Monday, January 31, 2011

French Fries

We had someone give us 150 lbs of potatoes in early November so we have been using them a lot this winter.  They store very well in the garage here in Idaho.  We just put them in boxes to keep them away from the sunlight.  It is now the end of January.  That means we have successfully stored them for 3 months.  Fresh potatoes can easily be part of your 3 month food storage meal plan.

When making fries, we choose to leave the skins on so we get all the added nutrition the skins offer.

Scrub potatoes

Slice into desired size

Drizzle in a little oil - about 1/4 cup for 6-7 potatoes

Sprinkle in a little seasoned salt or just salt and pepper and mix well

Spread out on baking sheet.  
Bake at 425° F for 15–20 minutes or until potatoes are done and as crispy as you like.  Stir after the first 10 minutes to prevent sticking.  Enjoy1

Chocolate Oatmeal Bars

Who can resist an oatmeal cookie bar with chocolate on top?  You can feel better serving these knowing they are lower in fat and cholesterol.  We made these for dinner when we had company over.  The kids quickly polished off the tray.  They go great in school lunches and they also freeze well.  Put some into snack size baggies and store in the freezer so they are ready for a quick snack or to put into lunches.

Chocolate Oatmeal Bars
Cream the butter, bean puree, and sugar

Be sure you cream it well so there are no noticeable butter chunks

Press into pan

Chocolate Oatmeal Bars

½ cup butter or margarine, softened
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup white bean puree
2 cups quick cooking oats
1 cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup white sugar
1 cup chocolate chips
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp shortening

Cream butter, beans, and sugar.  Add vanilla.  Add the flour and the oats.  Mix well.  Add the oil and mix until it pulls together.  Press into a greased jelly roll pan.  Bake at 375° F for 10–15 minutes or until lightly browned only around the edge.  Allow to cool for a few minutes.  Melt chocolate chips in the microwave with the shortening.  Spread  melted chocolate onto bars.  You can sprinkle 1 cup of chopped walnuts or pecans on the top, if desired.  Cut into bars and serve.

Maximizing Kitchen TIme

I am a BIG believer in making the time you spend in your kitchen really count.  By thinking ahead just a little, you can easily do a couple of things at once.  This morning, I ended up with an unexpected morning at home with a sick child.  Spencer is one of my older kids so he doesn't require a lot of attention when he feels rotten.  He is content just laying on the couch.  I decided to use this time to my advantage.

I am making yogurt, soaking beans, and precooking a bunch of chicken.  The yogurt and the beans don't require constant attention so I got them going and then I shifted to cutting the chicken and frying it up.  By the time 2:00 rolls around I will have 8 quart bags of beans and 4 bags of chicken in the freezer along with 2 quarts of yogurt in the refrigerator.

Doing all of this work in one morning means I will speed up dinner prep for many nights in the future.  I only dirty so many dishes once and the clean-up is all done by tonight.  When I cook beans, I always do more than one variety so I only end up cooking beans every 2-3 months.  This goes for the chicken as well.  By maximizing your time in the kitchen, you only end up doing a whole day of cooking 8-10 times a year!  It really makes it so I can feed my family "from scratch" meals every night.

My next day in the kitchen will be a day of refilling all my pantry mixes - depending on how much energy I end up with, I may just add that to my list today.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

True Cost of Credit Cards

I came across a good article the other day that helps to explain how credit cards work when you only pay the minimum balance.  It is worth reading to remind yourself that there is great power that comes in disciplining ourselves to live within our means and save a little each month that can go towards bigger purchases later.

It is easy to find ourselves buried under credit card debt in a huge hurry.  Make a commitment to yourself to pay off any debt you are carrying as quickly as possible.  To those of you who don't have a balance, I have to say, "Way to go!  Keep refusing to charge items you can't pay for."

