Tag Archives: frugality

The Joys of Freezer Cooking

Before Rachael (#3) was born, I filled my freezer with casseroles and other one-pan meals I had found online. I never tried any of the recipes ahead of time to make sure we actually liked them (can you see where I’m going with this?).  We were lucky with most of the meals I made, but there were definitely a few that I’ve never made again. My freezer full of meals was also expensive. I used a lot of convenient ingredients, like boneless chicken breast tenders and frozen cooked potatoes. I decided that freezer cooking simply wasn’t for me!

Towards the end of my most recent pregnancy, I started thinking about freezer cooking again. I wanted convenience and ease after the baby was born, but I didn’t want to waste time and money on casserole-type meals that we wouldn’t enjoy. My prior experience taught me that we simply aren’t casserole people. I decided that instead of making full meals, I could make and freeze the most time-consuming portions of each meal — things like yeast breads and doughs and other quick breads. These were easy to make and I was able to use tried-and-true recipes that I already knew we liked.

By the time Michael (#4) was born, my freezer was packed with all kinds of goodies. My mother-in-law was able to stay with us for about 2 weeks, so I wanted to make sure that she had easy meal options to feed the other 3 kids while The Mister and I were at the hospital. A few of the things I made ahead of time included biscuits, cinnamon rolls, freezer-friendly baked oatmeal, sandwich bread, and pizza dough and sauce.

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Being the wonderful and kind woman that she is, my mother-in-law didn’t use ANY of my pre-made foods! She said they would be more useful after she went home and we were on our own again. And she was right. Going from three kids to four kids wasn’t as hard from the transition from two to three, but it was still certainly a challenge, especially since I now had two children in cloth diapers!

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The frozen foods lasted about a month, and I can’t even begin to say how much I enjoyed the convenience. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time or energy to replace the frozen foods as I used them, and even as the baby grew I didn’t have the drive to spend that much time in the kitchen.

Today, a moment of inspiration hit me and I spent most of the day in the kitchen. I made 4 batches’ worth of homemade muffin mix, 2 breakfasts’ worth of freezer-friendly baked oatmeal, 2 batches of biscuits, 2 batches of pizza dough, and 4 batches of cinnamon rolls.

The biscuits were made in the food processor and cut using my shortcut, which saved a TON of time! I promise, square biscuits are just as tasty.

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These two are (unbaked) oven oatmeal. One will be used tomorrow, the other will be stashed in the freezer.

When I finished my work and pulled everything back out to take pictures, I realized that my pizza dough was put into containers that were much too small! Oops.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the fruits of today’s labor!

Kitchen Hacks: Quick-thaw ground beef!

I love buying my food in bulk. It saves me effort, time, and money. My mother-in-law has 9 kids and knows a thing or two about bulk food purchases. She taught me this nifty trick for bulk ground beef!

Last weekend, I found a pretty good deal on ground beef:

4 pounds for $9? I’ll take it! I obviously can’t use that much at once, so I divvied it up into 1-pound portions and froze it. Here’s a quick overview on how to freeze ground beef in an accessible, easy-to-thaw manner!

Label a gallon-sized bag for each pound of beef.

Stick a lump of meat into each bag, squeeze all the air out, and seal it.

Next, leaving the bag sealed, use the heel of your hand to flatten the beef.

Keep working it until you have a uniformly thin layer that goes all the way to the edges of the bag.

1 pound makes for a very thin layer.

Once all your lumps of meat are flattened, stack ’em up and freeze.

The super-thin layers  freeze and thaw VERY quickly. You can even toss the frozen sheet of meat directly into your pan when you’re ready to cook!

Ta-daa, enjoy your pre-portioned beef!

Kitchen hacks: pizza sauce and beautiful muffins

I’m not putting pizza sauce on my beautiful muffins. Just thought I’d make that clear. 😉

Homemade pizza is a staple around here. Thin crust, thick crust, round, square, and covered in different kinds of toppings. Making pizza is definitely a frugal activity – it costs WAY less, especially with bulk ingredients purchased at places like Costco! I’m pretty sure my homemade pizzas even cost less than cheap frozen pizzas.

Making pizza can be frustratingly time-consuming, though. The rising of the dough doesn’t really bother me, because that’s inactive time and I can do something else. Assembling the pizza, though, can definitely be sped up! The best way to do this is to have ingredients ready in manageable quantities.

The answer is pizza sauce cubes!

Start with your favorite sauce. I like to use cheap spaghetti sauce.

If you’re making a pizza right now, use what you need from the can. Then take the rest of the sauce and grab an empty ice-cube tray.

