Food I Keep in My Fridge and Freezer to Make the School Year Easier

Simple as some of the items on the following lists are, I thought it was worth sharing the basic food I keep in my fridge and freezer to make the school year easier.

Food I Keep in my Fridge and Freezer to Make Meals During the School Year Easier

Some of these require work (as in, I actually have to mix something or cook something). But many of these only require that I purchase them and sock them away to use as needed. Either way, having these foods ready to grab at all times (if possible!) means I can relax more when feeding my family during busy school days.

If you haven’t already downloaded our free Master Lunch, Breakfast, and Snack Ideas and Recipes Lists, go grab those here. Those lists are helping keep my planning to a minimum!

Master List of 100 Simple Snack Ideas

And now, the big list of food I like to keep on hand to make many of those lunches, breakfasts, and snacks!

Food/Ingredients I Keep in my Freezer

Freshly Ground Flour

Here you’ll find all the posts I’ve ever written about grinding grain in a mill. I’ve been grinding all of our flour for almost 12 years now! It’s easy, saves money, and doing this makes our baked goods taste so much better. It’s also great for our health!

If possible, I try to keep a bucket of ground Hard White Wheat (for yeast recipes) and a bucket of Soft White Wheat (for non-yeast muffins and pastries) in my freezer so I can grab it out and bake as needed!

Pastry Flour 3

Pizza Crust

I’ve recently mentioned that I’ve been buying some premade crusts from Azure Standard to keep in the freezer for quick pizza meals. My Homemade Pizza Crust is also freezable. And if you want, you can even make your own Frozen Pizza!

Make Your Own Frozen Pizza

Frozen Cookie Dough 

My boys would say that having cookie dough in the freezer is a necessity for a happy school year. I say this is great to have on hand when people come over last minute so we can bake cookies without making a big mess. Sometimes we mix up cookie dough, roll it into a tube with parchment paper and freeze it until we need it. More often, we scoop the dough onto a baking sheet and freeze the dough balls to make very quick cookies!

How to Make Refrigerator Cookie Dough

july_freezer_cooking_2

Breakfast Cookie Dough Balls

Along the same lines as the cookies I just mentioned, having these Giant Breakfast Cookie Balls in the freezer ready to pull out and bake in the morning is a huge time saver! I used to bake a double batch and freeze them as a ready-to-eat breakfast. But we’ve since learned that it’s fun to pull out a few frozen dough balls and bake them fresh as needed. It doesn’t get much better than a fresh-from-the-oven Breakfast Cookie with coffee in the morning!

Breakfast Cookies for the Freezer

Cooked Bacon

Pre-cooking bacon to store in the freezer has been awesome! I pull out a few slices to cook for each person a couple times a week, and I can have it on the table in about thirty seconds. I love this time-saving method!

how-to-cook-bacon-in-the-oven-and-freeze-it-for-quick-reheating

Hashbrowns

If I have time, the boys and I make hashbrowns to keep in the freezer. This task hasn’t been making it onto our to-do list lately though, so I was glad to find the Mr. Dell’s brand of frozen hashbrowns at our local Walmart, which contains one ingredient: Potatoes. I love having these in the freezer so I can throw together Egg and Cheese Hashbrown Waffles, Bacon Ranch Hashbrown Casserole, and Simple Hashbrown Casserole. Oh yeah. And hashbrowns. :)

hashbrowns3sm

Ground Beef

I feel like as long as we have hamburger meat in the freezer, we will never go hungry. There are so many meals a person can make with ground beef! And now that I’ve learned how to cook frozen hamburger in bulk in my Instant Pot, life just got even easier! :)

instant pot hamburger8

Boneless Chicken Thighs

Almost as versatile as hamburger meat is boneless chicken pieces! I have learned to love boneless thighs much more than boneless breasts, and as it turns out, thighs always cost less per pound! I watch for the natural brand at my store to be marked down, buy all I can, and throw them into my freezer to use in all our Simple Recipes!

ranch chicken salad1

Homemade Poptarts

No one will starve if we don’t have poptarts in our freezer, but these sure do make a fantastic and fun breakfast. My favorite way to make these is to put together a double batch but leave them unbaked in the freezer. Then I pull them out and bake just a few at a time so we can eat them hot. They are the best! I made a bunch of these before school started this year, and they’ve made mornings just a little bit simpler. :)

homemade-poptarts-for-the-freezer

Muffin Batter

This little tip is fantastic to fill your mornings with freshly baked muffins without having to get out a mixing bowl. I love having several different kinds of muffin batter in my freezer, pulling out a few of each, and baking up an assortment without going to any trouble!

