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Monthly Archives: February 2013

MyPlate on My Budget, Monthly Meal Plan

Can I follow the USDA thrifty food plan and feed my family the USDA MyPlate nutrients?  That’s the question I’m asking this March with MyPlate on My Budget.

Rose McAvoy from Our Lady of Second Helpings is providing support, guidance and yummy recipes.

We both decided I needed a plan.

The USDA recommends family eat seafood twice a week.  So right off the bat I need 8 seafood dinners (and a lot of hope that my kids will eat fish).

I’d also like at least 4 vegetarian recipes to serve on Meatless Mondays, plus a few more.  (Carrie from Carrie on Vegan was a lot of help in this area.)

To stretch my food budget of $144.85 a week as far as it could go, I decided to buy a meat package from local butcher, Silvana Meats.  Combination #4 costs $75.98 and gets me a lot of food.  That also makes planning the rest of the month a lot easier.

I still need a lot of help with the seafood section, but I think my monthly meal plan is shaping up.

MyPlate on My Budget Meal Plan

Seafood (8 Dinners)

Vegetarian (7 dinners)

Chicken (2 dinners)

Pork (6 dinners)

Beef (7 Dinners)

Okay, so maybe it’s not shaping up.  I still have a lot of planning to do!!!

Does anybody have some kid-friendly seafood ideas to share?

MyPlate on My Budget, Veggies cost $$$

Can I follow the USDA thrifty food plan and feed my family the USDA MyPlate nutrients?  That’s the question I will be asking this March with MyPlate on My Budget.

Rose McAvoy from Our Lady of Second Helpings is providing support, guidance and yummy recipes.

Right now it’s still February, so I decided to take a hard look at what my family normally eats.

Normally, I spend a lot of money on fruits and vegetables.

$77.65 for the week!  We aren’t a family who wastes food either.  Occasionally I’ll toss a forgotten bunch of cilantro into the compost, but we usually consume all of the fruits and vegetables I buy.

Adding up the amount of money my family spends on produce is shocking.

It also makes me sad, because I know that a lot of moms in America can’t do that.  And if families aren’t eating so many fruits and vegetables, what are they eating?  Or are they not eating at all?

Washington State has a a 10.1% food insecurity rate.  So 10 out of 100 people in Washington don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

Vegetables are a luxury that I have been taking for granted.

Now for the analysis part… 

Even though I’m spending so much money on produce, am I normally purchasing food that will meet the USDA My Plate requirements for my family each week?


Vegetables: 73.5 cups

  • 7 cups dark leafy green
  • 20.5 cups red and orange
  • 21.5 cups starch
  • 6.5 cups beans and peas
  • 18 cups other

Fruits: 52.5 cups

  • Whole fruits whenever possible


Vegetables: 114 cups

  • 37 cups dark leafy green
  • 49 cups red and orange
  • 0 cups starch
  • 9 cups beans and peas
  • 32 cups other

Fruits: 77.75 cups

  • Whole fruits whenever possible


I guess I should have bought some potatoes or squash.  Other than that, we are doubling the fruit and veggie requirements every week.  Hello green smoothies!

No wonder I spend so much money at the grocery store…

So what’s going to happen this March when my budget is $144 a week?  Am I going to gain weight?  Am I going to lose weight?  Or is Rose McAvoy going to have some magic tricks up here sleeve to help me finance our veggie addiction, for a lot less money.

I have to admit, I’m a little bit nervous…

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MyPlate on My Budget, A Kiddie Project

Want a way to teach young children about nutrition?

Here’s an easy project for kids that I created based on the USDA MyPlate recommendations.

You start with a paper plate and a coffee filter attached.  (A smaller paper plate or cut out piece of paper would work too.)  Then you divide the plate in four parts to show that half your plate should be covered with vegetables and fruit.

Let kids sort through cut out pictures of food from the circulars in the Sunday paper.

Then kids glue down their food choices.

Easy, right?

My daughter Jenna (3) had a lot of fun with this activity but Bruce (7) thought he was too grown up.  😉

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MyPlate on My Budget, Cookbooks

Can I follow the USDA thrify food plan and feed my family the Choose MyPlate advised daily nutrients?  That’s the question I’m asking this March with MyPlate on My Budget.

Rose McAvoy from Our Lady of Second Helpings is providing support, guidance and yummy recipes.

Another source of help has been cookbooks.

I already had two cookbooks on my shelf promising cheap recipes:  Gluten Free on a Shoestring by Nicole Hunn, and Cheap. Fast. Good. by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross. Then I borrowed two more from a friend: Family Feasts for $75 a Week by Mary Ostyn and $3 Slow-Cooked Meals by Ellen Brown.

All four of these books promise to help you trim your grocery budget.   All five authors deliver what they promise.

