Your Money or Your Health

couponsYesterday, I stumbled on a marathon of Extreme Couponing – that’s the show where people rack up $700 or $800 bills in a grocery store, tie up a line and hold up one or several store managers to approve their transactions, and walk out paying as little as $4. And then they show these people triumphantly stacking their purchases at home where, I can only assume, they are preparing for their next reality show audition on Hoarders.

I love the idea of coupons, and my BFF Anne has a great system in place that stretches her family’s grocery budget a very long way. And when it makes more sense for the final price to buy more items than her family can use, she does the kind and sensible thing and donates the extra to a local food pantry. So there’s obviously a healthy way to go about the couponing thing, and I’m sure that I will be picking her brain on that a lot as our family grocery system evolves.

But for right now, I just can’t get my head around it. When I look at the total crap that these extremist people buy, I have to wonder if it’s even worth the $4 they’re paying? I can’t remember seeing a single piece of fruit or fresh vegetable in those carts. If your grocery budget is $10 a week (like some of these people said), but you aren’t actually walking out of the store with any food, what’s the point?

I do still buy processed food, but I’ve been working on cutting out some of them out and replacing them with homemade. You’ve seen my series about cooking freezer meals instead of buying packaged heat & eats. And right before the holidays I cut out store-bought bread and started baking my own at home. My next target is freezing homemade soup instead of buying canned. Once I stop having to remind myself to make something instead of buy it, I move on to the next thing. I feel especially committed to this now, as I’m making PJ’s baby food and I want him to grow up clearly knowing the difference between the flavor of fruit, and fruit-flavored.

I have to say that I feel much better when I’m able to stock my kitchen and freezer with fresh-made meals and snacks, but the problem is that this can be much more expensive. I really wish there were more coupons for ingredients rather than for packaged products. If I’m wrong about that, and anyone knows sites where I can find them, please let me know! The couple of times I’ve tried to sit down and comb through the coupons for things that we use, I’ve ended up with a whopping $2 or $3 in savings and it takes me at least an hour.

So where do you guys fall on the scale? Are you more about saving money with coupons, even if it isn’t on products you would prefer to buy? Or are you all fresh and/or organic all the time, even if it costs more?

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Freezer Favorite: Chicken & Wild Rice Casserole

Here’s one of my favorite freezer meals. It’s an adaptation of one of Tricia Yearwood’s recipes (original is here.).

I cut the butter WAY back, switched in sour cream for the half and half (sour cream is one of the few dairy products that works in freezer recipes), and added green beans to get another veggie in.
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Stock the Freezer Sunday

The baby was pretty clingy this weekend, to the point that we almost cancelled our anniversary date on Saturday night. Luckily, like most little ones, he screamed while we dropped him off, but before we even got out of the car at the restaurant I got this:

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Yes, that’s Wilfred – Uncle Caleb was home for the weekend from college, and testing out his Halloween costume on a dare from Uncle Kyle.

By Sunday, baby was much happier, and I was able to stock the freezer with:

– Apples, pears, yellow squash, and sweet potatoes for PJ

– Chicken Broccoli Alfredo (really simple: throw the broccoli into the pasta pot as soon as the water boils. When it comes back to the boil, add the pasta and cook for the package time. Strain it all together, then add cooked chicken and a jar of alfredo sauce and stir).

– Chicken Enchiladas – I actually used a Kraft Recipe Starter kit for these, all I had to do was brown chicken, add sauces, and roll up tortillas. Easy peasy!

– Mac ‘n Cheeseburger – another easy one. Make a box of mac n cheese. Brown up ground beef (1 lb per box of mac n cheese made) with some onions, garlic, salt & pepper. Add 8 oz tomato sauce per pound of beef, and one can of diced tomatoes to the mac n cheese. Serve beef over mac n cheese. Yum!

I made big batches of everything and got 3-4 pans of each recipe so that should last us awhile!

Freezer Meal: Breakfast Burritos

I work long shifts four days a week so that I can be home with baby PJ an extra day. It’s been working out great, but making it work does require some extra planning and adjusting. I’ve shared the menu planner that I use, and my basic technique for making and freezing casseroles. And as promised, I’ll share some of the recipes that work well for us.

For this one, you’ll need:
– 6 whole eggs
– 8-10 egg whites
– An 8 oz block of cheese
– Ham, sausage, bacon, or turkey
– Spinach or peppers
– Salt, pepper, and any other seasonings you like
– Package of flour tortillas

To make:

Brown any meat you are using and set aside. Scramble eggs, egg whites, and seasoning until soft set. Add the browned meat and any veggies and continue scrambling.

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Place one of the flour tortillas on a griddle pan over the lowest possible heat. Add slices of cheese:

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Then add the egg and meat mixture (or top with sliced meat):

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Then you roll it up like a burrito – which I did not take a picture of because mine are always functional but ugly haha.

Once the wrapped burritos are cooled down, wrap them in a layer of saran wrap, then a layer of freezer foil.

Paul and I take them straight from the freezer (unwrapped) to the microwave for two minutes. And I vary the meat and vegetables every time I make a batch.

Enjoy, and let me know what combos you come up with!

How To: Make Ahead Freezer Meals

In the weeks before I went back to work, I started filling up my freezer so that I wouldn’t need to waste any valuable snuggle time cooking in the evenings. It worked great, and we just finished up the last tray this week. I’m working on my grocery list for next weekend to make another few batches. I’ll post some of my favorite recipes as I make them, and today I’ll fill you in on my technique.
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