Sunday, August 28, 2011

Noodle saves the day!

 Not just any noodle, a pool noodle!  Well it might not have saved the whole day, but it does save some little fingers from getting pinched.  Bacon Bit is crawling everywhere, he even learned how to climb steps the other day and now we're in trouble.  He's gone in the blink of an eye and his favorite thing to play with right now is doors.  I've been baby proofing everywhere, and needed to find a solution to his love with doors. The noodle came to the rescue.  I had a noodle the kids weren't playing with out in the garage and I decided to give it a shot.  It works awesome!  I cut  about a 5 inch section from the noodle.  Then I cut a slit along the side to the middle.  Insert it over the door and we have saved fingers!  I did place this on the hinge side of the door, that way the door won't close as far, but you can put it on either side. 

Oh and for those of you who don't have kids, don't pass up that pool noodle just yet!  Do you hate when your doors slam shut from the breeze? The cool weather here in central MN has us keeping our windows open more often.  But I was always trying to find things heavy enough to put in front of the doors to keep them open.  And can you guess what would happen when I did find something? Yes the kids would decide they wanted to play with it!  These are a perfect solution to keep the doors from slamming shut in your house. So watch for those pool noodles to go on the end of the season sale. Or scour the garage and see if you have one out there.  Now sit back and enjoy that breeze!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

No, we don't eat dog food around here.

Not too long ago I was discussing how we budget for grocery money with a few people.  They were shocked to hear that we only spend $200 a month on our groceries.  I happily explained that we have budgeted for spending $80 every two weeks on normal groceries and we set aside $40 a month for Sam's Club, which we make a trip to about every three months to stock up.  Their reply "well you must be buying dog food or something because that would never work in MY house, and we only feed 4 people."

Well we sure do not eat dog food around here, that stuff is expensive!  I could buy a lot of groceries with that money, and I do!  Now I know not everyone is able to make a meal every night, some have busier schedules than others.  Some prefer to eat out more often, some don't know how to cook, or are trapped in the ease convenience foods offer.  Some also live in a higher cost of living area than where we do.  There are lots of things that factor into a grocery budget.  Believe me, I didn't get here over night- we used to be all those people!  But I have been asked several times for a walk though of how we do it.  So here it goes.  I'm going to take you along with me on our two week meal planning journey!  Are you excited yet? I am!  I have to say this post is going to be a bit challenging for me, and it might get long, you have been warned!  But you will see just how we make it all work.  And I promise, no dog food!  But there will be some yummy dinner pictures!

Where it all starts.  We have decided that every two weeks we do our meal planning and grocery shopping. I buy and plan for enough to get us until the end of two weeks and then we start it all over again, rinse and repeat, you get the picture.  First it starts by sitting down with Mr. Bacon and the kids.  This is usually done around a big breakfast on the weekend (normally a Saturday unless we are busy).  After breakfast we talk about what we'd like for meals the next two weeks. Yes completely as a family!  The kids get to pick out one meal each that they would like to have.  This helps get them involved. They also get to help make that dinner the night we are having it.  

my crazy insane way to organize it all, yes I'm a list person!

Here is what we came up with for the two weeks (this was from Aug. 12-27th). These are in no particular order. We do check out the calender and see if we need to make adjustments for anything that is scheduled, like when one of us works.  I also check out the weather! Yes I do.  Why? Right now it's grilling season and I want to make sure if I'm planning to grill out, it won't rain on my parade!

Here is our dinner meal plan.

Spaghetti, garlic cheese bread, salad
Grilled chicken, wild rice, sauteed mushrooms, peas & carrots on grill, garlic toast
Grilled steak & shrimp, grilled taters, corn on the cob We ended up having fresh grilled fresh veggies from the garden!
crunchy fish, homemade fries, veggie
Tinfoil meal (burger, taters, carrots grilled)
Beef stir fry over rice
Grilled hamburgers, beans and fruit
Italian diced chicken, bread sticks, salad
tacos and fruit
meatloaf (Nancy's!) taters, veggie
chicken wraps & fruit
Breakfast for dinner
homemade pizza
Curly chicken and peas

Yes I really DO know what is in there!
Now that we have that figured out.  Time to make my grocery list. I start by scouring the pantry to see what we already have.  I always say shop at home first when making your meal plan. You already have the food, you better eat it up!  Then it's on to searching the fridge and freezer too.  What ever I don't have for a recipe goes on the grocery list.  For example we have tacos on our menu.  I was out of shells, so they went on the list.  We are lucky this summer to have a very good garden that is producing quite well.  I know not every has room for a garden but if you do, for a little work you get a lot in return! 

