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Tips for Saving Money on Food

No matter what our budget looks like, food is always a part of it. You have to eat, right? There are many thoughts on the best way to save on food. These are the things that work for me.

Eat at home

This one is probably the most important. If you eat out, regardless of whether it’s a dine-in or fast food restaurant, you are going to spend more than if you cook and eat at home. It’s fine to splurge once in a while, but if you’re looking to save, eating at home gives you the most bang for your buck.

Buy mostly ingredients

Prepackaged foods are sometimes quicker, but they are usually more expensive per serving. If it’s a choice between eating out and eating convenience foods from the grocery, it’s still usually cheaper than eating out, so if it’s a choice between KFC or a deli rotisserie chicken, bagged salad and prepackaged dinner rolls, the deli chicken is probably the cheaper and healthier option.

There are some convenience items that I find helpful, especially when life gets hectic. Jarred sauces, bouillon and frozen potatoes in various forms are things that I like to have on hand to help me get a meal on the table quickly. When there’s not time to make the sauce from scratch or I don’t have homemade broth on hand those can make it easy to still throw something together. They’re also usually fairly inexpensive, so I feel they are budget friendly convenience choices.

Buy in bulk where it makes sense

Don’t buy a ton of perishables like fresh fruit just because it’s on sale. If you have time to prep and freeze or can the fruit, then go for it. Things like canned goods, freezer staples and shelf stable items are great for buying in bulk, if you have the room. We have a small chest freezer, so I’m able to buy fruit on sale to freeze for smoothies or desserts and an extra ham or turkey when they are on sale for under $1 per pound around the holidays.

I also buy basmati rice in 20 lb bags because we prefer it over other types of rice and it is so much cheaper that way. To keep it fresh and manageable, I keep a small container of it in the cupboard and the rest goes into the freezer.

Shop creatively

It’s easy to have one or two grocery stores or box stores where you do all of your shopping. If you have farmer’s markets, discount groceries or ethnic groceries in your area, you may find better deals on some items.

For starters, if you have an Aldi nearby and haven’t given them a try, please do. I’ve found them to have a good selection of staples and they have a good guarantee on everything they sell. You won’t find many name-brands at Aldi, but with their guarantee, it’s worth trying and seeing if you like their store brands. They also carry a lot of gluten-free options, as well as dairy-free milk alternatives and a dairy-free mozarella cheese.

I also frequently shop a local Vietnamese grocery store. They have tons of fresh greens and other produce at really good prices. I also get a lot of specialty items, like things for making pho or sushi for sometimes half the cost or less of what I would pay at Kroger or Walmart. Bulk spices and rice are also cheaper there. For gluten-free pasta, rice noodles from there are cheaper than gluten-free options from Kroger and Walmart.

Find a method of meal planning that works for you.

Some people do really well with having every meal, every day planned out to every last detail. I prefer something more flexible that allows for changes based on last minute plans or whatever is on sale that week or whatever leftovers we need to eat. Regardless of the type of meal planner you are, have some sort of game plan in place.

Meal planning is one area where I need to improve, but I do have a basic game plan for meals that I’ll post on at a later date.

While you’re planning, don’t forget lunch. Leftovers are quick and easy lunches, so if you’re planning a dinner that reheats well, make enough for lunch the next day.

Keep staples for one or two quick meals on hand always

This is important in case you forget to plan, or something doesn’t work out with your plan. Whether it’s spaghetti and premade sauce, eggs, fruit and toast or some other meal you can throw together in under thirty minutes, keep the ingredients on hand for one or two backups that you like. Having a backup option makes it easier to eat at home when you might otherwise be tempted to eat out.

Eat real food

If you have to change your eating habits due to health or personal beliefs, it’s easy to try to substitute faux or “free” foods tailored to that diet. Price-wise though, it’s better to adapt your diet with real foods. Rather than faux meat burgers, try grilling portobello mushrooms or making your own patties with chickpeas. Instead of gluten free pasta, substitute rice or potatoes. Instead of diet drinks, flavor water, tea or soda water with fruit.

