Thursday, August 28, 2008

Brown bag vs. cafeteria

The lunches they serve at school are expensive and not very tasty. My kids have complained about them for years, actually I complained about them when I was in school too. But lunch kits are expensive and not very filling especially for teens. So I have found a few ways to save money on school lunches.

These I mostly figured out through trial and error, and may not work for your kids but you can take the idea and adjust it for your children.

Make sure the meals are balanced. It isn't doing either of you any good if they don't get the right mix of foods. Too many carbs and they will crash in class in the after noon. Too much protein and they will not have any energy for recess or changing classes. Too much sugar and they will be bouncing off of the walls. I try to make sure there is protein, grain, and a veggie of some sort every day. It is usually a sandwich, chips, a bottle of juice, some pudding or a fruit cup, and a cookie. That way they get 2 grains (2 slices of bread), protein (lunch meat or peanut butter), chips or carrots, a fruit(juice and fruit cup) and a dairy(pudding). My daughter also gets a tea bag since she has a teacher who allows them to drink either coffee or hot tea in class as long as they contribute to the supplies.

Now as to ways to make this meal less expensive. I buy the bread at the discount store. We have a really good one that sells Sara Lee breads for about 70 cents a loaf. That means that I can get the whole grain wheat bread for about 1/4 of retail. I stock up when I go and put it in the freezer until it is needed.

The lunch meats I make my self. I have posted before about making ham and salami. I also made a LOT of jams this summer so I can buy generic peanut butter for inexpensive sandwiches. Adding cheese to the sandwiches will add another dairy to the mix. Lettuce will add another veggie.

The chips I buy in big bags from the Dollar store or Big Lots and put them into sandwich sized zip top bags. That way they actually get more chips than are in the little individual serving bags, and I spend a LOT less for them. I can get about 6 lunches from an average sized (10-12 oz) bag that I pay about a dollar for. That is about 17 cents a bag instead of 30 or 40 cents for the little prepackaged ones.

The juice is another big savings. Buy a couple of single serve (8 oz or so) bottles with the screw on lids and refill them. You can find some sort of juice on sale just about all the time to refill the bottles with, and a 64 oz bottle will fill 8 - 8oz bottles at a fraction of the cost of buying new each time. Or you can refill with water, Kool-Aid, tea, lemonade, what ever. If you freeze them the night before, they will help keep the lunch cool until time to eat and still be thawed in time for lunch.

Pudding is another saving. Make your own. Invest in a couple of small (1/2-1 cup sized) containers from the dollar store. And some plastic spoons. These can hold fruit, pudding, a slice of last night's cake, what every you want to put in them. If you use them for fruit, I would suggest that you drain all of the juice out first in case the lid leaks. You don't want your bread to taste like soggy peaches. Don't buy the individual servings. You wind up paying for packaging and don't even get a full sized serving of fruit since they are mostly juice.

The cookies, again, you can make your self. or make brownies. These can both be made up and stored in the freezer in individual serving sizes. If you can keep the kids out of them after school.

You have to make sure your kids understand that ALL of the plastic comes home every day. Spoons get thrown away a lot. This is easier with lunch boxes, but my kids want paper sacks. My son had his lunch box stolen twice last year so paper sacks it is. And I can draw little pictures or sayings on them. Weird I know, but hey, they are still my kids and I like to make them smile. OR groan. Or, hehe, be embarrassed by silly stuff on their lunch bags.

Is it really cheaper to brown bag a lunch rather than eat in the cafeteria? If you consider that their lunches are about $2 a day, and they will not eat all of it or in some cases even most of it, I would say that it is. You know that they will eat what you give them since they get to help you shop for it and you will know that they are eating right. It is also nice to know that you are teaching them that they do not have to buy a lunch every day when they get to college or in the workforce. This is a money skill that is highly overlooked these days. The less money they waste, the less they will need from Mom and Dad.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ranting agaisnt the Man

Life in these United States is now more confusing than ever. $4 a gallon gas (though it has come down a bit), rising grocery prices, antibiotic filled meat, the worry over salmonella, E.Coli, pesticides, additives and preservatives, high fructose corn syrup in everything, labels with fat count, carb count, sodium count, Nutrasystem diet, Jenny Craig diet, Atkins diet, "berry of the month" diet. Eating healthy is darn near impossible.

And on top of all of that, the government will regulate everything to make sure that all of our food is just perfect. Uh huh, right. If that were actually the case, why does so much meat get recalled every year, how do tomatoes and peppers get E. Coli, and why does our milk have growth hormones and antibiotics in it?

It is almost daily that I wish for a simpler life, away from all of the grocery stores and gas pumps. Me and my chickens, pigs and cows could just enjoy the cleaner air of the country and can, freeze and/or dry the garden and orchard. I would know exactly what is in my food because I grew it all. We would have plenty, because again, I grew it all. And it would taste better and be healthier, because , you guessed it, I grew it all. I would know what is in it, how it was packaged, how it was preserved, how much salt is in it, and how long it is from fresh.

We have been told for so long that the government will take care of us and protect us that we just believe that if you get your food from the store, it must be good for us. But you just can't trust that any more. The government has been bought and paid for by corporate farms and industrial speculators whose sole purpose is to make money, any way possible. Including inferior food.

The only way to truly know is to grow it yourself.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I love a good sale

I guess, in a way, it was a good thing I had to go back out for school supplies...again...yesterday morning. I also noticed that we were out of milk after the kids ate breakfast, so I figured that while I was out, I would stop by the stop and pick up another gallon. I hit the produce department like I always do, and managed to get some broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, lettuce, green beans, raspberries, celery, bell peppers, and carrots all for half off.

