Freezer Meal Prep Tips

As I sat preparing for my next freezer meal marathon, I knew it was time to share what I have learned with you. I started making freezer meals about 3 years ago. There has been loads of research, experiments and some pretty remarkable failures. Haha! But every time I make a freezer meal, I learn something new.

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One of the experiments was how to go about making freezer meals. There are multiple methods to packing your freezer: making extra and freezing it, making one to two dishes a weekend or dedicating one day every month (or two) to a marathon session. I prefer to give a day to freezer meal prep, and then reap the rewards for at least a month! Play around with it and figure out a routine that works for you and your family.

Start with a list of what you want to make. (Avoid: foods high in water content like melon or potatoes, recipes with soft dairy like milk/cream or sour cream, and casseroles with cooked potatoes or rice.) Once you have your list together it’s time to organize your recipes. Make a list of the ingredients you’ll need to buy for each recipe and organize into a shopping list.

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Go shopping! To make your dollar go further buy in bulk wherever possible.

Let’s get cooking! Group recipes by main ingredient. For example, all your recipes with ground beef, then all the recipes with chicken and finally the recipes with sausage. Specifically if I’m making lasagna sauce, I’ll use the simmer time to assemble burritos or make enchilada filling. The more you can juggle at once the faster you finish!

Package & Label: First, you need quality packaging. I use a variety of Glad Press n’ Seal, Ziploc Freezer Bags, plastic wrap, foil pans and reusable plastic containers. You WILL NOT remember what is what or when you made it… Invest in some permanent markers and labels; include contents, date frozen and directions for cooking on each item.

What is on my freezer meal menu?

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What questions do you have about making freezer meals? Leave them in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer them! Until later, happy meal prepping!

See my post on Saving Money by Freezing to learn what you can freeze to save money!

 

This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family. Full disclosure policy here.

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40 Money Saving Tips

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I would much rather have some money left over at the end of the month for my husband and I to have a fancy date-night instead of buying my husband new shorts because the button popped off or because my dog was due for a nail trim and groom. But at the end of the month, the shorts are still without a button and the dog still needs a nail trim and groom. That’s where a little bit of elbow grease comes into play. Roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty! A bit of hard work can save you a ton of money while letting you keep the lifestyle of royalty!

 

Here is a list of things we have done to reduce our spending and increase our savings.

  1. Adopt the motto, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”
  2. Learn to cook from scratch. Check out my many recipes here.
  3. Pack your lunch – a great way to utilize leftovers.
  4. Get rid of cable TV.
  5. Check out YouTube for tutorials on basic home repairs.
  6. Learn how to groom your dog. See how we keep our high-maintenance pup up for almost nothing, here.
  7. Don’t pay someone for services you can do yourself i.e. dog grooming, mending, dry cleaning, housework or landscaping.
  8. Use the minimum toothpaste, shampoo, handsoap and laundry detergent to maintain the same results. (I realized I was using double the amount of shampoo that I needed. Oops!)
  9. Utilize your library’s resources. Our library provides DVD rentals, digital audiobooks and e-books for download straight to your tablet.
  10. Utilize digital, online and print coupons. (Coupons.com & RedPlum.com)
  11. Using Prime Households, split a Prime membership with a close friend. All the benefits for half the cost!
  12. Buy store brand. Kroger & Target’s store brands provide excellent quality for a fraction of the price.
  13. Explore reusable options for disposable products, like these Un-paper Towels.
  14. Grow a garden.
  15. Learn basic mending such as sewing on a button or sewing a patch over a hole.
  16. Use cold water whenever possible, like when washing clothes or rinsing dishes. There’s no need to pay for the water AND the electricity to heat it.
  17. If you truly need to replace an item, save up to buy a quality replacement.
  18. Hang your clothes to dry on a drying rack.
  19. Do not buy more than you will use. You don’t have to buy the whole bunch of bananas or a giant bag of grapes. Only buy what you are sure you will use, or you might as well throw cash into the trashcan.
  20. Make your own coffee at home.
  21. Leave the lights off and open the blinds and drapes. Natural light doesn’t cost a dime!
  22. Do your own pest control. Don’t over-pay a pest control company for something you can do with a little research and elbow grease. We use this outdoors for prevention.
  23. Unplug chargers that aren’t being used. Chargers continue to pull minimal amounts of power when they are plugged in.
  24. Plan your cooking to group the use of your oven together, or use a microwave or slow cooker instead.
  25. Do your own dry cleaning.
  26. Learn how to make your own freezer meals.
  27. If your pets have prescriptions, look into discount programs at a pharmacy instead of buying meds from your vet. Wal-Mart has some great prices on pet meds.
  28. Teach yourself a new hobby like sewing, knitting, crocheting or baking.
  29. Go on a FREE date night. After all, it’s about quality time not elaborate dates.
  30. Meal plan to at least some extent! Here’s my Monthly Meal Plan. Just fill in the dates and what’s for dinner. 🙂
  31. Sign-up for customer loyalty and rewards programs. Here is more information on how I save money with customer loyalty programs.
  32. Only wash full loads in your washer and dishwasher.
  33. Eat dinner by candlelight. It’s a romantic way to be thrifty!
  34. Explore DIY security systems. We LOVE our security camera which we can view from anywhere using our smartphones, but you can DIY house-wide systems.
  35. Buy in bulk.
  36. Put on a sweatshirt, fuzzy socks and curl up under a blanket in the winter rather than turning up the heat.
  37. Make your own body butter.
  38. Sell items you aren’t using or no longer have a use for on eBay, Craigslist or through a local Facebook group.
  39. Shop second-hand at consignment or thrift stores.
  40. Stop buying store-bought cleaners and use vinegar, baking soda or dawn instead.

