Pull Up A Chair…

With a month and a little more of summer to go — we live by the school calendar on that these days — I’ve been thinking about ways to get out and enjoy nature, and still make certain we get healthy meals.

But doing that and coming up with ways not to bust my budget can be tricky.

Since I get e-mails from folks who are having similar issues, I thought a conversation about how people are managing budgets, family time, healthy eating needs and all the other issues that life throws at us would be helpful this morning.

Especially since the economy is still doing a bit of an up and down tapdance.  Sure seems to me like there are a lot of folks who are trying to stretch their dollars and still have some fun this summer.

Here’s an example of how I handled the craziness that was our house this week.

With the liveblogging of the Sotomayor hearings, my time – especially in the mornings — was really tight.

Nothing new, since it used to be like this every day when I was working as a lawyer.  So I pulled out some of my old time management tricks for eating and tweaked them a bit for our budget and our healthier eating choices.

It worked out really well. So much so, that I thought I’d share with you all what I did this week.

I’ve put together a sort of pre-mixed dry "porridge" that can be cooked in the microwave in about 4 and a half minutes that is healthy and yummy. It’s a combination of Wheatina (or Cream of Wheat or whatever I have), Bob’s Red Mill 10-grain cereal, ground flaxseed, oat bran, rolled oats (not the quick kind, but the rolled kind) and several other breakfast grains with similar cooking times in our cupboard. I mix all of this up in a huge bowl, and then transfer it to an airtight container that I keep on top of our fridge in easy reach.

In the morning, I scoop out half a cup of this dry porridge mix into a bowl with high sides, and add a cup and a scant bit more to the bowl. Then microwave on HIGH for 4 and a half minutes. Once its done I stir in a bit of milk — Mr. ReddHedd doesn’t, he’s a cereal purist — and top it with sliced banana and some semi-sweet chocolate chips for a little kick. Or whatever other fruit/nut combo may be handy, depending on what I have in the cupboards or what was on sale that week.

Or we grab a whole-grain English muffin, toasted with 2 Tbsp. peanutbutter and a piece of fruit. Both are quick, easy and relatively healthy ways to start the day.

With breakfast managed, this week has been crockpot central for me. I could throw the ingredients into the slow cooker before the 9:30 committee hearing began, and dinner cooked all day for me without my having to worry about it.

Earlier, I made Greek-style lemon and oregano chicken and potatoes. Seriously yummy and easy, and lots of leftovers for us.

Then, later in the week, I made navy bean soup — to which I added some chopped zucchini (from my garden) at about the 30 minutes before it’s done mark. With some homemade cornbread, it was a quick and easy meal.  And relatively cheap given that I started with a 59 cent bag of dried navy beans.

Here’s a tip for vegetarians who don’t want to use meat (obviously) but still want an underlying smoky flavor — try adding a few drops of liquid smoke while the beans cook and you get a similar flavor.

I’ve been trying to keep fresh fruit in the house for snacks and desserts, instead of sweet junkfood.  But, because of the heat, it’s been ripening awfully quickly.  My answer?  Fruit crisps that I can throw together with whatever we have on hand — nectarines with blueberries were especially yummy.

Here are some other healthy, budget-friendly recipe ideas for your perusal.

We’ve been staying in a lot more, and enjoying movies we already have — or taking advantage of our Netflix subscription; working in the yard; watching The Peanut ride her scooter; going to local parks, book stores, the library, having friends over for dinner, and all sorts of other wallet-friendly activities.

But I’d love to know what you are doing to keep your budget in check and yet still have fun this summer, too. Pour another cuppa and pull up a chair…

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