Mary Ostyn boasts about her total bill coming in well below the USDA Thrifty Budget.  Beverly Mills and Alica Ross each have their own version of a weekly meal plan that would follow the Thrifty Budget too.  Nicole Hunn faces the added challenge of cooking g-free.  Ellen Brown is committed to offering recipes that don’t use a lot of mixes, boxes, or processed food.

But here’s where it gets interesting…

What about the MyPlate recommendations?

The USDA says to eat fish twice a week. 

Mary Ostyn says on page 25 of Family Feasts for $75 a Week that she only serves fish about once a month.

Nicole Hunn doesn’t really deal with seafood at all in Gluten-Free on a Shoestring.

If I counted right, I believe that Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross offer a total of four seafood recipes in Cheap. Fast. Good.

Elen Brown’s $3 Slow-cooked Meals offers the best selection of inexpensive fish recipes.  But honestly, I haven’t tried any of her seafood receipes yet because the whole idea of smelling fish cook all day in my crock-pot sounds kind of gross.

Learning from the Experts

What this tells me is that the bona fide and published experts on thrifty cooking don’t buy a lot of seafood!

I totally understand why.  Fish is expensive.

Then if you do cook fish and your kids won’t eat it, that’s a lot of wasted money on food!

(I haven’t even mentioned the environmental impact of seafood, but be sure to check out Seafood Watch.)

Another issue is vegetables.

Cheap. Fast. Good. (which I love btw) has two sample thrifty budget meal plans on pages 456-465.  Both plans would come in at or under the USDA Cost of Food at Home, “thrifty budget”.  But neither of the plans would meet the current USDA MyPate requirements.

There’s not enough fish and only 1 serving of fruit and 1.5 servings of vegetables per person, per day.  The plans wouldn’t even come close to hitting the variety of vegetables MyPlate wants you to eat each week either.

I’m not saying this as a criticism!  I really like this cook book!

I’m just pointing out that there is a huge tension between the MyPlate requirements and the ability to meet them on a strict, thrifty budget.

That’s why MyPlate on My Budget is such a challenge.

Wish me luck!

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MyPlate on My Budget, Make a Chart

Can I follow the USDA thrifty food plan and feed my family the MyPlate advised daily nutrients?  That’s the question I’ll be asking this March with MyPlate on My Budget.

Rose McAvoy from Our Lady of Second Helpings is providing support, guidance and yummy recipes.

But first, I had to take a hard look at what the USDA thinks my family should be eating each week. 

I printed out the MyPlate Daily Food Plan charts for each person in my family.  Then I made a poster board that I hung right by our dinner table.

It has been especially gratifying to see my son Bruce(7) examine the chart frequently, of his own accord.  This project hasn’t officially started yet, but our whole family has already begun the thought process.

Some of the MyPlate requirements are real shockers.

Fish twice a week?

Um…. we don’t normally do that, even though our budget is closer to the liberal end of the spectrum.

So I’m going to need a new, bare-bones grocery list:

Grains: 189 oz

  • 98 of them whole

Vegetables: 73.5 cups

  • 7 cups dark leafy green
  • 20.5 cups red and orange
  • 21.5 cups starch
  • 6.5 cups beans and peas
  • 18 cups other

Fruits: 52.5 cups

  • Whole fruits whenever possible

Dairy: 42 cups

Protein: 154 oz

  • 44 oz should be fish
  • choose beans, seeds, nuts more often

My gut reaction to this list?

Yuck!  That’s because 7 cups of dark leafy green vegetables means three and a half servings for my entire family.  ALL WEEK!  That’s less than one serving of dark green veggies per person, per week.

Right now my husband and I eat one or two servings of dark leafy green vegetables per day, and our kids probably eat three servings a week.

Following the USDA guidelines might mean that we are saying goodbye to our daily kale, chard and spinach habit.

On the plus side, eating more fish should be good for us, if I’m careful about what I purchase.  The warning about mercury posted right there next to the tuna in our grocery store really freaks me out.

But will my kids actually eat fish twice a week?  That’s a really good question…

Stay tuned to find out!

MyPlate on My Budget, I’m Obsessed!

Admittedly, I’m obsessed.

It all started a few weeks ago when I was at Trader Joe’s.  I was just there to pick up “a few things”.  When I got to the register, the total came to $67!

As I was driving home I kept thinking about how lucky I was to be able to afford a spontaneous grocery store trip like that.  I also started wondering what items I would have put back, if I had been on a tighter budget.

Just to be clear, it wasn’t like I was buying steak and champagne.

Milk, string cheese, coffee, eggs, a bag of apples, a few loaves of bread… It all starts to add up, especially if you buy organic.

That’s how my obsession started.

