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Archive for the ‘Meal Planning’ Category

Just now, there are some various lists floating around my home territories of the Interwebs that share “How to Build Food Storage for $5 A Week” and other similar titles and schemes. That $5 a week one has shown up five times for me, in the last five days!

Looking at it, specifically, I notice a few things that become problematic when you have to actually EAT your stored items. Nowhere does it mention these are storage items for essentially one person, not for a family. And the foods themselves are problematic. During the course of a year, with this particular list, you amass various quantities of 14 food items, and 2 non-food items, and no toilet paper at all:

12 pounds of salt. If you’re doing your own baking and such, this is pretty reasonable, and you’ll have some left to scrub the cast-iron skillet.

30 cans of condensed cream soup (salt, sugars, and chemicals)

40 cans of condensed tomato soup (salt, sugars, and chemicals) (So, that’s 70 cans of condensed soups. You get one can per week for the whole year, and get to choose 18 additional glorious days with More Soup.

A whopping 180 POUNDS of sugar… for one person. That’s in addition to the sugars added to the canned soups, box mac, and peanut butter. That’s a LOT of sugar. So much sugar. Americans eat a lot of sugar to start with, but this storage plan tops average 2005 sugar consumption levels (100 pound per person) by another 80%! And at the list’s $5/20 pound assumption, you’re spending nearly $1000 on sugar–and that’s at antique prices. Current prices for sugar in my area run about $5.50 for ten pounds (store brand), so spending only $5 a week cuts that sugar purchasing down to 90 pounds, which is much, much better, and still waaaay too much sugar for one person to consume. Our family of 6, with all our baking habits, uses about this in a year.

10 pounds of honey. More sugar, but at least it’s a digestible kind. If you have a diabetic in the family, please make sure to store a whole lot of insulin.

100 pounds of flour… which sounds like a lot, until you’re doing your own baking, and realize each loaf requires between 1 and 1.5 pounds of flour, and that means getting anywhere from 75 to 100 loaves in a year, without making any other use of flour. That’s less than 2 loaves of bread a week. And bread is practically your only protein source in this storage plan… you’ll get about 55 grams of protein per loaf of bread. A good target amount for daily protein is about .8 grams per 2 pounds of body weight. That means a 150 pound person needs to shoot for 420 grams of protein per week. This plan’s flour allotment gets you 110 grams in a week. For one person.)

Muffins

One bread-stuff option: homemade English muffins, which can be done from the pantry, if you store the right stuff!

12 pounds of macaroni noodles presumably to mix with the cream soups for some sort of protein-free chemical goulash?

21 boxes of chemical mac-n-cheese (salt, sugars, and chemicals again). Good luck making it edible without butter, because that’s not part of the storage plan.

24 cans of tuna (finally, a non-flour protein source! Only a little bit, though. You get 10 grams of protein in one meal, once a week… for one half the year. So now the plan has one person consuming a total of 120 grams of protein a week for at least half of the year, against a basic need of 420 grams a week. This is not a ratio for survival.)

6 pounds of peanut butter (hey, another tiny bit of protein! 6 pounds of PB will give you 85 two-tablespoon portions, with 8 grams of protein per portion. So you can add 1.5 sandwiches for one person per week, and get a whole 13 total additional grams of protein… now we’re up to 133 grams, against that basic need of 420 grams per thin adult per week.) (And mostly salt, sugars, and chemicals.)

6 pounds of yeast. This is not a bad amount, particularly if you know how to use it for a sour-dough start, and can make a lot of bread without adding new yeast.

40 pounds of powdered milk (the list is not specific as to whether this is non-instant milk, which requires mixing with hot water and chilling before it’s drinkable, or instant milk, which doe not. 40 pounds of non-instant dry milk will yield about 160 quarts of milk, which sounds like a lot, but actually works out to ONE person having 14 ounces of fluid milk per day. And if you store 40 pounds of instant milk, one person gets 7 ounces of fluid milk per day.)

6 pounds of shortening (one of the most chemically processed fats you could choose, with zero nutritional value on its own. Lard has actual nutritional content. And a variety of oils is better than just one hydrogenated chemical oil.)

1000 ct multivitamins (and you’re going to need ’em! The food list is really low on vitamins and minerals. Notice, there’s not a single fruit or vegetable item listed. Not one. British sailors were given more actual nutrition than this list provides.)

