Dealing with Leftovers

I was at a breakfast with other moms earlier this year and someone mentioned that she never wrapped up the little bites of leftovers. Nobody was going to eat them, so she didn’t want to waste her time or space saving them. Several moms agreed. This would never happen in my house.

Several years of my childhood were spent with my dad in medical school.  My mom stayed home with 4 kids (and two more to be born shortly after) so the budget was tight.  My parents did a great job of handling it and one of the things my mom did was never waste a bite of food.  I guess this carried over into my adult life.  Besides helping the budget, this also helps us not be wasteful and be good stewards of God’s creation.  I try to reuse containers, jars, and scrap paper as often as I can.  I turn shampoo bottles, soap dispensers, and ketchup bottles upside down to get the last drops.  Whatever I can’t reuse I recycle when possible.  But that is a blog post for another time.  Right now I’m dealing with leftovers.

So yes, I do save those little bites of food that may only be enough for one person.  They make great lunches for someone the next day.  Occasionally enough bites are saved throughout the week for a full meal.  I will put numbers in a hat and each child gets to draw a number.  Whoever choose the smallest number gets to pick first from the leftovers.  The kids like choosing numbers and it keeps everything fair.  Once in a while someone who gets a higher number is not happy with what food is left to choose from, but they know in the future they may get a smaller number.

Last Sunday was our baby’s baptism.  We had a large number of family and friends over to celebrate.  To save myself the embarrassment of running out of food, as usual I had too much.  But that’s okay since I like leftovers.  We served lunch items, so we had a lot of sliced roast beef and  turkey left.  We also had an almost completely uneaten raw vegetable tray.  So for the first two days after the party this week we had sandwiches.  Since my immediate family is not too fond of raw vegetables but loves them cooked, I just cooked things from the vegetable tray.  Monday I cooked the yellow squash as a side dish with our sandwiches, and Tuesday we had steamed carrots.

Since I was tired of sandwiches after two days but we still had meat, yesterday I made creamed turkey, using this recipe except I added some peas to it.  I chopped up the celery sticks from the vegetable tray.  I steamed cauliflower and broccoli as the side dish.  Today I’m making turkey chili but instead of using canned tomatoes I cut up the cherry tomatoes from the vegetable tray.  Later I hope to make this stew with the leftover roast beef.  By the time the week is done I think we will have not wasted a bite.

In addition to that we had a large fruit tray leftover from the party.  My kids have been eating a lot of the fruit plain, but I also have been making fruit smoothies for them as a snack.  From the fruit tray I’ve taken the pineapple chunks (that nobody wants plain) and strawberries.  I added some bananas that were going brown, some plain yogurt and ice cubes and blended it all up.  The kids think it’s a great treat!    On a side note bananas that are going brown can be frozen whole and whenever you have enough, you can take them out to make banana bread.

Easy Grocery Shopping

I enjoy going to the grocery store, probably because I love cooking and love food in general!  Usually I bring all the kids to the store with me, so these days shopping needs to be done quickly and simply.  I’ve found a method that works great for me as I shop and it helps me stick to buying only what’s on my list with little impulse shopping, which is good for the budget.  Initially this system took a while to set up since it’s very detailed, but now that it’s established, shopping is fast.  

I began with a trip to the store by myself with a pen and paper.  As I worked my way through my usual route in the store, I wrote down what was in each aisle.  First produce, then bacon, ham and cheese, the bakery, condiments in aisle 2A, pasta in aisle 3A, etc.  

Next is the tedious part.  I created a spread sheet with many pages.  One is a copy of my pen and paper list – grocery items by aisle.  Another page, the one I reference the most, is an alphabetical list of any grocery item I have bought more than once.  I don’t list specialty items that I may only use once for a new recipe, but anything I buy more than once a year goes on the list.  The first column of this page is the item, for example sugar, the second column is the brand I prefer, Imperial.  The third column is  the aisle where it is located, the fourth column is the weight or quantity of the item, the fifth is the cost of the item, and the last is the cost per ounce or cost per count.  I keep the price and cost per ounce on there to serve as a basis of comparison.  If I don’t have a preferred brand, perhaps I can compare prices and go for the less expensive one.  Sometimes I can find that same item but in a different size at Costco, so I’ll keep cost per ounce handy to see where the product is less expensive.  Not every time, but occasionally I will go through my receipt and update the prices on this page.   

