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diy-oatmeal-packets

There’s just something about oatmeal for breakfast in the winter that warms my insides and makes me happy…even if it is still winter. I had been using the organic, more healthy version of oatmeal packets, and was pretty happy with the taste but not the price. I decided my next project should be sorting out making my own, as I do love making my own things. It is incredibly cost-effective and doesn’t require spending 20 minutes making a pot of oatmeal every morning!

This took a few tries to get right, but the most important thing is to start with toasted oats. I put about 6 cups of old-fashioned oats in the oven at 250 degrees for about 15 minutes. You might stir them around a little once or twice in that time to make sure nothing gets too browned. This toasting gives the oatmeal a nutty flavor like it has peanut butter in it, but without the actual nuts.

Take about half of the toasted oats and put in the food processor to blend to a flour-like consistency. This allows the oatmeal to get thicker when you cook it in the microwave or with boiling water or milk.

Now, add 4 Tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp salt and about ¾ cup flaxseed meal. I love the added benefits flaxseed bring to the oatmeal, and also the taste. I mix this up and put it in an airtight container in the pantry.

On the mornings I want oatmeal, I measure about 1/3 cup of this oat mixture in a bowl, add about 1/3 cup milk (of course, vary this depending on how thick you like your oatmeal and you could use water instead) and microwave for a minute and a half.

That’s it! So easy! You could also divvy the oat mixture up into Ziploc baggies if you want something portable to take with you to work in the morning. It’s warm, nutty, delicious and cheap—all my favorite things!

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real-food-snacks-trail-mix-snack-bags

One of my new favorite ways to make snack bags for my kids is make-your-own trail mix. I do realize this is an old trick, but it’s made me very happy recently as I can use up all sorts of random things from the pantry and still make my kids a nutritious and yummy snack.

Today, I pulled out a few things I thought would be fun together and made a mix of pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, raisins and sunflower seeds. It was a hit! The sky is the limit on prepping these bags. If you can do nuts (we can’t do nuts in the kids’ classroom so I didn’t add any here) you can throw in cashews or almonds. You can also do coconut flakes, dried apple pieces, or chocolate chips (especially if you are going to the movies—a tiny bit of candy of some kind makes it super special).

 

I prep these as my own snack bags in little Ziplocs that go in my snack box. That’s a box that lives in the pantry and contains things that the kids can pick from for snack. I often make or buy things in bulk and divvy them up into the little snack bags for grab-and-go snacks for the whole week.

Other things that work well like this are popcorn, crackers, raisins, and pretzels. It’s so much cheaper to buy a bigger bag and divide it up yourself. And if I make the kids popcorn, there is always a bunch leftover that I can throw into snack bags for the next few days. Easy, cheap and delicious!




 

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diy-fruit-leather

My latest fun project in the dehydrator is fruit leather. It is SO easy! And delicious! I took some on a hike the other day, and they are portable (something I struggle to find often in real food snacks) as well as being something the kids will actually eat and enjoy.

The possibilities for fruit combinations are endless. I have done a banana/apple, a strawberry/banana/orange, and a blueberry/banana. Keep in mind they might have different consistencies depending on how the fruits are so some will look prettier in the end than others. Some will also take way longer to dry. In my experience, go easy on the banana involved as it will take a really long time to dry if you have too much in there. I think my best mix has been one banana with strawberries and an orange.

This is the dehydrator I use, and so far I love it! I use the fruit rolls trays (they included two with mine). Whatever fruits I am combining go in the blender to be pureed. I didn’t measure for any of them (I know, shocker!) but the only variable will be that the thicker the fruit leather is, the longer it will take to dry. I would guess it was 2-3 cups of puree for those who are having anxiety thinking about not measuring.

Please don’t forget this step! Spray the fruit leather trays with some kind of oil or nonstick spray. I use my little Misto oil sprayer with olive oil. I forgot this once and I had to soak the trays overnight to try to get the fruit rolls off and had to throw the whole batch away.

Pour the puree into the fruit roll trays on top of the regular dehydrator trays, and turn it on to about 135 degrees. I let them go for about 4 hours and check to see if they are dry on top. If they are, I cut them into sections like a big pie piece and flip them over to allow the other side to dry more quickly. This takes anywhere from another 2 hours to another 10. I did a blueberry/banana combo the other day which I made too thick and put in three bananas and the thing still wasn’t really dry after 14 hours. I won’t do that again! The banana/apple one I made was too thin, I think, so it didn’t really roll as it had separated in the middle as it dried. I just pulled off the pieces, though, and they are so yummy!

