Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hectic September

This month has been insane! We managed to avoid extracurriculars until now, but this month Orson (1st grade) started soccer ~

9-16 Orson soccer

And boy scouts ~

9-16 Orson Cub Scouts

Our little Pandora started preschool (twice a week, 4 hours) ~

9-16 Panda's 1st day of preschool

We also started a small group at our new church, and I had to prep clothes for the Fall consignment sale!

Our calendar has basically exploded with meetings upon practices upon games. And the fees for everything have been ridiculous, because there always seems to be another one popping up that we didn't know about. (I'm looking at you, Cub Scouts! Somehow that jumped from '$65 for the year' to $220+. Not cool.)

On the plus side, orders have also picked up, which is busy-in-a-good-way!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Low-cal Ranch Dressing (12 calories per Tbsp.)

I seem to be in such a slump lately! The summer put me behind on everything, and while I'm slowly getting caught up, there are still so many things to chip away at on my to-do list. Today I noticed somehow it has been a month since I've done a blog post, even though I normally try to post once a week! Ugh. Thankfully in two weeks my little one starts half-day school twice a week, so I'll have a little more free time soon.

Last year I posted two variations of a super low-calorie Ranch dressing. For both I mixed in a packet of ranch mix ~ one with a cottage cheese & milk base, and the other with a buttermilk & mayo base. Since then I've played around and created lots of variations with the buttermilk version, like my Low-cal Creamy Italian Dressing and the Low-cal Creamy Asian Peanut Dressing. I also created this from-scratch version of the Ranch dressing, using seasonings instead of a pre-made mix. This is pretty much the only Ranch I make anymore (though I do love the  Italian & Asian dressings a little more, and am more likely to mix one of those up!).

5-2 Low-cal Ranch Dressing (from scratch, 12 cal per Tbsp.)

(For those of you counting calories, I've added the amount for each ingredient so you can easily make tweaks without having to re-calculate everything. Anything marked with an asterisk* may vary a lot based on what you buy, so make sure to compare your label.)

Low-cal Ranch Dressing

1/2 cup reduced fat buttermilk (56*)
2 Tbsp. Hellman's light mayo (70)

1/2 tsp. minced garlic (0)
1/2 tsp. dried parsley (0)
1/2 tsp. dried basil (0)
1/4 tsp. onion powder (2)
1/4 tsp. black pepper (2)
1/4 tsp. salt (0)
1/4 tsp. sugar (4)

Directions -
Stir together all of the ingredients except for the buttermilk. Add the buttermilk (you may want to do 1/2 at a time) and stir until well mixed.

Makes about 3/4 cup, 12 calories per Tbsp.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

My 1st Year of Packing Lunch

Before Orson started Pre-K, I worried about packing lunches for him everyday. I bought a lot of cute bento supplies & practiced adding a few cute touches... and made a few complex bentos, just for fun. Unfortunately Orson was not really excited about the intricate lunches, and often would not eat them. When we learned his Pre-K provided lunch, I was a little bummed, but relieved too.

The next year he started Kindergarten, and I had to prepare again. After much debate I bought a set of Easy Lunch Boxes, because I liked that they have a few divided sections but only one lid for the whole box. (My son really loves that too.) I did have a hard time finding a lunchbag to fit them however, and really had to cram it into a standard size bag. The big box also left no room to add a water bottle, and I had to search forever for something narrow to fit in there.... And then it leaked several times and soaked everything in his bookbag, so I had to hunt again! (I finally found some small bottles from apple juice that fit OK, but by the end of the year I tried putting it in his bookbag pocket instead. Of course he forgot to grab it for lunch it every time.)

Unfortunately the standard lunchbags tip the Easy Lunch Box on its side, so putting cute bento-style details are pretty much out of the question because they would be instantly up-ended. Maybe one year I can find a lunch box with a handle on the top, but for now I'm getting two young kids ready in the morning and don't know that I'd have time to try anything creative anyway!