The True Cost of Credit Cards
Credit Cards Make Buying Things Easy, But At a Significant Cost
By Jeremy Vohwinkle, Guide
Credit card offers are hard to resist. It would be tough for most people to pass up an offer for a 56 inch plasma television worth $2500 for only $50 a month on a credit card. Even though many individuals can afford a $50 monthly payment, they may not realize that they will end up paying more in interest than for the original cost of the television.
It is a common mistake to let yourself get used to paying only the minimum amount that is due on your credit card bill. A small monthly payment may seem insignificant. However, the payment may not look so insignificant when you understand the true cost of credit cards and interest.
Take for example, let's say that you really did go out and buy a new plasma television for $2,500. You used a credit card that had an annual percentage rate (APR) of 18 percent. In addition, your minimum monthly payment may be as low as $50 like in the example mentioned above. However, in order to calculate your total long-term costs you will need to know how your minimum payment was determined.
A minimal payment is typically determined by using a percentage of your entire balance. The percentage amount is usually about 2 percent but can vary depending on the card. Keep in mind that the minimum payment goes towards the interest charge and to the original amount that you owed. In this case, the original amount was $2,500.
For the $2,500 plasma television, 2 percent of your original debt would be $50. With an APR of 18 percent, your payment would cover $38 in interest and $13 towards your $2500 liability. After the first payment, you would still owe $2487. The basic formula is:
1.    Divide 18 percent by 360 days of the year which equals .05 percent.
2.    Multiply .05 percent times 30 calendar days which is 1.5.
3.    Finally, multiply 1.5 by the $2500 original balance which equals $37.50 ($38 rounded) in interest.
The True Cost of That Purchase
If you paid only 2 percent of your total balance due every month, it would take 334 months to pay off your debt. In other words, it would require 28 years to pay off a $2,500 liability. The television will probably have stopped working long before you have paid it off.
Even if you decided to pay for 28 years, you would also have paid $5897 in interest. Your true cost for the 56 inch plasma television would end up being $8397.
Letting Interest Work For You
However, image what you might have earned if you had put the $50 into a savings account for 28 years. Even at today's current low rates it would have been a substantial amount.
For instance, let's say you started a savings account or opened a CD with a 5 percent rate and deposited $50 every month for 28 years. Also, let's include what you would have paid in taxes with a tax rate of 25% on the income that generated.
Your total savings would have been $29,648. You would have earned $17,130 in interest income. Your total tax cost would have been $4,283. After taxes, you would have made an extra $12,847. You could have paid for the television in cash and had plenty of money left over.
Don’t Fall Into the Credit Card Trap
A lot of individuals get tempted by the credit advertisements and deals that are too good to be true. However, when you look at the long-term consequences, the low monthly payment offers will usually cost you a lot more money.
It is a good idea to learn about how much a credit card transaction would really cost before going through with the purchase. You can check for yourself at's credit and debt management calculator section. This section has a special “minimal payment credit card calculator” that can tell you:
·         Your total cost with minimum payments.
·         How many payments it will take to pay off the entire balance with minimum payments.
·         How different rates will affect the total costs.
Credit companies usually make huge profits by offering teaser rates and low minimum payments. It is one way of maintaining their income by keeping consumers in debt for 10, 20 or even 30 years. Instead of adding to their income, you might consider building a savings account by depositing what you would have spent on your minimal monthly credit card payments.
Credit cards can play an important role in our lives. They can provide emergency funds for a major car accident or another critical situation and allow you to recover quickly in a time of need. If you have to use credit, pay your bill in full each month. If you have to rely on making smaller payments try to pay at least $10 over the minimum payment and only charge items that you can truly afford. This can save you thousands of dollars in interest charges.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Dehydrated Vegetables

Dehydrated carrots, celery, and onions
Dehydrated vegetables are delicious when they are re-hydrated correctly and they expand the meals you can make with storable ingredients. I love to use them in the fall and winter because they go so well into soups and stews.  I save hours in the kitchen each week since I don't have to wash and chop all the vegetables.

