Sunday, April 15, 2018

Weekly Menu Plan, the "We are BUSY" version!!

I will admit, it was tempting to just skip a menu plan for this week.  When I look at the calendar for this week, I have to take a deep breath and know it's all going to be ok.  Just because we've had a few weeks of normalcy doesn't mean we've escaped weeks that are hectic and crazy.  I'm trying hard to embrace a "we can do this and do it sanely" approach.

You probably already know that we homeschool, and in our state we are required to do end of year testing and turn in the test restults to our county school board.  I'm totally fine with that.  We have a wonderful group of homeschoolers in our church and each spring we have a few ladies that organize a testing week for all of us that wish to participate.  We get together and our kiddos test together by grade.  This week we have testing Monday, Tuesday and Thursday mornings. This means we are gone 3 mornings, all morning, and I need to be VERY proactive to get us out the door much earlier than usual.  The sensible side of me (not the wimpy side of me) knows that for us to leave on time, all the wheels must be well greased and everything ready to be set in motion.  "To fail to plan is to plan to fail" doesn't sound so exciting after all.

That said, some of our breakfasts will probably be eaten on the road, and they need to be speedy-prep-friendly.  Our lunches will be any combo of leftovers or sandwiches, and a few of our dinners will be easy-peasy as well because we also have a variety of doctor appointments this week... of course!!! When it rains, it obviously pours. :)  (Hooray for grace for every moment!!)

Without further ado, here is this week's menu plan:

Sunday:
Breakfast - freezer french toast for everyone else, ham/provolone sandwich for me
Lunch - sandwiches
Dinner - A hodge-podge breakfast for dinner that consisted of waffles, apple crisp with yogurt, the last 5 strips of bacon from an open package that needed eaten, and the rest of the leftover sausage/sweet potato dish I made last week.

Monday: Testing all morning and then I'm getting together with a few other MOPS moms  late afternoon and evening to do some major freezer cooking.
Breakfast - scrambled eggs and ham, toast
Dinner (Daniel will be home with the kids) - Stuffed Shells (freezer) and Italian Cheese Bread. I might put together a salad, not sure yet how time will work out.

Tuesday: Testing all morning, Susannah has 2 doctor appointments in the afternoon so Daniel will be home in the afternoon and I won't be home to make dinner.
Breakfast - Strawberry Muffins, Yogurt (Silas will get a muffin and fruit/yogurt pouch)
Dinner - Chicken & Dumplings (freezer, crockpot meal), this was one thing I didn't get made on last week's menu.

Wednesday: HOME!! Woohoo!!
Breafkast - Oatemeal with fruit
Dinner - Chicken & Rice Casserole (that I'll actually be home to make!), vegetable

Thursday: EARLY appt for me (glucose test, meh), Daniel takes the kids to Testing
Breakfast - Muffins & Yogurt
Dinner - Leftovers

Friday: Office Day/Kids at Grandma's
Breakfast - Cottage Cheese Eggs, Toast
Dinner - Whatever I find in the fridge

Saturday:
Breakfast - Cereal
Dinner - TBD

Really sadly (to me), I am on an egg sabbatical.  Every so often (as in, this might be the 3rd time in nearly 14 years?) I randomly get excema from eating eggs or foods made with lots of eggs.  Recently it broke out all over my jaw, cheeks, neck and the backs of my hands.  I have never had excema on either of those areas before, so it took me nearly 3 weeks of misery to figure out it was eggs.  I have missed eggs SOOOO much this week!!!  I love eggs for breakfast and life doesn't seem complete without eggs.  Especially as I am nearly in the 3rd Trimester of this pregnancy, I get hungry and eggs with breakfast or a few scrambled eggs as a 4th meal were a go-to that really satisfied my hunger.  I am still trying to find "that food" that will have the same filling satisfaction.  I'm also hoping and praying that by the time the baby is born I will be able to eat eggs again at least in moderation.  I don't remember how long of a break I have had to take in the past.

