Planning meals for a year

adellabedella_usaJanuary 21, 2010

Here's an article/video that popped up on Yahoo today. It's about a lady who has planned her meals for a year in advance to cut costs. I'd do some things differently like use less prepackaged foods and add in a few flex days, but overall, I think she is headed in the right direction. I thought maybe it would inspiration for people looking for new ideas.

Also, check out how she has a list of ideas to use the different meats in the video. I always think a meal plan using up one days leftover cooked meat is a great way to plan meals and minimize waste.

Here is a link that might be useful: Meals for a year

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Thanks for sharing the link. Pretty interesting. I could help her save even MORE money by ditching the convenience foods and teaching her about storing INGREDIENTS and how to make your OWN convenience foods.

This is a common method taught in Home Food Storage to assure you maximize your stored food. Books like "Simply Stored Meals" - or Eat Healthy Eat Simply - by Eleanor C. Jensen, OR "Food Storage 101 - Where Do I Begin?" by Peggy Layton, are great guidelines.

Check the link below - Utah State University Cooperative Extension for "A Management Plan for Home Food Storage" by Rebecca Low and Georgia C. Lauritzen.

(Who has gone from a $50/week food budget for 2 adults, to $75 every TWO weeks - AND has 6-months worth of pantry foods and 1-3-years worth of food in the Emergency Long-Term Food Storage - ALL purchased on that budgeted amount.)

Here is a link that might be useful: A Management Plan for Home Food Storage

    Bookmark   January 21, 2010 at 7:38PM
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I saw that piece on Yahoo also and thought about posting it here, but you beat me to it! I liked looking at her menus for ideas.

I am back and forth on the planning ahead thing. Most months I plan ahead, but every so often I don't. I usually plan 4 dinners each week for a month at a time. Right now, I have only been planning Jan by the week. I prefer to have it planned out by the month. I don't think by the year would work well because I plan different types of meals depending on our schedule. On days we have evening activities, I plan for quick and easy. On days I'll have more time, I plan more complex meals.

I also like to cook portions in advance. For instance, I often only use 1/2 pound of ground beef in my meal, but I cook it all and freeze half, already cooked. That makes a meal like spaghetti come together so fast when the meat is already cooked!

Grainlady--you always have good ideas! Thanks for the link to the organization page!

I've been living in a rental house for the last 4.5 months. Knowing I'll be moving into our permanent home in about 5 weeks, I'm starting to think about stocking up again. I had a pretty good stock before we moved here, but started using it up so there wouldn't be so much to move! The new house will have a large kitchen pantry and additional food storage in the basement, so I'm preparing to start buying larger quantities at the sales again!

    Bookmark   January 22, 2010 at 3:16PM
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Thanks for the link grainlady!

Miscindy, were're doing the same thing you are. I started stocking up last year with the intent to start making even more "from scratch" meals. Of course, Murphy's law kicked in and we decided to sell our old house and build a new one. Most of my organizing and planning went out the window. We've been eating out more because we've had to be out and about looking at things for the house. We're closing on the new house next week so I look forward to planning and stocking up again. I'm working on using the contents of the refrigerator/freezer. If I can get that cleaned out without much waste, then I'm happy. I've used the majority of the canned goods that we brought here. I will be stocking up again as soon as I can. I'd like to get back to having at least weekly menus. Right now, I can only buy a few days worth of food at a time because my schedule is so awkward. The refrigerator/freezer in this apartment is not adequate. I can't even store a frozen pizza in it.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2010 at 3:52PM
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When you are stocking up with things like flour, dried beans etc do you freeze the item before storage or just accept the grain bugs that are in the items. I seem to still get both grain bugs and moths even after freezing for a week or longer. Am using supposedly air tight containers. Purchased different type today to see if it makes any difference.

Other than staples I prefer to shop the specials so planning for a year is definately out for me.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2010 at 7:49PM
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I freeze all flour, pasta and the like. If it doesn't come in a sealed plastic liner it's pretty much going to go into the freezer or in a cooler in the garage in the wintertime. I'm even wary of paper products. I've seen enough of the back rooms at stores to take the chance of roaches or other critters invading my house.

