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Lunch Tips for School Days

By Tawra Kellam

It’s that wonderful time of year that lightens your heart and fills your soul with peace & tranquility. No, I’m not talking about Christmas! I’m talking about school starting!! Yes! Yes! Yes!  It’s a bitter sweet time for most moms. Bitter because you’re back to hectic mornings, finding everyone’s books and papers and trying to get them out of the door on time… because you now have 180 lunches to make over the next 9 months if you have 1 child and 720 if you have 4 — But hey, who’s counting?

It is sweet because the peaceful quietness that penetrates the house is like gentle music to your ears and you can take a lovely relaxing bubble bath without what sounds like the whole US army trying to break down the bathroom door.  Well, now that I think about it I’ve not known many moms that had the luxury of a bubble bath in the middle of the day but I can dream can’t I? I can’t help you find time for that bubble bath but maybe I can help you with those 720 lunches.  Here are a few lunch and snack ideas from "Not Just Beans: 50 Years of Frugal Family Favorites" that will satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.

*To keep drinks cold in lunch boxes, pour a small amount in the bottom of the container (not glass) and then set the cap loosely on top. Put it in the freezer overnight. The next day fill with the rest of the drink. The ice should slowly melt all day long, keeping the beverage cool. 

*Save the catsup and mustard packets and napkins you don’t use from the fast food restaurants. Use them in lunch boxes.

*Puddings – sprinkle with marshmallows, coconut, nuts, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips or peanut butter chips (for chocolate pudding) or berries (in vanilla pudding)

*Banana, pumpkin or zucchini bread

*Tuna, egg or chicken salad sandwich

*Tuna salad and crackers

*Sandwiches made from last night’s dinner meat (ie. roast beef, chicken ,turkey)


*Ants on a log-celery with peanut butter inside and raisins on the peanut butter

*Carrot sticks, celery sticks or radishes with Ranch dressing

*Homemade granola bars

Granola Bars
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 Tbsp. honey
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
1 cup flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 1/4 cups crispy rice cereal
1/2 cup wheat germ (optional)
1 cup chocolate chips*

In a large bowl, cream sugars and butter until fluffy.  Add honey, vanilla and egg.  Mix well.  Blend in flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt.  Stir in remaining ingredients.  Press firmly into the bottom of a greased 9×13 pan.  Bake at 350  for 20-25 minutes. To microwave: Press ingredients into a microwave safe dish. Microwave on medium power for 7-9 minutes. Rotate dish every three minutes.  Bars will firm as they stand.  Cool and cut into bars. Save the crumbs for yogurt or ice cream topping. Makes 24 bars 

*The following may be used in addition to or to replace chocolate chips 
 1 cup coconut
 1/2 cup creamy or chunky peanut butter
 1/2 cup nuts
 1/2-1 cup raisins, dried apples, apricots
 1/2 cup fruit preserves

Tawra Kellam is the author of  "Not Just Beans: 50 Years of Frugal Family Favorites" Not Just Beans is a frugal cookbook which has over 540 recipes and 400 tips. More free tips, recipes and/or to purchase book

Pot Roast

Basic Pot Roast Recipe: Feed about 6 people depending on the age/size.
3-4 pound roast (inexpensive meat is fine with this method)
any other vegetables you would like to add
seasoning (beef bullion cubes work well)

In the morning put your roast and all vegetables and seasonings in a crock pot.  Turn in on and set the temperature according to your needs.  After dinner do not throw away even the smallest amount.

Keep a container in your freezer.  Add the pot roast that is leftover every time you make it.  When you have enough meat to feed your family simply re-warm it on the stove and add fresh vegetables and you have dinner.

