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Need last-minute shaloch manos ideas?

I am a bit behind this year with blogging and Purim preparations with juggling my family, teaching, freelance writing, and household tasks. I am sure many of you can relate. Some years I start early and don’t have to wait until the last minute to do everything. At least I still have a week to go!

In case you are behind and want some ideas, I have a few tips for shaloch manos from those we received and made last year. Take a look!

Shaloch manos:

Last year, we made shaloch manos inspired by a teacher appreciation gift I saw somewhere.  I found the instructions by Googling “teacher appreciation water bottle gift.” I unfortunately cannot find the site I used, but if you look on Pinterest there are many similar ideas. They each vary in complexity and difficulty. I chose an easy idea that did not use brads or lots of different layers of paper. It was cute, but the holders did keep sliding off during delivery (even though they were tied on).

I used a variety of scrapbook papers, scrapbooking stickers, small labels (for the message), and my tape runner (to adhere the pocket). We inserted a Crystal Light drink mix packet and attached a granola bar to the back. A bow and tape secured it all together.

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Some other FAVORITE SHALOCH MANOS we received last year are shown below:

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Movie theme – popcorn box, chocolate bar, microwave popcorn, Coca Cola, and hamantashen. (Great idea Larry & Lori!)

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Pizza theme – a whole meal in a pizza box: hamantashen pizzas, peppers, Bissli, chocolate bar, chocolate drink and a few other goodies. (Thank you Michelle and Ephraim!)

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Red, White and Blue theme – Red licorice, white Airheads, Oreos (blue package), and hamantashen. (Thanks Wende and Don!)

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Berry theme – all foods with a berry flavor! (Thanks Shari and Rabbi!)

FAVORITE CONTAINERS:

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Nautical theme – this family always chooses a container and costume themes to match. They include a photo of the family on their shaloch manos container or label. They are amazing! (Thanks Bella and Yosef!)

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Decorative box – I loved this box so much that I use it in my classroom for treats! (Thanks Tammy and Mark!)

For more inspiration, check out my friend Mara’s (from Kosher on a Budget) awesome Shaloch Manos ideas:

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Making the most of the whole bird

Thanks for your patience with my lack of posts for the last few months. With being back to full-time teaching, I don’t seem to have time to blog much. But, I am not complaining with the economy the way it is and with teaching jobs so hard to get!

Recently my husband has found a new way to save us more money and time. He has been using our freezer to make our cooking very efficient and allow us to have meals we couldn’t afford otherwise (like boneless breast recipes).

Let’s start with chicken.

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When we get chicken for Shabbos, we do not always eat the whole thing and some parts get wasted (or eaten as a not-so-healthy snack for my husband). So instead, my husband has been using all the parts of the chicken very creatively. From two chickens, he puts aside:

  • one chicken breast for a meal later,
  • the wings for a meal later,
  • the necks, back of the breast, and wing tips are saved for making soup stock and then used for soup meat,
  • and one thigh for a meal later.
  • If we are having a roasted chicken, he saves the carcass for making soups, too.

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After several weeks or months, he has enough of each part to make:

  • a boneless chicken dish (from the breasts),
  • teriyaki or barbecue chicken wings (from the wings) – pictured above,
  • chicken soup stock and chicken soup (from the necks, backs, and wing tips),
  • and smoked chicken for seasoning or chicken pieces for a stir fry (from the thighs).

Cheese:

We buy large packs of shredded cheese from Costco. The pack contains more cheese than a single meal uses. So he packages the cheese into smaller servings as soon as we get home. These get frozen in freezer bags to use later as needed. For more ways to cut down on meal costs read Stretching your dinner dime… dollar.”

Refried beans:

My husband has created the best refried beans recipe. He makes a huge batch in our largest soup pot and packages it up in large Gladware containers. (We used to be able to use the soup and salad size, but our family eats more now!) One container or two small ones makes for a great meal of burritos. They are also good to pull out when we cook for a friend with a new baby or for another occasion.

Milk:

Sometimes we stock up on milk if it is a particularly good deal or we have been given milk that is close to expiring. If we freeze it and then thaw it later, we can get a few more days out of it than if we had used it right away. For more tips on how long various foods will last, check out my post “Shelf life of your food.”

Bread:

We recently found an Entenmann’s outlet that sells Arnold and Thomas bread products as well as Entenmann’s baked goods. They have store coupon as well as a punch card. We can spend $10 and leave with 5-7 items! We keep a few out and save the rest for later. Between this and our bread maker, we our saving a ton of money on bread. This has been a big help with all four of our boys in elementary school this year!

