to cool off first, and some people do this outside so they don't spray dust all over the place. Remove the cover (that's why you need a screwdriver). Use short bursts to blow the dust out. Most computer cases have a grill at the back, so that can be a good direction to aim so the dust leaves the computer.

    If your computer was particularly dusty or had a lot of pet hair in it, you probably want to plan to dust more often. Me, I aim for at least once every 3 months.

    Tuesday, June 14, 2011

    Convenient and cheap

    My oldest daughter uses an approach I like to make sure their work night meals are cheap but easy and nutritious. On their weekend, she chops up whatever fresh vegetables and meat they buy on sale for stir fries and packages them up (meat and vegetables separately) in single meal proportions. Any that won't be used in the next couple of days get frozen. 

    When they're ready for supper, she puts the rice to cook, turns on the burner and puts oil in the wok, getting out her bags of meat and vegetables (left to thaw in the refrigerator if they were frozen) while the wok heats. As soon as it's ready, she adds the meat to the oil. When the meat is about half cooked (which doesn't take long in a wok), she adds the bag of vegetables, then whatever sauce or seasonings they're adding. With a little practice, you can probably time the stir fry and rice to be done at almost exactly the same time.

    They often work overtime, plus weird hours, and this quick approach helps them resist going out for more expensive and much less healthy fast food. I plan to try this myself for next week...I hope asparagus and peppers are on sale. 

    Monday, June 13, 2011

    Frugality-make it last

    One area of frugality that people often don't "get" is maintenance---make it last. And I find that men and women often have a great deal of trouble communicating about.

    Men often don't get ordinary household cleaning as "maintenance," though a large minority do understand it. I find this a little amusing because the same man often is meticulous about his car---washing it, waxing it, detailing it, taking it in for every possible bit of preventive maintenance. And he'll tell you that this work makes the car last and retain its value better, which is true, though it's just as much about pride in owning the car as anything else. If you have a partner who's like this about his car but sees vaccuming, picking up, washing windows, etc. in the house as "fussing", use the car analogy to help him see that it's the same thing. If you vaccuum carpet regularly, it'll look nice and last longer before you have to replace it (not to mention avoiding health problems). That'll save you money. And so on.

    And for women, even though a car is less durable, think of regular maintenance and cleaning of a car in the same way you would view housecleaning (for male readers, use the house analogy to get a women who doesn't "get" maintenance on a car). If you change the oil regularly and have tune ups and other preventative maintenance done, the car will last longer. You'll also feel more pride in it.

    I admit, I'm kind of middle of the road. I like my home clean, but I don't try for spotless. I take care of preventive maintenance on my car and keep it reasonably clean, but I don't worry about a weekly car wash and waxing either. Partly, this is making people in my life more important than things. I try to make my things last, but as an elderly friend told me when my children were very small "the dust will be there when the kids are grown."

    Saturday, June 11, 2011

    Gorceries for the week of June 11, 2011

    We're trying to work out some new eating patterns. My daughter, who's done most of the cooking and kitchen cleaning, started a job in addition to the class she's taking this summer that requires standing on her feet a lot. Some of the more labor intensive menu items just aren't practical right now.

    So, the total for this week was $61.57. We spent $16.45 on meat, $7.98 for dairy, $16 for produce, $7.46 for breads and grains, $11.18 for spices and sauces, and $2.50 for snacks. A little higher than our long-term average (about $55), but not bad at all.

    There was a lot of meat out in the bargain bin, so we stocked up on some good ground chuck and some brats. Without these sales, we'd have kept our spending closer to $50. We got a package of ripe bell peppers for $.50 a pepper, and I love the ripe peppers which are usually too expensive for me. Blackberries for $.99, and strawberries for $1.97 mean we'll be having berries in milk for dessert several nights. We still have some salad makings left from last week too, so we'll have lots of fruits and veggies this week.

    Our most expensive purchase was garlic powder, $7.99 for a large jar. This will last us for a while, though.  Right now, I expect next week's grocery bill to be $50 or less, but that could change if there's a good sale...

