Textured Vegetable Protein? No, thanks.

Question: When you think of “vegetable” what images come to mind? Personally, I picture carrots, onions, celery, leafy greens, tomatoes on the vine- that sort of thing. When manufacturers name something veggie or vegetable derived, they know this is the image we conjure up and market their products accordingly. Marketing is all about creating the right image.  Anything marked vegetable is healthy, right? One would think…

Well now, imagine my surprise upon learning that vegetable oil, for example, wasn’t made from the typical garden produce as the picture on the bottle hinted. Vegetable oil is soybean oil.

Yeah, um… I don’t see any pictures of soybeans on those bottles.

Mazola Vegetable Oil

So, considering what we know about vegetable oil I should have suspected the true origin of textured vegetable protein and steered clear, but I didn’t. And we ate it. This matters to me because, a few years ago, a wise healthcare provider suggested that I try cutting soy out of my diet to see if it would help control my raging hormones, since soy effects estrogen levels. It was in taking a closer look at my diet that I realized just how much of that particular vegetable we’d been consuming. The realization briefly made me want to become a soybean farmer because that stuff is in just about everything.

So, soy. I’ve avoid it for the past 3 years and am happier & healthier for it. Most noticeably, my acne has disappeared and stayed away, menstrual cycle became regular, mood swings and depression no longer have me in a stranglehold, and major pit odor is a thing of the past. I love being a girl! Which brings me to my recent use of textured vegetable protein and subsequent elimination of that item from the pantry.  Forever.

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I was SO exited to find TVP in the bulk foods section of my grocery store and use it to stretch our ground beef.  I re-hydrated the freeze dried granules with hot water or broth and some tomato sauce along with whatever seasonings I liked for each particular dish. After soaking for a few minutes I’d cook it right in the pan with raw meat. The result was a seemless addition that even my husband couldn’t detect which tripled the amount of beef I had cooked. That’s right, instead of one meal from a pound of hamburger we got 3! I loved this stuff.

After two weeks of using it though, I was experiencing some unpleasant things like the return of acne and serious mood swings as well as upset stomach that just wouldn’t go away. So, I finally got around to looking into just what textured vegetable protein is… and was extremely disappointed. According to Bob’s Red Mill, one of the producers of this product,

“Textured Vegetable Protein is made from defatted soy flour that has been cooked under pressure and then dried.”

TVP

Nothing against Bob, I love his products, but that doesn’t sound good. Think about how much that (GMO?) soybean has  to go through to become this little protein packed nugget and the term “highly processed” comes to mind. I should have researched before trying something like this however, part of me just didn’t want to hear anything bad about my new favorite pantry staple. Oh, the shame- I’m guilty of willful ignorance to save a buck!

I haven’t used TVP in a week now and am seeing my unpleasant symptoms steadily decline. I usually use rice to stretch my beef and will continue to use that though would like to also try wheat berries and quinoa as alternatives. What tricks do you use to add extra nutrition and/or stretch the food dollar? I would love to hear some of your creative ideas! Thanks for reading 🙂

 

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Saving Money on Diapers: Name Brand vs. Generic

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There’s a significant price difference between brand name and generic disposable diapers. I’ve done a price comparison of 5 national diaper brands to illustrate the savings. All prices are Wal-Mart’s and all counts are for a size 6, which our son currently wears.

I came up with the yearly total based on the number of diapers we use a week times 52 weeks rounded to the nearest hundred: 2400. I divided that number by the count per box then multiplied the price of each box by 52 to get the annual estimated totals. These parameters give us an example of the considerable price differences among brands. Save money, buy generic.


