Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Stupid little money saving tricks

Why do I call them this?  Well, you'll see them on *every* frugal living list.  Or most of them.  And you'll almost ALWAYS have two types of commenters:

1.  "You have to hit the BIG THINGS!  Washing out baggies is stupid, call the insurance company and get a better deal!"

2.  "Same old stuff, I want new ideas!"

Here's the thing.  I've read dozens of "frugal tips" books and as many blogs.  There's a lot of repetition, but life changes.  I may read the same idea 10 times, but the 11th, it clicks. Or a tip just may  not apply to me, but as I get older, change jobs, add new kids - suddenly, it does!

Or I start to slowly lose my frugal ways, and then have to re-dedicate myself to them.

Here are a few "silly and stupid ways" to save money.

1.  Water.  When you go out to lunch or dinner with friends (you know, rarely), drink water.  Soda is what, $2?  Eat out once a week, that's $100 a year.  Twice, $200.  And then it becomes a "thing".

When you go somewhere for fun - a walk, the park, the zoo - take a bottle of water or two.  I mean, really, if you get thirsty suddenly, you are looking at $1 to $3 for a bottle of water.  Tap water?  1/2 cent per gallon.  Just get used to carrying water.

We have a potluck in the park every Sunday with the neighborhood.  There's food.  There's wine.  A lot of wine.  So much so that fairly often, there's no water.  So the four young children (aged 8, 8, 4, 2) and the 3 older children (teenagers) sometimes don't have anything to drink.  Sure, a lemonade or soda can be had for $2 from the vending machine.  But really?  I know am in the habit of filling two stainless water bottles with cold filtered water and bringing it every week.  This way, if nobody else brings anything non-alcoholic, it's there.  Often there is bubble water, but many of the kids don't like it.

2.  Weekend trips.  Now, this is a new thing for me.  Now that I have two kids, we find ourselves heading to the beach on the weekends.  If you go to the beach, your trip can really vary from "all out" to "bare bones".  "All out" is a big sunshade, blankets, chairs, a table.  Coolers with water, beer (it IS the beach), veggies, fruit, sandwiches.  Surfboards, boogie boards, towels, sand toys, a volleyball, a frisbee, a football.  All out is great if you have lots of people to carry the stuff.

"Bare bones" is a towel for each person, a bottle of water, a bucket and a shovel, a boogie board, sunscreen and a hat.

We tend to go in the middle with towels AND a blanket, one chair, one umbrella, sand toys and boogie board.  It's usually two trips, but the problem here is: food and drinks. We inevitably go from 10 to 12:30, and then it's lunch time.  And everyone is hungry.  Problem with packing food?  I have to do it.  So sometimes we just plan to eat out as a treat, but most of the time it's a last minute eating out.  Then it's a habit, and it's not a "treat" anymore.

But packing food inevitably falls to me, and I try to pick things that people like.  That won't get covered in sand.  And will stay cool (but that requires a cooler, another thing to carry).  Sometimes I pack simple snacks to tide us over.  Sometimes full on sandwiches.  But it seems that everyone is unhappy with that.  I guess I need to get a thick skin about it.

3.  Prepared food.  If you find yourself out and desperate for food, compromise.  Or if it's Friday night and you REALLY don't want to cook.  This is where the prepared food aisle is your friend, or the salad bar at the grocery store.  Sure it's better to make your own pizza, but a $5 pizza is cheaper.  If you are going home, microwaved mac and cheese is fine.  If you aren't and need to buy cold food, some crackers and cheese, fruit, salami, baby carrots - these can be a meal and they will be a lot cheaper than a meal out.

4.  Eat what you buy, buy what you eat, and don't shop.  Don't give in to the "well, I'm here, I'll just grab..." (a soda, a bottle of water, a bag of chips). I found myself coveting many things at Kmart yesterday, but really, I had veggies and hummus in my fridge at work.  So I didn't buy anything.

I know these seem obvious, and silly.  And only a few bucks at a pop.  But it's the HABITS we are forming here.  And like any habit, they are hard to adopt, and conversely, so easy to lose!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Soup, and Veggies, and Work, and Keeping it Simple

I'm pretty sure we all have a certain capacity to get things done.