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This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family. Full disclosure policy here.

Cut the Cable

In full disclosure, cutting cable is NOT new to me and my husband. In fact, since my first apartment stopped providing free basic cable, I haven’t had cable. I waste just as much time now watching TV. The upside? I watch what I want, when I want! I typically get to skip the commercials – more on that later. Plus! I only spend between $52.88-$65.98 per month to watch everything I want!! (Costs vary based on what we use that month.)

Here’s the cost breakdown:

  • High Speed Internet – $41.97
  • CBS All Access (commercial-free plan) – $10.91
  • Netflix DVD – $13.10

The best deal we found on internet was 30 Mbps for $41.97/month. This allows us to stream HD video feed through our Roku (streaming device) while still using internet on our phones or tablet. Admittedly, there is an up-front investment, but once you have the basics your monthly cost is as customizable as you and your budget. This is where you need to start:

  1. Find an affordable internet plan with a speed of at least 12 Mbps.
  2. Buy a quality digital antenna. We’ve had this one for 3 years, and my parents bought one when they ditched cable. These have great signal! Mohu Leaf now offers 30-mile and 50-mile range antennas.
  3. Buy a Roku or other streaming device. (Chromecast & Amazon Fire Stick would work just as well. With Roku Stick, Roku 3 & Roku Premiere you are sure to find an option in your budget.)
  4. Subscribe to the channels you want! (I’ve listed some of the most popular below.)
    1. Netflix – $9.99 (The Standard plan allows you to watch on 2 screens which makes it perfect to split with another family. Set up separate profiles and, viola! It’s like you have your own account!)
    2. Hulu Plus – $7.99 & up (If you want to stream from a channel on your device, then you’ll need to pay for a plan. Click here to receive your first 2 weeks, FREE! However, we recently ditched Hulu Plus in an effort to save even more. Buy an HDMI Cable, like this one from Amazon Basics, for less than one month of Hulu. Simply plug your laptop into the TV and go! Hello savings!)
    3. CBS All Access – $5.99 & up (For our favorites like NCIS, NCIS New Orleans and The Big Bang Theory, this is a must on our list. We even splurge for the commercial free plan. They offer a free trial too!)
    4. Sling TV –  $20.00 & up (Not willing to part with The Food Network, History Channel or ESPN? This is the option for you! They have highly-customizable options with over 150 available channels. Some have on-demand viewing, but other are live-stream only. Olympics? Sounds like a great time to subscribe for one month. You can come and go as you please. Don’t pay for TV if you’re not going to use it.)
    5. Netflix DVD – $4.99 & up (Here’s another one of my favorites, but we only subscribe once we have a list of movies to catch up on. We subscribe to the $11.99/month plan. This allows us to watch 2 movies a weekend, mail them back on Monday and have new movie to watch by Thursday or Friday, all month long. On average we do watch 8 movies a month when we are subscribing. The total for that plan is equal to renting 8 movies on Redbox. The big exception? We don’t have to remember to take the movie back or make an extra trip, we can plan out all the movies for the month at one time AND they get delivered and picked up from the mailbox! If we forget to mail them back on Monday? We don’t get charged extra, and we still have movies in by the weekend. Return 2 DVDs a day late with Redbox and you’ve paid for half a month… I recommend thinking long and hard about this one, but remember you can cancel temporarily until there are more new movies to watch!)