Large Package

  • Huggies Snug & Dry: 100 ct., $34.97 (34¢/diaper) =$827 
  • Parent’s Choice: 92 ct., $19.77 (21¢/diaper) = $514
  • Up + Up: 120 ct., $28.99 (24¢/diaper) =$579
  • Pampers Baby Dry: 128 ct., $45.60 (36¢/diaper) = $866
  • Luvs: 112 ct., $31 (28¢/diaper)= $682

Medium Package

  • Huggies Snug & Dry: 64 ct., $20.97 (33¢/diaper) =$796
  • Parent’s Choice: 60 ct., $13.97 (23¢/diaper) = $558
  • Up + Up: 60 ct., $16.99 (28¢/diaper) =$679
  • Pampers Baby Dry: 64 ct., $24.94 (39¢/diaper) = $947
  • Luvs: 54 ct., $15.97 (30¢/diaper)= $718

Small Package

  • Huggies Snug & Dry: 23 ct., $8.97 (39¢/diaper) =$941
  • Parent’s Choice: 23 ct., $5.97 (26¢/diaper) = $626
  • Up + Up: 23 ct., $6.99 (30¢/diaper) =$733
  • Pampers Baby Dry: 21 ct., $8.97 (43¢/diaper) = $1,031
  • Luvs: 21 ct., $6.97 (33¢/diaper)$801

I think that a lot of people don’t consider the cheaper brands of diapers because they assume that the quality must be sub-par. Truth be told, some store brands are junk. For example, I can vouch for the fact that the Parent’s Choice brand (sold at WalMart) used to be total garbage several years ago when we were diapering our first baby. However, since then they’ve redesigned and are now comparable to Huggies in fit and absorbency much like the Target Up + Up brand. Parent’s choice is the brand we use because it happens to fit our son well, Target’s didn’t. Luvs is way too perfumey so I skip those as well. Every brand has a different fit so I say,  give a few generics a tryout to find a good fit for your baby and your wallet. Your homemaker paycheck could get a raise of several hundred bucks a year!

Copycat Rice-a-roni

Whenever I’ve bought a box of Rice-a-roni or Hamburger Helper and cooked it up for dinner my family is like, “Oh, man this is so good! You should make this all the time! I love this stuff!” Prepackaged, sodium-filled, preservative-ridden food is their favorite. I can’t blame them, it is delicious. My Mom conscience, however, won’t allow me to feed them crap on a regular basis so I try to make the things they like from scratch instead. I can make more for less and it will have fewer ingredients which quiets my inner critic that nags me to feed them all natural, BPA free, non-GMO, sustainable organic, whole foods at every meal. I strive for not fast-food and usually succeed, so pipe down inner critic.

Tonight I’m making my homemade version of Beef Rice-a-roni but I also do this recipe with chicken which is the same method but substituting chicken breast and chicken broth for the beef. Everything else is the same.


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Homemade Hamburger Rice

Serves 6-8 plus leftovers. We love leftovers.

  • 1-2 lbs. ground beef, browned & drained
  • 5 1/4 -1/2 C beef broth (I mix up some bouillon)
  • 4 T butter, margarine or oil
  • 3 Cups white rice
  • 1 pkg vermicelli

    Toasting the rice & pasta

Brown  & drain your beef then set aside or, you can take a page from my book and pull your pre-cooked ground beef out of the fridge or freezer ready to go. Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add uncooked rice and vermicelli and stir frequently to toast until you can smell the roasty toasty buttery goodness and start to see pieces of rice & pasta turn golden. Add the beef and broth and stir to combine. Bring to a boil then cover and reduce heat to low. Let cook without opening or stirring for 20 minutes or until rice is tender. Serve.

Note: I use a 12″ deep-sided skillet with a lid for this recipe. If you don’t have one this recipe can be halved and made in a smaller skillet. The vermicelli I use can usually be found in the Hispanic foods section of the grocery store. 

Butter Wrappers, Cereal Bags & the Income of a Homemaker

use-it-upAs a homemaker, my “income” can be how much money I save by “making do”. I’m inspired by past generations of resourceful homemakers when it comes to making do. In WWII folks were encouraged to plant “victory” gardens and make do on rations to support the troops. We could learn a lot from those women who could feed and clothe a family with very little.

Look, I may not be cashing a pay check anymore but I’m also not spending anywhere near as much as I did back then. I can’t walk and chew bubblegum, that’s to say I kind of suck at multitasking anymore than necessary… so if I was working, we’d spend more money just buying the convenience items that allow many a busy Mom to take care of her family as well as bring home the bacon. Yes that was a major run-on sentence because I also suck at writing. We’d be spending more on gas, my wardrobe, makeup, my hair (gotta look good in the office) not to mention childcare, and still take care of the home. Working Moms are amazing.

