Q: Here in my house we have been recently trying to eat less processed foods. What we are finding is this is unfortunately more expensive than buying prepackaged high-processed foods. Any suggestions for making our new lifestyle change more frugal? Holly Y.
A: Holly asked such a fabulous question that she bumped the five questions in front of her. Holly asked what lots of people ask at frugal living classes. First, let me disclose that I don't make a point out of NOT buying processed foods for health reasons. Sometimes, I do purchase them. However, I have found over the past 19 years that cooking from scratch, using ingredients I have procured by way of implementing frugal strategies, is more cost effective, better for us, and better tasting, too.
What does that mean?
Let's take a look at some processed foods and scratch recipes to see how the measure up in cost, quality, and taste. I'll give you a heads up- scratch cooking is always going to have a higher quality and better taste. At least when I'm cookin', but I think I'm da bomb, yo.
store bought box mix
yields 12 muffins
egg- 15 cents
milk- 25 cents
oil- 30 cents
total cost per muffin-
from scratch- OFM's recipe
yields 12 huge muffinsmilk- 45 centsvegetable oil- 15 centsvanilla- 4 centsegg- 15 centsflour- 15 centssugar- 25 cents baking powder- 3 centssalt- less than 1 penny
blueberries- 50 cents
total cost per muffin- 12 cents
store bought kind
This is the kind found in the deli cold case.
42 cents per ounce
from scratch- OFM's recipechickpeas- 20 centstahini- 18 centslemon juice- 22 centscumin- 4 centsolive oil- 30 cents
garlic- 3 cents
6 cents per ounce
photo credit: chasing delicious
Are all processed foods more expensive than scratch cooking? No. For example, a frozen lasagna is a heck of a lot cheaper than one made from scratch, but ohmygosh, does a homemade lasagna taste better than a store bought one! We all know it's true. Frozen lasagna tastes like total crap. I think the same is true for a ton of items from breads to canned veggies to salad dressings. Not that these processed foods cost more- you'll find that you save money baking your own bread, canning your own veggies, and making your own salad dressing, too.
How do I keep my costs down when I am cooking from scratch?
You most likely read the cost of blueberries above and thought, "How the heck is she paying so little for fresh blueberries?!" Well, one of my strategies is to either grow my own or buy fruits and veggies when they are in season. I can or freeze enough of different crops for a whole year for my family of five. If you aren't already gardening, don't panic! But do start planning your garden. I garden and you can read about that here and here. I help supplement my grocery budget as well as provide healthy foods for my family. I don't grow blueberries though. I purchase those or pick those when they are in season, so I get them for their lowest price point. I try to freeze as many blueberries as we will need for the year before that season ends. I don't want to spend four bucks on blueberries ever. That's just crazy talk. Do I ONLY use home canned or frozen fruits and veggies? No. Sometimes, I can get those on the cheap from the store, so I add those to my stockpile. Am I partial to my home canned and frozen foods? Well, sure I am. I also buy some items in bulk. Because I bake so much, I buy my flours online. I also purchase yeast this way. I buy rice and sugar in ten pound bags. My pantry in the kitchen is filled with containers of ingredients for scratch cooking! (I find that the things I use the most- like rice, sugar, flour, yeast, spices are better purchased online or at ethnic stores and markets.)
One of the examples I use in my frugal living class to show how expensive prepackaged convenience foods are versus homemade goodness is breakfast foods. Americans LOVE on-the-go type crap in the mornings, don't we? You can't name one prepackaged breakfast food that I can't make better or cheaper. That's just a fact. Pop tarts? Mine are better and cheaper, too. Cereal bars? Better and cheaper. Egg McMuffins? Better, cheaper. Biscuits, granola, pancakes? You best believe I can make all of those cheaper and better than anything you can find in the store. Is it because I'm such a gifted cook? Well, even though I like to think I am, the answer is NO. It's because I make those things ahead of time so we can eat them on-the-go and everybody loves me for it, we save money, and my family leaves our house with full tummies ready to learn and work like bosses. Yay. This leads me to the last strategy to share... I already told you about seasonal consumption and storing of fruits and veggies as well as bulk buying of some key ingredients. Like with anything else I talk about in frugal living, to avoid the pitfalls of purchasing prepacked, processed foods, you have to plan, plan, plan. For example, our week's worth of lunches are prepared on Sunday night. I save over one thousand dollars a year doing this and my Littles and husband eat healthier and better for it. I plan a monthly menu. I'm not surprised very often during the month, because I know what's coming and how to prepare for it. Is this because I'm a super organized mama? You've obviously never met me in real life. I'm a ball of nervous energy held together by lithium and coffee. This simply means, by taking a few steps throughout the month, I can effectively manage our grocery budget and avoid the consumption of high cost, low quality prepackage, processed foods. Would you like to add anything to this post? Be sure to leave a comment below!