Once I had my lunchbox/bag situation figured out, it was time to plan the food! I started by making a list of everything I could think of that Orson will eat. Then I scoured some lists of lunchbox ideas, and added new ones to my list. I was planning on having him buy lunch twice a week, so I looked at the school lunch calendar and picked out two school lunches each week that he'd like, then filled in the calendar the rest of the way with lunches I would make.

The school cafeteria is on a three week rotation of lunches, and considering there are not *that* many things a 5 year old will eat, that ended up being perfect for my lunches as well. Bringing lunch three times a week, that means I needed 9 ideas for lunches to pack. I planned the main meal and veggie, but then would add whatever fruits we had on hand for the 3rd section. I was also pretty flexible with the schedule, rearranging meals if needed, or swapping something out if I was missing an ingredient.

So, here are the 9 lunches I made throughout the year!

Grilled cheese with corn ~

Grilled cheese, apples, & corn

Pigs in a blanket with roasted kale (seaweed snacks pictured) ~ I started out buying cocktail sausages, but they are pricey and I never needed the full pack. After a few months I tried cutting up hot dogs instead, and 1/3 of a hot dog cut in half lengthwise work perfectly! I also stopped buying crescent roll dough and started thawing out 1 frozen Grand biscuit cut in 1/8ths. I hardly ever have extra kale on hand and usually ended up adding the seaweed snacks he loves instead. Kids love those things!

Pigs in a blanket, seaweek, & pineapple

Fish sticks with green peas ~ I found the little container for the ketchup next to the salad dressings at our grocery store! Perfect fit.

Fish sticks, apples, & green 

Sandwich on a Stick ~ Bread, lunchmeat, cucumbers, and mini tomatoes loaded onto skewers. A fun twist on a sandwich! If you want to add cheese slices, I found that it works best to cut a hole in the cheese slice with a straw first, or else the skewer hole cracks the cheese and it falls apart. I love that you can use pretty much any leftover bread (like hamburger or hot dog rolls) for these! He won't touch the cherry tomatoes, but I can't resist adding them.

Sandwich on a stick, rice krispies, & pineapple

Mini biscuit pizzas with carrots & dip (roasted kale pictured) ~ 

Mini pizzas, apples, & roasted kale

Rice balls with spinach goma-ae (seaweed snacks pictured) ~ At the start of the year, I made sushi rolls (with cooked imitation crab), but Orson got sick one day after eating them & then was afraid to eat them after that. I switched to stuffed rice balls, which is probably the most complex lunch on the rotation, but if you have the sushi rice & filling made ahead of time and frozen, each ball only takes a few minutes. I quickly learned not to try to do it all in the morning! That goma-ae recipe is a little different than mine, but I don't have mine written up yet. It also freezes well, I just ran out!

Stuffed rice balls, seaweed, & veggie chips

PBJ & seaweed snacks

PBJ, seaweed snacks, & apples

Mini sandwiches with cukes ~ Hawaiian rolls with lunchmeat, cheese, and mayo. Later in the year he had me start adding ketchup & mustard too.

Mini sandwiches, cukes, & chips

Tofuniku with edamame ~ Another Japanese recipe my son loves! The meat is simmered in a sweet sauce then served over rice. This is another one where I make a big batch and then freeze small servings for his lunches. I always try to keep frozen rice in the freezer too, and it tastes just like fresh rice when you reheat it.

Tofuniku, edamame, & pears

These pictures were all taken at the end of the year, and I packed in a few more sweets & chips than I normally would. Orson stopped eating pears, peaches, and oranges this year, so I'm having a hard time coming up with fruits for him! 

The Easy Lunch Boxes are not leak-proof, so any time I had something liquidy, I tried to drain it off as good as I could and then tucked a paper towel along the bottom edge of the box ~ 

Paper towel to catch drips in lunchbox

This worked pretty well, but the pineapple often leaked a bit and made his lunch box smell horrible! I started throwing his lunchbag in with our towel laundry (which soak in ammonia before washing). It does a great job of killing the smell. 