Cutting waste is a big savings. And a great place to start. When people take on big projects it can be overwhelming and easy to lose track.

I keep a pantry of items so I can eat if I get snowed in or something. I used to do some meal planning and it really does help. I'd always try to leave some wiggle room for days I didn't feel up to cooking so maybe it'd be hot dogs or leftovers.

I always enjoy Grainlady's posts and links. A lot of things she does, I simply couldn't for a variety of reasons but again it's a reminder of the philosophy of frugalness and applying it to best serve you. Your mindset makes a big difference.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2010 at 11:42PM
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ALL food in our home is purchased within a budgeted amount; that's the first and BEST way to save. Food is typically purchased at the lowest possible price. The second way to save is to purchase INGREDIENTS, not pre-packaged convenience foods. For every "hand" that it takes to make and package your food, the costs go up. I also stick to whole foods, which are Nature's original "FAST FOODS". Planning WHAT you eat is secondary, not key, to the money-saving thing, at least the way I do it. Like I said in my original post in this thread, I could save this family even more money based on the food choices I saw in the pantry.

I do home food storage (big-time) and "shop" at home for meals. I started by using $5/week for home food storage until I have a fully-stocked home. We have recently switched to more freeze-dried veggies and fruits and wonder how I lived without them. Better tasting than canned, high in nutrition, easy-to-use, less waste because you don't pay for water in cans that goes down the drain and you can make as little or as much as you need.

I store a large quantity of grains/beans/seeds and mill all our flour. Since wheat has all the fiber and nutrients available, and has a 30-year storage life, while commercial white flour has a 6-12 month storage time at room temperature and 2-years in the freezer, and has little to offer nutritionally, I choose wheat.

All the things I can make with commercial flour I can make with wheat, but all the things I make with wheat I CAN'T make with flour, so wheat brings not only superior nutrition, but a huge number of ways to prepare it. I make my own cracked wheat and bulgar, wheat grass and wheat sprouts, homemade farina (Cream of Wheat cereal), wheat flakes, just to mention a few things I make with wheat.

Freeze-dried, home-dehydrated, and powdered foods also play a part in food savings, and don't forget the garden!

Our diet is based on the old "Basic-4" Food Groups so we consume a wide variety of foods each meal. It's more than enough calories for us, and seems to be more than enough food. The Food Pyramid is too heavy on carbs. for us. So our daily intake of foods looks like this.

Bread/Cereal - 4 servings (all wholegrain)
Fruits & veg. - 4 servings (or more)
Meat/Meat Alternative - 2 servings
Milk - 2 servings

What I do is a generalization for meal planning which allows me more flexibility and creativity (which equals using up what's on-hand - LOL). I can move these meals around or eliminate them entirely without messing up the whole thing because the meal basics are already located in home food storage in one form or another.

Monday - BIG Meal
Includes a large cut of meat and all the trimmings (roast beef, chicken or turkey; meat loaf, etc.). The large cut of meat is used for several other meals, possibly the base for soup, sandwich meat for lunches, and some for the freezer. The portions that are frozen may be brought out on another Monday so cook once - utilize more than one meal. I only have the freezer on my refrigerator, not a free-standing freezer, so I use that space very wisely. Thank goodness for a FoodSaver vacuum sealer.

-Tuesday - Leftovers
May, or may not, take on a completely different look than the day before.

Wednesday - Stir-fry
I incorporate some veggies I chopped for the previous 2 days of meals, might use some of the meat, maybe some cooked rice. I have bags of frozen home-grown bell peppers and onions already sliced for stir-fry. Garden produce is incorporated in-season. I pre-cook beef and chicken bargains when I bring it home from the store and pack it in the freezer for stir-fry, and the same meat can be used in a dinner salad on Sunday, or in a wrap on Saturday.

