Just a Day at the Zoo
September 30, 2010 at 6:00 am
Many years ago, before my first child was born, I read a story about a mother taking her son to the zoo for the first time.
Her words followed me around for weeks until I finally said what I was thinking outloud to my husband:
“I think I want to take a kid to the zoo.”
That wasn’t exactly what I meant, of course. I did not just want to take a random child on a daytrip to meet an elephant.
I wanted a baby.
I had kind of forgotten about that story, and the course it set us on until this weekend.
And then there she was: a mother — so clearly seeing the zoo for the first time with her child. Seeing it in an entirely different way — not watching the animals at all, really. Holding back tears at her toddler’s glee.
She was a reminder for me of those early days of parenting, when everything is new and just beginning. When milestones are happening all the time and you’re afraid to run for the baby book because you might miss something.
That stranger was a reminder for me of what an amazing opportunity it is to be a mother. It was something I wanted so very much.
It’s something I still want, every day – even on those days when I forget to be grateful; when I forget for a moment the gift I have been given.
It is easy to forget the months spent waiting; hoping.
It is so very easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day …
And then a simple reminder comes to appreciate the beginning, the present, and all that is yet to come.
I really love taking my kids to the zoo.
Mix it Up: Preventing and Treating Head Lice Naturally
September 29, 2010 at 6:00 am
I got a worried phone call from a friend several weeks ago.
After being a super mom, and taking her children to one of those fun indoor play places where kids love to go, she discovered that her son had gotten head lice.
This is never good news, of course. But what made it even more upsetting was that my friend was both out of town and pregnant when she made the discovery.
Being out of town meant that she couldn’t go into full Google- search-action-mode the way she could of if she was in her own home.
But more important was that as a gestating person* who wanted to preventatively treat herself for lice, she was concerned about avoiding the chemicals commonly found in over-the-counter head lice treatments.
So this is how I got my introductory course into herbal-based head lice prevention and treatment. For which I am actually very grateful.
(This is the way my brain works: I am also grateful to my husband for getting a tick at the beginning of the season, so that I knew how to treat ticks when I found one a month later on my son, a much less patient patient.)
I wanted to talk about this today because at the time my friend made her less-than-pleasant discovery, she was warned that this year looks like it might be a bad one in terms of head lice.
Today I heard word through another friend that head lice are on the move in her son’s school.
I don’t want to be alarmist, really. But I find that as a mama, knowing a little about natural alternatives helps me feel less nervous about the possibility of needing those remedies in the future.
So fear not! Based on our summer’s research, there are effective ways to both prevent and some say treat head lice without using chemicals.
(Important: My friend who went through this says that if you are looking for success doing this “naturally” instead of using pesticides, that the key is to remove every bug and egg by checking every hair and removing any louse or eggs (nits), at least once a day — maybe more. You can’t risk leaving an egg, she says, or else plan to do everything again in three weeks.)
If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, an ounce of tea tree oil is worth a lot more than its $5 price tag.
Tea tree oil is an anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, making it very effective in treating various types of common ailments (more on this soon, I think!).
Four things you can do to protect your family and prevent head lice:
1. Using tea tree oil shampoo in place of your normal shampoo or adding several drops of tea tree oil to your regular shampoo has been shown to keep lice away by making your scalp smell “less human” to the lice.
A bonus is that tea tree oil can help your scalp’s overall health.
2. Tea tree and/or eucalyptus essential oil mixed with water in a spray bottle can be sprayed on hair, pillows and bed linens as well as soft, cuddly toys (following a playdate where toys may have been shared, for instance).
3. Warning kids not to share items like brushes or hats and avoiding head-to-head contact in play lowers the risk of getting head lice from a friend.
4. If you know that head lice are going around your child’s school or playdate circle, considering rubbing their scalp with coconut oil (which also is anti-bacterial and anti-viral) or olive oil to make their head less hospitable to lice. (Adding a few drops of tea tree and/or eucalyptus oil can help here too.)
Inspect frequently. Head lice is much easier to treat if there are three eggs than 30.
Maybe you know or suspect your child has been exposed to or has head lice. (The most common symptom is scratching.)