You can roll these up into little fruit rolls or leave them flat. I keep them in the fridge until we want to take them somewhere—this helps them last a little longer. It is hard to make them last, though, as everyone eats them rather quickly around here!




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real-food-snacks-dried-apples

In my desire to eat more real food and fewer processed ones, I became interested in dehydrators to make jerky, dried fruit rolls, and dried apples. My first experience with a dehydrator was with one I had purchased from a garage sale for $5. It had no directions and I was too excited to look any up online, so I just went for it…and ended up melting things inside and destroying any chance of using it again!

So, for Christmas, my dad got me a new dehydrator (this one which is pretty inexpensive compared to a lot of them!), and this time, I pored over the instructions multiple times to make sure I had it right. (I sometimes learn from my mistakes.) I wanted to make fruit rolls but thought I’d start with something a little easier and do dried apple slices.

I used a mandolin to slice these apples after coring and peeling them. Quick public service message: Do not get comfortable with a mandolin ever! The thing will try to bite off your thumb.

 

I think I might just stick to slicing with a knife from now on. The slices are supposed to be about ¼” thick, but mine had large variety in slice size and it didn’t seem to matter. They won’t be as pretty as the store-bought variety, but the ones I make are literally gone within a couple of hours so the look of them doesn’t seem to matter.

I just laid out these slices on the dehydrator trays, trying not to overlap at all. Then, you pop the top on, turn it to 135 degrees and let the drying commence. I started checking them after about 4 hours, and pulled off any that were obviously dry. They aren’t supposed to have any moisture beading up when you rip one in half. I know that some recipes for these will suggest dipping them in lemon juice first to avoid discoloration, but I didn’t and really wasn’t bothered at all by the color they ended up being.

 

You can store these in the fridge to help encourage longer life and then pop them in a storage bag or lunch box when you are ready to use them. Of course, I have yet to see how long they keep as I haven’t had the opportunity to allow them time to sit—they are eaten by my family and me almost immediately. They are delicious!

 




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real-food-snacks-protein-bites

One of the hardest things for me in this journey to eat more real food has been finding snacks that are not processed and prepackaged. These little protein bites are a lifesaver in that department. My kids eat them at breakfast for a little punch of energy-rich foods, and also for snack in the afternoon. I have made them several different ways and they always seem to love them. They are easy to make, so mom loves them too!

You start with 1 cup of oats (I use these old-fashioned oats from Amazon) and 1 cup ground flaxseed. I usually add about 3 Tbsp chia seeds if I have them (did you know they have chia seeds on Subscribe and Save at Amazon?). You also need somewhere between ½ cup and 2/3 cup nut butter. I use almond butter because of my son’s peanut allergies, but you could easily use peanut butter, sunbutter, cashew butter—whatever floats your boat. Then about 1/3 cup honey.

After this, you can use what you have to round out the ingredients. This batch I made with ½ cup pumpkin seeds, ½ cup sunflower seeds, and ½ cup butterscotch chips. In the past I’ve used coconut, ground nuts, chocolate chips, and vanilla extract (make your own using this recipe).

I mix this up with my hands as I can’t get it mixed well enough with a spoon. Squish it all together for a bit and then roll into balls. (I really wanted to call these energy balls or protein balls, but there were too many giggles in my head.) Some people like to refrigerate it first and then roll it, but I prefer the texture like this. I then pop them in the fridge to let them harden up a little.

These little protein bites are tasty and healthy—they even can get you through a dessert craving when you just need a little something sweet. Use dark chocolate chips and you will really feel better about them!

 

Protein Bites

1 cup oats
1 cup ground flaxseed
3 Tbsp chia seeds
1/2-2/3 cup nut butter
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup butterscotch (or chocolate) chips

Mix together with hands and roll into balls. Refrigerate.




