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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Food $aving Tips (that are frugal, fast, nutritious and toddler-approved!)

Gone are the days of pureed foods & airy puffs for my small tribe.  Today, our kids eat and eat and eat A LOT!  Most of the time they eat whatever we eat, but I often need to make food that is quick, nutritious, and frugal!  
Jenna is a stickler for declaring she does not like anything with vegetables in it, so the past few years I became very good at learning the art of secretly adding veggies into foods.  For example, adding steamed, pureed broccoli with a bit of parmesan cheese into mashed potatoes.  Folding pureed cauliflower into Alfredo sauce.  Using "veggie pasta".  Adding tomato sauce to whatever I could.  Tossing handfuls of chopped kale into just about anything.... and of course all the while offering it to her normally with meals & in raw forms too, so she understood that eating vegetables was just normal.  However, by me "hiding"vegetables, I figured I was doing a 1-2 punch- I would count it a bonus if she ate more than a nibble of anything "healthy"!
BUT that was when my main goal was to give my one child nutritious foods.  Now with the quaddlers added to the mix, my main objective is to feed the masses (quickly!) without going broke and while still staying nutritious.  Easier said than done!

Here are some of my favorite toddler-approved food-shortcuts I have found to be helpful in not only stretching the dollar, but also in incorporating healthy stuff into everyday meals.  Hope some of these tricks work for you!

1.  Eggcellent breakfast Soufflé
OK, so here's the deal- bread is healthy and cheap, and FILLING.  But, one shared slice of toast and my kids seemed to often throw the rest on the floor or not eat it.  They all LOVE scrambled eggs and cheese for breakfast, but I was literally going through 5-6 eggs a day on breakfast alone!  One day, frustrated I tore up a few slices of bread, added it to the scrambled eggs breakfast, added a little more milk, and viola!  Total utter scarfed yumminess.  Between this and oatmeal, it's what's for breakfast in our household  almost every morning!  I can get away with using less eggs (3-4) for breakfast and know they are getting whole grains and lots of protein from the eggs, cheese & milk.  Whoot whoot!

2.  Applesaucey Juice
Oh, this is one of my favorite tricks!  I somehow came up with it on my own one morning when the only fruit in the house was applesauce.  My gang is not quite handy with a spoon yet & applesauce is too thin to spoon feed, but it is cheap, easily available, and healthy (I buy unsweetened).  Then I remembered working as an OT at a private practice one summer and there were kids coming in for feeding therapy.  Working with speech therapists, the OT's collaborated on all kinds of feeding strategies, one being drinking applesauce through a straw.  It promotes better mouth, cheek, throat & tongue strength when sucking the thick applesauce through a straw, which can improve speech production and improve the oral-motor tone of the mouth.  So back to my own kids- I decided to fill a cup (take n toss cups work excellent) with half applesauce, a quarter apple juice and a quarter water.  The kids literally go crazy over this stuff and it makes me feel all therapist-y with my children. :)

3.  Don't-spare-a-bone Chicken Noodle Soup
Just about every time I go shopping I buy one of those rotisserie chickens.  Back in my former life when I use to cook for fun, I loved making stock out of the bones & using it to make homemade chicken noodle soup, complete with homemade noodles and homemade bread!  I would simmer it all day long.  When the babies came, so did my indulgent foodie lifestyle.  However, I still bought these chickens and felt guilty throwing the bones away.  Then somewhere I saw a tip where you can make homemade stock overnight in the crock pot.  Now why didn't I think of that?
So this is what I do:
We get the chicken & eat it.  That night I pick the rest of the meat off the bones (there usually is a lot more than it looks like).  I dump the yucky remains in a lined crock pot, fill it with water, toss in some peppercorns, a few bay leaves, some salt & garlic cloves.  I then go to bed and let it cook on low all night.  Then next day I strain the stock, throw out the guts, put another liner in the crock pot & add the stock and chicken.  I buy celery, carrots & onions & try to make a very large Mirepoix blend (that's a fancy word for the 3 diced veggies sauté in oil for a few minutes).  I freeze 1-2 portions for later on, and add 1 large portion to my strained stock & chicken.  I season with rosemary, thyme, sage, salt & pepper.  You can either put noodles in the crock pot mixture or boil some and add them to the soup.  If you add noodles it will soak up the broth and it will be more like a noodle casserole, if you boil the noodles in water the soup remains more brothy (I like wide egg noodles).  If I have time (ha) I can make homemade bread in our bread-maker, but often rolls or garlic bread will do.
This. Soup. Is. Awesome.

The yuckies simmer in spiced water overnight.  I put the skin in there too, but you don't have to.
Seriously this soup is so good and the stock gives it a deep, rich flavor.  
4.  Mac (n Carrots) & Cheese
This one is really easy.  Make mac n cheese like you always do (for me that is Kraft, or sometimes I use elbow macaroni & Velveta cheese).  Add one 4 oz container of pureed carrots baby food or 4 oz of your own homemade carrot puree.  Done.  It actually makes it a little sweet and more orange, so kids think it's more cheezy.  My kids know no other way!

5.  One Bowl Wonders
If I didn't mention it yet, all 5 of our kids LOVE pasta.  Not so much potatoes or even breads, so I make a lot of meals starring= pasta!  Good news is that it is cheap.  Bad news is I get in ruts often, but I found that any type of pasta+meat+veggies+liquid/sauce will work all in one pan.  Since I don't like to do any more dishes than necessary (who does?), my one bowl wonders are often my "go to" style of cooking most nights.  It goes a little something like this:
Look in Fridge.  What meats do we have?  Condiments?  Veggies?  Hmmmmmm.....
Cook meat in pan.  Pick out a pasta that seems to match that meat for the night (I buy lots of varieties).  Toss the veggies into pan & cook them once the meat is cooked. Either boil pasta in water or throw it in the pan with some sort of a liquid.  These include, but are not limited to: chicken or beef stock, water, jarred tomato sauce, a mixture of any of these, etc.  Let the liquid reduce and add a binder if necessary (sadly, my "binder" these days is Velveta but cheese does works well).  Toss it all together, season as needed, and there you go.  A One Bowl Wonder.
This is an excellent way to clean out the fridge.  Do you have salsa that needs to be used?  Throw it in with some corn & beans for a Mexican flare.  Do you have Teriyaki salad dressing that is sitting around?  Wonderful.  Make it an Asian noodle bowl.  Do you have parmesan cheese and canned tomatoes?  Sounds like Italian to me.  No two meals are the same and you will get better at the art of this the more you do it.  If you are a spontaneous throw in & not measure kind of cook, this one's for you!

Looks like this one was beef, gemelli pasta, broccoli, tomato sauce, and Velveta.  

I hope at least one of these meals/tips has inspired you!  
Please feel free to share any Food $aving tips or recipes that you have found to be quick, nutritious & frugal!




  1. Great ideas Becky, I'll be trying the applesauce drink!

  2. Ahhh somehow I "lucked" into the only toddlers in the world who hate pasta.

    My favorite trick is pureed (or finely chopped using the food pro) raw spinach in the applesauce. I have tried it and you can't really even taste the spinach. My boys actually gobble it up and I laugh the entire time knowing they're eating the equivalent of a salad with their applesauce!

  3. Great idea! I have frozen chopped Kale from Costco, I wonder if that will work too? Will need to try it! Thanks!