Challah:

We always make several challahs at once. What we don’t need for that Shabbos gets frozen for later Shabbosim. To see why making your own challah is worth it moneywise, read “Making your own challah.” We have also tried canning. Read more at First canning experiment: apple butter.”

Kugels and desserts:

This is not always possible, but we try to double kugel and dessert recipes when preparing for Shabbos so we have one to freeze for later. This depends on what ingredients we have available.

How do you use your freezer to its potential? Share your tips below!

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Making lunches – a matrix of choices!

healthy gluten-free school lunch

Many of your children have probably started back to school already. Mine do not start until next Wednesday. However, with this being the first year my little boys have gone to camp, we have been making lunches for the past four weeks. (Or should I say my husband has.) It has gotten me to thinking about how to make this chore easier and to provide the most variety for my children. My husband and I typically take leftovers to work, because we can heat things up or don’t mind eating something cold if we have to. The boys on the other hand…

I used to have a list on the refrigerator of lunch choices, but it has gotten a bit out of date. So I created a new one. It mostly includes dairy options because with keeping kosher meat is expensive. There are also only certain days the kids can bring meat to their Jewish day school.

Below is my matrix of lunch choices (in green). It will be a great tool for adding to our grocery list each week. Then each day when we pack lunches, we will choose one item from each column. This way our kids will get a variety of foods and it will make sure that all of one type of food doesn’t get eaten up in a week! (I just bought a lot of Chex Mix on sale last week at Walgreens and if I let them, my kids would have it every day!) Feel free to edit this document for your needs and your kids’ tastes.

Lunch choices 2013

Other tips for saving money on packing lunches:

∞ Use up your leftovers when you can. This may not work as well for the kids, but the grownups can eat them!

ziploc divided container∞ Use as little packaging as possible. We use reusable water bottles, lunch bags, and as many containers as we can instead of bags. I just bought these Ziploc divided containers for my kids’ lunches and today was their first day using them. I figured it would be a great way for them to know what was their lunch food and what should be saved for snacks. We also use cloth snack bags for some items when we can. For more details, see my post Switch over your disposables.”

∞ Buy cheap water bottles. I have learned from camp that my kids lose water bottles constantly. It does not pay to buy nice ones because I cannot count on them coming back! So the dollar Spot at Target and the dollar store are my favorite places to buy water bottles. See my posts on Why I love Target! and Are ‘dollar stores’ really a good deal?

∞ Stock up on nonperishable lunch items. When you spot something on sale (and even better have a coupon, too) get a few! I got granola bars on sale at Target yesterday and had a manufacturer’s coupon and a Target coupon. This is the best way to stock up – having all three conditions! I also buy in bulk when I can through Costco and Whole Foods. See my post on “Bulk discounts.”

∞ Make as much homemade as you can. We recently got a breadmaker and my husband is enjoying figuring out the best recipes to use. It smells so good when he has a batch ready to go in the morning, With all four boys in elementary school this year, we could easily go through a loaf of bread in a day! Our next project is to experiment with some homemade snacks. See Little House Living and my posts on (More) Make your own… and Don’t buy it, make it homemade – Part 3 for recipes.

∞ Look for outlet stores. We recently found a local outlet bread store (thanks, Lori!) that saves us a ton on bread, bagels, and sandwich thins. They even have store coupons!

∞ Use your price list. Make sure you are buying things at the best price you can get. Just because something is in a larger size of is on sale, doesn’t always mean it is the best deal! To learn more, check out my post “Keeping a price list.”

∞ Check out the sales at the end of this month. Pretty soon all the back-to-school items will go on sale, which means lunch bags, containers, and the like on sale for cheap prices (check out Target, Wal-Mart, drug stores, etc. for these deals). Last summer we got the boys their current lunch bags for $3 each! I love them because they have a zipper at the top and a space for their name on the back. I also got backpacks from Lands’ End at a very deep discount last summer! Be sure to stock up on those swimsuits and rash guards while you are at it, too!

Do you have any tips for packing lunches that you would like to share? Please add them in the Comments section! Thanks Rivka H. and Jessi L, for your ideas I incorporated into the matrix.