Want to know what my shopping list looks like for this trip?  I have included the prices for each food I bought as well. I know these costs differ depending on where you live.  We are in central Minnesota and thankfully the prices are not super high here yet. 

Ma Bacon's shopping list:
Wheat Germ $3.50
Liquid smoke  $.98
Carrots  $1.48
mushrooms $3.18
1 Lemon $.48
1 Red pepper $1.64
Lettuce $1
taco shells $.38 x4 (I bought 4 boxes! They were priced $1.38 and had a $1/1 coupon on them!)
tortillas $2.08
bacon $3.48
fresh fruit
-bananas $1.12 for 2lbs
-apples  $3.97/4 lb bag
-pineapple $2.10
-strawberries 1.48x2
chicken lunch meat $5.91 for just over 1 lb from deli
hamburger & hot dog buns $1.25 each
coffee creamer $2.38
1lb margarine .92
bread $1.50/loaf x2
cool whip $2.88
provolone cheese slices $3.38
cheese $4.28 1lb block of co-jack
summer sausage $4.98
Oregano $1.98
Milk x3 gallons $3.26 ea
dozen eggs x2 $1.48 ea
frozen juice concentrate x3 $.92 ea
While these were on my list, they do not count to our $200 for groceries. That money is for food only.  We do budget $60 a month to spend on 'other' items such as these.  Most months we do not spend the whole $60.
Toilet paper
paper towels for garage
Tylenol for my teething Bacon Bit

things I picked up that were not on my list
Taco sauce $1.77
BIG can mandarin oranges (Miss Bacon's favorite) $1.66
 2 loafs discount french bread $1.04 each

That's it!  The rest we had at the house already!  Most of what I bought we will eat up within the two weeks, a few are pantry items that we were out of like wheat germ and liquid smoke. Each shopping trip I seem to have something that needs to be restocked in the pantry, but at least I'm not replacing everything all at once! 

So my total for my entire shopping trip to buy food for two weeks = $82.71!  I'm over by $2.71, I guess I should have put back that cool whip, but it's so yummy on my coffee drinks and the kids like it as a treat on their ice cream, and it was delicious on those waffles we had for dinner the other night!  But it wasn't something we needed.  In the end. I don't think we did too bad considering how the prices of everything has gone up.  Has anyone else noticed this too? It seems almost everything we bought we had to pay about .20 more for.  Honestly Mr. Bacon and I have been thinking of increasing our food budget by $20 because of that. Right now we are trying to keep it at that $200 level as much as we can.

Now we also buy food from Sam's club like I mentioned earlier.  We budget out $40 a month from the $200 and keep it separate.  Then about every three months we stock up on things like meat and frozen veggies.  This is the cheapest way for us to buy meat we found.  We used to search the sale ad's and shop several different stores to get what is on sale, but since moving a few years ago we don't have access to all those stores without a long drive.  This is easier and cheaper for us. So here is what our trip there looks like with costs.

Sam's Club List:
25# flour-8.96
2- 6# bag frozen chicken breasts 12.98
3# pepperoni 8.18
3 cheese blend (for pizzas) $14.24
10# 93% lean ground beef  $27.73
Round steaks $12.58 (can't remember how many pounds this was, but it's enough for 2 meals)
4# apples 6.48
animal crackers 6.68
container of taco seasoning $3.98
3# bananas $1.48
Giant can ketchup $3.28
6 pack black olives $6.78
Total $137.31

Yes I know, I'm over by $17.31.  It's not always perfect and thankfully I had extra left over from a few weeks back in the grocery budget.  When I have extra left over in my grocery budget and there are no good sales to stock up on, many times I move the extra to the Sam's club folder.  That way we are covered when this happens.  Also I was shocked once again on the rise in prices.  Flour went up $2, pepperoni almost $3 since the last time we shopped.  I still don't think we did too bad to get though the next three months.  We do still have a few things in the freezer like pork loin, and a few roasts that help to get through too. 

Now that we are fully stocked for two weeks, I can relax and not have to worry about last minute items I forgot to buy and running to the store for one thing and coming home with three bags of things we didn't need and fifty less dollars in my pocket!! 

So are you curious about what else we eat besides dinner? I assure you we have 3 meals a day and even a few snacks added in there, no one goes hungry around here.  All the items I needed to make the rest of what we eat I had on hand. 

Breakfasts are pretty laid back here:
Waffles- usually I make them ahead and freeze them so we just pop them in the toaster
scrambled eggs (with ham I found in freezer & cheese)
homemade muffins
Amish friendship bread (I have tons of these loafs in the freezer, a month ago I did a double batch which made 16 loafs of bread!!)

