Cheap Cosy Days & Comfort Food

There has been a bit of a heatwave this week and I’ve been walking the girls to school every day. I find that starting the day with fresh air and sunlight starts me off in a better mood. I’ve been enjoying the mornings when my kids are in school and nursery and using them as an opportunity to write.
In between this, I’m trying to save money for a short trip at Halloween, so I’m finding ways to treat ourselves without spending money when I can avoid it.

When we aren’t outdoors, I have to come up with ideas to draw my kids away from the lure of the TV. Cooking always seems to work with my younger one. I’ve been trying to use up ingredients we already have in the house, cook from scratch and avoid unnecessary trips to the shops.

I discovered a health food shop near us that I had never been to before. They sell fruit and veg boxes. For £13.50 you get about a week’s worth of fruit and vegetables. It helps with meal planning, because it gives you something to sketch recipes around. We also tried their sourdough bread. It was the most expensive load of bread I’ve ever bought but it was the nicest I’ve had too. I like supporting local businesses and it stops me spending money as thoughtlessly.

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Here are some alternatives to overspending I’ve used this week:

  • Set up a writing/crafts/colouring station at your kitchen table. Add candles and soft music to make it feel more like a cafe. Make yourself fancy toast and real coffee and enjoy having peace to create something.
    Bake snacks and breakfast options for the week. We made some cheesy biscuits for snacks and pear granola, adapted from a recipe at Surprisingly, my daughter has been requesting granola every morning from breakfast since. I think she finds it more appealing because she helped to make it.

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  • Make warming meals like stew and casserole. It’s a good way to use up root veg and leftover portions of meat you have in the freezer. Billie Holiday has become my cooking music recently, and it almost feels like a form of therapy.

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  • Walk when you can to save on petrol. There is a garden my kids want to stop at every day, filled with flowers and cartoon characters. If you break up the walk with things of interest along the way, kids don’t notice the length of the walk as much. We also stopped one day at a local ice cream shop. Kids in school uniforms can get a £1 scoop on certain days of the weeks.
  • Explore your local area on foot. Bring some change with you so you can buy something from the bakery, get a book from the library or buy a bunch of flowers. It feels like you are treating yourself without putting yourself into debt 🙂

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Cheap Weekends with Kids

This post is appearing a little late since I got sidetracked mid-writing, as I often do with kids, but at least it is weekend related 🙂

After the school term starting up again, I decided that this month I’m going to have a fresh start, start a new budget, save for holidays, make use of our existing memberships and enjoy watching the seasonal changes outside. (Basically avoid spending money when I can.) If I don’t spend a weekend being creative or contemplative, I feel like I’ve wasted it. So, I set up some simple activities for my kids and we spent time in pretty settings. I’ve got into the habit of making lots of small purchases over the summer, with nothing to show for my expenditures. So, I’m going to start a holiday fund instead.

We started last weekend, as we always do, with pancakes. One of my daughter’s refuses to eat them which still confounds me. I thought all people loved pancakes. Anyway, afterwards, the girls wanted to play with play doh but I didn’t have any, so I made a simple homemade one, which I will share in my next post. That kept them entertained for the longest I’ve seen them focus on one thing ever! You can add food colouring or something scented, like lavender, herbs etc. I added some rosemary and oregano and we called it “pizza dough.”

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I also found some paper people in the pound shop and I had a box of sparkly confetti I got to decorate the dresses with. We stuck on googly eyes, so at least my obsession with stocking up on craft supplies comes in handy at times. You can also find craft materials for kids in the card making section of the pound shop, as well as the party section (where I found the confetti.)
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The weather brightened up, so I brought the girls their lunch on a tray in the garden. My kids always eat better outside – I might have to start serving dinner there every night to persuade them to eat something other than a snack.
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I always reach my limit with staying in the house, so I took the girls to Castle Espie and they fed the birds. As they are getting older, they are becoming more interested in identifying the different types of birds. Our visit there was well-timed because they had an hourly explorers session for kids. A man led a tour around the badger hides and tracks left by otters etc. He had a lot of animal poo-related stories that kept my kids listening, rapt. They got to make crafts indoors and we brought our own snacks so the trip was free (minus the petrol.) We have membership for about £60 a year so we can use it whenever we like.
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I think getting memberships for child-friendly places is worthwhile, because otherwise, we would be separately spending on every day out at different places. At least if the cost of days out is included in your monthly budget, it’s easier to avoid overspending on activities and you can plan your days out around those places.

I felt like trying to make dinner out of what was left in the house and what we needed to use up, so I made taco rice and for dessert a peach crumble with custard. It was a quick way to use up peaches that were past their best and I used some egg yolks left over from a cake I made with egg whites to make custard.

We had a no spend weekend, but we didn’t miss anything because of it. I think people often conflate having a good time with having to spend money and that isn’t the case. In fact, I find the most enriching activities always come for free.
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How to cook when you don’t want to go to the shops

Tips for when you’re too Sick, Tired or Broke to do a Food Shop

I’ve spent the last week with the flu and food shopping has seemed like an unachievable task. Here are a few ways to improvise with what you have and avoid going to the shops.

