Homemade Food Gifts: Baked Goods

The most frugal way to make these foods is from scratch. Admittedly, I often use boxed items when I’m able to purchase them on sale, with a coupon. They can be pretty affordable just before and during the holidays. The trick to doing this in the most frugal manner possible is by figuring out whether it is cheaper to bake from scratch or a box when all factors are added in, or deducted 🙂 Be sure to factor in home preserved produce for the food items that have fruit as an ingredient.
Just a note: These are not healthy baked-goods. But most people on my gift list won’t likely eat healthy versions. They like what they are used to. So yes, I give sweets at the holidays. Also, I don’t think it is necessarily bad to treat yourself once-in-a-while. You just don’t want to make a habit of it.

Fill baskets with one or more of the following:

  • HM (Homemade) quick breads
  • Quick breads from a box: Lemon poppy seed, apple cinnamon, pumpkin and cinnamon swirl are all tasty options.
  • Brownies
  • HM pumpkin chocolate chip cookies or bars.
  • HM sugar cookies decorated with colored sugars or icings.
  • HM apple or zucchini bars with chocolate chips.
  • HM mints

Tips

  • To save money on electricity, I bake multiple items at once.
  • To save time, I mix up multiple batches at once in large bowls.
  • To save a few more pennies, when mixing up multiple batches I delete and egg or two.
  • To save more money, I use small or medium eggs – or large depending on what is on sale. You can use any size eggs in baking, even if large eggs are specifically called for. 1 small or medium egg = 1 large egg.
  • Use mini loaf pans, if possible.
  • Use mini decorative cake pans for breads, bars and cakes.

What homemade baked goods do you make to give as holiday gifts? Please share with us in the comments below.

Shannon

 

Leaf Place Markers

These leaf place markers are so cute and easy to make. A place marker simply allows you to put each person at a specific place at the autumn-themed or Thanksgiving table.

Materials

scrapbook paper in a solid autumn color (or in an autumn print), cut to 5″ x 3″

scrapbook paper in a different solid color, cut to 4-2/3″ x 2-2/3″

gold, brown, or other autumn colored marker or scrapbook pen

small leaf sticker

autumn-colored scrapbook pens

paper cutter

small paper leaf embellishment (1 per card), or hand cut them yourself

adhesive squares

bone folder

  1. Fold the 5″ x 3″ pieces of paper over the tall way, so the finished pieces will be 2-1/2″ x 3″. Use the Bone folder to score down the inside of the fold.
  2. Fold the 4-2/3″ x 2-2/3″ pieces of paper over the tall way like above. Again, use the Bone folder to score down the inside of the fold.
  3. Place an adhesive square at the back top and bottom sections of the 4-2/3″ x 2-2/3″ pieces of paper, and attach this paper to the front of the larger piece so the scored lines line up.
  4. Fold the finished product along the cored line to be sure the card folds properly while being able to stand on its own.
  5. Place an adhesive square to the back of a paper leaf or other leaf embellishment, and place it to the left or right side of the place marker – leaving enough space on the smaller piece of paper to write the person’s name.
  6. Using the pen, write a guests name on each.
  7. Open the card. At the top center of the inside, place a small leaf sticker.
  8. Write ‘I am thankful for:’ just under the leaf sticker, and the year at the bottom center.
  9. When putting the place markers on the table, set a pen next to each. Before enjoying your meal, have each person think about what they are most thankful for and write it down.

Tips

  • Make all the place markers the same, or spice things up a bit by making each a little different.
  • This project is great for using up scraps, and doing so will allow you to save money.
  • Try other autumn embellishments.
  • Rather than having guests write what they are thankful for inside the place markers, write what you are thankful for that has to do with each of them. Or, leave the inside for them to fill out, and write a short note about what you are thankful for about each on the back of each.

Happy autumn!

Shannon

Mini Pumpkin Place Markers

Mini pumpkin place markers are so cute and easy to make. A place marker simply allows you to put each person at a specific place at the autumn-themed or Thanksgiving table.