If you’re really craving cheese and you’re dairy free or bread and you’re gluten free, go ahead and splurge on the dairy or gluten free options. If you’re on a plant-based diet but desperately want something like a real burger, go for one of the faux meat patties. Just try to keep those splurges to a minimum and you’ll save money.

Find recipes for soups, stews and beans that you like

Soups, stews and beans are usually cheap, filling and can be a one pot meal. Having a few recipes you like and keeping the ingredients on hand can really help save money on food. They also are easy to make in bulk and usually freeze well, so making a bunch and having it for lunch or in the freezer for nights that dinner plans don’t work out helps prevent eating out. I love crock pots or pressure cookers for making soups and stews. It’s absolutely not necessary to run out and buy a slow cooker or pressure cooker, but if it’s something you’ve been considering, I love my electric pressure cooker for so many things.

Saving money on food.
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Tips for Going Gluten Free on a Budget

Many people eat gluten free (g-free), either by choice or need. For those with celiac, eliminating gluten is an absolute necessity. Others find that, for one reason or another, they feel better when they avoid it. In my case, I kind of accidentally discovered that joint pain in my hands and feet go away and I’m less brain foggy when I avoid gluten. Other family members suffer from breakouts and rashes that flare whenever they eat something with gluten. I strongly believe that if you feel bad after eating something, you should probably stop eating it, so we do our best to avoid gluten all together.

Eliminating something that is such a big part of your diet is daunting at first, but there are a few things that can make the transition easier and less expensive. These tips focus on gluten, but many will also help if you need to eliminate other foods.

Start with real foods

Processed foods often have hidden fillers and ingredients, and specialty gluten free foods are expensive. In contrast, fruits, vegetables, meat, nuts, beans, eggs and dairy are naturally gluten free in their pure forms. Rice is a grain that does not contain gluten. Starting from scratch with real food ingredients that you know naturally don’t have gluten is often easier and definitely cheaper than scrutinizing food labels and buying special gluten free versions of normally wheat based foods.

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Go simple with seasonings

For the most part, single herbs and spices are gluten free. Certain spice blends may have gluten, though. Making your own blends is the safest bet, but if you have a spice blend you love, most manufacturer websites list whether their products contain gluten.

While not technically an herb or spice, most soy sauce contains gluten. La Choy is a major brand that is made without gluten. Bragg’s liquid aminos are another form of g-free soy sauce.

Most vinegar is g-free. Malt vinegar is not. You’ll also want to check the label on flavored vinegar to be sure.

Cooking oils don’t have gluten unless seasoned with something containing gluten.

Find your current gluten free staples

Look at the foods that currently stock your pantry. What things that you buy are already gluten free? For us, we usually keep a box or two of cereal around for snacking or a quick breakfast. Most cereals are made with wheat and therefore have gluten, but some that we already bought, like Honey Nut Cheerios, Lucky Charms and Rice Chex are gluten free. Knowing that, I can continue to keep a box or two of cereal we already liked on hand.

Likewise, we keep tortilla chips on hand for snacking or nachos. Most tortilla chips don’t have gluten and inexpensive. Since gluten free crackers are both hard to find and usually expensive, tortilla chips are an easy cracker substitute as well.

Look for the easy substitute

Like substituting tortilla chips for crackers, there are other easy swaps. Corn tortillas usually don’t have gluten and can be substituted for flour tortillas. Rice is often a good substitute for pasta, or substitute rice noodles. If you have an Asian grocery nearby, you can usually find rice noodles there for cheaper than a mainstream supermarket, as well as leafy greens and spices for cheap.

