Guest post: Healthy Eating on a Budget

While I’m on vacation until Aug. 9 (and quite possibly for the day or two after I get back), I’m featuring several guest bloggers. Today’s guest post comes from Kayris who blogs at The Great Walls of Baltimore, among other places.

When a friend of mine went to her doctor earlier this year for her annual physical, he had bad news for her. Her blood sugar was up, her cholesterol was in the high range, and she had gained ten pounds in the past year. He told her she needs to lose weight or face serious health risks. Frightened by the prospect of diabetes and heart disease, she immediately overhauled the way she cooks and eats. Since then, she’s lost that ten pounds she gained last year and she feels better than she has in years. In fact, there’s only one downside to the new eating plan. Buying healthy food has taken a big chunk out of her grocery budget.

We eat pretty well, health wise, and I’ve found it hard to cut our grocery bills further than I already have because I’m not willing to make certain sacrifices to save a buck. To be sure, eating well and taking care of yourself will save you in the long run, but I wondered, is eating healthy really more expensive when you’re looking at it strictly from the standpoint of your credit card bill?

The answer is yes…and no. I’ve been meaning to blog about this topic for some time, but wasn’t quite sure where to start. If you’re talking about swapping fattier cuts of meat for leaner versions, or non-organic produce for all organic produce, then yes, it costs more to eat healthy. But if you shop for seasonal produce or wait for sales to stock up on meat, then you can eat healthier for about the same price. If you rely a lot on convenience goods or processed foods, making your own meal from scratch is not only healthier, but much cheaper. In order to prove my point, I wanted to compare how much it would cost to buy enough canned soup for a family of four, versus making a pot of your own, or how much it would cost to buy a premade, frozen lasagna versus how much it would cost to make your own. But that would have required a lot of research on my part, and I didn’t want to spend that much time on the post.

Then, back in March, I popped into Safeway for milk and spotted a new magazine.
Clean Eating is a new magazine by the publishers of Oxygen and it’s aimed, not at dieting, but at changing your lifestyle. When you “eat clean,” you try to eat foods in their most natural state and avoid refined grains, processed foods, etc. The idea isn’t new, but I think it’s a great way to reduce unnecessary sugar, salt and calories in your diet.

Anyway, the front of the magazine caught my eye because of the headline “Feed your family for five nights–Only 60$.” Food prices have been steadily rising and I’ve been struggling to keep our grocery expenses to a reasonable level, so I checked out the article. The five meals listed are very similar to meals that I cook, so I decided to give it a try and see how the magazine’s total bill compared to mine. I also made a few changes to suit the tastes and needs of my family.

Here’s the shopping list from the magazine’s website. Their prices are listed in blue.

3 small onions $1.99
1 head garlic $.39
1 lime $0.50
1 bag pre-washed mixed greens $3.49
2 lb. extra-lean ground white turkey breast $5.18
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts $14.97
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes $1.49
1 14.5-oz can Italian-style tomatoes $1.00
1 box high-protein or whole-wheat lasagna $2.39
1 small bag brown rice $2.00
2 1-qt. boxes reduced-sodium chicken stock $5.58
1 15-oz. can mixed tropical fruit packed in juice, unsweetened $3.19
1 6-pack bag whole-grain sub rolls $2.29
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach $0.95
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen mixed vegetables $1.89
1 15-oz. container non-fat ricotta $2.29
1 2-cup package shredded reduced-fat mozzarella cheese $2.19
1 6-oz. container non-fat yogurt $0.69
1/2 dozen eggs $1.99
Extra-virgin olive oil
Ground cinnamon
Ground nutmeg
Ground cumin
Dried oregano
Chili powder
Curry powder
Dried bay leaves
Cooking spray

Total: $54.46

For Pasta Roll-Ups with Turkey and Spinach, I substituted my own Spinach Lasagna Roll-Ups recipe. I wasn’t able to find whole wheat lasagna noodles at Safeway, and I don’t like reduced-fat mozzarella cheese, so I used part-skim cheese. My husband doesn’t like ground turkey and Johnny prefers cottage cheese over ricotta. Since the jarred pasta sauce I used had plenty of salt already, I also omitted the additional salt.

