Second Annual Heavenly Homemakers Christmas Brunch

Last year’s Christmas Brunch was so much fun, we’ve decided to do it again.

We appreciate all of you so much for reading here, and for all of the encouragement you send our way. As a way of saying thank you, we would love to invite you all into our home for a big Christmas brunch. Since that’s not physically possible, we will be having a “virtual” Christmas Brunch here next week that we hope you can all attend.

There will be lots of yummy food (recipes), gifts, and encouragement as we enjoy the week before Christmas together.

In addition, as an appreciation gift for coming to our Brunch, we’ll be having a drawing on the 26th for four $10 Heavenly Homemakers Gift Certificates! Each time you see the above Christmas Brunch Invitation on a post between now and the 24th, leave a comment for a chance to win one of the certificates. I’ll draw four random winners and post them on the 26th. There will be several posts with the invitation attached, so you’ll have several chances to win! (This post counts, so let the comments begin!)

And now, I’m off to prepare goodies and gifts to share with you next week. Please plan to attend this special upcoming week of festivities!

Compromising at Christmas Time

Some of you may remember reading this post last year, as I wrote it for another site that had asked me to contribute. This year, I decided to tweak it and post it for you here!

Coconut Cupcakes

I am always so tempted to make food compromises at Christmastime.  There are extra events going on, making it harder to put healthy meals on the table. Plus, there are sweets and holiday goodies at all of the parties and get togethers. SO MUCH SUGAR…and it always looks so pretty. Ah, frosting and sprinkles. Why must you tempt me so?

So, what should we do? Avoid all parties and shun all forms of sugary goodness? Or throw caution to the wind, dump a whole container of sprinkles directly into the frosting bowl, grab a spoon and get down to business?

Sugar bonks our immune system right on the head, so the motivation to stay healthy is helping me reach for carrots instead of fudge. But I also know that if I avoid sugar completely, I’m likely to eat the entire pan of fudge later. Allowing treats is okay – sometimes.

But here’s what I’ve decided:  The treat has got to taste really, really good. I’m not wasting my sugar intake on a tasteless, dry cookie or a three day old donut.  Any treat I indulge in needs to be fresh and gooey. There needs to be chocolate involved. Or cream cheese. Or both.

And here’s another way I compromise during busy times like this. I’m not making every single bite of our food from scratch. Even during what usually tends to be a busy Christmas season, my family still prefers to eat three (to seven meals) a day.  I find that buying baby carrots or pre-made whole grain English muffins helps save my sanity. MOST of the time, I cut our carrot sticks, and bake all of our bread. Right now, I feel good if I’ve remembered to give my kids vegetables in the first place. If I need to spend just a little bit more for some healthy convenience during these next few weeks, so be it.

It’s all a part of keeping Christmas time simple this year.

I think we need to cut ourselves some slack. When we work almost constantly to save money and make food from scratch, that buys us a little bit of “chill out time” during those weeks when you can’t tell your comings from your goings and your Christmas lights are tangled up around the tail of your frustrated cat.

The moral of the story is this:

Try not to eat much sugar, and when you do indulge in a treat, make sure it’s the kind that makes you faint from deliciousness. Also, when your son’s birthday falls a few days before Christmas, go ahead and buy “take and bake” pizzas for the party because making a homemade crust might make you say things you’ll regret.

Yes indeed, I’ll be buying pizzas for my son’s birthday next week. Guilt free.

It’s okay, I’ll make whole wheat organic crust again in January.

When do you make compromises? What compromises have you had to make during this season?

Funky Fresh Kitchen – The Toss it Out Challenge

I’m not generally a proponent of wasting food. But I’m here today to challenge you to do a little bit of selective pantry cleansing. This may be a little bit painful – but I’m here to hold your hand (and walk with you to the trash can). You can do this. We’re all in this together.

One of the most difficult things for me to do when we began our Healthy Eating Journey was to throw out and stop purchasing foods that I was able to get for little to nothing with coupons.  Skippy Peanut Butter, Hamburger Helper, Poptarts, Rice-a-Roni – these and many more were all frequently in my pantry until six years ago when we began to learn the importance of eating real, whole foods. I shed tears, I got heeby-jeebies in my gut, I grieved my old way of life and way of thinking about “food”.