Potato cheese soup made with dehydrated carrots, celery, and onions.
Nutritionally, dehydrated, canned, and frozen fruits and vegetables contain many vitamins we need.  There has always been an argument about fresh vs. processed foods.  Even health magazines suggest that produce that is processed at its peak of ripeness (in-season) may contain higher amounts of vitamins than produce that is picked green and then shipped to its destination.

With this thought in mind, we eat from our garden all summer and fall and then bottle and freeze any extra for the winter and spring.  I also store dehydrated fruits and vegetables to give us the variety we are used to.  You can purchase dehydrated carrots and onions from the LDS cannery.  Our local Walmart has started carrying a few dried vegetables.  That is where I picked up my celery.  I also know the Food2Store store located at Locust Grove and Fairview (for those in the Boise area) carries a large variety of dehydrated or freeze dried options.  You can also order from many different places online.

Dehydrated vegetables will double in size after hydrating so keep that in mind as you decide just how much to use.  Soak in warm water for 15-20 minutes.  If making a soup, just drop in a handful while everything else is simmering.  If using just a few onions or peppers for added flavor, just put some in a glass bowl and cover with a little water.  Microwave for 30 seconds and then drain off any excess water.

I love to make mixes for soup and rice pilaf with these dried vegetables.  Then I can have a just add water meal straight from my food storage.

Make room in your pantry so the cans are easily accessible and you will find that you use them a lot more often.

Simple Pot Pie

Using food storage doesn't mean you have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  For dinner the other night, I needed something fast and dairy-free.  My husband's cousin teaches my children piano lessons in our home and always stays for dinner with us.  She can't have milk so I always have to get a little creative on the nights she is coming.

I had some beef stew in my storage that was old enough I needed to rotate it.  I read the label and sure enough it was dairy-free so I decided I would turn it into a pot pie.

I opened the cans and poured them into a 9x13-inch pan.  You can easily make a smaller batch - just use less beef stew.  I ended up needing 5 cans to fill the pan.

I then sprinkled about 1/4 cup flour over the top and mixed it in.  The flour will help it thicken up as it cooks so it isn't as thin as beef stew.

Then I rolled out a pie crust between two layers of plastic wrap to fit the top of the pan.
Pie crust freezes very well so I always keep some in the freezer.  I needed to crusts to fit a 9x13-inch pan.

Rolling out between two pieces of plastic wrap keeps the kitchen clean, but also keeps the ratio of flour to fat where it needs to be for a crispy crust.

Get it as thin as possible.

Measure it by placing your pan on top - you want it to extend past the sides by about 1 inch. 

Take off the top layer of plastic wrap and pick up the dough

Flip it over on top of the pie and remove the final piece of plastic wrap
 Make it a little pretty by crimping the edges and cut a few vent holes in the top.

Bake at 400° F for 25-30 minutes until the pie crust is lightly browned.  Serve with some canned or bottled fruit for a quick and easy dairy-free meal all with storable ingredients.

Grinding Wheat

Wheat is something that stores for 30+ years.  So, unless your family fights an allergy, it is good to have some in your long-term storage.  There are a few things you can do with wheat without grinding it into flour, but your options are limited.  As flour, you have many options for using your wheat.  Grinding wheat is simple, but requires a wheat grinder.  There are quite a few options available and you can even check one out from the LDS cannery to use for a short period of time until you can afford one of your own.

I have used the K-Tec model.  We had an old one for the first few years of our marriage.  It ground the wheat just fine, but it was very loud and it sprayed flour all over.  I learned to use ear plugs and to cover the entire unit with an old towel to contain the flour mess.  I now have a Nutrimill grinder.  It grinds a lot more wheat in the same amount of time, is about as loud as a normal vacuum, and there is not a huge mess.  I really like it.  I also like that I can turn it off at anytime, without worrying if there is wheat remaining in the unit.  Some of the other models can only be turned off when you are completely finished grinding.  With five young children, I never know when I'll need to turn it off and help them out so I needed that option.

12 cups of wheat berries (about what fits in a #10 can) will grind into about 20 cups of flour.