Carefully spoon your sauce into the cells. Overflowing cells are harder to empty once they’re frozen, so don’t overfill them!

Freeze, then dump the cubes into a freezer zip bag. Now, any time you need a small amount of sauce, you’re good to go! I use about 4 cubes per pizza, but we go pretty light on the sauce.  Whenever you need sauce, stick a few into a microwavable  cup or bowl, cover, and heat for about 3 minutes, stirring once  every minute to break up ice clumps.

Here’s a pin for Pinterest, if you feel so inclined.

Now, on to beautiful muffins!

Most of the time, muffin recipes say to fill the cups only 2/3 full. This results in a rather wimpy looking muffin. Recently, I’ve started filling my muffin cups all the way to the brim!

I have also started using more baking powder to get a higher rise and more fluffiness. I use about a heaping teaspoon per cup of flour in the recipe.

The end result?

Gloriously tall muffins. Adding a pinch of sparkling sugar on top before baking makes them even more impressive, but I didn’t do that this time.

Want a great muffin recipe? Try Sparkling Jumbo Blueberry Muffins over at Sally’s Baking Addiction! They are wonderful.

And last, but not least… I’m trying to think of something more wonderful than having a sleeping baby on my lap. And I am failing.

How to buy a baby’s wardrobe for $13

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Suddenly, #4 has found himself with nothing to wear. #1 wore this size of clothing during the winter, and I can’t dress the poor baby in hand-me-down sweaters and sleepers when it’s 110 degrees!

Another difficulty I’ve been having relates to cloth diapering. The cloth is SO much more bulky than disposables, so most one-piece outfits generally don’t fit well unless they’re a size larger.

My mother and I decided to make a trip to her friendly neighborhood thrift store, which happens to be Deseret Industries. Most of their baby items look brand-new and are $1 each!

Here’s the rundown of our finds:
3 pairs of shorts
3 t-shirts
3 polo shirts
2 one-piece outfits
1 onesie

All pieces are either 6-9 or 12 month size. He’s only 4 months old, but he’s a big boy! 17 pounds and counting…

This is a pretty complete wardrobe for #4 since I do laundry every day. Also, when we’re at home he generally doesn’t wear shorts or pants over his diapers. It makes diaper changes easier for me!

Here are some tips for buying kids’ clothes:
1. Buy used! Most items in a second-hand shop are only gently used. You save a lot, so you can get more items for the same amount of money.

2. For babies, look for one-piece outfits. You have fewer items to buy this way.

3. Look for good brands at thrift stores! You can get durable department store items for cheaper than something from a big box store. Finding quality items means that you don’t have to re-buy later!

If you have any tips on how to clothe kids for less, please share them in the comments!

Cloth Diapering, Part 3: The Current System

This is the third and final part in a series about cloth diapering. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

My homemade diapering system was working well, but I was due with another baby any day and my current method was pretty labor-intensive. I had made only 4 covers with my yard of PUL fabric, so they needed to be washed quite often. They began wearing out after 6 months of constant use. I was also intimidated by the idea of using sharp pins on a wiggly newborn.

Fortunately, when my mother-in-law came for the birth of #4, she brought me a present: her old diaper stash from her diapering days! The stash consists of a dozen Infant diapers:

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2 1/2 dozen “medium” diapers

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And about a dozen toddler diapers.

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I had never used a fitted diaper before this and I completely fell in love with them! Unfortunately, they are not produced anymore. The closest product I’ve been able to find is the Workhorse Organic Fitted diaper made by Green Mountain Diapers:

Fitted diapers have definitely made my life a lot easier. The elastic around the legs keeps messes in, resulting in less laundry for me!

I have VERY heavy wetters, so I usually add a soaker (which is a folded up flat diaper or microfiber towel) between the diaper and the cover, like this:

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At night, I use 2 soaker inserts. Because a soaking wet baby in the middle of the night is no fun.

Notice the different cover in the last picture? Around this time, I also ordered 8 one-size waterproof covers from Kawaii Baby. 

They were only about $6 each after shipping, which is a real bargain compared to the mainstream brands.

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And, of course, I still use my beloved cloth wipes.

 

cloth wipes hanging on the clothes line.
cloth wipes hanging on the clothes line.

They’re holding up marvelously, 1 year later. The fitted diapers make changes almost as fast as a disposable!

I have enough diapers that I can wash every other day..

two days' worth of diapers ready to hang on the line
two days’ worth of diapers ready to hang on the line

some diapers and covers hanging to dry

And now with two kids in diapers, I’m saving at least $100-$150 per month. I also never run out of diapers and have to drive an hour to buy some. I’d call it a win!