It was a roller-coaster time for me because at the same time I was struggling to clean out my food stash, I was also excited about eating better. I was thrilled to be learning ways to feed my family healthier foods. I was hopeful about the improvements in our health that came with eating nutrient rich foods, instead of pre-packaged foods that were hurting our bodies.


Why did I think I’d miss boxed mac and cheese when
for the same amount of time and effort, we can have this???
Creamy Mac and Cheese

During that transition, many boxes and bags made their way to our trash can. (It helped when ants got into some open boxes of cereal – praise the Lord for blessings that come in the form of little black pests.)  Some of our unopened packages of processed foods were given to our local food pantry. Little by little, I transformed our kitchen.

Some of the main ingredients I was focused on getting rid of right away were:  High Fructose Corn Syrup and Hydrogenated Oils. I began reading labels, and if those ingredients were in the foods in my home, out they went. Later, I transitioned our noodles and rice to be of the whole grain variety, then I made changes with our dairy products and meat. Slowly but surely, my kitchen became funky, fresh and healthy.

If you’re on a healthy eating journey, I’d like to encourage you to make just one more change today. Throw out something in your kitchen that shouldn’t be there. (Um, don’t toss your husband’s favorite goodies without asking first – this post is supposed to be inspirational to your health, not detrimental to your marriage.)  ;)

Let’s walk together to your food stash. What’s in there that isn’t helping you and your family to be healthy? I’m not asking you to throw out everything that isn’t a real, wholesome food unless you’re absolutely ready to take that plunge. Today I’m just asking you to throw out one thing (or set it aside to give away).

In an upcoming post I’ll share all kinds of exciting information about how to replace those bad-for-you foods with delicious good-for-you foods!!!  But today we’re just taking a step toward a Funky Fresh Kitchen by throwing out one thing that isn’t good for us. Picture me (and all the rest of the gang who hangs out here) cheering you on while you do it.

Leave a comment on this post letting us all know what you’ve tossed out!!!   Use that awesome basketball ability you’ve been hiding all these years and skillfully shoot those boxes of unreadables across the room into the trash so that you can replace it with something delicious and better for you. Share with us what you’re tossing!!! We want to be inspired by you. (Plus, your comment here will be entered in the drawing for our five $10 Heavenly Homemakers Shop gift certificates giveaway!!)

Hey, while we’re on the subject of cleaning out the pantry (and fridge), I’d love to hear how you’re coming on creating your Funky Kitchen. There are still some $2.00 Funky Kitchen coupon codes to be had…get ’em while they last!

Should I Eat Organic Food? (part one)

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Whenever I have mentioned that our family eats mostly organic foods, many of you have asked:  Is it worth it to pay extra money for organic food? Is eating organic food really that important? Is non-organic food really so bad for you? And really…isn’t this whole “organic eating thing” just kind of trendy and gimmicky?

After much research and thought, my answers to those questions are:  Sometimes, Sometimes, Sometimes and Sort Of But Not Necessarily.

Okay, so did that clear up any confusion? Good. Now what questions would you like me to answer?

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Just kidding. I’ll elaborate. I’m definitely not an organic food expert, but our family has been trying to eat a whole foods and mostly organic diet for about six years now, and I really wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t feel like it was important. We also don’t have unlimited funds in our budget, so don’t assume we eat organic, whole foods because we’re rolling in dough. (Unless you’re talking about bread dough, because then occasionally I’m rolling in it.)

The fact that eating organic food is “trendy” in some areas was big news to me. Where I live, eating organic food is not very popular and pretty much not the norm. Therefore, my very uneducated and inexperienced opinion on why many see organic eating as a trend is that not everyone who buys and eats organic food “gets it”. They might just see it as “the thing to do” and feel  like if the package says “natural” or “organic” is must be better for you.

I personally am not an advocate of eating organic, whole foods (or doing anything for that matter) simply because “everyone else is doing it”. What a silly reason for me to go out of my way to find healthy foods. I try to feed my family organic, whole foods because my extensive research tells me that this is best. For the record, there are many foods with an organic label that I do not recommend. (I’ll elaborate on that soon.)