Freeze Your Muffin Batter 3

Frozen Veggies

I have big bag of frozen peas and frozen green beans in my freezer at all times. This way, even if I haven’t made it to the store to restock our fresh veggies, we always have something green to serve with our meals. These steam up quickly, and I always add a good fat to them, which makes them healthier and tastier!

grilled chicken3

Frozen Fruit

If I have peaches, strawberries, blueberries, and/or pineapple in the freezer, I can make smoothies, slushies, or fruit cobblers very quickly. Typically I stock up on these during the summer because they are less expensive when then are in season. I don’t always buy them pre-frozen. I often buy them fresh and freeze them myself if they are a better price this way!

pineapple_mango_smoothie

Butter

But, of course. For all of the delicious, buttery reasons, I keep butter in my freezer at all times. Beef and butter, beef and butter…

beef_and_butter

Food I Keep in my Fridge

Shredded Cheese

I buy 4-pound chunks of Colby jack cheese, and sometimes mozzarella too. I have my boys shred it by running it through our food processor, which makes the job super fast! We store the shredded cheese in pyrex bowls with lids in our fridge and pull it out to use in any casserole, quesadilla, taco, scrambled egg, or anything else which calls for shredded cheese. This is, for sure, a refrigerator staple.

grating cheese2

grating cheese3

Mixed Greens

I buy a one-pound tub of these mixed greens every week so we can always have salads without any effort! Bonus: At our local Walmart, the organic greens are less expensive than the conventional!

mixed greens

Peanut Butter

I buy 5-pound bags of peanuts from Azure Standard every month and make the entire bag into about 6 pint-sized jars of peanut butter. I figure I might as well make one mess to produce 6 jars of peanut butter to have on hand, instead of making only one or two jars at a time every single week. We go through all 6 jars in a month. This homemade peanut butter is super delicious!

Super Creamy Peanut Butter

Cookie Bites

Having these No-Bake Cookie Bites, in one form or the other, in the fridge is great when any of us need a quick snack with protein and fiber. These are super low in sugar and naturally grain free. Yum, they taste good!

No-Bake Cookie Bites - Easy Recipes!

Fat Bombs

Just like the Cookie Bites, these Fat Bombs provide us with energy from good protein and fat. My husband and I like the Stevia Sweetened Fat Bombs. Our kids prefer the Honey Sweetened Fat Bombs.

fat-bombs-easy-and-delicious

Ranch Dressing

I always have a quart of Homemade Ranch Dressing in the fridge. It’s is our favorite dressing, it is easy to make, and we eat salads almost every day!

Ranch Dressing and Dip Mix

Cold Water for Javita Drinks

We almost always drink Javita coffee and tea hot, but for all of the others, I like to keep a jar of water in the fridge so that at any time, we can mix up whichever drink we need. The boys make a Rush drink for themselves before a workout. Matt drinks Flex before a hard day’s work to help with shoulder pain. All the boys and I drink Defend for an immune system boost. I drink Fiber every day to help with digestion, and surprisingly, it has helped keep me from needing to eat so often!

javita products snapshot2

Eggs

I cringe a little if we start getting low on eggs! We go through several dozen each week when we scramble or fry them for breakfast, and when we are baking. Of course, now that I have an Instant Pot, I’ve been boiling them quickly too.

eggs

Butter

Oh wait. Did I already mention butter in the freezer section of this post? Well, can I help it that I always have a nice supply in both my freezer and my fridge? This ingredient is very necessary. Very. :)

butter

What are your fridge and freezer staples?

Master List of Simple Snack Ideas

Who is ready to download the Master List of Simple Snack Ideas?!

Hopefully you already grabbed the Master Lists of Simple Lunch and Breakfast Ideas. I’m covering my fridge with these lists to make our transition from summer break to a school schedule a little bit easier. If you haven’t already, be sure to get your lunch and breakfast lists here!

Watch also for our upcoming Master Lists of food and recipes and ideas to make to fill a lunchbox. (Subscribe here so you don’t miss them!)

Today’s list:

The Master List of Simple Snack Ideas

Keep Snacks Simple

Your Real Food Master Simple Snack Ideas List

You can download this entire list here. But I’ll share it all on this post for reference also. I also recommend that you pin it so you can find it quickly as needed!

First choice at our house is always a fruit or a veggie, so I’ll begin this list sharing those ideas!

strawberry

Fruits and veggies that can be pulled from the fridge and served immediately with little to no prep (beyond washing):

  • Baby carrots (I like the petite carrots – they are sweeter and easier to eat!)
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Mini sweet peppers
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Unsweetened Applesauce (homemade is awesome, but even my teenage boys enjoy the special treat of an Applesauce Squeeze Pouch)
  • Bananas
  • Grapes
  • Oranges
  • Clementines
  • Raisins
  • Dried Cranberries
  • Dried Apple Rings
  • Dried Bananas
  • Dried Berries

watermelon

Fruits and veggies that take a few minutes of prep but are still super simple:

  • Sliced apples
  • Sliced peaches or nectarines
  • Plums
  • Sliced cucumbers
  • Sliced sweet peppers
  • Raw broccoli “trees”
  • Cut cantaloupe
  • Watermelon wedges
  • Sliced pears
  • Pineapple chunks
  • Mango chunks
  • Fruit Salad

Dips that taste great with Fruits and Veggies

Simple Snacks Foods that are great to eat with Peanut Butter

This Homemade Peanut Butter is amazing and healthy! We have this on hand at all times.