Materials

scrapbook paper in a solid autumn color other than the orange of the pumpkin (or in an autumn print), cut to 5″ x 3″

scrapbook paper in a different solid color other than the orange of the pumpkin, cut to 4-2/3″ x 2-2/3″

gold, brown, or other autumn colored marker or scrapbook pen

orange and green scrapbook pens

paper cutter

small paper pumpkin embellishment (1 per card), or hand cut them yourself

adhesive squares

bone folder

  1. Fold the 5″ x 3″ pieces of paper over the tall way, so the finished pieces will be 2-1/2″ x 3″. Use the Bone folder to score down the inside of the fold.
  2. Fold the 4-2/3″ x 2-2/3″ pieces of paper over the tall way like above. Again, use the Bone folder to score down the inside of the fold.
  3. Place an adhesive square at the back top and bottom sections of the 4-2/3″ x 2-2/3″ pieces of paper, and attach this paper to the front of the larger piece so the scored lines line up.
  4. Fold the finished product along the cored line to be sure the card folds properly while being able to stand on its own.
  5. Place an adhesive square to the back of a pumpkin, and place it to the left or right side of the place marker – leaving enough space on the smaller piece of paper to write the person’s name.
  6. Using the pen, write a guests name on each.
  7. Open the card. At the top center of the inside, draw a little pumpkin.
  8. Write ‘I am thankful for:’ just under the pumpkin, and the year at the bottom center.
  9. When putting the place markers on the table, set a pen next to each. Before enjoying your meal, have each person think about what they are most thankful for and write it down.

Tips

  • Make all the place markers the same, or spice things up a bit by making each a little different.
  • This project is great for using up scraps, and doing so will allow you to save money.
  • Try other autumn embellishments.
  • Rather than having guests write what they are thankful for inside the place markers, write what you are thankful for that has to do with each of them. Or, leave the inside for them to fill out, and write a short note about what you are thankful for about each on the back of each. (see picture above)

Happy autumn!

Shannon

 

Banana-Blueberry Smoothie

This is another basic smoothie, but a very good one. I’m trying to find produce at good prices, and to couple my coupons with sales for whatever other ingredients I’m using for each recipe. I want to spend as little money as possible, while still packing the nutrients into each beverage. I hope you enjoy 🙂 Again, I used my single serve blender.

Ingredients

small banana

a handful-and-a-half of blueberries

single serving of coconut yogurt

water

  1. Place everything but the water into the blender.
  2. Add 1/4 cup water.
  3. Blend for about 30 seconds, or until everything is blended well, adding more water if needed.

Tips

  • Try using different types of berries if they are on sale.
  • Add other ingredients if you would like.

Shannon

 

Watermelon and Blueberries with Coconut Cream

I love melons and berries, and find combining the two makes for some tasty recipes. These combinations are great for spring and summer.

This recipe makes a great side dish to any meal, but will also make a delicious snack or dessert.

Ingredients

1 cup cubed or balled seedless watermelon

½ cup blueberries

2 to 3 tablespoons coconut cream flavored with pure vanilla or mint extract to taste

  1. Rinse the blueberries well. Lay them out one towel and pat dry with a towel.

  2. Place the watermelon and blueberries in a salad bowl, and top with coconut cream.

Tips

  • To save money, use fresh produce from your own garden.

Serving Suggestions

Shannon

Chocolate-Banana Pudding with Berries, and a Smoothie

I admit it. I love chocolate. I don’t know too many women who don’t. However, I’m trying to eat healthier foods. Traditional chocolate desserts are a no-no, and I comply with that most of the time. When I really want chocolate and am at home, chocolate pudding is a dessert I enjoy. Because there is only one of me, I don’t eat the whole thing, but I do take half and make a smoothie for the next day. Both recipes are below.

Just let me say that I had never had an avocado, so I had no idea what this might taste like starting out. I was pleasantly surprised when I made the pudding and the smoothie. I still have never had just an avocado, but I do know I like it mixed in with other foods.

Avocado is not necessarily cheap, mind you, which means I don’t make this often. One costs me about .98. I can get more kiwi or bananas for the price, which is what I often do with a portion of my fruit money. But for only a once in a while treat, this is perfect.

Chocolate-Banana Pudding with Berries

Ingredients

1 chocolate-banana pudding recipe (I use this Paleo one from Paleotable.com)

2 large strawberries, the green cut off

a few blueberries

  1. Make the banana pudding recipe according to the directions on Paleotable.com.
  2. Mix with a blender and taste. If it’s not chocolatey enough for you, and another tablespoon of the cocoa powder.
  3. Chill for an hour or so, then split half the pudding between two small cups or bowls.
  4. Top with diced strawberries, and a few blueberries.
  5. Refrigerate the other half, covered.