500 count aspirin (so, the list is made pre-Advil? That explains buying 5 pounds of honey for $5. Or 20 pounds of sugar for $5. Actually, if you only buy $5 of sugar at each buying interval, you’ll end up with a lot less sugar, so that’s a good thing. )

It sounds harsh, but a person amassing this quantity and distribution of foods is worse off than someone without any storage at all, because this plan lulls one into the idea that they are prepared. And it’s not a preparation plan. It’s not edible, nourishing food.

The very low protein levels (133 grams per WEEK if we’re generous… now take your body weight, divide it in half, and multiply by .8 to see what your baseline protein intake actually needs to be to maintain key body functions) lead to some ugly consequences: muscle wasting, increasing weakness, compromised immune function, hair loss, skin changes/rashes, mood changes including depression, and eventually shock and even death. Without consuming any protein, the human body can only live about 70 days, and those will be rife with the physical deprivation and malfunction I just mentioned. This plan gives only about 1/3 of baseline protein levels for a 150 pound person. Sooooo… live miserably and die about 8am on day 93 instead.

Yes, I know this meme/plan is only a suggestion, or a start, or something. But it’s about the worst way to go about accomplishing provident, functional storage.

WHAT WORKS BETTER

This site has a much more functional planning strategy. This site gives some solid basics and reasons why. Yes, it’s possible to build food storage $5 at a time. But, it needs to be more thought through than the $5/week plan floating around the net!

I’m not a perfect paragon of storage. Not at all. But here are the questions I look at when building at $5 a week:

  1. What does my family actually eat? We eat a lot more variety of grains than the above “plan” allows for. Wheat, oat groats, corn grits/polenta, barley, and more regularly grace our table. Going to only wheat flour would be a vast down-grade to our eating plans. We eat leafy and root vegetables, and fruits, and a wide variety of protein sources, including different rices and beans. For storage to be provident and functional, it needs to contain what we actually eat.
  2. What are the realistic quantities? For instance, our family of six will consume an average of two loaves of homemade bread, or their equivalent (homemade biscuits, rolls, tortillas, muffins, scones), per day. Seven days a week. We’ll use the equivalent of three 15oz cans of vegetables in a dinner meal. I need to store realistic quantities for our consumption, or we’ll run a high risk of feeling grossly deprived. (And that includes some items that are strictly for comfort and treats! That’s why we store fruits for making pie, and chocolate chips for cookies, and cocoa powder for cakes and pudding and hot cocoa.)
  3. Do those menu items come in shelf-stable versions? This might include dehydrated, freeze-dried, home-canned, or commercially-canned items, as well as stable-as-is items (like grains).
  4. What are the most nutritionally-dense foods I can store? (hint: sugar is not one of them. Nor is box chemical mac.)
  5. What are the most beneficial and shelf-stable protein sources I can store? (hint: dry beans and rices, lentils, and other such vegetable-based complete proteins are awesome to store, bulk up gorgeously when cooked, and can be used in a variety of cooking styles. And backyard chickens provide fresh eggs daily, no shelf-storage needed–although you can store fresh eggs, right there on the counter, for weeks!)
  6. What shelf-stable fats can I store? Oils, lard–our bodies need fats to function well! One stable source of fats is actually in certain grains–I’ll do better storing wheat berries and grinding them fresh for bread, retaining the tiny amounts of fats in the grain, than by trying to store huge quantities of pre-ground whole wheat flour that risks the fats going rancid before I use them.
  7. What seasoning sets give those basics a good variety of flavors? How can I store those in shelf-stable ways, and how much should I be storing? Salt, pepper, garlic, onion, curry, cumin, bouillons, coriander, cayenne, dry mustard, dried herbs of all kinds, more garlic, sriracha, Mex-style pepper sauces, Worchestershire, soy sauce… all of these are in our normal flavor patterns, and to be in a situation of living off only stored foods, without those flavor patterns, would be a huge spark to depression, appetite fatigue, and voluntary starvation.

    Flavor! Who knew?

    Flavor! Who knew?