  • Eat it straight…on a spoon. :)
  • Sliced Apples with peanut butter
  • Celery with peanut butter
  • Bread with peanut butter and honey
  • Bread with peanut butter and jelly
  • Toast with peanut butter and sliced apples
  • Tortillas with peanut butter and honey
  • Tortillas with peanut butter and jelly

orange

Simple Meat and Cheese Snacks

  • Leftover chicken or roast beef
  • Sliced cheese, any variety
  • Cheese sticks
  • Laughing Cow Spreadable Cheese (we just discovered these and our boys are LOVING this treat)
  • Lunchmeat
  • Summer Sausage
  • Beef Jerky
  • Quesadillas (with just cheese, or with meat also)
  • Tortilla Roll-Up with meat and cheese
  • Chicken Salad on crackers, lettuce, or a tortilla
  • Tuna Salad on crackers, lettuce, or a tortilla

Nutty Snacks (and Seeds too!)

  • Peanuts
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Pistachios
  • Walnuts
  • Macadamia Nuts
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Any combination of all of the above, with dried fruit and maybe a chocolate chip or two tossed in!

Simple Snack Recipes that are Quick to Make and Fun to Eat!

(By the way, the majority of this list shares snack ideas that are naturally gluten free!)

Would you like to make this Master List of Simple Snack Ideas even simpler?

Sign up here to receive the entire Master List of Simple Snacks in a free downloadable document! Then you can keep it handy on your computer or print it and put it on your fridge as a super handy reference!

Master List of 100 Simple Snack Ideas

Grab a free download of the Master Simple Snack Ideas List!

Watch for one more Master List coming this month, filled with real food lunch box ideas!

What would you add to the list? What are your favorite simple snacks to feed your family?

P.S. What about a simple dinner list? We’ve already got that covered with our Weekly Simple Meals Plans!

My February Grocery Spending Totals (Did I Come in Under Budget?!)

Remember how I promised to document all my grocery spending during the month of February to share with you?

I did it! I saved all my receipts. I took all the pictures. I realized how much work it was to take all the pictures and type out all of this information.

(I’m trying to decide if I’m going to keep documenting my purchases every month as some have requested. It is a serious amount of work. Leave a comment to weigh in with how much you want to see this regularly!)

Two weeks ago I posted what I’d bought and how much I’d spent through Feb. 8. (I was up to $524 at that point already!) See the breakdown of my early Feb. grocery trips here.

groceries feb171

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Now I’ll show you what I bought and spent throughout the rest of February…

Yay me, I got to go to Lincoln again (twice in one month is rare, but hooray for cool grocery stores in the big city!).

My first stop in Lincoln is always Fresh Thyme Market. I had the most fun this shopping trip as so many of our favorites were either BOGO items or deeply discounted! All their organic produce was 25% off, so I filled my cart.

While shopping, I decided to take each of my boys a “special treat.” Why? Because it’s fun and food is my love language. See the shopping lists below to see what I took home for each of them. (Come to think of it, I didn’t get anything for Asa, who is away at college, but any time he comes home to eat I go out of my way to make his favorites, so we’re good.)

NOTE: I’ve gotten lazy so instead of setting all the food out on the table at home to take a picture before we put it all away (which takes several extra steps and a lot of extra time), I’ve started taking pictures of my full carts. I know it’s harder to see all the food, but… :)

groceries feb178

Fresh Thyme Market (2-15-17)

2 packages orange cranberry buns (BOGO) $3.99
2 packages chocolate pretzels $5.00
4 packages coffee (BOGO) $15.98
Havarti jalapeno cheese (surprise for Justus) $3.99
8 pounds organic butter (BOGO) $23.96
2 packages wheat tortillas $4.98
4 Brown Cow yogurt (BOGO) $1.98
1 pound kiwi $2.99
.82 pounds asparagus $2.45
2.74 pounds bartlett pears $2.66
3.39 pounds gala apples $3.29
1 pint grape tomatoes $0.88
3.44 pounds mini sweet peppers $6.85
3.27 pounds organic bananas $1.86
3.44 pounds organic braeburn apples $2.55
2.19 pounds organic broccoli $2.45
1 organic cucumber $0.66
5 organic avocados $3.70
Organic rainbow carrots $2.24
2 red bell peppers $1.76
2.64 pounds red grapes $2.56
6 pounds strawberries $9.00
1.05 pounds nectarines $1.86

Total $101.65

Next, I went to Aldi. Since I’d been there just two weeks prior, I didn’t need as much. But of course I got another case of salsa since we go through it so much. (Total jars of salsa purchased in February: twenty-eight. #lifewithteenageboys)

groceries feb 179

Aldi (2-15-17)

3 pounds yellow onions $0.79
4 pints blueberries $6.76
Valentine Danimals Smoothies (marked down after Vday – surprise for Malachi) $0.99
Pecan/Vanilla Granola (surprise for Elias) $2.99
2 packages organic cheese slices $5.98
2 packages brown sugar $2.58
2 packages uncured hotdogs $3.98
3 boxes fruit squeezes (for Asa to have in the dorm) $5.68
12 jars organic salsa $22.68

Total: $52.43

Just a few days later, we were out of fresh greens and cheese (staples at our house!). Plus we’d already eaten all those strawberries. I made a list and ran to our local Walmart.

groceries feb179

Walmart (2-20-17)

1 pound organic mixed greens $5.98
1 pound organic spinach $5.98
8 pounds marble jack cheese $27.88
1/2 gallon half-and-half $3.98
2 quarts heavy whipping cream $8.28
52 ounces frozen corn $3.96
4 pounds strawberries (price-matched) $5.96
1 pound whole wheat spaghetti $1.00 (looking forward to trying this brand to see if we like it since it’s such a good price!)

