Friday, September 27, 2013

Healthy Lunch for Less!

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people say that you can't eat healthily on a tight budget. This is the excuse that many people offer when justifying only shopping at Wal-Mart or buying processed junk "foods" for their family, and it really gets me going. If you know what you're doing, you can eat quite healthily on a normal or smaller budget and never have to step inside Wal-Mart. Keep in mind, I am speaking to my experience as a married gal with no kids...but I think even factoring kids into the equation that I would still be able to do this, because I always make food for an army (I'm Italian!) Anyway, bear in mind that this is my living situation, and I personally prefer to avoid Wal-Mart about 95% of the time. I would much rather our money go to smaller chains or even more preferably to local businesses when I can (our town doesn't have very many of those, unfortunately.)

Anyway, today I happened to stop at one of the few local businesses that we do have, that is very near us. It is a small produce store called Best Harvest and I love it. They have a lot of stuff that is not only USA-grown, but also some local stuff. This week I got some local organic golden beets. Best part of is not at all an expensive store! Places like these are fantastic to shop at to feed your family healthily! So, I walked in to get some potatoes and Boar's Head cheese to make BBQ Pulled Chicken Baked Potatoes for tonight, and they had 5-lb bags of potatoes for 1.79. I decided that since my hubby loves taking soup for lunch and usually buys cans of Progresso Corn and Potato Chowder, that I would make him some from scratch. Got two ears of corn for 20 cents a piece and got to work. It is simmering in the Crock Pot as we speak. I will give you the recipe-ish that I used (I did this on the fly), and then compare how it stacks up against pre-made, processed soup.

Three large potatoes

Two ears corn

1 32-oz box lower sodium chicken broth (you could really get healthy and do organic but I just bought what the produce store had, which was Swanson's

3-4 cloves garlic, crushed and minced.

1/2 cup half and half

Salt, Pepper, Dried Parsley, and any other spices you might like, to taste. I added Onion powder and paprika, but you can pretty much put whatever you think would taste good.

I roasted the corn in the oven in its husk at 425 degrees for about 20 min. I cut the potatoes into small chunks. I shucked the corn and used a knife to scrape it off the cob. I minced the garlic. I put all of these things plus the broth and my seasonings and put in on high in the crockpot for 4-6 hours. It's still going now, but about 20 minutes before it is done, I plan to add the half and half to make it creamier and then let that heat through. Then, I will puree half of the soup with an immersion blender to thicken it. I will likely let it cool and refrigerate or freeze it, and voila, my hubby will have a work-week's worth of soup to eat.

Now, let's see how this compares to store bought soup. The soup my hubby buys is, if we are lucky, 2 for 4 dollars or 2 dollars each. Say he buys 5 cans for the week...that's ten bucks if it is on sale.

Total Cost Per Serving: 2 dollars
Total Cost Per Week: 10 dollars

 The soup he buys is not BAD for you persay, but I do like making my own. The sodium can be controlled, along with the fact that there are no bad chemicals or preservatives.

NOTE: The soup he buys has chicken, the one I made was vegetarian since I didn't have extra chicken on hand. You could add a chicken breast to the recipe, I would add about 1.50 to the total cost if you do.

Let's see how much the homemade stuff cost. The prices are costed to represent how much of the ingredient I used in this recipe.

Potatoes---approx. 35 cents
Corn- 40 cents
Chicken Broth- 2.49
Garlic- 10 cents
Half and Half- 63 cents
Spices- these were all on hand, but let's call it 25 cents over time...and that might be over-estimating. Salt and pepper and onion powder are dirt cheap, dried parsley isn't much either, and the paprika was a gift...

Grand total: 4.22

Total Cost Per Week: $4.22
Total Cost Per Serving: 84 cents!!!!!
Total Hands-on time expended: 20 minutes!!!

So, you can see that feeding your family from scratch meals does not have to be expensive. I bought almost everything for this meal at a local produce store. The only exception was the half and half, which I got a couple weeks back at a Kroger store.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Currently Obsessed With...