Make it yourself

It’s fairly easy to find gluten-free flour now, so making your own gluten free cookies, pizza crusts, pancakes, breads, etc. is a good option. I love Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 gluten free flour. With it, I can continue to make my favorite deserts just by substituting it for wheat flour. There are other good gluten free flours on the market, too. The most important thing is to know if it is blended to be an exact 1 to 1 substitute or if you need to add something like xanthan gum to give it the stretchiness and rise that you usually get from gluten. For example, Bob’s Red Mill has an All Purpose Gluten Free Flour that is not the 1 to 1 blend. It is a little denser and does not have xanthan gum already blended. I like blending it with tapioca flour, which adds some stretchiness. That works well for things like gluten free flour tortillas. For things that need to rise, though, like cakes or breads, I also add xanthan gum if I’m using the all purpose and not the 1 to 1 blend.

When buying gluten free, shop around

Sometimes you really just want to get some gluten free penne pasta or a g-free bagel. More and more grocery stores regularly stock g-free pastas, breads and desserts, but they can be pricey. If you find them on sale, stock up and freeze the extras. Alternative grocery stores sometimes offer better prices, too. Aldi has a decent selection of g-free breads, pastas, and baking mixes at a lower price than most other stores. I even found some gluten free donuts there recently.

Locally, we have a surplus/discount/closeout grocery store called Town Talk. They frequently have udi’s bread in the range of two loaves for $3.00. I periodically stop in and stock up when I can.

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Tips for going gluten free

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Easy Instant Pot Chicken and Vegetable Quinoa

Just because you might be at home more doesn’t mean you have more time to cook. Whether you’re working from home, helping virtual learners or homeschooling, it’s likely you’re just as busy as ever. I love using my electric pressure cooker for busy days. It’s like having someone cooking in the kitchen while I work on the million of other things needing done. 

One of my favorite fast recipes is chicken and vegetable quinoa. It takes minutes to prepare, is super healthy and cooks fast, so it’s perfect for busy days. The basic recipe is really easy to customize, so it’s a good meal to use up odds and ends from the fridge.

Customizing your quinoa

  • Try it with beef, sausage, tofu, beans, eggs or skip the protein and add more vegetables. If you have leftover chicken, shred it and use it instead of raw chicken breasts.
  • If you have time to chop vegetables, clean out the produce drawer and use whatever you have on hand. Use up those veggies before they go bad!
  • Kale is another nice addition. Throw it on top before pressure cooking and stir it in at the end. Since it’s a hardier green, it holds up well to pressure cooking.
  • Change up the flavor by adding soy sauce, hot sauce or your favorite seasonings. For a mild dish, I like using poultry seasoning.
  • Don’t like quinoa? Use rice and adjust the cooking time based on your pressure cooker’s recommendations.

It’s easy to pack for lunches or take on picnics, too.

Chicken and vegetable quinoa

Instant Pot Chicken and Vegetable Quinoa

Instant Pot Chicken and Vegetable Quinoa is a quick, last minute dish that is great hot or cold. Customize it by swapping out the protein or vegetables depending on what you have on hand.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time1 min
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Servings: 6 people
Author: Charity

Equipment

  • Electric pressure cooker, such as an Instant Pot

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp oil olive oil, coconut oil or preferred cooking oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 cup chicken breast, cut into bite sized pieces Could also use pre-cooked, shredded chicken
  • 1 cup frozen mixed vegetables
  • 2 cups quinoa
  • 2 cups chicken broth or water
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Turn the pressure cooker to "Saute" and add oil.
  • Add the onion and chicken if you are not using pre-cooked chicken.
  • Saute until the onion is translucent and chicken is browned.
    Sauteing Chicken and Onion
  • Press "Cancel" to stop sauteing.
  • Add broth, quinoa and vegetables to pot and stir.
  • Add salt and pepper, if desired.
  • Lock the lid and set cooker to two minutes on high pressure.
  • Allow pressure to release naturally when done.
  • Fluff with fork and serve.

Notes

The great thing about this recipe is it is easy to customize. Try it with beef, sausage, tofu, or skip the protein and add more vegetables. If you have leftover chicken, shred it and use it instead of raw chicken breasts.
Clean out the veggie drawer and use whatever you have on hand.
Change up the flavor by adding soy sauce, hot sauce or your favorite seasonings.
It’s easy to pack for lunches or take on picnics, too.