You’ll want to inspect their entire head thoroughly with particular attention to the hairline at the back of the neck and above and around the ears. (Those are the warmest parts of the head and where lice tend to gravitate.) Look for live lice and nits.
(If they are found, assume you have a family problem. Check all family members frequently. For boys you can consider a close-cropped haircut to avoid the somewhat involved treatment below.)
One natural treatment is combining tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil with olive oil or coconut oil and applying it to the scalp. Generously cover the hair with a shower cap or plastic bag and leave the mixture on for one hour. Comb through the hair dragging a metal nit comb across the entire scalp and checking the comb for lice and nits at each pass.
When hair is dry you’ll want to inspect the entire scalp checking for missed lice and nits.
(This is where you learn the painful origin of the phrase “nitpicking.”)
Using clips, divide the hair into a top, middle, and bottom sections. This will enable you to work from top to bottom, catching any lice that drop down during combing.
Starting at once side of the top-most section of hair, use a comb to lift a thin section of hair (1/2 cm or less wide by 2-3 inches long). Check the exposed scalp on the part for living lice and the base of the hair shafts for nits (active nits tend to be located on a single hair strand within ½ inch of the scalp).
If a nit is found, slide it off the hair shaft (though they are typically affixed pretty securely).
My friend recommends pulling out the individual strand of hair, to prevent dropping the nit back onto the scalp– she promises it’s painless to pull just one hair.
She also recommends sticking the strands of hair with nits and the live lice you find to a wide piece of masking tape or a lint roller (with the tape sheets) to prevent dropping them on the floor to hatch later or relocate to another head.
Wrap up the tape and get it out of your house.
If the small hair section is clear of lice and nits, use a clip or rubber band to pin back the “checked and cleared” hairs. You can then move on to the adjacent hairs, eventually working your way across the entire top section of the head.
Repeat the same process on the middle, and then bottom sections, starting on one side and moving across to the other, pinning back the checked hair as you work.
This process will need to be repeated until all evidence of lice are gone. Every day is probably a good bet. Twice a day — morning and night — is better.
(There is no way around this process — “nit picking” — even with pesticides, but especially without.)
In addition to the tedious, but entirely necessary process described above, you can also use a rinse of 4 cups water, 4 cups apple cider vinegar and a 1/2 ounce of either thyme or lavender essential oil every other day for up to 2 weeks to get rid of lice.
But as we mentioned, you’ll still have to do the daily nit-picking and inspections described above. My friend got through this excruciating process by bringing her laptop to the bathroom so her child could watch DVDs while they nit-picked every day for an entire week.
If your child has lice, covering their hair with a bandana during treatment can help prevent other family members from getting lice too.
Finally, carefully washing bed linens, soft toys, clothing and towels in hot water (and a few drops of tea tree oil!) can help to kill the lice and their eggs as well. Be sure to change the sheets every day as long as you continue to find lice or new nits in the hair.
Soft toys, throws, decorative pillows and other items that have been exposed, but can not be washed can be dried in a dryer on the highest heat setting for at least 30 minutes to kill lice. Alternatively you can place those items in a large garbage bag, tied off for two to three weeks to ensure that living lice die and no nits hatch and reinfest.
And don’t forget to vacuum frequently.
Most importantly, I remember head lice checks in school. I bet you do too.
There was always that poor kid who got sent home and a class full of peers that noticed.
Head lice can be really inconvenient, but for your child, it can also potentially be embarassing.
So you know what to do — make sure they know that there is nothing to be ashamed of, and that it everything is going to be OK.
*Note: Several sources say that aniseseed oil is helpful in killing head lice, but aniseseed is not always safe for pregnant women, and therefore we did not test it.
Also, when using essential oils with children it is important to dilute them properly, so please use common sense caution.
This information is not provided as medical advice – if you think that things are getting out-of-control lice-wise, please consult a healthcare provider. Your doctor may be able to offer non-chemical alternatives as well.
Eating Great on the Cheap: Part 5
September 28, 2010 at 6:00 am
One month into this budget series, I am excited to report that my grocery bill is slightly less terrifying. I’ve learned so much from Rachel, Kara, Meg and Tamara.
Have you found some of their tips useful?
As the final part of our Eating Great on the Cheap series I’d like to introduce you to Sarah, her husband Eric and their 1-year-old son, Del.
