Saturday, February 19, 2011

Clean Eating Low-Cost Meal Plan Monday 2/14

Okay, so it’s not technically Monday but here was the meal plan I made for this week based on the current sale at Publix. The sale doesn’t actually end until 2/22 here in Pensacola (2/23 in other places) so you could still use it for next week.

Step 1: Find out what meat and produce is on sale for the weekThis week at Publix, Mild Italian Sausage, Boneless Pork Loin Country Ribs, and Jenny-O Ground Turkey are on sale. In the produce section onions, red peppers, green peppers, zucchini, and baby Portabella mushrooms are also on sale.

Step 2: Take an inventory of your pantry and freezer, check out what other items are on sale, and pick several recipes that use those ingredients.There are great prices for chicken broth, canned tomatoes, and frozen veggies this week and I have a bunch of whole wheat pasta and brown rice in my pantry but I don’t have any cooked brown rice, diced onions, or diced peppers left in my freezer.

Step 3: Take a look at your calendar for the week and see which nights you’ll have more time to cook and which nights you won't and plan your menu accordingly.This will be different for every family but, in general, I cook 3 or 4 nights a week and we eat something from our freezer stash the other nights.

Step 4: Get all of the recipes together and make a shopping list of what you’ll need.Pork Ragout over Brown Rice
Classic Vegetarian Tacos
Lean Stuffed Peppers
Mushroom Ragout
over Whole Wheat Angel Hair Pasta
Chocolate Walnut Zucchini Bread

Here is a shopping list for the complete menu based on you having nothing in your pantry or freezer. You will obviously omit the items that you already have. Go HERE for an explanation of the couponing abbreviations. The items that are on sale will have their sale price and brand (if applicable) in italics. The items with coupon matchups will have the coupon info listed just below them.

Produce

  • 4 large onions (Sweet Onions, $.99/lb)
  • Head of garlic or jar of minced garlic
  • 4 packages of Baby Portobella Mushrooms ($1.69)
  • 1 cup cauliflower florets (Eat Smart Vegetables, 10 or 12 oz, $1)
  • 1 bag fresh spinach
  • 2 green bell peppers ($1.49/lb)
  • 3 red bell peppers ($2.49/lb)
  • 1 bag fresh kale
  • 2 medium zucchini ($1.49/lb)
Dairy
Meat
  • 1 ½ lbs pork loin country style ribs ($2.99/lb)
  • 1 package mild Italian sausage ($2.99/lb)
  • 1 package Jenny-O 93% lean ground turkey, 20 oz, ($2.99)
Grocery

Meal Planning 101

At the beginning of each week I sit down and plan out a general menu of what we will be having for dinner. This accomplishes two things. First, It helps me avoid standing there in front of the open fridge thinking, “What the heck am I going to make for dinner?” at 5:30 (when someone under 4 is inevitably hanging on my leg and whining because they want a snack or they have a foreign object up their nose). Second, it gives me a basis to plan my shopping list so I'm not in the middle of making something only to realize that I'm out of a key ingredient (which is when the aforementioned under 4 person might learn some unsavory language). I find it also helps us eat out less often because when my husband, Matt, calls on his way home and asks if I want to meet him at Chili's, I'm much more likely to say no when I already have something delicious bubbling on the stove. In addition to dinners, I will usually plan one or two baked goods or special breakfast or lunch items as well. I also take a peek in my pantry and freezers (yes, that’s freezers plural) and check out how my stockpile is doing to see if I’m starting to run low on anything.