So, spend less money. That’s the goal. In order for me to stay at home with the kids, I didn’t just quit working; we didn’t just lose an income, we had to change the way we live or else it wouldn’t work. And for a while there it damn near didn’t… There are a million & one things to buy when you’re shopping for a household, especially one with kids in it. Those supplies add up and become a huge chunk of the budget because there is just so much everyone needs. So, cutting costs is the goal.

I make money by saving money and one way to achieve that is to really get your money’s worth from the items you buy; squeezing every last drop out of things and being a total cheapskate. I admit though, this lifestyle isn’t for everyone and if you don’t do as I do, that’s super! High-five! You’re doing everything you can to make a home for your family and you’re rocking it your own way. Get it girl. This is just my way. You’re all awesome. I mean it.

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In earlier posts I mentioned cutting costs by not buying cleanerspaper towels & plastic baggies. That is my mindset- what can we do without?  How can we make do? Do we really need to buy that or can we use something we already have to get the same result? In that vein, do you remember Home Ec. class? Do they still have that? I took Home Economics in the 9th grade and still remember many of the lessons from that class because I actually use those lessons in real life. One trick our teacher taught us was to use your butter wrappers to grease baking pans or griddles and I practice that to this day. I keep butter & margarine wrappers in a plastic container in the freezer to use as needed. Keep in mind that butter is a perishable and will go bad on you. So I store the wrappers in the freezer and then when I need to rub down a pan the heat of my hand thaws it immediately. Nifty, huh? After reusing a wrapper once, I finally do throw it away.

Another thing I save is the plastic bag that cereal comes in. Someone once told me they make great piping bags for frosting & stuff but that turned out to be a bust- literally. The seams on the side of the cereal bag won’t hold up to the pressure of piping which, if you think about it, makes sense. Those seams are designed to open easily so you can get the cereal out.

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So, no, to piping bags but YES to freezer bags! When I open a bag of frozen vegetables and only use part of it, a handy cereal bag is a great way to store what’s left without having frozen corn rolling all over the inside of your freezer. I seal it with a twist tie or just fold it over. Also, I use freezer bags- excuse me, cereal bags- to wrap baked goods like banana bread, meatballs, what-have-you, and freeze. If you’re a little paranoid about freezer burn (I am) then wrap the food in plastic wrap, aluminum foil  or both, first. How much money did you save this week? Well what if I told you that’s an income? Nice, huh?

Stretching the Food Dollar: Ground Beef

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Feeding our party of 5 within a budget means making the most of every food dollar. One of the things that helps achieve this goal is shopping with a strategy. As I’ve said before, I shop the weekly store ads for the best prices on meat and make a meal plan accordingly. If beef isn’t a good deal then we’ll eat chicken, turkey or pork; if it is, then I try to buy extra for the freezer. The most I’ve purchased & processed at one time is 10 pounds.

When I do bring home beef I need to extend it into as many meals as possible. Make-ahead meatballs are an awesome and easy way to do that because of the “fillers” we add and can be used in many different ways. I also brown up any we’ll need that week and store in airtight containers in the fridge. Cooking ahead stops the meat from aging in the fridge and cuts out a step for later to help get dinner made quicker. Here are my recipes & methods for processing ground beef to best advantage:


IMG_1537Depending on how much meat you’re processing, adjust ingredient amounts to suit. Personally, I rarely measure and make this recipe using anywhere from 2-5 lbs. of beef at a time. So amounts can be approximate. The seasonings are purely for taste and can be substituted with others. I’ve used leftover ramen flavor packets, onion soup mix, steak seasoning, anything I have on hand. If you don’t have one of the items listed or are a little short, make due, it’ll be fine. Go ahead, be flexible and your meatballs will turn-out whether or not you have the perfect measurements.