Lunches around here look much like this:
PB & J
tuna salad
hot dogs
lunch meat sandwiches
cheese quesadillas
homemade pizza (of some form)
waffles or pancakes
BBQ sandwiches
Homemade lunchables
leftovers from dinner
All lunch is served with some type of fruit or veggie  and usually homemade yogurt.

Animal crackers
homemade pudding
homemade popsicles
circle crackers (like ritz) with peanut butter
homemade cookies, or bars (I usually make a batch a week or every other week)
air popped popcorn
homemade granola bars
homemade yogurt
homemade trail mix

So once again, we don't eat dog food around here!  And no one can complain they can't find anything to eat either!  I hope this has helped you figure out how exactly how we shop and plan to feed the Bacon family and just how to spend around $200 a month to feed a family of 6.  I'm always busy planning and working hard to keep it at this amount.  I actually like showing just how it can be done.  And I know a lot of you are thinking, sure I could do it one week, but every week I'm not sure on.  So I'm going to do this a few times so you can see it does work!  You have to put some effort into it, you have to be willing to learn to cook or make meals yourself too.  If you are going to try to start to trim down your grocery budget I suggest to start small with baby steps.  Replace a few convenience meals with homemade meals (I have lots of yummy one's on the blog if you need inspiration!).  Try your hand at making a few snacks at home too or cut out a night of out to eat.  All these will help you slowly add more bacon to your own pocket!

And hey I promised some yummy dinners right?  Here are some shots from our dinners over the past few days.  If this is dog food, there is one happy dog out there! 

Do you like this post? Click Here to see another meal planning grocery shopping trip of ours!
Tinfoil dinner
Italian Chicken
Waffles with strawberries and cool whip,
homemade yogurt with apples
curly chicken and peas
Fully loaded hamburger and beans
Grilled chicken, wild rice, veggies and garlic toast
Steak, shrimp, grilled garden vegeies
grilled taters and sauated mushrooms
Homemade pizza

Monday, August 22, 2011

Thanks a Latte!

A little package arrived on my door step today.  I'm always happy to get good mail.  Ok so I knew this one was coming, but I'm still excited.  Little Miss Bacon is happier to get the junk mail!  She happily opens and plays with the pieces until it's time for them to go in the recycle bin.  But my box in the mail was not destine for the recycle bin, oh no, this one held a yummy treasure!  So what did I get and who sent it?  I got a grinder! Not just any grinder but one to feed my addiction.... COFFEE!  Sis Bacon sent me a surprise grinder for my fancy coffee drinks (THANKS SIS BACON!).  It's a combination of sugars, chocolate and coffee beans.  Of course I had to try it out right away.  And what better way to try it out than on something new! 
The weather has been cooler the past week or so and I'm loving it. Really if it could stay mid 70's during the day with lows in the upper 50's I'd be one happy camper!  That is just how the weather has been the past few days and it makes me think of one thing. FALL!  Of course I don't want any talk of that white stuff that falls from the sky though. I'm no where near ready for that!  Ah yes, fall, and pumpkins too.  Which means pumpkin cookies!  Yes I made my first batch of those yummy pumpkin spice cookies already too.  They didn't last long! Go on try them out if you didn't last year.  But how about some coffee to go with them? Perhaps a pumpkin latte!

Delicious sums it up and here is how to make your own and one to share!
This recipe makes 2 large mugs.

Pumpkin Spice Latte
2 cups milk
1.5 cups coffee
3-4 heaping teaspoons of pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
3/4 tsp cinnamon
pinch of both ginger and nutmeg - these are both optional
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 TBSP sugar

First place 2 cups milk and pumpkin puree in a microwave safe bowl. Heat on high for two minutes. 
Next carefully (because this is hot remember!) dump the milk and pumpkin into a blender.  Add in coffee, vanilla, and spices. 

Place the lid on the blender and mix. I used the puree and liquefy buttons on my blender.  You don't have to mix it long, a minute or two and you're good!  See all the frothy goodness!  Yes this is why you use the blender, for the foam!  The other reason is it helps mix up the spices easier, and you won't feel like you're drinking grit in your coffee. 

Place your pumpkin latte in your favorite mug.  And don't forget to add some cool whip.  Every good barista knows the cool whip makes the coffee!  Add a little sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice.

And don't forget a few twists from the new fun grinder too! 
Now you're ready to enjoy!  Ahhhh.... Happy (soon to be) Fall!

Now like I said, this makes a large batch, don't worry if it settles out while you wait for your second cup.  A whip though the blender and it's mix back up.  So go enjoy your second cup too, it tastes great with those cookies!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It's just BIG chicken!