Using some of the wheat you have stored is a great way to save money.  Purchasing the wheat is far cheaper than purchasing the flour so if you don't have a grinder, and money is tight, ask a friend if you can borrow one for a few days and grind away.

Nutrimill Grinder
Fill the top with wheat berries
Turn both knobs to the upright position to begin grinding
Turn the bottom knob counter-clockwise to the horizontal position to turn off and remove the bottom portion of the unit by sliding out
This is what it looks like all the way out
Remove the lid to find the flour below

Fresh ground white wheat flour

I store mine in a bucket in the pantry for 2-3 months

There are rumors out there that freshly ground flour loses all of its nutritional value in a matter of a few hours.  These are just rumors.  I have not been able to find any scientific evidence to verify any such information.  I know that the huge mills grind wheat flour and then sell it through the grocery stores with a date that is 2-3 years out for its best by date.  This helps me know that the flour will still be good for my family.  I grind quite a bit at once and fill a bucket that fits in the bottom of my pantry.  With it ground and ready, I find myself adding it to all my muffins, cookies, bread, pizza dough, etc.  If I had to grind wheat every time I made something, I know I wouldn't do it.  It is too time consuming to do every day.  By having some ground, we get the health benefits of all the protein, vitamins, and fiber from the whole grain and it means I only grind about every 2 months.

When using fresh ground whole wheat flour in your recipes, you may need to play with the moisture content a little since whole wheat flour absorbs more moisture than white flour.  I've found that using 1/2 white wheat flour and 1/2 all-purpose flour yields good results without needing to change the moisture amounts.  White wheat flour is also easier for your family to adjust to because it has a milder flavor and will not be as noticeable.  Red wheat flour tends to require a little more water or milk and it has a stronger nuttier flavor.

The internet is a great resource for finding whole wheat recipes.  Don't hesitate to search for a few and give them a try.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Money Saving Snack Ideas

Money Saving Snack Ideas

When you do your grocery shopping, you can very easily spend $20–30 a week or more on pre-packaged snacks.  (That adds up to over $1,000 a year!)  As a family, this is one area of the food budget that can be tightened quite easily.  The money you save can be used to pay down debt, increase emergency savings, or purchase additional food storage items.  Talk through some of these suggestions as a family and decide which ideas you’d like to try.  I've collected many recipes over the years for making snacks.  I will share them a little at a time here on the blog.  In the meantime, I'm sure you have a few recipes in your collection that would work.  

It takes some thinking ahead to have snacks prepared for when kids need them.  I love my freezer to help with this.  I grew up in a family of nine children so we tripled a batch of cookies on a regular basis just to have a couple around it seemed like.  Growing up this way, makes it seem easy to bake in large batches.  I double or triple recipes all the time and then I've experimented to figure out what freezes well.  Most every cookie freezes well.  Muffins also do great in the freezer.  So when I am baking these items, I bag up some of them in ziplock bags and pull them out another day to thaw before the kids are home from school.

Popcorn is a very inexpensive snack to keep on hand.  If you buy just the popcorn seed instead of the microwave version, you will save even more money.  We have an air popper and one of the fun Whirly pop pans that you can use to pop the popcorn seed.  We also love to make granola bars and try out different flavors.  These homemade bars can store in a snack size ziplock for two months or more if you can keep them hidden from the kids.  It costs me well under $2.00 to make a batch and I get about 24 bars.

These are just a few suggestions - commit to doing more homemade items and you will see your savings grow.

Dried fruit
Homemade Graham Crackers
Homemade trail or snack mix
Chex mix – using store brand cereal
Popcorn/caramel corn
Homemade granola bars
Cookies or brownies
Homemade Lunchables
Rice Krispie treats/no-bake treats
Cinnamon toast or toast and jam
Boiled eggs/deviled eggs
Yogurt smoothies
Cheese ball with crackers
Garden vegetables and ranch dip

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

Canned pumpkin
My family loves just about anything with pumpkin in it.  In the fall, I always cook up a few pumpkins and puree them so I can have fresh pumpkin in the freezer year round.  I also keep a few cans of pumpkin on hand just in case we finish the stuff in the freezer.

