Monday, December 27, 2010

My homemade Christmas

This Christmas has been a challenge. Our budget is always tight but this year a little more than usual. Anyone who has ever tried to live a healthier live knows that it tends to cost a little bit more to live a healthier life. It is a price I am willing to pay. However, I have been blessed with awesome friends who stepped in and gave us a hand to help and make sure my children had a Happy Holiday.
     My dear cousin sent me a $50 gift card to WalMart right after we were given a tree we had NO decorations for. I figured I would pick up some decorations with the gift card, and still have money to get a few games or a craft for the kids, they couldn't cost that much right? As I looked at the items I thought about the fate of our decorations from last year. Our bulbs were broken and the garland had shed so all of it went in the trash. I think the lights I had a short in them and our angel is the only thing left she is actually broke.  So I made a decision I didn't feel the need to give the electric company extra money, just so I can worry that my tree will catch fire, and I am not buying tacky decorations that will get broke and I will buy again next year. So I took my gift card and I purchased some construction paper, glitter glue, ribbon, and used the rest  to purchase things for another craft project and went home. Off I went wondering if my kids would think I had lost my mind asking them to make a paper chain to use as garland and cut out and draw ornaments. Yet, as we sit in the living room making the paper chain my ten year old looked up at me and said "mom this is waaay better than buying stuff this is fun!" That is when I knew I made the right choice.
    We only get so many years when they are young and to create memories that they will carry with them forever. They won't necessarily remember that's the Christmas that we were broke but they will probably remember the time they spent with mom and their siblings making decorations on the living room floor listening to Christmas music thinking it was cool. Much how I thought my mom and I ate pancakes for dinner for fun when I was little not because that's all we had. One thing I have always tried to instill in my children is the ideal that what you own doesn't make you a better person we have been scaling back Christmas for a few years. Weird things happen when you focus on having less you get more, you get more love from one another, you get more time with one another, and the best for me was getting make memories with one another!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Recycling my secret nemesis and secret shame

So here is my confession we are lazy recyclers. I am ashamed I have a recycling drop off at MY JOB! Why does the recycling not get done you ask, because my family refuses to get in the habit of sorting our trash. I know, I know that's crazy it is one of the reason I wanted to start composting, thinking that once you take out most of the food scraps and compost-able items recycling would be easy. Um, no my children like to but trash in the plastics bin, get the paper greasy, mixing everything up to the point that as trash day approaches I just throw up my hands and say forget it just take it to the curb. I don't believe I am the only one is this not the reason many of us do not recycle? It seems like too much work, the sorting, rinsing, and if you live in a city like mine that does not have curbside recycling the transporting.  (Note: when we lived in our former location that had curbside recycling we did a better job I think that's why its important for cities to offer it) Then I start to think is it really to much work to deal with my OWN mess.? That's what I teach my children. Clean up behind yourself  take care of your messes. Yet somehow when it comes to my trash and our household trash its too much work and we just want it to go away without realizing there really is no place called away. That our trash doesn't go away it stays, it stays for a very, very long time.  My family and I have to do better and so does our community before we are literally wallowing in our own garbage. We can lessen our impact therefore we should, it is our duty.

Adventures in container gardening! Part 3

So we are making small gains we planted some lettuce and we haven't killed it! After we managed to grow some basil, thyme and a few other kitchen herbs this summer we figured for fall/winter we would try to grow a few heads of lettuce and that is what we have done. I am proud of us so far we are doing well. I purchased ours already seeded in six packs from a local organic nursery and then because leaf lettuce do not have deep roots I planted them in litter boxes I had purchased at the grocery store on clearance for $1.50 poked holes in the bottom with a screwdriver and ta da its a planter.  They make great containers because once full they are not heavy which makes them easy to move as needed for sunlight or because of space limitations. I brought about 10 so I can use them in the summer they will be great for starting seeds and growing certain veggies.  The lettuce should be ready to pick in a few weeks and I am sure it will be one of the best salads we ever ate. Pics to come!!!!!!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Adventures in container gardening! Part 2

Today I found out I can get a bunch of old tires from this guy on Freecycle which works out awesome since I want to stack them 4 tall and use them to plant potatoes. I'm so excited they won't take up a ton of room and I will be able to do at least 4 of them in my back yard, yay!!!!!!! Even if can't use until next year we are on our way.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Adventures in container gardening!!!!