-Thursday - International
Usually means something Mexican, Italian, or Asian. Tortillas or taco shells (homemade), pasta (can be homemade), rice. Almost any kind of meat is used - so those leftovers from Monday that are put in the freezer are often utilized. Ground beef/turkey/bison, refried beans are already available in home food storage. I mill pinto beans into flour and can make "instant" refried beans in 7-minutes. Spaghetti sauce and seasoned ground beef (aka taco meat) made and frozen in user-friendly amounts.

Friday - Vegetarian
A good way to save on the food budget since meat is the high-priced item, and use lower-costing meat alternatives - beans, eggs, gluten... I keep a stack of homemade bean burgers in the freezer, along with homemade multi-grain burger buns for a Q&E vegetarian meal.

Saturday - Soup and/or Sandwich
Soup/stew/chili is homemade and stored in single-serving amounts in the freezer. I make soup mixes with home-dehydrated veggies and home-milled bean flour. I can make split pea soup in 3 minutes. "Sandwiches" are all kinds of things from wraps, grilled on homemade breads of all kinds, and I include quesadillas in the "sandwich" category (using homemade whole wheat tortillas).

Sunday - Homemade pizza, or a dinner salad.
A great way to use up bits of meat and veggies. I make the pizza sauce from dried tomato powder - a wonderful pantry staple that has eliminated cans of pizza sauce, tomato sauce/paste, and spaghetti sauce from the shelves. The dinner salad is popular when the garden is in full swing.

Breakfast and lunches pretty well are standard fare, but all incorporate a number of servings from the Basic-4.


    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 9:35AM
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Grainlady, storing dehydrated foods - more info please. Those items that I might dehydrate, I can put into smaller containers. Is this where you use your FoodSaver? But how long do they keep? Also, I had looked into buying freeze-dried foods, but again they are in large containers. Do the foods in large containers continue to keep once opened?

I want to get a dehydrator, especially for fruits, because those in the local stores are sugared.

Milling beans? Could you give a recipe for your refried beans and split pea soup?


    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 11:50AM
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The best storage for home-dehydrated foods is in an oxygen-free container. For me, that's a canning jar (pints and quarts) with a FoodSaver vacuum-sealed canning lid on them for oxygen-free storage. When these foods move from storage to pantry use, I'll replace the lid with a FoodSaver Universal Lid, which is easier to open and reseal during use. I like using jars for storage so you can see if there is any moisture accumulating in the jar, or if there is any mold growing. Neither thing you want to happen to your foods in storage.

Store in a cool, dry, dark place. Recommended storage times for dried foods range from four months to one year. Most dried fruits can be stored for one year at 60F (longer if you vacuum-seal it), but only six months at 80°F. Vegetables have about half the shelf-life of fruits. Since I have limited space in my freezer, I often purchase frozen veggies when they are on sale and dehydrate them. You can do the same with frozen fruit.

Another storage option is to freeze dehydrated foods, if you have the freezer space, which will keep them longer. In fact, there is a "new" method called DEHYDROFREEZING. Using this method you remove about 70% of the moisture, but you MUST store the food in the freezer to prevent bacteria growth. The benefits of this method are the fruits and vegetables have good flavor and color, and they reconstitute in about half the time it takes for traditionally dried foods. They also take up less space in the freeze than whole foods.

Freeze-dried foods are mainly in my 3rd layer of Food Storage - Emergency Long-term Storage. When these foods are rotated into the pantry, I place them in large storage jars (various kinds and sizes) and use a FoodSaver Universal Lid so I can store them oxygen-free. This is the best way I've found to keep/use them. A can of freeze-dried corn or peas will have 20-22 1/2-cup servings in it. There IS a learning curve when it comes to using freeze-dried foods. They rehydrate in less time than dehydrated, and are nearly like fresh when rehydrated.

For more information about dehydrating, check out this link:

I also love the book: "Making & Using Dried Foods" by Phyllis Hobson. Which includes recipes for using your dried foods.

A great book for using bean flour is "Country Beans" by Rita Bingham. You can find a few recipes from the book, including ones you are interested in, at these links:


    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 2:10PM
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Do you make your own tomato powder? I saw a suggestion for drying tomatoes and then powdering on the food network. I wondered at the time if you could add herbs when you powdered it. Have your tried adding them together when making the powder? Some herbs would make it too strong but others like summer savory would make a nice warm soup in the winter.

