Tuesday, July 31, 2012

12 Ways to Eat Healthy on a Budget

Several months ago I took a look in my pantry and made myself a list of several items that I would no longer buy at the grocery store.  Why am I feeding myself and my children this junk I thought? No matter how cheap it is, do I really want to put that into my body? The answer is no.  My list includes things like Pop tarts, sugary cereals, fruit snacks, granola bars, and cheese puffs. Is it really more expensive to eat healthy? Well, I think the answer is yes and no.  In terms of the cost of healthy food I think the answer is yes, but when we consider the value of our health, I think the answer is definitely no. So, how can I eat healthy on a budget? Here are 12 ways that I think can help:

1. Eat less meat- Eating meat for every meal can create quite a dent in out monthly food budget. Try substituting less expensive and more healthy options for proteins into your diet. When you do purchase meat buy discounted meat or buy in bulk and then break it up into usable portions to be frozen. When you do serve meat cut down on the portion sizes and serve more grains and veggies to go along with it.

2. Use more Grains and Legumes - They are inexpensive and packed with nutrition. Try mixing it up a bit by using grains like quinoa and barley.Experiment with new legumes; try something you never have before. You can also make some meat dishes stretch and become more nutritionally dense by incorporating beans.

3. Shop sales and clip coupons- Skip coupons for processed foods and focus on finding those for fruits, veggies, meats, and dairy; they do exist.

4. Buy in Bulk.

5. Grow your own Food - No matter how much space you have, you can plant something, even if you only have a window box herb garden.

6. Preserve foods when they are cheap or you have excess. Try various methods of preservation, canning, freezing, and drying.

7. Prepare a weekly or monthly menu - Make a shopping list from your menu and shop only from your list.  This works! This is also a great way to figure out how much food your family uses on a monthly basis so you can more accurately figure out what you need for a 3-month supply.

8. Prepare your own food - Eat out less and buy less prepackaged food. By preparing your own food you have more control over what goes into your body and it saves you money!

9. Buy fruits and veggies that are in season.  Everything is cheaper and tastes much better when it is in season.

10. Buy generic - For the majority of products there is no difference between brand and generic except the price.

11. Don't buy pre-cut veggies and fruits and skip "Organic" - Instead clean conventional fruits well and peel and cut your own veggies.

12. Make your own snacks and snack packs - Steer clear of 100 calorie packs and snack sized item.  You are only paying extra for the packaging.  Instead buy zipper bags and make your own snack bags filled with pretzels, raisins, nuts, etc. You can also make your own granola bars or cereal bars for more nutritionally dense snack options. For a really healthy crunchy snack check out our recipe for Chick a Dee's.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Shaun-ta's Bottled Salsa

One thing that we really love at our house is salsa. We eat a lot of it, especially when we bottle our own, because it is good! Last year we didn't get enough tomatoes to can salsa, but this year with our garden expanded and our tomatoes rocking, I went on a mission to replenish our supply of salsa.  This is my own recipe that I came up with as I played around with and experimented with a few recipes. Several years ago, as I was learning more about canning, I wondered why I couldn't just can the fresh salsa that I always made and loved. You might have the same question and here is a good resource for you to go to learn more about safe canning methods and the reason why you can't just can some of your favorite family recipes. When you are canning it is important that you follow recipes that have been properly researched and tested for safety.
The only changes you can safely make in these salsa recipes are to substitute bottled lemon or lime juice for 
vinegar and to change the amount of spices and herbs. You should never alter the proportions of vegetables to acid and tomatoes because it might make the salsa unsafe. With that being said, it was using this method that I developed my salsa recipe and I would encourage you to do the same. Choose an approved recipe and make it your own by adding the spices and herbs that your family enjoys. There are lots of approved recipes out there, here are a few places you can get them:

I haven't been able to find the approved recipe that I developed my recipe from, it has been such a long time, and I have been using my recipe for years. So I will share with you the recipe that I use and the method I use for canning my salsa. It might give you some ideas of how to develop your own recipe.

Shaun-ta's Bottled Salsa

8 Cups Tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 & 1/2 Cups Chopped Onion
1 & 1/2 Cups Green Pepper, chopped
1 Cup Jalapeno, chopped
6 Cloves Garlic, finely chopped
Cilantro, fresh or dried to taste
2 tsp. Cumin
2 tsp.  Black Pepper
1/8 Cup Salt
1/3 Cup Sugar
1/3 Cup Vinegar

The first step is to prep your tomatoes. I do a three bowl set up. You start by placed your tomatoes in boiling water to loosen the skins.

