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Friday, August 31, 2012

Think Outside The Box Breakfast Challenge

What's for breakfast?  In our house, especially lately, it has been either cereal, or...cereal.  While searching for inspiration and variety, I came up with the Think Outside The Box Breakfast Challenge.  A way to challenge myself to go beyond the cereal box and feed my family healthy, homemade breakfasts.

Many I will be able to make ahead.  Many will be freezable.  Many will be from my Breakfast Ideas board on Pinterest (go look for a sneak peek!).   

The easiest way for me to prepare for this challenge was to plan the entire month in advance.  That's right, I know what I'll be having for breakfast for the next 30 days.  Of course, this is subject to change, as I expect the occasional hiccup of not having time to prepare something, or not liking a new recipe, may come up.  But I have a plan.  If you'd like to work on your own plan, here is a suggestion - assign each day of the week a general category.  For example, mine are:
  • Sunday: Egg-Based Meals
  • Monday: TBD (Breakfasts that didn't really fit in any category)
  • Tuesday: Muffins or Breads, which will be served with whatever fruit we have around
  • Wednesday: Egg-Based Meals again
  • Thursday: Oatmeal
  • Friday: Treat Day (Because some of those recipes on my Pinterest board are pretty decadent-looking)
  • Saturday: Pancakes or Waffles
I know that the rest of my family might not always want what I have planned.  Jesse, for example, doesn't like oatmeal, so Thursdays he'll be on his own for breakfast.  He also likes to eat scrambled eggs and toast quite often, which the boys will have the option of eating instead of what I have planned.  And I do have a few boxes of Cheerios in case I make something the boys don't like.  I have confidence in my cooking, but I'm also a realist.  

I have several goals for this challenge:
  • Spend less money on boxes of cereal.  The past two months or so we have gone through probably 20 boxes of cereal.  Even with coupons, that's a lot of money! While we will be spending "more" on ingredients, or at least on eggs and fresh fruit, I still think it will come out to be less than buying all that cereal.
  • Make more REAL food.  Yes, some of the breakfasts I planned have sugar in them.  But you know what they don't have?  All those not-so-easy-to-pronounce preservatives.  That, to me, is better.
  • Try new recipes.  What's the point of saving all of these yummy-looking ideas if I never make them?
Starting tomorrow, I'll be posting daily with our breakfast for the day, along with links to the recipes I'm using.  I'll also be including our breakfast plans in my Meal Plan Monday posts, along with the usual dinner plans.  I'm excited to try something new! Will you join me?

P.S. I just discovered a blog challenge for Unprocessed October, a month (or week, or however long you choose) dedicated to eating unprocessed foods.  Go read more about that too!  I still haven't decided if we'll participate in that, but I figured I would mention it, because it's a similar idea to this challenge.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Project Simplify For Fall: Bathroom

I posted last week about Project Simplify when I organized some things in the kitchen.  We have since gotten some bookends and the cookbooks have found their home on the top of the fridge:





I am very happy with the little updates that I made in the kitchen, and I knew another area I wanted to tackle was the bathroom.  As evident from my coupon shopping posts, I like to stock up on things when I can get the best deals.  As a result, we have quite the overflow of toiletries.  Our bathroom has very little storage (much like the kitchen).  The vanity is just a sink with very little counter-top (just enough for our toothbrushes), and the cabinet underneath has bathroom cleaner and a soap refill and it's pretty full.  So all of the extras have been squished haphazardly on this shelf:



Here is what that shelf looks like now:


The top shelf holds Jesse's daily essentials and shaving tools.  The bottom shelf holds my most-used products, my make-up bag, and our rubber duckies.

But where did all of those extras go?

To the back of the door!  Ever since I saw this idea on one of my favorite organizing blogs a few weeks ago, I have been itching to try it.  I found this 24-pocket hanging shoe organizer for around $6 at Walmart, and, I have to say, it is well worth the money for me to not have the visual clutter every time I walk into our already cramped bathroom.  Items are more or less grouped together, although there are a few mostly empty pockets as our inventory changes.  As you can see, we are pretty well stocked right now. 

