budget

My 10 Favorite Kitchen Tricks

by Sally on November 19, 2014

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- from Real Mom Nutrition

As a home cook, I’m a little bit lazy and a whole lot frugal. If there is a way to save money or time, I will try it. Not every effort is successful, but once in a while I stumble upon a kitchen trick that’s a real keeper. Here are my ten favorite:

1. Do-It-Yourself Chocolate Peanut Butter

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom NutritionI like Nutella and Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter as much as the next person. But sometimes it’s not wise for me to have a whole jar of it in my house (for obvious reasons such as lack of self-control). So occasionally I make small batches of a cheaper, quick-and-dirty version using peanut butter: Place a few squares of chocolate (or handful of chips) in some peanut butter, microwave for 30 seconds or until melted, stir, and spread on whatever you want. Use the ratio of chocolate-to-peanut butter that suits your tastes.

2. Chopping & Freezing Onions

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

I love adding the flavor of onion to dishes, but my kids don’t like big chunks of onion in their food. So I use my mini-chopper (this is the one I’ve had for years) to create very finely diced onions–almost creating an onion “paste”. Sometimes I process several onions at once, especially if I have too many and don’t want them to go to waste. Then I transfer the diced onion to freezer bags, and press flat. Then, when I have a recipe that calls for sautéing chopped onion, I just grab a bag, break off a chunk of frozen onion, and throw it into the pan.

3. Letting Dough Rise in the Microwave

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

Having trouble getting dough to rise? Place a glass measuring cup of water in your microwave (yes, that’s my microwave, not a wall oven) and heat it on HIGH for several minutes until it boils. Turn off the microwave, place your covered bowl of dough inside the microwave (keep the hot water in too), and shut the door. The warm, steamy air will allow your dough to rise faster.

 4. Soaking Dates in Milk for Smoothies

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

Dates are an easy way to sweeten a smoothie, but they can be hard to pulverize in a standard blender. I got this trick from a Real Mom Nutrition reader after posting a recipe for this yummy Peanut Butter Breakfast Shake.  She suggested soaking the dates in a dish of milk kept in the refrigerator, which softens them up so they blend quickly and smoothly. Now I do this too and it works great!

 5. De-Stemming Kale Quickly

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

To quickly pull the leaves away from the tough center stem, hold the kale leaf in one hand and slide your other hand along the stem. Then make this easy Sweet Tart Kale Salad.

6. Soaking Apple Slices in OJ & Lemon

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

I saw this trick on Pinterest and it’s one of my favorite lunchbox hacks ever. Slice an apple, pour the juice from one lemon and one orange (or OJ if that’s what you have) over the slices and refrigerate. Pull out slices to pack in lunch boxes (they won’t brown) or eat them straight from the juice. Many people already do this with lemon, but the orange adds sweetness and balances out the sour of the lemon. My kids go nuts for these.

7. Making Bacon in the Oven

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

I’ll never go back to making bacon on the stove after discovering this method. The bacon cooks so evenly, with barely attention from me (and with no grease spatters all over the stovetop). Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place bacon slices on foil, bringing the foil edges up and over the edge of the pan. Bake for about 15 minutes or until desired doneness. Some readers also suggested putting a baking rack on the pan and laying the bacon on the rack, so the fat drips down and away from the bacon.

8. Assembling Freezer Smoothie Packets

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

To streamline the morning routine, I sometimes package up ready-to-go smoothie packets for the freezer full of fruit, greens, and extras like flaxseed. In the morning, just pull out a packet, dump it in the blender, and add cold water or milk. This is an especially handy way to preserve greens that are getting past their prime.

9. Using Uncooked Lasagna Noodles

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

Lasagna is one of my favorite cold-weather comfort foods, but I hate the extra time-sucking step of pre-boiling the noodles. So instead of buying the special no-boil noodles, I use my regular whole wheat lasagna noodles (this is a favorite brand) and simply skip the step of pre-boiling them. The key is using a healthy amount of sauce (in addition to sauce between the layers, be sure the entire surface is covered as well), and bake the lasagna tightly covered with foil.

10. Subbing Flaxseed For Egg

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

If you don’t have an egg for a recipe (or don’t want to use eggs at all), use flaxseed instead. Combine one tablespoon ground flaxseed and three tablespoons water, stir and let sit for five minute. Then add to recipes as usual. I’ve done this for pancakes and cookies.

Now I’d love to hear from you. Do you use any of these shortcuts? What are YOUR best kitchen tricks?

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through this link, your cost will be the same, but I will receive a small commission to help with operating costs of this blog. Thanks for your support!

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My Favorite Packaged Foods

by Sally on March 10, 2014

In the last few years, I’ve made a conscious decision to make more food from scratch. But I still buy packaged food (read “From-Scratch Cooking Confession: I Can’t Keep Up!“). Several readers asked me for more details on the kinds of packaged products I buy, so I wanted to share some of my favorites.

When choosing packaged foods, I always read labels, looking for a simple ingredient list and a food that’s naturally nutrient-rich (not something heavily processed that’s been pumped with vitamins and minerals). Because I have a food budget, price is also important. So while I know that the natural foods markets are teeming with terrific packaged options, everything on this list can be found at a regular grocery store or Target at a pretty reasonable price (with the exception of the “Splurge Snack”).

smuckers-creamy_300 Peanut Butter: Smucker’s Natural

Just peanuts and salt and a thick, grainy, satisfying texture.

