Hello spring! I am very excited for the garden this year. I have been out in it every day checking things out and seeing what is coming up. One of the beautiful things that has come out of our gardening over the past few years […]
For 2022 we are focusing on our grocery spending and trying to find ways to reduce it despite all of the price increases. In January we completed a pantry cleanout challenge and in February I focused on eating through the odds and ends in our […]
This past year I realized we have fallen down a hole of eating not so healthy foods more often then we should. We totally fell off the bandwagon of both eating well and keeping our grocery costs down. The pandemic has really split our routine into many different parts. We now have to base our budget on whether or not the store has our food in stock, if the kids are home from school for a bit and whether our oldest daughter will be at our house. Since the oldest has moved out this has become less of an issue and she fully embraces scrounging for food whenever she stops by, and “shopping” our pantry but honestly now that she is on her own we don’t really worry about food costs for her any more.
We have also in the last couple of years had to adjust how we eat. We now have a nut allergies, gluten-free, vegetarian, and sensory preferences to account for and honestly we now have so many different foods for everyone that we have to keep on hand that we would be fine for at least a few weeks if we had some sort of emergency situation where we couldn’t go to the store as long as we have the right foods on hand. Our biggest issue is with our kid with food preferences since the rest of us are more flexible and will be ok with alternates. I am always worried the store will be out of one of their preferred foods and we will have to figure out a work around, which is not fun on a bad day. We did run into this over the summer when the correct dried fruit leather was nowhere to be found or beyond overpriced. Luckily fruit was in season so I was able to make some fruit leather on my own and that was an acceptable alternate. Phew…
A few years ago I wrote the below Meal Planning post in my first attempt at meal planning. Let’s just say, attempting to change our eating ways right before starting a new job was not one of my best ideas but it did make me think about how we can do better. Over the past six months or so I have been obsessively been watchin grocery haul, extreme grocery budget, freezer meal making and meal planning videos on YouTube and I have gotten tons of ideas. I especially love the videos where they make meals for a week from the a dollar store since there are so many people living in food deserts where Dollar Tree is the only grocery store around. I will link some of my favorites down below.
I thought we would take a stab at meal planning again this fall in an attempt to keep our costs down and create some organization to the chaos of our lives. As you can see, there are a lot of holes in my meal planner for November/December. The kids helped me with some of it and we instituted chicken nugget night for our selective eater so that with pizza night as well, they had at least two nights of the week that were predictable and dinner was something they liked. Most of the time the grownups eat chicken nuggets as well on Tuesdays but if there are extra leftovers I usually eat those instead since gluten-free chicken nuggets are really expensive and I am not a huge fan of fried food. We did run out of chicken nuggets a few weeks ago and it was predictably a disaster. Fish sticks were not an acceptable alternative and dinner was skipped that night. We now have chicken nuggets back in the freezer so hopefully we will not forget to get more next time we are low.
Our first month was definitely an adjustment and overall it went pretty well. I made a lot of dishes from my childhood such as steamed potatoes, cabbage and Kielbasa, tuna casserole and tater tot casserole (a huge hit with my daughters). There were a couple of nights where something else was made by my husband but we just adjusted and I pushed out the next night of cooking. I am hoping to be better about following the plan in the future though since it threw off our groceries and when we were using up things in the fridge.
We are mostly vegetarian and I am gluten-free so most family meals need to follow along those lines for us. One of the ways we did some light meal prepping was to hard boil about eight eggs and then eat them over the course of a few days for extra protein. We all love lentils so when we make them we usually eat them for dinner the first night and the kids have them for breakfast the next day. I bought some gigantic Spanish Queen olives from Costco last month. I am trying to eat fermented foods or olives every day and a great way for me to do that is to eat an olive with one or two meals a day. I love kimchi as well but we are currently out of it. We should probably make some more!
One way I have been trying to eat healthier is to eat vegetable soup a few times a week. Usually I put in greens from the garden, carrots, tomatoes, beans and whatever else I need to use up in the fridge. In September and November I made a bunch of veggie broth and put it in the freezer along with blanched greens from the garden. I have been using that to make soup every couple of weeks. I did however make a batch from the turkey broth we made from Thanksgiving which made the soup seem really rich to me after months of straight vegetable soup. Usually I serve it for dinner and freeze half the batch into portions for later. When I heat it up I add in an egg or leftover meat for protein. Both my daughter and I love soup so usually when I make it she will eat some as well.
Another item we have been eating a lot of are pancakes with a hard boiled egg on the side. They are easy to make, keep for a couple of days and I got an excellent deal on some gluten-free pancake mix at Grocery Outlet so we have tons of it, like literally I probably have 10 of 15 boxes left at this point. Since these are confetti pancakes we usually serve them with jam and then make Nutella sandwiches with them for lunch the next day for the kids. My selective eater loves Nutella sandwiches (who doesn’t?) so on that day usually their lunch comes back pretty empty which is a major win for us. This is a great way to cook once and have meals for a couple of days. I usually make half the box at a time and honestly I am not above snagging one later on for snack time with a hard boiled egg. You could totally make the whole box and freeze some for later in the week as well if you are short on time.