For more Magical Monday Q&A, go here. Email your questions to OFM at MamaBee@OneFabulousMama.com.
freeze rice to add to quickie, frugal weeknight meals
photo credit: sara
Whenever I am steaming rice, I double the batch so I can freeze some for those quickie, week day meals and lunches. Are you surprised to hear that cooked rice can be frozen? Yeah, I'm fulla surprises, friends. Freezing rice is as simple as letting it cool completely and divvying it up into servings.
I do this one of two ways. I either freeze two cups of cooked rice in a plastic freezer bag for a complete meal like a stir fry or I shape the rice into balls. Each ball is a single serving. Be sure to densely pack the rice ball, so as little air as possible gets in there. I wrap the balls in plastic wrap and then freeze on a cookie sheet. Once completely frozen, I place the balls in a plastic freezer baggie.
Make sure as much air as possible is out of the bags. To reheat a bag of rice, simply open the top of the bag, add a teeny bit of water, and microwave for a minute or two. To reheat a rice ball, unwrap the ball, place on a plate, sprinkle with water, and microwave for a minute. If you are using the rice in a recipe, you can just throw it in the pan with whatever else you're cooking. You can do the same thing with the slow cooker. It doesn't take very long to thaw.
And now you know.
I said rice and balls. Oh, yes, I did.
Brandy Nicole Whitby
Brandy's name was randomly drawn from among all eligible entries. Thanks to everyone who participated and thanks to Peoples Home Medical for providing such a fabulous prize. Remember this locally owned business, friends, for all of your home medical needs! Peace, B.
Zaycon Foods is bringing you two delicious favorites- White Shrimp and Tilapia! You won't want to miss out!
White 31/40 Shrimp for ONLY $5.99/lb!Cooked, Peeled & Deveined White Shrimp (31/40 count per. pound)Comes in 5 - 2lb packages.Sold in 2 - 10 pound cases per purchase, totaling 20 pounds.Farm RaisedTilapia for ONLY $2.79/lb!Flash Frozen FilletsComes in a 20 pound case.Farm raised
They are taking orders today through Sunday, May 13th or UNTIL SOLD OUT! Pick up locations are all around, so just look for one near you. I have not tried their seafood yet. You can read my review of their chicken here. If you haven't ordered from Zaycon before, you can learn about doing that in the review as well. Peace, B.
My monthly budget is $350. This includes food, medicine, clothing, cleaning supplies, etc. Everything for the care and keeping of my family comes out of that one pot of money. I use many frugal living strategies to stay under budget each month. Most people assume that being an "extreme couponer" is how I do it, but that's so far from the truth that it's laughable. I wish it were that easy!
This series of posts will help you learn how One Fabulous Mama rocks one fabulous budget for her family of five. In Part One of this series, I described how I use coupons and sales ad match ups to help keep my family under budget and living a fabulous life. In part two, I explored how I use gardening to supplement my family's meals all year long. In part three, I'll explain how frugal living and "deal" blogs inspire me (like I hope this one inspires you!), how to find them, how to tell the difference between crap and good advice, and I'll top it all off with a list of my favorites. How's that for fabulous?
Frugal living and deals- what's the difference?
Let's get this cleared up right now so there isn't any confusion later on that isn't created via too much cheap wine. I have some pretty strong views on the trustworthiness of frugal bloggers, so pardon me if I get my opinions all over you. There are two kinds of frugal-ness blogs out there- and I don't mean crap and fabulous. You have frugal living blogs that provide both original and found content which helps you live a more frugal life and you have deal blogs which post time sensitive information about shopping and consuming. Some blogs are hybrids of the two. One Fabulous Mama, for example, tried to be a hybrid, but found for many reasons that she wanted to focus on sharing and creating original content. You can read about that here.