I wonder if it's constant or if it ebbs and flows.  I think it probably changes.  For example: I've been so busy with other things that I have neglected the blog.  I have mentally written many updates, that have never actually made it to paper.

As many of my fair readers know, I've been working hard over the last year or two to lose the 2nd baby weight.  My baby is 2 yrs 3 months.

It's ebbed and flowed. I got pretty good at losing the same 15 pounds 3 times, but work and life stresses seemed to get in the way.

Well, I'm not sure what my personal capacity is right now.  Here are the big things on my plate:
1.  Two kids (8 and 2)
2.  Full time job
3.  co_VP of fundraising for school PTA
4.  Regular exercise (daily) for health and weight loss
5.  Weight loss (attempting to lose 15 to 20 more pounds).  This requires daily calorie counting and measuring.
6.  Food prep and cooking.  I am the main cook in the house, so I do the grocery shopping, meal planning, lunch packing, etc.

So my challenges on the food front are many -
When I am in weight loss mode, I eat a lot of vegetables.  Think about 4 cups a day.  A typical day would be 5 small meals.
Meal #2: a cup of raw veggies with hummus or dip
Meal #3 (lunch): salad with two to three cups of lettuce and some veggies (and hard boiled eggs)
Meal #4: leftover cooked vegetables from the prior night, or more raw veggies
Meal #5 (dinner): a steamed or sauteed veggie or veggie soup of some kind.

It is a lot of work to prep all those vegetables. I  have taken to prepping 5 baggies of vegetables on Sunday, so I can grab and go for my lunch.  Still, each night I spend 20 minutes (if not more), packing for the next day.

On top of that, my meals are somewhat uninspired.  When you are focused so much on weight loss and calorie counting, it's hard to muster the energy for new recipes or fun meals.

Next, of course, is the CSA.  I do not like to waste food, so when we get our weekly ration, I have to figure out what to do with it.  This is where the soup comes in.  I have the following soups in my freezer due to the CSA:

minestrone
carrot ginger
roasted tomato and pepper
chard and potato

And next up this weekend: butternut squash soup.

If only it weren't 80-95 degrees right now, I could ENJOY the soup.

Of course this week's CSA is rather uninspiring for me:
spaghetti squash - don't much care for it, and of course, it's not a "soup" or "crudite" vegetable.
fennel - I just don't like fennel
cherry tomatoes - don't care for these either, so I always roast them
chard - I don't like chard, and I don't feel like making MORE chard and potato soup
eggplant - I like eggplant, but I have a pound of teeny tiny eggplant, so that is a lot of work
green beans - not a soup or crudite, but easy to saute or steam.  Of course, I have 2 pounds to clean and trim.
pomegranates - sigh.  Great on salads, but a PITA

What does this all mean?  Well, it means double duty cooking:
spaghetti squash, fennel, and cherry tomatoes: some sort of Italian dish with meatballs
butternut squash: soup (these are from the last 2 weeks of the CSA)
chard: I guess maybe I'll make bean burritos and hide it in there.  So I have to make refried beans.
eggplant: caponata
pomegranates: sigh
lettuce: two heads to wash
raw veggies: as usual, I have to make up five big bags of veggies
Other: of course I have to buy other veggies (for my raw veggies and for other dinners).  This week, I actually ran out.

It also means that I don't have the energy for much else.  So much of my time is filled with just "getting by" cooking wise - both making sure I use the CSA and making sure I have prepped everything in a timely (for dinner and lunch) manner, that there isn't much time for fun cooking.

And of course, there's the weight loss.  Unfortunately at my age and activity level, I can only really have 1200-1500 calories a day and still lose weight.  That means careful weighing, measuring, and planning.  If I cook something new, I have to figure out how to count it!

Activity wise, I exercise 30-45 minutes most days: swimming, DVDs at home (21 Day Fix, PiYo, P90X).  I usually walk on my lunch break most days also (30 minutes).  Weekends I generally get a walk in on at least one day, usually 3-4 miles.