This year his 3-year-old sister starts 2 day preschool and will need to bring her lunch too. Unfortunately she hardly eats anything, and her school is nut free (no PBJs), so I have no idea what I'll pack for her! It's time to pull out the calendar and start planning again!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Rebate Apps & Coupons - 1 Month of Freebies

Last month I told you about how I started using a few rebate apps, which basically give you back money after you shop when you buy certain items - kind of like a coupon you use afterward. Even better, you can use the rebates on top of sales or coupons. Over the last month I've realized sales, coupons, and rebate apps are not that amazing on their own, but if you pair them together you can get stuff super cheap, even free! I've always loved a good puzzle, so I've been having fun looking for the best combinations.

Coupons ~

I've never been very good at coupons. I always go through the newspaper (and the Kroger digital coupons) and just clip the coupons for things we often buy. But then I either leave them at home, or the generic brand is cheaper, or I get all the way up to the register & forget to use them. I'm pretty terrible at keeping up with them, but seeing how you can match them up to get much lower deals has got me super motivated to use them now!

The best coupons are usually the ones from the newspaper, but you can also find tons of printable coupons on (Unfortunately there is no search, but chose "Brands" from the category drop down menu & you can see the coupons for each brand.) Printable coupons are especially nice when you are just starting out & don't have a lot on hand. Now I still clip my normal coupons for stuff we buy a lot, but I also clip anything that I wouldn't mind getting for free and sort those alphabetically so I can quickly check different brands when I see a sale or rebate.

My first two weeks I had no idea what I was doing, but I did notice a few coupon/rebate 'match-ups' and got all of this for free (that's a 3 pk. of bar soap, but my husband snatched one already, haha) ~

Coupon Freebies - Week 1&2

Couponing Sites ~

After that I started looking around for sites that posted lots of match-up deal ideas. My favorite two places to look are Krazy Coupon Lady's freebies category and under $1. Souther Savers posts similar weekly list for grocery store deals here (she calls them "Top Acorn Deals" because she marks the best deals on her site with a little acorn icon). She also posts some of the top pharmacy deals here.

By week 3 I was finding lots of good freebies this way, and finally braved some of the pharmacy deals I'd been passing over before. I'll tell you about that next!

Coupon Freebies - Week 3

I couldn't resist going back for $25 of free nail polish ~

Coupon Freebies - Week 3

Pharmacies ~

I've always ignored the CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens flyers before, but if you look close you can find some unbelievable deals. I've found most of my freebies there! On lots of items you can earn 'bucks' or 'points', which you can either spend right away or on your next trip. They are also always running $5 off $15 type sales (that's the total before coupons), and they print out or email you similar coupons, both of which you can use together. Add some newspaper/printable coupons on top of those, and prices get crazy low. I recently found an awesome site where you can preview the pharmacy sales flyers 2-3 weeks in advance!

Two weeks ago the Proctor & Gamble coupon insert came out, and all three stores were running $10 off $30 worth of P&G stuff so you could match coupons with the sale. I got $36 worth of stuff for $8 (which is the cost of the mascara + the 20 oz., so I'm counting the rest as freebies!).

Coupon Freebies - Week 4

One problem with pharmacy deals and rebate apps is that you have to spend some money up front to get the money back later. This is rough when you are starting out! I figured out deals at both of the other pharmacies where I could have gotten another $30 worth of stuff for free, but it would have temporarily tied up $10-17 in reward bucks per store. Normally that wouldn't be a big deal, but my business has been super slow lately, so we're really having to watch what we spend.

But the big problem with pharmacies is that each of them have different reward bucks/points programs with different rules to remember, and sometimes more than one program at the same store! I'd avoided pharmacy deals before because I didn't know how they worked, and they really can be confusing! I keep a post-it with each store's guidelines written down so I can check them before I shop. If you go to either of those couponing sites I linked above, you can find info on how each pharmacy works, or I will probably do a post about them soon. If you don't want to bother dealing with the fine print, I'd stick to CVS, which is very straight forward with no weird rules.