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Superhero kids’ party on a budget

For weeks I had been trying to figure out what to do for my triplets’ 5th birthday party. I wanted to make it special for them and perhaps have it outside the house. We have always done their parties at home or at one of my best friends’ houses. However, after calling around and getting prices, I realized that having the party somewhere else was not going to be financially feasible. Even reserving a park pavilion was a minimum of $50!

So home it was. I then went online to get some ideas for what to do. How did we ever plan parties before Family Fun magazine and Pinterest!? My boys kept changing their minds as to what theme they wanted and I couldn’t really get agreement between them. However, I knew that were currently enjoying playing anything superhero-related. So I figured they would enjoy anything I planned that involved this.

I found so many great ideas and found some amazing people out there who are extremely creative (and have much more time than I do). I made a trip to Michaels’ for supplies and then set to work. My supply list included: t-shirts (These were on sale for $3, but still my most expensive item. However, considering we weren’t doing other party favors, that was fine.), felt, felt glue, icing, fabric paint, foam brushes, and blank stencils. I already had elastic and glow bracelets at home.

My first project was to make masks for the kids. I had wanted it to be something they could make on their own, but decorated masks didn’t seem to fit with how superheroes look. Plus, plastic (which would be the easiest to decorate) is also the easiest to break, which we found out last Purim.

The finished products.

One of my boys with his new mask and his cape (Chanukah gift last year).

Instead, online I found a cute idea for making felt masks. I traced, cut, and glued with felt glue to make these double-layered masks. The instructions say to sew them, but I do not have a sewing machine and hand stitches would have taken forever! I tied my boys’ masks that morning to make sure they fit right and then did the guests’ as they arrived. The boys had fun wearing them and climbing in our tent pretending to be superheroes.

For crafts, I had coloring pages out on the table when they arrived. There are tons of websites offering free coloring pages on any topic you can imagine. Thanks Lori for this great idea!

For the main craft project, I thought it would be nice to have the kids make their own superhero shirts. I bought blank stencils and my husband drew out the diamond-shaped background and then the first letter of each child’s name. (We had three diamond-shaped stencils for everyone to share and then each child got their own letter = 2 steps.) I then traced these on the stencils and cut them out. This was no easy task – who knew making a stencil to have the paint go in the right place would be so hard! Luckily Brent found some stencil letters online to use as a guide, but drawing them was quite tedious!

The kids then used them with fabric paint and foam brushes to create their superhero emblem. Luckily, my smart sister reminded me to put cardboard between the shirt’s front and back before we started painting! (Thank goodness for all my leftover Creative Memories cardboard from their packages.) We also decided to dry the paint a bit with a hair dryer in between the two steps, just to deter any smearing.

The kids and moms had a great time and they came out great, if I do say so!

For our other activity, we wanted to do an obstacle course outside. However, it rained the night before and was very humid. So on to plan B. My older son and I created a spider web in the kids’ bedroom. The object was to climb through the web to the windowsill, where the kids would find a prize (a glow bracelet). They then had to find their way back, going a different direction. The boys loved it! We ended up doing this activity while my sister and aunt dried the first paint layer on the shirts.

After we finished the shirts, it was lunch of hot dogs, beans, corn, pickles, chips, and cupcakes. We had decorated the cupcakes with plain vanilla icing and then drew on shields with each of the birthday boys’ initials (with decorating icing). Thanks Michelle and Brent (daddy) for collaborating on this.

We did have to buy food and the craft supplies, but overall our costs were low. The boys said they had a great time and slept well that afternoon! Not fancy, but it worked out and was fun! We are so grateful to our friend, Michelle, who helped decorate the cupcakes and took pictures, and to my sister, Amy, and my aunt, JoAnn, who helped at the party!

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Seasoning shortcuts

I have gotten a few requests for the actual recipes that I mentioned in my post earlier this week on “Don’t buy it, make it homemade – Part 3.”  I thought I would share three seasoning recipes from my favorite saving money book series, “The Tightwad Gazette.” These books are what started me on my journey to save on my family’s expenses. There are three volumes in this series and one complete version with the best tips from all three.

TACO SEASONING MIX

♦ 4 t. chili powder
♦ 3 t. cumin
♦ 3 1/3 t. paprika
♦ 2 t. onion powder
♦ 2 t. garlic powder
♦ 1/8 – 1/4 t. cayenne pepper

* This recipe is twice as strong as store-bought, so use half as much as your recipe calls for.