My Favorite Packaged Foods by Real Mom Nutrition Breakfast Sausage: Applegate Chicken & Apple

The ingredients are chicken, dried apples, water, honey, and spices. No antibiotics. And my fourth grader can now make eggs and sausage for himself and his little brother in the morning all by himself. Hallelujah!

My Favorite Packaged Foods by Real Mom Nutrition Frozen French Fries: Cascadian Farm Shoe String French Fries

They’ve got the look of fast food fries but are made with organic potatoes and have hardly any added sodium–so you can sprinkle on however much (or little) salt you want.

My Favorite Packaged Foods by Real Mom Nutrition Crackers: Triscuits

Just three ingredients—wheat, oil, and salt. I like that these crackers, unlike some others, have no added sugar.

Honorable Mention: Wasa crispbreads, which are hearty and satisfying, and delicious with a smear of natural peanut butter or a slice of melted cheese.

My Favorite Packaged Foods by Real Mom Nutrition Cereal: Barbara’s Puffins

Just 5 grams of sugar per serving (that’s a bit more than 1 teaspoon) but sweet enough to feel fun to my kids.

Honorable Mentions: Read “My 5 Favorite Boxed Cereals

My Favorite Packaged Foods by Real Mom Nutrition Splurge Snack: Simply Balanced freeze-dried fruit (at Target)

Contains only fruit and tastes like a special treat. This is what I buy my kids at Target when I’ve been dragging them around on way too many errands.

My Favorite Packaged Foods by Real Mom Nutrition Energy Bar: KIND bars

Short ingredient lists, and big chewy pieces of nuts, dried fruit, and seeds.Honorable Mention: Larabars, because I love the super-simple ingredient lists and (in some cases) no added sugar.

My Favorite Packaged Foods by Real Mom Nutrition Boxed Mac-n-Cheese: Hodgson Mill Whole Wheat

Filling whole wheat pasta and no neon colors.

Honorable Mention: Annie’s Organic Whole Wheat Shells & White Cheddar.

Want more ideas? Prevention Magazine recently released its “100 Cleanest Packaged Food Awards” for 2014. A few of these brands–including  Smucker’s, Cascadian Farms, and Applegate–made that list too.

What are YOUR favorite packaged foods?

Disclosure: I’m happy to be working with Applegate this year as a member of their Advisory Board, because it’s a brand I buy and respect. All opinions expressed are my own. 

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Fear & Loathing on Facebook

May 22, 2013

Here’s what I’ve been learning lately on Facebook: Packaged bread is poison so you should make your own. But wheat is also poison, so don’t bother. You should never, ever, ever drink milk. Unless it’s raw, then maybe it’s okay. Never mind, it’s bad. If you’re feeding your kids non-organic fruit while slathering them with […]

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The Fabulous Food Stamp Diet!

December 5, 2012

Forget South Beach. Or The Abs Diet. Or the Raw Food Detox Diet. The quickest way to zip up those skinny jeans is to go on food stamps! At least that’s what Fox News’ Andrea Tantaros thinks. In a discussion about Newark mayor Cory Booker’s move to eat on a budget equivalent to food stamps (aka […]

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Lessons Learned From The Pantry Challenge

November 20, 2012

Much to my family’s relief, the Autumn Pantry Challenge is over. Though we struggled through last year’s challenge (I got crabby and actually gained weight), it was a lot easier this time around. I chalk that up to a more realistic weekly budget ($50) and an especially large stockpile of food to start. I went […]

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Pantry Challenge: Week #3 Meal Plan & Home Stretch!

November 12, 2012

Should beer and wine count toward the weekly Pantry Challenge grocery budget? Not surprisingly, my husband–who is no fan of the Pantry Challenge–emphatically says no. If he’s right and it doesn’t, I stayed close to my $50 goal last week. I even hosted a neighborhood party–and I tried to use what I had on hand […]

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Pantry Challenge: Week #2 Meal Plan

November 5, 2012

The good news is that I stuck to my meal plan pretty closely last week (read: Pantry Challenge: Week #1 Shopping Trip & Meal Plan). The bad news is that we had two last-minute events that busted my budget. One was an out-of-town trip that involved pizza delivery. Another was hosting a night time Nerf […]

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Pantry Challenge: Week #1 Shopping Trip & Meal Plan

October 28, 2012

It’s the first day of the Autumn Pantry Challenge! Today, I made trips to Aldi and my neighborhood supermarket and spent only $32 on groceries for the week (my weekly budget is $50 or less). Week One Meal Plan Sunday: Beef Barley Soup, Homemade Oatmeal Yogurt Rolls, Salads Monday: Leftovers Tuesday: Cod from freezer, Whole […]

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Join My Pantry Challenge!

October 23, 2012

I have a tendency to stockpile food (read: Hello, My Name is Sally. And I Hoard Groceries.). I can’t pass up a good deal, and there’s something comforting about having three extra canisters of oats on hand just in case. But at some point, my basement shelves runneth over. And my wallet feels especially empty. I […]

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Aldi Haul: My Best Finds This Week

October 14, 2012

I’ve already waxed poetic about Aldi (read: Ode to Aldi). So I won’t go on and on about how much I love the discount grocery chain. But I couldn’t help but share these especially good deals (and a few new finds) from this week’s shopping trip: 16-ounce bag of frozen fruit for morning smoothies Aldi […]

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