Pumpkin puree from my freezer
Sunday night, we were ready for a treat.  I mixed up a batch of pumpkin oatmeal cookies and they were devoured while we played games.  My little one-year-old, Emma, picked out the chocolate chips first.  It looks like she will be a chocolate lover like her big sister, Sarah.  These cookies are unique because they do not require any eggs.  I use white bean puree to replace most of the fat and it also takes away the need for the eggs. (Yes they are actually quite healthy - so go ahead and eat more than one!)

White bean puree, freezes great so I keep it in 1/2 cup portions ready to go.

They are a soft, muffin-top type cookie and everyone who has ever tried them just loves them!  Hope your family does too.
Combine dry ingredients

Add wet ingredients

Mix until combined

Add chocolate chips, if desired.  We pressed a few into the tops so they are very visible. 
If you add just a little water, about 1/4 cup you can bake these as muffins instead of cookies. When using canned pumpkin, you may need to add just a little more water.  Canned pumpkin is thicker than my homemade puree.  The other thing I like to do is make a few mixes out of the dry ingredients when I have all the stuff out.  I just store these mixes in ziplock bags in my pantry until another snack attack hits.  It really speeds up the process another time.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

4 cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ cups pumpkin
2 cups quick oats
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup sugar
¼  cup vegetable oil
2 cups brown sugar, packed
½ cup white bean puree
2 tsp baking soda
2 cups chocolate chips
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1 tsp salt

Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl.  You can use 2 c. wheat flour and 2 c. white flour.  Add wet ingredients.  Mix or stir together.  Drop by spoonfuls onto greased baking sheet.  Bake at 350° F 15–20 minutes or until firm and lightly browned.  Makes about 5 dozen cookies.  Unbaked dough can be frozen.  Thaw in refrigerator and bake as directed.  You can also freeze the cookies once they are baked.  For a different version, instead of adding chocolate chips, frost cooled cookies with  Maple Buttercream Frosting:

2 Tbsp butter, softened
¼ cup maple or pancake syrup
1 ½ cups powdered sugar

Using a hand beater, beat butter and syrup until blended.  Gradually beat in powdered sugar until smooth.  Add a little milk if needed to achieve the right consistency.

Stock-up Prices To Watch For

One of the best ways to save money on your grocery bill is to track the prices of items in your area that you purchase or use on a regular basis.  I have been doing this since I got married.  Before that, my mom was tracking them and she shared her good deal prices with me initially.  When I see an item hit my stock-up price I purchase enough to get me through 6 months to a year. (Because I have my meal plan put together, I know just how much of these items I need for a year.)  I then wait to purchase that item again until it hits this low price.

Grocery prices vary so much with your location.  Those of you lucky enough to live in the Boise Area, I will share my current list here in a moment.  Those of you outside of the Boise area can create a list of your own using mine as a guide.  By shopping this way, we spend less than half of what the average American family spends on groceries and you need to remember that our family of 7 is much larger than the average family.  Saving money on your grocery bill is the fastest way to find extra savings that you can use to fill your emergency fund.