So in keeping with my theme of healthy living and eating on a budget this year my family and I are trying to do some organic container gardening along with planting in some raised beds in the backyard. I know, I know it sounds crazy, but I take it as an adventure and also I am counting it as part of our science curriculum for homeschooling purposes. We are far behind schedule because I had wanted to do a summer garden and that didn't happen however we did grow some herbs and flowers in flower boxes out front. Now we are working on finishing our raised beds in the backyard (that I have had the materials for ALL summer long), so we can finish planting our fall garden since our lettuce is in flower boxes for the time being. I did learn a tip from one of my co-workers that you can grow lettuce in those black plastic trays that they put the plastic flower pots in at the store as long as you space them out because they do not need much soil or deep soil. So we really are learning as we go! This week we are also starting our compost one major necessity for gardening is healthy soil and compost is a cheap easy and eco friendly way to do that. I was going to make a compost bin from grocery store pallets but instead I have decided to use a large trash can for two reasons 1) I don't have to put it together I already have the raised beds to make I don't need another construction project :-) 2) It won't look like a compost pile it will just look like a trash can in my back yard by my garage which is a good thing when dealing with nosy urban neighbors.   I will be doing a separate blog on compost later.
Anyways, we are going to try to keep it simple and just plant a few things lettuce, spinach, potatoes, and onions. We will see how this goes wish us luck!!

Monday, May 10, 2010

How to shop organic/whole foods. on a food stamp budget, for real, from someone on food stamps!

So I am writing this blog because once upon a time not long ago I set off on a personal journey that I am still on to try to eat and live healthier. When I began my journey I did what many of us do and hit up Google hoping to find some great advice about shopping, cooking, and living organic on the cheap, especially if you were like me a family on food stamps. What I found was a few helpful sites and very few articles that addressed people eating organic on a food stamp budget and those that did were written by well meaning people who were "experimenting:" with cash budgets in the amount that a family their size would receive if they were on food stamps (the SNAP challenge). That's cool but what does that do for me?
 A person who really is living day to day with an EBT card trying to live a sustainable healthy lifestyle with a large family and a job. It did nothing but make for interesting reading since most of these people had advantages that the average family on food stamps don't have i,e, one person at home all day and or advance cooking skills and fancy cookware. So I have decided to write my advice on how to do organic/whole foods on a budget. DISCLAIMER: I do not claim to be an expert or have special knowledge really I'm just speaking from my experience. 

1) Price compare and use coupons- as much as I love my local co-op especially since I work there, many national chains now have their own lines of organics, such as Kroger, which are not as much of a drain on the budget example my regular black beans cost $.69 Kroger organics $.99 I can spare the $.30 vs $.60 or more elsewhere. Same with soy milk and other items. You can also save using online retailers like Vitacost which often have great BOGO offers on food items and offers free shipping for orders over $45. I often use them for dried fruit when it's on sale using my cash food budget. Most of us on SNAP still spend cash on food. Coupons are often hard to find on organic products, however many companies have printable coupons on their websites if you register with them. Also this site has a great alphabetical list of printable coupons including organic/whole food brands (I realize that this assumes one has access to a computer and internet which many SNAP families do not).

2)Make a menu and actually use it- this one takes work for me but it does save you money because you don't waste by buying on impulse and you can maximize sales. 

3)Keep it simple smarties- There are simple meals with simple ingredients  that are healthy, and can be made with low cost organic items. Thank goodness for beans and cous cous with veggies (I'll get some recipes for ya'll) So find stuff you can make with a steady supply of staples that you can keep on hand.

4)Start Cooking and cut those potion sizes- If you want to buy higher cost higher quality food that usually means replacing the convenience foods and cheap unhealthy foods which generally requires more cooking and a little more time, but with a little planning it can be done.  I try to cook and freeze on my days off (a huge pot of chili takes just as much work as a smaller one) it is a very old trick of busy moms and you don't even need containers you would be surprised how many things you can freeze/refrigerate in storage bags, including soups. Another way to save by cooking is to make your own items from hummus to applesauce there are many things that take little effort but have a great financial payoff.  I know I know it takes some prep but I myself being the slacker I am often cut up veggies while watching T.V. on my folding T.V. tray. So I can relax and get some stuff done. Also cut your portion sizes if you are not already watching them most of us being Americans eat too much and make too much food that we end up throwing away. So recognize if you have this habit and STOP it will save you money and help your health. Extra protip-if you see a bread maker at a thrift store grab it you can save a lot of money making bread at home with minimal effort but I would never pay full price for one.

5)Make it yourself/Grow it yourself-I did say live organic too, right, meaning cleaning products and such and since we are talking about cooking,  you can make many of your own cleaners too. I make my own laundry soap, and use liquid castile soap that I buy in bulk to clean almost everything.  They are environmentally friendly, I use less, and in the case of the laundry soap I save money. Also it is awesome to have a home that is mostly free of chemicals. The money I save on cleaners goes into the fruit and veggie budget.
My newest endeavor this year is container and raised bed gardening at my house (which I rent). Basically it is gardening with limited space for your own use. The awesome thing is my kids LOVE the idea and it will save a good amount of money especially on tomatoes. Other good news about gardening on a food stamp budget is that you can actually purchase seeds with food stamps as long as they are food seeds this includes organic seeds (yippie!!!). I will be blogging about this more in depth soon.

6)Eat less meat- check my other blogpost for why eating less meat is a good idea, but it also saves money meat is expensive and not required for every meal or everyday, I'm not saying you have to become a vegan just find some good recipes for other protein sources like beans and meat alternatives like tofu and TVP, my kids love it!