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Simple Way to Patch the Back Pocket of Denim Jeans

The back pockets of denim jeans are prone to wearing out at the top corners with use. If that’s where you carry your phone or wallet, you’ll almost certainly develop holes at those stress points long before the rest of the jeans are worn out. Luckily, repairing a back pocket is a pretty simple fix.

Pocket with hole

These are my husband’s work jeans. You can see the inside corner of the right pocket has a small hole and another one is forming on the inside corner of the left pocket. These are the steps I used to repair and reinforce the pockets.

Choosing your patch material

The first thing you’ll want to do is add material to patch the hole. The material should extend past the edges of the hole, overlapping onto the good fabric by about a centimeter or so. I like to use the iron-on denim patches, but fusible webbing or strong interfacing works, too. This product is similar to the one I used. You can also just use a scrap of fabric a bit larger than the hole, but I prefer the added strength of an iron-on product. An iron-on product is also easier in that it won’t shift while you sew it in.

Iron-on patch
denim iron-on patch for pocket repair
Wrong side of iron-on patch

Securing the patch to the pocket

If you’re using an iron-on product, iron it on to cover the hole from the inside according to the manufacturer’s instructions. For sewn-in patches, baste in patch to keep it from shifting.

Ironed on patches
Patches ironed in place on the inside of the jeans.

Reinforce the patch

Regardless of whether you chose an iron-on or sew-in patch, you need to reinforce the patch by sewing a strong row of stitches around the edges. For a less visible patch, I like to sew a square of stitching around the hole, making sure to include the corner of the pocket in the square. I sew over the square a few times to reinforce. Choosing a thread that matches the denim or is slightly darker makes the patch less noticeable.

Reinforcement stitching from the inside.

For the actual hole, I like to sew back and forth over the hole in a matching thread. This secures the area to the patch, hides the frayed edges and prevents further ripping.

For a more visible patch, you can get creative with the patch material and choose a contrasting thread. You can also crazy stitch over the area, similar to what I did here.

Preventing the problem

Whenever I patch one pocket rip, I take the time to reinforce all the corners with iron-on patches and a square of reinforced stitching. It doesn’t take much extra time, and keeps the rest of the corners from needing repair in the near future. You could even do this to new jeans as a preventative measure if you have this problem frequently.

Final result

Here’s the finished patches. I’m pretty satisfied with the results. The work isn’t that noticeable and matches the variations in blue on the rest of the jeans. It’s definitely better than holes that will continue to rip in a revealing location.

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Grocery Staples for Easy Last Minute Meals

Even the best meal planners have days where things don’t go according to plan. Fast food is convenient, but usually more expensive and less healthy than what you can make at home. If you have any dietary restrictions, eating out safely can be extra challenging. For those nights, I like to keep a few staples on hand that make it easy to make a last minute meal that’s healthy and frugal.

Here’s my list of grocery staples I like to keep on hand for last minute meals, along with ideas for how to use them. Depending on your tastes, you may not find everything I use helpful. Since we eat gluten and dairy free, my list doesn’t include common staples like bread or cheese.

Grocery Staples for Last Minute Meals

Proteins

  • Flash Frozen Boneless, Skinless Chicken – I always have one or two bags of frozen chicken. Because they are individually frozen, it’s easy to separate out just what I need. The pieces don’t have to be thawed before cooking, so it’s perfect for a quick meal. I alternate between breasts, thighs and tenderloins.
  • Eggs – Eggs cook in minutes for when time is short.
  • Ground Beef – It’s easier to cook ground beef if it’s thawed, but it’s not impossible to cook it from frozen. I like using my electric pressure cooker if I need to cook it from frozen. Place it on a trivet, add about half of a cup of water to the pot and cook under high pressure for about 20 minutes. When it’s done, drain the water, remove the trivet and cook with the saute function with seasonings to remove excess moisture and finish it if it’s still a little pink in the middle.
  • Canned Beans – Dried beans are cheaper and don’t take that long with a pressure cooker, but sometimes you need something fast. Canned beans are a great plant-based protein for quick meals or for stretching left over meat in stews and chili.
  • Lentils – Dry lentils don’t have to be soaked and cook in about 20 minutes. I love this Coconut Lentil Curry from A Couple Cooks for a fast meal.