At 1200-1500 calories a day, every calorie counts.  Right now I'm carb cycling using Chris Powell's plan.  It's similar to the "21 Day Fix" plan, but with a rearrangement of what you eat on what days.  I don't think there is anything magic about the 21DF containers, except they are portion controlled and well balanced with respect to fats, protein, and carbohydrate.  Whether you carb cycle, use the 21DF containers, use Weight Watchers, or simply count calories, they can all be effective - the answer comes down to your own physiology and your own psychology.  Carb cycling is working for me right now because I get a "cheat day" where I don't have to think about it.  That may change.  It's important to note that it's working very slowly, and it's painful - all this planning, and I'm STILL hungry.  I go to bed hungry, wake up hungry, and swim hungry until it turns into a massive headache.

Ugh.

Well, currently I am down 17 pounds from this time last year.  2 pounds above my recent minimum, which was in May.  151 in case you were wondering. :)  My coworkers ask me if it's worth all of the pain and suffering?  I don't really know.  Ask me if I get to my goal.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Some Follow-up on The Pyramid and vacation review

Wow, some great comments on my last post!  Just some notes:

I do not mean to bash grains. I love grains.  I think whole grains are a healthy food. I don't even think white bread is going to kill you.  Millions of Frenchmen and women (who eat croissants), can't be wrong, right?  I think most foods belong in a healthy diet (in moderation), but we have to figure out what "in moderation" is?  (Note: it's probably not daily.)

In fact, one of my favorite recent reads is The Blue Zones that chronicles the diet and lifestyle of the areas of the world with the most centenarians.  Several of the areas eat whole grains.  Corn tortillas, brown rice.

You will probably never see me go full-on Paleo or Primal because I love grains and beans.  I've been very nearly vegetarian on many occasions. I have a shelf full of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks.

The issue I have is the Food Pyramid, and it's specification that we eat 6 servings (6-11 actually) of grains per day.  Prior to it's release, we had "Basic 4".  Well, for the last 20+ years, that's what I've based by eating habits around.  Okay, to be honest, I didn't think much about what I ate until I woke up one day at 31 weighing 182 pounds.  But that year, 2002, I put a lot of effort into losing weight via Weight Watchers, and have done really well maintaining that weight loss since.  (With two excursions due to having babies.)

Over the years I've "control-checked" my diet with weight watchers, a dietitian, my fitness pal. or the USDA website,  The thing they have in common is the Food Pyramid.

When I was younger, it was  no problem.
When I was nearing 40 and training for races (half marathons), it was no problem.
When I had a baby at 42, and had a couple of years of lack of sleep, plus stress (layoffs at work), plus injuries (cannot do high impact exercise anymore) = problem.

I'm coming to terms with the fact that I cannot eat that much grain anymore, and still lose weight.  I am  not giving up grain - still eating 2 servings per day - generally a piece of toast for breakfast and perhaps 1/2 c. rice or quinoa for dinner, or maybe crackers in my soup.

What I find interesting about the whole thing is how personal it becomes.  Some people never have a weight problem, and I find it's hard for them to understand.  Several years ago I read Refuse to Regain by Dr. Barbara Berkeley (an obesity doctor).  One thing that she has learned in  her work is that people who are FOW (formerly overweight) metabolize food differently than people who were NOW (never overweight).  Particularly carbs.  So her recommendation for people to maintain their weight loss is to restrict carbohydrates. If you've been overweight, your body stores them more efficiently - you permanently changed how your body works.  (Depressing, huh?)

When I read the book I was happily maintaining my weight loss (this is pre baby#2), so I figured that I was never hugely obese, so I didn't need to restrict carbs like that.  I had some inklings however - I had one friend who I walked a lot with on weekends.  When she was about 62 I noted how trim she'd always been.  She said "I don't really eat that many carbs".  She has oatmeal for breakfast and maybe the occasional bit of rice or potato for dinner.

Just last year I attended a women's retreat run by a personal chef and a personal trainer.  The chef, who is 60, said "well once you are over 40, if you want to maintain a healthy weight, you cannot eat more than X number of carbs per day" (I wrote it down, but do not remember the number.)  I ignored her, of course, because - Food Pyramid.