The deciding factor to making good meatballs is not so much in ingredients as in the size of your balls and how you cook them. I’ve found that if the balls are too small they’ll dry out no matter what and too big can give you an under-cooked surprise. Not cool. I get a perfectly moist & cooked meatball by measuring each with my trusty #60 disher scoop. Each of my meatballs is two scoops, which is about 2 tablespoons.  Meal ideas for meatballs include: with gravy & mushrooms, Swedish, with bbq sauce, with pineapple chunks & teriyaki sauce, sub sandwiches, cut in half to use as sliders, as a party snack or appetizer,  in a soup, with  marinara and mozzarella, sweet & Sour, in a Stroganoff or almost any meal that calls for ground beef. Put any of these over pasta or rice; there are just so many options!

Make-Ahead Meatballs

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  • 2 lbs. Ground Beef
  • I C precooked rice (I prefer white)
  • 2 t salt
  • 1 t pepper
  • 1/2 T onion powder
  • 2 t granulated garlic
  • 1 t Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/3 C ketchup
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 t vinegar
  • (optional) 1 T Italian seasoning

Preheat your oven to 350º and line a lipped baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and gently mix with hands just until combined taking care not to overwork the meat as that can make it tough. Portion out meatballs onto a baking sheet then form each on into a ball by hand. Bake for about 20 minutes until internal temperature reaches 160º. To freeze, cool to room temp then place in your freezer on a baking sheet for 30 -45 minutes before transferring to a freezer bag (be sure to remove as much air as possible before sealing to avoid excess frost and freezer burn). This method individually freezes each one and ensures they won’t turn into a smashed, stuck-together blob. Freeze for up to 4 months. To use after freezing, Place frozen meatballs onto a baking sheet, pie plate, etc., and place into a cold oven. Turn oven to 350º and bake for about 25-35 minutes until internal temperature has reached 165º.


I keep cooked rice in the fridge all the time ready to heat up for a quick lunch or add to a batch of ground beef. Handy thing to have on hand! If you cook your rice in beef broth it will add flavor to your meat mixtures. I like using carrot as a filler because it’s color doesn’t stand out too noticeably in the finished product and it adds an extra dose of roughage and vitamins to our diet. You can use other vegetables in addition or instead.  Adjust the onion as you like, my husband doesn’t like onion so I use very little here and mince it fine. Add up to a cup if you like! Beans are another great  filler though not as inconspicuous. Adding fillers ensures there is no loss of volume during cooking. For example, I just browned a 2.06 lb. package of meat and after this process the meat weighed in at 2.19 pounds. 

Make Ahead Browned Ground Beef

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  • 2 lbs. Ground Beef
  • 1 finely shredded carrot
  • 1/2 C minced onion
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/2 t pepper
  • 1 C cooked rice (I prefer white)

Spray a skillet with cooking spray or very lightly drizzle with oil then saute garlic & onion over medium heat for 2-3 minutes then add beef & carrot and brown. When done browning, drain fat then stir in rice, salt & pepper. Transfer to air-tight storage containers, cool slightly and store in the fridge for up to 3-4 days or freeze for up to 4 months.  You can reheat directly from freezer without thawing, especially if you froze it flat. If you froze in a container thaw ground beef for up to 24 hours in the fridge. Food safety guidelines advise that frozen foods be reheated to 165º.


Tips

Meal planning: Did you know that we really don’t need to eat meat at every meal every day? Planning  just one meatless dinner a week saves money and is a healthy habit to get into.  If you’d like to learn more on that topic, check out the website Meatless Monday for menu ideas.

Cooking with broth: I like to cook rice in broth to add flavor as a filler and my broth of choice is bouillon. I like bouillon cubes and powder because it keeps in the pantry for a long time and is a lot cheaper than stock or broth.

Browning large quantities of ground beef: One of my favorite food bloggers, Christy Jordan, has an awesome tutorial on her site for streamlining the process of handling large amounts of ground beef (like 5 lbs or more). Her method is so much faster than browning in batches! You can see that method on her site here.food scale

Kitchen tools: When buying meat in large amounts it’s so nice to be able to weigh out equal amounts to freeze. I have a digital scale that came from Costco for about $20 and use it for a lot of different things.