I got this survey from the fashion blog Because of Jackie and I was tempted to just go ahead and fill it out. I haven't done a survey in awhile and thought it'd be a fun way to get the writing juices flowing. So, here goes:

Reading: Well, I just went back to a full-time class schedule this past week, so much of my reading involves textbooks...bleh. That being said, I will be working on a big pile of Sophie Kinsella books (some later Shopaholic novels and others) that my aunt lent me. Her books are easy and fun to read and don't require much heavy thinking. Perfect for a college student...and the Shopaholic ones make me laugh, because I love buying clothes, but she's excessive and makes me feel better about my vice.

Watching: Like almost everyone else in the country (OK, that's an exaggeration, but still) I'm currently engrossed in and obsessed with Breaking Bad. If you haven't seen it, go now! Easily one of the best dramas ever written. That's almost all that we've been watching lately...we also watched Dexter, and the finale was last night. That show was REALLY good from Seasons 1-4 and kind of went downhill steadily after that, though.
Eating : Well, at this exact moment, I'm drinking coffee, but not enough yet...I keep hitting all the wrong keys, making typing this a pain in the bottom. I'm currently doing Weight Watchers, so I am good 6 days out of the week and allow myself a cheat meal or dessert on the 7th. I've lost about 9 pounds since going back on it in August...would have been more, but I slacked for three weeks when relatives were here and we were inundated with birthdays. We have been getting all of our dinner recipes from 100 Days of Real Food or Cooking Light. Last night my hubby made a Ravioli Lasagne (Cooking Light) and it was fantastic; tonight I will make BBQ Chicken, corn with herb butter, green beans, and whole wheat biscuits (100 Days...for the biscuit recipe.)
Planning: Well, hubby and I are planning to participate in the all- Breaking Bad trivia challenge on Wednesday. First place takes a cash pot. Here's hoping...but I have a feeling we will face tough competition, so I am not counting on it.
Dreaming: Short term, for fall weather. We had a short spell and it was amazing. I want it here for good...but we tend to go straight from 80 degree weather to winter here, overnight, so we will see. Long term, for the day I finish school and can have a job again. I miss working, but I am over and under qualified for anything but teaching, so gotta get another piece of paper...
Wearing: I am so obsessed with comfy right now. Bought a pair of Gap 1969 jeans when I was thrifting in July, and they were not very loose then...but now, they are, and I just want to live in them all the time. I roll them up like boyfriend jeans because at this point, they fit like them. And I have bought several (mostly thrifted or ebayed but a few new) Victoria's Secret tops/sweaters...the Pink raglan tees are calling my name, but it is still too hot to justify long sleeves, even those.
Doing : I have mostly covered this, but specifically, today I have to go on a couple of errands and then dive into a mountain of work for my accounting class. If I have time and energy left, I'd like to do some floor cleaning. Joy!
Enjoying : The cool air in it going to be nice today????
Hating : A strong word, for sure...I guess I am hating the phrase "Life Hacks"???
Loving : My husband. I love spending time with him, even if we are sitting side-by-side doing separate things. I'm also loving my coffee...and loving that I'm not exhausted today when I need to be energetic (last week I had a couple of unfortunate days that made me as lazy as a 90 year-old, thanks, PMS!) Finally, on a material note, I am loving my Dexter Dexflat ballet slippers from Payless...literally the most comfortable flats I have EVER worn. I can walk for miles in them. Finally!!!!!
Smelling : Well, I scoured and disinfected the sink earlier...I'm probably still breathing Lysol fumes...not good.
Wishing : I was already done with today's work ;-)
Missing : No one, in particular, at the moment.
Learning : So many new things that I can't keep track. I've felt like a bit of an idiot lately.
Enjoying I feel like we've covered this in other sections. I will stop boring all 0 people who read this...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Inspiration from my Business class today...

I had my first business class today and it was a hoot. The teacher was hilarious and kept things moving. For those of you who don't know, I went back to school last semester. I initially thought I might want to make cooking or baking a full-time career, but I've rethought that now. Mostly because the hours usually suck with those jobs, and we want to have a family within the next few years...we're not super-young and can't wait too long! So, I really got to examining what it is that I like to do so that I could make up my mind for once and for all. I really don't want to waste any more time or to fall back into a physically demanding job with bad hours...I just left one of those! I want to find a job in an office setting because I've never had the chance to experience that before. After a lot of thought, I decided that I would like to work in a business setting, preferably with numbers. Something along the lines of accounting or payroll, because I've always been good with numbers...and for other reasons that I will get into in a bit. I really wanted to share the reflection that I just wrote for my homework, because I've had so many people ask why I decided to leave teaching, and I also feel like some people just don't understand why I would do such a thing. This should explain my honest thoughts...