Chocolate-Banana-berry Smoothie

Ingredients

1/2 of the chocolate-banana pudding recipe above

1/3 cup full-fat coconut milk that has been refrigerated over night

a few strawberries, greens cut off

a handful of blueberries

  1. Place everything into a blender.
  2. Cover and blend until combined.

Tips

  • Buy coconut milk on sale, preferably with a coupon, to save a little money.
  • Try adding strawberries or other berries to the smoothie.
  • Top the pudding with apple slices for dipping.

Serving Suggestions

  • Serve the pudding over a Paleo brownie, or with fruit slices for dipping.
  • Serve the smoothie for breakfast, with eggs on a bed of spinach.

Have a great day!

Shannon

Farmers’ Market Shopping by Shannon L. Buck

Shopping Locally is the Way to Go

Shopping at a farmers’ market is a lot of fun. They offer many items and a lot of the fresh produce sold at these events is very reasonably priced, if you know when to shop. I shop in Orono, Maine, because it is close to my home. This makes it easy to purchase fresh produce and other needs from a local source.

Granted, these farmers do not generally live right down the street from us. The markets allow various farmers to come together in one place for us to visit once or twice per week. This saves fuel in two ways: 1) Products are not being shipped in from other states and/or countries, and 2) all farmers’ market customers do not have to travel here-and-there-and-everywhere to purchase state grown products.

I’ve noticed that when I visit the market an hour or so before they close, I can usually get even better deals on the fresh produce. Why can you get better deals at the end of the day? Because the farmers don’t want to have to take the fresh produce and baked goods, or even the frozen items, back home with them if they can help it. They grew and/or made these items to be purchased, not to be brought back home. The products may not last until the next farmers’ market, so the seller may be more apt to bargain toward the end of the day.

Our local farmers’ market has more than just fresh produce. I’ve seedlings, soaps, homemade jams, jellies, butters, pies, breads, and more. Even frozen seafood and dried herbs. Last year, someone was selling homemade, organic dog treats. These wonderful products are just what I’m looking for.

I find that almost all of the products offered at a farmers’ market are organic. If an item is not organic, I can choose not to purchase it. I want to purchase as many natural, organic products as possible, so this is a very attractive reason for me to shop at the farmers’ market rather than the grocery store. I also like the fact that the products are made and/or grown in my home state.

To shop a farmers market, you need a few things

1. Reusable shopping bags, which you will want an abundance of.

2. The knowledge of what you need, and how much you’ll be able to use before your next visit.

3. The knowledge of how to preserve and/or store anything you are able to get a good price on.

Stock up when you find good deals at a farmer’s market

You don’t want to stock up on anything that wont last until you can eat or use it up, but you’ll want to take advantage of good deals on the items that will last. This will save you money in the long run.

I’m now going to offer you up an assignment. I’d like for each reader to visit a nearby farmers’ market. Spend some time there. Ask about the products that are of interest to you. Find out if they are organic, if the sellers are willing to bargain at the end of the day, and how often the sellers attend that particular farmers’ market. When you return home, comment here to let us know how things went and what you learned.

 

Freezer Mix-Ups

What are mix-ups?  Well, to make a mix-up, all you do slice or chop fruits and/or vegetables for freezing. These will likely be different each time you freeze, depending on the available produce and the amounts. They are easy to throw together and place in the freezer for later use.

This is a good way to use up produce that may be a little less than fresh, and to use those odd pieces not used in recipes or eaten with meals.

Here is how I make a vegetable mix-up:

  • Take out a large mixing bowl, and a cooking spoon for mixing.
  • Get out your cutting board and a sharp knife.
  • Take the vegetables you are worrying about going to waste out of your refrigerator. Produce that may not be the freshest, but could be used in a stew or something else.
  • Look at the counter produce to see if any of it needs to be used.
  • Rinse everything and wipe dry with a towel.
  • Chop all the vegetables and throw them into the bowl.
  • Throw out the trash (or compost it!), and then mix up what is in the bowl.
  • Judge how many freezer containers you will need, get them ready, and label them veggie mix-up and put a use-by date on the label. (Six months would work)
  • Spoon the vegetables into the container(s), cover, and freeze.

Use these mix-ups for:

To make fruit mix-ups, take the same steps above and use the fruit mix-ups for smoothies or homemade ice cream.

These are great ways to help you save money. It is frugal to also use leftovers in the same manner, adding even as little as a teaspoon of corn or pees to a freezer mix-up will allow you to save money in the long run.

How do you save money in the kitchen? Get a copy of my eBook Frugal Ways to Save Money in the Kitchen + Frugal Recipes for the Health Conscious. It is FREE!