    Friday, June 10, 2011

    Clever marketing

    I think "hot wings" have to be one of the great marketing campaigns of all time. Chicken wings, which are mostly bone, were always the late piece of chicken anyone ate, and had so little meat that they were hardly worth bothering with even for soup.

    Then here come "hot wings," a bit of chicken with maybe two bites, and that take a lot of work to get even those two bites. For the amount of meat you actually get from them, they're probably charging more than I pay per ounce for sirloin. And in the grocery store, instead of being priced cheaper even than drumsticks, they often run almost as much as chicken breasts...for mostly bone, because people buy and make their own now.

    I've had them a couple of times when other people wanted them, and OK, the sauces are pretty good. But really? I can only explain it as a really remarkable piece of marketing, creating the market for the piece no one wanted. And I must have missed the marketing, probably because I watch so little (now no) TV because I still look at them and see the orphan piece of chicken sitting on the platter. The sauce would be as good (probably better) on other, more edible pieces of chicken, after all.

    Even if I didn't buy into the marketing, I do have to admire the talent involved in creating an appetite for something no one wanted. But if you want to keep your money in your wallet, stop and think about the marketing before you buy things.

    Thursday, June 9, 2011

    Thinking about the things that really matter

    This post isn't strictly frugal living, but I felt like laughing about it...

    I survived another birthday recently, one of those big ones, so I kept it kind of quiet. Not because I'm embarassed about my age (I'd say how old I am except for concerns about identity theft), but because I'm superstitious about it---my last big one involved a natural disaster.  I decided to work all day on my birthday and just go out with my younger daughter for supper.

    So, it's not surprising that the only person who remembered my birthday on that day was my younger daughter. My other daughter did very nice things for me on our earlier visit and wasn't awake and at home at the same time all day. My father sent me a very sweet card the week before. I don't allow my birthday on FB or anywhere else for privacy concerns.

    What got me was who, or rather what, DID remember. Computer programs. My morning started with an e-mail from my insurance company, I got a second one from from another company, and when I logged in to my student Web page, I discovered that there was a big birthday message...from the computer system.

    I guess it's one of those signs that I'm just plain old, because having a computer remember my birthday is just bizarre. I love computers, don't get me wrong, but the idea that companies put that kind of programs in place (which also makes me worry about the security of the software involved) just creeps me out a little.

    However, on the subject of birthdays, this can be a traumatic time if you're trying to buy a present for someone. But I can say that my younger daughter did more to make me feel very loved and important just by doing a few small, thoughtful things. The morning starting with a hug and a "good morning." Going out of her way to be early to go out for dinner, and surprising me with ice cream for dessert (and a completely unnecessary apology that she couldn't make a cake this year between her class and her new job.) And when we got home, she had installed a computer game that she knew I liked on my computer for me. Just little things, but thoughtful ways to tell me that I was important enough to her to go out of her way a little.

    As far as presents go, if you ask my daughters which Christmas they remember the most, they'll tell you it was the one when they woke up and discovered a piece of yarn tied to the bedroom doors for each of them, leading them through a Twister-like maze of two intertwined spider webs that they had to follow around the living room (and each other) to find their presents. It was a morning of giggles and laughs, more than a reward for the hour or so I spent setting it up the night before. None of us remember the presents that year, though the reason I did this was because we'd agreed on a single big item---a TV or DVD player, I think (notice we don't even remember what that one was). So there were only a few other small gifts, which I felt would be a bit of a let down on Christmas morning, and came up with the maze to make sure they had some fun in addition to our other traditions.

    There are times that a gift is just so perfect or amazing that you remember it. But that's because it DOES only happen once or twice. A friend's son recently gave his younger sister a laptop for her birthday, an extravagant and loving present. Everyone in their family will remember that unique present. At the same time, both of those kids, and both parents, do little things every day that tell each other how important they are, and those are most of the things that people remember in the long run. When you start planning for someone's birthday, even your own, think of it in terms of "what will they remember?" Most of the time, it isn't the expensive gifts, it's the fun.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011

    Quick Ideas to save a little

    Just a couple of quick ideas tonight...