Stock-Up Prices to Watch For

Cream of chicken or mushroom soup             $ .50 (sometimes it goes to $ .33)
Tomato soup                                                   less than $ .50 (sometimes it goes to $ .33)
Olives                                                              $ .99 (sometimes it goes to $ .79)
Tuna                                                                $ .45 (sometimes it goes to $ .33)
Canned vegetables                                          $ .50 (sometimes it goes to $ .33)
Pineapple - 20 oz.                                            $ .79
Mandarin Oranges – 11oz.                              $ .45
Canned beans (kidney, navy, etc,)                  $ .50
Refried beans                                                  $ .50
Diced Green Chilies - 4 oz.                             $ .56
Diced tomatoes - 15 oz.                                  $ .50 (sometimes it goes to $ .33)
Tomato sauce -8 oz.                                        $ .25
Hunts Spaghetti Sauce                                    $.79
Pork chops, bone-in                                        $1.58/pound
Boneless, skinless chicken breast                    $1.78/pound (sometimes it goes to $1.49)
Pork spare ribs                                                 $ .99/pound
Pork roast                                                        $ .99/pound
Beef Roast                                                      $1.99/pound
Ham                                                                $ .99/pound
Extra lean hamburger                                      $1.99/pound
Sausage                                                           $1.99/pound
Cheese                                                             $2.00/pound
Cream Cheese -8oz.                                        $ .98
Flour                                                                $7.00/25 pounds
Sugar                                                               $11.00/25 pounds
Powdered Sugar                                             $ .50/pound
Brown Sugar                                                   $. 50/pound
Cold cereal                                                      $ .10/ounce
Chips                                                               $ .10/ounce
Crackers                                                          $ .13/ounce
Hamburger/Tuna/Chicken Helper                   $1.00/box
Pasta                                                                $ .75/pound
Macaroni and Cheese                                      $ .42/box
Peanut Butter                                                  $ .08/ounce
Kraft BBQ Sauce                                           $.79/bottle
Salad Dressings - 16 oz.                                  $1.00

Because these items store for quite some time, I never buy them until I see them for this price.  Learn to change your buying habits and stock up with 3-6 months' worth or more when you find these prices.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pasta/Pizza Sauce

One of my very favorite food storage items is the gallon cans of crushed tomatoes you can get at Costco.  If you figure the cost per ounce, they are very inexpensive and they make the perfect pasta and pizza sauce when you add some spices.  They are just the right consistency and always taste just great.  When you are finished using what you need for the meal you are preparing, you can put the leftover in ziplock bags and freeze for later use.

Crushed Tomatoes

I always add some basil, oregano, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper to taste right in the can.  Why dirty another bowl?

Mix until combined.  Use with pasta or when making pizza.

As Easy As Chicken Nuggets

As you begin to think about your food storage in actual meals, some are quite simple.  For example, today for lunch I made my three preschoolers chicken nuggets, green peas, and mashed potatoes.
The chicken nuggets and peas came from the freezer and the mashed potatoes were made using the potato pearls available from the LDS cannery.  I just added hot water.  The kids were elated - it is one of their favorite lunches.  I was happy because it was simple and I can easily store the ingredients to make it again and again.

One of my kids' very favorite lunches.
Many other options are open to you when you allow yourself to store items in the freezer.  Remember that the counsel is to store items that you eat on a normal basis.  These are part of the normal lunch rotation so I just make sure I store enough to make it once a week for 12 weeks.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Taco Filling

Taco filling is a very easy meal to make with items that store.  For dinner tonight, I mixed cooked rice, black beans, corn, diced tomatoes and leftover pot roast together in the crockpot.  I had the pot roast, cooked rice and black beans in the freezer just waiting to be used.  I then added a can of corn (drained) and a can of diced tomatoes.  To spice it up, I added a packet of fajita seasoning mix and some dehydrated peppers and onions.  I then added about 1/2 cup of water and mixed it all together.  I warmed it through which took about 2 hours on high and then dinner was ready.  We will serve it with tortillas and corn chips so my kids have a choice.  Add lettuce, shredded cheese and sour cream for a delicious and easy storable meal.

Dehydrated onions and peppers with a little water

Rehydrated peppers and onions - just microwave for 30 seconds to one minute to rehydrate

Seasoning packets are a good way to store quite a few flavoring options.

Here is the completed taco filling.

Store bought tortillas and corn chips have quite a long shelf-life so I always try to keep some on hand.  If we are out though, we love to make homemade tortillas.  I keep shredded cheese in the freezer and you can use homemade yogurt in place of the sour cream.  These are the changes I take into account as I plan the ingredients to store so I could serve tacos any day of the year!

Food Storage Meal Plan

Many people may have been collecting food storage or stocking up on items when they were on sale for quite some time.  Others of you may be new to the whole idea.  I am a HUGE believer in having food storage.  The other thing I really feel passionate about is knowing what I can actually make with the food I have here at the house.