All that to say, my breakfasts are more time consuming and challenging right now.  Instead of being able to throw some eggs in the skillet when I'm needing a quick breakfast... well, I'm not sure what I'm going to do!   Currently my plan is to just make time to make a decent breakfast for myself so I'm not pigging out on carbs (which leave me feeling hungry too soon, and then the cycle continues).  This past week I ate mostly spinach or brussels sprouts sauteed with onion and ham or Aidell's sausage.  Enough of all of those ingredients plus a piece of toast seems to work, but takes a few minutes.  Oh well, it is a season and I am grateful that it is such a temporary trial.  I'm also very thankful that all of the horrible, horrible itching I was experiencing has such an easy "fix".

If you have any protein packed, filling, stick to your ribs, hungry pregnant mama, breakfast ideas, please let me know!!!! I might thank you.  :)

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Menu Plan for Family of 6 (April 8)

I love menu planning for a week at a time, but I don't do it as much as I would like.  Which then, of course, leaves me flying by the seat of my pants.  I have to think about it from the time I wake up until I decide what I'm going to make, and sometimes I don't have the time to think, or don't decide, until later on in the day which leaves me rushed or having to make "fast" food.

Sunday night after everyone was in bed I sat down with 2 cookbooks, my own and the one from our church, and made a menu plan.

Sunday
Breakfast: Freezer French Toast
Dinner: Frozen Pizza and Salad

Monday
Breakfast: Blueberry Streusal Coffee Cake*, Sausage & Sweet Potato fry*, Strawberries
Dinner: Chicken with Artichoke Hearts & Mushrooms, Pasta, Broccoli
*portions of what I made to take to our MOPS meeting

Chicken with Artichokes & Mushrooms

Tuesday: 
Breakfast: Leftover Oatmeal with Bananas and Maple Syrup
Dinner: Stuffed Peppers Casserole, Zucchini

Wednesday:
Breakfast: Eggs, Biscuits, Fruit
Dinner on the way to church: Chicken Nuggets, Fruit, Chips
Snack after we get home from church: Yogurt with Applesauce

Thursday:
Breakfast: French Toast, Sausage Patties
Dinner: Pickle Roast, Mashed Potatoes, vegetable

Friday:
Breakfast: Eggs, Toast
Dinner: Kids at Grandma's, I usually work on leftovers or whatever is easy to find in the fridge