Use your Slow Cooker

Slow coolers are great for sickness because they require minimal effort on your part and you can throw in random ingredients and it somehow turns out edible! Use up vegetables you have lying around in casseroles and stews. You can make vegetarian versions if you have no meat in the house. I made a veggie chilli in mine with what I had left. If you season it well and add extras like chocolate and chilli flakes and coriander it won’t taste bland.

Make Minestrone

Soups are good in general for using up what you already have. I find I always have the ingredients to make minestrone, if nothing else. I always have tinned tomatoes, pasta and tinned or frozen veg even if I don’t have fresh veg. You can put anything you want in it: carrots, courgettes, peas or beans, corn, etc.

Top things with cheese

I find that even a dish made from simple ingredients tastes better with cheese on top. You can mix some into a rice dish or pasta to make it more substantial too. If you roast or fry vegetables and mix it with rice/pasta, oil and cheese it tastes surprisingly good for how little effort is involved.

Improvise with breakfast

If you don’t have essentials like bread or milk there are ways round it that don’t involve trailing yourself to the shops. Make porridge with water and liven it up by adding some butter and sugar/peanut butter/Nutella/honey and raisins, etc. Use old bananas to make banana bread for a breakfast treat. Make omelettes using whatever fillings you have on hand. Make your own cereal bars using oats, peanut butter, dried fruit, nuts, Rice Krispies or cornflakes, golden syrup, seeds, etc.

Add sauces and crispy toppings

Macaroni cheese is a good staple when you’re running out of food. You can also omit the cheese and make a plain white sauce. Use it over chicken or just with vegetables. Top with breadcrumbs, crackers or crisps and bake in the oven. This is a good way to use up stale ingredients too, as they will crisp up again in the oven.

Change your idea of what counts as a meal

A meal is something that fills you and that hopefully tastes good. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, or always contain certain ingredients, or have three courses. Sometimes my kids appreciate the simple things best, like a peanut butter sandwich, or hotdogs, or tinned soup. You don’t have to put pressure on yourself to follow a meal plan formula when you don’t feel like it.

 

Cheap and Cheerful Pizza Sauce (40p)

A lot of people seem to buy jars of pre-made pizza sauce, which admittedly is probably less effort, but probably costs more and doesn’t taste as good. This sauce is so easy to make and goes particularly well with this pizza dough recipe: https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/bobby-flay/pizza-dough-recipe-1921714

This is the best pizza dough recipe I have found. It tastes as good as takeaway pizza and you can let the dough rise in the fridge overnight if you want to make it the day before. It also freezes really well.

Here is the recipe for sauce (I am hoping all of these measurements are accurate since I typically just throw things at a pot.)

Ingredients:

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 clove of garlic

1 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp oregano

1/4 tsp rosemary

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp oil

Throw all ingredients in a pot (apart from the oil) and simmer on a low heat for 10-15 minutes until all the flavours have combined.

Take it off the heat and stir in the oil, transfer to a blender and puree as smoothly as you like. I usually do mine in a smoothie maker and it comes out really smooth and a very vibrant colour, but you can use a blender, hand blender or if you have neither, just mash it really well 🙂 This usually makes enough sauce to top three 10 inch pizzas. (You can double the recipe to make a larger quantity.) The sauce also freezes well (just drain off any excess liquid when it defrosts before putting it on the pizza.)

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For a really quick pizza use this on pittas, grilled muffins, bagels or make pizza toast for kids 🙂

 

 

Frugal Family Things: Card-Makimg with Kids

Frugal Family Things: Card-Making with Kids

I always thought of card-making as an expensive hobby, since there is such a vast range of materials and if you choose to buy fifty unusual stampers for £1 each, it quickly mounts up to a hefty total. My mum used to be incredibly generous with her supplies, trusting us with her hot glue guns and showing us how to emboss, but we were probably well past the age of considering craft materials edible (which my younger child isn’t; she particularly enjoys the taste of play doh, crayons and paper.)

I really love seeing my kids doing something creative instead of staring at a screen, but without the creativity creating stress for me. This is one of those activities where you provide the materials but aren’t required to supervise their every move.

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Here are a few tips to make card-making kid-friendly:

  • Buy materials in the poundshop. They have an amazing range of craft materials and it doesn’t matter if your kids tear them to shreds. We bought cards, envelopes, decorative paper, lots of stickers, ribbons and glue dots for just over £5.
  • Get lots of stickers. I don’t know why, but with my kids stickers become the central focus of any craft activity.
  • Make coffee, because with their hands happily occupied yours will finally be free to enjoy a cup.
  • Let it be an activity for them to experiment instead of having a fixed outcome in mind. I find that my kids hate directed crafting; they just want to do their own thing without someone bossing or over-instructing.
  • Use glue dots or a glue stick instead of liquid glue if you want a quick clean-up afterwards. Wipeable tablecloths are a good idea too.
  • Give them people to make cards for (this makes the activity last longer.) For example, my kids made thank you cards and birthday cards for friends. They enjoyed adding personalised pictures that they associate with each person. You could also do a fictional version of this activity using their favourite characters.
  • If they go off on a tangent and end up not doing anything remotely related to card-making, let them. The point is to let them come up with their own ideas, not drive yourself crazy.