"I want chicken nuggets for dinner!"  Ever heard that one before? If not you must not have kids.  In my quest for what to make the kids for dinner one night I was begged and begged for chicken nuggets.  I finally gave in under one stipulation, I was making them from scratch.  Oh the moans and groans I got!  "No I want the one's in the freezer that we buy at the store." Miss Bacon exclaimed rather loudly.  I explained to her those chicken nuggets were just treats that we got sometimes.  But I did make her a promise mine would taste just like them, only bigger. She agree but not before telling me she wouldn't eat them if they didn't taste the same. Nothing like setting standards!  

I took 1 pound of chicken tenders and got to work!
Here is what else you'll need:
2 eggs
1/2 cup or so of flour
1 cup or so bread crumbs- I had a box of panko on hand, and I do say they make good breadcrumbs. Normally I just make my own from the butts of the bread.
favorite seasonings- I kept it simple with some salt and pepper

First take a baking sheet and spray with cooking spray. Then place each flour, bread crumbs and seasonings, and beaten eggs in separate bowls. 

Now it's time to get messy.  First take your chicken breast and cut it to desired size.  If you truly want nuggets, just cut the chicken smaller. You may need more breadcrumbs since there will be more to coat so keep the box handy.

Dip the chicken in flour.
Then dip it in the egg wash.
And roll it in the bread crumbs. 
Place the coated chicken on your baking sheet.  I baked mine at 350* for 25 minutes since I had bigger chicken tenders.  Cook them until the insides are white and no juice runs out.  I did flip mine at the half way point as well. 
And there you have it, homemade chicken nuggets.  The kids LOVED them.  Miss Bacon exclaimed "Mom, it's just BIG chicken!" and she ate almost 2 of them.  Even Bacon big had his share of chicken nuggets that night.  We paired these with some fries and fresh fruit.  It was an easy dinner for us.  These can also be frozen and heated in the microwave for quick lunches.  I did that with the leftovers and Bacon Bit has been one happy camper! 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Those cubes are cute but...

What do I feed my toddler?  Hard to believe Bacon bit is almost one!  Where did the last year go?  He has grown so much and has also become Mr. Independent.  Which means he no longer is happy eating those cute little cubes I used to make for him. Thankfully I have been able to use the cube trays for other things, like coffee.  So what do you feed your toddler who doesn't want to eat mashed up food any longer.  No I just can't stomach (the price or the taste!) buying those pre-made 'toddler' meals they sell along side the baby food either. 

For the most part Bacon Bit gets what ever we are having, just cut up really small.  Tonight he had steak, taters and carrots from our garden!  Nope he doesn't even have teeth either.  It's a myth that babies must have teeth before they eat meat, if you've ever been bit by that gummy grin you know what I'm talking about!  But there are still some foods that make him a bit fussy.  There's also the vegetable problem.  It seems every time one of our kids turned into a toddler and left the saucy puree stage so did their vegetable consumption!  They tended to fill the void with a lot more fruits. Which lead to bigger problems down the road.  Like Miss Bacon (She told me I'm no longer allowed to use 'little' for her name because she has learned how to ride a two wheel bike now and is all grown up! Oh how I love how kids minds work! She's always going to be my baby girl though.) she thought every time we placed a vegetable on her place we are giving her poison.  It's gotten better this last year thankfully, but it's been a long three year battle with her.  So to hopefully prevent going though this with Bacon bit, I'm keeping more veggies around!

This is one way to keep them on his plate, or in his case, tray-  Not so cute little cubes! I have been taking the veggies and baking or steaming them like I would for making the puree.
Instead of blending them up, I've been dicing them and laying  them on wax paper covered baking sheets in the freezer.  Once frozen, pop them in a baggie and toss in the freezer.  By laying them flat they don't freeze together in one big chunk and I can easily scoop out a few for his meal. 

Pretty darn easy!  Way less time consuming than making puree.  I've also been dicing up any extra meat we've had left over from dinner and freezing that too.   It's a great way to have quick easy lunches ready for him.  I know what has gone into making it and know it's healthy for him unlike some of those meals they have ready to eat for a toddler.  And he's use to my cooking already, which is an added bonus, I know he'll actually LIKE what I'm giving him.  Now if I could only get him to stop throwing his food on the floor! I'm pretty sure that's a lost battle.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Can't get online, better bake some bars

It feels good to be back online!  The other day our power cord died for our computer! It wasn't quite unexpected since we've had to wiggle it around for the past few weeks to get it to show up as plugged in.  But I didn't plan for it to completely stop working like it did, and being unprepared I didn't have a back up plug either.  After calling around to different places I found they are not cheap to replace at about $70!  Thankfully I did more digging before sending Mr. Bacon off to buy a new one.  Turns out after a quick search from my phone on amazon, I found one for under $15.  A couple clicks and it was on it's way.  Of course it didn't arrive when they said it would, but an extra day delay and a $55 savings wasn't too bad for my pocketbook.