Total $63.02

I ordered several staple items online from Vitacost. Many of you have taken advantage of the “Get $10 off your first order of $30 or more!” so I had referral credit (thank you!) and got most of this with very little money out of pocket.

groceries feb1710

Vitacost (2-22-17)

32-ounces organic lemon juice
3 cans organic pizza sauce
2 32-ounce jugs organic maple syrup
32-ounces organic lime juice
33.8 ounce bottle organic olive oil
6 15-ounce cans organic baked beans

Total after credit: $5.42

I hit Wal-mart one last time on February 26. There were some GREAT price-matching options (strawberries for $0.98!). Plus I needed to pick up a few items to take with us this weekend when we head out of town for our annual homeschool basketball tournament. (We’ll eat out with the team sometimes too; but three meals a day for three days would be a little hard on our stomachs and budget.)

groceries feb1711

Wal-Mart (2-26-17)

6 bags Great Value “Fritos” $11.04
2 quarts cream $8.28
Colby Jack individually wrapped cheese (for bball tournament weekend) $2.88
2 packages Hormel Naturals lunch meat (for bball tournament) $11.52
1 loaf 100% whole wheat bread (for bball tournament) $1.68
3 boxes of crackers (for bball tournament) $8.88
LaCroix sparkling water (Mom’s treat!) $3.18
Sour Cream $3.94
48-ounces cashews (to make individual bags for the bball players on our team) $28.02
3 pounds mandarins (price-match!) $2.49
1 pound asparagus (price-match!) $1.47
4 avocados (price-match!) $2.00
3 pints organic grape tomatoes (price-match!) $2.94
8 pounds strawberries (price-match!) $7.84

Total: $96.16

Last but not least, we bought 5 dozen eggs from a local friend with chickens (I feel like we got more eggs earlier in the month that I forgot to document??). We also got one gallon of milk each week from a local farm, a total of four gallons this month.

Milk: $20
Eggs: $12.50 (plus whatever I forgot earlier this month)

Oh! I had a migraine last week and took advantage of a 50% off Pizza Hut coupon. I got four large pizzas for $30 with tax – a splurge, but not a bad price for 4 large pizzas!

Did we come in under budget?

Here’s a break-down of how much we’ve budgeted for our family of six (ages 43, 43, 19, 17, 15, and 12). Here’s a peek at the rest of the groceries I bought in February.

Grand total I spent for food in February: $905.59

That is a lot of money, but it is also a lot of good food! I am thankful.

How did your grocery budget hold up in February?

How Much I Spend on Groceries for My Family Full of Teenage Boys (Brace Yourself)

Curious what I spend on groceries each month?

I decided it was time for me to write an updated post sharing details of our family’s average monthly food budget. It’s a lot bit different than it was when our kids were little. Our sons are now 19, 17, 15, and 12. (Matt and I are 43, but that’s entirely beside the point.)

This post is not for the faint of heart.

Can you handle the truth?

Please, take a seat.

How Much I Spend on Groceries for My Family Full of Teenage Boys

Maybe the numbers won’t astound you. Maybe you’ll see my budget and say, “Eh. Is that it?” Yes. That’s probably what you’ll say. I’m just sure of it.

Why am I sharing our grocery budget numbers? Because I’ve been seeing a lot of posts recently shared by women who feed their families for just $50 per week. I’m happy for them, and it’s all well and good that those women are able to feed their families for such a small amount. But you guys? That’s how much it costs to feed my family PER DAY.

Well, not quite. Just almost. I exaggerate. Only a tiny bit.

Good thing they’re worth it…

family1sm

Here’s the truth about my grocery budget: I could cut back here and there. I could feed us beans and rice more often. I could spend less each month by making a few changes in what I purchase. But I’m not going to do any of those things at this point, and here’s why…

  • My teenage boys would not get full if I fed us differently (they are athletes and they need food with substance)
  • I believe strongly that food is meant for nourishment (and that it should taste amazing)
  • I feel that it is very important to offer a high volume of fresh fruits and vegetables (I probably spend $100/week on produce alone)
  • We love sharing our food with others (and find that we often have extras around our table)
  • We prefer eating whole foods as much as possible, in balance (but sometimes I buy take-and-bake pizza because a girl’s gotta live a little)

groceries Lincoln

I wondered how our budget would change once our oldest went off to college a year and a half ago. Turns out, nothing changed. If anything, it increased (someone please hand me a tissue). I think it’s because our other boys keep getting bigger and eating more. It’s also because, even though Asa lives on campus and eats most of his meals at the cafeteria, we feed extra college kids when Asa brings his friends home (and I love it so much that I would feed the whole campus if he brought them to our table).

groceries 318

I buy food from about 7 different sources, so adding it all up and averaging it all out is a bit of a challenge. For instance, we recently bought a half beef and a whole lamb. We’re hoping that will last us an entire year, but I don’t have my hopes up. For the sake  of budgeting though, you’ll see when I crunch the numbers below that I’ve divided the total meat amount by 12 months.

freezer20172

I go to Lincoln for a doctor appointment about once each month, so while there I hit Aldi and Fresh Thyme Market (my absolute favorite!). We have one local grocery store (not a chain, not great prices) and a Super Walmart that I hit in town each week (except for the week I go to Lincoln).