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making-chicken-stock-easy-way

When it comes to making soups and other dishes with chicken stock in them, I love my crock pot bone broth more than anything. It’s incredibly easy, versatile (I’ve done it with chicken and turkey bones) and time-efficient since you can do it in the slow cooker. I got this recipe from 100 Days of Real Food and use it often. I buy whole chickens from Sprouts or King Soopers usually, although Zaycon Fresh has just started offering whole chickens in addition to their other offerings, so I will have my first order of whole chickens in February. (Read more about how much I love Zaycon for meat here.)

 

So, the way I make this even easier is to prep freezer bags with the ingredients to toss in with the chicken or turkey bones. Every few months, I buy a head of celery (is it called a head? A bunch?), a bag of carrots, a bunch of parsley and a package of thyme. Then, in each freezer bag, I cut a piece of celery, a carrot, a few bits of parsley and a sprig of thyme (please don’t crush my dreams if it’s not called a sprig—somehow sprig just makes sense). I usually start with sectioning out how many pieces of celery I have and use that as a guideline for how many bags I’m making.

Chicken stock

 

When I do a whole chicken in the slow cooker, I debone the chicken and put the bones back in the pot. Then, roughly chop an onion into the crock pot, add the contents of one of your premade freezer bags, a bay leaf or two and water to just below the top of the slow cooker. Put it on low for 8-10 hours and you will have the most delicious chicken stock you can imagine.

 

I have also done this with turkey bones after Thanksgiving—just take the turkey bones in sections instead of trying to put them all in at once. I ended up making three rounds of turkey stock from my last turkey, and it is amazing!




Making Chicken Stock the Easy Way

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banana-bread-pancakes

Need a delicious and easy pancake recipe? And one that is pretty healthy to boot? How about some that taste like banana bread? (Are you sick of questions?) I make a bunch of pancakes when I do a breakfast-for-dinner night and then freeze them to use for school mornings. I throw them in the toaster and the kids love them. And I love them because they are a nutritious, homemade breakfast that can be ready in under a minute for busy mornings. Eggos are the devil! Ok, not really, but I save money by not buying premade breakfast stuff, and I know exactly what’s in them!

Banana Bread Pancakes

Before the recipe, here are a couple of things I’ve found to make my life easier in making pancakes.

  1. If you don’t have buttermilk (and I never do) put about 1 Tbsp vinegar per cup of milk in a bowl and let it sit for 5 minutes or so. This curdles the milk and boom! Buttermilk! (This also works with soy milk, but not so well with other dairy-free options.)
  2. I always toss too-ripe bananas in the freezer just whole with peels on (this is my mom’s trick). Then, you microwave them and squeeze them out of the peel to use in things like these pancakes or banana bread. So easy, and I always have a store of ripe bananas to use. Also, I never have to throw bananas away because we forgot to eat them in time!

 

Banana Bread Pancakes

Here’s the recipe:

Banana Bread Pancakes

Heat your griddle or pan. If you don’t have a griddle, check this one out—cheap and makes these big pancake sessions go so much quicker when you can do so many at a time.

 

Combine these dry ingredients in a bowl and stir with a whisk (because nobody’s got time for sifting):

-3 ½ c whole wheat pastry flour

-1/2 c ground flaxseed

-1 tsp salt

-2 Tbsp baking powder

-2 Tbsp brown sugar

-2 tsp cinnamon

-1/2 tsp nutmeg

 

Combine the wet ingredients in a bowl:

-2 cups mashed bananas (about 5 medium bananas—if you run short, just use a little applesauce to make up the rest)

-2 eggs

-1 Tbsp vanilla (yes, I love vanilla—make your own with this easy recipe)

-2 ½ c buttermilk (or vinegar/milk like I talk about above)

Add the wet to the dry and stir to incorporate. Don’t overdo it, though—pancakes don’t like too much stirring.

Add 1/3 c mini chocolate chips (you literally need just a few chips in each pancake to make this a win for kids!).

 

Take a stick of butter and swipe it across the griddle to grease it (my husband taught me this trick and it is so helpful—don’t tell him I said that). Pour about ¼ cup pancake batter for each pancake and let cook until browned on one side, then flip for the other side (I feel like this is self-explanatory, but I am an over-explainer). Enjoy!

If you are going to freeze these, allow them to cool completely and then put in freezer bags. I don’t freeze them individually on a sheet first and really never have a problem with them sticking together when frozen. Makes about 23 pancakes.