The bakery was just wheeling out the cart of markdowns to it's appointed place and I grabbed some bakery cookies and a couple of loaves of Italian bread for half off too.

Then on to the dairy dept. And, lo and behold, they were marking down too. I picked up 8 1/2 gallons of lemonade for 60 cents each. 4 I put in the fridge and 4 in the freezer. I got my milk then proceeded to the meat department just to see what they had on sale. I got a package of hamburger, 2 packs of ground lamb, and a couple of top round steaks for almost 40% off.

I decided that while I was there, I should probably find the kids some lunch stuff. Pudding cups for 91 cents/4 pack, lunch meat wasn't on sale but I needed it anyway, Sara Lee bread for $1 a loaf, and a bottle of ginger ale.

Grand total was $77 and I have enough food for at least a week, plus school lunches.

Granted, I probably could have spent less if I only stuck to what I actually needed, but none of this will be wasted.

I pureed the berries and dripped it thru a jelly bag to get the juice. A teaspoon of the juice mixed with the lemonade is very very good, plus you get the extra nutrients from the berries. The pulp and seeds I put in the freezer. I am not sure really what I will do with it yet, but if all else fails, I can mix it with cranberries when I make cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving. Or I could make fruit leather with it I guess.

The peppers will be dried, the mushrooms canned, the broccoli and cauliflower are already in the freezer, the carrots we will eat fairly quickly just like they are. Several salads are on the menu for this week, and I will either freeze or can the green beans today.

We really don't care too much for lamb, but...we do like the gyro sandwiches. I did a web search and found a recipe ( and I also found one for pita bread ( They both look really easy. So I will probably try that at some point this week.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Last minute company

Whew, as much as I enjoy having company over, it is always nice for them to go home.

Se got home from vacation on Saturday the 9th, and Sunday, one of the friends that was feeding the critters for us stopped by for a couple of hours. He was on his way home from Springdale and decided to stop by for a visit. He was here for about 5 hours and it was enjoyable, and then he went on home. Then later that night, we got another email from our friends at the lake. They had decided to take their vacation in Little Rock this year, but unfortunately, their son had a bicycle accident the previous Friday that required surgery on his leg and wouldn't be able to get around with them. They asked if he could say with us while they did all of their running around. Of course, that was a no brainer, and I told them that there was absolutely no reason for them to stay in a motel when we were only about 30 minutes from everything they wanted to see and do, so I told them they could stay here. (They really don't have much money, he is on disability and she is a waitress) So they arrived about 8:30 Tuesday evening. Their injured son is about the same age as my son and they get along great. I think they spent most of the time playing on the game consoles and the computer.

The rest of the time, our friends spent running around Little Rock, seeing the sights and doing things they do not get to do in the very small town they live in, you know, the Zoo, an Art museum, a baseball game, the Mall, and they spent one afternoon at the $1 movie theater. I would feed them before they left and when they got home. They felt really guilty (for no reason) about eating our food, so on Friday night, our other friends (that fed the critters) joined us and we all went out to eat. We left the kids at the house and ordered Pizza for them. Their ages are 17, 16, 16, 14, 13, 13, 11, and 10. So 5 pizzas. Us 6 grownups actually got a night out. And our vacationing friends insisted on paying for the meal. So we insisted on paying for our bar tab. A good natured argument ensued and we graciously paid for our own drinks.

They had to leave fairly early on Saturday since a she had to be back at work at 3PM. The girls were hugging and claiming that they would miss each other. The boys were like "Dude, later man". We agreed that the Labor day weekend would be at the lake (their house) and that we would see them in a couple of weeks. Our other friends left around 7:30pm. And the house is quiet again.

But school starts tomorrow. So today will be busy getting everything ready for that.

So, a s a short recap, a week in Florida, a really long drive home, visitor, a single day to ourselves, then 5 extra people, then, 10 extra people, then quiet again. But there are still dishes to be done, laundry to be done, floors to be done, bedding to wash and put away, school clothes to pick out, back packs to clean out and restock, and hopefully, somewhere in there, we can take a breath.

But you know what, I still would do it again.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Vacation / Back to school

We are back from vacation and I must say that a good time was had by all. No sunburn, no one got sick or injured, and we managed to actually relax and have fun. The only bad thing that happened was the condo didn't have an internet connection, but I can't really say that was a bad thing. Being unplugged for a week probably did all of us some good.

Since we have been back, we have only had 1 day that we haven't had visitors. But here again, that isn't really a bad thing. My husband going back to work hasn't been just loads of fun, but hey, when is it ever?

Now I really have to think about back to school. Classes start back on the 18th and the kids are far from ready for that. My daughter has only been home for about 19 days all summer so she is really wanting some relax time, but I just can't see that happening. Most of the school supplies from last year are still usable, and I bought them paper and pencils last spring so there is still plenty to start school. Both kids have Army Surplus backpacks that are darn near indestructible so we are good there too. I have been picking up clothes for them on and off all summer so no school clothes to buy either. The only thing we will really need are shoes. My son's are very well air conditioned and would almost qualify as sandals at this point. All in all, this will probably be the most pain free "back to school" we have ever had.

Since my daughter is a senior this year, there will be a lot of expense for her. Senior pictures, cap and gown, invitations, prom, not to mention the college application fees ($40 at her favored school) , ACT fees, SAT fees, and the fees for sending her transcripts to the colleges she will be applying for, expenses to visit with the recruiters, and tour the campuses.

And yesterday, I received a notice of Jury Pool selection. I can't tell you how thrilled I am about that.

I will almost be a relief for school to start back. I might actually be able to get something done around the house.

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