Sarah’s family eats the majority of their meals at home. Eric works close to home so he can come home during his lunch hour.
TVNT: How would you sum up your family’s food philosophy?
Sarah: We think that organic is the only way to go. We don’t want to subject ourselves or our son to dangerous chemicals. We try to buy local when we can. Buying good food is what we choose to spend our money on.
TVNT: Do you purchase convenience foods? If not, what do you try to make at home?
Sarah: We try to stay away from frozen and processed food. Less is more when it comes to ingredients. We make soft pretzels, cookies, pesto, non-dairy sour cream (see recipe, below), brownies, muffins and pancakes from scratch. We also make homemade baby food.
TVNT: Cooking from scratch can take a long time, especially in the beginning. How do you budget yout time for longer cooking processes (baking bread or soaking beans, for instance)?
Sarah: The things we make from scratch don’t really take that long to make. For the couple that do take a few minutes we just set aside some time on the weekend. We haven’t tackled dry beans yet – I’m hoping to get some good ideas from this series. We will need to have a more definite idea of what we are having for meals each night so we can start soaking.
TVNT: What are some things that you always buy organic?
Sarah: We choose to buy almost all organic products. All of our produce is organic and local if possible. If something is natural we look at the ingredient list to see if we can recognize all the ingredients.
TVNT: Do you buy in bulk?
Sarah: I’m almost addicted to buying in bulk. I love it. I think it is super fun. I love trying to find the right jar. I love looking at all the new things they have in bulk.
”The grocery store we shop at has a great bulk department. We buy spices, honey treats, chocolate chips, pine nuts, almonds, flour, sugar, polenta, rice, olive oil, maple syrup, baking powder/soda, honey, dried fruits, laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, dish soap, hand soap, shampoo/conditioner, bar soap, etc. (from the store’s bulk department). ”
If I can buy it in bulk I will. It is less expensive to buy in bulk even if it is only a few cents. A few cents add up. I can also buy only what I need. If I only need a teaspoon of a random spice for a recipe I don’t have to spend a bunch on a big jar of it. And if things are especially tight I can buy enough of what I need to get by. I don’t have to break my budget by buying a prepackaged expensive alternative. We also get five cents back for each container we bring in.
TVNT: What are some tips you would give to someone looking to eat well but not spend a fortune?
Sarah: Buy in bulk, buy produce, don’t be afraid to make the convenience items you like by yourself. Try canning, freezing or drying your own garden produce.
TVNT: Do you belong to a CSA?
Sarah: We don’t belong to a CSA at this time. We do have our own garden and love it. When our tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, basil, peppers, etc. come in our food bill goes way down. We have fresh vegetables for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Sarah’s Tofu Sour Cream
6 oz soft silken tofu, drained
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp sunflower oil (or other neutral tasting oil)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar or natural sweetener (optional)
(I use 1/4 tsp salt and I don’t use the sweetener)
Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until smooth and creamy. Transfer to an airtight container. Refrigerate until ready to use – up to 3 to 4 days.
I want to thank Sarah, Rachel, Kara, Meg and Tamara for their great ideas.
And I also want to hear from you!
In the week’s to come, I plan to talk meal planning. Do you have tips or ideas? Does meal planning help you stay on budget or prevent 5 p.m. freak-outs? Please e-mail me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m looking forward to hearing from you!
Tea Time Magic
September 27, 2010 at 6:00 am
I promised on Friday that I would talk about our Tea Time today.
And I will, I promise.
But I have this thing, where I can’t really think about tea without thinking of my Grandpa.
The man loved the stuff, as long as it was boiling Lipton served in a China cup and saucer.
See, he had a lot of rules, about temperature and electric kettles, and those rules went hot and no.
He had rules about milk, sugar and herbal teas, and those rules went never, never and not in my house.
To clarify, in my grandfather’s house, tea came in a yellow box, was prepared by boiling hot water in a tea kettle; it was then made in a tea pot. It was served at breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was not served with ice, honey, cream or lemon.
It was best enjoyed with cookies, although in a pinch, a mini Snickers bar was an acceptable substitute. But just one, and never at breakfast, of course.
My grandpa was huge, but fit.