Vegetables

  • Frozen mixed vegetables – Perfect on their own as a side, or add to soups, rice dishes, scrambled eggs, curries, etc.
  • Onion – Sauteed onion adds lots of flavor to just about any meal.
  • Potatoes – Potatoes are great as an ingredient, a side or bake them and add toppings for a meal on their own.
  • Frozen greens – I like freezing chopped kale to add to soups and curries because it’s hardy and freezes well. Spinach or other greens work, too.

Grains

  • Rice – Nice to have as a side, with curry or stir-fry or to make a quick jambalaya or similar dish.
  • Quinoa – Cooks quickly in the pressure cooker and high in protein. Easy Instant Pot Chicken and Vegetable Quinoa is a quick quinoa based meal that is easy to customize and a great way to use up leftover meats and vegetables. You can also make it with rice with adjustments to the cooking time.
  • Pasta (I buy Aldi’s gluten free or Skinner brand gf at Kroger. ) – Cooks quickly and can be topped with a variety of sauces, tossed with sauteed vegetables and drizzled with olive oil or added to soups.
  • Tortillas or Taco Shells – These are especially handy because my kids love tacos. Putting anything in a taco shell increases the chances that they’ll eat it. Corn tortillas are also a cheap gluten free bread substitute.

Sauces and Seasonings

  • Simmer Sauces – These are the closest thing I use to hamburger helper. All you need is the sauce, a protein, a vegetable and rice for delicious last minute meals. Find a variety you like and turn it into an all in one meal if you have an electric pressure cooker if you’re super busy. This is one of my favorite places to use the frozen chicken. I cook it all together and cut up the chicken into bite sized pieces before serving. While it’s cooking in the pressure cooker, I’m free to catch up on housework or whatever else needs done.
  • Curry Paste – I love the flavor of curry, and adding curry paste to a dish is a way to add a ton of flavor.
  • Bouillon – Bouillon is another way to add flavor with little effort, or use it to make broth in a pinch.
  • Canned Coconut Milk – I can usually work around this ingredient with whatever milk or broth I have on hand, but I prefer it for curry.
  • Tomato Sauce and/or paste – Add to soup, stew or chili, or make a marinara sauce for pasta.
  • Salsa – serve as a condiment or add to chicken, ground beef or beans during cooking for flavor.
  • Commonly Used Herbs and Spices – My staples are salt, black pepper, chili powder, cayenne, cumin, basil, oregano, garlic powder, and poultry seasoning. There’s plenty of others I keep around as well, but those are the ones that I use almost daily.

Last Minute Meal Ideas

I’ve provided a few specific recipes above. Really, though, as long as I have one or two things from each category handy, I can combine them to come up with delicious last minute meals. Here’s a few more of my go-to combinations:

  • Season and oven bake the chicken. Serve with vegetables and rice.
  • Saute onion using whatever oil or butter I have available until translucent, then add chicken and a little broth. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through. Cut into bite sized pieces and add a spoonful of curry paste, vegetables and a can of coconut milk. Heat until the vegetables are done, being careful not to boil. Serve over rice.
  • Saute onion in a skillet and toss in a handful of frozen greens. Once the greens are thawed, add whisked eggs and scramble.
  • Brown ground beef (or pressure cook) add onion and cook until the onion is translucent. Add tomato sauce, basil, oregano, garlic and a little salt. If you like your sauce thicker, add some tomato paste. To cut the acidity, add a spoonful of brown sugar. Serve over pasta. You can also make it with chicken, canned white beans, or skip it and just have the sauce and pasta.
  • Pressure cook ground beef and season with salt, garlic powder, chili, cumin and cayenne. Make Mexican rice ( I use this recipe). Serve with canned black beans or refried beans and salsa. You can make tacos with the meat if you have tortillas or taco shells, or just have the meat on the side or atop the rice. Shredded lettuce, shredded cheese and diced onion all make it even yummier, but if you’re limited to what’s on hand, it’s still yummy without.