You will know when your tomatoes are ready because the skins will begin to split.

The skins on your tomatoes will peel right off at this point. Some people dip their hot tomatoes into ice water immediately after the boiling water, but I skip this step because I feel it is unnecessary. I just place them into my second bowl and let them cool for a second before coring and peeling them.

Next I dice my tomatoes and when I am making salsa I do this into a colander with a bowl underneath to catch the extra juice. Straining off the excess juice helps you to get a nice thick salsa that you don't have to cook forever.

I bottle the extra juice separately to use for chili or soups ( it wouldn't be good for drinking.) To bottle your juice follow my recipe for bottling diced tomatoes for the correct amounts of salt and lemon juice to add. Process the juice the same as you would your diced tomatoes.

Next chop up all of your veggies. You may or may not want to pull the seeds out of your jalapenos, it just depends on how spicy you want your salsa. I usually remove mine. I use the end of a spoon to remove them. You can wear gloves if you want, they can burn your skin and make sure not to touch your eyes.

Dump everything into a large pot. The larger the pot the faster your salsa will cook up and get nice and thick. I inherited this pan from my Grandmother. It is one of my cherished possessions and I use it for many things. Bring everything to a boil and then reduce your heat and let it simmer for 20 to 30 minutes or until you reach your desired thickness.

Here is the finished product. Nice and thick, just how we like it.

Pour your hot salsa into clean jars.  I did both pints and quarts, a few of each.

Clean jar rims and put on lids. Process your salsa in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes and you have your own homemade bottled salsa, yum.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Canning 101: Diced or Whole Tomatoes

We have been very blessed to have a bountiful harvest of tomatoes this year. It has been wonderful to eat so many fresh tomatoes. We have also been canning a lot of them for future use. Here is the method I use to can whole or diced tomatoes.

The first step is to dip your tomatoes in water that has come to a boil for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

You will know when the tomatoes are ready to pull out because you will see the skin on the tomatoes split.

When this happens the skin will come right off the tomato. I remove them from the hot water and place them into a bowl to cool for a few minutes. Then peel and core each tomato.

Once the skin is removed and your tomato is cored you can cut them into whatever size you like. I usually do some that are diced for sauce and some that are cut into larger chunks for chili.

The easiest way to get your tomatoes into the bottle without making a huge mess is to use a canning funnel like the one pictured. It just makes the process a lot easier.

Fill your clean canning jars up with your peeled, diced tomatoes. Leave about 1/2 inch head space. There is no need to add any liquid to the jars. The juice from the tomatoes is sufficient.

Because Tomatoes are lower in acid than other fruits you do need to add some acid to make sure there is a safe level of acid in each jar. So for each quart add 1 tsp. lemon juice and for each pint add 1/2 tsp. lemon juice.

I also add some salt to each jar. For each quart add 1/2 tsp. salt and for each pint add 1/4 tsp. salt.

Clean the rims on your jars and place lids on each jar. Process in a boiling water bath for 35 minutes for pints and 45 minutes for quarts.

That is all there is to it, now you have home canned tomatoes ready to use for spaghetti sauce, soups, and other dishes.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Grinding your own Ground Beef

Really Old Meat Grinder (Shaun-ta's grandparent's)
A while ago I was made aware of "Pink Slime", a horrible combination of muck including ammonia used to extract bits of meat off of meat that is unfit for human consumption.  They use the ammonia to kill pathogens like E-Coli making it now "safe", and then added to your ground beef.

I propose an alternative; grind your own.

Beef Chuck Roast
I was surprised when Shaun-ta' informed me a couple months ago that we had a small hand meat grinder that was her Grandparent's...I immediately had visions of making my own sausage and peperoni.  Before I graduate to that level I am starting with just simple ground chuck.

I like the flavor and texture of ground chuck the best.  I picked up a good and reasonable fatty chuck roast.  The cost was the same as the ground 80/20 chuck down the line at the grocery store.  So for the same price and a little bit of effort I made my own ground chuck, with no pink slime, and it is made from only one animal not bits from hundreds or thousands of animals.

Home Ground Chuck
It is nice to know exactly what is going into your food.  Just because a higher food organization deems something safe, based on my own common sense, have to stay skeptical.  Over the years there have been many approved things that turn out deadly or damaging.  We have the freedom to make our own choices.  