Saturday:
Breakfast: Cold Cereal
Dinner: Chicken Dumplings (freezer meal)

~~~

This past Saturday night, after all the kids were in bed, I spent a while in the kitchen frying up 2 big loaves of French bread into French Toast.  I had cleared WalMart's marked-down bread shelf several weeks ago on a rare trip to WalMart, and stuck all the bread into the freezer.  It was several loaves, maybe as many as 8, (ranging from $.25 - $.59 ea).  We have used a couple as garlic bread to go with Italian meals, but the majority I wanted to make into French Toast for the freezer.  It makes a yummy, quick breakfast when you reheat the slices in the toaster (our toaster has a "frozen" setting which really helps it thaw, heat evenly, and crisp up just perfectly). 

Monday's dinner is a new recipe.  In the mood for something "different" I browsed the church cookbook's Main Dishes section and found this recipe which works out perfectly because I have some fresh mushrooms that REALLY need used, and a can of artichoke hearts in the cupboard from a while ago.  I just hadn't taken the time to find a recipe for the artichokes (I like to use them in meals from time to time). 

Wednesday night dinners are far from my favorite, but we make it work.  We have to leave at 6pm to get to our Wednesday church activities which, if I wanted it to, could really throw a wrench in my dinner plans.  So... I had to figure out a solution outside the box.  Right now what is working is that most Wednesdays we have frozen chicken nuggets (that I buy on sale at Costco), fruit of some kind, and a salty, crunchy something.  Right now it is the individual baggies of chips from the huge variety box Costco sells.  If I don't have fresh fruit, the girls usually get an applesauce pouch.

Our Thursday night roast. :)  Susannah has been asking for a pickle juice roast for a long time, and I finally have enough pickle juice saved to fill her request.  I simply put the roast in the crockpot, and pour a jar of pickle juice over it for the seasoning.  I have used dill pickle juice in the past, but the most recent was made with juice from bread & butter pickles and they REALLY liked that.  This week's pickle roast will be a Bread & Butter roast.

Our lunches are always sandwiches or leftovers, sometimes on Sundays we will pick up lunch from CookOut if it is going to be late till we get home from church.  I usually let the girls have a snack at some point each afternoon. Sometimes it is a cookie and piece of fruit, sometimes a graham cracker with peanut butter, or occasionally a small amount of dry cereal, some pretzals, or animal crackers.

And that's the plan for this week!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Monthly(-ish) Grocery Shopping at Aldi, Costco & Kroger

It has been a long, long time since I have shared anything shopping related.  In all honesty, while I really enjoy sharing my grocery hauls (which have changed quite a lot since my couponing days!!), there are seasons of life where it just doesn't fit into my time. This week it does. :)

A few weeks ago we randomly stopped into a newer Aldi store for the second time ever.  I had made a quick walk-thru soon after it first opened a few years ago, and for some reason it didn't meet my expectations by a long shot.  Recently I had heard several friends saying how amazing Aldi's prices and products are.  One evening after a swimming lesson, in a moment of "it is late, mom is pooped, and we haven't had supper yet" we went in and bought some frozen pizzas.   While there I was ecstatic to see several things we normally buy for really good prices!  We snagged a few items and I knew I wanted to go back.  I had the opportunity to go back alone, armed with my very long grocery lists for Kroger and Costco, my two usual stores. 

Lo and behold, I found a LOT of things that were on my list for much lower prices than I typically pay!  I was so excited when I checked out with a cart FULL, for pennies under $100!  So much so that I sent Daniel a picture.  Haha!!  Then when I got home I went live on Facebook and shared it with the world! 

My first real Aldi haul:


6 Boxes of Millville brand cereal, ranging from $1.15-$1.99 ea.
Fresh Pineapple, $.89; cucumbers $.49 ea.
3 2lb. boxes of macaroni, $.69/lb.
Organic baby food pouches w/ yogurt, $.79/ea.
The cheapest I've been able to get this at Kroger was $1/pouch.
3 bags dried fruit, $1.89, $2.39 & $2.49
I compared price-per-package at Kroger, and these are significantly cheaper.
10 pkgs. sliced cheeses, 7-8 oz. ea., ranging from $1.17 - $1.45 ea.
I got a variety of cheddar, Colby Jack, Swiss, Pepper Jack, Gouda and Havarti. At most it is $2.90/lb, which is a really good price for good cheese.
4 (8oz) pkgs. shredded Swiss + Gruyare, $2.99 ea.
Clancy's brand pretzels, $.89