  8. How can I adjust my grocery and meal planning to allow for small, consistent purchase of additional quantities to build my surplus store? Stocking up on peaches to home-can only makes sense when peaches are in season; if I’m going to put up jams and jellies, I’ll need to make sure I do purchase additional sugar in the months leading up to the cheapest fruit availability. Do I have secure, air-tight storage for seasonings, herbs, grains, etc? Can I adjust our meal plans to incorporate the least-expensive forms of high-quality protein, carbs, and fats?

I grew up with an active cycle of food storage and use, and I’m trying to do better with my current plan. Living with that active cycle is a heck of a lot of work, so involving the whole household is vital! The quantities to feed a household of ten, realistically, were enormous. It wasn’t feasible to do it all at once, and a spread-out plan that takes advantage of seasonal accessibility and careful purchasing is really the only way to make it work no matter what size household you have.

Some is better than none. Planned “some”, tailored to your household’s needs, is better than generic some.

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How’s that for a long and convoluted title?

I’m not going to hold myself up as any sort of a one to emulate on meal planning. I’m trying hard to get back into; I once was truly awesome at it, when we lived 45 miles from town. Living in town for the last 13 years has been my kryptonite. But, I’m determined, and stubborn goes a long, long way.

A request from a long-time friend spurred this particular post about menu plans. Thanks, AB! It’s a good reminder to myself about The Stubborn, and I need those. And I’m gearing up to grocery shopping next week, so getting a jump on it is goooood.

There are so, so, so many resources on-line and in “analog” (real, physical books!) that it actually gets a little overwhelming. It’s said that Eleanor Roosevelt had two six-month meal plans (one for each half of the year) that she swapped in and out the entire time the Roosevelts were in the White House. The appetites of our household are a little too variant for that to feel comfortable, but the sensible nature of having some regular items that just rotate through really does work. If I plan 21 different dinners, I can rotate a basic stock of ideas every three to four weeks, and everyone stays happy. It allows me to anticipate some seasonal sales and harvest, and maximize our food budget.

I like to get a running start by making a blanket plan with some wiggle room. Freezable and pantry-stable items make it all go faster. I don’t have to shop very often. I like that. (more…)

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After months of tragic and semi-starvation, it’s time to get back on the bandwagon with my menu planning and firm, unswerving budgeting. We like to keep things frugal around here, but we also like to eat really good food. You’ve heard the adage about Quick, Good, or Cheap: Pick Two? Well, it holds true with food as well. We’re going for Cheap and Good, so Quick is likely headed out the window. But, Big Cooking can save me a lot of time, so we’ll maybe get Not-Horribly-Slow, Good, and Cheap out of the deal, and that’s none too shabby.

What follows is a very, very long and detailed description of a lot of food. If you’re not in the mood, click away to Pinterest now. Or go read news or something. This is all food.

In the first Big Shop of the month (right on the first of the month… the Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal Fellow and I called it a date, because we left all the Minions at home cleaning out the fridge and it was just him, me, the soft glow off the produce at the grocery store, and 900 billion other people who apparently had similar ideas), we spent $325; today I spent another $15 on a good sale at my second favorite grocery store. And here’s what we’re doing/have done with that fundage this month: (more…)

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Road Food

We’re planning a trip to the mountains of my childhood.

This involves a goodly trek: ten hours each way in the car if I’m careful with rest breaks. My brother swears you can make the trip in six hours, but there’s a reason he gets speeding tickets and I do not. (I don’t mean for that to sound as supercilious as it types out. Well, mostly not, anyhow.)

Over the years, we’ve developed a system of stops and breaks that works for us. And when I say “us”, I mean: caters to the easily-bored Mother of Minions, who doesn’t like to sit still for anything longer than 90 minutes at a stretch, and thinks Southern Idaho is about the most boring, desolate drive in the entire universe. Scientists interested in developing teleportation devices need to make this drive about 40 times in a row, as they’d find tremendous incentive for their work. It is really, really dull. You’ve never seen so many miles of nothing, so well-fenced. (Well, unless you’ve driven across portions of Texas or Montana. Distances are really distant here in the West.)

We leave beastly early in the morning (I’m thoroughly convinced that each day should have only one 5 o’clock in it, but trip days have two) in order to travel with snoozy children as far as possible.

Here’s the plan:

Leave here Beastly Early; drive to the Oasis stop outside of Twin Falls, refuel, and wiggle/eat breakfast in the small grassy area there. The children avert their eyes, so as not to be embarrassed by Mom jumping around.