I think the only reason why a person needs a deal blog is to access the coupon- sales ad match ups. If you are looking to consume, I'd say 95% of the deal blogs out there are just right for you. Tons of needless crap can be had if you're willing to sacrifice your time and energy and also cater to some unscrupulous bloggers, but I don't mean to judge. Okay, maybe just a little. A word about national deal blogs...You'll also find a handful of deal blogs out there whose audiences encompass the whole dang country. Follow them for the tips and such, but don't get sucked into a deal that isn't a deal and be mindful that their coupon- sales ad match ups might not work exactly with your local ad. Should you follow local or regional bloggers? Well, both if you need to do that. (I'll talk about how to pick a couple of trustworthy bloggers in a minute.) If you want to get a handle on what is happening in your area with thrift stores, events, and locally owned businesses, you need to follow a local blogger. If your local deal blogger provides good, quality, thorough coupon-sales ad match ups, then you're all set. If not, find a bigger, regional blogger to follow.
When a deal isn't a deal
One of the reasons why OFM stopped dishing out the daily deals was she saw all of the deception and money making schemes making the blog circuit and being touted as "deals" to you, the reader. You have to sort through a ton of crap to get to the "deals," friends. Just know that. I hope you'll take my advice and only use these deal blogs for the coupon-sales ad match ups.
Frugal living blogs are da bomb, yo.
Frugal living blogs like One Fabulous Mama are here to share information to help you save money. I lump gardening blogs, upcycling blogs, recipe blogs, and many more under frugal living because they all inspire me and inform me in my quest to live a frugal and fabulous lifestyle. Frugal living sites should have archived posts that you can reference as needed or wanted. I think of it all like this, friends. You know that old adage "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime?" Deal blogs are giving you a fish and frugal living blogs are teaching you how to fish. I know I'd much rather know how to fish than feast for one day. Deal blogs are necessary, but just be careful. Frugal living blogs are where the REAL DEALS are.
Finding the blog that's right for you
There are a gajillion blogs out there, friends. Both the frugal living and the deal kind. Some frugal living sites might focus on having small children and some might focus on gardening. For example, if you are an OFM reader, you know I like my garden, I have three daughters, I like creatively shopping via thrift stores and found objects, and the Arts are pretty important to my family. I tend to focus on those things. I also promote local businesses, the public library, and cooking from scratch. I have a blog housed on my site where I curse like a sailor, explore being insane, and rant about crap that bugs me. If you like and/or can relate to any of those things, you might follow my blog. Some deal sites might focus on babies or pets. It all depends on the blogger.
How do you find a blog to follow?
Google it. Ask your friends. Ask on Facebook. You'll find them. Check out the list at the bottom of this post. They are out there!
How to find an honest blogger
With the frugal living blogs, you'll want to know the advice you are getting is solid. Look for comments on both the posts and on Facebook. Feedback from other people is a good gauge. Also, check out the blogger's ABOUT or HOME page. Does that gee haw with you? You'll get an idea of who they are and their writing style as well. Most importantly, check their last few posts. Are they pushing some random deal that looks suspiciously like they are going to make money if you buy in? A magazine subscription, a coupon, a deal that isn't really a deal, etc? If your gut tells you that they are full of crap, they probably are.
How to follow blogs (Stalking 101)
Used to be RSS Feed/ Readers was the way to follow a blog, but that's not the way I do things. I LIKE my favorite bloggers on Facebook. Facebook has totally replaced the need for RSS feed, in my opinion. For example, anything I post on The Frugal Blog will appear on Facebook, Twitter, and (many times) Pinterest. I share many items on Facebook from other bloggers that do not appear on The Frugal Blog. Almost everything makes it to the eNewsletter, but still, Facebook is the one place that gets every single thing I do. So Facebook and eNewsletters, that's the way to stalk your favorite bloggers.
One Fabulous Mama's Favorite Blogs
As I mentioned before, many deal sites try to get one over on their readers by promoting deals that are total crap. I can't, in good conscience, recommend any of these deal blogs. I am only recommending the one deal blog I use for coupon-sales ad match ups. If you want freebies, etc. I can't help you with that.
This is not meant to be a comprehensive list.
That will be coming soon to the Frugal & Fabulous Living page.