Since this shopping trip, many friends have shared with me that the Aldi brand of foods tends to be very good quality! 
Large Canister of Quick Oats, $2.29
2 bags Clancy's Kettle Cooked Chips, $1.05 ea.
2 large Cottage Cheese, $1.75 ea.
2 large Organic, Plain Yogurt, $2.69 ea.
3 pint Sour Cream, $.89 ea.
2 bags frozen Potato Puffs (hash browns), $1.55 ea.
3 bottles Buttermilk Ranch Dressing, $.89 ea.
1 pk./3 heads Romaine Hearts lettuce, $1.59
Carton Orange Juice, $1.49
Pure Almond Extract, $1.99
Lg. clamshell of Kiwi, $3.59
Cuties/Mandarin Oranges, $2.79
11.5 lbs bananas, $.39/lb.
4 lbs. seedless grapes, $1.19/lb.
small bag choc. Eggs, $.99
Total: $99.04

I didn't take a picture of it, but that same day I went to Kroger to finish getting my Kroger items that I hadn't gotten at Aldi.  I had a couple of Kroger coupons, too, that I wanted to use.

6 Tombstone Pizzas (coupon + buy 6, save $2 sale), $3.49/ea.
5 (5lb) bags of King Arthur All Purpose & Bread flours, 2/$3.99 ea., 3/$4.99 ea.
I am waiting on a Wagon Train from the West to bring me my usual 50 lb. bag of baking flour from Sharp Shopper.  The Wagon Train, aka, family, just hasn't been here in a while! So buying it from Kroger is how we roll at the moment.
Raisins (canister), with a coupon, $3.99
2 Kraft Mayo, $3.49 ea.
Chili Powder, $3.99
Quaker Instant Grits, $2.69
Oat Bran, $2.59
1 lb. dried Black Beans, $1.49
3 (or 4?) lb. dried Great Northern Beans, $3.49
2 lb. brown sugar, $1.29
3 bottles Kingsford BBQ Sauce, $3.49 ea.
This is the closest I have found to my homemade BBQ sauce, contains all the ingredients I personally use to make BBQ sauce, and I like to keep some on hand for when I need BBQ sauce but don't want to dip into my ketchup supply.
2 boxes Keebler Club Mini crackers, $2.99 ea.
1 qt. Whipping Cream, $3.69
1 large tub Ricotta Cheese, $3.79
1 roll marked down, fresh Goat Cheese, $4.97
3.86 lbs. Zucchini, $1.29/lb
3.40 lbs. Yellow Squash, $1.29/lb.
2 bags Mini Sweet Peppers, $1.99 ea. This was cheaper than their cheap bell peppers!! I've never seen this price before.
2 marked down Eggplants, $.99
large bag Chow Mein noodles, $1.79
3 store coupons totaling $5.70
Total $108.74

I did raid the Easter candy and Spring décor mark-down tables and bought several items. Some Easter Candy that we are using as school treats or special chore treats, a few games, some stickers, play-dough, and whatnot. I also restocked several personal care items like toothpaste and shampoo. Those items I do not include in our grocery spending.  Some of the grocery items, like the Club Cracker Mini's, are specialty items I don't normally buy. Those are great snacks for Silas right now, and I just got them for some variety.  The pizzas I like to get when they are on sale for easy, quick dinners.

So then... on my kid-free Friday, when my Mother-in-Law keeps all 4 littles for the day while I run errands and do office work uninterrupted, I made a Costco trip (for her and me, actually). I also realized I had forgotten a handful of things from Kroger, so I went back to Kroger to fill in those gaps. That is all pictured below.


Costco:
1 sleeve each Large and Med. Dixie Plates, $15.99 ea.
1 sleeve small Dixie Plates, $12.89
1 sleeve Dixie bowls, $9.99
12 oz. Dixie cups, $11.59
5 oz. Dixie cups, $10.99
Charmin TP, $21.99
2 bags frozen corn, $6.59 ea.
1 bag frozen peas, $6.99
6-can case Crushed Tomatoes, $6.99
#10 can Diced Tomatoes, $2.89
3 liter Extra Light Olive Oil, $17.99
2 pk. Grape Juice, $6.39
double bag shredded Mozzarella Cheese, $10.49
Tilapia filets, $15.99
Salmon Burgers, $15.99
2 pk. Kirkland thick-sliced bacon, $10.99
2 pk. uncured, sliced ham, $10.99
2 pkgs. Roasted Turkey Breast, sliced, $12.26 & $11.92
5 lb. bag sweet onions, $6.99
1 (3 pk.) Aidell's Sausage, $13.99
Spinach/Artichoke dip, $8.49
Feta Cheese, $7.39
3 pk. Chunky Guacamole, $8.99
2 (2 lb.) Strawberries, $5.99 ea.
Croutons, $6.99
Coffee, $16.29
Better than Bouillon Chicken Base, $5.99
3 box pk. Club Crackers, $7.59
Yeast, $4.49
Tostitos Scoops, $4.49
Stacy's Pita Chips, $6.99
Applesauce pouches, $9.99
4 jugs Apple Juice, $15.98
2 pk. Cooking Spray, $4.99
Total: $394.38

Kroger:
2 rolls Jimmy Dean Sausage (to make a sausage dish for our MOPS meeting), $3.79 ea.
3 family trays Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts, $1.79/lb
1 family tray Chicken Thighs, $1.49/lb.
2 dented Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup, $.69 ea.
Baking Soda, $.79
1 Kraft Mayonnaise, FREE with coupon
3 pkgs. Kroger Muffin wrappers, $.99 ea.
Waffle Bowls (reward for the girls), $3.39
2 cans Bakers Joy cooking spray, $2.69 ea.
dented box Captains Crunch cereal, $1.49
3 boxes Valentines (for next year!), $1.00 total
Total: $61.33

Grand Total: $564.45