I’m sure he attributed that to daily calisthenics and thrice daily infusions of tea.
Tea made you strong; put hair on your chest; lubricated your joints; kept away colds, flu, acne and cavities; made you popular and improved bad moods.
I would say that tea was almost a religion to my grandfather, but my grandfather had the kind of faith that makes nuns jealous.
I would say that tea was his life, but his family was his life.
I was lucky enough to be born part of that family. I was lucky enough to be adored by a man with hands so big he could hold my head like a baseball, with a heart so big he made it impossible to doubt even for a second, his deep, deep love for his wife, his children, and especially his grandchildren.
And he was deaf as a log.
I say that with love, really. It was one of the things we all came to love about him. Watching Wheel of Fortune so loud you felt like Pat Sajack had taken up residence in your brain.
My grandfather was just a big, loud man who loved with so much intensity.
A hard day’s work.
Food. He ate it with sloppy gusto.
When I was learning to cook, I would try recipes out on him, but the problem with that was he was so grateful for any meal that I never knew what was actually good and what had failed.
I used to make him Rice Krispie treats and he’d try to slip me a twenty for my hard work.
I can’t recall the first time he shared a pot of tea with me. But I know I was drinking it in with him on a regular basis by grade school.
That seems a little strange now. You know, being 7 and addicted to straight Lipton. It could explain why I was such a skinny kid, I guess.
Skinny and awkward.
Once, I came in from playing outside and of course, went straight for the mini Snickers bar cabinet.
I accidentally knocked his yellow tea pot off the counter.
I spent most of that afternoon terrified to tell him. I may have mentioned that he was a big man. And I had never seen him angry.
When through tears, I finally choked out a confession, he was in fact very loud.
The laughter shook him. Shook me. Shook some stuff off the garage shelves.
And then he took me into the basement and showed me two more identical tea pots still in boxes.
As someone who had lived The Depression, he made it a point to keep extras around of the things he liked.
Those were the things that made my grandpa who he was.
And so they are a few of the things that made me who I am too.
A few months ago, I was looking for a way to help our little trio of stay-at-home people make it through the late afternoon.
We were struggling — the hours between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. seemed longer than the rest of the day combined.
We snacked too much, but were never full.
I didn’t think of my grandpa at the time, really, except in that way that he is always there, every time I pull a mug from the cupboard.
And so one day, a particularly hard day, I pulled down three mugs. And I made a pot of peppermint tea.
The next day, we did it again.
But my grandpa didn’t enter my mind, even as we baked muffins, or scones, or even cookies.
He didn’t enter my mind until that day Owen came to the table wearing a plaid shirt, jeans and a his mock-Stetson, an outfit which looked alarmingly like my grandfather’s country veterinarian uniform.
Owen never saw him dressed like that, of course.
My son just showed up ready to eat apple cake, looking so strangely like a man who has been gone for 9 years that my heart almost stopped.
And that’s when I thought of him.
And I remembered sitting next to him, watching him through a cloud of steam, waiting for my tea to cool. I remembered feeling safe and special and loved beyond measure.
And I whispered a quiet thanks. Because I knew then exactly what we all needed.
The ritual of tea; and a little of what my grandpa had so generously given me.
A Simple Sunday
September 26, 2010 at 6:00 am
You are the music while the music lasts. ~ T. S. Eliot
A Very Good Week
September 25, 2010 at 6:00 am
September 24, 2010 at 6:00 am
almond butter + honey
apples + granola
equals a very simple tea time snack
(more on tea time coming this Monday!)
September 23, 2010 at 6:00 am
Happy Autumn Equinox — a holiday not often celebrated by banks or with white sales, but I say it is important nonetheless. Especially this year, because it corresponds with the Harvest Moon.
The kids and I have been reading lately … about the equinox and harvest festivals, and about how for centuries in the Northern Hemisphere people marked this change in season.
Around here we keep it a little more low-key. We do some crafts, a little science, make some muffins (see Butternut Squash Muffin recipe, below) and make a plan for autumn.
This is the day when we talk Halloween costumes. (Please tell me if you know where to get a full Gutzon Borglum get-up with pickaxe. It’s important.)