Commence driving and get as far as Mountain Home, where there’s a very nice visitor’s center with lots of grass and a hill. Have a snack. The children avert their eyes, so as not to be embarrassed by Mom rolling down the hills (wearing long sleeves… I’m allergic to grass.) Eventually, they will all roll with me.

Commence driving, and get through Boise and into Ontario with a minimum of whining (from me). Refuel, and eat a light lunch. Cavorting ensues.

Commence driving, and listen to Mom wax excitable as we hit “home territories”. That means it’s only another 3.5 hours! Make it as far as Brogan, and stop for a toilet break, light snack, and purchased drinks at the Brogan store. We stop there, as they don’t look at you funny if you use the bathroom and don’t buy something. Since they don’t mind if we don’t, we always buy drinks. Nice people!

Eventually, we get to Grandma’s house, she feeds us, and we try to re-set and get on the Home time zone. Usually, we’ll take over several meals during our stay, so along with road foods, we need to plan for visiting food, too, but that’s another blog post.

So, what exactly is Road Food?

For some families, it might mean Fast Food Restaurant Food. However, this is the West, where distances are distant, if you’ll recall. Sometimes, a required stop for fuel and bathrooms doesn’t coincide with Fast Food Franchise plans. Even if it did, our family is large enough that each fast food stop will cost $20 to $30, and for a ten-hour drive, we’re looking at between two and four stops, so that’s not happening with our trip budget.

My kids once tried to wheedle me into buying stacks of Lunchables for a trip. We did buy one, and took it home to taste test. It did not pass muster with the kids, either on flavor, quality, or quantity. (“Why is this meat slimy? Where’s the rest of it? Six crackers? Are they kidding? Why is this cheese rubbery? How come everything is so salty? This drink pack is gross!” My children do not have futures as test subjects for the Industrial Food Complex.)

Then we took advantage of Reason to Homeschool #567: All Life Is Learning, and priced out what else we could buy. That turned out to be Quite a Lot, and they immediately began plans to convince me that any saved money should really be diverted to the Souvenirs Fund. (They didn’t happen to win this entirely, but they did prevail on one trip through the Tillamook Cheese factory, wherein they requested ice cream, got permission for said ice cream, noticed the per-scoop cost of said ice cream, and volunteered to fore-go said ice cream if they could each buy a pocket knife with their name on it instead. I couldn’t really resist that sort of decision-making. And, since the Eldest can easily resist ice cream, and the Boy cannot easily resist adding to his pocket knife arsenal, it worked for them, too.)

Instead of prepared foods or chain restaurants, we pack a wide variety of family favorites in a cooler and shopping bags, already prepped for easy consumption, and really enjoy our road food. It’s filling, but light enough that we don’t have car-sick incidents in most cases, and it’s all fairly non-mess-making, too. Our “standard” Road Food includes:

  • Home-sliced cheeses, generally including provolone, cheddar, or colby-jack, but sometimes including an herbed cheese spread we make ourselves, or goat cheese from the Farmer’s Market (in season).
  • a box or two of Really Nice Crackers. Right now, those are the Multi-Grain Toppers, but I’ve been watching Alton Brown, and am getting brave about making our own crackers! For the “Goldfish” crowd, I can substitute my darling Mother-in-Law’s famous cheese biscuits, which are home-baked cheese cookies that very much meet the needs of little kids, and are flat-out addictive for everyone else.
  • Home-sliced real ham and turkey
  • Child-selected fresh fruits in season, which are then “broken down” at home and bagged for easier eating. Apples get sliced and cored, then bagged with pineapple juice or lemon juice to prevent them browning. Bananas are kept whole. Oranges are sliced at home.¬† Grapes are sectioned off into small clusters. A big fat Asian pear is more likely to be kept intact, but we’ll pack the small cutting board and the little corer/slicer thingy to take care of it on the road.
  • Raw veg, cut and bagged at home. Why spend more on pre-bagged veggies? It takes only a few minutes to slice up carrot coins and celery sticks, or de-floret some broccoli and cauliflower. Snap peas need no further treatment. My Eldest usually packs a small bag of raw spinach to munch or add to crackers.
  • Dried fruits and nuts from the bulk foods section, with each trip participant choosing one item. This gives variety, and allows us to try something new each time, too. Because it’s all bought in bulk, the price point is quite low.
  • Rolls. Not all the kids eat bread, but for those who do, quick sandwiches can be made with meat, cheese, veg, and a roll.
  • Small Bits of Good Stuff, like a little jar of marinated artichoke hearts, a few pepperoncini, a bag of black olives, and another of sour dill pickles. We’ll also include small re-usable jars of various mustards, nut-butters, and jams that don’t require refrigeration.
  • Homemade cookies or granola for sweet snacks
  • Our own water bottles, filled and frozen the night before, plus several gallons of drinking water for the car.