Shannon

New Year Goal: Organize

Yesterday I posted a New Year goal about how I’m getting back to eating healthy after getting off track during the holidays. Today I want to let you know about another goal, and my theme word for the year.

ORGANIZE

Yup, by the end of the new year, I intend to be far more organized.

And not just in the kitchen or with cooking. I’m going to be organizing most aspects of my life. This is huge for me, as I’m not an organized person. But it is necessary, especially when living in such a small space.

You see, I rent a room. In that one room, I have sections: Bedroom, living room, office, pantry, kitchen. I’ve started the process, but still have a long way to go.

For the kitchen/cooking/pantry part of the organization goal, I’m looking to streamline some things, and to get things in order.

  • I’m turning my closet into a pantry. This closet is not huge, but it’ll hold cleaning products, personal hygiene needs, and food items.
  • I would also like to get a cabinet to put next to my door that will be a party of the pantry system.
  • I’m looking for a way to organize my spices and cooking/baking utensils so they don’t take up cupboard or counter space. Any ideas?
  • I want a couple of drawer units and a cupboard unit for dishes, cookware, etc. It can’t be too tall, because my toaster oven needs to sit atop the units. I’m thinking cube units will be the most efficient way to go.
  • I also want a new dorm-size fridge. One with a separate freezer. The little freezer in my current refrigerator holds next to nothing, and doesn’t keep food frozen well. The freezer in the fridge that I want is a little bigger. I’ve already learned I don’t need much refrigerator space. This will save me money in my future home. I wont need to buy a huge refrigerator, and a small one doesn’t use a much energy. I’ll keep a spare in the pantry for holiday use.
  • Putting together a system for tracking the recipes I want to try, and the recipes and tips I want to keep, is necessary. Any tips for these projects will be greatly appreciated!

Are you looking to organize your kitchen and recipes this year? What are your plans? Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Take inventory of the kinds of things you put in your kitchen and pantry. Is there a better way to organize things that will help to streamline your meal prep activities? What do you need to get to most often? And what do you need only occasionally? Make a list of how you might better organize these areas. Or draw a sketch.
  • Do you need organizers for the cupboards, drawers, pantry, and refrigerator? What might work in these areas? Make a list of things you can pick up to help get your space organized.
  • Print off a Master Inventory List.
  • Print off a Master Pantry Shopping List.
  • Go through all those loose recipes you have stashed here and there, and decide which ones you will really be trying. Organize them, and get rid of the rest.
  • Start organizing! Don’t wait, or you might not get to it. Plan to do something each week until you’re done, or plan a weekend to do everything.

Save money on organizers by:

  • Shopping yard and garage sales.
  • Utilizing clearance and other sales.
  • Checking out local thrift stores.
  • Shopping at the local dollar stores.

Happy New Year!

Shannon

New Year Goal: Getting Back to Eating Healthy

I must have gained 15 pounds this month, and I feel crappy to boot. I can’t claim to eat healthy 100% of the time, but usually I eat far healthier than I have in the past couple of months.

The holidays are rough, that’s for sure. All the delicious foods are so hard to say no to.

What is healthier for me? A mostly Paleo diet. Mainly vegetables, protein, and healthy fat, with a little fruit thrown into the mix. This is not a diet as many people use the term, but a lifestyle. Remember, a diet isn’t something you go on. It is how you eat daily.

Now, a Paleo lifestyle is not cheap, but I am trying and learning new things to help me save money when possible. Usually my hours are cut back during the winter months, meaning my food budget is next to nothing, but this year my boss tells me I’ll be working 40 hours each week. If this is true, I’ll have more money for groceries. Thank goodness! More money for experimenting with recipes. More money for regular meals. More money for healthy food, and not having to eat all the grains, sugars, and other stuff that causes me to gain weight.

My parents gave me $100.00 for Christmas, and I intend to put that money toward stock-ups for healthy eating this winter. After all, we all like pancakes and muffins sometimes. It’s just a matter of what ingredients are used when making them. So I want to stock up on things like:

  • almond flour
  • coconut flour
  • cocoa bliss
  • coconut oil
  • canned tomatoes
  • tomato paste
  • bakers cocoa
  • canned full-fat coconut milk
  • canned coconut cream
  • unsweetened coconut flakes

I lose weight and feel so much better when I’m following a Paleo lifestyle more closely.