We plan for apple orchards and pie-making; crunchy walks and baking Grandmother’s Cranberry Bread.
And there’s one more thing we do, because nine years ago, my husband I held hands in a beautiful garden and surrounded by family, friends and all things autumn, we promised to spend many, many more autumns together.
I remember standing in that big dress, bare feet crunching the grass beneath me, feeling like I never wanted to spend another fall day, or any day, without my best friend.
I knew then that something wonderful was beginning. Something besides the autumn.
Somehow, something even better.
And now, speaking of the sweetest things … I think I promised some muffins:
Butternut Squash Muffins
adapted (and made gluten-free) from this recipe
1 1/2 cups flour*
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup evaporated cane juice or sugar
1 cup butternut squash puree
1/4 cup applesauce
1/2 cup oil
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp evaporated cane juice or sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 12-cup muffin tin.
Mix together dry ingredients in a small bowl. In a larger bowl mix eggs, oil, squash, sugar and vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and mix until just combined.
Fill muffin tins and top each muffin with a sprinkle of evaporated cane juice or sugar and cinnamon.
Bake for 18 - 20 minutes.
Makes 12 muffins.
*I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free flour, plus 3/4 tsp of zanthan gum
Note: You can make your own butternut squash puree using this method.
Make Your Own: Outdoor Play Space
September 22, 2010 at 6:00 am
Last year, I saw a photo that really inspired me.
Our back yard is by no means perfect. Our little city lot doesn’t provide everything we want, but we try to make the best of it.
I love it in the spring when our garden comes to life; the summer, when we can set up a small pool and soak our feet; the fall, when the leaves come down and we fill it with bird and squirrel feeders; and even in the winter when we spend busy afternoons building melty snowpeople.
But something about that photo reminded me of what our back yard could be.
And so when a dead tree finally came down earlier this year, I asked my husband and father-in-law to save some of the larger log pieces and some branches.
My father-in-law looked at me a little funny — that look that says, “You’re just going to call me in two weeks and ask me to drag the logs away, aren’t you?”
But my husband, who knows me so well, figured I had some crazy plan that was probably going to involve calling my father-in-law in two weeks to come drags logs away, but just nodded to my father-in-law like everything that was going on seemed perfectly logical.
It was logical in my brain. Because my brain still remembered that photo.
And last week, as I carted a 50-pound bag of sand home, everything still made sense.
And yesterday, when we finally built our family’s version of a natural outdoor play space — I think all the pieces finally came together.
I enjoyed seeing each of the kids contribute something to their new play area, and couldn’t believe how long Ellery, especially, spent playing there.
“Good idea with the nature motif,” Owen said as he made a “Grand Opening” sign.
So when you take the total cost ($3.75 for a bag of sand) and divide it by the amount of time spent playing there, I think we made a very logical investment indeed.
Eating Great on the Cheap: Part 4
September 21, 2010 at 6:00 am
Tamara Miller’s e-mail caught my eye when she told me that in the past few years, her family has reduced their food budget by 40 percent.
And they are still working on it.
As part of a continuing series on eating well on a budget (find parts One, Two and Three), Tamara Miller of Portland, Ore., talks about how her family, husband Jeffrey Hopp, and 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter Annika (and a baby boy due this week!) have reduced their grocery budget but have continued to making eating really well a priority.
Tamara’s family eats about 90 to 95 percent of their meals at home.
TVNT: How would you sum up your family’s food philosophy?
Tamara: Life is too short to eat crap.
TVNT: Do you purchase convenience foods? If not, what do you try to make at home (cookies, crackers, pretzels, etc?)
Tamara: More and more, we are making our own food. We still buy crackers occasionally and I satisfy my pregnancy-induced sweet tooth on ice cream from the grocery store. Most of our sandwich bread comes from the store still, as do our pasta and tortillas.
TVNT: Cooking from scratch can take extra time, especially in the beginning. How do you budget your time for longer cooking processes? (Soaking beans, baking bread or making yogurt for instance …)
Tamara: There’s definitely a learning curve when it comes to cooking from scratch. It wasn’t until I quit working that we really made a commitment to wean ourselves off processed, pre-packaged food.
