Zucchini Chocolate Cupcakes

At 3 pm everyone at my house gets the munchies.  I’ve taught my kids to be self-reliant when it comes to food.  It’s a habit of years of dealing with chronic illness. Now that I’m doing a bit better, I want to take back some of the kitchen control.  I like my kids learning to cook and make do, but I’m not loving the mess they leave behind.  It’s going to take some steady supervision to change the bad “clean up after yourself” habits I’ve allowed.  In the meantime, I’m being proactive by preparing after school snacks.  Rename these “muffins” and you can serve them for breakfast too :).

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

Zucchini Chocolate Cupcakes are loaded with veggies, fiber and protein.  You can choose how you want to sweeten them.  I used a mixture of xylitol and sucanant.  To get the right texture, you should include real sugar for at least 1/3 of the sweetener.

You can also be creative with the flour you use.  I used fresh ground whole wheat flour, unbleached flour or a gluten free flour blend (if it has xanthan gum in it) will also work.  If you are using an alternate flour option, add it gradually and stop when the consistency is cake batter right.   Some flours (like coconut flour) absorb a ton more water than wheat flour and you will need quite a bit less.

Zucchini Chocolate Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups Nonfat Plain Greek Yogurt

1 3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 Tbs vanilla extract

2 cups shredded zucchini

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp cloves

1/4 cup cocoa powder

2 1/2 cups flour

1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. In a stand mixer, beat Greek yogurt with sugar, eggs and vanilla.  Stir in Zucchini.
  3. Add baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, cocoa powder, stirring well after each addition.
  4. Add flour 1/2 cup at a time, stirring just until incorporated. Do not add chocolate chips at this time.
  5. Fill greased or lined muffin cups 2/3 full.  (I like to use an ice cream scoop to measure it.)
  6. Sprinkle the top of each cupcake with 1/2 tsp of mini chocolate chips.
  7. Bake for 28 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  8. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before removing cupcakes to finish cooling.

Nutrition Information for Zucchini Muffins

The Tryouts

I try not to worry about my kids.  With a God this big, why should I worry or fear? But I do, even when I pray and I think I’m not going to.  We’ve done homeschooling, private Christian school, and public school.  Last year I had 1 in private, 2 homeschooling, and 3 in public.  This year we are transitioning everyone to public school and it’s a little heart wrenching for me.

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Last week, my oldest boy, who homeschooled last year, who has been spending too much time in his room, wearing pajamas, and reading books, came out of his room early on Monday.  Dressed. With shoes.  He said, “Bye mom, I’m going for a bike ride.”  I stared after him dumfounded.

Then Tuesday, he said, “Soccer tryouts at my new High School started yesterday, but it’s not too late to join.  Can I go tonight?” My son has done little more than walk from his bed to the fridge in a year, partially because of his love of books, and partially because he has sore, swollen knees from Osgood Schlatters disease.  I was happy he was out of his bed and interested in something.  I found the medical forms he would need and we showed up.

I sat in the bleachers with one other mom.  52 kids and 2 moms.  I had prepared 3 bottles for his practice: 1 with ice water, 1 with electrolytes, and 1 with recovery protein and glucose. I was terrified.  How is a kid who lies around reading books all day going to handle high school soccer tryouts?

They did nothing but run for 2 hours. Greenies, 400 sprints, 800 sprints, more greenies, then more sprints.  There was less than 60 seconds recovery time between each exercise.  I thought he might throw up. I thought I might throw up.  The other mom said, “this is exactly what they did yesterday.”  I thought, “this coach is an idiot.”  What happened to alternating active recovery days?  He yelled at the boys, “If you think this is hard, don’t bother coming back tomorrow!”   I yelled back, “You can do it, Caleb!  Finish strong!  I believe in you!”  Every other boy on the field was either wishing their mom was there to cheer him on or really thankful that she wasn’t.

As soon as I got my boy home, I filled the bathtub with warm water, epsom salts and Blue Heat essential oil blend.  I made another glucose protein shake.  I iced his knees.  I told him how proud I was.