Another tool I wouldn’t want to be without is my disher scoop. I use it for cookie dough and meatballs and it rocks. They come in many sizes and greatly vary in price from El Cheap-o to Fancy-Schmancey. I have a cheaper model. Dishers can be found at most department stores but certainly at a restaurant or kitchen supply. 800px-Kitchen-Scooper-Small

The Dumptruck

IMG_1507When I found out we’d have a son my heart soared. I would have had the same reaction if it was a girl, but we’d already been blessed with two wonderful, sweet, exceptional little girls so a son would be completely new to us. I was so excited to start having boy stuff in our lives. Being the utterly practical person I am, I’d already been collecting the usual baby stuff we’d need from the day I found out we were expecting. We would be sure to have all the bases covered when the new one arrived. (We were starting all over after handing down our baby stuff a few years prior)

However, both my husband & I were dreaming of toy tool sets and dinosaurs scattered all over the house. We were so giddy! So the first thing I shopped for when I found out there was a little guy on the way was a Tonka dump truck. To me, this was the quintessential boy toy and our little guy had to have one. I was discouraged to find that Tonkas cost about $30-40. I was still saving up for a stroller and a crib. This wasn’t on the list of necessities so it had to wait.

About 8 months later, our little guy wasn’t yet old enough to play with a dump truck so it was still on my wish list. We got lucky one day when my Auntie gave us a dump truck that her son had outgrown. She had no idea how amazingly awesome this random hand-me-down was to me. I nearly cried (dang hormones) and Little Mr. was very happy with his new toy. IMG_7077

As he grew, this was far and away his favorite toy. He’s the kind of kid who sees a truck when we’re out driving and exclaims “A truck! Vrrrmmmmm vrrm!”. When his Daddy is working on cars in the garage, Little Dude is right beside him trying to copy his every move. He is a mini car-guy.

On our son’s second birthday, Toys ‘R Us had a BOGO sale on Little Tykes toys so we went to pick out a gift for him. I love Toys ‘R Us’ selection but not their prices. Whenever we go, I have to walk the whole store and drool over all the wonderful things we’d love to spoil our kids with. I could spend a fortune in there! On this particular day, while browsing & wishing, I came to the truck section and found the mother of all dump trucks. It was a huge, metal, construction yellow Tonka. Light began to shine from this awesome toy and a choir of angels sang- it was a religious experience. Then I saw the price tag… $55.

IMG_0159I knew I couldn’t buy it but I lusted. I stood there running my hand over the smooth, shiny yellow paint wanting so badly to get this for my little guy but, sense kept me in check. He would never miss not having it and it would cost an eighth of my grocery budget for the month. After a minute or so, I slowly moved away from the truck… but I didn’t forget. I told my husband about it and, his reaction was the same as mine. He would have loved to buy it for Mr. Man but couldn’t justify spending the money on something that wasn’t needed. We accept that we want all kinds of things but, unless it sustains us in some way that thing goes on the maybe someday section of the shopping list. Perhaps we would have bought it as his one Christmas gift.

Two months later, my husband was driving home from work, when he spotted this huge yellow toy dump truck in a vacant gravel lot near the roadside.  He had to get a closer look. It turned out to be a faded, weathered, rust spotted Tonka truck. They very one I had told him about!

When he walked into the kitchen that night I turned to greet him and he had this huge grin on his face as he hefted the toy for me to see. I squealed in delight and astonishment. You’d think the man had brought me diamonds (actually I probably wouldn’t have been this exited about diamonds). You’d think the man had brought me Taco Time Take-out. I couldn’t help it, nothing gets me more excited than getting to give our kids a little something extra. Providing for them feels so good and spoiling them feels even better.

So I immediately grabbed a dish brush and some soap and dragged it out to the hose to wash it. Dinner was bubbling away, the troops were waiting to be fed and my husband was like, “Do you have to do that right now?” “Of course I do! He’s going to want to play with it the second he sees it! I need to get the scum off!” A couple days later, Daddy is sanding and repainting the rust spots and giving the hinges & axles a little grease.  Little Dude doesn’t give a rip that his awesome new toy is used and faded. He’s just utterly in love with his dump truck. And me? I’m counting our blessings. IMG_1449 IMG_1451