Southern Savers- a regional blogger, the only deal blog listedhere; where OFM gets her coupon-sales ad match upsTipNut- I get inspired and learn a bunch here.Busy At Home- love the recipes, love the homeschooling advice even though I don't homeschool anymore
Being Frugal- Not updated as often as I'd like, but still a very useful siteHomestead Survival- good place for finding other online resources
Frugal Village- never fails to deliver useful info and ideasAlmost Frugal- good posts, useful informationThe Mother Load- a collection of three blogs actually, you'll find some quirky know how here and being frugal is all about being creativeSuzy Homefaker- creative, snarky, funThings I Found at the Thrift Store- Exactly what it says- love this siteThe Buck List- I like Buck. He has good ideas.Modern Homesteading- rural living, practical ideas
The Frugal Life News- practical, insightful
Happy Simple Living- Once The Urband Homesteader, not Happy Simple Living; a great source for info on scratch cooking and bieng happyThe UGA Cooperative Extension- a plethora of useful infoSquare Foot Gardening- YepPunk Domestics- love, love, love this smart modern blogCommon Sense Homesteading- Just what you think you'll find & more
This is a little different. I mean, the recipe is as well as posting this before I've made it for my own family. I didn't want to sit on the recipe any longer though. I won't get around to making this until May sometime, I'm sure. I thought maybe y'all could report in on your experiences with it in the mean time. It sounds super yummy, a real winner for folks who like buffalo chicken. My new friend, Sherri, shared this recipe at our weekly coffee date and I thought immediately of how much the Teenager would like it.
Now, some of y'all might have read the name of the recipe and thought, "Um, those flavors don't go together. Duh." Well, I'm all about putting flavors that shouldn't otter go in the same dish and seeing what happens. What I think will happen with this is that the spaghetti will act as a carrier for the yummy flavors of the buffalo chicken, so this will be like getting buffalo chicken dip for supper. Total cheat, I know.
Sherri likes to use the slow cooker for this meal, so YAY for another slow cooker recipe. She also likes to use fettuccine instead of spaghetti noodles and she prefers Texas Pete sauce.
I've been checking the interwebs for some recipes like Sherri's buffalo chicken spaghetti. You know, I like having options. I found this recipe for baked buffalo chicken pasta from How Sweet Eats blog. It looks so yummy, I want to bake it today for lunch, but I digress.
You'll need the following ingredients to make enough buffalo chicken spaghetti for 6 folks:
1 – 1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or thighs)
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup hot sauce*
1 cup ranch or bleu cheese dressing
8 ounces cream cheese
16 ounces cooked spaghetti (or whatever kind of pasta you want to use)
* Sherri likes Texas Pete, but use what you like. I like an orange-y colored buffalo sauce with heat.
Throw the chicken, broth, and hot sauce in the slow cooker. Cook on low for 4 to 6 hours.
Shred chicken and reserve some of the liquid from the pot. Toss the chicken in the liquid. Add cream cheese and dressing.
Toss the chicken mixture with the cooked pasta.
Serve and have your family adore you for your culinary acumen.
I have a friend who only lives an hour away and she just delivered her second baby girl child at the beginning of this month. I have been terrible in every possible way by not getting to see her or this new baby before now. I intend to make up for this bad friend behavior by delivering a week's worth of make ahead meals to my friend so she can spend less time on supper and more time on healing and loving on her family.
I don't do the once a month cooking busy-ness. I often make an extra meal while cooking supper, squirreling a casserole or soup or what-have-you in the freezer for a busy night. (What-have-you is considered a delicacy in some parts of the world.) This was more than I've ever done at one time and I'm pretty pleased with the results. I wanted to offer a variety of meals, not all casseroles. My goal was to have her thaw each meal overnight, plop it into a pan/baking dish/ crock pot, bake or cook, and go.
For the record, if I lived closer, she'd have me delivering these meals every night, I assure you. First, because she is my friend. Second, because I am all about some new babies.
I asked my friend if there were any foods I should avoid. I got the go ahead for any old thing I wanted to make which was awesome sauce. I asked the OFM readers on Facebook and received a bunch of really, really good suggestions. I Googled the mess out of make ahead dinners. I looked at my arsenal of recipes, considering which ones I'd like to share with my friend and her family. Of course, I checked my pantry and stockpile for inspiration as well.
The make ahead menu
I didn't want to make too many casseroles and I knew I wanted to offer a variety. My friend also has a four year old, so I couldn't go too spicy either. I eventually decided on seven succulent suppers and two deliciously delectable desserts. (Yes, I've always been this gifted in the art of alliteration.) I ended up serving chicken twice, but I have an abundance of this in my freezer at the moment. I served seafood, pork, chicken, beef, and a vegetarian meal as well. We have Southern, Indian, Italian, Mexican, and Chinese meals
crock pot chicken curry over rice*pasta crab casserole
jambalaya with cornbread(minus the jalapenos)minestrone soup with garlic breadmini pizzas with peppers, onions, pepperoni, beef, & fetachicken enchiladas with chips and salsachow mein casserolepeanut butter cookiesNutella brownies* This is a recipe of my own that I haven't posted yet, but will. I promise!
