Make Your Own Playdough

If you are looking for a fun activity to do with your kids that has some lasting power, try making playdough with them.  There are several recipes out there, but this is one I have used successfully.

Kool-Aid Playdough

2 cups flour

1 cup salt

2 packages of Kool-Aid (small, unsweetened)   (This is the source of your color, so choose wisely)

1 T. plus 1 1/2 teas. cream of tartar

Mix these 4 ingredients together.

Pour in:

2 cups boiling water

1 T. plus 1 1/2 teas. vegetable oil

Stir, then knead when thick.

Store in airtight container once it’s cool.  You can refrigerate it for up to 2 weeks.  (I use a Ziploc bag.)

Just like any other playdough that you have used before, it can be rolled out, cut in to shapes, and molded in to figures.

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Menu Planning for Moms on a Budget

Before Goose’s arrival, when we were a family of two, there was no such thing as planning meals in advance. After work, we decided on what we wanted to cook and someone went to the store, or we either hit the drive-thru or pulled out the take-out menus. We might have eaten anywhere from 6 to 10 pm. It was definitely not the most cost- or time-efficient method of feeding ourselves, but it worked just fine for a double-income, no kids couple. Now that I stay at home, our food budget is definitely tighter, but I still manage to feed my family very well on the money I have to work with.

For the first few months home with Goose, we ate a lot of takeout and meals my husband could throw together when he got home from work (he seriously ran the household during the newborn stage, bless him, while I was basically tied to the couch nursing day and night). After a while, I realized that we were putting a serious hurting on our budget as well as our health and all of this fast food and takeout would have to stop. I knew I wasn’t going to be capable of cooking a meal from scratch every night, but something had to change. I remembered how my mom, who needed to feed five kids and two adults on a tight budget herself, would make a weekly menu to plan our dinners. Then she would do one major shopping trip, the idea being that getting all of your groceries at once eliminates daily trips to the grocery store, which as we know can really add up. Adopting my mom’s strategy was my first step towards eating on a budget. I was proficient at cooking back then, but I wasn’t as into it and didn’t have a large repertoire of go-to recipes to pull from as I do now, so we ate a lot of repeat meals throughout the month, but we weren’t eating takeout daily anymore and we weren’t making multiple trips to the store, spending $30 here and there.

Once planning a weekly dinner menu became routine, I realized I could probably save a lot more money by creating my menu based on what was on sale at the grocery store rather than just whatever tickled our fancy at the moment. Step two towards becoming my mother – now I was scoping out the circulars. For example, if boneless, skinless chicken breasts and diced fire-roasted tomatoes are on sale, I know I can make a crock pot full of chicken tortilla soup (see below) for next to nothing, so that goes on the menu. When frozen tilapia is super cheap, I plan on oven-fried fish. Proteins are usually the most expensive component of a meal , so I generally look for sales on those foods first, then see which pantry and produce items are marked down that week. Not all of our meals come from the circular items, but by purchasing a little extra meat, pasta, and canned goods when they are on sale, I fill in with meals we want even when their ingredients aren’t wallet-friendly that week.

 I’ll pause here and admit I don’t have much patience when it comes to coupons. I live for online sale codes and I do scope out coupons for things like diapers and razors, but my coupon clipping and collecting doesn’t go much farther than what’s available in the Sunday paper, mainly because we buy a lot of store brand items that are cheaper than name brand even with a coupon, but also because I’m just too lazy to sort and keep track of coupons and sale cycles and all of that. There are lots of online communities and blogs devoted to streamlining the process and I know they are an excellent resource for lots of people but right now I am just not into it. I think couponing would be more worthwhile to us if we had more pantry space to allow us to really stock up, but we don’t, so my eat-mostly-what’s-on-sale approach is just more efficient for now.

 There are a couple of tips that have made the process even easier for me. First, take the time to compile a master list of all of your favorite, go-to main courses in Excel. I have mine divided into categories: beef, fish, chicken, pork, vegetarian, breakfast for dinner, pasta, soup, and miscellaneous (things like, um, chili dogs). Having this list really helps when your mind draws a blank when it comes to dinner ideas. I update it every time I try a new recipe that gets the thumbs up from everyone. Second, and this works for me but might not for everyone, is to go shopping by yourself (or send the more financially responsible partner). When I have Goose and my husband in tow, it seems like we spend a good 20% more than when I shop alone. I’m pretty good about sticking to my list aside from a treat or two, and my husband…is not. It’s not like I NEVER let him do the shopping (he had to when I badly sprained my foot a while ago, and the bill was astronomical, but I was grateful to not hobble around the store on crutches), but for the most part, that’s my gig. Besides, I go in the evening after Goose is in bed, when the store is generally pretty quiet, and I really enjoy my hour and a half of peace – it’s like my weekly little bit of zen. I do understand that some people like grocery shopping to be a family affair, though. I like the act of shopping as a family, just not the cost.