    I used to be able to find inexpensive little note pads and mini binders at the store, but most of these seem to have been replaced by much more expensive "planners" and fancy "blank books". My solution was to buy a bunch of blank index cards ($.44 for 100), punch holes in one corner, and put something through the holes to hold them together. These are actually a lot sturdier than the note pads I used to buy. They take less than 5 minutes to make, and cost less than the ones I used to buy; they probably save me at least $2 over anything on the shelf now. 

    And they're more versatile as well, honestly; I can take a few off and make instant flash cards or study cards or fold one in half and leave a "tented" note for someone. I have rings that can be put through them that open and close, but I used an old fashioned brass paper brad. These items are hard to find now (too versatile, cheap, and "old-fashioned" I guess), but I still have about 20 or so. You could make a more attractive one with a piece of pretty ribbon.

    Extend this further to your own blank books and planners using larger index cards. Take a little time with them, cut out cardboard covers from the backs of notepads and cover with fabric and create really special blank books for kids.
    Keep extending this idea. If you have a young girl or boy who has a color or hobby or cartoon character that they're crazy about. Get a yard of fabric in that color and make a simple tote as a book bag with it, and use the rest to make book covers or a binder cover. If it's a cartoon character, and the fabric is expensive, get just enough to use as accents and pick a solid that coordinates. Make the book bag in that solid with a top border in the cartoon fabric, then make only the front cover of the blank book or binder cover with the cartoon fabric, and the rest out of the solid. If you're handy with a sewing machine, consider a matching "roll" for school supplies---a long piece of cloth with pockets for pencils, erasers, ruler, and crayons. Put the supplies in their pockets, roll it up, and tie it (or use a bit of velcro). Then find a magazine picture of the character or hobby or even a photo of the family pet and carefully glue it onto an old lunchbox and cover it with clear contact paper.

    Instead of thinking of this as cheap and homemade, think of your child as the only one in his school with a matching book bag, notebook covers, supply roll, and lunchbox with John Deere tractors or race cars...

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011

    Obsolescence or overcharging?

    One barrier to being frugal is the tendency of either manufacturers or stores to decide something is too good and replace it with something more expensive/less durable.

    As recently as 7 or 8 years ago, you could get a really sturdy square white freezer container, sold in packages of about 10 for $4 or $5, I believe. They held almost exactly one pound of meat and stacked well in the freezer with little wasted space. About that time, they came out with the "disposable" containers (I don't know about you, but they're way too expensive to be disposable to me). They're brittle plastic, so they don't hold up as well, and "interchangeable" is apparently not a word in the manufacturers vocabularies. I have 2 containers from the same manufacturer that are so close in size that the only way to tell if you have the right one is to try it on the container (and then wash it when it turns out to be the wrong one). This means unless you buy a lot of the exact same thing on the exact same day, if you lose a lid, the container is more or less useless, forcing you to buy a new one. Sadly, my local stores stopped carrying the much better (and cheaper) square freezer containers, I assume because there was more profit in the cheap disposables that had to be replaced constantly.

    I actually started thinking about this subject after a visit to our local department store. One of the items on my list was an ordinary bottle opener (ours vanished), the kind with one end for opening bottles, and the other for poking nice big holes in those large cans of tomato juice to pour, something that's usually only $1 or $2. To my shock, they didn't have one. They had something similar, at $7, but the part that is supposed to poke the hole in the can would make one so tiny that you'd spend 10 minutes pouring a glass of tomato juice. At that price and for that kind of result, I'd rather take the entire lid off with a can opener and buy a pitcher (probably more cheaply) to put it in. Which is going to be messier and more annoying than simply poking holes on opposing edges to pour.

    Even more annoying, when I asked a store clerk about it, I got the "Oh, you mean the OLD-FASHIONED kind." I'm dumbfounded at the implication that there's something wrong with wanting the cheaper, better-performing, more durable item...because it wasn't designed last week? I'm not exactly adverse to new things, but I do expect them to be an improvement for me, and not just a way to make more money (and probably buy multiple items at different stores trying to find a replacement that doesn't make me tear my hair out).

    The idea of this kind of obsolescence may appeal to stores, but what it often does is send people other places to find the goods they really want. Something to think of...