Coupon Freebies - Week 5

Last week we were on vacation, so I didn't have much time to go shopping for deals, but I did manage to snag some nice snacks for the road trip before we left!

Coupon Freebies - Week 5

Extras ~ 

One thing you've probably noticed is that you can get tons of shampoo, body wash, and toothpaste for free. Way more than you could ever use! I've started a 'freebie box' that my friends can pick out goodies from, and I'm hoping to donate extras to a food pantry or shelter. I've also seen some crazy low prices for diapers (like $2 or even $.50 a pack!), but unfortunately we *just* potty trained our youngest. Wish I'd known about these deals 6 years ago!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Coconut Cabbage (99 calories)

Have you ever come across a recipe picture that looks so tasty, but when you glance over the ingredient list, it's not what you imagined at all? And then you decide to make the recipe you *thought* it was? I know I've done it a few times, and that is how this recipe came about.

I'm glad I gave it a try, because the coconut, onion, and cabbage work together so well, and this simple side dish comes together quickly. The perfect veggie side for an Asian meal! I wasn't expecting it to be too healthy because of the high-calorie coconut, so I was excited to see that each serving is just under 100 calories.

Coconut Cabbage, 1 (99 calories)

(For those of you counting calories, I've added the amount for each ingredient so you can easily make tweaks without having to re-calculate everything. Anything marked with an asterisk* may vary based on what you buy, so make sure to compare your label.)

Coconut Cabbage

  • 1/2 Tbsp. vegetable oil (60)
  • 1 cup onion, sliced (60)

  • 1) In a large pan or wok, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  • 1/3 cup shredded coconut (sweetenend, 186*)
  • 1 tsp. grated ginger (1)
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic (0)

  • 2) Add the coconut, ginger, & garlic and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.

  • 4 cups shredded green cabbage (80)
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce (10)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt (0)

  • 3) Add the cabbage, soy sauce, and salt. Cook until cabbage is wilted, about 2-3 minutes. Serves 4.

    Calories - 99 for 1/4

    Coconut Cabbage, 2 (99 calories)

    Friday, June 24, 2016

    Recipe Trials

    Once again I'm rounding up some old pictures from recipes we tried ~

    Ham & Cheese Pinwheels

    Hot Ham & Cheese Party Rolls - This one was from way back in January, when a friend sent us home with spiral-cut ham leftovers. We'd already had ham a few times over the holiday, so I wanted to try something different with it. I varied from the recipe a little by using crescent rolls, and did change up the sauce a bit (dropping the mustard, using about 1/4 the butter and 1/2 the rest). It was hard to work with such thick ham slices, and it ended up ripping some of the rolls apart. I'd recommend using lunchmeat slices normally, but it was a great use for leftovers. These turned out so good, and 5-year-old couldn't get enough of them, so I need to make them again soon!

    Chicken Florentine Pasta

    Chicken Florentine Pasta - Really good, nice & creamy. I barely changed this recipe & have it typed up ready to share, I just need to get a better photo first!

    Dorito Dogs, wrap

    Dorito Dogs

    Dorito Dogs - These were really fun! You wrap hot dogs and cheese slices up in crescent roll rectangles, then roll them in crushed Doritos before baking. I made sure to snap some nice step-by-step pics of this one, but in the end I felt like there was a bit too much cheese and it would actually be better with half of a slice, so I need to re-take the pics to match.

    Chicken with Sweet Potatoes, Kale, & Corn

    Chicken with Sweet Potatoes, Corn, & Kale Bake - We weren't wowed by the chicken on this one, but the corn, kale, onion, and sweet potato mixture was actually shockingly good. We'll definitely keep that in mind for a future side dish.