For Spicy Chicken With Brown Rice Pilaf, I used lime juice I already had on hand instead of buying a fresh lime. In place of the chicken stock, I used two teaspoons of sodium-free chicken bouillon granules and two cups of water.

For Chicken and Rice Soup with Spring Vegetables, I left out the bay leaf and made my own broth with water and bouillon.

For Curried Chicken Salad with Tropical Fruit, I didn’t use the bagged greens, substituting green leaf lettuce instead. I knew this meal would be too light for my husband, so I also made twice-baked potatoes on the side with ingredients I already had on hand.

For Turkey Meatball Subs, I substituted 93% lean ground beef for the turkey and part-skim mozzarella for the reduced-fat version.

Making adjustments for some of the items on the shopping list (eggs, for example, are listed as 1/2 dozen and we eat a lot of eggs. I usually buy three dozen at a time because Safeway runs buy one get one free sales on the 18 pack), my shopping list looks more like this. My prices are in red.

3 small onions $2.22
1 head garlic $0.40
1 lime1 bottle lime juice $1.97
1 bag pre-washed mixed greens 1 head green leaf lettuce $1.19
2 lb. extra-lean ground white turkey breast 3.5 pound 93% lean ground beef value pack $7.00
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts $12.00
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes1 jar pasta sauce $2.00
1 14.5-oz can Italian-style tomatoes $1.15
1 box high-protein or whole-wheat lasagna 1 16-ox box Safeway brand Semolina lasagna noodles $1.56
1 small bag brown rice $2.50
2 1-qt. boxes reduced-sodium chicken stock1 jar reduced-sodium chicken bouillon granules $3.75
1 15-oz. can mixed tropical fruit packed in juice,
unsweetened $1.25
1 6-pack bag whole-grain sub rolls $2.89 for 12 rolls
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach $1.19
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen mixed vegetables $1.99
1 15-oz. container non-fat ricotta1 16oz container cottage cheese $4.49
1 2-cup package reduced-fat mozzarella cheesePart-skim mozzarella cheese, 32 ounce block $6.99
1 6-oz. container non-fat yogurt1 32 ounce container fat-free plain yogurt $1.99
1/2 dozen eggs3 dozen eggs $5.49
Parmesan cheese 7oz block $4.49

The total for my grocery list comes to $66.51, and that’s pretty close. It’s even better, actually, when you consider that I purchased the larger container of some things and will have leftovers. The eggs are the most obvious example, but I’ll also get many more meals out of thr 32-ounce cheese that I bought. The rest of the cottage cheese will get eaten for breakfasts, and I also bought the large container of yogurt because I cook with yogurt a lot and it’s the more economical choice. In addition I already have many of the items on this list in my pantry. Rice is something I always have, as is chicken bouillon. I also stock up on commonly used ingredients when they go on sale, so we have ground beef and chicken in the freezer, yogurt in the fridge,and lime juice and canned tomatoes in the cabinets. So when I only buy the things I don’t already have, the total comes out to $39.53.

Of course, that’s for dinner only. It doesn’t include things like those 3-4 gallons of milk we go through a week (at $3.50 a pop) or fruit for lunches or things like crackers, cereal, bread, peanut butter, waffles, butter, etc, that quite often show up on my list. It also doesn’t include side dishes, like steamed veggies or salads. And while all five recipes are similar to recipes I already make for my family, I wouldn’t cook five recipes containing meat in one week. Another thing to consider is leftovers. We usually have leftovers, and my husband takes them to work for lunch the next day, or we have a night during the week when I don’t cook anything new and we eat whatever is in the fridge. Finally, while I have found that produce prices don’t vary much from store to store, prices for other items, such as meat, can be found in a wide range of prices. Some of the prices on my list are sale prices. The Perdue chicken is sale priced at $3.99 a pound, and I estimated that I would need three pounds. I almost never pay full price for Perdue chicken ($5.49 a pound at Safeway), but I also won’t buy storebrand chicken. How cheaply you can buy this list of food will depend heavily on sales.