    Monday, June 6, 2011


    My thought for tonight is, why does our culture often punish those who handle their money well, but reward those who are spendthrifts? I started thinking about this today after I  realized that one private "need based" education program used actual expenses to determine need, not the average expense for the area and family size. So, people like me willing to put two people in a one bedroom, cheap, rundown apartment has $500 less in financial "need" compared to a single person renting a pricey two bedroom for one person because he or she "needs" a study/computer room. Or replaced a paid-off three year old car with a new one and a new car loan has a greater "need" than someone like me who is nursing along an older car that's paid off.

    Several times at past jobs, other people were given raises when everyone else was being told merit raises, even for the people who'd been put off for several years due to tight money, were out of the question. Worse, all of these people were average performers at best who were often already overpaid for what they did, while people who did much harder jobs were paid less for much better work. The reason invariably was that the person wasn't "getting by" on their income and they needed help. Those who were paid less weren't complaining or didn't have a "crisis," so obviously they were fine.

    None of these people had a real crisis such as their house destroyed by a tornado and wasn't covered by insurance or a family member with major medical bills that weren't covered by insurance. No, every one of these people took expensive vacations and ate out constantly and ran up their credit cards until, voila! they had a crisis just to pay their normal bills. If any one of them had cut back their expenses, the crisis would have vanished.

    To me, this is punishing those who live within their means, and worse, rewarding mediocrity and whining. 

    Hmmm, guess I'm whining a little myself. Time for a piece of chocolate...

    Sunday, June 5, 2011

    Groceries-week 06/04/2011

    Sorry, forgot to post yesterday, lots going on (mostly good, but I forgot I didn't have one set up yet).

    Our grocery bill for the week $69.94, good when you consider we haven't bought in a week and a half. Dairy was $8.96; breads and grains were $5.81; produce was $28.72; meat and eggs were $7.27; oil and sauces were $15.30 with about $3.88 in some miscellaneous items.

    Produce was unusually high, but since my daughter started a job and our summer classes have started, we're experimenting with steamed vegetables, chef salads, etc. Some of that was also for frozen and canned fruits and vegetables that store well. We also replaced several bottles of sauces we use for stir fries and enchiladas, pushing that up some for this week.

    Our best deals were on strawberries ($2), carrots (5 lbs for $1.99), rice ($.47 a pound), eggs ($1 for a dozen large), and enchilada sauce ($.79). We didn't really have a bad buy this week, unless it was for the stir fry sauces.

    Going back to our favorite new toy, the rice steamer, I'm finding that steaming vegetables at the same time rice is cooking doesn't work very well-the rice tends to foam up into the steaming basket. But I cut up a raw chicken breast to steam while rice cooked one day this week, and it came out beautifully cooked through, moist and tender. I plan to try steaming vegetables and meat in the basket and serving it over bread, baked potato, or couscous which can be made on the stove top quickly and easily. The second option is to cook up enough rice in the steamer one night when having a stir fry to have leftover rice for steamed meat and veggies the next night but I don't usually want rice that often.

    Friday, June 3, 2011

    The Budget Baby 2

    Baby clothes. All those lovely little size 3 months outfits. Guess what? You can measure the useful life of that size in WEEKS on a full term baby. My oldest, who was always on the wiry, thin side, outgrew them in about 3 weeks. Her sturdier sister, who weighed 8 pounds when she was born, wore them for about a week. Assuming you have easy access to a washer and dryer (and a family member besides Mom who'll do laundry in the first two or three weeks), I would recommend getting no more than 4 t-shirt or onesie type shirts (long or short sleeve depending on the climate), and 6 or 7 one piece sleepers, and maybe one nice outfit to bring baby home from the hospital and take photos in. If the season is cold, you might want a couple more sleepers and fewer shirts. Babies can go through a lot of clothes in one day, but this is probably enough for 3 days. Get them second hand if possible. You can wash them, and most of the time, the clothes weren't worn more than once or twice. A couple of pairs of booties or 4 or 5 pair of socks, and one season-appropriate hat in the tiny size.