    Broccoli Bites

    Broccoli Bites - My kids aren't always the best at eating their veggies, but they will often eat roasted veggies that you wouldn't expect, like kale or Brussels sprouts. I searched around for some new veggie recipes I thought they might like, and found lots of mini muffins and 'bites' like these. They were pretty good, and I feel like the kids ate a few when they were fresh, but were not interested in the leftovers at all. So, might be good for a dinner side, but not something I can stick in a lunchbox! (I think next time I would use the chopper and mince the broccoli up so it is small dots instead of giant obvious chunks.)

    Sticky Sweet Chicken & Breaded Asparagus

    Sticky Sweet Chicken & Breaded Asparagus - These drumsticks were supposed to bake in the sauce until it 'caramelized', but I never noticed a change. They were tasty, but from what I can remember the sauce was a little too lightly flavored & might have been better over wings where there is more surface area? Breading the asparagus took way too much work for very little payoff, so I wouldn't bother with that again!

    Garlic Ginger Shrimp

    Garlic Ginger Shrimp - I feel like this one was tasty, but there was way too much sauce & the flavor was too strong. Might be worth trying again with some tweaking.

    Skinny Quiche

    Skinny Quiche - I added more broccoli to this recipe & divided it into 4 ramekins for individual 200 calorie mini quiches. They were OK, but I started playing around with numbers from our normal quiche recipe, and I think I might be able to make a 200 calorie version using real eggs and less of the low-fat stuff. If they work, I think they would be much better. We'll see!

    Thursday, June 16, 2016

    Cash Back with Shopping Rebate Apps - Ibotta and more

    At the start of the month I was flipping through an old Rachael Ray magazine and saw a mention of a shopping rebate app called Ibotta. Apparently it's been around for years, but this was the first I'd heard about it! I did some research before downloading the app and was quickly convinced to get it. I've had it for about 1 1/2 weeks, already earned nearly $35 (plus more on my husband's account), and have become a little obsessed!


    How does it work? ~
    Choose a store, choose rebates, go shopping. Afterward, scan the item barcode and take a picture of your receipt, and you'll get a credit in your account. Once you reach $20 you can cash out to Paypal or Venmo, or they have gift cards for Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, etc.

    Ibotta works at Walmart, Target, big chain grocery stores, pharmacies, and more. There are a *lot* of rebates (about 200-500 per store), so you definitely won't have trouble finding a deal! Some current examples include $3 off Luvs diapers, $1 off Bounty paper towels, $1 off Banana Boat sunscreen, $2 off Kotex tampons, and so on.

    "Any Brand" rebates ~
    One thing I was really excited about are the 'any brand' offers that rotate out each week. This week you can get $.50 off *any* gallon of milk, $.50 off a dozen eggs, $.25 off bananas, onions, tomatoes, etc. With 2 kids in the house we are constantly buying milk and bananas, so these can really add up over time! 

    $10 bonus for signing up, $5-10 for referring a friend ~
    Sign-up, use 1 rebate within the first week, and you get $10! You also get $5 every time a friend joins with your referral link/code, so when you sign-up make sure to find a friend that uses it and share the love (here's my link, or my code is nwhblwe). This month there was an extra $5 bonus for your first friend, so I had my husband sign up and we both made $10 from that.

    Stack rebates with coupons & other rebate apps ~ 
    You can still use a coupon at the store and then get the rebate after shopping. I'm not usually good with coupons, but this has got me motivated to keep my eye out for some great deals! (Check out for tons of printable coupons!) You can also redeem the same receipt with multiple rebate apps, which I'll talk about below.

    Just this week I found some overlapping coupons/rebates and was able to get a Zest body wash and a 3 pack of bar soap for free, a different Zest shower gel for free (I actually made $1.75 off that one), and found Glade candle 2-packs for $.88. I'm definitely going to start stocking up for teacher/birthday/shower gifts!