 Menu planning does take a bit of time – now that I’m accustomed to it, I spend maybe an hour on Saturday or Sunday morning reading weekly store ads online, asking my husband what he’d like to eat, writing up my menu, checking the cabinets, and then making my grocery list. But when you consider all of the trips to the grocery store saved, not to mention the money, it’s worth it.

 Here’s a little bonus recipe for a really easy and delicious (if inauthentic) crockpot chicken tortilla soup. My husband isn’t crazy about soup in general but has requested this often since I first made it, and Goose even devoured a bowlful the other night. It’s a fairly spicy soup but you can make substitutions if your family prefers something milder.

 Chicken Tortilla Soup

adapted from Tasty Kitchen

serves 8

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts

15 oz can of diced fire-roasted tomatoes with jalapenos (or just plain diced tomatoes in juice)

10 oz can red enchilada sauce

2 cups water

14 oz can low-sodium chicken broth (or homemade stock)

1 medium onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp chili powder

salt to taste (start with ½ tsp)

10 oz bag frozen corn

15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 or 2 bay leaves

 Mix all ingredients minus the black beans in the crockpot and cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-8 hours (I usually cook on low). An hour or so before serving, pull out chicken breasts, shred, and return the meat to the pot. Add the black beans and let cook until heated through. Beans can be added at the beginning, but they seem to make the soup less starchy if you toss them in at the end. Top individual bowls with broken tortilla chips, shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped cilantro, avocado, guacamole, and/or a squeeze of lime juice. Enjoy!

Kids and Veggies? It Can Be Done!

Guest contributor The Cooking Mama weighs in on kids and veggies!

It’s a hot and sometimes contentious topic, getting veggies into your children. Some moms are of the mind that hiding veggies is disrespectful and detrimental to the development of their palates. These moms argue that if a vegetable is prepared simply and deliciously, kids will enjoy it. That’s undoubtedly true for some lucky moms, but if the success of Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious books is any indication, lots of moms have found that their kids just aren’t ever going to eat that broccoli, whether it’s roasted with olive oil, fresh herbs, and a sprinkle of sea salt, or slathered with radioactive-orange cheese. If making a bunch of purees and stirring them into everything you make isn’t your bag, I can share a few ideas that are totally palatable to young, developing tastebuds, while retaining all the nutrients and some of the flavor and texture of the vegetables used to make them.

Baby Goose love broccoli

When Goose was starting solids, she loved veggies even more than fruit. We followed the practice of baby-led weaning, so she happily and noisily sucked and gnawed on stalks of steamed broccoli, roasted asparagus, and green beans to her little heart’s content. As her pincer grasp developed, she enjoyed peas and was absolutely crazy about black beans. I was so pleased, and maybe even a little braggy about my excellent little eater (because clearly my wonderful parenting was responsible, and not her naturally adventurous disposition). There was nothing Goose wouldn’t try. And then came toddlerhood. Suddenly the foods she once gobbled down were being pitched to the floor in a fit of disgusted rage. Black beans? BLECH! Spinach? I haven’t seen YOU eating any spinach, mother! Over the course of a couple months, vegetables became all but verboten to Goose. As she was growing well and I thought it was a brief phase, I happily offered more fruit along with the veggies, but when I realized she wasn’t eating ANY vegetables apart from sweet potatoes and the very occasional carrot cube from her peas and carrots, I realized I might have to get sneaky.

Make eggs, not war

Kids, generally speaking, like eggs a whole lot. Goose would eat them at every meal if I let her. Luckily for us, eggs are a perfect vehicle for veggie delivery. A quick peek at one of my favorite sites for baby and kid food ideas, weelicious.com, led me to the idea of mini frittatas (link to recipe: http://weelicious.com/2008/06/18/baby-frittatas/). The site’s author makes hers with roasted red pepper and asparagus, which sounds delicious to me but perhaps not the best way to introduce the concept to a truly picky eater. My first try included a small handful of cooked peas and carrots, and a dash of salt and pepper. Goose loved them! Next up was finely chopped steamed broccoli and a little bit of shredded cheddar (Goose is sensitive to dairy but can handle a very little bit of cow’s milk cheese). Verdict?

om nom nom

Yum, and her little toddler pal loved them too. These cute little handheld frittatas could take on all kinds of veggies, I’d bet. Why not try chopped, well-drained frozen spinach, finely diced squash (roasted or steamed), or seeded and finely diced tomatoes? If you’re pressed for time or don’t feel like heating up the oven, just mix your cooked, chopped veggies right into scrambled eggs before they are fully set. And when in doubt, add cheese.