I wanted to write about a slide that was shown in the powerpoint presentation today. It said something along the lines of, "If an organization is not effective, then people are not happy," (meaning its employees, obviously) followed by, "If people are unhappy in their jobs, their physical health can suffer." These two statements, as obvious as they may sound, really resonated with me. They reflect the primary reasons why I am back in school! I originally went to UNM and ended up getting my Masters degree in Elementary Education. I taught kindergarten and 1st grade for six years, and by that sixth year, I had had it! I could go on for days about how broken the school system is in America and how every year, this problem was ineffectively treated. We (teachers) found ourselves having to implement more and more strategies, interventions, tests, and what seemed to be new curriculum every year there at the end...all in the name of raising test scores. And, go figure, nothing was making these arbitrary test scores go up; in fact, they were going down because every year the standards were raised (i.e. a higher percentage of students had to be labeled as "proficient" to avoid becoming a school 'in need of corrective action')

Any teacher could tell you that this was due to a number of factors, not least of all the fact that the entire system was ineffective! Perhaps if we'd kept consistent with any one of hundreds of new strategies we'd tried (if something didn't work, it was almost immediately tossed away without giving it a second chance) one would have worked. More importantly, perhaps if value wasn't placed on test scores alone, we would have had more time in the classroom. People would be SHOCKED to hear how much time was wasted every year administering standardized tests. I would say a conservative estimate would be 9 weeks out of the school year (probably more for me, because I taught K and all of the tests were long and they were one-on-one because the students couldn't read and write yet.) Let that sink in. At least 9 weeks out of a school year...that's a quarter!!!!! Take away all of that time and stress on the teachers and kids and maybe, just maybe, the students would have shown gains, because, gasp, we would have had 9 MORE WEEKS to teach.

Compound that stress with the fact that every year, there were more and more severe discipline problems, and you've got a formula for disaster. Or, at the very least, a very stressed out teacher, and very stressed out students who have to deal with the kid who is throwing books or chairs, or choking other students, all while trying to learn and be tested more than they're actually learning. All of this added up to an ineffective environment and a very unhappy employee. This unhappiness in my job took a toll on my health, both physical and mental. I caught every sickness that came down the pike, even six years into teaching. More importantly, perhaps, I remember crying almost every day in July 2012 because I didn't want to go back in August. I started desperately looking for jobs and realized that I was either insanely overqualified (for places like Page One Books) or unqualified (for aforementioned office jobs, which I desperately wanted but which required associate's in business or accounting or bookkeeping.) I accepted this fate and went back, not wanting to leave my fiancé stranded with all of the bills while we were paying for a wedding.

However, once we were about to get married and all of our wedding and honeymoon was paid for, my husband told me that if the job really was making me that unhappy and sick (and he knew it was, he had to put up with my tears!) that I should try and do something else. He saved my sanity by being so supportive, and he helped me improve my overall health, and for that I can never thank him enough. I have a true treasure in him. Anyway, with his blessing, I left to go back to school and now, here I am, trying my hand with accounting and business. I am also taking a nutrition class, but although that interests me, it would take years for me to get another bachelors, which you need in order to be a dietitian, and as I said, we want to start that family and it'd be nice to have a second income for that.

So, why accounting/bookkeeping? First of all, these were the types of jobs I was wanting to get into when I was looking last year, but was unqualified for. I thought about when I was the happiest in my job. The answer was easy: it was when I was a shift supervisor at Starbucks. The hours sucked and the pay was nothing to write home about, and dealing with customers constantly for hours got tedious after a year or so, but I LOVED my coworkers and I LOVED the managerial elements of that job. I was happiest when I was in charge of ordering, calculating the employees' weekly tips, and doing the daily deposit. Numbers have always made sense to me. When I was 5, no lie, my parents could tell me a year, like 1865, and ask me how many years ago it was, and I could calculate it in my head. Having taught five year-olds, this is no small feat. Even still, doing that and other calculations in my head is fairly easy to me, and I can connect years to events like no one else I know, which is kind of a random talent, but still rooted in number smarts, I guess. So, this all makes sense to me, and hopefully it's the right path.