I grow most of my herbs other than rosemary so I have them available but am not a great fan of dried ones.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 9:41PM
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maifleur -

I dehydrate tomatoes, but never made tomato powder. I have seen the instructions on line for doing so. The tomatoes would have to be VERY crispy before you pulverize them. I'd only store them in small quantities to make sure they didn't mold. You could also skin and seed tomatoes, mix in a blender and make a tomato slurry. Using fruit leather sheets, spread the tomato slurry on the sheets and dry until set. Remove the sheets, and place the tomato leather directly on the drying racks of the dehydrator and dry until CRISP. Then run through a blender or food processor. I wouldn't think the homemade tomato powder as consistent an ingredient as commercially prepared. The processes are entirely different for making it.

Check out The Spice House tomato powder. You can get a 1/2-cup for under $4 plus shipping. That would be enough to give you a good sampling of things you can use it for.

For pizza sauce I use 3 t. tomato powder and 3 T. water, plus herbs, a shot of agave nectar (or honey) and vinegar - and anything else I decide to try.

Personal preference - I'd leave the tomato powder one ingredient and add herbs to taste (fresh or dried) in whatever you are making with it, rather than mixing herbs with tomato powder. Otherwise you limit it's use. I purchase tomato powder in a #10 can, and once open, I vacuum-seal it in 1/2-pint canning jars for use. I store the one in-use in the refrigerator with a moisture absorbing silicon "pillow" in it to keep it free-flowing.


    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 6:23AM
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Grainlady, thank you, I have saved your post. I also have saved a few other posts including your recipe for storing sweet potatoes! You are a wealth of information! Thank you for being so generous in sharing.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 1:15PM
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I am very frugal. I am an excellent cook. I cook from scratch. I shop very carefully from menus I carefully prepare every two weeks taking into account local sales, time of year, etc. I waste nothing. I like to be prepared and keep a well-stocked pantry. If a group of five or ten people calls me right now and wants to come for dinner, I would fly into action and feed them a feast without having to go to the store. But I don't have a bunker mentality. I can't imagine having a year's supply of food taking up space and tying up money in my bunker. I feed three of us (Hub, me, and our 25 yo vegetarian dtr who has been living with us since Sept, until she returns to SKorea Feb 21) on about $90 to $100 a week. We eat a lot of fresh produce in our house.

Just having a calendar with dinners on it doesn't take into account leftovers or the lack of them. Or illnesses, company, what's on sale, or just plain old life in general. She still needs to grocery shop for fresh fruits, vegetables, bread and dairy. Or, with all the boxed junk she has on that list, maybe she doesn't. So what's her point?

I have a friend who lives her life squeezing every penny. She probably has a huge pile of money in her stockpile. She is a well-paid professional person, married to an extremely well-paid man. I cannot help but wonder what her point is, either. She says only that that's how they like to live. I don't consider the way I live my life, with travel, an occasional matinee, good food, a waste. Yet that is how she views it.

To each his own.


    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 1:27PM
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I never planned meals a month or a year ahead in my life. I may plan a few days ahead or even a week, but that's about it. We always ate just as cheaply and as good.

We have a freezer and when meat goes on sale we stock up. It is taken out of the store packages and wrapped in mealsized portioms labelled with the date and contents and frozen. When new meat goes in the freezer the older packages are removed, the new stuff put in and the older put on top. If you keep the freezer organized things never go bad. I buy pork loin roasts and cut them into chops. I buy roasts and cut them into steaks or stewing beef. You get the same meat but in a roast they are usually cheaper especially if bought on sale. Sometimes I grind my own hamburger. I get better hamburger and it's cheaper. Hamburger stacks nicely in the freezer if put in a ziplock bag and flattened with the palm of your hand.