When I mentioned in this post that I wasn’t sure I felt that eating a non-organic apple was better than eating no apples at all…I really am not convinced that it is as a general rule. Some suggested that they’d rather feed their kids a non-organic apple than a bag of chips. Well sure. But I wasn’t comparing apples to chips. I was suggesting that maybe I should skip the non-organic apple and just stick with in-season organic produce instead. I have my reasons. I’ll talk about them in the next few posts in this series.

And then there’s milk and meat and grains. Those subjects deserve to be talked about a little bit too.

Thus begins a little series inside a series. (Did this just get complicated?)  I’ve been working slowly but surely through this Simple Steps Toward Healthy Eating series, and now within that series, I’ll be writing a few posts entitled, “Should I Eat Organic Food?”

See? It’s a series inside a series.   While you wait for these posts, I’d appreciate it if you go back and read some of my other series, which means that this is a series inside of a series inside of a series.

By the way, did you know that the plural form of the word series is series? I find that funny. Not laugh-out-loud funny, but the kind of funny that makes a person shrug and say, “Huh, how ’bout that?”.

Yeah, okay, it’s really not that funny.

Anyway, you may want to read the following series:  Feeding the Family, particularly these posts:

You should also read this series:  Our Healthy Eating Journey so that you know where I’m coming from.

Also, you need to be reminded that with all of my talk about healthy eating, sometimes our family throws out all the great organic, whole foods ideas and buys frozen pizza rolls with all the no-no ingredients in them. It’s called a compromise and I don’t freak out about it. (Nor, ultimately, do I freak out about the occasional non-organic apple, but again, I’ll get back to that within this series.)

Stay tuned for the following topics within this series of series:

  • What  does organic even mean anyway?
  • Which foods should I focus on for eating organic?
  • What if I can’t afford organic food or have any resources close by?

I’ll be posting the next post in this “organic food series” next Sunday night. Until then, I’ll leave you with this question:  Do you eat mostly organic food, some organic food, no organic food?

Also, the particular word series that I printed in green above, is it singular or plural? Yeah, see? Very tricky. And a little bit funny. But not really.

Menu Plan for the Week

Here’s what we’ll be eating this week!

Sunday, March 6
Cinnamon apple toast
Italian pasta bake, tossed salad, creamy corn casserole
Spicy avocado dip, organic corn chips, fruit, coconut macaroons

Monday, March 7
Pancake and sausage muffins, applesauce
Alfredo sauce with pasta, steamed broccoli
Roasted chicken, potatoes, carrots, gravy

Tuesday, March 8
Chocolate chocolate chip muffins, apple slices
Popcorn chicken, ranch potato wedges, peas
Shepherds pie, tossed salad

Wednesday, March 9
Honey whole wheat bagels, oranges
Pizza casserole, strawberry-peach slushies, carrot sticks
Italian stew, tossed salad

Thursday, March 10
Veggie egg scramble, clementines
Chicken noodle soup, raw veggies
Beef stroganoff, green beans

Friday, March 11
Warm chocolate soother, toast
Pizza, apples
Cheeseburgers, onion rings

Saturday, March 12
Monkey bread, chocolate milk
Leftovers
Swiss steak with rice and veggies

Say Mmm is a great resource to help make menu planning simpler!! As always, if you just want to steal my menu plan, feel free! :)  Visit Organizing Junkie for many more menu planning ideas!

The Traveling Casserole

When we travel, I always pack quite a bit of food. This takes some effort when you’re getting ready to go on a trip, but we find the work is worth it as we save a lot of money on eating out. Plus, it’s a lot easier on our systems. (Don’t even get me started.)

Aside from good ol’ sandwiches, here are some other food items that we have found travel well:

In January, after our 3,800 mile road trip, you could say that we were just a little bit tired of traveling and eating in the car. We’d eaten packed food, fast food, snack food and well…a few too many beans. Vegetable soup and salad from the comfort of our own kitchen had never sounded better.