He insisted on going back the next day.

The next day, his dad took him.  I was singing special music at the testimony service for my brother’s priesthood call to elder.  In our church no one can decide to join the priesthood.  It’s not something you can earn, study for, or choose. The call comes through prophecy. It’s a big deal and kind of rare.  While I sat and listened to the prophecy and confirmation testimonies I thought about my boy on the soccer field. Did his dad take protein and glucose and electrolytes?  Would he cheer?

I beat them home and when he walked in the door, I knew things weren’t good.  We had talked about worst case scenerios.  If you don’t make the team, maybe they would let you come to practice and work out and get stronger.  That night, Coach told him no to both.

The next morning the other mom in the bleachers sent me a text. “Cross Country meeting tonight.” Cross Country?  If Caleb had sore knees, was this the best thing for him?  But I asked him anyway.  He said “maybe,” so we showed up.  XC had started on Monday also, but would credit his running at soccer practice for the missed sessions. There were no tryouts.  If you want on the team, you’re on the team. The coach was amazing.  “We cheer everybody on, even the other team.  Grades are super important.  We are family.”  They explained that even though they work out for 2 hours a day 6 days a week, they have an alternating active recovery schedule. Finally, someone with common sense.

Caleb showed up Friday for his first practice, we left the house at 5:45 am.  One coach rode his bike moving between the front of the pack and the rear so he could keep tabs on the kids and their health.  The 2nd coach drove a car, so he could pick up the kids that were in trouble. Caleb ran for 2 hours and when I picked him up, he was smiling.  He did a jig and said, “How can I have so much energy?” I asked him how he did.  He said, “I wasn’t at the front of the pack, but I didn’t have to get in the car.” I asked him to tell me the name of 1 kid on his team, he told me 2.  Then it hit me, Caleb will start this HUGE school with friends, adults he can trust, and self-respect.

At that moment, the room started to spin, my knees went weak, my vision closed in on itself.  I had just earned myself a recovery day or three–all from worry, sigh.

How about you?  Is your family making big changes this year with educating your kids? How do you feel about it?

How to Freeze Sweet Corn

It’s sweet corn season!  Here’s a handy tutorial for when you have corn coming out your ears.  (Get it?  Ears.) Freezing sweet corn is fast and easy and preserves it’s fresh home-grown taste. The corn I will be showing is sugar and cream corn grown by my dad in his city garden.  They were blessed this year with very healthy corn that gave 4 ears per stalk.  That’s pretty rare in these parts.

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1.  Shuck the corn outside (because it’s messy).  The shucks are a nice addition to a compost pile.

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2.  Wash the silky hairs off the corn.  I like to use cool running water and a terry wash cloth.  Microfiber cloths work well too.  I like a cloth better than a corn brush.  It covers more of the corn at once, so is faster and grabs the silk really well.  I use about the same amount of pressure when washing corn as when I wash my baby’s face.  Enough to clean without doing any damage.

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The front ear is freshly shucked.  The back ear has been gently washed with a terry cloth.

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3.  Cut any bad spots off the corn.  This corn was raised without chemicals except for what came on the seed already and has a few worm spots.  Most of it was spotless though.  If you miss a bad spot, it will turn brown when it cooks and you can cut it out later.

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4.  Submerge several ears of corn in a large pot of boiling water. If you are freezing whole ears of corn, boil them for 8 minutes.  If you are cutting the corn off the cob, boil for 6 minutes.

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5.  Use tongs to remove corn from the boiling water.  Run it under cold water to cool or submerge it into a bowl of ice water for 6 minutes.

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6.  Use a sharp knife to cut the kernels off the corn.  I like to take my knife and scrape the cob to get all the milk and ends out.  We call that “cream style” on the farm.  I cut as many cobs as I can fit into a large bowl before stopping to fill bags.