Many of these items will last a long time, such as the paper dishes, the baking soda, coffee, etc.  One thing that I was a little disappointed about was that Costco did not have their large canister of Baking Powder or the large bags of Baking Soda.  I have bought Baking Powder there and was counting on buying both Baking Powder and Soda there again to restock my stash!  I much prefer to buy it in large quantities instead of multiple piddly containers.  I have never had it go "bad" even though it takes us a while to use it.

This past Saturday Sylvia and Charity worked on the bananas I had bought at Aldi, and we mashed and froze 6 cups worth, I believe.  In the past I have picked up marked-down bananas on the rare occasion I found them at Kroger, and used those to freeze.  I haven't found any for a long time and had used up my freezer stash.  Lo and behold, Aldi's banana price was the same as Kroger's mark-down price!  That is why I bought so many bananas.  We are eating about half of them fresh, and we froze the other half after they had ripened sufficiently.


In my next post, I'll share our menu plan and little about how I work our big shopping trips to last for several weeks at a time. :)

Report on our Aldi groceries so far: 
The cereal definitely passes our quality test!  I do not like cheap, "cardboard" cereal so I don't waste our money on off-brand cereals (why buy it when we don't enjoy eating it?).  Because the boxes looked nearly identical to the brands we typically buy, I took the chance.  It turns out I have found a huge savings on cereal!!  When I was in Costco, I double checked the prices of the cereals we typically buy (which are bulk price!), and it ranged easily from $3.50 - $4+ a box!!  We typically have cold cereal once a week on Saturdays, so it isn't a HUGE expense, but I am tickled to have found quality-tasting cereal for a much, much lower price.

The buttermilk ranch dressing is still up for debate.  It definitely isn't the same as the high-end Yogurt Buttermilk Ranch we enjoy from Kroger.  I'm not sure if I will buy it from Aldi again, or perhaps I'll try a different brand I saw, before deciding if we will get our Ranch Dressing from Aldi or not. 

We REALLY love fresh fruits and vegetables so I am very, very excited to have this resource that will allow us these good, healthy foods much more affordably.  I have discovered that they don't always have the same items, but with the haul I made this past week I am confident we can continue to shop there for the majority of our fresh produce and vegetables.  Also their dairy quality seems good, and will be a big savings on our grocery budget.  Typically dairy and fresh fruits and vegetables takes up a much, much larger portion of our grocery bill.

I hope to be sharing our grocery trips a little more regularly, at least for now.  I'm sure once Baby 5 comes my time will again be used doing things besides blogging about grocery prices. ;)

Thursday, March 8, 2018

First Aid Kit Organization

{I debated titling this post as "Everything But The Kitchen Sink".}

You guys. I have been waiting on the edge of my seat (proverbially speaking, because I do have 101 other things going on at all times) to show this to you!!! I just had 2 key pieces on which I was waiting. When they arrived this evening, as soon as everyone was bedded down I put them in place and started taking pictures. 
Warning: picture heavy post!

*Drum-roll*
Please meet our NEW medical/first aid kit!!
TA-DAAAA!!!!
Isn't she purty??


I had been waiting for eons, probably about a year, to figure out the perfect solution to our overflowing, everything must be packed JUST SO to fit and we still ended up with other bags of stuff, plastic shoebox of a first aid kit that I put together the first time we went camping after we got married.  (If I learned anything from my growing up years, it was to never go on a trip without The Medical Bag.)

Then I stumbled over this thing. I pretty much swooned on the spot, both at how it was exactly what I wanted but also at the price tag. I held off. I searched the internet and stores for something else. Daniel even bought parts organizer trays from Lowe's to see if they would work.

I couldn't find anything else. I kept holding off because I didn't want to spend money on a whim, I wanted to be SURE. I combed every store I could think of, including Amazon, trying to find a fabulous deal. One store ran a great sale... but the medium bin was only available online and the sale was for in-store only. The store didn't carry the size I needed. 

I finally took the plunge, buying this medium-sized Creative Options Grab'n'Go bin from Hobby Lobby, using their 40% off non-sale item coupon. I was tickled to find the medium size in a physical store so that I could actually look at it before buying it. 