And yet, just three days after our return home, we needed to make a two hour (one way) trip to one of Asa’s basketball games. Matt and I tried not to groan as we discussed our food plan for the day. The idea of eating out or eating concession food made us turn green. Packing sandwiches didn’t appeal to us in the slightest. Nothing sounded good. Even the kids, who normally think eating out or having sandwiches and chips is a big treat, curled their upper lips at us.

What to do…what to do…because we did need food.

Enter….The Traveling Casserole:

I’ve gotta say…I’d never thought of this idea before. (I didn’t think of it this time either…it was Matt’s brilliant idea.)  He dug out the very cool Pyrex Dish with Insulated Carrier that someone had given us as a gift. Why couldn’t we just make a “real meal” and keep it warm in this until we were ready to eat?

Did I mention that my husband is brilliant?

One of the boys suggested Cheesy Beef and Ricealso brilliant.   Cheesy Beef and Rice is not messy or runny or gooey or likely to cause stains on basketball uniforms.

I made it, baked it and packed it up just before time to leave. I grabbed a serving spoon, some paper plates and plastic forks….tossed in some yogurt and fruit and we were good to go.

When we were ready to eat, I just served up paper plates and passed them to the back of the van. Not one bit of casserole was left at the end of the night…and not one of us was whining about having a stomach ache or about having to eat a sandwich…again.

So…all that to say…think outside the box just a little bit when packing food for trips. There is no limit to the traveling food ideas.

Except for I don’t think I’d ever want to pack spaghetti. Or anything you’d have to eat with chop sticks.

Like we ever even eat with chop sticks when we’re at home at the table?

I have no idea why I just said that.

What are  your favorite travel foods?

Compromising Our Whole Foods Diet

Tonight we’re hosting Elias’ 9th birthday party. 

You know how our house is always full of boys? Tonight there are even more of them. Right now they are all running around shooting each other with laser guns and Nerf guns and somehow I think there is a hallway basketball game going on at the same time. Now that takes talent.

We always let the birthday boy choose his party food. He usually takes into consideration what he thinks his buddies will like. And, surprise – surprise, he usually doesn’t choose “Tossed Salad” or “Spinach Smoothies”.

I was recently asked by one of you (but for the life of me I can’t find the comment to quote it exactly):  “Laura, can you tell us what foods you will occasionally buy at the store for convenience…and which foods you will NEVER buy?”

This probably doesn’t answer that question as specifically as the commenter was wishing for, but well…here’s what I bought for Elias’ birthday party dinner tonight…

If that’s not a compromise I don’t know what is.

I have to say that it was more than a little bit painful pulling them off of the freezer shelf and paying actual money for them. Incidentally, I also had TWO GALLONS worth of vodka in my cart on this shopping trip as we’re getting ready to start yet another big round of Homemade Vanilla Extract. Yep, it looked like one BIG party in my shopping cart tonight. ;)

The pizza rolls were Elias’ choice and while the ingredient list is longer than my hand (I am not even kidding), I have to say that it was a nice relief to just throw them in the oven and put out some paper plates and call it dinner. Besides, I was in the middle of baking his birthday cake and getting Whole Wheat Cinnamon Rolls ready for tomorrow’s breakfast for all the boys. The ease of dinner (if we can actually call it dinner) was really nice.

Here’s why I feel okay (not great, but okay) about buying and feeding my family these pizza rolls tonight:  We eat a really healthy diet about 357 days of the year. On those other few days or moments of the year when we are traveling, eating with others, hosting parties, going to parties or attending any event that has a meal comprised of chips and candy…we go with the flow. We don’t act all “weirded out” about the fact that we’re being served food that doesn’t meet our normal healthy eating criteria. If I’m offered Nacho Cheese Doritos at a get-together, you better believe I’m going to have a few and I’m going to enjoy myself.

We try not to go over-board and pig out because yikes…our tummies aren’t used to eating that kind of stuff. But we really cannot be enslaved by healthy eating.  Being paralyzed by these fears can be unhealthy in and of itself.  Compromising used to be a huge fear of mine, especially when I was first learning about what was healthy and what was SCARY and unhealthy. But I’ve “come down off the ledge” and realized that a few crazy junk foods here and there are not going to kill us. Especially when we follow it up as soon as possible with good, wholesome, nutrition-filled foods.