So, we’re not exactly talking bread-and-water privation here. It’s really good food, and in some cases, gourmet food. Anything that’s best kept cold goes into a small cooler, and everything else is stored in reusable shopping bags. Because the cooler needs are quite small (really, only the cold meats require it, and we could entirely skip meats for a trip without any problems), our ice needs are minimal. Eating foods that don’t require refrigeration for safety is inherently safer all around. We’re not going to be surprised by “not quite adequately refrigerated deli pasta salad” at any point.

The actual quantities of any one food are fairly small; the wide variety allows for this. We also try to limit snacks to break stops, which puts a bit of the kibosh on “I’m bored” snacking during the drive, and definitely cuts down on the mess. (We also bring along plastic grocery sacks as disposable trash bags, and clear out the car with every single stop. It keeps The Mom from going entirely smack out of her tiny mind, or wanting to barf from smelling banana peel for the next two hours.)

The thing I like best about our Road Food is how it makes me feel. I get a good balance of sweet, salty, crunchy, creamy; a good balance of carbs, proteins, and fats; a lot of water and water-rich foods to keep me hydrated. So, I show up tired, but not groggy, and not bloated and slightly greasy from soda and chips. And since I’m already nearly dead of boredom, and ready to take up a second career as the kind of scientist who develops teleportation machines, that’s rather a nice thing.

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As the ingredients list in commercially-canned “Cream of Crud” soup gets longer and longer, you may be looking for an actually FOOD-based equivalent to add that creamy, saucy, comforting touch to many recipes you’d like to make at home.

Once A Month Mom has a great base recipe (easy to adapt to your own dietary needs) on her site. Having Cream of Something Soup base packets in your freezer can be a grand way to add more food to your food, and be better prepared for fast meals.

Click Here to visit Once a Month Mom’s Cream of Something Soup Recipe.

You know all those pasta/veggie freezer meals you see advertised? The sort with the “creamy sauce?” You can do that at home, from single-ingredient frozen veggies or veggie blends (unseasoned–you’ll save a stack there!), freshly-boiled pasta, and a portion of sauce base, with a bit of added herbs, maybe some Parmesan cheese… fantastic, fast meals from real food. How lovely!

One Orange Giraffe has also shared a recipe for a shelf-stable, just-add-water Cream of Something Soup base. It’s a bit less real-food than the OaM-Mom version, but still makes a great addition to your nifty food skills, and makes those last-minute meal ideas so much easier!

Now, pretend you’re married to a Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal fellow who had a tiny Sicilian great-grandmother on one side of the family. Cream of Something did not enter her vocabulary, let alone her kitchen, and thus, your Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal fellow has a bit of a genetic bias against CoS preparations. Add in several children who aren’t always fans of tomato based “gravy” for pasta dishes. And, add in your own great dislike of the “cooked” taste of all bottled creamy pasta sauces ever commercially canned. You’re going to need some additional skills to satisfy everyone, and easy white-sauce options might just suit. Bonus: they’re both based on actual food, as well!

If you have some basics on hand, you can make a real Alfredo sauce in about the same amount of time it takes to mix up a packet or open a can. The flavor is so much nicer when the food is real! Here’s a cream-based Alfredo from 100 Days of Real Food. It’s purely decadent, and so good!

I make an even easier version of creamy pasta sauce that uses the pasta water for the creamy aspect. I call it “Slacker Alfredo.” You may find you love it.