Now you know what you need to go cable-free! Trust me, you’ll like being the one at work giggling when your co-workers are talking about their $200+ cable/internet bill. Don’t spend any more than you have to!

 

This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family. Full disclosure policy here.

Young Living Essential Oils – Volume I

I’ve talked about the uses, I’ll talk about the benefits, and I’ll recommend these essential oils time and time again. Young Living Essential Oils have changed how I treat rashes, bug bites, burns, pains and strains, coughs, sinus congestion and upset stomachs. These oils are all organic, and have been researched more than any other brand of essential oils. My medicine cabinet and cleaning closet both look considerably different than they did before essential oils came into my life.

First, I’m going to tell you how to get these oils yourself. There are two options for purchasing oils, retail and wholesale. To purchase as a retail customer you can register here and fill in your account information. Retail customers do not receive a discount on their purchases and are not eligible for rewards. Wholesale members receive 24% off all items site-wide. As a wholesale member you are eligible to participate in their Essential Rewards Program which works like a cash-back program. To sign-up as a wholesale member you do have to purchase a starter kit which range from $45-$260 depending on the bundle of items you choose. If you want to dive right in to all of Young Living’s benefits join here!

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Young Living Premium Starter Kit Dew Drop Design- $160 ($260+ value)

One of the best ways to utilize essential oils is as an alternative cleaning option. Think about your current kitchen cleaners. What do they all smell like? Citrus! Lemon and orange both have highly antiviral and antibacterial properties. You can use lemons alone to clean, but lets take a look at this visual. interesting-facts-infographicEssential oils are very concentrated oils from the plant they are extracted from. A couple drops of lemon with vinegar works as a kitchen cleaner and sanitizer. But my FAVORITE oil and cleaner is Thieves. Thieves essential oil is a blend of Rosemary, Cinnamon, Lemon, Cloves and Eucalyptus. The name? The herbs in Thieves were used during the bubonic plague by thieves to avoid catching the plague whilst robbing victims houses. Thieves is one of the largest product lines offered by Young Living and includes: cleaner, laundry detergent, bar soap, hand soap, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, veggie wash and the one and only essential oil itself. I keep the cleaner mixed up in a spray bottle at all times. We use the cleaner in our steam mop for an added cleaning boost, and I diffuse the oil to kill bacteria in the air.

I’ve barely hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to essential oils. I’ll share more later and of course, you will continue to hear about how to use these oils in my other posts. I hope you consider the benefits of natural cleaning and natural healing. Comment with questions or personal experiences, I’d love to hear your stories!

 

This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family. Full disclosure policy here.

Chicken Taquitos- Freezer Friendly

One of the best ways to rein-in spending and stick to a budget is brown-bagging your lunch! My husband gets tired of taking the same few items again and again. During my last freezer meal cook-a-thon I tried out a new recipe for Chicken Taquitos. Hubby ate both meals in the first week. I’d say that’s a win! So I tweaked the recipe a bit to yield a large portion, this time making 5 lunches instead of 2.

Use a large baking dish, like Corning-ware. Place the chicken breasts in the baking dish, sprinkle packets of taco seasoning on top of chicken, add cream cheese and water. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Double-check with a meat thermometer that the chicken is thoroughly cooked.

Once you’ve taken the chicken out of the oven, turn the oven up to 400 degrees.  Remove the chicken from the baking dish and shred the chicken. Mix cheddar cheese, shredded chicken and filling together.