I have been very resistant to the idea of restricting carbs - but in reality, I'm not really "restricting". I still eat 2 cups of fruit per day.  Yogurt.  Lots of vegetables.  Beans several times per week.  Grains and/or potatoes 2 times a day.  I've just now started to realize that 6 servings a day, at my exercise level and age, is not doable.  And I've also found out that 6 servings a day is a MADE UP NUMBER BASED ON NO SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE.

Okay, on to the camping review.  We camped 2 nights nearby - El Capitan SB.  We booked in June and there was literally ONE site available.  Man, we got a GREAT one!  One neighbor, lots of shade, lots of space for the kids to run, not TOO close to the RR tracks (but let's face it, the whole campground is near the RR tracks), not near the ocean/cliffs/creek/roads (I have a toddler).

The kids had a great time sleeping in the tent (though the 2 year old slept with me a LOT), eating at a picnic table, and playing at the beach and in the waves.  We used our  new campstove that heats water for coffee WAY faster.

And the big hits foodwise?  Nachos (tortilla chips, shredded cheese, and canned chili on top, with guacamole), and hard boiled eggs.  We ran out of eggs.

Beach

Campstove

Zucchini bread and instant coffee

Our picnic basket which is GREAT for camping

Inside of the basket

The tent

Ahhh





Saturday, August 23, 2014

What to Eat (a brief review) and The Food Pyramid of 1992 - How it Probably F*cked Up My Life

Very deep title there, eh?  Not my usual stuff.

Well the vacation went fairly well.  We didn't sleep that much (it's hard to get the little guy to sleep in a hotel room).  We had fun at Legoland, the Water Park at Legoland, Manhattan Beach, and the California Science Center (got to see the Space Shuttle Endeavor).

Vacation, to me, has always meant reading books.  I love to read.  So does my husband (our dating life was dinner out and then a bookstore, almost every week).  So I took three books with me on the trip (I was reading four at once).  This time around, they were all non-fiction:

Simple Food for the Good Life - Helen Nearing
Death by Food Pyramid - Denise Minger
What to Eat - Luise Light

I bought Death by Food Pyramid on my Kindle, and was in the early stages of it when she mentioned What to Eat.  So I decided to order What to Eat on Amazon (used, for $1.00, plus shipping).

That book was eye-opening, to say the least. She has 10 simple rules for how to eat healthy.  They make so much sense!  And they would have been really helpful in 2006 (when the book came out).

The single biggest thing that I got out of this whole book is this: Luise Light was the nutritionist in charge of creating the USDA Food Pyramid in the late 1980s.  She had a team of experts collecting data, reading the literature, studying results of tests comparing dietary factors and disease.  She was very proud to submit her recommendations to the USDA.

And then...what came back bore little resemblance to her pyramid.  So the experts did their due diligence, made their recommendations, and politics changed the food pyramid in response to industry pressures.

I am so disillusioned.  Why, you ask?  Well.  The Food Pyramid came out when I was in my early 20's.  It's been a HUGE part of my life - HUGE as I've been interested in health and fitness.  And I have struggled with my weight. I have lost weight on Weight Watchers and by using a variety of other plans.  Most of which were based on the food pyramid.  Every dietitian I have worked with, or have read, discusses the food pyramid (low fat/ high carb).  Lots of whole grains, low-fat cheese, skim milk, you get the picture.

In the last year or so, I've found alternative eating plans that have called for a major reduction in carbs.  (For example: Primal Blueprint, 21-day fix).  And while I followed them, or tried to, in the back of my mind I always thought "but 2-3 servings of carbs a day is NOT sustainable, the Food Pyramid/ USDA recommends 6!  Eating vegetarian/ high carb is better for the planet, better for your health."

And it was all a LIE!  The original food pyramid submitted to the USDA?  2-4 servings of WHOLE GRAINS per day.  TWO (for most women, more for men and teenagers). In addition, the dairy recommendation was only 1-2 servings.  Is it any wonder that I have a problem losing and maintaining weight?  All of those people who eat "low carb" were pretty much right.  I thought it was a fad - but really 2 servings of grain a day is a LOT closer to the Paleo/ Primal/ Low carb lifestyle than it is to the USDA recommendations of SIX servings.