It used to take me all afternoon, it seemed, to whip up a batch of huevos rancheros from dry beans. Making a breakfast out of steel-cut oats, instead of instant oatmeal, was the biggest time suck. I’d literally get up earlier in the morning to make sure my husband could eat a decent breakfast and still make it to work at a decent hour.
The key, really, was to start doing a much better job of planning meals. We’ve gone from pretty much no planning of meals to a weekly planning of meals. So if I know we are going to have beans tomorrow, I know to start soaking beans the night before.
We’ve also started using our slow cooker more. For example, we’ve started cooking our oatmeal overnight in the slow-cooker instead of on the stovetop. It’s nice to be able to walk into the kitchen the next morning and know breakfast is ready.
I also try to make large batches of meals — soups, casseroles, etc — so we can take advantage of leftovers. Most of our meat is consumed over a couple of days and makes appearances in different types of dishes. One night, we’ll eat roasted chicken with veggies. The next night, the leftover chicken may make an appearance in burritos or tacos. This saves time and money.
Now that we’ve joined a food buying club and are buying in bulk more — which saves so much money — I’m starting to take an even longer view on meal planning. I have a general sense of what we are going to eat each month. It’s so worth not having the anxiety of figuring out what’s for dinner with just a few hours notice. Plus, once we started planning better and became more willing to do some things the long and slow way, we really started to see our grocery bill go down.
TVNT: What are some things that you always buy organic?
Tamara: Hard to say. Now that we are eating more and more locally, much of the food that we eat is organic, but it’s not certified organic.
Most of our produce, for sure, is certified organic or at least labeled as “no spray” by the farmer.
We were committed to buying organic eggs until we got hooked up with pastured eggs from a local farmer. We feel confident that these eggs, because they are are laid by pastured hens, are even better for us than the certified organic eggs we could get at the store.
Our milk and butter are organic. We planted a garden for the first time this summer, and all of the vegetables in it are organic.
TVNT: Are there certain foods that you rarely buy organic?
Tamara: We rarely purchase certified organic meat these days, but again that’s because we have made a commitment to eating grass-fed meat, which is difficult and very expensive to certify as organic.
“Most days, all of our meals have come from local sources (which, in our case, means it came from Washington or Oregon), from farmers and producers who have made a commitment to creating goods in a sustainable way.”
We rely on the leaders from our food buying group to vet these producers and farmers for us, so there definitely is a sense that we sometimes are trusting something that we haven’t necessarily verified. But the members of our food buying group are pretty discerning customers, so between all of us, we ensure that we all are getting food we feel good about feeding our families.
TVNT: Do you buy in bulk? If so, how does that help your food budget?
Tamara: Yes! In the long run, it helps tremendously. In the short run, it hurts to fork over a couple hundred bucks all at once just for meat, $25 just for a flat of peaches and $10 to $20 for grains. But then you figure how long all of that lasts you, and how much it reduces your grocery bill on a monthly basis, and it’s totally worth it.
Still, there definitely are some start-up costs to buying in bulk and you have to reap the benefits later. For months, I balked at signing up for a six-month CSA meat box subscription because it would require forking over $110 each month in one fell swoop.
But then I sat down and added up how much were spending on meat each month — and most of it not grass-fed meat, either — and I realized that in the long run, we were spending more because each meat box usually lasts us more than a month.
“I can’t underestimate how much it helps to be working with other like-minded people. At first, I was paying $5 for a dozen of pastured eggs, but because of the number of people who order eggs through our food-buying group, I now can get pastured eggs for $3.33 a dozen.”
We also split very large orders with other members of our buying group, that way we aren’t purchasing a large amount of perishable food that could easily go to waste. For example, we recently purchased one-third of a flat of organic peaches for what amounted to about $1.25 a pound. We didn’t have the energy to eat or preserve 25 pounds of peaches that week, so by splitting it with others, we got just the amount we wanted at a great price.
TVNT: What tips would you give someone looking to eat well but not spend a fortune?
Tamara: Take baby steps and realize that eating well on a budget is going to require a certain time investment. Start trying to make more of your meals from scratch.