This desire motivated me to search out recipes that could be fully storable - this means that I would have to be able to store all the ingredients at my house.  Some feel that your ingredients need to be shelf-stable.  I have come to realize that 99.9% of the time that you need to be using your food storage the electricity is fully functioning.  For this reason, I count my freezer as an essential food storage tool.  I do keep some meals that are fully shelf-stable, but plenty of other meals require that I use my freezer.  You need to decide for yourself.

The most recent counsel from the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to store 3 months' worth of what your family eats on a normal basis and then a year supply of basics such as wheat, beans, and rice.  We are going to focus on the 3-month supply.

To come up with what you should be storing to cover 3 month's worth of meals, first determine 2 weeks' worth of meals, snacks, and desserts that you could store and then just store enough ingredients to be able to make these meals 6 times each.  This will give you 12 weeks of meals which is about 3 months.  I will be sharing plenty of recipes on this blog that you can use, but you can also think about some of your family's favorite recipes.  Many of these can be stored - you may just need to make a few slight changes.

Most of you probably already have some meals that fit in this category.  Think about what your go-to meals are. You know, the ones that you always know you can make because you always have the ingredients on hand.  Spaghetti is one that is easy.  All you need is a can of sauce and a package of noodles.  You can also store some meat and shredded cheese in the freezer to make it a little more fancy.  Pizza is one of our meals.  I always have what we need to make some kind of pizza.  Pancakes is another option.  Once, you begin thinking about it, you'll surprise yourself with what you can do.

When you have a meal plan, you have the peace of knowing just how to ration that food you have to last as long as you need it to.  You also know they are recipes that you know how to cook and your family actually loves.  In this uncertain world that we live in, you never know when you will need to pull from your stores.

I cook these food storage meals on a regular basis so I am constantly rotating through my supply and nothing is getting too old.  I also use the ingredients in other meals that I make so I just do an inventory every 6 months or so and re-stock up on what I need when I see it hit a good price.

If any of you have any ideas of good recipes that would work, please be kind enough to share -

Budget - a plan for spending

Many people look at the word "budget" and cringe.  One thing my husband and I learned early on in our marriage is that a budget is not a restriction.  It is actually a plan for our spending so we know we have covered all our required areas and left some for our future goals.  We get pretty creative sometimes in how we choose to limit our spending in some areas so we can free up money to be used other places.

Both of us grew up in homes where money was tight, but our parents were good to not spend what they didn't have.  It meant we went without a lot of things we saw our friends getting.  This taught us a valuable lesson - you don't need all those things.  You can grow up a well rounded individual without having the latest and greatest new craze.  Dave Ramsey uses the phrase, "Live like no one else, so you can one day live like no one else."  This means make the hard choices early on to stay out of debt and go without many things your neighbors may be choosing so that one day, you can enjoy financial freedom like many in America will never feel.

So the big question is how to do it -

First -
Make a record of all you are spending.  James and I found that we really needed to do this for an entire year to record it all.  Some things only come due once a quarter or every six months.  Birthdays and Christmas added expenses some months that weren't there other months.  Also, utility bills fluctuate with the seasons so after recording expenses for the entire year we were able to include all of this information.

During the time that you are recording, begin to recognize places where you may be able to cut back.  Set up some categories and challenge yourself to stay below a certain level.  It has become a bit of a game for us.  Can we do groceries for less than $100 week or can we come up with fun things to do that only add up to $20 for the month?

As you determine hidden savings within your budget, you can decide where these savings will go.  First, fill an emergency fund of at least $1,000.  You will eventually want to build this higher but not until you are completely out of credit card debt.

Many families carry a balance on their credit cards.  This needs to be the area that you focus your extra savings on first and commit to never adding to, or carrying a balance again.