 




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homemade-apple-cider-vinegar

I used to do shots of apple cider vinegar… yikes. Not really into that anymore but I do try to use it in a lot of cooking and dressings to get the good stuff it provides without the horrible vomit feeling that followed my shot of it. I discovered this year that you can make your own apple cider vinegar and it is really inexpensive! If you are making homemade applesauce or even an apple pie, save the peels and cores for your own vinegar. It does take while, but it is so cheap! And it’s not that involved of a process—just stirring and waiting.

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So, take the peels and cores from about 10 apples (or you can use 5 whole apples if you’d rather) and put them in a gallon jar. Of course, organic apples are preferable here as you are soaking the pieces of them that would have the most pesticides. Put in enough water to cover the apples (leaving a little bit of room at the top) and then stir in 1 cup sugar. Take a piece of cheesecloth and a rubber band (or hair tie, in my case) and cover the top. Now, let it sit for about 2 weeks. Please put this in a basement or garage or somewhere you won’t mind the smell. It is very potent!

 

Homemade apple cider vinegar

Pour the hard apple cider (it’s alcoholic at this point and I may have tried a little at 10 AM–in the interest of experimentation of course) through a strainer, wash out the gallon jar and pour the strained cider back in. Put the cheesecloth and rubber band back on the top and allow to sit for another month. Give it a try! There should be a “mother” (which sounds like an alien life form to me) floating around—it kind of looks like a weird blobby ghost to me. This is important as it’s necessary to make the apple cider vinegar do all the good things it does.

 

I use this vinegar in chicken marinades, salad dressings, crock pot meals, etc. It really does have a better flavor than any I have tried from the store, and was almost free to make as I was going to throw the apple scraps in the compost anyway!

 

Apple Cider Vinegar

-Peels and cores from 10 apples (or 5 whole ones)

-1 cup sugar

-water

Make your own apple cider vinegar--easy and cheap!
Make your own apple cider vinegar–easy and cheap!

 

 

 




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top-christmas-gifts-natural-living-lover

Buying Christmas gifts can sometimes be hard. You want to get your friends and family something they will love, but discovering that perfect idea can be stressful. If you have someone in your life who desires to live more naturally while saving time and money, here are some suggestions to get you started!

Griddle

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One of my all-time favorite Christmas gifts (and most-used ones as well) is my griddle. I use it almost every day for making things like pancakes, grilled sandwiches, and French toast—I even used it for hot dogs the other day when we didn’t want to fire up the outside grill! It saves me so much time because I can fit four sandwiches at a time on it instead of doing only two in a pan, and then having to decide who is the most hungry and who will wait for the next round. I can cook up to 10 pancakes at a time, which is especially helpful when I do my freezer cooking session of pancakes to prep for busy morning breakfasts. I have seen some of these griddles costs over $100, but this one I’ve had for a couple of years now and it was only $30!

Natural Makeup

Easy Beauty Routine


I make a lot of things myself for my beauty and home routines, but I have not dabbled in makeup because of all the extra ingredients that it requires. My favorite natural makeup is from 100% Pure Cosmetics and Skincare, and this makeup could be a fantastic gift. It comes in beautiful packaging as well, so it makes you feel so fancy while using makeup that doesn’t have nasty stuff in it. And feeling fancy is always important! Try the mascara, foundation or eye liner for an intro.

Food Processor/Blender

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If you are going to make laundry detergent,  or Mexican veggie soup, a food processor or blender is really necessary. I have this food processor that I received as a wedding gift (so it’s almost 10 years old now!) and it has been amazing. I also throw onions in there when I need some for a recipe, and it dices them splendidly so I have a lot fewer tears as I chop them. If you have a garden, you can puree zucchini or tomatoes before freezing them for soups, tomato sauce, zucchini bread or just trying to deal with the constant onslaught of zucchini throughout the late summer. I have heard wonderful things about Vitamix blenders also, but haven’t made the dive into purchasing one because of the cost. Amazon does have a refurbished one (with a 1-year warranty) for $360 which seems like a great deal for a blender that usually costs over $500!

Immersion Blender

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Along the same lines, I have talked multiple times about my love for my immersion blender. It’s something that is pretty inexpensive and yet allows you to not have to move hot food to a food processor or blender to puree. I use mine for easy pureeing of spaghetti sauce (you can hide a lot more veggies from the kids in there when you puree them!), applesauce and soups.