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Now its time to fill the taquitos. First, line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Now lay out your tortillas and fill them. Roll the tortilla and place the taquito with the flap-side down on the cookie sheet. Repeat until all the tortillas have been filled.

Bake the taquitos at 400 degrees for 10 minutes or until tortillas are crispy. Package 4 taquitos in tupperware or Ziploc freezer bags for pre-portioned, ready-to-go lunches! We also love freezing lunches in these Rubbermaid containers, but they were all being used with my recent freezer meal marathon.

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Heat for 2 1/2 minutes and enjoy!

Chicken Taquitos

  • Servings: 5
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

3 Large, Uncooked Chicken Breasts
2 Packets of Taco Seasoning
8 oz. Cream Cheese, cubed
¼ C. Water
8 oz. Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
20 ct. Small Flour Tortillas[/recipe-indredients]

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a greased casserole dish, place chicken breasts and sprinkle with taco seasoning.
  3. Add cream cheese and water.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes.
  5. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  6. Remove chicken from dish and shred using two forks.
  7. Return chicken to casserole dish and stir in cheddar cheese.
  8. Scoop filling out onto tortillas and roll up.
  9. Place filled taquitos on a foil-lined cookie sheet.
  10. Bake taquitos for 10 minutes.

Tip: These freeze and reheat very well. To reheat microwave for 2 ½ minutes.

This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family. Full disclosure policy here.

Small Steps to Sustainability

Have you ever evaluated your spending in a desperate attempt to figure out where all your hard-earned income went? Finding sustainable options and alternatives leads towards a self-sufficient way of life rather than being reliant on stores’ merchandise.

Over the years, my husband and I have invested in options that will help save us money. We have items we want to purchase in the future which will reduce spending and our carbon footprint, and we have items that we reuse to give another life. If you start searching the web you can find all sorts of fancy (and PRICEY) items made to be reused. However, I can guarantee you that you can find, thrift, make and repurpose the same items – or something that will do the same job – for next to nothing!!

One of the first changes we made was hang-drying clothes. Perhaps to older generations and foreigners this is a daily concept, but for me this was new. We have 2 large drying racks that hold 1-2 loads of laundry. (I still dry my jeans in a dryer because… there’s nothing better than jeans fresh from the dryer!) When we bought the drying rack we lived in an apartment where we had to pay per load. Every load we hung to dry saved us $1.50. We’ve paid for those drying racks a few times over. Now, living in a house, it reduces our electric bill by using less energy and by not heating our house up. $15-$20 will get you unlimited dry clothes.

In the same spirit, use real dishes to eat on. Paper plates and bowls may be convenient but they are pricey and wasteful. Ditching the paper allows you to reuse and reduce by using the plates you already have. Next on our wishlist is cloth napkins that can be reused again and again to replace the paper napkins AND paper towels!

Ditch the store-bought cleaners! (OK, I still use them on the toilet.) Vinegar, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and Dawn dish soap are your friends. I also would be a horrible person if I didn’t recommend Thieves cleanser to you.

  • Window Cleaner: Dawn dish soap & water
  • Carpet Spot Cleaner: 1 part baking soda & to 2 parts hydrogen peroxide
    •  Great for pet accidents!
  • Drain Cleaner: Baking soda and vinegar
  • Keurig De-Scaler: Vinegar (Tutorial here)
  • Magic Microwave Cleaner: A vinegar soaked sponge; microwave for 5 minutes!

Composting is something that has always fascinated me. As I planted my flower garden this year, I started thinking about how I feel ridiculous paying for soil. Luckily, our city just rolled out new garbage and recycling bins at the beginning of the year. Our two old trash cans were sitting under our deck waiting for their next life. I found some awesome images of people making their own compost bins from up-cycled trash cans. We now have a compost bin that didn’t cost us a dime to make!!