Which we will, by the way…tomorrow.  Those spinach smoothies will be making their appearance.

And for the record, while there are many things I just close my eyes and compromise on occasionally…I will never, ever knowingly or willingly purchase or eat margarine. Can’t do it. Won’t do it. Can’t even think about it.

Blech. Helgpaht. Mliiegylk. Pgvughhha.

Eeek, I get very gaggy when it comes to the thought of the yellowed tub of chemically created fatty-fattness spread that we’re told is better than rich cream whipped into golden goodness…otherwise known as REAL butter.

But a pizza roll or a Dorito…yeah…I’ll eat one here and there. That doesn’t even make sense does it?

So what types of “food” will you compromise on sometimes?  And which “foods” make you screw up your face and say Helgpaht-blephln?

The Real Foods Grocery Budget Week Wrap-Up

Thank you all SO much for the wonderful interaction this week during the impromtu Real Foods Grocery Budget series! I usually have a plan for the week for what I will be writing about, but somehow, with all of your comments and questions after I wrote about our 2011 Real Foods Grocery Budget, I got off course and just kept talking about food and money. :)

What I loved most about this week is how so many of you were reading through each other’s comments and offering suggestions of what works for YOU. While I can write about what works for ME and for our family, I don’t live where you live or have the same food sources you have. It was great to see all the comments coming in from those of you willing to help others find great sources for food in your communities. Isn’t the internet cool?

As I wrap up the week and the series, I just want to encourage you all to be prayerful about how you feed your families and to do whatever you feel God is calling you to do. HE can make it happen!

AND DON’T GET DISCOURAGED!! Some of you have mentioned that you are very new to the Real Foods way of eating. If you’re interested in making some changes that’s great, but changing everything at once can be very overwhelming, as can the idea of increasing a food budget. You may find that you can make Real Food changes and not increase your food budget at all…or you may find that you need to slowly figure out ways to at to your food budget to fulfill the desire you have for feeding your family a Real Foods diet. 

Take small steps.  Don’t feel like you need to change everything at once. Read through my Simple Steps to Healthy Eating posts for some ideas on where to start. There is no order to these steps and no right or wrong way to make changes. Just pick a step and take it!   (And guess what, by the way? I really do plan to add to that series soon, even though I haven’t posted a Simple Step in a while!)

simplesteps

Also, if you haven’t read through Our Journey to Healthy Eating, please click on over so that you can find out more about why my family chooses to eat the way we do and what our journey looked like along the way

Just so you know, we’re still on the journey! There’s still a lot I need to learn and some other changes I need to make and shucks…sometimes I still get hungry for Nacho Cheese Doritos. With a beef hotdog.

Anyone else feel like sharing something “not so good for you” that you have a hard time giving up?!

Thanks again everyone for your participation in this week’s series!!

Do You NEED to Cut the Grocery Budget?

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Thank you all for adding suggestions and sharing your various circumstances in my last Real Food Grocery Budget post, Very Limited Income for Real Food Purchases. I think it’s great that we’re all helping each other think of new ideas for saving money on good food.

What I’d like to address now is that while I think it’s great to learn ways to cut down on food costs when you’re going through tough financial situations, I also feel like it is very important to make sure our families are getting the nutrition they need. Again, we are investing in our bodies when we spend money to eat whole, real food. Some foods we can cut back on, but there are some things we really, really need to be eating so that we can stay healthy.

That’s why I had such a hard time sharing what I’d cut back on or cut out of our diets. I have a hard time recommending that many people NEED to cut down their grocery budget. If you’re spending money on processed foods or splurging all the time on specialty items and buying food that isn’t in season or buying stuff to eat that will simply fill a hole but not offer any nourishment…then we need to talk about ways for you to cut your grocery budget.

But if you have $X amount in your grocery budget and you’re carefully spending that amount on real, whole foods that are nourishing your family…I think you should keep doing what you’re doing. Sure, let’s keep trying to find fair prices and good deals and shop wisely so as to be good stewards of what God has given us to take care of our families. But if you have the money for plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables or any of the high quality healthy foods you feel convicted about eating…buy them for your family. Don’t cut out necessary nutrition just so that you can say that you’ve lowered your grocery bill.