Even so, I think that’s a reasonable amount to spend for a family of four in a week, especially considering that all five meals are tasty, healthy and easy to prepare.

How would your state/store stack up against such a challenge? Could you purchase those ingredients for 60 dollars? What do you consider to be a reasonable grocery budget for a family of four? And do you agree or disagree that it is more expensive to eat healthy?

Kayris lives with her husband, two kids and one grouchy cat in Baltimore City, MD. When she’s not home with the kids, she works part-time as a veterinary technician at a busy, multi-doctor animal hospital. She blogs about raising kids in the city at The Great Walls of Baltimore, shares family-friendly recipes and cooking tips at Mommy, What’s For Dinner?, and contributes to Generic Mommy, a blog about being a smart consumer.

Guest post: Giving with Art

While I’m on vacation until Aug. 9 (and quite possibly for the day or two after I get back), I’m featuring several guest bloggers. Today’s guest post comes from Carrie who blogs at Passage.

“Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

MintAt my last birthday, a friend gave me a pot of assorted mint plants. I keep the pot in a sunny window, and I catch the scent of mint over my breakfast in the morning. My husband and friends lavished me with attention and well-chosen gifts that birthday. Admit it, birthdays all kind of run together after age 21 or so, but they helped me remember what it feels like to be made much of on a birthday. I came away from my celebration wanting to lavish others, but quite frankly, I couldn’t afford much, and I didn’t want to promote any more consumerism or un-green living. I just wanted my friends and family to feel abundantly loved.

The most heartless gifts I’ve given have been those bought quickly and impulsively from a store. They have been gifts matched with a dollar amount: Okay, I have $30? Well, then it’s a pair of candlesticks. $50? I’ll get a sweater. Stores scream their seasonal promotions at me. They make gift giving as easy and thoughtless as possible. And while parting with the money may be painful, I’ve decided it requires no more sacrifice than paying the monthly electricity bill. Oh, yes, that’s often painful, but the sacrifice in gift-giving should be a pleasurable one. It may be a noble thing to sacrifice money for a gift, but in a consumer-driven culture of easily attainable credit, fast cars, and drive-thru restaurants, perhaps the most valuable gift is one that requires a sacrifice of time.

So, I started a list of gifts for all the wonderful people on my birthday calendar. They deserved more than a card. And, I pledged, they deserved more than mere money. For creation’s sake, they deserved a green gift. For being a blessing to my life, they deserved a gift that was well-thought-out. And in spite of my pride, they would get a frugal gift.

So, with no further ado, my new recipe for green, anti-consumer, thoughtful, frugal gift-giving:

Creating Gifts

NapkinsIf you sew, if you make crafts, learn to hone those skills for creating gifts. I sewed my first set of cloth napkins last week. They will be for my sister-in-law, and although I bought new fabric from a table of pre-cut scraps for a mere $1.99/yard, I could have made napkins from any scrap fabric around the house.

Even the most amateur knitter can create a scarf. When it’s complete, my first scarf will be beautiful enough to give away because I used a fuzzy yarn that covers my errors. A stack of denim from our old jeans is piling up on my piano. I’m excited for the day I start sewing together the patches into a quilt.

If you cook, cook for a gift. Make granola from organic ingredients, and bottle it in an old pasta sauce jar. If you make any of your own household cleaners, make samples for a wedding or graduation gift.

Giving What I Have
PhotobookCards A few years ago, I worked at a scrapbook store, and over the course of two years, I collected enough paper and embellishments to last a lifetime. Now, I make all my birthday cards, and create packets of cards for gifts. Grandparents are fully satisfied to receive a book of pictures of their grandchildren. If you paint, paint for someone. Draw pictures for someone. Find a quote that embodies your friend or relative, and present it in a frame. Recently, I found some plain, abandoned hair barrettes, and created colorful bows for my nieces from my scrapbooking ribbon collection.

