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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I used to have a list on the refrigerator of lunch choices, but it has gotten a bit out of date.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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Disasters: What can you do to help?

Tornado

Last week, several areas of Missouri, including the area of the school where I teach, were hit badly by a tornado. There were many families whose homes were severely damaged and many who were displaced. I can’t imagine the stress and hardship these families are going through. It is during times like these that we count our blessings and are grateful for small and big things.

Thankfully there has been a tremendous outpouring of support from our school district staff and the community to help these families. It is amazing all the efforts that have been launched, from collecting donations of items and money, to providing meals and shelter, to helping clear the debris, to providing information on resources and aid.

With our technological age, it is much easier to distribute information regarding volunteer opportunities and assistance available.And for those families in the area who didn’t have access, volunteers canvassed to get them that information. For those of you who want to help, it isn’t always easy to know what website or place to go to for ways to help. Here is a short guide to lending a hand in natural disaster relief.

∞ Check the local school district’s website and Facebook page. They will often have information on how to help or how to get help.

∞ Check the local newspaper’s website for current news, links to organizations, and more.

patch logo∞ Check out Patch.com, a new community-oriented news source. On this main page, you can search for the website for your local area. They had great coverage of the local tornado and links to many local organizations providing aid and resources.

amer red cross logoAmerican Red Cross – Although most known for its blood drive efforts, the American Red Cross helps with disaster response, too. To find out more, click here.

salv army logoSalvation Army – Search the Volunteer Match website to be linked with Salvation Army volunteer opportunities. You can also donate money, household items, or clothing to help those in need. To learn more about Salvation Army’s variety of disaster services and efforts, click here.

united way logo 2 United WayVolunteer to help the many efforts of the United Way. You can learn more about general opportunities, take the pledge to join, and see local opportunities. You can also go to your local United Way website and view a volunteer calendar with specific events in your area.

* Please note: All of these organizations also gladly accept monetary donations, if you are not able to give time or resources.

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Printer ink can cost a fortune!

This image shows an opened Canon S520 ink jet ...Our printer recently died and HP told us that it could not be fixed. They offered us an upgrade at a lower price. I checked out Amazon and it was a lower price than they could offer. Our new printer came very fast and I was excited that I can scan, copy, and print from one device. But who knew that the ink would run out so quickly. I have been buying ink every few weeks! Here are my tips for saving as much as you can on printer ink.

1) Print in draft mode as much as possible. This will limit the amount of ink used on each printout. Print your coupons in black ink instead of color to limit your color usage, too.

2) Buy ink online whenever you can and be sure to compare prices with your local stores so you know when you have found a good deal. I often can find my ink for $5 – $10 cheaper than in stores. I mostly purchase through Amazon, so that if I need to return the ink, I have a reputable company to make sure the return goes well.

3) Buy remanufactured ink when you can, but be sure to check the reviews for that company and product. Some remanufactured inks are not as good as others. I have read many reviews of products that did not last long or didn’t even work when they were first opened.

4) Check reviews online for your printer ink. I almost bought a set of three colors and black ink together. By reading the reviews I found out that the four-packs for that ink number are only available as the setup packs that the printer comes with.

5) Buy XL inks when you can. These have more ink for the cost. However, be sure to read the specifications for these. You printer may take that number model of ink, but not the XL version, as mine does not.

6) Get your ink refilled at an office supply store when possible. Many inks can be refilled for a minimal cost instead of being replaced. See what your local store provides.

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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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Recycle your ink = Earn money

This image shows a canon S520 ink jet printer.

I am always trying to find new ways to throw out less and either recycle, reuse, or give away items. For ink, I used to order prepaid envelopes or find a school that recycled ink as a fundraiser. Now OfficeMax has expanded their recycling program to include all ink and toner cartridges. They previously only accepted specific kinds.

Now you can recycle any types and get money in return. You will earn $2 MaxPerks Rewards for each cartridge you recycle. You can get rewards for up to 10 cartridges a calendar month, but you can recycle as many as you want. Your rewards can be used for in-store, online, and phone purchases the following quarter after you earn them.