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7.  I package my corn in quart size freezer bags, and use a permanent marker to label the bags with the date and contents before filling.  A one cup measuring cup is perfect for scooping the corn into the bags.  Four full scoops is a quart.  When the bags are full, press out all the air and seal them tight.  I smoosh the corn around until the bag is nice and flat and stack them in a plastic dish tub for freezing.  This freezes the corn in nice little stacks that fit well in my freezer.

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8.  Even though you will be tired, be sure to clean up right away when you are finished.  Corn juice is sticky and starchy and dries hard.  It’s much easier to clean up when it’s fresh.

Thanks to my mom for picking and shucking the corn.  And thanks to my Mother-in-love for showing me how to freeze it step by step.  Remember the year my entire kitchen floor was covered a foot deep in corn?  We had 3 years worth plus plenty to share after that.

 This post originally appeared August 1st, 2009

A few things: Living Room Update etc.

I know I’ve been quiet lately.  I’ve been enjoying SUMMER with a slower schedule and time with my kids.  Here are a few updates.

  1. The hardwood floor in our living room is all finished!  I don’t have baseboards up and I haven’t started on the built ins yet.  But I did move the furniture in place just like it would be with the built ins there.  I want to live with it a little bit before I got through the expense and work of the built ins buy just to make sure I like the arrangement.  So far I really do!  You’ll notice there’s a rug down. It’s the one I bought for Darren’s office.  We are a long ways away from being able to use it for his office and I may pick something else for him then, or move it down and pick something else for the living room.  I love the rug and right now it’s the most affordable option since we already own it ;).  Everything is centered on the room, but the angle I had to stand to take the picture makes it look wonky.

Living Room before 2

Before

Living room during

Currently

Living Room afterConcept

(I’m rethinking the whole slip cover thing.  I’ll have to cut the back cushions off my sofa to make it work and it’s going to be a lot of work.  I still want to do it, just much later.)

2. I had a midlife crisis last week and bleached my hair patchwork orange. I don’t have pictures because it was too humiliating.  But it was mostly yellow with squares of orange and brown scattered through it.  My hair stylist’s son was having surgery that day so she couldn’t help me right away.  I wore hats everywhere, even to a wedding shower and denied all requests to take it off.  It was humiliating.  On phase one of the do over, she got rid of the orange and brown and I was GOLD blond all over.  It was horrifying.  The next day I was asked to lead the song service for the all area branch meeting.  I couldn’t say no because my hair was horrifying so I stood up there and sang away like there was nothing crazy on top of my head.  Three days later after multiple keratin and biotin treatments she added ash brown highlights and toned it all over.  We had to get pretty aggressive to get rid of the remaining brassiness and I was a little gray/purple for a few days.  It has settled down a little bit and now I’m REALLY blond, in a good way.  I no longer scream when I see a mirror, which is positive progress.

3. I have been healing up a lot over the last 2 months.  My hair has started to grow.  It has only been a week since the orange hair fiasco and I already have dark roots.  While dark roots aren’t pretty, I’m going to take it and love it since it’s another sign that my health is improving.  I started back to my Fit Yummy Mummy workout program, starting at the introductory level (the step before beginners….) and feel like I’m going to be able to finish this time.  While half my family is away at summer camp and my chores are reduced, I’ve been prepping foods to help with my goals.  I’ve made protein batter for pancakes and keep it in a jug in the fridge so I can cook a few fresh up in the mornings. I also froze protein shakes into popsicles molds.  It’s just almond milk and chocolate flavored protein powder, but having it in a popsicle slows down my eating process and is really fun. And I made a 4 serving recipe of Thai Chicken Salad and divided it into recycled Chic Fil A containers.

Thai Chicken Salad

If I make a family size recipe each time I cook something new, I can eat on it for awhile for no extra work.  When it’s that yummy I don’t mind eating leftovers.

4. My new washer and dryer have been in service for about a week and I love them!  They are HUGE.  One load in the new washer is worth 3 in my old one.  I used to do 3 loads a day and now I’m down to 1.  It’s the same amount of laundry but I can get through it in 1/3 of the time.