So for fun, I went to the USDA website CHOOSE MY PLATE and put in my age, sex, and weight and said "I want to lose weight".  It recommended a reasonable 1500 calories per day.  Commercial programs recommend 1200 to 1400.  It also recommended SIX servings of grain, THREE servings of dairy, etc.  I decided to use the Supertracker to simulate a basic day's eating plan based on their minimum recommendations.  What did I get?  2000 calories!  Despite their recommendation of 1500 calories a day, if I eat six grains, three dairy servings, etc., I end up with almost 2000 calories.  Is it any wonder I am fat?

So I played around with Supertracker and here is what I found:

Using the USDA recommendations 1951 calories - probably won't make me fat, but no wiggle room for anything extra.


Cutting grains down to 2-3 servings per day 1707 calories.  Still probably not enough for weight loss.


Cutting grains down to 2-3 servings and dairy down to 1 to 2, 1458 calories.


And here was my actual intake for this particular day, 1455 calories.

So right now, this very moment, I am in mourning for my grains.  I am trying to come to terms with 2 servings a day.  At least Luise Light is a little bit easier than the 21 Day Fix.  21DF lumps beans/ legumes/ peas and potatoes in with carbohydrates.  Luise Light allows for potatoes as a vegetable and beans as a vegetable or a protein.

How do you adjust?  No more sandwiches!  I mean, a single sandwich is both  my grain servings for that day.  What about a burrito?  Yep, a burrito with rice would put me over.  And pizza!  Well, I guess pizza is an occasional food anyway. What is guacamole without chips?  Bruschetta without the bread? I've been trying to focus on what I SHOULD eat, not what I SHOULDN'T eat.  It's going to be a challenge, that's all I can say.  And from a "frugal cooking" standpoint, even more so.  Grains are cheap.

Even now, when I google "How Much Grain Should I Eat?" the first many many pages are based on the USDA recommendations. :(

How much grain do you eat?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Vacation Packing

Am I one of the few crazy people who packs food for vacations?  And I mean real food, not just snacks or sandwiches.  Well, The Prudent Homemaker does - check out her blog for her recent summary of their road trip to a wedding.

A friend of mine gave me a revelation when she mentioned she pre-cooked food for a camping trip.  I tend to take easy-to-cook things for camping.  And I pre-cook food on the weekend.  Why did this not occur to me?

So we are headed out on a road trip (about 4 hours away), and I have been busy prepping food.  Now, why would I do that?  Isn't eating out part of vacation?  I would say, most certainly, yes.  But things have changed over the last few years:

1.  I have a toddler.  It is not fun to eat out with a toddler who cannot sit still.  Age 2 to 4?  Not fun.
2.  I have an 8 year old.  He's a fan of McDonald's, Chik-fil-a, Chipotle, but doesn't like "fancy food" because it "makes him sick".  (i.e., he doesn't have the patience to sit an order a meal and wait for it.)
3.  I have two kids.  I hate to repeat myself, but eating out with them is not fun.  They want their food NOW.  And it's expensive.
4.  I have a weight problem.  Generally food that you eat out is not as healthy as you could make yourself.
5.  Eating out is expensive.

So we are going out of town for four days.  The first two nights we are in a nice hotel with a microwave and a mini-fridge.  We get free breakfast.   The second two nights we are in a hotel with a fridge.  No microwave.  Husband upgraded for $10/day total for four breakfasts.

Here's the general plan, I tried not to overdo it.

I packed enough sandwiches, eggs, bread, fruit and veg for two lunches.
I packed spaghetti and meatballs for one dinner (out of 4). Depending on timing, we can probably grab dinner at a grocery store.

Generally, I could probably plan to pack enough food for lunch and dinner all four days, but my family would probably protest.  And it's my vacation too - I don't relish washing dishes in hotel bathroom sink.  So I opted for about 1/3 of the meals either already packed or purchased at a grocery store, 1/3 will be free breakfast, 1/3 out.