ONION SOUP MIX

♦ 3/4 c. instant minced onion
♦ 4 t. onion powder
♦ 1/3 c. beef bouillon powder
♦ 1/4 t. celery seed, crushed
♦ 1/4 t. sugar

* To use, add 2 T. to 1 C. boiling water; it makes a stronger flavored mix than a regular mix.

SEASONED SALT

♦ 8 T. salt
♦ 3 T. pepper
♦ 2 T. paprika
♦ 1/2 T. onion powder
♦ 1/2 T. garlic powder

I also have two recipes for making your own chocolate syrup and pancake syrup. However, since we have not tried them yet, I will save them for another time!

To read more about saving money by making foods from scratch, see my posts:

 

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Don’t buy it, make it homemade – Part 3

Homemade Chili Powder

Several months ago I wrote about how we have tried over the years to make a few things from scratch versus buying premade (see my posts “Making your own challah” and “(More) Make your own”). Keeping kosher already encourages us to do this since sometimes there is not a store-bought version available or it is very expensive. This has not become an everyday habit for us, but there are some things we do make on a regular basis:

∞ Birthday cakes and cupcakes – No store-bought sheet cakes for us; this way is cheaper and we can personalize the treat more to the honoree.

∞ Bread crumbs – My husband saves the leftover bread from Shabbos and it gets ground into bread crumbs to use later in recipes. See my post “Recipe favorites: Crumb chicken” for one way we use bread crumbs.

∞ Canning – I would love to try more canning as well, because although it is time-consuming, you do get a lot and save so much! Check out our first attempt in my post “First canning experiment: Apple butter.”

∞ Croutons and Caesar dressing (as I have mentioned in my post “Stretching your dinner dime… dollar”) – This is one of our favorite meals and much easier and cheaper than finding a kosher store-bought version.

∞ Desserts – Especially for Shabbos, unless we have a cheap boxed cake mix.

∞ Refried beans – We love these and eat them often. The recipe makes a big batch, so we freeze it and it is good for several meals (burritos or enchiladas). See my husband’s recipe here: Refried Beans recipe.

∞ Salad dressing – We love the Good Seasons packets, but occasionally branch out into homemade recipes.

∞ Salsa, pico de gallo, and guacamole – Mexican is one of our favorite cuisine types and we eat it at least once a week. My husband has become a master at creating his own dips that the family loves! I had never liked guacamole before trying his!

∞ Taco seasoning – Until we found taco-flavored soy meat and later a taco seasoning mix at Sam’s Club, we used to always make our own taco seasoning. It was easy and could be stored along with our other spices.

Next year, when all our boys will be at elementary school, we are definitely going to start making our own bread. We will easily go through a loaf in two days with packing lunches!

As part of my quest to find new things to make homemade, here are some resources I found today:

Please share your homemade experiments with us all in the Comments Section!

 

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Wash, store, and save! (Two favorite kitchen products)

We have many things in our kitchen that hardly get used, even though they seemed like such a good idea at the time. Getting cookies just right without burning seemed like a great reason to buy a cookie sheet stone, but I think we have used it maybe twice! The second crock pot was great for making parve soups, but how often do we use it?

There are two things we do use nonstop in our kitchen. They save us time, money, and space. They also help reduce our food waste!

The first is our salad spinner bags.

Our favorite is the Argee “Spin ‘n Stor” Reusable Salad Spinner Bags. We first found them at Whole Foods, but now we buy them online. However, they last a while, so we very rarely need to buy new ones. These bags work just like a salad spinner, but without having one more gadget to store in your cabinet or refrigerator. You wash the lettuce and then place it in the bag. Then you close the top with your hands and spin it around. The water gathers on the bottom in a little reservoir. Then you pour it out the side of the bag. We love it. The boys think it is funny to see my husband swing the bag around!

After we wash a bunch of lettuce, we then store the washed lettuce in our second favorite kitchen product – produce bags.

We love the Debbie Meyer Green Bags. These hold your washed produce and keep them fresh. They work great and help us also distinguish between what has been washed and not washed in the refrigerator. Our fruits and vegetables last much longer stored in these.

I have not priced these out to see who has them cheapest, but Amazon offers them both from various retailers. You can also try Pricegrabber (see my post “Savings Tool Review: Pricegrabber”) to compare prices at several retailers at once. I have seen the Debbie Meyer bags in stores as well.

For more ideas on saving money in the kitchen, see my posts:

Do you have any kitchen products you can’t live without? Please share in the comments section!

 

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