 

The Other Budget Categories

laundry area

Our washing machine died yesterday and it isn’t an emergency.  The Fisher and Paykel washer was 11 years old and after 3 loads a day (roughly 12,000 loads), we knew it’s days were numbered.  Planning for this didn’t start last week, or even a few years ago.  It started the day we bought it. After we became debt free with a fully funded emergency fund, we added some other budget categories to prepare for days like today.  Every month, we set aside $10-30 in an “appliance fund” and since we know ourselves and needed extra accountability, the cash went into a real envelope and tucked into a combination safe (not into the bank account where we pay for other bills.) We also fund other bonus budget categories including a car replacement fund and furniture replacement fund.  We set aside small amounts each month into these envelopes so that over the period of 10-15 years we can replace our items that wear out.

craigslist washer

If I hadn’t had an appliance replacement fund, my day yesterday would have looked very different.  I would have searched our local Craigslist for a working washing machine to limp by with until we could raise the money we needed.  They had used machines about the age of ours ranging from $50-$150.  I would have used part of our emergency fund or my home repair fund, to pay cash for the appliance.  It’s not a bad plan really and if there hadn’t have been any good sales on, I might have done that anyway so we could wait for a better deal.

Instead, I had the cash to shop for the best rated machines I could afford.  I looked at reviews online, drove to the scratch and dent outlet store to see their choices, and thanked my lucky stars that Independence Day sales were still going strong.

When it came time to make my final decision, I almost went with my less favorite, just to save a few hundred dollars.  Then Darren reminded me that this machine should last us 15 years or more and that since we had the cash saved up, I should buy the set of machines that I wanted to use for the next 15 years.

Even though our dryer is still working, it is almost 18 years old.  We decided to buy a matched set since the machines are visible from most of the main floor.  I should be able to sell the working dryer on Craigslist to offset our costs a little.

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I chose the Whirlpool Cabrio set because of it’s huge capacity, low resource use, and good reviews.  I loved the idea of a front loader and would love to be able to build a counter over the top of my machines, but the whole mildew thing and needing to leave the door open discouraged me.

After searching the prices online of all the stores that carry this model of machine, We called Sears to order over the phone.  I needed the dryer door reversed and that couldn’t be specified online.  While I was on the phone the operator asked me if I had a coupon code I would like to use.  I said, “oh! Is there one?”  He put me on hold and we both searched for any available coupon codes.  I was unable to find a coupon code that would work in their system, but his manager approved an additional 5% discount for us. The cool thing about this, is the 5% discount is the same we would have earned by using a sears credit card.  As a rule, we don’t use credit cards and I was feeling kind of bad about missing the discount.  Turns out, I didn’t have to miss it after all.

It may seem like a lot of extra little categories, but most people won’t miss the extra $10-$30 a month and over 15 years that fund will grow to be $1800-$5400.

 

An Archeological Dig

Caleb mapping stonesSummer time is the busy time around here.  As soon as school was out at the end of may, I headed to Yellowstone via Wall South Dakota as a tagalong on the Grandparent trip for my youngest 2 kiddoes.  Every year for the last 4 years my parents have taken 2 of their grandchildren on a cross-country adventure.  This time they felt Grant was too young to go without his parents, so Darren and I got to come along.

Yellowstone

We were home for a couple of days, just enough to wash and repack everybody.  Then I kissed Darren goodbye and took the kids to Lamoni, Iowa for reunion.  I think other denominations might call it family camp or camp meeting.  It was a week of living as families in University dorms. We had prayer and testimony service and classes every day, time for recreation in the afternoon, and powerful music and preaching in the evening.  It’s a time to rest from the cares of the world and get a fresh perspective on our Christian walk.  The leaders encouraged us to stay off the internet to keep apart from the influence and cares of the world.  I had to get on a little to make sure the meal plans went out on time and take care of customer service issues, but for the most part I tried to rest.