    Bonuses & Teamwork ~
    Other than the sheer number of rebates, another thing that sets Ibotta apart is the bonuses. There are a ton of extras that you can earn for buying certain combinations, like a $3 bonus for buying 3 items from the health & beauty section, or $.75 bonus for buying a Glade oil warmer and refills in the same trip. These are automatically added to your account so you don't have to 'unlock' them or add them yourself. 

    If you find yourself using a lot of rebates, you may be able to get big 'teamwork' bonuses too. Your team consists of your friends on Facebook and friends you referred. If you use enough rebates (between 10-25 this month) and your team earns enough money ($15-30) you can earn a $10+ bonus each month! (The team bonuses are tiered, so 10 rebates and $15 team earnings will earn you $1, then 12 rebates and $20 earnings adds another $2 and so on.) If you want to build up a team, just ask for friends on the Ibotta Team Builder page and you will soon have plenty. I didn't want to add a bunch of strangers on my real Facebook, so I created a new FB page just for Ibotta and linked that to my account. But in the end it's easy to get a team that can earn the needed amount, the real challenge is meeting your own requirements if you want the monthly bonuses.

    Search & website ~ 
    Another thing that really makes Ibotta shine is the search bar. When you search it will pull up results from rebates, bonuses, and even store names, making it super easy to access anything quickly. Surprisingly *none* of the other rebate apps I tried even had a search option!! Though they do have far fewer rebates to search through (less than 100), it's still very annoying to have to scroll through the list every time. Ibotta does also have a website where you can browse & search through the rebates, though you can only load them on your phone.

    Other Rebate Apps?
    There are actually a lot out there! I wasn't really planning on getting more rebate apps, but as I looked online to find some good Ibotta deals, I kept seeing girls say they got another $1 off with this app and another with that app. I did a little more research and picked 3 that seemed to be the most popular & most rewarding. Time will tell!

    While this one has far fewer rebate offers than Ibotta (about 90 this week), it is the largest of the other apps I tried. And there does seem to be a good amount of overlap with coupons, Ibotta rebates, and a couple of 'any brand' offers, which is what makes it really valuable. Once you reach $20 you can request a check, though I have heard it is slow to arrive! They add new rebates every Thursday, and seem to re-load the old ones, so you may need to select them again. They do also have a website interface, but there is no search bar or categories on either. (At least online I can easily drop to the bottom of the page and Ctrl+F to search the page!) So far in the last few days I've earned $6.75 (with a $3 bonus on the way). 

    This app does does not offer quite as many rebates (about 60 this week), and frankly a lot of them are duds. They do have a ton of 'any brand' offers on things like clementines, bacon, deodorant and more (about 10 this week), though they each only give you a $.10 rebate. I believe there is also one free item posted each week, which can even make you some money if you find overlapping deals. Any money you earn is deposited instantly into your Paypal account. There is no website option, and no search bar, but you can at least browse through the rebates by category. This week I got one free item ($3) and about $.40 from 'any brand' rebates.

    This app offers the fewest amount of rebates (40 this week), and most of them seem to be cumulative, like a $5 rebate when you spend $25 on Frito-Lays products (not all on one trip). Those bonuses are really only helpful if it is a product your family buys a whole lot of, but offers a nice bonus if you do (we might actually reach the Lays amount, haha). They do also have a weekly 'healthy' offer for 20% off a produce item, like cucumbers or mangoes. And about once a month there is a free item - this month it's a frozen pizza. You can cash out to your Paypal or bank account once you've earned $5. They do also have a website where you can browse and add the rebates to your account, and you can sort the offers by category there (not on the app). With all of the cumulative offers, I haven't earned anything on this app yet, though I'll definitely snag that free pizza that just popped up!

    In the end, I'd say Ibotta is definitely worth getting, and you can really rack up some extra money with it if you use it regularly. The other rebate apps are a little hit & miss, though when they overlap with other deals, you can get items for a fraction of the price (or even free!). Let me know if you have a favorite rebate app I didn't mention here, or know if any good deals!