Thursday, August 22, 2013

Saving Summer Produce: Tips for Freezer Meals

One task I've been taking on this summer is making meals ahead of time before heading back to work. Lucky for me I'm a teacher and I put in my year's worth of work and hours during about 10 months of the year. Between finishing a year of school, living an academic year, and preparing for a new school year about 10 months of my time is spent working and planning and thinking about some of my favorite people.

One bonus is that there are two months that I do not report daily to work. I can use this time to garden, vacation, and prepare our home for the year ahead. This summer I am attempting to pre-make many {freezer} meals for while school is in session. This will cut out the need of convenience foods to be purchased by our family. I'm sure we'll still buy bags of tortilla chips or the occasional frozen pizza. But I already know that one night a week I will dedicate my evening to meetings at work... this makes me want to try and save us some cooking/prep time and have a few meals ready to go.

Here are some tips I have concerning "freezer meals":

Consider what your family will eat - Often I want to have loads of variety for my family to choose from, but then I end up with prepared dinners that never just "sound good" in the moment to heat up. So if you know that pizza, chicken noodle soup, and lasagna will get eaten then maybe those are good meals to start with when you begin to make a dinner stash.

Consider who will be making these partially prepared meals - I make sure to have some meals that are simple for me to throw in a crock pot on my way out the door in the morning... this will be perfect for those nights that both I and my husband will be coming home just in time for dinner. I also am preparing a few things that will be finished in a way that is easy for my husband to get our dinner ready - such as 30 minutes in the oven or grilling chicken when he gets home from work.

Labeling - Be certain that you have properly labeled all meals. If any food in the freezer seems mysterious it may never be chosen for dinner.

In-depth Labeling - I'm serious about the labeling. I even write the cooking directions directly on my frozen meal packaging. This way if I'm not home my husband will still know what to do with the food he has selected for dinner. In fact this year I've added suggested thaw times and name items that we prefer to serve with those specific meals in case we need to check for  Parmesan cheese or tortillas prior to pulling out a certain dinner from the freezer.

Proper Storage -  Be sure to seal all containers and decrease any risk of freezer burn. Because no one will want to eat that...

Bulk Prepared Main Items - One idea I had was to pre-cook chicken to freeze. I have no other plan for this chicken currently, but knowing that I can pull out one or two chicken breasts from the freezer and have them thaw and be ready to add to any recipe I want will save lots of time when we're scrambling for a late dinner. We don't eat much beef at home but I'm sure if your family prefers a different type of meat you could make it work for you. I also chopped a few bags of peppers, tomatoes, and prepared corn for the freezer that will be easy to just throw in any type of dinner I select.

Consider your ingredients - I love using fresh summer produce in these meals that will be eaten in the fall and winter. There is just something special about taking a bite and enjoying that little taste of summer when it is cool and breezy outside. It also allows me to "use up" produce that we might not eat quickly enough if I didn't make it and save it for a different day.

Do you have any tips on making meals ahead of time?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How I Started to Simplify My Life

Are you feeling overwhelmed with your day to day life? Do you think you need to simplify your life? Simplifying your life is something that can happen. You just have to believe it and try to find something you are more comfortable with.

Sometimes the scariest step is the first one. The step that begins the roller-coaster of commitment. That first step is what made me take a few years of just thinking of ways I needed and wanted to change my life for the better. Maybe the speed of your life is perfect for you. And that is wonderful. I applaud you for already finding where you want to be. I hope we all can take steps to find health and happiness in our day to day.

I've thought lots about how to simplify my life to make it better (for me). It wasn't just about making the holidays more simple. It wasn't just about organizing my linen closet. Of course those things help... but they weren't the root of what I needed to change. I felt scattered and I felt everywhere all at once and not always in a good way. This is where I began to slow down, strip away the extras so that they would no longer complicate my lifestyle.

A Few Things I did to Simplify my Everyday Life...

Purging the Stuff
-I began by cleaning out boxes, drawers, shelves. I'm still cleaning out drawers, shelves, rooms and spaces. But it is important to me to know what I had and decide if I needed it. Of course then I donated (and am still donating) items that we do not need. I'm finding that the less I have the more I use the items I love.