If you have no crafty or culinary talent, give away something precious to you. A few months ago, I found my childhood rock collection, and instead of boxing it away again, I’m giving my treasures to my nephews for their birthdays. Have books on the shelf that you loved but will likely not read again? If you love the books, I propose that it is not stingy to use them as gifts instead of buying another copy to give away.

Beyond Things

Maybe the greenest gift possible is the gift of service. On Father’s Day, I treated my husband to the best massage I knew how to give. It took time and concentration and affection to make it worthwhile. Mood music, candles, lotion — these helped make my massage almost as good as any massage therapist’s. Well, anyway, I assume it was. He certainly responded well.

Other acts of service: Plan a picnic. Write a poem for your dad. Deliver breakfast in bed. Clean your mom’s house.

And If All Else Fails…

Okay, I am human, too. And sometimes birthdays sneak up on me, and I simply don’t have time to make a craft for my mother or plan a getaway for my beloved. Therefore, I submit to you… three easy ideas (that cost a little money):

1. Used books. A true book-lover will love a dog-eared copy as much as a pristine one.

2. Fairly traded recycled things. These recycled newspaper hot mats from Ten Thousand Villages are the premade gifts over which I drool the most.

3. A donation to a charity in someone’s name.

Some Final Thoughts
I love my mint plant. My sister hinted that she would love one, too, and this year I just happened to be paying attention. So when November gets closer, I will give her her own mint plant, grown from an offshoot of mine. I will search for a lonely, used planter from my local Freecycle group. I may paint it or scrub it clean, but to my sister, it will be new. The earth will be happier without more boxes to throw into its landfills; my sister will not be burdened with some store-bought trinket that she doesn’t really need. And my heart will be full from the preparation of a gift that I know will be appreciated.

When I began making a list of green gifts, I worried about being thought of as cheap. But as I put effort into my planning, I find so much more thought going into the gifts that I no longer worry. Hey, after a certain age, to be thought of at all on a special day is a great honor. So I make my little gifts, say little prayers over the recipient, and I find the blessing in the giving so much more fulfilling than handing my debit card over to a sales clerk.

c.l.beyer blogs at passage, a compilation of accounts on her journey to becoming a green, life-loving, and creative wife and momma. She includes her thoughts on loving God and the unlovable people of the world, sharing bits of poetry she’s written and the occasional book review.

I’m off to MI, but guest bloggers are standing by

Tomorrow morning is day 1 of our two-week vacation to Michigan. For the most part we’ll be staying with my parents in Oscoda which is very near the Au Sable River and Lake Huron (yes, we’ll be doing plenty of swimming), but we’re also taking a few days to go to Mackinac Island Mackinac Island(pronounced Mack-ih-naw) where we’ll stay at Mission Point Resort. (Those of you who’ve seen the movie “Somewhere in Time” with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour may remember that the movie took place primarily at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.) I spent a week every summer on the Island from sixth to twelfth grade as part of the Mackinac Downtown Mackinac IslandIsland Scout Service Camp (yes, I was a Girl Scout through high school), and have so many fond memories of that place. I took Jody there several years ago and now I hope to share the experience with my children as well. We plan to leave the touristy parts of the island behind for the most part and instead go off on bikes (since no cars are allowed there – only bikes and horses) and explore some of the more hidden, but beautiful and scenic areas. I hope to have the opportunity to take a lot of pictures. If I was independently wealthy, I swear we’d spend a few weeks there every summer in one of the amazing Victorian houses. I’m so looking forward to the trip. :)

OK, calm down Amy. Whew! Got a little carried away there for a moment and could almost hear the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves and smell the sweet aroma of fudge in the air.

Ahem. Anyway, although I personally will be blogging very little while I am gone (if you really want to know what’s going on while I’m away, follow me on Twitter), there will still be plenty of great content to read here at Crunchy Domestic Goddess. I have 17 guest bloggers with posts on topics like CSAs, eating healthy on a budget, parenting, , birth, feminism, photography tips, gardening, ‘poo-free hair, breastfeeding, organic food on the road, and MORE lined up to fill the void. Seriously, there are some great posts headed your way by a variety of very talented bloggers. I’m so happy to feature them here and I thank you in advance for extending the same courtesy and respect to them in your comments that you do to me. I hope you may even find some new blogs to read as a result of this (just as long as you don’t stop reading mine /cue nervous laughter/).