Once you get into the habit of planning your meals, you will likely come up with your own personal method but here’s how I do it to help you get started:

  1. Check out what’s on sale. I'm in Pensacola, the land of the glorious Publix supermarket, so I always go to the weekly ad on iheartpublix.com and quickly check out what meat and produce is on sale. These are the items that almost never have coupons available and are the most expensive. By planning my meals around the cheapest protein and veggie options, I keep my yearly food expenses lower. For example, if chicken is on sale for $1.99/lb but ground turkey is at its regular price of $3.99/pound, I’ll choose to make chicken enchiladas that week instead of meatloaf. Same thing with produce. Note: If you're not in an area that has Publix, I'm really and truly sorry, because you're going to be totally jealous of the savings we can get there :) However, you can still check out the ad or couponing site of your local grocery store and plan your shop that way. Check here to see if there is a couponing site for a grocery store in your area.
  2. Take an inventory of your pantry and freezer, check out what other items are on sale, and pick several recipes that use those ingredients. I look through cookbooks, check out my Clean Eating magazines, and sometimes just do a google search like “chicken peppers brown rice clean eating” which might give me something like this Honey Mustard Chicken and Brown Rice Pilaf with Red Peppers and Kale
  3. Take a look at your calendar for the week and see which nights you’ll have more time to cook and which nights you won't and plan your menu accordingly. For example, if you have 2 soccer games on Tuesday night and you’re volunteering at preschool during the day, that would be a great night for planned leftovers or a meal from your freezer stockpile versus making a chicken pot pie from scratch. I have a good freezer stockpile of meals so I only plan to cook 3 or 4 nights a week and we eat a meal out of the freezer the other nights. I love cooking but it’s nice to know that there are some nights each week where we’ll be eating a home cooked meal that didn’t require me to doing anything more than push buttons on the microwave :)
  4. Get all of the recipes together and make a shopping list of what you’ll need. Don’t forget to add on anything else you might need for the week that’s not related to dinner, like milk or cereal. Gather your coupons and head to the store and you'll be ready for a week of healthy meals.
That's it! Not too hard right? This is the method I try to use a majority of the time but there are certainly more basic ways to meal plan. Even if you're not basing your menu around the sales, by planning out healthy meals for the week, you'll probably still save money by not going out to eat as much and only buying what you need at the store. Not to mention you'll probably be eating better because you won't be just reaching for whatever's easiest at 6:30 when you're starving and the kids are cranky. During the summer when I'm in the pool eight hours a day teaching babies how to not drown I have a nanny who watches my boys. Some weeks I would just hand her a Clean Eating magazine and tell her to pick out four things that she would like to try making and that was our meal plan. My Mom meal plans by having my step dad pick three things out of her Cook's Illustrated Best Light Recipe Book. Go with whatever works for you :)
Check back each week for Meal Plan Monday where I’ll share what we have planned for the week based on the sales. Good luck!!

Couponing 101

How to save the most money overall with couponing? People will often say they can save more by just buying generic or that they end up buying more expensive stuff just to use the coupon. The key to really saving the most is:


  • Know the general prices of the things you buy the most and always buy at the lowest price. Prices cycle throughout the year and, depending on the item, sometimes they can vary from one week to another by as much as 50% or more. Take Special K Cereal for example. One week it's $3.99 a box and the next week it's Buy One Get One Free (BOGO) making it only $2 a box. If you only bought Special K when it was $2 a box and you went through a box a week, you would save over $100 over the course of a year on that one item alone.
  • Stockpile your frequently used and long shelf-life items when they are at their lowest price. Obviously you cannot expect all of your items to be at their lowest price every week. However, if you stockpile when they are at their lowest price, you can avoid having to buy them at regular price. For example, chicken broth is usually about $2.50 a box. If I see it BOGO plus coupons making it only $1 a box, I will buy four to six weeks’ worth during the sale. By the time I've run out, it's usually on sale again and I've avoided paying $2.50 a box over that period of time.
How do I know if an item is a good price?
  • Start a price book: Determine what your 10-20 most common items are that you purchase and record their price over several weeks. Start with your most expensive and most frequently used items.



