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.