Slow Cooker

Slow Cooker

 

If your loved one doesn’t have a slow cooker, please get them one for Christmas! I am a busy mom who only survives by using my crock pot for dinners on days that I will be working all day or when I know we need a quick dinner once we get home. The joy of walking in the house after a long day and smelling a delicious dinner ready and waiting is second to none.

Bread Machine

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How about a bread machine? I received one for Christmas a couple of years ago and it has made my life easier. I love homemade bread but I didn’t love trying to do it in my mixer (and you know I am not kneading that bread for fifteen minutes by hand!!) so the bread machine allows me to put all the ingredients in and walk away. I usually do the second rise and bake it separately to the bread machine, simply because I don’t like the hole in the middle of the loaf from blade, but you can let it do the whole thing for you and have fresh bread without doing any switching!

Stocking Stuffers

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Some of my favorite stocking stuffer ideas are things like storage bag holders (which if you are freezing a lot of things make your life so much easier!), an oil sprayer (have your own oil spray with no added chemicals and for much cheaper), and whisks. I use whisks for all dry ingredients before mixing with wet ingredients on a recipe. It is almost like sifting without the pain of sifting!

Canner

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If your person is really getting into some of the homesteading skills, a pressure canner can open up a world of possibility for them to try new things. It might be a good idea to include a canning book like The All New Ball Book of Canning and Preserving to help them get started.

Essential Oil Storage Box

 

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I love the essential oil box I got this year. I have a lot of essential oils as I have grown my collection, and I had them all in the same cardboard box for years. My box started disintegrating and it was hard to find what I was looking for. You can get little stickers for the top of the bottles to make finding the right oil easier, and the boxes are so pretty. They make them in all different sizes so you can find the perfect one for however much of an oil junkie your loved one is. This one pictured also is tall enough to handle rollerballs, which was the reason I chose it.

Essential Oils

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Essential oils themselves are also really helpful when you are getting started. Sometimes it’s hard to fit an oil in the budget, even when you know it will last for a long time. If you want to start making face serums, hand soaps, body wash or shampoo, it is so nice to have a little collection of essential oils to start. I would suggest lavender, peppermint, tea tree and frankincense (which is the most expensive one out of the bunch but also does amazing things for so many parts of the body). I love Rocky Mountain Oils for this as you don’t have to sign up for a membership to anything to buy them and they have free shipping. Another option is to look on Amazon as they have a lot of the Doterra oils if you prefer them.

Try one of these this Chrismas and see if your natural living lover doesn’t rejoice in a gift that makes their life easier the whole year through!

 

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pumpkin-pie-french-toast

Often on weekend mornings, I make a bigger breakfast for my family. They love French toast, and I am always looking for new recipes that add a different twist. I recently decided to cave to the pumpkin craze (who am I kidding, I love pumpkin!) and do pumpkin pie French toast. Oh deliciousness!!

picmonkey-image-2

Start with a loaf of Hawaiian bread (I like the big loaves you can slice, but you can do whatever) or some nice thick challah bread slices. Heat up your griddle (I use this thing all the time for pancakes, French toast, grilled cheese, etc. and this one is under $30 and I have been using multiple times a week for years) to about 350 degrees. Mix ¾ cup milk, 2/3 c pumpkin puree, 5 eggs, 2 Tbsp brown sugar, 2 tsp vanilla extract, 1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice (or combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and ground cloves). Butter your griddle or pan (please use actual butter and not an oil spray—makes such a difference in taste!) and soak each piece in the egg mixture for a little bit, followed by placing on the hot griddle. Flip when browned on one side and allow to cook on the other side. Sprinkle a little powdered sugar on top and drizzle with syrup. Yum!!

Pumpkin Pie French Toast

Pumpkin Pie French Toast

-1 loaf Hawaiian bread
-3/4 c milk
-2/3 c pumpkin puree
-5 eggs, beaten
-2 Tbsp brown sugar
-2 tsp vanilla extract
-1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice
-Butter for griddle or pan

Mix all ingredients except bread and butter together with a whisk. Butter your griddle or pan and soak each piece in the egg mixture for a little bit, followed by placing on the hot griddle. Flip when browned on one side and allow to cook on the other side.

(Affiliate links included, so I make a little commission on each sale. Please note all these products are the ones I use and love. More info on disclosure here. )

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