Fry them up

Goose was never all that impressed when I offered steamed cubes or the mashed flesh of a baked sweet potato, but when I started cutting them in sticks or rounds and roasting them with a little olive oil and a pinch of cinnamon? She was over the moon for them. Now we have sweet potato fries with lunch or dinner a couple times a week. Goose does a dance in her highchair when she sees them and I feel good serving them because sweet potatoes are absolutely loaded with vitamins and fiber. And remember, good old Russet potatoes are a good source of vitamin C and fiber too, so oven fries are a good guilt-free indulgence. Just leave the skins on and go easy on the oil! Some other veggies that might be better received in oven fry form are turnips, zucchini, carrots, or even green beans. There are plenty of recipes on the net, breaded and not, so do some experimenting.

Dessert

If all else fails and your picky little one turns her nose up at everything, make some sweets. Mini muffins are an excellent way to hide vegetables – think finely shredded zucchini or carrot in a basic spice cake recipe – and once baked, the veggies are nearly indetectable. This time of year, canned pumpkin is plentiful (barring a shortage in your neck of the woods) so try adding a few spoonfuls to oatmeal or baking up some quick breads. I’ve even read about black bean brownies, which are supposedly really moist and yummy and not at all bean-y (though I admit I haven’t mustered up the courage to try them yet). Those mixed fruit and veggie squeezable pouches are getting rave reviews, too. And even if your little one isn’t getting as many vegetables as you’d like, remember that fruit, although higher in natural sugars, also packs a big nutritional punch when it comes to vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants.

gratuitous cuteness

Getting your kids to eat the right foods can be really stressful and difficult, and I’ve definitely let myself get worried over it as much as any other mama. One obvious, but invaluable piece of advice I’ve heard from many of my mom friends is to relax, because kids will eat when they feel like it. There’s no use fighting them and making mealtime unpleasant for everyone. With that in mind, our new MO has been to just keep offering veggies every day (some hidden, some not) and make sure that Goose sees us eating and enjoying them too.

Quick and Easy Pasta Fagioli Soup

This soup was inspired by Giada. I was pregnant with Puppet and channel surfing when I landed on Food Network. As you know, when you get a craving, you have to have it. Normally, I use fresh ingredients, but my craving would not wait! I used what I had readily available. This soup is sure to warm up your bones this winter and so fast to whip up that you won’t be stuck in the kitchen all day preparing it.

Pasta Fagioli

1 can of condensed bean and bacon soup
1 cup of water
4 cups of chicken broth or stock
1 ripe tomato, diced
1-2 dashes of onion powder
1-2 dashes of garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Half package of small shell pasta, cooked al dente

In a large saucepan over medium high heat, combine soup, water and broth. Add tomato, onion and garlic powders. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer for 10 minutes. Add cooked pasta and salt and pepper to taste and stir. Serves 2-4.

TIPS:
1.  If you need more soup, just add more broth/stock and season to taste.
2.  I used small shell pasta, but you can use any of your favorites or whatever you have on hand.
3.  Try not to overcook your pasta. Once you add it to the soup, it will start to absorb more liquid and may become mushy. Another option would be to add cooked pasta to each individual bowl and ladle soup over it and then serve.

Pumpkin Cookies, Oh My!

Fall has officially arrived and has brought with it my favorite flavors of the year.  I go nuts for pumpkin spice lattes, hot apple cider, and, well, pretty much any pumpkin baked good!  One of my absolute favorites is my mom’s pumpkin cookies.  I am hoping to bake a batch this weekend, so I thought I’d share the recipe with you today.

1 c. shortening     2 c. sugar     1 large can pumpkin     2 tsp. vanilla     2 tsp. salt     4 c. flour     2 tsp. baking soda     2 tsp. baking powder     2 tsp. cinnamon     2 c. raisins (although I may try chocolate chips this year)     Chopped black walnuts, optional

Stir all ingredients together in large bowl, and drop by rounded tablespoon on to cookie sheet.  Leave some space in between, as they will spread.   Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes.

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Crockpot Cooking

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I am extremely busy right now.  I have just found a retail studio space for my children’s portrait studio which I hope to open by the end of the month.  I also attend school online, have a 4 bedroom house to take care of, 2 children and a husband.  Obviously things can fall behind really quickly.  The number one way I feel like I’m failing my family is if everyone comes home around dinner, and they ask “so what’s for dinner?” and I honestly can’t say!  I then have to do the kitchen cupboard shuffle and whip something up real quick.  It’s never very healthy because it almost always has to come out of a box of some sort.  Not exactly mother/wife of the year.

Enter the crockpot.  I absolutely LOVE my crockpot!  On days that I know I’m going to be busy I put all my ingredients into my crockpot, turn it on low and go about my day.  8 hours later the house smells fantastic and I have a healthy meal for my family.

Here is a pdf document with over 250 weight watchers crockpot recipes.  Even if your not following weight watchers its nice to know all the recipes in this document are low-fat and healthy for your family.

Definitely works for me!

Works-For-Me Wednesday