So grinding the chuck went pretty well, no real problems.  I cut the roast into large chunks.  With this old grinder I had trouble keeping it attached to my counter-top, I feared damaging the counter.  I think next time I will attach it to another table.  I would recommend placing something under the grinder on the floor to catch any drippings.  I didn't and it made a little bit of a mess.  I cleaned it up with our All Purpose Cleaner.  

Three pounds of ground chuck
I used a pound of the fresh ground beef tonight to make taco's.  They turned out great.  There was very little fat, so little I didn't even rinse/drain off the fat.  I expect the fat level to be 10% or less.

I expect that when we can, Shaun-ta' and I will pickup an electric meat grinderor an attachment that we can add to our Stand-Mixer. Grinding these three pounds of chuck was not bad, though if I had 20+ pounds to do I would probably prefer an electric grinder.

All in all it is worth it and a basic hand grinder like I used can be bought for only about $20.

Give grinding your own meat a try, you gain the knowledge of how to do it, what is in you meat, and also gives you the ability to make your own sausage or meat blends.  Most of these grinders also work well on veggies and fruit.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Baked Kale Chips

Baked Kale Chips
Kale is a very nutritious green, however some people don't find it to be tasty or dislike that it is kinda touch to chew.  It has a pretty mild flavor, we add it to smoothies when we don't have spinach on hand (see our post; Spinach and Fruit Smoothies). I have heard a great way to eat Kale is to make chips out of it, baked Kale chips.

Kale grows well and will grow in the heat of summer.  I see it planted all over as an ornamental, but it is really a nutrient rich food.  As with any veggie the gain the full nutritional value, it needs to be eaten raw (smoothies, salads etc).  Beyond being full of antioxidants, one cup of raw Kale will give you your full daily recommended value of Vitamin A, C and K.  It also contains calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, copper and manganese.
Remove stem, cut in pieces

Making baked Kale chips is really simple and quick.
  1. Set your oven to 350 degrees
  2. Wash and clean your Kale
  3. Slice into strips or chip size
  4. place on baking sheet after coating with Olive Oil (I did it by hand in a bowl)
  5. Cook til crispy and still green, top with your favorite seasoning.
toss in olive oil
My first batch burned in only 10 minutes, watch it closely.  For my stove it took about 8-9 minutes to make it crispy but still green.

The verdict: it's really tasty, the burnt batch was okay and tasted a bit like slightly burned popcorn.  The next batch still has a bit of a popcorn flavor and is really good, they are very crispy and the season salt I used was the right amount of flavor and bit of salt.  This is a great alternative to potato chips, you get that nice crunch and the bit of salt. 

Lay out on cookie sheet

Finished Product, Yummy Kale Chips
Burnt popcorn, avoid this.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pilot - Who's steering your money away

Gas Fireplace
Gas Fireplace pilot (little blue flame)
It is Mid July, is your pilot running?

A lot of houses have some sort of gas appliance like a Gas Fireplace.  Typically these gas fireplaces have a burning pilot light.  Out of curiosity a few months ago I pulled out my thermal camera to look at my fireplace that had a burning pilot.  We only used the fireplace a handful of times this last winter.  Here it was the end of March, it has been months since we used it and my pilot light was still on.  So I shot a picture with the thermal camera....94.1 Degrees! A pilot light will cost you $3-$6 per month.   We only use our fireplace for two months of the year, if I don't shut off the pilot the rest of the year it is costing me $30-$60 in gas.  You have to also account the the additional heat load added to the house that your AC will have to work against costing you more money in electricity.

With just the pilot running...94.1 Degrees
So turn off the pilot lights on any appliance you are not using or do not plan to use for a while.  They typically all have some sort of instructions on how to do so, mine even has little step by step pictures.  I turned my pilot light off and also shut the gas off to the fireplace.  When you go to use it again, it is really easy to start you pilot light back up again.