I looked at both the small size and the large size. I liked the large but it rivals a full sized suitcase and I knew that would be overkill, not to mention hard to store amd heavy to carry! I went with the medium size. (It is also available in a teal-blue color.)

One thing I like about the medium size is the varying tray depths: 1 shallow and 2 deep. You can also adjust the individual compartment sizes within each tray, which was another requirement of mine.

The 3 trays pull out like drawers. 

The top is also very spacious, so I knew it would be perfect for holding my bulky items and anything extra I might want to throw in before a trip (children's Tylenol, essential oils, vitamins, etc.).


Here is the grand tour. The OCD part of me could stare at this for a long time. 😍

In the top I have the bulky things. I even ordered some Thirty-One pouches to hold a few items so they are neatly contained and easy to grab. 




In the Rubie mini zipper pouch, I have our thermometer and odoscope. Yes, I'm that kind of mom!! This pouch still has room in it if I decide to keep something else in there, but I wanted these two items contained so they weren't jostling around. This also makes them easy for anyone to find and grab. 

The polka-dot liner adds a fun pop!


In the larger zipper pouch is the stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. When all my crazy heart stuff started going on, I bought a cheap set so I could hear my heart rate instead of trying to feel it (it was too fast to count by touch sometimes). I've used it several times listening to our kids' lungs, too, so I feel this is a good medical kit accessory (if you know what to listen for). I also figured out that with some ninja-like skills, I can take my own blood pressure. #nerd


The Thirty-One pouches, monogrammed to boot!, are so much neater and prettier than the wrinkly old ziploc baggies we had before.

This is the top compartment empty. It can hold a lot since the lid is domed!


The first tray is my OCD Band-Aid tray. Daniel picks on me about it. ;) I luuuurrrve not having to shuffle through 75 bajillion packages to find the right bandaid. 


This was another set of items that was previously stored in snack size ziplocs. It worked, but I like this so much better.

Back 2 left: large fabric bandaids
Back right: giant bandaids and fingertip/knuckle bandaids
Middle L-R: Water-block, tiny square, novelty
Front L-R: tiny fabric, med. fabric, novelty

The center tray continues with first aid items that are a little bulkier. 

I like to be prepared for anything, y'all!!

Back L-R: gauze pads, q-tips & alcohol pads, butterfly closure bandages (and directions!)
Middle: creams, paper and water-proof bandage tapes
Front: anti-itch gel, cotton balls, latex gloves

And finally the bottom tray.  It holds a lot of odds and ends. Some are not really first aid, but things that we might really want to have in a pinch. Did I say I like to be prepared? ;)

{Please do your research and make wise and safe decisions regarding keeping prescription medications.}

The bottom tray really has a variety of stuff. 😂 
Ace bandages thanks to breaking my leg on vacation! Do they make travel-size, compact crutches? I would put a pair in here if they did!
A nightlight. We have kids, being in a strange place at night without a nightlight could be interesting. #prepared
Poison soap and lotion. I got these when we tent camped. Now we cabin camp but... #prepared

And the oddest and endest stuff:
-A pocket sewing kit I chopped down to hold a bobby pin, safety pin and a few stick pins.
-Advil, saline drops, 2 kinds of ear drops, Tums (these lifesavers were NOT in our old box, thus NOT along on vacation when my pregnancy-caused heartburn decided to rear it's flaming head for the first time ev-er. Cue emergency trip to WalMart!).
-razor, pen light, ziploc with flossers and a few hairbands, bandage scissors, regular and fine tweezers.

And it all fits in this box!! It isn't too bulky or too heavy. I can now tell Daniel or Susannah (or anyone else) exactly where to find something. It will also be easy-peasy for someone else (grandparents, babysitters) to find anything. No longer does finding one thing require unpacking and careful repacking so every item fits. 


We have been using this for about 2 months now and I am still 100% satisfied and happy with it. I am a careful spender, but when I know something will serve us well, I don't mind [wisely] plunking down some moolah. This was one of those cases (ha, pun!) for sure.

What about you? Are you a neat and organized first aid kit kind of person or a hodge podge, throw it all in 1 box personality? What have I missed putting in our kit besides the kitchen sink? 

*This post contains links, none of which are affiliate, but if you are looking for Thirty-One items my friend is an excellent representative!!