My brother (a poor college student) came over and was even able to "shop" from the back of the door for a few things he needed!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Menu Plan Monday

Monday/Tuesday: Black Bean Taco Salads
Wednesday: Opening Dinner at the Beacon
Thursday: Homemade Macaroni & Cheese (requested by Jonah)
Friday: Veggie Omelets (spinach, mushroom, green pepper, and onion for sure)
Saturday: Homemade Pizza (spinach, mushroom, and black olives for sure)
Sunday: TBD once I figure out next month's meal plan

Big news! For the month of September, we will be doing the Think Outside The Box Breakfast Challenge.  Look for more information on that on Friday, but I'll give you a hint...it involves a break from cereal.

In other big news, at least for me, I will be switching from doing our meal planning 2 weeks at a time to doing our meal planning one month at a time.  The format of the Menu Plan Monday posts won't change, but my behind-the-scenes lists will.  I want to have all of our meals planned out for the month at once (breakfast, lunch, and dinner).  I will buy all of the pantry staples for the entire month in one big shopping trip right away, and do weekly trips to pick up produce and milk and such as we need them. 

I'm hoping that this will help us stay on budget better.  I tend to do poorly at spreading my money out over the entire month, so my plan is this:
  • 50% of the grocery budget for the big shopping trip at the beginning of the month
  • 25% of the grocery budget for the weekly "as needed" trips
  • 25% of the grocery budget for diapers and deals throughout the month
Since I'll be doing the big shopping at the beginning of the month, I'll know if I've over-spent on the pantry staples right away, and can plan the other categories accordingly.  Since I'll have the meals planned out, I should have a pretty good idea of what I'll need to buy for my weekly trips as well.  That leaves me free to spend the other chunk of money on deals as they come up, but if it's gone, then I don't need those deals.

I took the time yesterday to do some pricing at Sam's Club vs. Walmart to see if that would be worth the effort to do some bulk shopping.  There are a few items that I could get for a better price, but surprisingly, not a lot.  I think I will stick with borrowing my brother's membership every now and then for those few things, rather than getting our own membership and shopping there often.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Target and CVS Coupon Shopping

While we were out and about today, we stopped at Target, and I picked up these coffee creamers.

  • 2 International Delight quarts: $3.14 each.  Used two $1.50/1 printables (No longer available) and two $0.55/1 (SS 7/22/12) = paid $1.09 each.

Later I went to CVS by myself, and got some really good deals!


  • 4 Gevalia Coffees: $5.99 each.  Used 2 BOGO printables (No longer available - Each took off $6.98 automatically. I'm not sure why as they were priced at $9.79 regularly.) = paid $10.00/4, or $2.00 each!
  • 2 Dawn Dish Soaps: $0.99 each.  Used two $0.50/1 (P&G 7/29/12) = paid $0.49 each.
  • 2 Stayfree Pads: $2.00 each.  Used two $2/1 (SS 7/22/12) = 2 free!
  • 1 Infant and 1 Children's Advil: $4.49 each, get $4ECBs when you buy 2.  Used two $1.50/1 printables = paid $6.48/2, got $4ECBs!
  • I also used $12ECBs from last week, and a $4/$20 coupon that I got in my email.  Total spent = $1.11, and I got $4ECBs!

What I'm Reading...

Quick Back-To-School Lunches For Traditional Cooks.  I may not have kids in school yet, but I could definitely use some new lunch ideas. (Food Your Way)

We Traveled With Kids And Survived To Write About It. I saved the road trip game downloads (bingo, license plate game, etc.) for when our kids are a little older.  Fun! (I Heart Organizing)

Walgreens New Rewards Card Starting Nationwide In November.  This program sounds terrible.  As in you have to purchase $500 of stuff (and yes, pay $500, because you don't get points for the amount you save in coupons) to get $5 in rewards, instead of getting the Register Rewards as you currently do. (Penny Pinchin' Mom)

Dollar Tree To Start Accepting Coupons. But, in happier news, this could make for some free items.  (Deal Seeking Mom)

The Secret To A Perfect Home. My home is definitely imperfectly perfect. (Simple Mom)

8 Make-Ahead Breakfast Ideas.  I am toying with the idea of doing a no-breakfast-cereal-from-a-box challenge in September, so these ideas will come in handy. (Money Saving Mom)

How To Save Money At Target.  I learned something new about Target's clearance prices (Hint: You want them to end in 4). (Yahoo Money)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Project Simplify For Fall: Kitchen


One of my favorite blog families (because there are several sites within this one, and I read pretty much all of them), Life Your Way, is hosting a "Simplify for Fall" challenge this week.  While some of these areas either don't apply to me (or I just finished recently, like clothes), there was one that immediately stood out to me: kitchen.  There are several little things in the kitchen that have been bugging me, as well as a few quick cooking projects I wanted to get done.  So yesterday, I started the kitchen challenge.  And it's a work in progress...