And now, after spending two hours today with the kids “killing time” in Target after discovering an unexpected flat tire this afternoon (I’m so thankful it happened today and not tomorrow and that we have 4 new tires on our car now), I need to kick it in gear and pack like mad. Next time you hear from me, I’ll be in Michigan. Ciao!

How to throw an eco-friendly party (with a giveaway)

This giveaway is now closed to new entries.

Felt party hats from GreenPartyGoods.comIs it possible to throw a child’s birthday party (or any party for that matter) without piling up mounds and mounds of trash? The answer is most definitely YES. Throwing an eco-friendly party (or green party or nearly zero-waste party) is actually probably easier than you think. Like any party, it just takes some planning in advance.

Here are some tips and ideas to get you started planning your next eco-friendly bash.

1) Invitations: Consider electronic invitations from Evite, which is what we did for my daughter Ava’s recent 4th birthday party, or EchoAge. Both options save paper and trees. If you have to have paper invitations, check out seed embedded paper (that you can plant) from Green Field Paper or Botanical Paperworks or others, so your invitation is reused and recycled.

All compostable tablewareZero-waste party table sign2) Tableware: One of the biggest waste creators at a party is the tableware – the plates, cups, napkins, bowls, and eating utensils, and even the table cloths. All of this plastic stuff (made from oil) gets used once, then ends up in the landfills where it doesn’t degrade. You can avoid the waste and plastic altogether by using reusable tableware, which may be cost-effectively purchased from a restaurant supply store. If you enjoy throwing parties and do so often, this might be the best way to go. Another option is to use compostable* tableware which is often made from corn, potatoes or sugarcane. Thanks to Green Party Goods we had compostable plates, cups and utensils in pink (for all of the kids) and I bought additional compostable tableware from EcoCycle, where Amy is so proud of the compostablesthey offer up a zero-waste event kit. Unfortunately the kits are only available locally; they do not ship them. EcoCycle provided me with table signs and boxes/bags to collect the compostables. After the party, I dropped them off at the EcoCycle facility to be composted. We collected recyclable items separately and took them back to my house to put in our recycle bin.
*It’s worth noting that many of the compostable tableware requires the very high heat of an industrial composter (not a home composter) to effectively decompose.
If you need table cloths, consider using an old sheet (check out Freecycle or thrift stores) or a piece of fabric in the color or theme of your choice. My mom whipped up a couple farm-themed tablecloths in no time for Ava’s party.

3) Decorations: Children’s birthday parties often mean lots and lots of balloons which are not good for the environment. Most are not biodegradable, are bad for sewage treatment plants, and are bad news for marine wildlife as well. As an alternative to balloons, one could decorate with Chinese lanterns or felt banners (both of which are reusable). Recycle Your Day has a tutorial on how to make a paper bag pinata. Or you could have your party at an outside location (at least during the warmer months) and let the natural scenery be the “decorations” and avoid artificial decorations all together. We held Ava’s 4th birthday party at a local farm where the kids had the option to feed and pet animals, have a pony ride, play in a giant tree house, and more. They loved it! Parks make a great setting for children’s parties too. We’ve had two of Ava’s previous birthday parties there. Outdoor parties are a great way to get kids connecting with nature.

Ava’s 4th birthday party - 6/21/08Kids at Ava’s outdoor farm party, eating with compostable plates, cups and utensils4) Food and Cake: When planning your menu, try to keep foods as healthy, organic and whole as possible. Avoiding prepackaged, preservative-laden foods is healthier for your guests and better for the earth since there’s less packaging involved. For Ava’s party I went with a fruit salad, a carrot salad, my version of confetti salad, a green salad and crackers. Instead of a cake, I made cupcakes using a healthier recipe sweetened with applesauce and honey, but my frosting (which my mom and I used to try to make the cupcakes look like pigs) included a lot of powdered sugar. I know, tsk, tsk, but ya can’t win ’em all. The good news is that the food coloring I used to dye the cream cheese frosting was plant-based (from beets). You can buy natural food coloring (and avoid artificial colors) at most health food stores.