    My Common Items:
    Week 1
    Week 2
    Week 3
    Week 4
    Chicken, per pound$2.99$3.49$3.49$1.99
    Chicken Broth$1.25$2.50$2.50$2.50
    Shredded Cheese, 8 oz$2.50$1.25$2.50$1.67
    Green Peppers, per pound$2.49$2.09$1.99$2.49
    Whole Wheat Flour$3.50$3.50$3.50$2.67
    Total Cost Per Week$12.73$12.83$13.98$11.32


    Highest week’s price: $13.98 (buying one of each item Week 3)
    Lowest week’s price: $11.32 (buying one of each item Week 2)
    Couponer’s Price: $9.15 (buying each item only at its lowest price)
Use coupons wisely
  • Combine a rock bottom price with a coupon to increase savings (there are websites now that match store sales with available coupons to make this easier to do. My favorite is iheartpublix.com
  • Stacking – use a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon on the same item
  • Publix accepts competitors' coupons (check w/ customer service at each store for who they consider competitors) and you can stack one Publix Q or Competitor Q AND one Manufacturer’s q on any item.
  • When an item is Buy One Get One Free (BOGO) you can use a coupon on the item you are buying and on the item you are getting for free which essentially doubles your coupon.
Where do you get your coupons?
Know when to pass on a deal
  • Don’t deviate from your shopping list unless it’s a rock bottom price on an item you use often anyway (ex: your favorite shampoo is in the clearance section for a ridiculously low price)
  • Always check to see if the generic price is less than the brand name with coupons
Get Organized
  • File whole newspaper inserts by date in an accordion file
  • Use a specific folder/binder to keep store coupon fliers
  • Use a small coupon clutch for loose coupons (blinkies, peelies) and to organize your coupons for your shop
Plan Your Shop
  • Browse your favorite coupon matchup site to get a general idea of what’s on sale that week. http://www.iheartpublix.com/, http://www.southernsavers.com/, and http://www.fiddledeedeemom.com/ are good and very user friendly.
  • Plan out your meals for the week, check over your stockpile, and compile your grocery list.
  • Use the coupon matchup site to make a list of what coupons you need to collect and to make note of any super deals to take advantage of.
  • Search the coupon databases for any coupons available for other items you are purchasing that might not be specifically listed on the matchup sites.
  • Collect/print/clip all of your coupons and organize them (envelope, coupon clutch, etc)
The most effective way to get started with couponing is to just pick one store and get familiar with their coupon policy. Start slowly and, as you get more experienced, you will be able to score better deals as well as learn what deals to pass on. Also almost every large couponing site has a tab that covers the basics of couponing and how to get started. Spend some time reading and researching on the sites to see what methods other people use.

Here are some good how-to sites:
Deal Write-up Explained. This is how the coupon deals are written up on iheartpublix.com
Silk Soymilk or Almond Milk, half gallon, 2/$5
-$1/1 Silk Soymilk Rolling
-$0.55/1 Silk Soymilk Rolling
-$0.75/1 Silk Soymilk Rolling