    If someone is giving you a shower, request that most of the clothes be in 6 or 12 month sizes. Most babies seem to grow out of the 6 month size by about 4 months old, and the 12 month size by 10 months. My 6 month size wish list would include 8 to 12 t-shirts or onsies, 3 to 5 pairs of pants (with snaps), 8 to 10 footed sleepers that unzip all the way to the foot, 2 to 3 hats, 6 to 10 pairs of socks, 2 to 3 pairs of booties, and 1 to 2 sweaters. If you're having your baby in the fall or early winter, heavy blanket sleepers are better than the light ones, and you'll probably want a coat or even a snow bunting or suit, depending on the climate. If you're having your baby in the spring or early summer, you can probably use some of the lighter footed sleepers, and baby may be able to wear just a onesie and socks some days. You may still want some blanket sleepers, especially if it gets cool at night or you keep your house cool. Pick clothes that keep the baby comfortable and allow you to change diapers and clothes easily.

    As far as the pretty dresses and suits? Remember that they'll probably only be worn once or twice, and unless it's summer, a dress alone really isn't warm enough for a small baby. If you have the money and really want them, go for it, but consider them "extras", not necessities. And no matter how much you love dresses, do your baby a favor and switch to pants from the time they start to crawl until they walk pretty well. Putting a dress on a baby who's trying to learn to crawl is frustrating for the baby at the least and usually results in unnecessary falls.

    Thursday, June 2, 2011

    The Budget Baby I

    Admittedly, this is a topic on which I am a bit out of date. My "baby" is 21. But some things don't change. Outfitting for a new baby can be very expensive, but it doesn't have to be. But whatever you do, keep safety and health in mind.

    First, ask around for second hand items, particularly furniture. Do be careful of safety, particularly when it comes to 30 year old cribs stashed in someone's attic. But many people have one or two children, then get rid of their stuff, and a lot of that stuff has years of life still in it. You can save a lot on a crib by buying it second hand, however, you may want to buy a new mattress for health reasons. If not, I'd clean it thoroughly and I'd recommend being extra careful of mattress covers and pads. Many car seats can be wiped down very well, and the cloth covers washed. The same with many baby seats and carriers.

    A stroller isn't absolutely necessary, especially at first, unless you plan to do a lot of walking with the baby. A high chair isn't an urgent initial item, and you can probably get by without one at all. My younger daughter went from eating in the stroller to eating sitting in my lap to sitting in a small child's chair at a child's table with her sister. The high chair, which we already had, was mostly used for her to play in next to us when we washed dishes or baked bread so she could join in. A good baby swing can be a wonderful thing, but isn't necessary. Keep in mind many of these things may only be used for a few months when you consider the investment. A baby pack, front or back, or a sling can be great for a small baby, but most of these are washable which make them really good candidates for second hand purchase. I loved a bouncer seat over a cradle or a rocking car seat, and I think they're cheaper too, if you don't get fancy.

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    no-cook food

    Sorry, somehow last night's post didn't go up.

    I haven't revisited my goal of putting up ideas for the really desperate in a few weeks, and some of this will probably overlap things I've already suggested.

    The cheapest foods, generally are those that require a lot of cooking: rice, pasta, beans, and dried peas. The cheapest complete protein foods usually do too: eggs and hot dogs.

    White bread is generally the cheapest starchy food that requires no cooking. If you buy the cheapest white bread possible (day old possibly), you can get it for less than $.03 a slice.  You can often get 100% whole wheat bread (much more nutritious) for less than $.10 a slice, and with it, you get some incomplete protein. Peanut butter can be quite cheap, maybe $.05 a serving, though it's also an incomplete protein, but eat it with bread, and I believe you then have a complete protein. The cheapest no-cook complete protein is usually milk. Sliced cheese is usually not too far behind.

    The cheapest vegetables that don't need cooking can vary a lot, but carrots are usually one of the cheapest, followed by spinach, cucumbers, and broccoli. Tomatoes can be cheap at some times of the year. Iceberg lettuce is cheap, but nutritionally not nearly as good as the leaf lettuces, I'm told. Apples and oranges are relatively cheap year round. Generally, check to see what's in season. Also, check fruit and vegetable juices for bargains.