Another page on my spreadsheet is a list of items I purchase every week from the store like eggs or bread.  The final page of the spreadsheet is the current week’s grocery list.  As I make the list for the current week I begin by copying over the items purchased every week.  Then I fill in the other items on the list, making sure everything is listed in the order that I would see it in the store.  

So while initially it’s a lot of work, each week the shopping is super easy.  I print out my list and as I go through the store I just follow the order.  I often can skip many aisles since I can see easily which aisles I need to go down, thus preventing the impulse buys, and I rarely have to backtrack because I forgot something.  

Now least one thinks I miss out on good deals because I avoid unnecessary aisles, I do review the weekly ads before making the shopping list.  Then I am able to purchase a good deal and stock up on something that I might not need this week, but will definitely use in the future.

Car Travel

Going back to my traveling tips posts, today I write about car survival.  I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I greatly prefer to travel by car with the kids rather than by plane.  So how do we manage to drive for 2 or 3 days and keep everyone happy?  

One year for Christmas, shortly before traveling to Disney World, each child received a backpack.  Inside each pack was a pencil case, coloring book and, a road trip bingo game.  Shortly before leaving each child added books, travel board games, and a favorite stuffed animal or doll.  Everyone was given colored pencils (crayons can melt in the car) for their pencil bags as well as erasers.  We went to Costco and bought snack size chips, crackers, granola bars, and cookies.  Each child picked a few snacks for their backpack and I refilled once or twice a day as necessary.  I have found that keeping the kids well-fed makes for a much happier day.    

We are fortunate enough to have a DVD player in our minivan so I stock a CD carrying case with our favorite movies and TV shows.  At home we limit screen-time, but on the road we are a little more liberal with the time.  The kids are very happy watching their favorite shows and snacking.  Our mp3 player comes in handy as well for playing all our favorite music.  Some of our favorites include the Disneymania music, or any Disney soundtrack.  We even try to theme the music to where we are traveling.  For example when we drive through Texas we listen to our favorite George Strait Texas songs, or a trip through Oklahoma has us listening to the Oklahoma! soundtrack.  

When not doing any of the above things or napping (even the big kids get sleepy in the car) we also play car games. We keep track of how many license plates we see from other states, the alphabet game where we look for each letter of the alphabet in order on billboards and signs, and “I’m going on a trip” game.

To save a little money and to allow breaks for running around, we pack our lunch and stop at rest areas rather than going to a restaurant. There are many rest areas, especially in Texas, that have playgrounds so we stop there to eat and get some exercise. I also pack our big 5-gallon water jug in the car full of iced water. I keep it within arms-reach of my seat and can refill water bottles as needed. I bring the individual serving Hawaiian Punch or Crystal Light lemonade powders to add to the drinks occasionally as well.

Since all of my children are in car seats or booster seats, it can be difficult for them to reach forward to get snacks or water bottles that I want to pass to them. One of the best solutions I have come up with is to purchase one of those grabbers that is often advertised for the elderly or disabled to reach thing on high shelves. I can then easily pass back items to the third row while my husband continues to drive so we don’t have to pull over or remove a seat belt. This is by far the best car tool we own.

I have to admit that not everyone is happy 100% of the time.  Kids (and parents) get tired, cooped up, and bored.  But we’ve managed to find a way to make the trip mostly enjoyable with minimal upset.