The day reunion ended, I filled my mom’s car with 5 of my kids and all their stuff and sent them back home.  My 14 year old son and I headed east to an archeological dig in Nauvoo, Illinois.  He’s at the age where he’s trying to make some decisions about a career and education.  At first he wanted to be a novelist, so we homeschooled his 8th grade year with the One Year Adventure Novel program.  It was a great program but showed him that he prefers to write for a hobby and not to make a career of it.  When he mentioned archeology as his next choice for careers, I used some connections to join the end of a dig unearthing an 1840’s home foundation and artifacts.

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He’s still trying to unpack the experience and see if it’s a career option he wants to pursue, but it was super interesting to learn about all the different aspects of the dig.

Last year it took the team most of their month long dig to locate the foundation of the home.  It was a lot of digging to find nothing and trying again to get just the right location.  This year they were able to get started right away in the correct position and make progress.  By the time we arrived they had found 3 of the 4 walls of the home and the 4th wall was uncovered while we worked.

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We found things like flatware, scissors, square sewing pins, marbles, square nails, china and other earthenware, glassware, cast iron cookware, animal bones, teeth, fossils, buttons, and a cast iron trivet for a clothing iron.

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Each 5 foot square was dug down 2 inches at a time.  The diggers would gently scrape the soil to protect any artifacts that might be hidden beneath.  The loosened soil would go into red scoops (we called them fire trucks) and sent over to the sifters.

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Another team member (ahem–me, so hot and sweaty) would rub the dirt through a screen and look for smaller artifacts that might have been missed by the diggers.  All artifacts were placed in a green scoop labeled with a sticky note to show the quadrant and soil level it was found in, then sent over to be washed with a soft brush and clear water.

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Then the artifacts were carefully dried and sent to the head archeologist, Paul Debarthe who would identify and document each piece in a database.

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Finally the documented pieces were sent to the restoration lab, where Synthia glued pieces back together for display.  It is the team’s end goal to rebuild the home just as it stood in 1840 and display the artifacts inside.
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It felt awesome to play a part in recovering history, but it was also a dirty, sweaty, exhausting job.  Caleb and I only dug 3 days with the team.  Most of them were there for a solid month!

 

The Perfect Father’s Day Gift

father's Day

Amanda was in full panic mode.  Father’s day was just a few days away and she had no idea what to buy. She really wanted to show her husband how important he was to their family and make his face light up with delight. She wandered around the home improvement store, but buying him a new tool might be like him buying her a vacuum for a present. It would remind him of all the work he needed to do instead of telling him how thankful she was for who he is.

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Next she headed to the sporting goods store. She felt dizzy looking at the vivid colors and meandering paths. The store had music playing plus shopping noises echoing throughout the place.  Feelings of sensory overload and overwhelm creeped in. She didn’t know where to begin. She thought about a gift card, but he hated to shop.  This was a no-win situation.

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She couldn’t wait to leave and go to more familiar territory.  At the department store, she  looked at fresh smelling leather wallets, silk luxury ties, and crisp dress shirts. He would look so handsome in these, but he didn’t enjoy dressing up.  He put on a tie for church every Sunday, and it came off in the car on the way home.  It would get use for sure, but it wasn’t going to make his face light up.

Whatever gift giving occasion: birthday, Christmas, or Father’s Day, she always asked him what he wanted and he always said the same thing. A firey gleam would come in his eyes as he said, “You in a big red bow.”  Then he would pantomime untying the bow as she blushed up to her hair roots.  She would go buy something, anything, that he could open in polite company. No matter what she bought him, she never saw the look of pure delight she was hoping for when he opened it.

MELT

THEN, her favorite blogger told her about MELT.  She had tried giving her husband a massage before, but to his disappointment her hands and neck would cramp painfully before 5 minutes had gone by. These PG rated videos promised to show her how to give a long lasting massage without hurting herself in the process.  With instant access for life, it was an investment that would be reused over and over again, all for less than the price of one professional massage.