7)Buy in bulk- If you are lucky you have a local whole food co-op or other grocery that has a well stocked bulk department, I save a good deal of money by shopping in the bulk department for flour, salt, sugar and other stables because the per pound prices is considerably lower. (if you don't have one in your town and you buy some food with cash consider using cash and pricing these items online) Also at our co-op if you order a by the case you get 15% off so I usually budget to order our brown rice every 3 months by the 50 lb bag. With the discount the price is equal to non organic brown rice. Similar deals can often be found on Amazon using their scheduled shipping service subscribe and save (this requires using cash not SNAP).

8)Befriend your local produce manager and farmer market merchant- when people know you they are more likely to make a deal with you so at every store I shop at I know the produce manager BY NAME why you may ask because he/she marks down produce and produce is expensive and will generally let you know when sales are coming and when they are going to mark stuff.
As for farmers market merchants they need to move their items so I am always open to buying slightly bruised/over ripe items, for a significant discount. Many merchants will also discount items at the end of the day so they don't have to haul them home. Being able to negotiate is a huge plus. *Hint-many farmers markets now take food stamps too* (Caution-not everything sold at farmers markets are local be sure to ask!)

9)If you can, get a freezer- when I find good deals on peaches, (I live in MS and at certain times can buy whole boxes for $10) we eat and use some and then I cut up and freeze the rest. Same with bell peppers, onions, blueberries, and many other freezable fruits and veggies. This way my good buy doesn't go to waste, I know where the veggies came from and I have saved over prepackaged frozen. (sidenote: local doesn't mean organic it is up to you to ask if the farmer uses organic gardening practices.)

10) Sometimes you will have to compromise-Now this one is tough for me because it means I have to compromise but living while broke is full of compromise- figure out what you can live with buying non organic, lets face it there are going to be times when the budget just will not allow you to make a healthy balanced diet and keep it all organic or even really healthy, especially if you have a family my size, so make a list of the items that are must have for you, for me its produce first and then grain, especially those that have been ranked as having the most pesticide residue such as apples, carrots, lettuce, and celery. My family eats quite a bit of fruits and veggies so this is important for us and it is pretty much non negotiable.
So those are on my top ten.
 I hope someone reads this and actually finds it useful if not I am having a great time rambling on and working on my writing skills :-)  Please remember I am still on this healthy journey myself so I am just trying to share my experiences. Peace, blessings, and good health!!!!
Check out these articles too-

Sunday, April 25, 2010

my first blog-why I've moved toward organic and less meat, even though I'm broke!

                I have been asked the same question often lately, sometimes in slightly different ways-why have I suddenly decided to move towards eating/cleaning organic and eating less meat. The follow up question usually comes from people who know my family well because they know my financial situation and that's some form of "why would you do that when your broke?".  The simple answer is it is because I'm broke I am chosing to eat/live organic and consume less meat. Now I know for many people that may not make sense because as many people know healthy/healthier foods cost more and organic healthy food costs even more. So let me break it down.  I am a black single mother living below the poverty level in Mississippi. Those factors alone put my children and I at higher risk for all kinds of illness and disease. African Americans are 30% more likely to die from heart disease, 70% more likely to have diabetes, African American girls are at the highest risk for obesity I could go on. Not to mention that poor and minority children are likely to be exposed to more pollution then other groups of children. Though excessive use of pesticides, environmental factors (like living near industrial areas), and lead paint exposure. Add to that the fact all seven of my children have asthma and allergies it only makes sense that I want to make the healthiest food choices possible for my family.  Organic produce is more nutritious and free of chemicals. No one can convince me that shoving chemicals into our bodies is healthy or that it doesn't impact our bodies.
                So why less meat? Well for one it actually saves me money. Lets face it meat is expensive if you want to eat good meat its really expensive. So when I originally thought about my family having meatless days it was really going to be to save money. Then I did a little research and realized how much meat the average American actually eats, about 8 ounces of meat a day about twice the international average and even though we are 5% of the worlds population we slaughter 15% of the meat consumed in the world. I know we like to do it big in the US but seriously that's a lot of meat! Think about it those figures take into account all the non meat eaters as well.  There are studies that link excessive meat consumption to cancer and intestinal issues among other things. Few experts would dispute that we in the US eat too much meat and not enough veggies.
                 So for me I am trying to pay a little extra up front to save our health in the long run. I believe it is working I am regular for the first time in years, I have more energy and my skin is looking better.  My kids seem happier too and they swear that organic apples are the best apples ever!
Good news in all of this kids will eat what you keep in the house. So my kids are weird to many people because they LOVE produce and dried fruit, are willingly eat wheat pasta, and think tofu is cool. (unwritten hood rule thou shalt not like "weird" food)  So here I am trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents and feed my babies the healthiest food on a small budget. Here is where you will get to see my journey.                  My next blog will be on how to shop organic on a food stamp budget by someone who is actually on food stamps!