You might be thinking "It's only a few bucks a month!"  Well a few dollars a month here and a few there start to add up.  Living more Providently includes not tossing money away on unneeded items and also it's about not wasting resources.  There are many small changes we can make daily that can save us a little here and a little there.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Learning a New Skill

Learning to crochet trim onto baby burp clothes.
As a young missionary at 21 years of age I remember sitting in a church meeting where they asked some of the women in the church to volunteer their talents and crochet some items to be used in the Palmyra Temple which was just about finished and would soon be dedicated. I remember thinking back to the few times that I had attempted to learn this art under the tutelage of both of my grandmothers. Our lessons often ended with me in tears and I was never  able to master it. At that moment I really wished that I had stuck with it and learned this skill, because I wanted to offer my service at that time and have the opportunity to crochet an item that would be used in this beautiful, sacred building. I have continued to have the desire to learn this skill as I have watched my Mother and Mother-in-law over the years crochet beautiful blankets, dresses, shoes, etc. for my children. I knew that my extended visit to Utah this summer would be a great time to learn. So this week my Mom sat down and taught me and my little 6 year old to crochet. This time I was able to pick it up right away, with very few tears. I am sure all my experience with sewing helped me to better understand the concept. I am so happy and excited that I can finally crochet, because it is something I have always wanted to learn, and I also wanted to be able to pass this skill and knowledge onto my own children and grandchildren.

My little 6 year old learning to crochet from her Grandma.

I believe that a very important part of becoming Self Reliant and living Providently is learning new skills and always striving to learn new things. Now I am not suggesting that everyone needs to learn to crochet, but I think it is always good for us to stretch ourselves, to increase our knowledge, and expand our talents. I know that our Heavenly Father expects this of us and rejoices with us when we do learn new skills that can help us better provide for our family and increases our capacity to serve others.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

How can we teach our children to like Good Things?

I couldn't help but smile as I watched my 13 month old daughter, who had picked up the colander I had been putting freshly harvested radishes in, chomping happily away on her first radish, dirt and all. Not only did she like it, but she went for a second. I was quite surprised that she didn't even put up a fuss about the spiciness of it. She seemed to rather enjoy it.  I have also seen her try with all her might to pull a half ripe strawberry off the plant and when that didn't work she simply leaned down and ate it right off the plant.

There is absolutely no denying the fact that my kids love fruits and veggies. A couple of months ago, Jacob and I sat with our jaws hanging open in shock, as we watched our 4 and 6 year olds, eat a purple cabbage straight from the garden.  It had been growing for over a year and a half and had never gotten really big, but it still had a head about the size of a softball.  I had decided it was time to retire it and make room for something new.  I handed it over to the kids and told them they could eat it.  They snarfed it down like they hadn't eaten in weeks. We have often had to remind them not to pick the baby veggies, but to let them grow big so we can all enjoy them. Much to our sorrow they plucked and ate 12 broccoli plants just as they were starting to flower, last fall.

So, I have been pondering this idea of how we really get our children to like "good" things and things that are "good" for them. I think one of the important things we have to do is first expose our kids to good things. If we want our kids to like a variety of veggies then we need to provide them with the opportunity to eat a lot of different ones.  We were at the store this past week and my 4 year old son spotted a big carton of mushrooms, "Mom", he said, "what do mushrooms taste like?"  Well, that is a very hard question to answer. So I said, "Well, let's buy some and you can try them." He was so excited about it and also very willing to try them because it was his idea.

The second thing we need to do to help our children to like "good" things is to give those things value and importance. We often talk at the dinner table about the specific nutrients we are giving our bodies from the various things we are eating.  The kids are very interested to know that a carrot helps them to have strong eyes and that potatoes give you energy to help you run fast. We remind them often as they are playing outside to not step in the garden beds and not to pick anything with out checking first. We also let them work along side us to help us plant and weed and water the garden. They take great pride in knowing they helped the things we are eating to grow. We also let them participate in the harvest at the appropriate time and help them to share their harvest with one another.

It seems that as we do expose our children to good things and help them to see value in them that they begin to develop a love for them.  Now, that doesn't mean that my children absolutely love everything that I put in front of them at the dinner table. My oldest child detests lettuce and doesn't care much for beans.  But I have also noticed that as I continue to serve these things to my family and we continue to talk about how "good" these things are for her the more willing she seems to try them. Plus she is watching the rest of her family enjoy some of the things that she has shied away from. She has never really liked lettuce and yet just last week she decided she wanted to try some lettuce on her hamburger.

As I have thought about this concept of getting our children to like good things in terms of veggies and other healthy foods, I have realized that these same principles really translate over to other aspects of life as well. For example, if you want your child to love t.v., let them watch a lot of it and sit down and watch it with them, or if you want your child to love reading, then read to them, provide them with good books, and let them see you reading and talk to them about the importance of reading. If you want your child to love God and attend church and keep the commandments, then you need to take them to church, teach them to pray, read the scriptures with them, and share your testimony with them. There are endless examples that I can think of where this idea holds true.