-$1/1 Silk Pure Almond Almondmilk 1/16/2011 SS Insert
-$1/1 Silk Pure Almond or Soymilk 64 oz carton Publix coupon Family Style Home Mailed VersionAs low as 50¢ per half gallon!
  • The first line is the sale item.
  • The lines indented with dashes are every applicable coupon that currently exists for that item. Note: you can’t use all these different coupons at once; we’re just trying to give you options if you don’t have one particular coupon.
  • Anything underlined is a link that will take you to a printable coupon. (“Rolling” means that the expiration of the coupon will ‘roll’ depending on when you print it.)
  • Anything without underlining is a paper coupon; the text at the end of that line will tell you where the coupon can be found. (Common Sunday Paper coupon insert abbreviations: GM = General Mills, PG = Proctor & Gamble, RP = RedPlum, SS = SmartSource)
  • Red lines are manufacturer’s coupons, green lines are store coupons (Publix stores will let you use 1 store coupon and 1 manufacturer’s coupon per item).
  • Finally, the italicized text will tell you the lowest price you can expect to pay if you have the appropriate coupons for that item.
On this blog, if a coupon is printable, it will have the word printable in parentheses next to it and if you click on the coupon description, it will be a link to where the coupon can be printed from, like this: -$1/1 Bag of Rice (printable)
Coupon Lingo
  • $1/2 (and the like) One dollar off two items. The first number represents the discount and the second number indicates the quantity required to obtain that discount.
  • BOGO (or B1G1) = Buy One Get One Free
  • B2G1 = Buy Two Get One Free
  • Blinkie = Coupon that you find on shelves in the SmartSource machine-usually has a blinking light.
  • Cat or Catalina. The coupons that print off with your receipt (usually from a machine directly beside the cash register)
  • CRT = Cash Register Tape (your receipt)
  • DND = Do Not Double (followed by the number 5 indicates that the coupon will auto double at the register or 9 means the coupon will have to be manually doubled)
  • ECB = Extra Care Buck-(CVS cash)This coupon prints at the end of your receipts and can be used to pay like cash at CVS stores. Earned via a rewards card for specific purchases. Watch the expiration dates on these!
  • ES = Easy Saver. Monthly rebate and coupon book at Walgreens
  • FAR = Free After Rebate
  • FLIP-Food Lion Internet Printable. Food Lion has weekly coupons that can be printed and can be used at Publix as a competitor coupon (if your store considers Food Lion a competitor)
  • Hangtag-coupon that is hanging from a tag around a bottle or jar.
  • IP = Internet Printable Coupon
  • IVC = Instant Value Coupon at Walgreens. Found in either the ES book and/or in the weekly ad.
  • MFR or MQ= manufacturer coupon
  • MIR = Mail In Rebate
  • MM-money maker…deal where you will make money after coupons are used
  • NWPN-No wine purchase necessary (applies to wine tag coupons) meaning you do not have to buy the wine to use the coupon
  • ONYO = On Your Next Order
  • OOP = Out of Pocket. The amount you actually spend.
  • Overage-This is money you earn when a coupon amount exceeded the purchase price of an item. EX-a product is $0.75 and you have a $1 coupon…you now have $0.25 in overage. Most stores will not give you this money in cash -but it can be absorbed to reduce the cost of other items you are purchasing.
  • Peelie = Coupon found on the package of a product that can be peeled.
  • PG = Proctor and Gamble another insert that comes in your local paper.
  • Q = Coupon
  • (RC) Rain Check = When a store is out of a sale item, many stores offer a rain check that allows you to get the sale price whenever the item comes back in stock and at your convenience. Each store has different policies on expiration date-this will usually be listed ON the rain check!
  • RP = Redplum. Coupon insert that comes in your local paper.
  • RR = Register Rewards. Catalina from Walgreens. Watch the expiration dates-these often expire quickly!
  • SS = SmartSource. Coupon insert that comes in your local paper.
  • Tearpad -these are coupons that are on a tearpad usually located on a display or shelf near the item.
  • TMF-Try Me Free. Form that usually require you to mail in proof of purchase for a full refund.
  • UPC= The bar code that is scanned to determine pricing. Often needed to fulfill MIR’s.
  • WAGS = Walgreens
  • WT = Wine Tag. Coupon found around the neck of a wine bottle.
  • YMMV = Your Market May Vary-this means that it may or may not be the case in all instances.

What is Healthy Eating (Clean Eating)

There are a million different diets out there and conflicting opinions as to what is “good” for you or “bad” for you. However, the more diets and fads there are, the more research shows that eating a good variety of foods and practicing proper portion control is the most effective way to maintain a healthy weight. The method that I’ve personally found to make the most sense for my family is described as Clean Eating and these are the general guidelines I follow when preparing our meals. You don't have to specifically be following Clean Eating to eat healthy, though. Each family will have to make their own decisions about what they do and don't eat.

Clean Eating is basically eating whole, natural foods and avoiding anything processed or refined. It is not a diet, it’s a lifestyle. I’m no expert, but for me, whole, natural foods fall into the five basic categories of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and low fat dairy. Other important components are drinking lots of water, eating 5-6 small meals a day, and not skipping breakfast. The point is to keep your body fueled with healthy, nutritious foods throughout the day and to stay well hydrated. By eating small regular meals, you will never get to the point where you are starving and you overindulge in whatever is the fastest and easiest thing you can grab (i.e. skipping breakfast and finally going through the Burger King drive thru at 11:30 for a burger, soda, and large fries... not that I've ever done this or anything... I've just heard rumors that this could happen... you know, from people...)