    You can manage a lot of sandwiches and salads with just those ingredients without having to cook. For the sake of nutrition, you really need to include some fruits and vegetables even if you're going for a desperation diet. Check for bargains on older or bruised produce, but include at least an apple or orange every day if you can, even if you're surviving on less than $1 a day for food with no way to cook.

    Monday, May 30, 2011

    Bulk cooking 3

    The main thing with bulk cooking is finding recipes for things that freeze well. Since our approach is mostly to precook meat so it only takes a few minutes to put a meal together, we don't have a lot of these to share ourselves.

    But I do know the types of things that are often frozen. Spaghetti sauce freezes well, and you just have to cook the pasta and warm the sauce to have dinner. Hamburgers freeze well. Steak freezes, but tends to be tough when you thaw it. Fried chicken strips freeze well (my daughter will cook a large batch of these and freeze them for emergency meals).

    In general, don't freeze things with most dairy, like sour cream, yogurt, etc. Some cheeses do freeze OK. You can make batches of soft tacos or breakfast burritos to freeze, but leave off sour cream and tomato until you thaw them. Eggs can be tricky, but I know a lot of people who freeze breakfast burritos (we are in Texas, after all...). I've had quiche that was frozen, and while it was not nearly as good as the fresh (the eggs get a bit rubbery), it was still pretty good.

    A lot of soups will freeze well, and some casseroles---again, leave out dishes with sour cream or yogurt for the most part. I haven't tested our versions of chicken teriyaki or Szechuan chicken, but I think they'd freeze, and you'd just need to make rice or noodles to serve them on. I'm told some curries freeze well.

    Speaking of curry, do anyone know a substitute for coconut milk in curries? The chicken curry recipe that our friend taught my daughter calls for a can and a half, which at local prices is over $2, more than the cost of the chicken...

    Sunday, May 29, 2011

    Bulk cooking 2

    Another approach is to cook up a big batch of one thing on the weekend, freezing it for future meals. This doesn't have to mean eating the same thing every night for a week, however, it just takes a little longer to work out. As always, remember food handling safety.

    On Saturday of the first week, you bake two large hams. Cool and cut them into meal-sized portions (you should get at least 14 packages for 2 people), freeze all but enough meat for that night's dinner. Cook as normal the rest of the week, except about Wednesday, use a package of the frozen ham to make a meal.

    On Saturday of the second week, roast a couple of large beef roasts. Cool and cut them into meal-sized portions (at least 7 packages for 2 people) and freeze all but enough meat for that night's dinner. Cook as normal that week, but use ham on Monday and Thursday nights, and roast beef on Wednesday.

    On Saturday of the third week, roast a large turkey or the equivalent in chickens or chicken pieces. Cool and cut them into meal-sized portions (at least 7 packages for 2 people) and freeze all but enough meat for that night's dinner. Use ham two nights, roast beef two nights, and your poultry on one other night, leaving you with only one night that isn't using meat from this.

    On Saturday of the fourth week, brown 4 to 6 pounds of ground turkey or ground beef of some sort (enough for at least 10 meals for two people). Cool and freeze in meal-sized portions, keeping out enough for that night's dinner. By this week, you should be able to rely entirely on pre-cooked meat from the freezer.

    Each week, cook a large amount of one type of meat, cool, cut up, and freeze in meal-sized portions. Pick the meats you use the most for this. It should be easy to have a different thing every night from the freezer---ham, pork chops, steak, turkey, chicken, ground meat, hot dogs, sausages, fish of different kinds---whatever is on sale and fits your tastes. 

    Saturday, May 28, 2011

    Bulk cooking 1

    And I've been writing this blog for just over 3 months now, every day except my vacation!

    This is an idea with all sorts of names and even more approaches. Some focus on saving time, others on saving money, some on both. But the general idea is to cook a lot of food at one time to save time later. Remember, as always, to handle food safely.

    The easiest way to explain it is to give one example, meant for one or two people with only  minimal freezer space. On Saturday, fix a beef or pork roast and a large whole chicken and roast them in the oven at the same time, adding vegetables to the roast broth and giblets to the chicken broth to cook (I like potatoes, carrots, onions, and mushrooms myself). Put a large pot of rice to cook, and cut up a couple of heads of lettuce and some tomatoes and cucumbers and mix a couple of large salads while the roasts are in the oven. Cover and refrigerate the salads, cool and refrigerate the rice.