So, How do we teach our children to like good things? First we expose them to good things and give them plenty of opportunities to partake of those things that are good. Second, we give those things that are good value and importance. When our children know that we value and love those things that are good they will begin to follow our example.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

In a PIckle. . .

We are a pickle loving family. Even our 15 month old loves them. This year we planted pickling cucumbers so I could restock our supply of canned dill pickles. We grew some really beautiful cucumbers that were perfect to make dill pickle spears with. Today I am going to share with you my method and recipe for making dill pickles.

Loosely pack clean cucumbers into clean quart jars, leaving about 1/2 inch headspace. I did pickle spears, but you can also do whole baby cucumbers or slice them into chips.
Into each quart add:
1 tsp. Dill Seed
1 tsp. Mustard Seed
1 to 2 Cloves Fresh Garlic 
This year I also added some Ball Pickle Crisp that Jacob got a great deal on awhile back. I have never used it before, so I will update you on how it works.

Next make a brine by combining:
2 Cups Water
1 Cup Cider Vinegar
1 Tb. Pickling Salt

You may need to increase or decrease the amount of brine you make according to how many quarts you have, but do not change the ratio of ingredients. Bring the brine to a boil.  Slowly pour the hot brine over the cucumbers, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Clean jar rims and put lids on jars.

Process your pickles in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes (or adjust the time according to your altitude).  Remove from heat and allow them to cool for awhile before removing the jars from the canner.

I also made beet pickles this year, which I love. To make beet pickles follow my directions for preparing your beets, found here. Once your beets are in the jars replace the hot water and salt with the same brine you used for your dill pickles. You can then process them in a hot water bath just like your dill pickles. I did mine together in the same batch.

I did 11 quarts of dill pickles and 4 quarts of beet pickles, yum!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Harvard Beets

In the last post I shared my method for canning beets, so today I thought I would share one of my favorite beet recipes. I hope you enjoy it.

Harvard Beets

2 Tb. Butter
1 Tb. Flour
1/2 to 1/4 Cup Sugar (depends on how sweet you like it)
1/2 tsp. Salt

Mix together in saucepan. Begin heating on low. 
Gradually stir in:

1/4 Cup Vinegar
1/4 Cup Beet Juice or Water

Cook on low stirring constantly until clear. Add 1 can (1lb.) beets and heat through. 

This recipe comes from Sister Rivard, who I met while serving my mission in Palmyra, New York. She fed me many meals while I was a missionary. I loved all of them, she was a great cook.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Canning 101: Beets

We harvested about 20 lbs. of beets from our garden near the end of May. I really wanted to can some beets this year, so we planted a bunch. I was able to can both regular beets and beet pickles. Below is the method for canning regular vegetable beets. I will share the beet pickle recipe in a future post.
 I started by cleaning and trimming off all my greens. I did this outside so I had less mess in my kitchen. I had two little helpers munching away on beet greens the whole time. Not only did we get a lot of beets but we also came away with several bags of greens. Jacob and I have really grown to love beet greens. Once you have all your beets cleaned stick them in a stock pot and pre-cook them for about 15 to 25 minutes. You want to be able to poke a fork in them, and the skins will slip off easily. They will undergo further cooking when you pressure cook them.

You also want to make sure to leave about an inch of stem on the top and about an inch of the root. This makes it so your beet doesn't bleed out. :)

Once your beets are pre-cooked dump them into a colander and allow them to cool until you can handle them. As you can see from the photo the skins slip right off. Peel and trim your beets.
 Then dice or slice your beets however you like them, into clean jars. I did some diced and some sliced into circles. I will usually peel, trim, and then dice each beet into a jar, so I am only handling them once.

Once your jars are full of hot beets add 1 tsp. of salt per quart (if desired) and then fill the jars with fresh hot water, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Wipe bottle rims and put on lids and rings. Beets must be pressure canned because of their low acidity. Click here for appropriate pressure canning times and weights for your altitude. Be sure to follow the instructions for your pressure canner. To the right are my newly canned beets. From our 20 lbs of beets we got 5 pints of regular beets and 4 quarts of beet pickles, plus we had beets for dinner that night. Yum! In the next couple of weeks I will be posting how to make the beet pickles and also sharing one of my favorite beet recipes so be sure to check back.