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DIY Compost Bin from Up-Cycled Trash Can

Sewing and mending are skills I fought hard not to learn. I much preferred (and still would prefer) to have my mom mend my clothes. But having my own household I have started my own mending. Knowing how to repair a rip, hem a pair of pants or sew on a new button are priceless skills that have given our possessions much longer lives. My mom bought me my first sewing machine this past Christmas, and I have made multiple items since receiving it. I’d rather not talk about the pile of mending laying in the office at the moment. A’hem!
To help propel us into more sustainable options we subscribe to MightyFix. We get a new item every month to replace a previously disposable item. These are the products we’ve already received and love:

Small life changes can impact the environment and your wallet in impressive ways. This isn’t permission to run out and spend $500 on all reusable items, but maybe start exploring how much it will cost to replace your disposable Swiffer duster with a reusable one from Etsy. There is also truth in the saying, “You have to spend money to make (save) money.” i.e. our drying racks. Balance. Balance the wants, the needs and the cost to find the happy medium for your family.

 

This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family. Full disclosure policy here.

Paw Print Oranments

I’m always looking for ways to incorporate my furbabies, and I have seen a few paw print ornament kits sold in stores. A kit for 1 paw print is over $10 in stores! You have to be kidding me! Sculpey Oven Bake Clay runs about $2.50 in stores (be sure to check for coupons for your local craft store- up to 50% off a regular priced item isn’t uncommon). I bought 2 packs of clay and used the same ribbon as I bought for my Cinnamon Ornaments. I made a total of 3 ornaments for $5 instead of $30 buying the kits for 3 prints.

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Sculpey Oven Bake Clay – About $2.50 at your local craft store

Step-by-step instructions:

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For small dogs and cats use half a block (2 sections) and for medium and larger dogs use the whole block (4 sections). Warm the clay in your hands by squeezing and kneading it. This makes it much more workable. Then roll it into a ball.

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Roll the ball out to about 1/4″ thickness. I used a Coke can to roll mine out. Then press your pets paw into the ornament. Add a hole to the top of the ornament BEFORE baking with a straw.

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If you are making multiple pet’s paw prints at once label some wax paper to avoid any confusion. Bake for 15 minutes at 275 degrees.

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Allow the ornaments to cool completely before adding ribbon and writing your pet’s name on the front of the ornament. I also wrote their adoption dates on the back of the ornament. Viola! You’ve made your very own paw print ornaments for much less than if you’d bought a kit.

 

This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family.

Cinnamon Ornaments

These ornaments have a special place in my heart as I grew up making them with my mom. I’ve taken them to a new level though, and I’m going to tell you how to make these cute ornaments that leave your house smelling like Christmas time. Below you’ll find the directions and recipe for how to make these ornaments.

Cinnamon Ornament Recipe

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 C. Ground Cinnamon
  • ¾ C. Plain Applesauce
  • 2 T. Elmer’s White Glue
  • Optional (Add for an extra spicy scent.)
  • 1 T. Ground Cloves
  • 1 T. Ground Nutmeg

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Combine ingredients together in a bowl, kneading until well combined.
  3. Roll dough out sandwiched between wax paper.
  4. Using cookies cutters, cut out desired shapes. Roll out remaining dough and repeat until all dough has been used.
  5. Use a straw to cut a hole out of the top of the ornament where your ribbon will go.
  6. Arrange ornaments on a cookie sheet. (Tip: You don’t need to space out the ornament since they won’t expand, just make sure they aren’t touching.)
  7. Bake for 2 hours.
  8. Cool on a cooling rack. For best results cool overnight as ornaments will remain brittle until fully cooled.
Other needed supplies include ribbon, scissors, glitter and/or puffy paint.
You can add glitter to the dough for ornaments that truly sparkle.

If you want to do this craft in a classroom or without using electricity you can leave the ornaments out to dry for 2-3 days. They will dry faster if you flip them once a day until dry. Once the cookies are dry you can thread the ribbon through the hole and tie them off.

Decorating the ornaments. There are two options for making these ornaments look even cuter. You can either mix silver or gold glitter into the dough or decorate with puffy paint after they are dry to make them look like iced gingerbread cookies. Never fear, they are equally adorable if you don’t decorate them at all!cinnamon-ornaments-1

Royally Cheap Tip: Buy your cinnamon at Costco. I bought a 3 cup container of cinnamon for $2.74! Enough cinnamon to make 3 batches of ornaments! 🙂

This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family.