Here are the guidelines in a nutshell:
  1. Eat whole, natural foods as close to their original form as possible (fruits, veggies, lean proteins, whole grains, low-fat dairy)
  2. Avoid anything refined (ex: white sugar), processed (ex: white flour), or man-made
  3. Always eat breakfast
  4. Eat 5-6 small meals throughout the day
  5. Stay well hydrated
  6. Plan ahead to pack healthy snacks and meals when you are on the go
Getting Started
Now that you know the general guidelines for eating better it’s time to put it into practice. Run to your pantry right now and throw out everything that’s not healthy, ban sugar from your house, and create an elaborate meal plan focused only on natural foods! Go, go, go!!!!..... Did you do it? If you did, then good for you. I admire your dedication and commitment. However, for the other 99.99% of us maybe a more gradual approach would work better :)
  1. Define what Healthy Eating means to your family. Read over the guidelines and decide what your “strictness” is with each. When I was first getting started I would think, “Could I have eaten this if I lived 1000 years ago?” If I couldn’t have picked, grown, hunted, gathered, or caught it then, I wouldn’t eat it now.
  2. Switch to whole grains.
  3. Eliminate refined sugar and artificial sweeteners.
  4. Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
  5. Stock your pantry with natural foods.
  6. Make a menu plan for the following week.
  7. Make a shopping list and do most of your shopping on the perimeter of the store (produce, meat, dairy) and less in the aisles where most of the processed foods are kept.
  8. Start reading labels on the things you buy. One easy trick is to not buy anything that has more than 3-6 ingredients and all of those ingredients listed should be things that a) you recognize and b) you could have in your own pantry at home.
  9. Plan ahead to pack healthy snacks and meals when you are on the go
  10. Eat more frequently.
  11. Drink more water.
  12. Start cooking.
This can be a very gradual process but even a little change, like switching to brown rice, makes a big difference over time. Gradually, all those little changes will add up until you get to the point where you make better, more nutritious food choices without even thinking about it.

Once a Month Cooking (Freezer Cooking) Basics: Unleashing the Power of Your Freezer (AKA How do I freeze this?)

I used to use my freezer only for storing extra meat and bags of frozen veggies. I would occasionally freeze leftovers but I generally did so by just putting all of what was left in one big container. Inevitably it would be forgotten in the back of the freezer somewhere and I wouldn’t actually know what it was once I unearthed it again and so it would get tossed. Once I discovered all of the different methods there were for freezing things a whole new world opened up for me and I really started to use my freezer for the awesome tool that it is.

Small Portions
  • Ice cube trays work wonders for this. Spoon food into standard ice cube trays, cover tightly (tin foil or Glad Press n’ Seal work well), and let freeze until solid. Once they are frozen, you can pop the cubes out like you would regular ice cubes and the trays are available to be used again. Store the food cubes in a labeled freezer bag.
  • Use this method for things like hummus, tomato paste, chicken broth, pasta sauce, peanut sauce, and pureed veggies for baby food or healthy add-ins. Basically anything where you would want just a small portion of it defrosted at a time.
Medium/Large Portions
  • Similar to using an ice cube tray for small portions, you can use individual sealable containers for medium or large portions. Spoon individual servings of food into separate freezer containers, seal tightly, and freeze solid. Once frozen, pop them out of the container like a big ice cube and store in labeled freezer bags.
  • Use this method for things like soups, stews, chili, casseroles, pasta dishes, side dishes, sauces, marinades, or larger portions of pureed veggies
Flash Freeze Method
  • Arrange pieces of food on a cookie sheet or anything flat and freezable so that they are not touching. To do more than one layer, cover the first layer with wax paper and place the next layer on top. Cover tightly and freeze until solid. Once the pieces are frozen you can remove them from the tray and store them in a freezer bag. Since the outsides are frozen already they won’t freeze together, similar to bags of individually frozen chicken breasts.
  • Use this method for anything that you want to retrieve separately: pancakes, waffles, chunks of fruit, french toast, turkey burgers, pieces of lasagna or pot pie
Double Bagged Method
  • Place individual servings of food in a regular sandwich bag or quart-sized bag and then store all of the smaller bags in a larger freezer bag
  • Use this method for things like breads, muffins, sandwiches, granola bars, or breakfast burritos. I use this method for my diced onions because the double bagging prevents the onion smell from stinking up my freezer :)