One of my favorite YouTube recipes I have found is this Oatmeal Bake from Acre Homestead on Scratchpantry.com. I absolutely love it because it contains almost a dozen eggs and it is great to make and freeze half of it for later. It is super healthy, full of protein and in a first, keeps me full until lunchtime. Usually with oatmeal I get super hungry an hour or so after I eat it but with the eggs and fruit in there this one keeps me going until lunch which is fabulous. Only two of us like to eat this for breakfast so usually I slice and freeze half to thaw out the second week. That way I am only making two a month which really saves on time. We are also currently without a microwave so I have found a great way to heat it up is to mostly thaw it, slice it and then cook the slices in butter for a crunch edge. It is delicious!
We love roasted vegetables in our house and can eat an embarrassingly large amount of them for dinner. Our favorite is roasted cauliflower and honestly when my oldest is home we can eat a whole Costco bag in one meal. It is that delicious! We have been trying roasted broccoli since the bag is much larger and cheaper. So far we love the broccoli as well. We have made it several times and there are usually no leftovers either. Roasted veggies are something that are quick to put together and you can make ahead. They freeze well if you are putting them into containers and can be heated up on the stove or in the microwave. They also add some fabulous flavor to soups if you need to use some up.
All in all our meal planning is going better than I expected. We are going to keep it up for January along with an attempt at eating through our pantry. We did go to the store for a major grocery haul today which I was not planning on but we were low on a few key items and with the new Covid variant spreading like wildfire I wanted to get groceries now and then not go for as long as possible. I am pretty sure we can make it to the end of January with a couple of exceptions like eggs, seaweed (we forgot it) and salad greens.
How do you incorporate meal planning in your house?
My favorite YouTube channels:
I love how Becky tries to eat everything from her garden and she has some fabulous freezer meal recipes.
Christine does a great job of showing how to make cheap and healthy meals on a super restrictive budget. She is also a fan of bargain grocery shopping like me and I love sharing the thrill of a good deal when she finds them.
Lisa is a fabulous person trying to spread the word of how to buy groceries if you have a limited budget. She has my same love of beans and is an excellent cook. Lisa is probably my favorite because she is so kind and I love how much she tries to help people find ways to get around food insecurity.
Jamerrill is a mom of a large family who has a no frills way of showing how she feeds her family. Honestly when Jamerrill first showed up in my feed I was skeptical because so many large families try to capitalize on their kids but Jamerrill’s respect for her kids’ privacy and honest videos when things go wrong are so refreshing that I fell in love with her.
This year is the first one in a while I have been excited about my garden. Working from home for the past few months due to the Corona virus has greatly reduced my commute time from 3-4 hours a day to nothing and this means […]
It has been a while since I have done a gardening update so I though I would take a few pictures and talk a little bit about them. Our family has been super busy with travel, kids, work and the frequent birthday parties that happen […]
Indoor Seed Starting Time
It is that time of year again when I start to think about what seeds I need to start indoors. This is our third year gardening at our house and the second year for us starting seeds indoors. Last year we started tomatoes, ground cherries, spaghetti squash, sunflowers, cucumbers, zucchini, louffa, gourds, pumpkins and watermelons. Our biggest successes were our squash plants and the beans we direct sowed into the ground. This year we have decided to just buy our tomatoes and ground cherries from the store since we put a lot of effort into growing not so healthy plants last year.
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Seed Starting Basics
When starting seeds indoors there are some basic rules and tools you will need. First off you need seeds (of course), pots, a shovel, soil and a grow light. There are many different types of pots you can use from plastic cups to toilet paper rolls and when you are first starting out it is best to try out a couple of different kinds and see what works best for you. Last year we used red plastic solo cups since we had a bunch lying around but ultimately biodegradable pots such as these here are better for the environment. You can also buy one of these seed starting kits to use as well:
Some people also use warming mats but we start our seeds inside the laundry/furnace room which is very warm and we haven’t needed a warming mat. Our grow lights also came from Amazon and you can find many different types that work but we bought one very similar to this one:
We buy our soil from Costco and mix it with this seed starting mix. Our seeds come from a mish mash of places. This year we have a bunch left over from previous years, seeds I saved from our vegetables and some an easy grow seed set from my mother-in-law for Christmas that has a few varieties that we were missing but if I were to order seeds I would from Seed Savers Exchange. They have a mission to grow heirloom varieties and have a program in place to help their members propagate and grow rare varieties of seeds to preserve plants that might otherwise be lost. I am a huge fan of them and my favorite time of year is when their catalog comes in the mail. It gets me super excited for spring!
The basic rules for starting seeds indoors are to:
- Start them at the right time according to the package (You can find your first frost date here)
- Make sure they are getting the right amount of warmth and light according to the package
- Water from below to prevent mildew forming on the leaves
- Don’t forget about them until they are root bound (I may have some experience with this)
- Harden your seedlings off gradually outdoors before planting in the ground
- Be gentle when transplanting them to avoid damaging the roots.