    When the roasts are done, slice some of the beef or pork and serve with the cooked vegetables and salad for supper while the rest of the meat cools. Refrigerate leftover salad and vegetables. By the time you finish supper, the meat should be cool enough to handle. Divide the rest of the roast in half and freeze one portion and refrigerate the other. Cut up the chicken, with the meat from each breast frozen separately for a meal, and the rest of the meat divided into in half. Freeze the two containers of breast meat and half of the rest of the meat, then refrigerate the rest of the meat, the giblets, and the carcass.

    On Sunday, heat up a large soup pot of water. Add the chicken carcass and diced giblets, salt, pepper, a tablespoon or two of lemon juice, and garlic (if you like it), cover and turn down the heat to simmer for a couple of hours. Remove the bones and add the refrigerated chicken meat, leftover vegetables from the roasts or a couple of cups of rice if there aren't many vegetables. Simmer for about 1/2 an hour more, and serve with bread and salad. Have leftover soup for lunch the next couple of days.

    On your Monday, warm the leftover roast in a pan with BBQ sauce, serve over rice with salad on the side. Before bed, take a chicken breast out of the freezer to thaw in the refrigerator.

    On Tuesday night, dice the chicken breast, warm up with cheese, and serve over rice with salad on the side. Before bed, take a package of the roast out of the freezer to thaw in the refrigerator.

    On Wednesday night, make open-faced sandwiches, toasted with cheese in the oven. Serve with salad. Before bed, take the package of non-breast meat out of the freezer to thaw in the refrigerator.

    On Thursday night, dice and warm up the chicken meat, adding taco seasoning. Make soft tacos with diced tomato, onion, and lettuce. Before bed, take the breast meat out of the freezer to thaw in the refrigerator.

    On Friday night, thaw some frozen vegetables, put on a pot of rice to cook, dice up the chicken breast while a bit of oil heats in a pan, then stir fry the vegetables and chicken.

    The bulk of the cooking for the week is done on Saturday. The other days really don't involve much more than cutting up and warming up, for the most part. The oven use is mostly limited to Saturday too, other than briefly toasting Wednesday night's sandwiches. I used the simplest dishes I could think of; you should figure out ways to substitute your family's favorites. Large hams and turkeys can provide the meat ingredient for meals 2 or 3 nights a week for a couple of months. If you have the freezer space, you can make up casseroles, cook them most of the way, then cool and freeze to thaw and reheat later. If you have a grill, you can grill and freeze large batches of hamburgers, pork chops, sausages, hot dogs, and steaks all at once. Even an ordinary freezer over a refrigerator can hold a month's worth of pre-cooked meat to use in recipes.

    Friday, May 27, 2011

    Fun on the cheap

    First, it sometimes helps to rethink what is fun. Americans tend to think that sometime expensive is more fun than something that's free, and that's not always, or even usually, true.
    If you've ever played in piles of leaves with a toddler, then you know exactly how much fun you can have for free. 

    If doing something physical is your idea of fun, consider walking or hiking, two completely free sports. If you have a basketball, lots of communities have public courts of some sort. If you like to run, all you need is a decent pair of running shoes and a place with sidewalks. Team sports can be trickier, but if you just like to throw or kick a ball around, all you really need is a ball and a friend. Weighttraining---canned goods and homemade wrist and ankle weights. If you just want to be active but can't be on your feet for long, take up juggling, which has the added bonus of entertaining children for hours both while you're learning and once you can juggle.

    If you like games, hit the thrift shops and yard sales for "new" ones. Or take up card games; all you need for those is a deck or two of cards. If you like computer games, there are free ones online (though be VERY careful for scams and viruses), and there are also cheap ones that can be played online or off (though those are becoming rarer). Keep playing older games too.

    If you like music, singing is free, and so is listening to the radio. I haven't tried it myself, but my kids like internet radio. Movies can be checked out of the library or traded with a friend. Local high schools often put on plays and concerts.