I order online at Amazon. I order from Azure Standard, our health food co-op. I order from Vitacost (though most of that is free credit, thanks to many of you!) I order from Tropical Traditions when they have free shipping mixed with great sales.

We get eggs, milk, and beef/lamb from local farmers.

So that’s about all I can babble about before I share the actual numbers. (Though raise your hand if you skipped all the blah-blah-blah and went right to the bottom of this post to see that part already. That’s right. I’m on to you.)

groceries 411

But one more thing.

This is not about comparing, feeling better than or less than or anything in between. We all have different budgets based on needs, family size, prices where we live, grocery store options, and on it goes.

And can I just say that I’m very thankful my boys don’t like drinking milk? I think it keeps us from the poor house that they don’t drink it and we only use one gallon each week for cooking.

One more thing (last one, I promise). Our family schools at home and works from home. Therefore all three meals every day for every person in our family (except our oldest son away at college) are eaten at home.

My Grocery Budget Break-Down Average for each Month

  • Local grocery stores = $150-200 per week x 3 weeks = $450-$600
  • Lincoln grocery stores (I go to Aldi and Fresh Thyme Market about once each month) = $250 total
  • Local farmer for milk = $20
  • Local farmers for eggs = $30 (we are spoiled with great egg prices!)
  • Azure Standard = average $150 per month
  • Amazon subscribe and save = average $100 per month
  • Local 100% grass fed meat purchased once each year (1/2 beef + whole lamb) = $1,300 per year = $108 per month

Grand total of what I spend on groceries each month:

$1,100-$1,250

If that isn’t enough to make a mama pass out.

And no. That doesn’t include our toilet paper.

This is why we rarely eat out. This is why we make so many foods from scratch. This is why we rarely go to the movie theater. This is why we drive older, so-so vehicles. This is why we don’t buy many pre-made processed foods.

And yes. This is what keeps us healthy.

That’s what it’s all about right?

A huge perk —> We have Christian Healthcare Ministries as our health insurance and we pay very little per month. (Read more about that here, because CHM is amazing.) Since our monthly premium is so very low, that helps us afford to pay more for quality groceries (and keep our athletic sons in good shoes – I can’t even).

I Challenge Myself

Couponing is no longer worth my time. But I do want to challenge myself in the coming months to see if there are any other ways I can come up with to save a little on our budget. I don’t have my hopes up. I won’t negotiate on quality. But stay tuned. I want to try to document my shopping trips with pictures and receipts to share with you. Interested?

Want to share your grocery budget numbers with us? We promise to keep it fun and encouraging! We’re all friends here. 

Oh Good Gravy ~ How to Make Turkey Gravy

I’ve probably told you about the first time I made gravy for Matt (who was my boyfriend at the time). It was so thick he had to spread it onto his potatoes with a knife. I’m pretty sure it was flavorless. He still married me a year later.

Thankfully, I’ve improved my gravy-making skills. I think it gets easier with practice. Sometimes I still mess it up. I’ve been known to strain out lumps while distracting my guests by sending them outside to look for the black squirrels we sometimes have on our property. Straining works, and black squirrels are fascinating.

Below you’ll find step-by-step instructions (with pictures!) to make your gravy-making experiences easier.

While this series is called “Getting Ahead for the Holidays,” gravy is actually one part of the meal I save for the last minute. This still isn’t hard though. Here’s why:

  1. I’ve already made the broth for this gravy a couple of days before the holiday meal when I made the turkey. Therefore, I just have to rewarm some broth and whisk it into gravy (details below).
  2. I’ve made so many of our other dishes ahead of time that I have plenty of time to make gravy just before serving the meal.
  3. Turkey Gravy can be made in only about 10 minutes.

Why do I wait until the last minute to make gravy?

Because it tastes best this way. You can make it ahead of time and rewarm it before serving (we do this with leftover gravy, after all). But I prefer to make a fresh batch for a special meal on Thanksgiving or Christmas.

How to Make Turkey Gravy

Oh Good Gravy

Yum

Oh Good Gravy ~ How to Make Turkey Gravy
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • Turkey broth
  • Cornstarch, arrowroot powder, or wheat flour (about 2 Tablespoons for every 2 cups of broth)
  • Cold water (about ⅓ cup for each of your 2 Tablespoons of corn starch/arrowroot/flour)
  • Sea salt
Instructions
  1. Spoon cornstarch (or arrowroot or flour) into a small jar or glass.
  2. Add water to to the jar and whisk smooth with a fork.
  3. Pour broth into a medium saucepan. Heat to boiling.
  4. Slowly pour cornstarch (or arrowroot or flour) and water mixture into boiling broth, whisking while you pour.
  5. Stir at medium to high heat until gravy thickens.
  6. Turn down the heat and allow the gravy to simmer for a minute or two.
  7. Salt to taste and serve your gravy.

You’ll notice my recipe gives the option of using cornstarch, arrowroot powder, or wheat flour to thicken your gravy. Any will work. I prefer cornstarch because it’s easiest. Arrowroot powder works well but can sometimes result in a gooey gravy. Wheat flour works well, but I’d rather avoid it so that people with a gluten or wheat intolerance can still enjoy it.