5) Gifts and Wrapping Paper: When it comes time to wrap presents, think recycled or reusable materials first. Encourage your party attendees (as I did) to wrap their presents using newspaper or cloth. My friend Julie took the cloth suggestion one step further and made her own zero-waste wrapping “paper” by naturally-dyeing play silks a lovely shade of pink. The play silks are like a bonus present and provide unlimited imaginative play.
You also always have the option of politely declining presents. Kids often have so many toys that it won’t bother them to make presents optional, suggest books only (used books are even better) or request no presents at all. Another idea is to ask for donations to a charity in lieu of gifts. Let your child choose the charitable organization.

Party favor bagsFelt birthday crown6) Party favors/hat: I wanted to stay away from cheap and/or disposable party favors/hats and bags for the kids. Thanks to Green Party Goods, we received a felt queen’s crown for Ava’s big day (and you’ll have a chance to win one below). They also carry felt party hats.
Since I wanted to avoid plastic for our goody bags, I picked up some mini canvas bags from Hobby Lobby as well as some craft paint. I painted a pig and each child’s name on the bags. You could also buy a yard of fabric, cut it into squares and make your own bags tied up with a ribbon.

Party favor recycled crayonsThen for filling the bags, I bought some groovy recycled rainbow crayons* from Art 2 The Extreme, an Etsy store. In keeping with our farm theme, I printed up Party favor mini coloring booksmini coloring books of farm animals on recycled paper. I also wanted to include some sort of treat, but I wanted to avoid sugar and artificial colors, so I included a box of organic raisins for each child. That was it. Simple, but fun and no junky little plastic toys to end up in the landfill.

Party favor raisins

Another neat eco-friendly party favor idea is to give polished stones or geodes. They are natural and great for imaginative play. Check out Etsy for other unique and/or recycled/eco-friendly favor ideas.

*Other Etsy stores that sell recycled crayons include: IvyLane Designs, Butterfly Brain and Ferret Bento.


7) Thank you notes: Again, these can easily be done without trees by sending electronic thank yous. If you feel the need to send them in the mail though as I did (what can I say, I’m old-fashioned), use recycled paper/cards. We made our thank you notes and Ava stamped them with a new stamping set she received for her birthday. I think it’s important for children to be involved in the thanking process and she really enjoyed creating cards for all of her friends.

Looking for more green party ideas? Check out Nature Moms Blog’s Eco Friendly Birthday Party post.

Now on to the giveaway…

Win It!

Felt Queen Crown Felt King Crown

Collapsible baseball girlCollapsible baseball boyThanks to Green Party Goods, I’m giving away one felt queen or king crown (your choice) and 10 collapsible baseball figure party favors. To be eligible to win, simply visit Green Party Goods, take a look around, come back here and leave a comment letting me know what your favorite thing is. That’s it! (If you want to link to it, Twitter it, or Stumble it, especially if you found this post helpful, I certainly won’t object, but that’s not required to enter to win.) The deadline to enter is 11:59 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 7. The winner will be selected by and emailed, so be sure to include a valid email address or link to your blog so I know how to reach you. Good luck!

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Before and After

Admittedly these aren’t the best pics, but here’s a before and after of both my old and new glasses and my old and new hairstyle. What do you think?

Old glasses, old hair - 7/20/08

I wanted to go with a short pixie cut, but decided to go with more of a short layered bob instead. My hair is really short in the back and longer around my face. I also added more bangs. I didn’t have any product in my hair and hadn’t really styled it, but I think it will be easy to wash and go, and I’m all about easy. :) Though I also think it’d be easy to throw some goop or something in it and make it look a bit more styled.

New glasses, new hair - 7/20/08

Does this count for a Best Shot Monday post since I really didn’t take any other pictures this week? ;) Tracey did say, “Do you have a shot that says something about what’s been happening in your life? Share your joy.” This week my joy is glasses and a haircut that I like. :)
Check out others’ joy at Tracey’s place.