Setting the Home
-I am slowly creating spaces we want to spend time in. Spaces that are more productive because there is less distraction. There is more room for thoughts, creativity, and the belongings that are important to us. I set spaces with specific feelings in mind. I consider how I want to spend time in those spaces and it is easy to know where to start.

Figuring Out the Finances
- I begun to make sound choices which simplified my spending and streamlined paying off our debt. Our family is aware of the money coming in and going out and how to pay off our current debt while trying not to make loads of new debt.

Losing the Drive
- I was in the car a lot. Now I work in walking distance of my home. I can bike to the library. We garden and our CSA program delivers to our home. We also find local places to fulfill our needs of services and where to buy our goods.

Learning to Say No
- I feel less overwhelmed when I identify only a few important tasks to do each day or evening. I say "no" or "wait" to everything else on my to-do list. And then I don't feel badly that I didn't accomplish more each day. I have found that this also provides me with some time to get to other tasks that I just simply enjoy.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Confessions of a Former Gas Guzzler

Let's get it out in the open... I once spent too much time and too much gas during daily commutes to my past location of employment. I hated it then, I hate it now. But it is a fact of my past.

I'm turning a corner and limiting my need to drive is something I think about all the time.

I figure for all the time spent in my car I've used way more than my share of resources. I now try to figure out ways to cut my driving. This is good for the environment and our savings account!

We live in a pedestrian and biking friendly community so that helps a lot. Whenever I need to head out of our town for errands (the errands which require a car) I try to make one long plan and hit up all the locations at once.  It seems to be working out pretty well and I'm cutting out lots of unnecessary drives.

A huge change we recently made is we've become a one car family. The plan is to possibly purchase an older work truck in the near future and use it for the dirty work around our home and back at the farm {where my husband's family lives}. Which I suppose will once again make us a two vehicle family. But we are very excited for the wonderful gas mileage we get with our smaller car! We've been surprised at how easy it is to make plans to share the one car.

The best part of my personal quest to drive less is that my new job is in walking/biking distance of our home! This is of course one major perk of my new school. Lots of families bike to the school, so I won't be the only one saving gas during the morning commute!

Want some tips and ideas about commuting and biking? Check out these links from the Mr. Money Mustache Blog:

The True Cost of Commuting with MMM 

What Do You Mean "You Don't Have a Bike"?! with MMM

Friday, August 2, 2013

Our Special Visitor Comes to Play

July was a special month as we had lots of fun summer type things to do. One of my favorite weeks was spent with our niece H and her summer visit to our home.

Last year we had lots of fun so she was extra excited about this year's visit. Like, she had been talking about coming to stay with us during summer vacation since Christmas. 

H is seven now, she can do so many things. She has major opinions, and a great sense of humor. I love all that is her. With that said, it takes a lot to keep a lively seven year old busy. I was thrilled that my pup was up for the challenge.

playing in the sprinkler
books + tent {inside on a hot day}

Splash Pad Fun

picnic + park

quick shopping trip

Whenever H visits we make it a priority to spend time together when my husband gets home from work. He does his best to get to work early and come home early so he can spend more time with her. We had so much fun going to parks, hikes, the local splash pad, out to dinner... we even had a good time stopping at a grocery store to pick up ice cream for a game night at home.

Drawing for Pictionary
Oh my and game nights we had! H loves to play a good game... one night we played "pictionary" but we made up our own cards that would tell us what to draw. This made it super fun because we ended up drawing pictures of things that we {especially H} liked. We drew horses, parties, food, and even people in our family. 


In a silly moment we decided to have the "World Series of Go Fish". H decided that this meant we had to act in a very serious manner, make up hand signals and code words... I think maybe I added the sunglasses, but she was totally on board. 

serious card players

Of course we spent loads of time on our bikes and on our local bike path. We even biked to the library and a nearby playground. Riding her bike is something she really loves to do.

bike path
 What a wonderful week! In mid-August, H will head to school to start second grade! I can't believe she is so old and wise. Hope this school year is a total blast for her!