I love the MaxPerks program and have earned so many great rewards and coupons through it. Even if you don’t have a business, there are plenty of great products for home, families, and gifts at OfficeMax. They also have an affordable copy center. They frequently mail coupons to their MaxPerks members, offer bag discounts in the Sunday paper, and even sometimes have coupons in their sale fliers (like last week)!

For other ways to earn rewards for shopping, see my posts “Get rewarded for shopping – updated!” and “Get rewarded for shopping = Part 2.”

 

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Earth Tip: Buy organic and local

A single week's fruits and vegetables from com...

As part of my “Countdown to Earth Day” series, I wanted to highlight even more ways that you can take actions to help our planet. Today’s tip is to buy organic and locally produced foods.

Now, I realize that buying organic can sometimes be more costly than other choices. We used to buy almost everything organic, but have had to cut back drastically with the current economy and our current salaries. If you have to pick a few to buy, check out this article: “The New Dirty Dozen: 12 Foods to Eat Organic.”

However, as we continue to promote the demand for these products, eventually prices will come down. Even buying one or two items each week can make a difference. There are many advantages to buying organic and local (to list just a few):

  • Fresher food for your families
  • No chemicals, pesticides, etc.
  • Less travel time for products from farm to market (which produces less pollution)
  • Protects our ecosystem
  • Promotes fair treatment of farm laborers and humane treatment of animals
  • Focus on sustainable life for farmers
  • Helps local businesses stay in business

To find out where to get locally grown or organic food in your area, here are two resources:

Eat Well Guide:

This is a free online directory for anyone who wants locally grown and sustainably produced food in the United States and Canada. It lists thousands of family farms, restaurants, farmer’s markets, grocery stores, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, U-pick orchards, and more. You can search in a variety of ways: by location, keyword, category, or product.

Local Harvest:

This is another directory geared for just the United States. They maintain a directory of small farms, farmer’s markets, and other local food sources. Their website also features an online store, a forum, a listing of events, blogs, and a newsletter. It is a great resource for learning about ways to get involved, how to use your “local harvest,” and more.

 

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What are you doing for Earth Day?

The Earth flag is not an official flag, since ...

Earth Day is April 22 and cities around the world are sponsoring volunteer efforts, fairs, festivals, and speakers. To find out what is going on in your town, here are a few resources. If you cannot find a listing for your town, you may need to do a Google search for your city and “Earth Day.”

Earth Day Network:

This organization “works with over 22,000 partners in 192 countries to broaden, diversify and mobilize the environmental movement.” You can search for events in your area, find actions you can take, and more.

Environmental Protection Agency’s Earth Day website:

Includes search tool to find EPA events in your area, a video, pledges and actions to take, a Greenquest game, and a daily email list with tips.

St. Louis Earth Day:

If you live here in St. Louis, check out all the events and resources on the St. Louis Earth Day website. Note that at the Recycling Extravaganza you can recycle medicines, as I mentioned in my post “Recycle your unused medicines.”

* If you haven’t already begun to take small actions to protect our Earth, see my post “Countdown to Earth Day.”

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Countdown to Earth Day

Crystal earth recycle icon

Earth Day is on April 22. However, I truly believe that every day should be Earth Day. I have already written about it in many of my previous posts.

To guide you in undertaking simple things for our Earth, check out the ideas and links below. Fortunately, protecting the environment often results in money savings, too. See “How much your green habits really save” from Earth 911.

REDUCE …

∞ packaging by buying in bulk.

See my post on “Bulk discounts.”

∞ waste by bringing your own bags to the grocery store.

See my post on “Reusable shopping bags = savings.”

∞ waste by finding new uses for old things or repairing things when you can.

See my posts “Don’t throw it out,” “Revamp and wear again!” and “Quick fixes without a repair call.”

∞ trash by making homemade whenever you can instead of buying store-bought items.

See my post on “(More) Make your own…”

∞ electricity usage by installing compact fluorescents in your home.

See my post on “Brighter savings.”

∞ water usage by making some small changes in your home.

See my post on “Not just a drop in the bucket!”

∞ energy usage by purchasing energy-efficient appliances.

See my post “Cash back for protecting Mother Earth.”