I buy whole chickens and cut them up--the bonus is you have a carcass for soup or stew. Turkeys are usually cheap especially at the holidays. I'd buy a couple of extras and cut then up too. I'd leave the breast whole and roast it--one meal--cut up what's left use it for sandwiches or freeze for hot turkey later and use some to make turkey ala king or a casserole.. The legs would get separated into thighs and drumstick and get the same treatment as the breasts at a later date.

Most of our vegetables come from our garden and are canned or frozen. I freeze my vegetables on cookie sheets then put them in large bags after they are frozen. I used to buy flour in the 10 pound bag but now with just the 2 of us it lasts too long so I've gone to smaller bags. I don't do near the baking I used to do. I buy noodles and rice the same way on sale and stor in airtight containers.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2010 at 6:38PM
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I plan my meals anywhere from 5 to 10 days in advance. I shop in (what I call) the "whoops we butchered too much" department at the grocery stores. Meats that are near expiration date are marked down anywhere from 35% to 75% off.

For some reason, cut up chicken parts when they are on sale here are cheaper than whole chickens so I never buy whole chickens.

All that goes into the freezer, separated into reasonable serving sizes if needed. Then, when I'm near the end of my last plan, I go into the freezer, remove about three items for defrosting into the fridge, and plan out the next several days based on what's defrosting and what fresh produce I have. I also buy produce based on what's on sale.

Chicken or a roast takes longer to defrost than ground beef which might take longer than steak or fish, so I schedule my meals accordingly. I also throw in at least a couple of vegetarian meals per week. And leftovers play a big role. The leftovers of a given meal either get tacked on to the end of the current plan or they go into the freezer and get figured into a plan a few weeks later.

I stay flexible so if I feel like cooking Wednesday's meal on Sunday, I do. If the chicken isn't fully defrosted by the day it's supposed to get cooked, I switch around.

Since I started doing this, not only have I saved money, but I've also eliminated the "I don't feel like cooking" syndrome that drove us to eat out or eat junk food sometimes. I think so much of the avoidance of the kitchen was due to the fact that I just didn't know what I was going to cook that night. In addition, the planned "leftovers" nights gives me a nice break occasionally which rejuvinates me for the next day.

I think a too far reaching plan is counter productive. I plan based on what's cheap. I can't possibly predict what's going to be cheap months in advance.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2010 at 1:48PM
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I fed a family of 3 on $35/week for a year. No eating out. There's no way that I could have done that with a year-long menu.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 7:07AM
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grainlady, Could you please provide instructions for making bulgur? Or a link to online instructions?


    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 11:41AM
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There is more than one way, be sure to try several to find a method you like.

Method #1- "The Amazing Wheat Book" by LeArta Moulton

Wash the whole-kernel wheat in cool water, then discard water.

Place wheat in medium saucepan and enough water to cover wheat (about 2-inches).

Bring to boil. Turn heat off, let rest 1-2 hours. Add more water if needed and bring to boil again, then let rest another 1-2 hours.

Drain and dry out in 200°F oven until VERY dry. It can also be dried in dehydrator.

Method #2:

Sprout 3 cups (soft) wheat (using any sprouting method you like). Rinse 2-3 times a day. They will be ready in 3-4 days, when the tiny sprout is a maximum length of 1/4 inch.

Drain the sprouts well, spread on a cookie sheet and set in a warm oven or dehydrator, no more than 150°F. Dry over night or until the berries are well dried.

For both methods --- Grind coarsely in a blender. Sift out the flour. Store the bulgur in an airtight container in your refrigerator or freezer.
Some "experts" suggest using soft wheat, others say to use durum wheat for making bulgur. I've made it with all kinds of varieties of wheat, as well as spelt and kamut.

You might enjoy the link below for recipes using bulgur.


    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 3:47PM
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Thanks very much, for the quick response and for the PDF link with all those recipes!

We love to cook and bake, and happened to find a like-new, in-the-box Country Living Grain mill in a thrift store a few years ago. We paid $22 for it. At the time I had no idea that new ones sell for over $400!

Anyway, we love it! We've been buying hard winter wheat 10# at a time from our local food co-op and grinding into flour for bread.