What are some of your favorite last minute meals? I’d love for you to share them in the comments.

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How to make powdered laundry detergent

Laundry Detergent

Laundry detergents have always been problematic for me. Certain brands irritate my skin, and I’ve never been able to pinpoint what ingredient is the problem. Even if I knew, most laundry detergents don’t exactly provide a list of ingredients I could check. Luckily, laundry detergent is easy to make. Doing it yourself not only allows you to control what ingredients are in your detergent, it also saves a ton of money.

My recipe uses four basic ingredients stocked by many supermarkets now, and one optional ingredient.

Ingredients:

  • 2 parts Borax
  • 2 parts Washing Soda
  • 1 part Grated Bar Soap
  • 0.25 part Baking Soda
  • Optional Fragrance Oil or Essential Oil  

Prep:

You’ll want a clean, dry, lidded container or bag to store your homemade laundry detergent. If the container isn’t air-tight, the detergent may clump from moisture in the air. Usually it’s easy to break it up, so this isn’t a big problem. If you don’t do laundry very often, though, you probably want to store it in something with a good seal.

The soap can be anything. Most people start out using a laundry soap like Fels Naptha. Once I started making my own soap, I switched to using whatever basic recipe soap I had on hand. You can grate it by hand with a cheese grater or with a shredding disk on a food processor. 

Make it:

Combine the first four ingredients in a large mixing bowl. If you’re not familiar with the “parts” measurement, it’s a simple way of making a recipe fit whatever amount you need by giving the amounts as a ratio instead of a specific measurement. You could substitute “cup” for “parts” if that makes it easier.  

Options:

Leave it unscented, use a scented bar of soap, or add your choice of fragrance or essential oil to the combined ingredients and stir to combine. I usually use about half an ounce of fragrance oil per batch. With essential oils, I usually start with 15 drops or so and see how it smells before adding any more. I’ve heard you could use your favorite cologne or perfume, but I haven’t personally tried it. 

Use it:

I use about two tablespoons per load in my top loading machine. You can use one tablespoon for lightly soiled loads, but with my family, every load is a two tablespoon load.

Laundry Detergent
DIY Powdered Laundry Detergent
DIY Laundry detergent

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Refashion a Camisole into a Tunic Tank Top

I have tons of clothes waiting for me to refashion them into something more wearable, but haven’t had much inspiration. Recently, though, I came across CreoleSha on Etsy. I love her flowy designs. Luckily, she offers classes on Teachable, so I took her free course on upcycling a sweatshirt or t-shirt into a tunic.

Refashion Camisole Tunic Tank 1
Almost forgot to take a before photo.

My refashion notes

It’s summer, so rather than use a sweatshirt, I started with a camisole tank that I didn’t wear much. I liked the color, but the fit was too loose to use for layering, and the skinny straps made it difficult to wear with a bra. By adapting the techniques in CreoleSha’s class, I turned it into a longer, flowing tank and then added a bit of cotton lace salvaged from an older refashion project to widen the straps.

The added material came from a t-shirt with a large logo on the front. I liked the color, but not the logo, so it was perfect and added some nice contrast.

Of course, pockets are always handy, so I added some patch pockets on the front.

Final result

It’s not perfect, but it’s something I’m more comfortable wearing now. The shirts were wrinkled from storage to the point that the wrinkles came back even after ironing. Luckily they smoothed out with laundering, so I don’t look like I just rolled out of bed when I wear it. More importantly, trying something a little on the artsy side and just jumping in has me ready to tackle more refashions.

A note on my dress form

Before working on this, I took the time to add some batting to my dressform, Athena. She’s a little less padded in some areas than I am, so the batting makes it easier to use her as a fit guide when I don’t want to try things on over and over. The brown t-shirt helps hold it all together and provides something to pin into.

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