Trouble Shooting Your Gravy

  • If it isn’t thick enough for your liking, simply stir 2 Tablespoons cornstarch/arrowroot/flour into about 3 Tablespoons of water – making a consistency just thinner than paste. Stir it into your gravy while it is hot, whisking until smooth. This should thicken it up as it cooks.
  • Lumpy gravy? Whisk like you’ve never whisked before.
  • Still lumpy? Strain out the lumps the best you can. Pray your guests like lumpy gravy. Hey, you never know.

Here is a picture tutorial to show you the specifics of making Turkey Gravy:

Step One: Pour broth into a medium saucepan.

gravy2sm

Step Two: Spoon cornstarch (or arrowroot or flour) into a small jar or glass.
(Surprise, surprise…I use  a jar.)

gravy1sm

Step Three: Add cold water to cornstarch/arrowroot/flour and whisk smooth with a fork.

gravy3sm

Step Four: Bring broth to a boil.

gravy4smStep Five: Slowly pour cornstarch (or arrowroot, or flour)/water mixture into boiling broth, stirring while you pour. (I usually use a whisk. On picture taking day, I used a wooden spoon. Either one works, but a whisk usually helps in case lumps want to form.

gravy5sm

Step Six: Stir at medium to high heat until mixture thickens.
Turn down the heat and allow the gravy to simmer for a minute or two.
Salt to taste.

gravy6smWhat has been your gravy making experience? Do you find it easy? Hard? Lumpy?

Here are the quick links to all the recipes we covered in this series:

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Simple Meals is here! It’s saving my brain (and many of yours too!). If you haven’t joined yet, now’s the time. Get all the details here!

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Homemade Applesauce Cups To-Go ~ For Just a Few Cents

Brace yourself for the cuteness. 

Homemade Applesauce Cups

Typically I make a boat load of canned applesauce each year. Still, there are always times I end up buying the little packaged applesauce cups to take on the road with us to soccer or basketball games. It feels so silly to spend money on the pre-made applesauce cups when I have home-canned applesauce in the pantry. Still, I do it. We need food for the road, after all.

This year, I got a brilliant idea. (My one and only of 2015. We’ve been waiting ten months for this.)

I checked online for little cups with lids to fill with applesauce to take on the road.

Small jars with lids work great for to-go applesauce, but those make our cooler weigh 380 pounds. Plus, I wanted to give some to Asa for his dorm fridge but didn’t want him to have to mess with saving all the jars to bring home. The cups with lids are a great solution!

~~Let us all pause here to say nice things about avoiding plastic and disposables in general. Plastic disposables are not our friend. I agree and I know there are strong opinions about this. Right now I’m the mother of many teenage boys who are active, hungry, and on-the-go frequently. It was either compromise and buy these plastic cups in an effort to save us money and help us eat well on the road – or spend more to buy them pre-made – or buy junk from concessions or McDonalds. I chose the plastic disposables and I am excited about what this provides for my family right now. Now, back to the cute applesauce cups.~~

Organic 100% fruit applesauce cups cost around 74¢ each. Non-organic are around 33¢ each. My homemade organic applesauce cups just cost me 15¢ each. This makes me very excited. Plus if it’s okay that I say so, my homemade applesauce tastes better than store-bought. :)

Applesauce Cups

This batch of applesauce turned out such a pretty shade of pink because I used a variety of dark red apples with very white flesh (Empire, I believe). No one who eats this can believe I didn’t add sugar. No need for sugar, my friends. Not when God made apples this good and sweet.

The cups with lids I chose are a perfect 5.5 ounce size. I filled them about 3/4 full, put the lids on top, then froze them. (I tested one to see if it froze/thawed well. It did. Now I have a freezer full!)

Next time we need travel food, we’ll grab several homemade applesauce cups from the freezer. I am so excited about this!

Homemade Applesauce Cups To-Go ~ For Just a Few Cents

Have any other good ideas to share for fun travel foods?

This post contains affiliate links.

40+ Pumpkin, Apple, & Cinnamon Recipes! {How I’m Stock-Piling for Fall}

I’ll give you one guess as to my favorite thing about fall.

Yep! Food, food, food, food, food. Different seasons bring on different foods, as do different special events and holidays. This should, by the way, make us super appreciate how blessed we are to have such variety and bounty. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to eat the same two or three foods day after day, all year long, because those are my only meager options. We are spoiled by our vast food choices and we often still complain. If you ever hear me say, “Oh I’m so overwhelmed because I have so many apples and tomatoes that I need to put up” just shake me.

(This perspective seeking heart-check is brought to you by yours truly – after I spent an evening at our local mission with a homeless single mama and her 3 year old twins and 2 year old. It reminded me that I have soooo much! Also, my boys and I are reading Louis Zamperini, who, among other things, was lost at sea for 28 days then a tortured prisoner of war for a year and a half – so I vow to never complain again. Also, there’s Gladis. I have absolutely nothing to complain about. But if/when I slip up and do it anyway – call me out on it. I’m serious.)

So back to fall food and all the happiness that comes with it. My kitchen is spilling over with amazing foods and it makes me so excited. I love summer like you wouldn’t believe, so fall with its cinnamon deliciousness certainly softens the blow of “brace yourself, winter is coming!” (Not that I’m going to complain. Do I or do I not have closets full of blankets and sweaters? I do.)