The prep work
I love that I had to use the panoramic option on my camera to get all the ingredients in one shot.
First, I pulled all the ingredients I would need to make everything above. Once everything was in one spot, I was a little overwhelmed. After I snapped this picture, I realized I didn't have the ingredients for one of the recipes out and I panicked, making several more trips to the pantry. Then, I laughed because I panicked. Then, I drank two glasses of Moscato.
Second, I labeled the gallon size bags. I wrote the instructions for preparing the meals on each as well. I also labeled sandwich bags with ingredients that were to be added just before or after baking.
Getting it done
On Saturday, I baked the breads and desserts. The brownies, cookies, garlic bread, and cornbread were all baked and bagged by the end of the day. I didn't make the pizza dough, because I forgot about it. Look, I had three glasses of wine by then, what do you want from me? I also thawed any meat I was using overnight in the fridge and chopped any veggies I would need for the next day's cooking.
On Sunday, I got busy cooking. This was so much fun for me because well, I love to cook, but also, I love to honor my mama friends. I had no plan other than cooking all day long with breaks for wine and song. Not kidding one little bit there. While I was cooking, my Littles had to do housework. BONUS! I'm sure there could have been a faster way, but in the end, I spent 4.5 fun filled hours cooking and baking. That includes the time spent on Saturday.
To deliver the meals, I used my collapsible, insulated cooler baskets. This made transporting super easy. I made sure to freeze everything as flat as I could, so storing it in my friend's freezer was a snap as well.
Unexpected leftovers for my family
I wasn't expecting to have anything leftover from my day of cooking for my family, but I sure did. I had enough pizza dough and sauce as well as chicken and tortillas for a good full supper for my own family. I just didn't think it through how those dishes feed my family of five (with four of those folks eating as adults) and my friend has a family of three (with one of those being a 4 year old).
I really enjoy cooking, but I'm glad I work from home so I don't have to do these make ahead meals every week or month. I know there are easier meals to cook and plans and programs and yada, yada, yada. I like that I get to create something from scratch almost every single day for my family to eat at supper. I'd definitely do a week's worth of make ahead meals for a friend again, but I wouldn't want to do it for my own family all the time.
Babies are da bomb, yo.
My friend's baby is absolutely spectacular in every way.
Head full of hair, teeming with personality
already, and I swear, she smiles!
A: What is your definition of frugal living?- Cindy, Mobile, AL
Q: OFM defines frugal living as a series of conscious choices we make each and every day which leads to a set of habits we develop over time which impact our quality of life and our family's resources. Frugal living is living outside the box, the way you want to live, not the way you are told to live. Frugal living is not about how much you can save. It's about how much you can enjoy, experience, grow, learn, love, and laugh while remembering that only YOU can determine what's best for you and your family.
Did you know that frugal living was so fabulous?
America's Best Idea - the national parks - gets even better with several fee-free days at more than 100 national parks that usually charge entrance fees.*
Mark your calendar for these fee-free dates in 2012:
To make the fun even more affordable, check out these discounts and special offers from park partners and neighboring businesses:
- January 14-16
Martin Luther King Jr. weekend
- April 21-29
National Park Week
- June 9
Get Outdoors Day
- September 29
National Public Lands Day
- November 10-12
Veterans Day weekend
Here's a tip - many of your 397 national parks NEVER charge an entrance fee. So start Planning Your Visit!
*Fee waiver includes: entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Other fees such as reservation, camping, tours, concession and fees collected by third parties are not included unless stated otherwise.
Holy Mary, Mother of God. I'm an effin' genius. I think I deserve a major award. Just for adding Nutella to my already super mega awesome fabulous brownies. Well, perhaps it is the way in which I added the Nutella which merits such heady self-praise. I baked a batch of brownies and then, placed the pan in the fridge so they'd get nice and firm. I cut them into small pieces and then, sliced each piece horizontally, leaving two thin pieces of brownie awesome-ness. Then, I spread the Nutella in the middle and made a little brownie-Nutella sammie.Oh.My.Word.Yes, sometimes, it IS difficult being so clever and fabulous. You're welcome.Peace, B.