What is healthy for you and your family? That depends on your health concerns and other things. Your doctor or a nutritionist should be able to help you figure it out. You owe it to yourself and your family to figure out what healthy is for you, and to change your recipes and menus up accordingly.

You don’t have to make one big change at the beginning of the year, especially if that means you wont stick to it. Why not try something new each month, continuing throughout the year with each one. You will make each a habit to carry with you into every year from here on out. Here are some suggestions:

January: Do you really need a bunch of fruit every single day? With the Paleo lifestyle, and a need to lose weight, I’ll only be having one fruit a day. Fruit has plenty of natural sugars, and I don’t need that much sugar when I’m trying to lose weight – natural or otherwise. If you’re not trying to lose weight, then more fruit is likely fine.

February: Are you getting enough vegetables? Even if you get two vegetables at the three meals every day, adding a side salad to lunch and dinner will give you a nutritional punch. These don’t have to be huge salads, and will help to make sure you’re getting enough produce.

March: Water is so important! Try drinking a lemon water each morning. Then a water with lunch, and one in between lunch and dinner. This may enough for you. A good rule of thumb with water is that you should be able to get all your food in throughout the day. If you’re drinking a lot of water each day and not feeling hungry enough at all three of the basic meals, you are likely drinking too much water. Eight glasses of water a day is not for everyone. Keep in mind, you’ll need more water during hot months.

April: Is juice necessary? No. It’s far better to have the fruit than the juice. If you really think you need the juice, be sure it has no added sugars. One-hundred percent juice is the way to go.

May: Is dairy really your friend? Being on the Paelo diet, you eliminate a lot of foods from your diet. Then you can reintroduce some things. During this process, I learned that milk and yogurt are not my friends, but I can tolerate cheese. However, cheese is not really part of the Paleo lifestyle Let’s just say I haven’t given cheese up completely, but I limit it. I rarely ever have it.

June: Did you take milk out of your diet and want to replace it with something else? I didn’t think I would like them, but I now drink almond, coconut, and cashew milks. Try one. One serving a day is good.

July: Cut out processed sugars, for the most part. I do use organic honey, maple syrup, and molasses (on rare occasion). I don’t use sweeteners a lot by any means.

August: Corn is not a vegetable. Not really. It is a grain. Please treat it as such.

September: Rethink grains, particularly if you’re trying to lose weight. And don’t be fooled by wheat products. They may not be as healthy for you as they are supposed to be. Still want pasta, breads, and brownies? Think almond and coconut flours. There are non-grain options that taste great.

October: While my favorite dessert item is not 100% Paleo/healthy, it is tasty and easy to make. If you have the money you can get healthier versions of chocolate chips, but I don’t have that kind of money. This treat keeps me from eating a whole slew of very-bad-for-me desserts, so I’m keeping it.

No-Bakes: Melt chocolate chips with a tablespoon of organic coconut oil. Chop almond slivers up a little finer, and give some dried fruit a chopping as well. Add these two ingredients along with unsweetened coconut flakes to the melted chocolate. Make sure all the goodies are coated, then drop by the tablespoon on to parchment paper and allow the no-bakes to set up. Yum! Store in a container in the fridge. I’m sorry, I don’t measure these ingredients.

November: Be sure each meal and snack has a vegetable, some protein, and a little healthy fat. A good snack might be a carrot or celery, a hard-boiled egg, and a tablespoon of cocoa bliss.

December: Make sure each get-together includes a vegetable platter or two!

Tips for saving money while eating healthier:

  • If you are cutting back on fruit intake, you’re saving a little money.
  • You’re also saving money on processed foods that can go toward healthier foods.
  • I can’t afford all organic foods, by any means, but I do buy organic when I can.
  • I rarely ever am able to afford organic meats. I don’t let it bother me. I’ll still be eating healthier than when I’m consuming all the dairy, sugar, and grains.
  • Peanuts are not nuts. They are legumes. If you are on the Paleo diet, you aren’t allowed legumes. You’ll save money by not buying peanut butter, beans, etc.
  • Figure out what healthy brands of foods are sold at the stores you frequent, then go online to look up their websites. Sign up for coupons. Use coupons only when it will save you money.
  • Combining coupons with sales saves even more money.
  • Wal-Mart has organic herbs in pots. Place them on a windowsill and use them in place of dried herbs. This will save you a lot.
  • Start an organic garden in the spring.
  • Save leftovers, even if it is only a tablespoon or two of something. Freeze what you wont use right off.

Happy New Year!

Shannon