This is just a sampling of what we have in store:


Saturday, July 19, 2014

More Crockpot Meals and 3-day Refresh Results

It's SUMMER!  Well, it's been summer for awhile.  And I live in So Cal, so it's always warm.  But summer to me means tomatoes and cucumbers, delicious salads.  Grilling outdoors.  Well, not so much on the grilling.  I don't really know how to grill. I should learn though.

So this past week, on recommendation from my coworker, I tried the Beachbody 3-day Refresh.  Since the layoff in April, I'd lost my mojo.  Not only did my weight loss stall, but due to stress and lack of sleep, I gained back 8 of the 18 pounds that I've lost this year.  My coworker tried the refresh and enjoyed it.

So two weeks ago, I got PiYo in the mail for my birthday.  It's a pilates-yoga inspired workout that is no impact but really really hard.  So the first week of PiYo (which I did even though I hurt my knee twice in two weeks boogie boarding with the kids) was great and hard, and I lost 1.2 lbs with the workouts and recommitting to my diet.  I decided to start the 3-day Refresh cleanse on a Monday, figuring it would be easier to do it during a work week.  Plus, Sunday was my anniversary, and we enjoyed lunch at the beach with the boys (18 years!)
View during our anniversary lunch

Well, the results were stellar.  I lost 5 lbs in 3 days, including an inch on my waist.  I hope it stays off (it did for my friend).  The Refresh is not cheap - but it was pretty easy to follow.  Here's a summary of what it is:

First of all, half your weight in ounces of water. Start the day with water first thing.
Also, keep workouts light to moderate.  I did 15 minutes of PiYo and 30 minutes of walking on day 1, and walking on Day 2 and Day 3.

Breakfast: Shakeology with fruit
Morning snack: green tea with stevia (there is NO COFFEE on this Refresh, so I started cutting back 5 days in advance.  Of course, I'm back on the coffee.  More on that later.)
Morning fiber drink
Lunch: a vanilla protein shake, a vegetable, a fat
Snack: a vegetable, a fat
Dinner: a protein shake, veggie broth with herbs, 3 vegetable servings, 1/2 fat

It's like a cleanse but with food.  It is very low calorie, and it's vegan.  I generally felt hungry right before lunch each day, but I did feel energized, even on little sleep.  I am at least back to 16 lbs down.  I really enjoyed the veggie broth, and plan to have that with dinner more often.  Also, it's very heavy on veggies, and it's easy to get away from that because of the amount of work involved.

The idea is to use it to bust through a plateau, or get back on track after a bad spell, etc.  Well, my eating went to crap right after.  So I hope I can get back on track again.  The final night, Wednesday, my 2 year old came home with a fever.  That night I went to my quilting potluck (and didn't eat).  Since Wednesday his fever has flared about every 12 hours.  So I've been awake a lot.  Tuesday morning from 3:30 to 5:30 am.  Thurs from 1:30 to 3 am.  Friday from 1:30 to 2:30 am.  Friday night from 10:45 to 11:45 and again from 2:00 to 3:00.

Plus my husband had a busy work week so I took one for the team.  Meaning I took two days off work, but tried to work during nap time.  Do you know how hard it is to be at home full time with a toddler who is sick but energetic?  Well, it's impossible.  For one thing, he wants your constant attention, compared to normal when he can play independently for maybe 30 minutes.  Next, he's sick with an as-yet-unknown illness.  Roseola?  Hand-foot-mouth?  Something else?  So you can't exactly take him to the park or the library.  Or at least, you shouldn't.  Because that's shitty to other parents out there.  And except for the midday fever, he's still his energetic old self.  And the fever means he doesn't nap long, and of course there is the nighttime wakeups.  Did I mention my husband came home late  yesterday?  And that he went out for a beer with the neighbor (totally deserved, don't get me wrong), and toddler woke up then?

Ugh.  Anyway, with those parameters it's really really hard to do anything, much less eat anything, much less keep to a reasonable diet.  And of course I have almost no PTO left.  Somehow I think when we come back from our August vacation I will have 14 hours (HOURS) of PTO and my husband will have 250.