Seed starting is a skill that takes practice so don’t be discouraged if your first few tries are not successful! Even expert gardeners have trouble with particular batches of seeds or if the weather decides not to cooperate! I am a firm believer in practicing something until you figure out a way to make it work so my best advice for starting out is to pick a few easy to start plants such as zucchini, pumpkins, lettuce, radishes or peas and see if they work. You can always go to the garden store later to grab a few pre-started plants if you seeds don’t work out.
Here are some excellent resources for your seed starting adventures!
A large list of seed starting resources.
This is a great list of vegetables that do well when started indoors and tips for growing them.
This is a great how-to for setting up your lighting system to maximize seed health.
A great article breaking down into detail how to start your seeds.
A great piece about how to pre-germinate your seeds prior to planting them for optimal health.
This article talks about the different ways to start your seeds.
Thinking of mixing you own soil? This is a great resource.
Use these instructions to make eco-friendly newspaper pots to start your seeds in.
A comprehensive list of what you will need for seed starting.
How to start tomatoes successfully.
One of the easiest, cheapest and healthiest snacks I make my kids is dried banana chips. My son absolutely loves them! We buy a couple of bunches of bananas at Costco for $1.39, slice them up and put them into the dehydrator and at the […]
We have had a super busy summer and I was really bummed that we missed the July blueberry picking season. Our bushes are only a couple of years old and don’t produce anywhere near enough berries for us to freeze. They were eagerly eaten every […]
Summer is upon us and the vegetable garden is in full swing. My pumpkins have taken over the garden space and the spaghetti squash is not far behind it. The kids and I are harvesting berries, green beans and squash every other day. I have been blanching and freezing small batches of green beans a couple of times a week since we have an over abundance of produce at the moment. It is wonderful to have fresh produce from the garden every day! I have already noticed a reduction in our grocery bill.
I went to go take pictures of the bush beans we have been harvesting and I discovered that we had eaten most of them! There are still some smaller ones left that should ripen in the next week or two but then we will be done with green beans until our pole beans start to produce some time in the next few weeks.
We only have two pumpkins so far but this one is gigantic. I have been excitedly watching it grow over the past few weeks and my daughter finally got a good look at it the other day. We have decided that it is wonderful even if it doesn’t ripen. We will still carve it green!
There are several spaghetti squash in various stages of growth around the garden. They are definitely an exercise in patience! Spaghetti squash is a family favorite and they seem to be taking forever to ripen. Our very first one is just starting to turn yellow so I am hoping we can harvest it soon. We will be curing most of them so we can eat them in the winter but I want to try one this summer for sure!
I planted some radishes a few weeks ago and they are growing nicely. I completely forgot to write down when they popped up so I could keep track of when they would be ready to pick but I will be thinning them this week so I can check on their progress then.
They are kind of hard to see but my daughter and I planted our bottle gourd seedlings last weekend. They are doing well in their new space, crammed in front of some squash plants and an errant pumpkin vine. I will definitely need to plant pumpkins somewhere else next year. They take up way too much space!
Our pole beans finally seem to be getting some legs on them. I checked them again yesterday and one of them is already a couple of feet taller than our tepee so I will have to figure out a solution for that soon.
My ground cherry plant that I spent many months hoping would germinate and then carefully keeping healthy under the grow light has a couple of ripe fruits! My daughter was very excited to eat the first couple of them. Our volunteer ground cherries are doing well and have some of the largest fruits I have seen, some are the size of a large grape.
We have two cucumbers. They aren’t very long but they are definitely fat! We ate the larger one last night and it was delicious! I will probably harvest the other one in the next day or two. I double checked our seed packet and the cucumbers are supposed to grow to 10 inches but this particular plant had several female blossoms shrivel up so I think it can’t support too many large cucumbers at once. I have read it is better to harvest them to encourage new fruit. Our cucumber vines are still pretty small at this point but I am a little nervous for how many they will produce later in the summer!
I thought I would also post a more general picture of the garden. We have had a ton of growth since the last time I posted one. Our tomatoes are coming along nicely but our broccoli is still struggling. I am going to plant seed starts indoors ASAP for a fall/winter crop. Adding the lavender plants to our garden has really helped with pollination. Our marigolds all got eaten by slugs but I am sure we will have more next year since I think they are self-seeding. We are having a huge problem with both crows and squirrels eating a majority of the squash blossoms but it hasn’t really affected our yellow zucchini or spaghetti squash production so I am not too worried about it. They are mostly eating the male blossoms so we aren’t able to harvest and eat any but honestly we haven’t had time anyways.
I am really glad we planted such a large vegetable garden this year! I am excited for more veggies to come! What is going on in your garden this week?
We have had a busy week in the garden! Lots of flowers are in bloom and we spent many hours pulling ivy along the property lines in anticipation of our fence measure this week. We are very close to being done with the fence line […]