Perfect Brown Rice (OAMC)

Makes 12 servings, about ¾ cup each
This recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks, Cook’s Illustrated The Best Light Recipe. I’ve made probably 500 batches of rice this way by now and it’s literally perfect every single time. I love that it cooks in the oven, too, because I can just shove the pan in the oven, set the timer, and forget about it. What can I say; I really like it when things cook themselves with no effort on my part :)

To really save yourself some time, make a batch and freeze it in 1 cup portions. Once they’re frozen, put them all together in a big gallon-size freezer bag, break the chunks up (sometimes it helps to let them defrost a little bit first), and throw the bag back into the freezer. This will leave you with a big bag of individual cooked rice grains. That way, if you need a cup of rice as a side dish or to throw into a soup or something, you can just scoop it right out of the bag with a measuring cup. Throw it in the microwave for 45 seconds or a minute and it's ready to eat.


It seems so small but this rice has made a HUGE difference for our family!
Ingredients:
  • 3 cups brown rice
  • 4 2/3 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
ONE: Preheat oven to 375. Spread rice in a 9x13 baking dish. Pour 2 Tbsp oil and 1 tsp salt over dry rice and stir to coat. Boil water and pour over rice. Cover baking dish tightly with a double layer of foil (I use a large oval Corningware baking dish. It has a glass lid so I can skip the foil). Bake 1 hour or until rice is tender.

Could this be any easier?
TWO: Remove dish from oven and fluff rice with a fork. Cover with a dish towel and let stand 5 minutes. Uncover and let stand another 5 minutes before serving.

Do you like my fancy containers?... Old butter tubs, hehehe :)
Toss the frozen chunks into a gallon-sized freezer bag and break them up

NUTRITION INFO:

Per Serving: 190 Calories, 3.5g Fat, 0.5g Saturated Fat, 0mg Cholesterol, 36g Total Carbohydrates, 200mg Sodium, 2g Dietary Fiber, 4g Protein

Friday, February 18, 2011

Clean Eating Chocolate Walnut Zucchini Bread

Makes 16 Servings
I love quickbreads because they are fast and easy to throw together and just sweet enough that my kids think they're getting a treat.


How I "healthified" the recipe:
  • The original recipe called for 2 cups of white flour. I substituted 2 cups of whole wheat flour.
  • The original recipe used a cup of chocolate chips and 1 ¼ cups of white sugar. After some testing, I found that reducing the chocolate chips to a half cup left enough chocolate that the bread still feels indulgent but not too much that the chocolate flavor is overpowering. Even with only a ½ cup of chocolate, 1 ¼ cups of sugar was sweeter than necessary. I substituted sucanat (whole cane sugar or “sugar cane natural” which is a natural sweetener; look for it in the organic section of the grocery store or a natural food store) for the sugar and reduced it to ¾ cup.
  • The original recipe called for 1 ½ cups of zucchini and three whole eggs. To reduce the fat and cholesterol I used egg whites in place of two of the eggs. I increased the zucchini to 2 ½ cups to boost the nutritional profile and make up for some of the moistness lost from using egg whites instead of whole eggs.
  • The results - A decrease in calories, cholesterol, total carbs, and sugars plus a slight increase in dietary fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and calcium.
Ingredients:
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup chocolate chips
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour, divided (I use King Arthur’s White Whole Wheat)
  • 1 egg and 2 egg whites, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¾ cup sucanat (can use brown or turbinado sugar if you don't have sucanat)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • 2 ½ cups shredded zucchini (about 2 medium)
ONE: In a small bowl, toss walnuts and chocolate chips with a little bit of flour. Set aside.

TWO: Add the liquid ingredients to the bread pan followed by the flour and remaining dry ingredients. Add the zucchini, walnuts, chocolate chips, and any remaining flour from the bowl. Run the machine on the quickbread setting.