On the plus side, I cooked dinner both nights and did the grocery shopping, because I was home.  The second night I didn't cook until late because I was waiting for the husband, who didn't materialize until very late because of the last minute project.

First night: baked chicken tenders with Tuscan herbs.  Bruschetta with fresh tomatoes, and steamed veggies.  (I got really used to the steamed veggies on the 3-day refresh).  I'm still not great with the chicken tenders.  They were dry and overcooked.


Second night: stir fried onions and peppers with the leftover chicken, leftover veggies, and cooked flageolet beans.  And corn on the cob.  Which took an hour to husk.  5 ears.  No pictures, but got two thumbs up from the hubby.  Kiddos aren't eating much these days.  The corn was delish, on sale for $1 for 5 ears.

Anyway, on to the meal plan and the use of the crockpot, because I suck at grilling:
Saturday: chicken tenders and TJ's Island Soyaki in the crockpot, with brown rice (pressure cooker recipe) and sauteed snow peas (leftover from Refresh) and broccoli.

Sunday: tri-tip with beans, peppers, onions, and salsa in the crockpot, with kale chips, leftover rice, and guacamole.

The rest of the weekly meals include:
sandwiches.  It's hot.  I bought turkey.
salads.  See above.  I have lettuce and radishes.
beet salad with feta
roasted vegetables.  My niece in SC is a monster - you should check out her blog - she's lost a ton of weight and is training for a fitness competition.  She's in the early phase of being a total cheerleader and a "no excuses" kind of attitude, and I totally remember being the same way.  When I was her age anyway.  Now I'm 44, with too many injuries to count, and not enough sleep. So. There's that.  Anyway, Sunday is her meal prep day and her instagram last week had three large trays of veggies roasting, so I bought cauliflower and broccoli to roast this week.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Fast and Easy Meal for a busy day - crock pot! And, vacation budget.

So, I took a day off work this week to take the family to the water park.  We got sunburned.  (Sunscreen washed off, and you know that white stripe you get from your flip flops on your feet?  Yeah, mine's red now.  So our 4th?  Not going to the beach.  Even though the water is supposedly SO WARM this year.)

Before we left, I decided to throw some food in the crock pot.  I had these raw chicken tenders in the freezer from Trader Joe's.  I found a great recipe for sesame honey chicken. But decided it would be MUCH easier to just use the TJ's Island Soyaki.  So, two ingredients: chicken, and TJ's sauce (which, you know, is made of a bunch of ingredients.  I realize this.)

Cook on low all day.  Now, with small tenders, they got overcooked.  But they were tasty (bone in or dark meat or larger pieces would be better).

When we got home, late, I got out the rice cooker.  But our rice cooker, and brown rice = 1.5 hours.  Instead, I pulled out my trusty Pressure Cooker cookbook from Lorna Sass.  I toasted up the rice, added water, salt, and voila!  45 minutes later (including heat up and cool down) rice is done.  Simple steamed broccoli finished the meal.  The boys were SO HUNGRY they mowed through it, including the toddler - he was mostly into the rice and broccoli, opposite of normal for my little meat lover.

The total cost for the water park was about $100 for 5 people (we took a friend).  Entry into the water park was $12/person, plus $10 for parking = $70.  We picked up sandwiches on the way, took bottled water and snacks - that was about $30.  It's a fairly pricey day.

As far as vacation days though, it's not too bad.  I used to be a lover of great vacations - Hawaii was my friend!  But with kids, it's different.  I read recently that mothers don't take vacations, they take trips.  So true.

When it comes to vacations, I now try to substitute cheaper options.  I love Hawaii - why?  Pool, beach, tropics.  How do I get that cheaper?  Go to the beach at home, in the summer.  Water park will take the place of the pool.  Or perhaps take a vacation to San Diego - save yourself the $800/person airfare.

So the water park is a substitute for Disneyland or Hawaii, not a regular thing.  Hiking or the zoo is a substitute for day trips to the water park...a slow decrease in the expense of the vacations.  As opposed to pre-kid days, when they get pricier and pricier!