Survival Mode

My husband and i are in what we like to call “survival mode.”  A basic description of survival mode is we just do the bare minimum to get by.  With 5 kids under the age of seven, one of whom is 5 1/2 week old, we are just trying to get by.  This means we eat a lot of freezer meals made before our son was born.  We use paper plates to minimize dishes.  Laundry is still done but ironing is not.  Basic chores such as bathroom cleaning and vacuuming get accomplished, but we only do what is absolutely necessary.  Many things get left undone.  And still we lay down in our beds at night completely exhausted.  As our baby grows and begins to sleep longer at night, we will graduate from survival mode into chaos mode.  Since we started having children I don’t think we’ve ever been out of chaos mode.  Sometimes getting 5 small children organized and out the door is like herding cats!  

But none of this is meant to be a complaint.  We are grateful and happy for these blessings.  So while the day-to-day survival can be frustrating and exhausting, we wouldn’t trade it for anything.  One day our babies will be all grown up and we will look back on these days with happy memories and wish we had them back! 

Update

It’s been many weeks since the last post, mostly because life has gotten busy.  By my doctor’s suggestion, leading up our son’s birth, I was encouraged to “take it easy.”  I wasn’t officially on bed rest, but since my OB is very laid back, this was probably her version of putting me on rest.  So did I take it easy?  I probably didn’t do it nearly as much as my husband would have wanted.  It’s hard to take it easy while homeschooling and taking care of 4 small children.  But my husband worked from home for a while and took over some schooling, and I did get some rest.

Sunday, February 16 was our standard Sunday schedule.  We woke early for 7:30 AM Mass.  After Mass we came home for breakfast and my husband took the kids to the park so I could take a nap.  I woke from my nap while they were still at the park, and I did not feel well.  I took my blood pressure and it was very high. Shortly after my family came through the door. My husband only had to take one look at my face and he knew we were going to the hospital. I gave my parents a heads-up and then called the on-call doctor. She recommended I go to the hospital to monitor my blood pressure.
We quickly packed up some clothes and toys for the kids and headed out the door. My parents live only a few minutes from the hospital so we dropped off children and made our way over. The nurses had been instructed that if I had even one high blood pressure reading when I got there, I was to be admitted and induced. It only took a few minutes for the nurses to get 3 high readings and I was told, yes, today was the day.
A few short hours later our little Giovanni Nicolaus was born 11 days early. He weighed in at 7 lbs. 15 oz. and 19 1/4 inches. He’s now 2 1/2 weeks old and already I can’t imagine life without him. We are adjusting well, his big brothers and sisters love him, and he fits right into this family!  

“But , Father, …

“But , Father, I have read in a newspaper that a bishop has done such a thing, or a priest who has done this thing.’ Oh yes, I read it, too. Tell me, though: do the papers carry news of what great charity so many priests, so many priests in so many parishes of the city and the countryside, perform? Of the great work they do in carrying their people forward? No? This is not news. It is the same as always: a single falling tree makes more noise than a forest that grows. Today, thinking about this anointing of David, it will do us good to think of our brave, holy , good , faithful bishops and priests, and pray for them. We are here today thanks to them.”

Pope Francis in his homily today – read more here  

Stocking the Freezer

In preparation for baby #5 my husband and I have been cooking like crazy to stock the freezer.  We are usually blessed with kind friends and family who bring us meals after each baby is born.  But this usually only happens for a couple of weeks, and we don’t want to presume we will have help, so I like to make a lot of freezer meals that can be reheated easily.  Over the past couple weeks we have made about a month’s worth of meals for the freezer.  Luckily we have a full-size freezer out in the garage for storing all these things.  So this post may be rather boring, but below is a list of what I cooked this time around:

  • sauce for pasta
  • borracho beans
  • chicken soup
  • pea soup
  • beef soup
  • pinto beans
  • lentil soup
  • pasta fagiole
  • steak pizzaiola
  • pepper steak
  • meatloaf 
  • stuffed peppers 
  • fried rice
  • stew stock
  • chicken pot pie
  • eggplant parmiggiano
  • Spanish rice
  • sweet and sour pork
  • sausage and peppers
  • quiche
  • chicken enchiladas

And below is what my wonderful husband cooked on the grill:

  • chicken fajitas
  • beef fajitas
  • pork tenderloin
  • hamburgers
  • brisket