Right now, I am in fall food stock-piling mode. We’ve been picking raspberries as much as we can. Apples are everywhere. It’s pumpkin time. I guess I’m finding myself shifting in thought as to what foods I want to keep on hand for fall, winter, and holiday cooking. Here are my top priorities:

Fall Foods To Stock Up OnYum

Tomato Soup

Our favorite Tomato Soup recipe is easy and super good. When we run out of my homemade soup, I’ll buy a case of Pacific Organic Tomato Soup because I really love having it on hand for casseroles or simply to warm up to eat with grilled cheese sandwiches. So yum!

Tomato Soup for the Freezer

Pumpkin Puree

This is how I easily cook whole pumpkins to have inexpensive pumpkin puree on hand. Sometimes I buy a case of Organic Pumpkin Puree through Amazon when the price is right. See list below of our favorite pumpkin recipes!

pumpkin_12

Cinnamon

Of course. This is a fall must-have. I buy a one-pound package from Azure Standard. I also love the Cinnamon Sticks from Olive Nation.

cinnamon_swirl_bread
That thar
is Cinnamon Swirl Bread – a delicious part of this complete fall breakfast.

Apple Pie Filling

I almost always have great sources each fall for free or inexpensive apples. One of my favorite ways to preserve apples is to prepare pie filling then freeze it. If I have time or a full freezer, I will instead can the apple pie filling. I can then easily dump the prepared filling into a Whole Wheat Pie Crust or easier yet – make Apple Crisp.

apple_pie_filling_5

Applesauce

Having plenty of applesauce on hand is awesome for so many reasons. It’s a great side dish or snack, and it’s also great to bake with. If you haven’t tried Applesauce Bread, well, it’s fall. You need to make Applesauce Bread.

My favorite (and easiest) way to make applesauce is with a Victorio. That tool makes my work so much less work-ish!

Chicken and Beef Broth

It’s soup time, so having veggie loaded broth prepped and in my freezer is so helpful. Must reads: How to Make Beef Broth and How to Make Chicken Broth.

turkey carcass and broth

And now, over 40 of my favorite fall recipes using these foods! There is some overlap since almost all pumpkin and apple recipes also call for cinnamon(but don’t worry, none of them call for broth).

What to Make With Cinnamon

14 Recipes With Cinnamon

What to Make with Apples

11 Apple Recipes

What to Make with Pumpkin Puree

12 Pumpkin Recipes

What to Do with Beef Bone Broth or Chicken Broth

11 Ways to Use Beef and Chicken Broth

What is on your fall stock-pile list? What are your favorite fall foods?

Pineapple Fluff Salad (All Real Food Ingredients!)

We can actually make Pineapple Fluff with real food!

Pineapple Fluff

While we were out at church camp this summer, one of the cooks made a huge bowl of “Green Fluff Salad.” Malachi, our 10 year old, helped himself to seconds and thirds – absolutely loving this salad.

Now I personally think that calling this a salad is kind of like calling margarine butter which no one should ever, ever do in my hearing because I will gag and then I will do the ugly cry on the spot. (Do not picture this.) A dish which contains green jello, cool whip, cream cheese, pineapple (yay fruit!), and mini-marshmallows is…I’m going to say…a dessert? Now if you like that variety of “salad,” more power to you. I understand these types of cravings because I still want an occasional Dorito even though I know better. But I just question the use of the word “salad” here and now back to the story.

Malachi loved the Green Fluff Salad. This is why, when I asked him a week later at home for a side dish suggestion to go with grilled steaks we’d be making, he perked up and said, “Oh Mom! We should make that Green Fluff stuff we had at camp!”

Before I go on, you need to know this: It was my birthday. We were talking about side dishes for my birthday dinner. Mine. Does my child not know me the way I thought my child knew me? Was he also going to buy me some margarine as a gift? I felt an ugly cry coming on.

Catching myself before an outburst because I am always so graceful in my parenting, I gently said, “Buddy, I don’t use those kind of ingredients. I’d rather make something with food we have on hand already.”

To which Malachi said calmly, “I know. I mean we can try to figure out how to make that salad the healthy way. Like you always do.”

Squeeze him. Now that’s a boy who knows how his mama thinks. I mean, I knew all along that’s what he meant. I never doubted for a minute. I knew he didn’t mean for me to go buy cool whip and marshmallows. C’mon now.

Pineapple Fluff Salad (I guess I’m still calling this a salad. I don’t know why.)Yum

Pineapple Fluff Salad (All Real Food Ingredients!)
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 8 ounces softened cream cheese
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons lime juice
  • ¼ cup sugar or 3 Tablespoons real maple syrup or liquid stevia to taste
  • 14-ounce can of pineapple, drained (chunks, tidbits, or crushed works fine)
Instructions
  1. Open pineapple, drain, and save juice for drinking another time.
  2. Set pineapple aside.
  3. In a high-power blender mix cream cheese, whipping cream, vanilla, lime juice, and sweetener of choice until well combined and smooth.
  4. In a bowl, fold pineapple into the whipped mixture.
  5. Chill for at least one hour before serving.

If you want this salad to be green, I’m sorry. Real food is only green if it comes out of the ground that way. Jello doesn’t grow in a garden. It’s okay though. I put this salad in a clear dish on top of a green plate and that kind of gives it the greenish look. I do what I can.