But what to do when you have a few extra days to be unplugged?  Since the weather was beautiful in Minnesota the kids and I decided to bake.  One of our favorite activities.  We baked up some of Mr. Bacon's favorites, sinckerdoodles.  And for dinner we decided to make pizza puffs, which are often requested around here!  But I wanted something else, with chocolate.

I dug around the cupboard and noticed I already had everything for making bars.  What kind? They are called 'Can't leave alone bars', or 'better than xxx bars'.   But one name was too big of a name for the kids to say and the other not appropriate so we renamed them Miracle bars. Why? Because it's a miracle if there are any left at the end of the day when after you made them! Yes they are that good!

Want to know how to bake up your own?

Miracle bars
What you need:
Box of white cake mix (ignore the instructions on the back)
1 cup chocolate chips
1 can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated!)
1/2 stick butter (1/4 cup)

2 eggs
1/3 cup oil

In mixing bowl place cake mix, eggs and oil.  Mix until dough forms

In microwave safe bowl place sweet milk, butter and chocolate chips. Microwave until the chocolate chips are melted. For me that was about a minute.  Mix well to combine everything.

Now it's time to assemble the bars.  Take 2/3 of the dough and press it into the bottom of a well greased 9x13 pan.  I like to get my hands a bit wet with water, not quite damp but not so the water is running off them either.  Wet hands will allow you to press the dough into the pan and not have it stick to you. Some people flour their hands, that's too much mess for me! Once the dough is in the bottom, pour your chocolate mixture over it. 

Next with wet hands again, pinch off a ball of dough from what is remaining in the bowl.  There is no exact amount, I'd say less than golf ball size.  Take the ball and press it flat between your hands.  Take the dough and then lay it on top of the chocolate.  Don't worry if it looks odd shaped, rips or tears while you place it on. I promise it will still taste great!  If you want to be really creative you can roll out this dough and use cookie cutters to make shapes to lay on the chocolate too!  Continue to do this until all the dough is used up. 
Bake them in a 350* oven for 20-25 minutes until the tops turn golden brown.  Let cool completely before cutting.  Yes that is the gooey chocolate I was talking about! ENJOY!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Happy Frappi

By now you might have guessed, I love my coffee!  The other day I was waiting to pick Little Miss Bacon up from a birthday party and happened to wonder over to Starbucks. Everything smelt SO good, and I love hot coffee. But being over 90 degrees outside and humid enough to swim in the air I really didn't want something hot that day.  I decided on a frappuccino.  It was delicious!  But once again the $4.50 price tag shocked me.  How can one little cup of coffee cost so much?!  I knew there had to be a way to make it for much cheaper, and have a way I could enjoy one all summer long from home without the drive to Starbucks!

I went searching for a recipe.  I found lots of them. Some seemed more interesting than others.  I tried out a few, some were too sweet and other's just didn't have the right taste.  Then I found one that was amazing!  And it's super easy to make. I also just happened to have a few of these in my freezer too!
 When I have extra (GOOD) coffee that Mr. Bacon and I didn't drink the the morning I freeze them in those handy cube trays I make Bacon Bits food in. He's getting a bit big for pureed food now anyway!  It works for freezing coffee cubes to use and this recipe they are perfect for. 

Here's what you need to make your own frappiccino.

Pint size (16oz) mason jar with clean lid and ring- or any 16oz container with a tight lid
3/4 cup strong brewed coffee - any brewed coffee is fine
1 Tbsp chocolate sauce
2 Tbsp of your favorite coffee creamer, I used vanilla carmel. Don't have any? Find out how to make it here!
3/4 cup milk
whipped topping optional- but yummy!
and 3-4 ice cubes

Place your coffee in the jar and add in chocolate sauce, creamer and milk.  
 Next toss in your ice cubes. I add in more of my coffee cubes.  This way when they start to melt there is no watered down coffee flavor in my frappiccino!
 Place the lid and ring on the jar.
 And shake like crazy!  I considered it my workout for the day. Who needs shake weights right?!
 See all the yummy bubbles! Everything looks blended, shaking complete.
 Take off the lid, top it with some whipped topping and a little more chocolate sauce. 
Homemade Frappiccino for pennies!  It's AMAZING good. There's no need to dirty another cup either, add a straw and you're all set.  
Go try it out today!  I'm sure you can't stop with just one.