In addition – and I’m guessing that I probably don’t really need to be saying this to any of you but I’m going to say it anyway – before you talk about needing to cut your Real Foods Grocery Budget, please make sure you’ve cut every other un-necessary item out of your budget first. My family has always done without cable TV and expensive cell phone plans and frequent eating out and going to movies and expensive clothing and all kinds of other things I can’t think of because we don’t spend money (or rarely spend money) on them so I probably don’t know what I’m missing.  I’m NOT saying that you shouldn’t ever have or do these things. If you have cable TV, I’m fine with that and will probably even enjoy watching the Food Network with you when I come for a visit. I’m just saying that you really shouldn’t complain about not being able to “afford” real, whole food…and then turn around and fill your grocery cart with frozen pizza, soda, twinkies and chips, 24 new pairs of high heeled shoes and a big screen TV for your bathroom.  Kapeesh?

My point ultimately is that we all need to be as careful as possible with how we spend our money…but I think that spending money on good, whole food for our families is wise and even necessary. It’s an investment in our health for today and for years down the road. Good food costs money…but I think we need to caution ourselves against feeling like, “ugh, healthy food is SOOOOO expensive.”  Is it…really? I don’t look at it that way anymore. I look at healthy food as…healthy. And the price that comes with it?

Well…I’d rather not pay the price of eating cheap, empty food. To me…that is what is costly.
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Off and on all week I’ve said that I would share about some creative ways our family saves, earns and comes up with great sources for food. I’ve sprinkled some of that information throughout these posts, but really and truly I have a whole post devoted to sharing ways to stretch and grow your grocery budget. Other topics keep popping up this week as I’ve written this series, but I promise (probably, mostly for sure, I think) that I’ll post tomorrow about stretching the budget. And sometime soon…I’ll even post about stretching a chicken.
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What are your thoughts about the “cost” of nutrition-void food?

No Grocery Budget Comparing Allowed :)

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I am so glad so many of you are sharing about your grocery budgets and talking about what works for you in the area of food spending. I’m loving how we are all able to interact with each other in the comments and encourage each other as we look at sources for real, whole foods to feed our families.

One tiny concern I have and would like to address, is that sometimes I feel like we can look at what others spend on groceries for the month and either feel like a failure because “there’s no way I could keep my grocery budget that low” or feel like someone else is overspending because “wow, what in the world  is she buying with all that money each month?”

Neither kind of comparison is okay.

We’re all in different circumstances. We all live in different places. We all have different food sources. We all have different dietary needs. We all have different income levels. We all have different sized gardening spaces (or a lack thereof). We all have different sized kitchens and different storage situations. We all have a lot of laundry to do – oh wait…that has nothing to do with grocery budgets. Well, we don’t get to compare height of laundry piles either.

I was hesitant to post about our family’s grocery budget for several reasons, but mainly because I really didn’t want anyone to see what we spent on mostly organic, whole foods and feel like they weren’t doing a good enough job of keeping their costs down if they spend more than we spend each month.

And on the flip side, I occasionally receive comments or emails from people who can’t believe we actually spend $500/month on food because $500/month seems frivolous and outrageous and all of the food we eat just seems too high priced.

My intent is not to have anyone compare how much they spend each month with what our family spends or with what any family spends.  And please don’t be critical of me or of anyone if we happen to spend more than you spend on groceries. 

What I did intend is for us all to be challenged about what we spend and about what we’re eating and about where we get our food. I want us all to use this blog as a forum for sharing with each other and helping each other. I have no idea what the great food sources are in any place but my little neck of the woods, which is why it’s so fun to see you all sharing with each other and offering food source suggestions when you “meet” someone who lives close to you. THANK YOU for doing that for each other.

But please let’s nobody look at anybody’s food budget number and feel icky. (That may be one of the most poorly worded sentences I’ve ever wrote.)  (Okay, no…that one was.)

And also, my laundry pile is shrinking as we speak, but tomorrow it will be back up again and I’ll be right back where I started. What does your laundry pile look like? Oh wait…I said we WEREN’T going to compare laundry height. Never mind.