Even better, MELT had prepared in advance how to package the gift perfectly for Father’s Day with downloadable printables that she could stick in all the little places he was sure to find them. It was designed to build anticipation and curiosity with the final clue leading to a wrapped package of massage oil and his favorite chocolates to open.

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She started to smile as she thought about the look on his face when he found the first note tucked in his shoe, then the next under his coffee mug and the next taped to his steering wheel.  She wasn’t normally a creative person, but this was all done for her.  It was perfect and easy and it was going to be really fun.  Maybe this was the year she’d want that big red bow after all.

Click Here to get MELT for yourself

Keep in Mind

1. 60 day money back guarantee –  if her hubby doesn’t like the massage, you can get your money back.

2. Online video access – instant access for that last minute panic gift

3. Monthly payment plan to fit in small budgets

4. Lifetime access to Melt – This is a win-win.  When hubby is itching to get his hands on you, he can use the techniques too.

5. FREE foot rub videos included with each purchase of Melt. So hubby can return the favor later with an awesome foot rub. This ends on the 19th of June – Father’s Day.

 P.S. I’m using the video series for Darren’s father’s day gift and you are going to love Denis’s Australian accent and instruction style. It is very professionally done and easy to implement.

Homemade Granola

This video first appeard May 7th, 2009.  It’s so easy to make granola that I thought it is worth bringing to the front. It is a great topper for oatmeal, yogurt, or other cereals.

Watch the video to see how easy it is to make homemade granola.  With the choice of the right ingredients, it’s inexpensive and nutritious.  I added mine to an inexpensive box of cornflakes for a multigrain “honey bunches of oats” type cereal.

 

Here’s the ingredient list:  Syrup:  3 T oil, 1/3 C honey, 1 T water, 1 t real maple extract

 

Grain:  2 C oats, 1 C rice crispies, 1/2 C cracked wheat, 1/2 C wheat germ, 2 T brown sugar, 1/4 t salt

(Next time I’d replace the cracked wheat with sunflower seeds.)

Here’s the video. I apologize it is so dark at the beginning, it gets better.

Do you have a favorite granola recipe?

Sunday Picnic

This post was originally published May 6th 2009, but it’s a topic worth revisiting! With just a few minutes planning, a lot of food cost can be saved. I don’t usually have time to make 8 sandwiches with all the fixings, but with a change in thought process a large family picnic can be made in record time.  I’ll show you how. 

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Last Sunday Darren preached as a guest minister in Macon, Missouri–3 hours from our home.  Usually, the church there shuts down immediately after the service and we head home.  We have 2 choices for lunch: stop at a restaurant or bring our own food.  We are usually running late in the morning, but in the video below I will show you how I pack a picnic in record time and save expensive restaurant costs.  This plan works for long shopping days too!

Our day ended up going a lot different than planned.  On the way out of the church, Charles, whom we had never met before, offered to take us to lunch.  We were excited for the opportunity to get to know him better and he is an exceptional person.  When we stepped outside, Charles noticed that we had a flat tire!  I’m so grateful that it went flat during the service and not while I was driving.  The repair garage said it was bulged on the side and a blow out risk!  Charles not only took us to lunch, but invited us to his home to rest while he bought us new front tires for our van!  I almost cried.  We’ve needed tires for awhile but kept hoping that they would last until our situation was different.

So the eating you see in the movie was for supper not lunch. Even though our day was far different than we expected, our picnic sill came in handy.

Update:  I forgot to give you the price breakdown on lunch.  Keep in mind too that we had enough leftovers for another meal the next day.  Bread-free, strawberries-$1, carrots-$1, crackers-$1, Cheesesticks-$1, 3 sliced apples-$1, Peanut Butter and Honey–$.25–cost for 5 people (a couple of our kids were with Grandma) $5.25  For the same price we could have stopped and gotten everyone one double cheeseburger from McDonalds.  It wouldn’t have been as filling or nutritious.