One thing you should know about our kitchen - there is not much counter space at all.  So to help with that, we got this microwave cart.  It has been pretty much this cluttered since we moved in (end of June), because it's really easy to just set things here "for a minute", (toothbrush holder anyone?) and then they get stuck.  It bugged me, so I finally did something about it.  Here's before...

 ...and after!
It's not perfect, but it's better.  Things that didn't belong were put away.  The cookbooks still look a little crazy, because I'm searching for bookends to hold them up (they'll move to the top of the fridge) so I can have them all upright instead of in a big stack.  And our blue snack tub on the microwave looks a little crazy, but only because of the package of Teddy Bear Crackers that my boys love.

Another one that bugs me is this little spot of counter.  I had dreams of putting my coffeemaker here, but there's not a plug near enough. This would be the perfect fit for it too.  Since that didn't work out, I put my utensil holder here.  I thought this big jar would work better than it does, because I can't put shorter items in here, or they get lost, so those still clog up a drawer.  So I might have to break down and get one of these fancy Pampered Chef ones, which I like because they hold a lot, but don't like, because they're plastic and huge.  I also don't love our bottles of vitamins clogging up the counter.  I put away the allergy medication and one extra bottle of vitamins, but we still have 3 bottles there.  I don't know where else to put them where we will still remember to take them.  So this is still a problem area for me...


While I was working on those two spots, I cooked up some mushrooms, which I put in the freezer for future meals...


...and made a pot of Veggie Lentil Soup for future lunches (I freeze this in individual portions, which are easy to grab for a quick and healthy lunch).


Here's one area that doesn't need work! My meal plan. I plan everything on a piece of notebook paper, with more specifics about what goes in what recipe and also my grocery list, and once it's done, it goes on the markerboard.  Then I just erase the items as we eat them, so we always know what's coming next.  Dinners are assigned to specific days, but lunches are not.  The stars by the dinner items mean I need to prep something ahead of time (like cooking up beans for the Enchiladas or making English Muffins for breakfast sandwiches).  The items in red are extras that I want to make this week.  I'm really loving my menu planning system right now.


While we're over by the fridge, take a look on top:

Again, more items without a home.  Behind those few things in front are all of my husband's tools.  They landed there for easy access when we moved in and never left.  To the hall closet with them!  Once I get my bookends, the cookbooks will go up here, and the pitcher will probably move down below on the microwave cart.

Here's after:
Much cleaner!

And finally, to the left of the refrigerator, we have our donations box, along with our paper and plastic bags.  I save the paper ones for wrapping packages to mail, and the plastic ones for our little garbage can in the bathroom.  Before:

And after:

I gathered the bags neatly, and put up a 3M Command hook for the plastic bags to hang from.

So while things in the kitchen still aren't perfect, I did fix a few things that had been bothering me for quite some time!  As for the rest of the Project Simplify list, I have a few other things to take care of this week, mostly under the "Paper Clutter & Budgets" category, but that's for another day.

Pumpkin Granola


I was looking to use up a partial can of pumpkin after making Zucchini Pumpkin Bread last week, and I had read about using pumpkin as part of the "wet" ingredients in making granola.  My friend Sarah suggested this recipe from Finding Joy in My Kitchen, so I went with that, with a few modifications.

Ingredients:
  • 6-1/2 cups oats
  • 1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup pureed pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
Directions:

In large bowl,  mix oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt.  Set aside.  In smaller bowl, mix remaining ingredients.  Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients and stir to coat.  Transfer to two large cookie sheets.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.  Makes about 9 cups of granola. 


Each 1/2 cup serving is about 160 calories, which is not bad for a filling, healthy snack.  I have never done granola with applesauce or pumpkin before (although I have done this Homemade Granola with pumpkin butter), and I really like how it turned out.  Fall is coming, so I expect I will be making this one again.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Menu Plan Monday

Monday/Tuesday: Pinto Bean Enchiladas with Creamy Chile Sauce
Wednesday: Bacon, Egg, & Cheese Breakfast Sandwiches
Thursday: Broccoli Mushroom Alfredo
Friday: Ham & Scalloped Potatoes
Saturday: Seminary Opening Picnic (I'll be bringing Cheesy Chicken Rice Casserole)
Sunday: Black Bean Taco Salads

This week I'll also be making a batch of Veggie Lentil Soup for Jesse and me to eat for some of our lunches, and experimenting with making some Pumpkin Granola, since I have some leftover pumpkin from the Zucchini Pumpkin Bread last week.