If you've stuck with me through this long blog, I appreciate it. Now you know why I did what I did...and knowing is half the battle!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Real Food: Granola

I recently stalled on my weight loss journey. I had lost about 8 pounds since I started back up in July, but then hit a bit of a plateau. I think my problem was a combination of factors. I do Weight Watchers, which is incredibly effective (and promotes healthy, slow, and steady weight loss) when it is used correctly. With an influx of birthdays and a week-long family visit, I was, however, being a bit lax with my splurges and assuming my 49 extra weekly points were covering those splurges. As a result, my weight maintained for about a week, climbed a fraction the next, another fraction the next, and another fraction the next still. Before I knew it, I was up three pounds and had only lost 5 since starting. Talk about counter-productive. So, last week, I talked with my leader, and she suggested (besides the obvious strategy of tracking everything) eating more points at breakfast, lunch, and midday, and fewer in the evening. And wouldn't you know: after a week of diligently tracking and following her advice, I lost that weight I had gained, and now I'm back to being down 8 pounds! Now, I just have to keep the momentum going. I found that eating healthful and hearty breakfasts and lunches did help me, if only because it kept me from getting too peckish around 3:30-5, which is a dangerous time of the day for me, usually. For some reason, it also kept me from craving sweets at night. The only time I had sweets was in the middle of the week when we went to get frozen yogurt, which compared to the splurges of weeks past, is just a blip on the radar.

This all got me thinking about the 100 Days of Real Food blog. I have been following this blog for awhile, and I thought that maybe for my next round of grocery shopping, I would pull my recipes solely from that blog. I am going to have to explain how we shop in another post because it works really well for us.

 I found their meal plans (if you "like" them on Facebook, you can gain accessibility to their 5 or so meal plans) and decided that the Summer and Late Spring plans were the best ones to start with, for variety and for our personal tastes. Everyone should check out their blog. I have to admit, I don't see us going 100% "real" (in terms of all organic) yet for financial reasons, but I did the best I could when shopping for the ingredients for this plan, bought organic when it wasn't too expensive, and think it might have a real impact on my weight loss. It also didn't seem to break the bank any more than a normal shopping trip...maybe a tiny bit more because I had to buy some staples like whole wheat flour, but not much. I have calculated the "points plus" on these recipes and all of them are reasonable. And, none of them have added refined sugar, white flour, or any bad, processed ingredients...that's the whole point of the blog. Seriously. Go read it if you're at all interested in this type of eating.

That being said, I want to share my experiences with cooking some of these recipes. I'm busy in the kitchen today, making four different recipes to prepare for my busy week.

First up: the 100 Days of Real Food Granola. Yum!!!! Granola can be delicious and healthy, but so many pre-made versions have lots of empty calories from added sugar. This granola is made with nothing more than  honey to sweeten it. I used a local honey, but Trader Joe's sells a honey that is recommended by these ladies. I bought it for when I run out of mine (I got mine at a crafts fair and decided TJ's would suffice for the rest of the recipes).  This granola takes only a tiny amount of hands-on time. You can find the recipe here. I made some small changes in that I didn't buy tons of cashews or pecans, so I lowered the proportions of those and upped the amount of sunflower seeds. You could probably add anything to this and it'd turn out well...personal preferences!

You take the oats, nuts, and spices from the recipe and mix them up first.

Then, you melt the butter and honey together on the stove, and when it is melted, add the vanilla and salt. *Don't worry, this recipe makes 3 pounds, so the 6 tbs of butter are spread out over many, many portions.*

Then, you mix together the luscious meltiness with the dry ingredients, using a rubber spatula.

Finally, you spread the mixture on parchment paper-lined sheet pans and bake at 250 degrees for 75 minutes.

You let the granola cool and then break it apart (if needed) to store in airtight containers.There's an option for bars on this recipe using steel-cut oats. I calculated that a 1-oz serving of this granola, using the ingredients that I did (1/2 cups each of cashews and pecans, 1 cup sunflower seeds, no pumpkin seeds) is only 3 points plus. That's the perfect amount for a snack, or for topping greek yogurt, though if you're just eating this alone, I'd probably recommend almost doubling that for 6 ppts.

 I'm off to enjoy some now, before I get back into the kitchen to finish my work!