But we do want to expand to other things. I had never thought of making our own bulgur until I saw your post. Thanks again! I'm going to give it a try. Seems easy enough, do you sprout wheat like alfalfa in a regular multi-level sprouter? Or in a mason jar, more like you would sprout larger beans?

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 12:22PM
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cryptandrus -

What a GREAT price for a Country Living Grain Mill!!! Lucky, lucky YOU!!!

I have several "sprouters" and often use them, but tend to use a quart jar (old habits) - so use whatever you have. I have lids for canning jars designed for sprouting (comes in 3 sizes of holes), but a jar and cheese cloth held on with a rubber band works just fine. That's how I started sprouting 30+ years ago.

I do follow new recommendations for sprouting to aid in preventing bacteria growth. I use acidified water (1 t. CITRIC acid to 1-quart water) for the soaking water, as well as the rinse water (for each rinse).

I sprout the grain, dry it, and then mill it as needed. I keep the sprouted/dried grain in a FoodSaver vacuum-sealed jar until I need to mill it.


    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 1:26PM
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Thanks for the heads-up about citric acid... I'm pretty sure I even have some on hand.

(I hope we didn't hijack this thread too much!)

Thanks for sharing your excitement over my grain mill find.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 2:48PM
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Let me try that link again

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 2:51PM
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Grainlady, as always, I'm so impressed by all the information you have shared here. You have taught me a great deal over the years that I have been reading your posts, and I'm grateful that you take the time to share information with all of us.

I am one of those persons who is frugal but not because I have to be, though that wasn't the case when I first started my "journey into frugality". It is, however, the reason I don't have to worry about money now. It is a way of life for me. Money is a resource and I do not believe in squandering it unnecessarily just because I have it. We all, however, have our priorities and I accept that some folks have different ones than I do.

I sure wish you'd talk more about Food Saver vacuum jar lids. I'm not sure I understand how they work. As I understand it, there's a hole in the special jar lids that the vacuum pump snaps onto, to remove the air. And then the hole has some kind of baffle, I guess, to keep the vacuum? I have priced vacuum lids and they seem to be pretty expensive. Can you point me in the right direction and give some tips on this? I have a dehydrator and I want to make some of my own zucchini chips per your recommendation on another thread. Plus I'd like to try dehydrating cabbage because it doesn't can well unless it's made into sauerkraut, and it takes up a LOT of room in the freezer.

I have been kind of afraid to store dehydrated foods in ziplock bags unless I freeze them, because of the bug infestation that caused me to lose several gallon bags of dried banana slices several years ago. I've been buying half-gallon sized jars that take a regular-sized canning jar lid at garage sales in preparation for dried food storage. I know that light is an issue so do you do something to combat that? Would covering the outside of the jar work, such as a coat of dark paint or a cloth cover with a drawstring around the neck or maybe a section of black leaf bag taped around it? Or do you just have a dark cabinet that you keep your dried food jars in?

I never knew that about using citric acid in sprouting. I tried to sprout some mung beans and no matter how many times I rinsed, there was still that spoiled smell so that eventually I just gave up and put them in the compost. You use citric acid in your whole wheat bread recipe too. Do you have a good, reasonably priced source for citric acid?

Once again, thanks for sharing with us. You have many fans and I am one. Keep up the good work and know there are many of us who are interested in what you have to say.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2010 at 10:10AM
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Hijacking away.... More to the point, a good meal plan will use many of the things in this discussion in order to save even MORE money on groceries. It's not all about a box of Rice-A-Roni and a pile of hamburger in your freezer and knowing which day of the week you will serve it.

Ilene-in-neok, later today when I get my thoughts together, I'll start a separate thread about dehydrating and using a FoodSaver for preservation. I'll have to go over some of the things I teach in classes.


    Bookmark   February 8, 2010 at 7:26AM
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Sorry about the hijacking thing. I'll go look at the Meals for a Year video. I tend to go down to the freezer and look for something interesting the day before I cook the meal. I don't know if I have the level of concentration to stick to an annual meal plan.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 4:14PM
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Hijack away. I'm learning new things.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 4:33PM
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