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  • My First Week of Eating (Mostly) Gluten-Free

    Although I don’t have celiac disease, I’ve long thought that my body doesn’t respond all that well to gluten. I especially noticed feeling sluggish and bloated after eating foods like shredded wheat cereal. But the idea of going gluten-free was overwhelming – I love cookies, cake, bread and pasta, and I didn’t want to live without them.

    But a little over a week ago, I decided to give it a try. I’ve been feeling more sluggish and bloated than usual, and am hoping that going gluten-free will help.

    I haven’t missed wheat products as much as I thought I would – I don’t crave bread, I can live without cookies and cake, and I don’t feel deprived since I can still have gluten-free sweets and chips. It helps that I don’t have to be super diligent about it – it’s not a true allergy or intolerance, so I’m not religiously reading labels for gluten the way I do for peanuts and tree nuts, which we have to be very careful about. Sometimes I forget and eat gluten without thinking – like the vanilla wafer I popped into my mouth the other day when my son declined it.

    A nice side effect is that I’m eating more produce since I can’t eat bread or crackers. Instead of cheese with pita chips, I have cheese with apple slices. Instead of bolognese with pasta, I had bolognese with sauteed eggplant and steamed broccoli. I did find a fabulous gluten-free, nut-free granola brand called Enjoy Life. But I haven’t really been trying to replace gluten so much as trying to eat other foods instead.

    I feel a little bit better, although it’s hard to say whether it’s from avoiding gluten. But it’s only been a week. I’m planning to re-evaluate at the end of the month and if it seems like it is or might be making a difference, I’ll continue going gluten-free through October. In the meantime, if you have any great recipes or ideas to make this experience more fun, I’d love to hear them. Thanks!

    Packaging for Bake Sales

    Bake Sale Packaging

    As I get more involved with the PTA at my son’s school, I find myself baking for every bake sale – and there are a lot of them. (Is this just an elementary school thing? Because I don’t remember bake sales being so common in middle and high school.)

    The trickiest part about contributing to a bake sale is the packaging process. It’s easiest for the sellers and buyers if everything is packaged individually – which is why I’ve stopped making cupcakes for bake sales. It’s virtually impossible to individually package a frosted cupcake without ruining the frosting, at least if you’re doing it frugally. (Although if anyone has any great, inexpensive methods, please share!)

    I’ve taken to using cupcake liners and fold-over sandwich baggies. I bought about 10 packages of clearanced cupcake liners after Easter 2011, so I’ve got plenty. And fold-over sandwich baggies are the cheapest of the disposable plastic baggies. If I’ve got a cardboard tray (like the bottom of a case of water), I’ll use that to transport the goodies. But if not, I use a shirt box like the one pictured above. I’ve just got to get in the habit of asking for one every time I buy something at a retail store that gives them out!

    I tend to make bigger individual servings than I would normally cut – the little cakes you see above are about twice the size of what I would give to one of my children. But since they go for about $1 each, it’s a great return on investment and an easy way to help raise funds for our school. And schools need all the help they can get these days!

    Do you have any bake sale tips?

    January 2012 Pantry Challenge

    I don’t have an overflowing pantry at the moment, as I’ve done a pretty good job using up many of the items that I had on hand. But what I have is an abundance of some random items I don’t use much, and that I’d like to use up. These include:

    Ronzoni Healthy Harvest egg noodles
    Sweetened condensed milk
    Canned cannelli beans
    Cornmeal
    Jam
    Anchovies

    So . . . I’m joining the Pantry Challenge at Good Cheap Eats, with the goal of using up most, if not all, of the items mentioned.

    The really good thing about this challenge is that I’ll have to make things I normally wouldn’t, and that will help keep my menus fresh.

    Got any (frugal) suggestions for using up these ingredients?

    My School Lunch Strategy

    Tomorrow is the first day of school, and I am feeling a lot better about it than I did last year, when I really didn’t know what I was in for. Packing my son’s snack and lunch is still a big consideration for me, though.

    One thing I learned last year is that my son doesn’t care for the school’s offerings. He’ll gladly eat the breakfast cereal and coffee cake, but has an intense dislike of the other options, including the pizza, chicken nuggets, grilled cheese and so on. I can’t complain, as I like to think he’s got a discerning palate thanks to the food he enjoys at home. The flip side, of course, is that I have to pack him lunch every day.

    This year, I know to pack a small snack because he has only 20 minutes to scarf something down, use the bathroom, and play. And his biggest priority on that list is going to be play, while his teacher’s biggest priority will be the bathroom visit. So my biggest priority – the snack – will have to be something quick and desirable, like an applesauce pouch or cookie. I’m anxious for the weather to cool down so I can do some baking.

    Unfortunately, my son rarely ate any lunch-type things I packed last year – he didn’t like the sandwiches, hot foods were untouched, and no matter how much I experimented, he just didn’t want to eat much. Apparently this is actually normal for some kids.

    So I’m resigned to packing something that looks more like a substantial snack than a lunch. My standbys are cereal-type bars (yay for the Kashi deal at CVS this week!), crackers (especially pre-packaged ones with peanut butter for the protein), single-serve cartons of organic milk, and fruit puree pouches. I serve him a fairly substantial lunch-like snack after school to make up for his lack of “real” food at school, and he eats a good dinner. The fact that he’s healthy and a healthy weight makes it easier for me to accept this regimen, although my acceptance was a long time coming.

    Did I mention I’m looking forward to cooler weather? I’m looking forward to experimenting with little finger foods that I can pack for him that are healthier than what I just described – and that’s as much for me as for him. :)

    Tips for saving on only one grocery store trip per week

    Back when I was working outside of the home full-time, I still made more than one trip to the grocery store, mostly because I shop at multiple stores to get the best deals at each store. But that doesn’t work for everyone, so here are some tips for saving money while making only grocery store trip each week:

    1. Start with a good stockpile. You may need to shop at several stores for a few weeks or months, or simply going to Target or Costco to stock your pantry, but starting with a well-stocked pantry will make Tip #2 easier.
    2. Decide on which store to shop at depending on that week’s sales. If you already have a stockpile of staples, then you can go to Ralphs for the produce and meat deals and not have to pay $3 for a box of pasta. (If you don’t have a stockpile, don’t want to go out of your way to start one, and don’t want to pay full price for that box of pasta, explore the store and tinker with your weekly menu to come up with inexpensive meals based on what’s on sale.)
    3. Know which store has the lowest price on things you eat that don’t go on sale. For example, I would hit Trader Joe’s once a month to stock up on things that I can stockpile but don’t usually find cheaper than TJ’s every day low price. For example, they have organic American cheese at $3.49, which I can’t find at Ralphs or Vons, and which is more expensive at Whole Foods.
    4. Be willing to pass up some good deals. This is actually a key to maintaining your sanity and preventing burnout under any circumstances. (I’ve discussed it before in the context of The Drugstore Game.)
    5. Be willing to adapt your menu to what’s available. Plan on planning your menu and your shopping list after you see what’s on sale that week, and you should keep your eyes open as you go through the store and spot the unadvertised specials.
    6. Be willing to pay a (small) premium for your mental health. If hitting multiple grocery stores stresses you out, don’t do it! Even if it means you have pay a little extra for food each week. Unless your family is watching every penny out of sheer necessity, in which case hitting multiple stores is probably necessary and therefore less stressful anyway, your mental health is worth a few extra dollars.
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