Monday, April 9, 2012

Couscous: Another Inexpensive Ingredient to Stretch Your Food Budget!

Several months ago, our family was treated to a French “fine dining” experience.  It was exquisite!  On that particular night, we were served couscous as a side dish.  My family adored it AND they loved saying it!!

This week I was trying a new salmon recipe and they suggested serving couscous as a side dish.  I decided to go out on a limb and try cooking it.  (I have to admit it helped knowing what it was supposed to look and taste like in order to give me the courage to try it.)  I didn’t want to buy too much in case it didn’t go well, so I went to Winco and bought a small bag’s worth in their bulk section.  I was surprised to learn how inexpensive it was!!  Since I wasn’t familiar with HOW to cook it, I looked it up on and scrolled through their recipes until I came across one where I already had the spices at home.  After reading the instructions, I was struck at how ridiculously EASY and FAST it was to prepare!!
This is my small bag of UNCOOKED Couscous....It more than doubles in size later!
(Its a bit like rice, but in the shape of little balls)
Basically add spices to the water.  Boil.  Add couscous and remove from heat and wait 5 minutes.  Easy huh?
The more I thought about it, each cultural ethnic group seems to have their own inexpensive ingredients that can be made into hundreds of exquisite dishes!!  IF I were to incorporate all the different kinds of inexpensive ways to cook from lots of different cultures—not only would we have a lot of variety in our diet, but our cultural awareness would grow!!
In one of my favorite organizational books of all time, “Confessions of an Organized Housewife” by Denise Schofield she has a section on meal planning and preparation.   I have found her advice to be true and I have adopted it as MY philosophy. 

Meals should fulfill 4 goals:
1.       Nutritious
2.       Fit into an established budget
3.       Please the family
4.       Fit into your time & energy limits

This idea of inexpensive ingredients can go a long way into stretching a food budget.  I use rice, beans, potatoes, bread, and pasta as “fillers”.  In other words, I use these inexpensive ingredients in combination with other things, so that the more expensive items will go farther and last longer!!
Back to this culturally diverse idea….I know there are plenty of cultures out there that I don’t know much about--particularly about their food.  Here's a list to get your thoughts stewing.  So this is NOT an exhaustive list.  It is more like the tip of the iceberg of possibilities.
·         Italy-- pasta & bread
·         Ireland-- Potatoes
·         France-- Couscous
·         Oriental—Rice
·         Hispanic—Rice & Beans
I personally have a large collection of recipes using rice, beans, potatoes, and pasta….I am excited to add couscous to the list of inexpensive ingredients to make thousands of dishes.  I wonder how many different ways there are to cook it….

I wonder what other cultures use for inexpensive dishes….I’ve noticed there have been a few people from other countries look at my blog.  I am really hoping they will leave a comment or two.  I would love to learn more!!
Happy stretching pennies...

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Preschool for FREE...OR on a budget

Preschool can be expensive.  A friend of mine went “hunting” for a preschool for her son for this next school year.  I was amazed at the monthly rates she encountered.  They ranged from $145-$250. WOW!!

 There are other options. 
1.       Check to see if you are zoned for an Even Start Preschool OR Early Childhood Development Preschool.  They are typically free.  (We have 2 of these in our town.)  My 2 older children attended these programs and I was really impressed with what they did. 
2.       If your district doesn’t have a free Early Childhood Development program in your neighborhood, consider checking out an “Early childhood Development Center” for your entire city.  There are 2 ways to get into this type of program.  Most of their students are where the kids are behind their peers in 2 areas such as emotional, physical or speech.  They are required to have a peer model for every so many students.  A “peer model” is a child who is above average for their peer group, particularly in speech.  Before they will accept a peer model, they will TEST your child to see if they are an eligible candidate.  In our town, the program is superb and those spots are quickly filled.  A friend of mine, whose child is in the program, is a big fan.  They even have picked up her children on the preschool school bus to bring them to preschool.
3.       If these first 2 options do not fit your needs, or interests…consider starting a “Fun School” with your friends.
My 3rd child is my only child at home now and I felt strongly that he needed MORE academic and social interaction.  I had been working on things with him individually, but I really felt like he needed to have a classroom-like setting to learn with his peers.  Last summer, I started inquiring which of my friends were interested in creating a “Fun School”.  I wanted to have stability or routines in my own life….so I was looking for people who were OK with an “assigned day”.  I feel lucky that I had 2 friends who were totally on board with the weekly assigned day for preschool at their house—with the mother being the teacher for that day.  I truly have enjoyed teaching the boys their alphabet (and sounds of the letters), #’s, colors, and basic science principals.
 I’ll be honest and say that I attempted doing a “Fun School” with my daughter 5 years ago for the year before she started the Early Development Preschool.  It was intimidating and I felt inadequate.  I didn’t have the resources and I had SO much going on in my personal life that researching for a weekly lesson was too much for me.  (My husband was in graduate school, while working full time and my newborn son had some MAJOR medical issues at the time.)  I ended up quitting the “Fun School” half way through the year, feeling terrible for backing out on my friends—even if it was the best situation for me.
Hindsight is always 20/20 and I wish I had had the resources I have now…back then.  Thus, this is the background for this post about these great resources that I use to put together my weekly preschool lesson.  It has made planning fun…and easy.
Here are my favorite PRESCHOOL websites:
Happy Stretching Pennies...AND educating your cute preschoolers!