Pineapple Fluff Salad with Real Food Ingredients

Did Malachi like the results? Yes. He absolutely loved it. No jello needed. Lime juice did the trick, as did a tiny bit of sugar. I didn’t take the time to figure out a marshmallow substitute for this because I am not crazy, and whipping cream was an obvious real food substitute for cool whip. This kid received the “favorite kid in my kitchen” award (because none of my other kids were home) and I received the “nailed it” award on this recipe challenge. Fist bump, high five, happy dance.

pineapple fluff malachi
One might wonder, “Why is there a toilet paper tube behind Malachi?” What? Don’t you keep those on your countertop beside your fruit bowls? It’s soooo Heavenly Homemakerish. But for real, we are working on some projects for a great big new book coming out soon for you and your kids. It’s super exciting and on this very Pineapple Fluff making day, the project involved an empty tp tube. Nothing should surprise you about me anymore. (Update: Here’s the book!)

Are you familiar with Green Fluff Salad? Or other colors of fluff salad? Drop-kick those (but not literally because, eww) and make this amazing real food version.

It’s Not a Race But…7 Slow Cooker Meals in 30 Minutes!!!!

If you don’t have the Eat Right Away: Slow Cooker Editions, I humbly suggest that you get them now. I am not even kidding when I tell you that I just spent only 30 minutes recently prepping 7 slow cooker chicken meals for my freezer.

The geek in me discovered that this averaged out to be 4.285714 minutes of work per meal. I don’t know how anything could be easier – except for the fact that now 7 different times, I can pull out a bag and dump it into my crock pot, then walk away and have a meal for my family 6-8 hours later. So yeah. That’s easier. I am loving this.

slow cooker chicken 1

Above is a picture of Malachi eating strawberries and a piece of carrot cake at the table while staring peacefully out the window. Love him. It is also a picture of some of the ingredients I grabbed out of my pantry, plus the freezer baggies I labeled so that I could be super efficient as I worked my way through the Eat Right Away: Slow Cooker Chicken Edition directions.

Apparently I thought the whole shebang was going to take so long that I wouldn’t possibly want to walk three extra steps to get out the olive oil in the midst of all the work. This undoubtedly saved me four seconds, giving me the edge on prepping so many meals in so little time. Rock on, olive oil. Thank you for being there when I needed you.

Just look at these beauties, will you? Seven freezer bags of chicken crock pot meals – made in less time than it takes to make a list of all the things it takes 30 minutes to do. For real.

slow cooker chicken 2

Next I work my way through the Crock Pot Beef Edition. Details to come.

Check out all the Eat Right Away Packets here. Save so much time and money! Love, love love. Want the carrot cake recipe? Trust me, you do. You can get that here.

The Truth About My Family and Junk Food

Think my family never eats junk food, only eats free-range organic everything, and that my kids have probably never heard of Oreos?  Think again.

I’m asked all the time how I handle junk food situations with my family.  The truth?  It doesn’t bother me that my kids eat junk food sometimes.  Youth gatherings, parties, Bible class rewards, extended family get-togethers, road trips – my kids are actually presented with not-so-healthy options pretty frequently.  Freaking out about it would mean I’d have to freak out about it pretty frequently.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.

The Truth About My Family and Junk Food

We eat as many nutrition-packed foods at home as possible.  We put loads of fruits and veggies on our table every day.  We make most of our bread products from freshly ground organic wheat.  I super-duper care about my family’s nourishment and emphasize the importance of good food to keep our bodies as healthy as possible.

I just recognize that this issue isn’t worth causing rebellion to rise up in my boys’ hearts, nor is it worth hurting relationships with people we love.  This is not about making a compromise.  I’ve simply decided not make a thing out of what I don’t believe needs to be a thing.

Do I love seeing my boys with a can of root beer in one hand and a Twizzler in the other?  Well, I much prefer to watch them choose which kind of homemade dressing they want on their salads.  But if in fact they have just burst through the door after a teen event with said junk food items in hand, and their deep man voices are rumbling with fun facts about the evening as they give me the run down of who was there and what the Bible study was about and who won the game they played afterward – I’m pretty sure it would be unwise of me to interrupt and launch into a lecture about red food dye.

And anyway.  My kids already know that stuff isn’t good for them.  I don’t need to say it again or give them the eyebrow of disapproval.  They’re just having fun, being kids, and enjoying their friends and social events.  If it means they love hanging out with their Christian friends then I say bring on the root beer.

The older my boys get, the more food choices they make on their own.  If you can possibly imagine, they like some of that stuff that comes out of a package.  It’s like they’re normal or something.

But they also really like healthy food.  They each need more than the fingers on both hands to count all of the fruits and vegetables they love.  They understand the dangers of margarine.  They love (most of) my nourishing homemade food.  They eat loads of great food every day without complaint.

I think it’s important to teach our kids all we can about good health and good decisions.  I think it’s important that we provide our families with as much nourishing food as we can.  Then, I think it’s important to smile and listen with excitement when talking to our kids about what they did while they were out and what they were offered to eat at a party – even if their tongues are blue and their finger-tips are orange.

What are your thoughts on this?  How do you handle junk food situations with your family?  

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Click over to this post to learn how we teach our kids about nutrition.