∞ energy usage through ways you prepare for Shabbos.

See my post on “Saving money and energy on Shabbos.”

REUSE …

∞ books by swapping books you no longer want with others.

See my post on “My favorite find – swapping books.”

∞ a plastic or stainless steel water bottle every day for work, day trips, your kids’ lunches.

∞ cloth napkins for meals.

See my post on “Switch over your disposables.”

∞ your coffee filters and use dryer balls instead of dryer sheets.

See my post on “Filter and fluff without waste.”

RECYCLE …

∞ find ways to recycle everything you can!

See my post on “Recycle, recycle, recycle” for how to get started or for resources on where to recycle various items.

∞ items in your home that you are done with by giving them away to others in need.

See my posts “Declutter responsibly,” “Finding a home for used stuffed animals,” “Give your old shoes a new life,” and “Spring cleaning for a good cause.”

∞ old medications by disposing of them properly or taking them to places that can recycle them.

See my post on “Recycle your unused medicines.”

 

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Spring cleaning for a good cause

Different types of stuffed toys

As much as I know it adds to my cleaning time, I cannot help but spring clean/declutter when I am cleaning for Pesach. It makes me feel good to get rid of things in our home that we no longer need or use. I just cannot throw things away if they might be able to be used or recycled, though! For those of you like me, I wanted to refer you to some older posts with information on putting your unwanted items to use for others (or repairing or recycling them if appropriate).

Happy decluttering and Pesach cleaning!

 

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Shaloch Manos Gallery 2012

Sorry to post this so late, but I wanted to share with you the great ideas that some of our friends and family came up with for shaloch manos this year.

Themes:

Breakfast or lunch foods: This year several of our friends did breakfast shaloch manos with things like cereal, juice boxes, muffins, instant coffee, creamer, etc.

Outdoor/fitness: My friends Lori and Larry used a frisbee and covered it with a sports drink, a Clif bar, squeezable applesauce, and hamantashen. They even painted the outside of the frisbee with chalkboard paint and included chalk so you could draw on it! What a clever idea!

Movie night: My friend Wendy used a popcorn box and then included microwave popcorn, a can of soda and a Hershey’s chocolate bar.

Poem: My friend Shari included a Purim poem and then included certain foods that matched words from the poem. Another set of friends, Sara and Hyim, did a similar thing with a different poem. Our friends Michelle and Ephraim used the Red Solo cup song and included hamantashen, a small Rum bottle, Coke, and one other item in a red Solo cup.

Food person: My friend Vicki adhered her food items together to form a man. The head was a single serve applesauce, the arms – Laffy Taffy, the body – a juicebox, and the feet – boxes of raisins. The result was very cute!

Other themes I have seen in past years:
- items of only a certain color
- a rainbow poem and then items of each color of the rainbow
- foods all from a particular country (like Chinese food, all Italian, or all Israeli products)
- foods all including a certain ingredient (my friend Gilat made homemade chocolate sauce and included other chocolate items last year) 

Decorations:

Our friends Bella and Yosef and Stacy and Michael always include a family picture on their labels. It makes a nice touch and I love to save them for my scrapbook.

Great containers:

As you know, I am very conscientious about recycling and reusing. I always try to find a container or bag that can be reused. Some examples of containers I have used in the past have included: cloth drawstring bags, plastic containers (like Gladware), and soft plastic square boxes (from Garden Ridge). This year we used plastic cups from the dollar store.

Mid-way through filling the cups.

My cousin Sharone used a bandana for her shaloch manos this year. It looked great and can be reused easily!

Our neighbors Charlotte and Joseph used a pretty Spring basket. I think it will look great on the table with napkins or benchers!

My friend Wendy used a white paper bag. With ribbon tied at the top and a pretty label, she turned this simple container into something beautiful!

Other ideas that I have seen in past years include:
- handmade bags made of fabric
- dollar store baskets of all kinds
- wire baskets

I love anything I can reuse for decoration, serving food, or giving with a gift later!

Please keep in mind that using any of these ideas will depend on your budget, how many shaloch manos you are making, and what items you want to include.

Please share any ideas you have seen or created in the Comments section.

 

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