Food…money…privilege…deprivation…nutrition…weight…poverty…  I can’t stop thinking about all of those big questions.

When I got home I started exploring the USDA website for Cost of Food at Home.  Our family falls somewhere between the “Moderate and Liberal” end of the spectrum.

What shocked me?

The “Thrifty” budget would only allocate my family $144.80 cents a week!

Maybe you are a thrifty shopper already and are looking at that amount and thinking “Big deal, that’s easy.”

Here’s the catch.

The USDA has this other website called Choose MyPlate.gov.  They want people to fill half their plates with fruits and vegetables, consume three servings of dairy a day, choose meat less often, and eat fish twice a week.

Is that even possible?  Food costs money.  Veggies are expensive.  Fresh fish that hasn’t been shipped all the way to China and back, is pricey.

Could I follow the USDA thrifty food plan and meet the MyPlate requirements?

That’s the question I’m going to answer this March with “MyPlate on My Budget”.

Luckily, I’m not attempting this experiment without a lot of support.  Rose McAvoy from Our Lady of Second Helpings is providing help, guidance, and yummy recipes. 

Check out Rose’s amazing food and weight loss journey here, to be inspired.

March is going to be a major educational experience for my entire family.

We are going to learn about nutrition.  We are going to find out where food comes from.  We are going to experiment with new recipes.

There’s going to be math and science and art and all sorts of things tied into this.

So stay tuned!  In the meantime, you might want to check out the MyPlate on My Budget board Rose and I are creating together on Pinterest.

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The $499 Apple

A cautionary tale!

Check out my “I Brake for Moms” column in the Good Life Section of The Everett Daily Herald.

Unglued, a review

I received a free copy of Unglued Devotional: 60 Days of Imperfect Progress by Lysa TerKeurst from Booksneeze in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I almost didn’t order this book because I had a lot of previously conceived notions about devotionals in general.  Often times they seem to think for you, tell you how to pray, share stories of questionable authenticity, or just plain be written for old ladies.  I’d much rather read the Bible and think for myself.  (How very Methodist of me!)

So I was really surprised when I started reading UngluedIt’s refreshingly modern and very relevant. 

For the purposed of this review, I read ahead through the whole book in its entirety.  Now I’m going back and reading the sections one at a time.

I love how there’s a thought for each day.  I’m trying to keep that thought in my mind.  Here’s an example from today, Day 6:

“How we react is a crucial gauge of what’s really going on inside us.”  (p 26)

See what I mean?  Pretty cool, and not old-ladyish at all!

I review for BookSneeze®

Marshmallow Math

Yes, this looks disgusting.

My three year old daughter Jenna felt like she was missing out on the fun after her brother Bruce got to build atoms with marshmallows this weekend.  So I got out the food dye and made up an activity for the preschool set.

It would have been a lot easier to used colored marshmallows to begin with, but we didn’t have any.  The up side of the DIY version is that blue marshmallows look gross and nobody wanted to eat them.

Think of the calories saved!

The first thing we did was build the number 5 using blue and white marshmallows.  This is very similar to what we do with Right Start Level A and the abacus.

We also built shapes.  Jenna is learning about triangles, squares and rhombuses.

Hands-on, fun, easy and meaningful.  That’s how I like to do math with three year olds.

Building Atoms with Marshmallows

Do you want to have some fun with the Periodic Table of the Elements?

It’s Presidents’ Day and my second grader has the day off from school.  So we decided to kick back with some marshmallows, food coloring, and our trusty Basher BooksThen we started building.


Atomic Number = 10

Atomic Weight = 20.1797

Number of Protons (Large White Marshmallows = 10)

Number of Neutrons = (Large Green Marshmallows = 10)

Number of Electrons = (Little Marshmallows = 10)

By the way, if you are a mom like me, you might need to brush up your atomic knowledge. 

(This page really helped me a lot!)

Here’s some other useful information: 

  • The number of protons = the Atomic Number
  • The number of protons = the number of electrons
  • The electrons are the smallest.  They orbit the nucleus.
  • The neutrons are the heaviest part of the atom.  They hang out with the protons in the nucleus.
  • The number of neutrons = the Atomic Weight (rounded) – the the Atomic Nunber (also the same as the number of protons)

This is what Silicon looks like:

Here’s our version of Hydrogen:

If you need more inspiration, head over to the blog Morning Hugs and Goodnight Kisses.  Thanks for the idea Michele!

The Ski Bunny Idiot

My “I Brake for Moms” column in the Sunday Herald today.  Check me out in the “Good Life Section”.

One of the things that’s special about where we live is that it only takes an hour to drive up and go skiing.  Sometimes it will be crowded and you’ll have the wait around in lift lines, but the most I’ve ever had to wait is about ten minutes.  Yesterday when my husband, Bruce and I went up to Snoqualmie East there was practically nobody there.