This gives you a beginning and something to think about - I'll post more soon about how to find savings and what to do with this "new found" money.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Emergency Fund

We learn from the Bible story of Joseph in Egypt that seven years of plenty are followed by seven years of famine.  My husband likes to remind me of this which is his way of saying, "During our times of prosperity we need to be thinking ahead and preparing for what may come."  The best way to prepare financially is to save a little each month in an "Emergency Fund."  Financial experts suggest having at least 3 months' of expenses set aside, but if you only have one income in your household or are working in a more risky area for job loss, you really need to try and set aside 6 months-1 year.

I know this seems like an impossible task.  But I know it is possible because we have done it and I am aware of other families who have done it as well.  The amount for each family is different.  You really need to determine what your bare minimum expenses would be for one month.  Notice that I didn't say to pay attention to what your income is each month.  If you can figure out a way to reduce your expenses, the amount you need in an emergency fund can be less.

For example, if you are living on $3,000 a month right now, you would need to save $18,000 to cover 6 months'  worth of expenses.  If you are able to find ways to cut back to only $2,500 a month, you would only need to save $15,000.  You would also have an additional $500 a month you could put toward your emergency fund instead of other purchases.

Great peace of mind comes as you watch that emergency fund grow.  Get creative in finding ways to save money.  Many of us make resolutions to do better with our finances in a new year.  Over the next few weeks, I will be posting some ideas that we have come up with that help us save money every month.  Hopefully, these ideas can help inspire you to keep at it and get that emergency fund filled up.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Honey Graham Crackers

When it comes to food storage, I am a HUGE believer in needing to know what I can actually make with what I am storing.  With 5 kids, snacks are a BIG part of everyday.  Here is one of my favorite, healthy snacks.  I've been playing with this recipe for a little while and I think I have finally come up with a winner that has been taste tested and approved by about 100 people who have attended my most recent classes on food storage.  It makes a large batch, but the dough freezes very well so I can roll them out another day.  Enjoy!

Roll out dough between two pieces of plastic wrap.
Red plastic wrap was on clearance after Christmas so that is why this appears pink.
Cut out with cute shapes or just use a pizza cutter.
The flecks you see are from the ground flax seed.
Place on a greased baking sheet.

Cute and adorable - what kid wouldn't love these!  They taste very similar to Teddy Grahams but are just a little less sweet.

Honey Graham Crackers

1 cup butter or shortening
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tsp baking powder
½ cup honey
1 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp vanilla
½ tsp salt
4 ½ cups wheat flour
3 Tbsp dry milk powder
1 cup ground flax seed, wheat germ,
or oat bran or additional wheat flour
1 cup water
2 tsp cinnamon, optional

Cream together the butter and brown sugar.  You can use a combination of butter and shortening or just one or the other.  Add the honey and vanilla.  Mix until combined.  Add the dry ingredients.  Use a combination of ground flax seed, wheat germ, or oat bran, if desired.  Begin mixing and add the water gradually until it pulls together into a stiffer cookie dough consistency.  Divide dough into 5-6 balls.  Wrap all but one in plastic wrap and flatten into a disk.  Refrigerate or freeze for later.  Roll the remaining ball out between two sheets of plastic wrap.  You want it to be very thin, much like pie crust.  Peel off the top layer of plastic wrap and cut the dough using mini cookie cutters or use a pizza cutter to cut into rectangles.  Prick the rectangles with a fork, if desired, for appearance.  Place crackers on a greased baking sheet and bake at 350° for 4-6 minutes until they are just turning brown along the edge.  Remove to a wire rack to cool.  You can roll them a little thicker and cut with a larger cookie cutter.  Bake for 7-8 minutes and use as a sugar cookie substitute.  The kids love to frost these and they have no idea they are eating a much more healthy treat.  You can store any leftovers in an airtight container or freeze for later.  For a dairy free version, you can substitute powdered soy or rice milk for the dry milk powder or you can omit it all together and use liquid soy or rice milk in place of the water.  You may have to adjust the amount of liquid slightly to make a stiff cookie dough.  For a honey free version, you can substitute brown sugar for the honey and adjust the water amount as needed.