It's hard to believe that this is the last week before school starts up again!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Walgreens and CVS Coupon Shopping

Our first stop of the day was Walgreens.  I was hoping to find a few deals I've read about in blogland recently, but I pretty much struck out there.  Gevalia coffee on clearance to combine with my BOGO printable? Nope. $8.99/bag.  Nice! spices for $0.79? Nope. Couldn't even find the spices in my store.  Huggies Slip-On Diapers still on sale? Nope. Sale ended last week (I thought it was monthly).  But I did find one item that I wanted...
 
  • 2 Green & Black's Chocolate Bars: 2/$4.  Used two $1/1 printables = paid $2/2.
 And then the kiddos and I headed to CVS.


  • Honey Nut Cheerios: 2/$5, get $2ECBs when you buy 2 (limit 1).  Used two $0.60/1 printables and $1/1 CVS coupon machine = paid $2.80, got $2ECBs (that's $0.40/box!)
  • CVS Boxed Diapers: $13.00 each, get $10ECBs when you spend $25+ on baby items.  Used $4/$20 CVS coupon machine* = paid $22, got $10ECBs (that's $6/box!)
  • Total spent: $24.80, and I got $12ECBs! 
* This coupon was expired by 3 days, but the cashier very nicely accepted it anyway.  Love my CVS cashiers!

After accidentally stocking up on Jonah-sized diapers earlier this month (I forgot to unsubscribe some Amazon Subscribe & Save deals), and now on-purpose stocking up on Matthew-sized diapers, we should be set for the next month at least, but I'll certainly watch for a sale to use my ECBs to get more!

What I'm Reading...

What I Wish I Had Known About Cloth Diapers. This is a good place to start, and I wish I had found something like this when I was trying to figure cloth diapers out. (Small Notebook)

Change Your Life And Challenge Your Mind By Making Time For Reading Good Books.  I have been reading more often lately, although still not nearly as much as I used to.  I do enjoy it though. (Money Saving Mom)

5 Ways To Display Your Kids' Artwork. I like the behind-the-door idea for some pieces. (DIY Your Way)

Organized Box Tops. Did anyone else know there were coloring sheets for kids to color and glue box tops to? I didn't. Links in this post. (Be Simply Organized)

Giving Up Juice Simplified Our Life.  We occasionally have juice, but it's mostly just what we get from WIC. I rarely buy it, and we don't miss it. (Home Your Way)

The Touch-It-Once Rule.  The reasons listed in this post are exactly my reasons for having piles of stuff sometimes, especially the one about not having a place for certain things. (Home Your Way)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Zucchini Pumpkin Bread

We got a huge zucchini from the Farmers' Market (for only $1.00!) the other day, and I knew I would be making some sort of bread with it.  Have I mentioned I love baked goods?  But I also wanted to make this a healthier version, while still keeping it yummy.  So I lessened the sugar and switched out the melted butter for pumpkin. I also did some wheat flour and some all-purpose flour, and as a result the loaves were a little bit denser than with only all-purpose flour, but still moist and delicious.

Ingredients:
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 cups grated zucchini
  • 2/3 cup pureed pumpkin
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In large bowl, mix together eggs, sugar, and vanilla.  Stir in grated zucchini and pumpkin.  Add in all dry ingredients, and stir until combined.  Pour into two greased 5x9 loaf pans.  Bake 45-60 minutes until just starting to brown on top, and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.*


*The reason for the wide range of time is that the oven in our new place is not the correct temperature, and it has hot spots, so I kind of have to guess what the time and temperature may be, and check things accordingly.  Check it at 45 minutes and go from there.

Because this recipe makes 2 loaves, you can slice one up to eat right away, and wrap another one up for the freezer.  Twice the yumminess, half the work!