Having grown up in California, the lack of crowds shocks me every time!

Found on my desk this morning

I’m still trying to figure them all out…  Care to help?

Afterschooling Priorities

I think that there are two main goals for Afterschooling:

  1. Keep you child’s brain full.
  2. Provide one-on-one instruction.

In our house, this is how we prioritize:

  1. School
  2. Homework
  3. Playtime/Free time/Outside time
  4. Limited extras like soccer or piano lessons
  5. Afterschooling
  6. Screen time

It’s been a while since I blogged about Afterschooling.  That’s because my son Bruce(7.5) is in a very charmed situation at the moment.

For the most part, school is keeping my son’s brain “full”.

Wow!  How many parents can say that?  I mean no disrespect to teachers by posing that question, because I used to be a teacher myself.

Sometimes getting a student to work at the top level of his or her capability isn’t even about the teacher.  There is a whole combination of factors at play:  curriculum, the other kids in the class, the teacher, what’s happening at home, etc.

Our current situation with Bruce illustrates that point.  He goes to a top-notched public school.  Every single teacher he has there is excellent.  At home he does about 30 minutes to an hour of meaningful homework each day.  Then he goofs off.  Depending on the day, he also has Cub Scouts or a guitar lesson.  Bruce is also learning piano (from me).  Most days, he barely has time to watch one episode of “The Fairly OddParents” before crashing into bed.

If I asked him to do anything extra, that would be cruel.

But I know that we are still hitting the 120 hours of Afterchooling mark this year because of my A STEM Summer curriculum.  We also occasionally do fun projects on holidays, like the noodle geometry activity you see pictured above.

Last night I also invited Bruce to do a spelling lesson with me.  He was really excited to comply and said “Yes!”.

Right now we are on step 22 of All About Spelling Level 3.  It’s probably going to take us a long time to get to step 28, and that’s okay.

My son’s brain is full, and that’s something to smile about.

Pocket Your Dollars

I received a copy of Carrie Rocha’s book Pocket Your Dollars, 5 attitude changes that will help you pay down debt, avoid financial stress, & keep more of what you make, in exchange for my honest opinion and review.  This book is published by Bethany House, but it is for the most part secular.

I was especially interested in Rocha’s book after recently reviewing Pound Foolish, exposing the dark side of the personal finance industry by Helaine Olen.  Olen’s thesis is that if you actually look at the research, most Americans don’t get over their heads in debt because they are leaking money on cappuccinos, but because something really bad happened to them, like they were out of work for several years, their cancer came back, or they suddenly had to raise their grandchildren.  Olen is critical of the traditional fiance “experts” for being sanctimonious and patronizing.

Pocket Your Dollars takes a much kinder approach than the talking heads you see on TV.  Rocha doesn’t yell at readers but instead helps them analyze the emotions behind their spending.

Still, the primary point of Pocket Your Dollars is in line with the rest of the personal finance industry.  “Americans have a spending problem.  If we just stop leaking money things would be different.”

I’m not sure I buy that anymore.

If your adult child becomes paralyzed what should you do?  If you were part of an industry (like home construction) that had three or four horrible years in a row, then what?  What happens if your adult parent (who didn’t have long-term care insurance) develops Alzheimer’s and you need to take care of your mom or dad? There are a myriad of financial disasters out there waiting for you that are entirely out of your control.

On page 38 Rocha writes out a message for readers to internalize:  “Others may have had a negative influence on me and my finances, but I chose to associate with them.”  Try telling that to a parent camped out in Children’s hospital caring for a sick child.

I would have liked Pocket Your Dollars a lot more if there had been more understanding about crummy bad luck.  But still, I like Carrie Rocha’s message a lot better than a lot of the other books out there.

A lot of books I read once and then donate to our local library.  This one I’m going to keep.

Amount of Vegetables in a Green Smoothie

(I sound like I work for Vitamix, but I don’t!)

How many servings of fruits and vegetables are in a green smoothie?

I’ve been wondering this for a while.  So today I decided to get out some measuring cups and find out.


  • 4 cups spinach (counts as two servings according to the USDA website)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups celery
  • 1/2 cup carrots
  • 1 and 1/3 cup oranges
  • 1 cup frozen berries

Special Notes

  • I don’t follow a recipe
  • I aim for more vegetables than fruit
  • I add about 2 cups of water or ice
  • Normally I don’t cut the vegetables up

Ooops!  I thought I divided this equally into two servings; one for my husband and one for me.  Now that I see the picture up on my blog however, I realize I goofed.

Total fruits and veggie servings per portion (if they were equally divided) = 2 servings vegetables, 1 serving fruit.

I’ve always wondered this, and now I know…