Slacker Alfredo

  • In unsalted water, cook about a pound of pasta al dente. Reserve a cup of the cooking water.
  • Drain the pasta and hold it for a moment.
  • Add about 1/4 cup of butter to the pasta pot, and briefly saute a tablespoon of minced garlic (which I keep in the fridge all the time. You can also sub garlic granules–a solid pinch of them–if you’re *really* slacking or living on pantry staples.)
  • Add the pasta back to the pot, and dump in about 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan (and since I rarely have fresh, I used the bulk Parm from WinCo.)
  • Toss and stir; add a bit more butter if you like, and also drizzle in the pasta water, to get the cheese melting and the sauce saucy.
  • Add several grinds of good peppercorn mix, and perhaps a bit of fine-chopped rosemary, or more garlic.
  • Toss in steamed veggies if you like
  • Use that remaining pasta water to loosen up the sauce a tad, if needed, and serve that pasta!

To use an old phrase: it’s larruping good.

(That means you sort of want to shovel it into your face and use your tongue to slurp up the remnants from your bowl, your fork, and your chin.)

Pardon: I need to go help my Eldest format her camp planning ideas into an easily-readable sheet she can use to Take Over the World. I’m so very proud of her!

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One thing I discovered this weekend: when one grows up as a Literature & History Nerd, as opposed to, say, a Science & Math Nerd, one has vastly fewer Posterboard Display Opportunities, and that can lead to tragic Posterboard Displays in adulthood, should one have the opportunity to present, say, an informational table on food storage “lifestyle” ideas at a multi-congregational preparedness fair.

Also, since I was actually voted Least School Spirit in high school, and never was a cheerleader, nor drew “Spirit Posters”, nor banners, nor car wash signs, I apparently missed key educational points related to “How To Draw Nicely With Fat Markers.”

So, my “circle” on my lovely tri-fold posterboard display thingy was rather more shaped like a directionally-noted kidney bean. And my outline-the-glued-down-printout-words lines were very, very sad.

I briefly considered telling one and all that my little girls had helped with the posterboard, and wasn’t that just the cutest effort ever??

But then I realized: I’m doing this for church. Lying? Maybe not so high on the “good ideas” list.

I chose to distract the viewing public from potential criticism of my Posterboard Display Skills with chocolate cake.

It worked.

Or else, they’re just mocking me behind my back tonight, or sharing piteous sighs over that poor, poor fat girl who has no marker skills. Pooooor thing.

(I need to note one thing: you other ladies need to stop sneaking weird things into chocolate cake, and trying to fob them off on your menfolk. I had more fellows today, when offered a piece of chocolate cake, interrogate me as to what “sneaky” item might be mooshed, blended, or otherwise masked by the idea of cake. Zucchini, maybe I can understand. But MAYONNAISE? Black beans? REALLY, PEOPLE? Home-made cake is practically health food, anyway. Just make it normal and eat the freaking caking.)

Long, sad crafting failure story made much, much shorter: I put together an informational booth for a multi-congregational preparedness fair today, and chatted with loads of really nice people about how having a fully-stocked pantry of three to six months of full meals in our homes (using a mix of pantry staples, commercial prepared, home bottled, and home frozen foods) can change our attitude toward being prepared for “stormy days,” and significantly stretch our financial and time budgets, leading to a better quality of life in general.

In super-short: Food Storage Is Awesome, It Can Change Your Life, and You Should Do It.

But since I’m rarely short-winded about anything, here’s the 12-page PDF of handouts I did up to go with the informational table, and the cake.

(Don’t tempt ugly karmic retribution by being a jerk about sharing my work. Feel free to share it with friends and family and total strangers, but don’t charge for it, don’t claim it as your own work, please link back to me if you want to share it on-line, keep my copyright intact, and be nice to everyone you meet. Life is so much nicer that way.)

 

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Ditto

It’s important to keep in mind that my goal is to raise adults, not children… our own path to this is meandering, but yes, I’m actively teaching all my kids to be competent and independent in the kitchen. The Boy has a list of meals he’s determined to master (his favorites, of course), as do each of the girls. The Little Girls are working on things like Cinnamon Toast and Peanut Butter Toast and Jelly Toast (I’m sensing a trend), but Spicy is now ready for “reheating on the stove” and “careful microwave use”; she and Spicy are usually in charge of slicing olives and celery, and definitely in charge of measuring rice and oats.

But, for another fun take on it: ditto to Jennifer, better known as FishMama, right there on her own blog:

Teaching Boys To Cook on Life as Mom

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