THREE: Remove from pan and let cool on a wire rack 20 minutes before slicing.

NON-BREADMAKER: Mix all ingredients together and pour into a greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 for about an hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from pan and let cool on a wire rack 20 minutes before slicing.

NUTRITION INFO:

Original Recipe: 248 Calories (96 Calories from Fat), 11g Fat, 3g Saturated Fat, 40mg Cholesterol, 226mg Sodium, 36g Total Carbohydrates, 2g Dietary Fiber, 22g Sugars, 4g Protein, 2% DV Vitamin A, 6% DV Vitamin C, 5% DV Calcium, 8% DV Iron

New Healthier Recipe: 177 Calories (78 Calories from Fat), 9g Fat, 2g Saturated Fat, 13mg Cholesterol, 224mg Sodium, 22g Total Carbohydrates, 3g Dietary Fiber, 4g Sugars, 4g Protein, 3% DV Vitamin A, 7% DV Vitamin C, 6% DV Calcium, 8% DV Iron

Fit and Frugal Has a Blog!!

The first official Fit and Frugal meeting was this past Thursday and we had a total blast!! What a great week to start our group because there are some AWESOME sales at Publix this week. We went over so much great stuff, I thought it might be good to have it all in one place for us to review. That way those who couldn’t make it can have access to the info as well. Here’s what we discussed this week:

  1. Review of the basic couponing info that we covered at the joint Thrifty Mamas/Fit and Frugal meeting.
  2. What “Healthy Eating” means and how to get started.
  3. How to Unleash the Power of Your Freezer to cook less and save more.

For our hands-on portion, we had a lesson on dicing onions using a chef knife. Once I started doing more home cooking, I noticed that I was dicing onions CONSTANTLY. By using a chef knife and a good technique, I can dice my onions much quicker than by using a smaller knife, like a paring knife. The same goes for chopping other veggies, like carrots or celery... or mushrooms as Hannah found out after dicing about 7 million of them :) A big chef knife can be kind of intimidating if you don't know how to use it, though. We all got a little friendlier with our chef knives and used a fairly simple technique to dice our onions. Here is a video that shows how the pros do it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6piiuxJx4o.

In addition to proper technique, the biggest thing that saves me time in my cooking is not having to dice my onions at all. Dice several large onions all at once (after buying them on sale of course) and throw them into a gallon-sized freezer bag. Toss it into the freezer and, once frozen, squeeze the bag or bang it gently on the counter to break up the mass into little pieces. This will give you a bag of individually frozen bits of diced onion. That way, when a recipe calls for diced onions, you can just scoop them out of the bag with a measuring cup. You don’t even need to defrost them before using them.

Another thing I noticed was how LONG it took to cook rice when I switched from white rice to brown rice… and how IMPOSSIBLE it was to make brown rice that was actually edible. Then I found a recipe that makes perfect brown rice every single time. This might not seem like a big deal to you but I get very excited about this sort of thing. Plus, we eat a lot of brown rice so it’s nice that it’s actually edible now.

Once again, my biggest time savings comes from freezing the cooked rice. I make a big batch and freeze it in 1 cup portions. Once they’re frozen, put them all together in a big gallon-size freezer bag and break the chunks up (sometimes it helps to let them defrost a little bit first). This will leave you with a big bag of individual rice grains. That way, just like with the onions, if you need a cup of rice as a side dish or to throw in a soup, you can just scoop it right out of the bag with a measuring cup. Throw them in the microwave for 45 seconds or a minute and they’re ready to eat. We eat it as a side dish with dinner, I add it to soups, and I even sprinkle a ¼ cup on my salads sometimes for some extra whole grains. It adds great texture and soaks up the flavor of my salad dressing. Yum :)

Once we were all done chopping (and crying… except for Katie who actually has special onion chopping goggles!), we moved on to cooking some main dishes. I came up with a menu for the week based on what was on sale at Publix. Each recipe will have its own individual post.

I hope you enjoy this week’s menu and you pick up some good tips to help your waist get smaller and your wallet get fatter. Stay tuned for more meal plans and couponing tips.