And, at only 97 calories per slice (assuming 12 slices per loaf), this is a perfectly acceptable snack, even if you're watching what you eat, like I am.  Here's the breakdown, courtesy of myfitnesspal.com, which is where I've been tracking my calories (and have so far lost 16 pounds!):

I'm off to enjoy a slice for my mid-morning snack!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Menu Plan Monday

Monday/Tuesday: Slow Cooker Jambalaya
Wednesday: Ham & Pea Pasta
Thursday: Stir Fry
Friday: Hamburgers and Sweet Potato Fries
Saturday/Sunday: Slow Cooker Beef Stew

Last week we ended up mixing up a few meals and eating out once, so we have some of the meals listed last week for this week.

We also have some cucumbers and tomatoes from the farmer's market to enjoy, which I'll chop up and toss with a homemade Italian dressing for an easy salad.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

What I'm Reading...

Are You Using Everything Up?  I do this stuff too.  Jesse laughs when I get out the spatula to scrape out the peanut butter jar, but I usually end up with enough for a few pieces of toast or one more sandwich. (Money Saving Mom)

Advice On Creating A Well-Loved And Well-Used Toy Collection.  We very much need to purge some of our toys. (The Minimalist Mom)

7 Ways To Make The Most Of August's Bounty.  A good list of how to preserve the yummy fruits and veggies in season now. (Food Your Way)

Ideas For Organizing Legos.  I pinned this one, because I'm sure we'll have quite a few legos once the kids get a little older.  (Northern Cheapskate)

You're A Grown-Up, But Do You Feel Like One?  (Simple Mom)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Bubble Magnets

It's been quite awhile since I made bubble magnets, but Jesse requested some for his big whiteboard at work, so I went through my magazines to find some pictures that I thought he might like.  


Here's a closer look at his magnets:

The top left is a little whale that says "Save Me" and the bottom left says "Take Me to the Moon", but they're pretty tiny and hard to read.  Jesse is interested in politics, so I made him a few political ones as well.


And I picked some fun ones as well, with Curious George, the Monopoly dude, and a puppy dog.

Then I made these for myself, except for one:


Coffee themed ones, as well as a Thomas the Tank Engine magnet for Jonah.

I actually used up almost all of my magnets making these, although I still have plenty of glass bubble stones left.  These are a fun project and make an awesome personalized gift.  The longest part is finding pictures to use.  You can see how to make the magnets here.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Menu Plan Monday

Monday-Wednesday: Dinner at evening VBS at church (I love not cooking!)
Thursday: Ham & Pea Pasta
Friday/Saturday: Slow Cooker Jambalaya
Sunday: Homemade Pizza with Sausage & Black Olives (I have a pizza crust in the freezer, so it will be very simple to throw this one together)

This week should be a pretty simple one for dinners.  It isn't supposed to be quite as warm out, but we're still trying not to use the oven too much.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

What I'm Reading...

The Cost of Your Trash.  I read this post and found myself nodding in agreement. (The Simple Dollar)

5 Must-Know Tips On Thrifting.  I'd really like to go to the thrift store more often (and we have a bunch near us!), but I fear I would spend too much money or get too many DIY ideas that I wouldn't finish.  But my August goal does involve the thrift store, so at least for this month, I'll go exploring.  (Simple Mom)

Get It Done: Finishing Projects.  I have so many projects-in-progress (or ideas-in-progress) that I need to get finished.  I really should put them all on a list and get to working.  (The Small Notebook)

9 Powerful Ways To Find Enough Time For Your Goals.  Yet again I was drawn to a time-management post. (Pick The Brain)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Water Bottle Jellyfish

I found this fun-looking activity on Pinterest: Make your own jellyfish in a bottle.  All you need is a water bottle, a plastic bag, thread, food coloring, and water, all of which we have.  So we decided to try.
It took me about 15 minutes to do each one, and my kids were more impressed with the color of the water than the "jellyfish" in the bottle.  Next time we'll probably just mix colors, which is what we did after about 2 times of turning the bottle over to see the jellyfish move. 

"Am I supposed to drink this, Mom?"


Jonah was very proud of his yellow color choice.


Matthew tipped his over to watch it move.


Jonah looks a lot more interested in his than he actually was...




Here's a close-up of our jellyfish.  They didn't really look like much.  I'm kind of glad I didn't put more effort into them than I did though, because I don't think it would have mattered.



So then we added colors to see what we would get.  We ended up at brown pretty quickly, but that was okay.


And then they used them as microphones and sang songs.  It works.

At least we tried something fun and easy off of Pinterest.  If I ever remember to get an eye-dropper, I've seen a few other color-mixing activities that I think at least Jonah would have a ball with.