When we started this journey, we were spending more than $1,000 a month on groceries for two adults and a baby. I was addicted to Amy’s Organic meals and I can honestly say that about 60 percent of my meals came out of a box. I was more likely to pick up a bean-and-cheese burrito out of the grocer’s freezer than to make it myself. So I started making them myself for about a $1 a burrito instead of the $3.50 I’d spend at the grocery store. At first, that was a big step for me. I just was not used to investing time in making my own food and really, sort of lacked the cooking skills to do it quickly.
From there, we’ve become more self-sufficient, bit by bit. We no longer buy artisan bread since coming across a fantastic “crusty bread” recipe in Mother Earth News. We are tinkering with a sandwich bread recipe and once we get that down, I’ll probably stop buying sandwich bread for $3 a loaf. We plan to start making our own yogurt.
Definitely start looking for ways to buy your most frequently used items in bulk. For awhile there, we were big Costco shoppers, which actually carries a fair amount of organic food. As we became more committed to shopping locally and purchasing natural and grass-fed meat, I started to investigate other avenues.
I’m lucky to live where we live, in Portland, Oregon, where the locavore movement really is pretty mainstream, there is an abundance of farmers and producers nearby who are committed to raising their goods in a sustainable way and where the demand for organic and whole food is high enough to bring prices down a bit.
I shop around a bit and found that it’s actually usually much cheaper to buy organic food at the local natural foods market than at a mainstream grocery store.
I also can go directly to the mill that supplies the flour and grain we buy and purchase it for much cheaper than I could even through our food buying club.
“That said, I can’t underestimate the value of our food-buying group. Since joining, I can honestly say that some days, 100 percent of our food came from a local source. Eating locally and what’s in season has saved us bunch of money.”
We also try to economize more expensive food items like meat and cheese by making them last through several meals. Eggs show up as our protein source in meals more often than it used to. We also eat more vegetarian dishes than we used to, which saves money and also forces us to eat a greater variety of vegetables (and more of them). So it actually can be healthier to eat more cheaply, too.
My goal is to get our grocery bill down to $600 a month. I hit it sometimes, and I’ve come to realize that I need to adjust that number seasonally.
During this summer, the bill has definitely climbed up but that’s because we’ve been buying and preserving a lot of produce. My hope is that will help lower our grocery bill in the winter when so many fruits and vegetables are out-of-season and expensive to buy.
We also are looking into buying a freezer so we’d have the storage space to buy, say, a quarter of beef or half a lamb, which would make our bill for meat even lower than it is.
TVNT: What are some of your child’s favorite school lunches that you pack?
Tamara: Cold pizza made with homemade pizza crust, homemade sauce and basil, kale and tomatoes from our garden. She also loves almond butter-and-banana sandwiches.
I just found out that the mill that produces the flour we buy also has fresh almond butter in bulk at a much cheaper rate than I was getting at natural foods market I frequent.
My daughter is a total yogurt fiend, so I’ll mix it up with a little leftover chicken and stuff it into pita bread with some grated veggies. Her lunch box usually comes home empty.
TVNT: Do you belong to a CSA? If so, how does that impact your family’s diet?
Tamara: Not really a CSA, but a food-buying club that links us with local farmers and suppliers so we can eat local, usually organic food for cheaper than we could otherwise.
TVNT: Would you be willing to share a recipe that your family loves?
Tamara: It’s not fancy, but we all love, love, love huevos rancheros, especially with pastured eggs.
Tamara’s Huevos Rancheros
2 cups dried black beans, soaked and drained
1 tsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 dried chipotle (omit or half to reduce heat)
4 cups water
2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
6 corn tortillas
1 cup of shredded cheese (we like good old-fashioned cheddar)
Heat oil in a large pot. Saute onion, garlic and cumin in oil until soft. Add beans, chile and water to onions and spices. Bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer and cook, covered, until beans are tender and have absorbed much of the water. Then stir in salt, cilantro and tomatoes.
Dish beans onto warmed tortillas. Sprinkle with cheese. Cook the eggs as desired. (My daughter and I eat them scrambled, my husband eats them over-medium.) Top each tortilla with an egg and serve.
Note: This recipe makes a lot of beans. I use about half of them for huevos rancheros and use the other half for burritos or with rice the next day.
Also, the cooking instructions and recipe for the beans comes from “Feeding the Whole Family” by Cynthia Lair.
(Photos by Tamara and her family)