Cut up pot roast, carrots and taters. Add to gravy. Mix well. Can add can of peas or if have peas leftover from roast meal, add as well. Heat well and serve over toast.  I grew up with my grandparents who were very frugal and this was something we ate for every pot roast leftover meal.  Thank you  Susan

When I have pot roast left over…it really isn’t leftover since now I plan it as a meal…Chop meat into small pieces or shred, add barbeque sauce and refrigerate for a day or so and then warm in microwave and you can have barbeque on bun:) Also with leftover mashed potatoes we make potato pancakes…just add an egg, flour, salt, pepper, onion finely chopped ( I use the onion powder), chopped parsley, and then mix. Dollop some into hot oil in frying pan, spread to desired pancake size and brown, flip, brown, and enjoy:)  Lou

We cut up leftover pot roast into cubes and put them in homemade BBQ sauce to heat up and then put them over bread or mashed potatoes. It is different and my kids have loved it for years . Sandy

When I make pot roast I always use an onion soup mix for the base. After everything is gone but the juice I save it and make vegetable soup with it. The flavor is uncompared. Bev

I also save leftover meat in the freezer in a baggie, but when I have enough for a meal I put it in a regular two-crust pie crust with cooked egg noodles, American cheese, 1 package gravy mix, assorted leftover or frozen veggies and presto my own homemade "Pot Pie." I use assorted meat so I may have both beef and pork in the same pie or chicken and turkey. It not only uses leftover meat but anything you might have accumulated through the week. We sometimes have just one serving of corn or even one ear of corn leftover that works great in combination with anything else there is just a little of. You can also make your own crust (which is less expensive) or buy one ready made if your not very good at it.

My mom always made roast beef hash from the leftovers.  She would cut the meat up small (removing the fat), dice potatoes and onions, and cook together in the leftover gravy with water and bouillon added.  It was delicious served over toast!  Becki

We cook pot roast on Sundays too. But the leftover meat, and gravy are put aside. If there are mashed potatoes for lunch, double the amount you’re making. Add a can of drained mixed vegetables to the leftover roast and gravy. Top with the  potatoes. Bake at 350F until heated through. A little cheddar sprinkled on top and melted is good, too.

Another pot roast favorite: Hash. I cook potatoes and onion slices together, browning in a little oil. Then add pot roast and gravy, cover and cook until potatoes are tender. My family likes this one so much they sometimes request I start with hash, and skip the pot roast!

A third meal: Slices of leftover pot roast, heated in the leftover gravy and served over toast, mashed potatoes or french fries, and a green salad, makes a hearty thrifty supper as well.  And finally, pot roast shredded and used to fill tortillas, adding enchilada sauce and a sprinkling of cheese. Again, green salad, a can of refried beans and you have a complete meal. Terri

My husband hates leftovers.  This has been hard for me as I grew up cooking for a family of nine.  Getting married and cooking for two has really been a challenge.  The best way I have found to get around his dislike is to use the leftover food in an entirely new dish.  Here is an example:  When I make a roast for Sunday dinner we always have some left over.  He doesn’t like to have roast again for a while so I freeze it and then later in the week I take it out and put it on the stove in a pot with some water.  After the roast has defrosted in the water I keep stirring it and shredding it with my spoon.  When it looks like shredded beef I add a favorite barbeque sauce to the meat and heat it up.  Now I have meat for barbeque sandwiches.  A whole new meal and my husband doesn’t bat an eye!  –Heidi

Using Left-Over Mashed Potatoes

• In frying pan, scramble fry one pound ground beef with one medium onion until cooked brown.  Add salt and pepper, two packets beef bouillon (Oxo), a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and one small can of beef gravy.  Stir until bubbling.  Sprinkle with corn starch.  Heat while stirring until thickened.  Pour into casserole dish.  Top with a can of drained peas (if desired).  Then top this with leftover mashed potatoes.  Bake in 350 degree oven, uncovered, for 40 minutes.  Voila!  Easy, tasty Sheppard’s pie!

• My grandmother always used her leftover potatoes to extend her hamburger meat. The potatoes really disappear inside the hamburgers and simply add moisture.  Potato pancakes:  1-1/2 cups leftover potatoes   3-1/2 c flour  1 egg   Mix well. Drop by teaspoons into hot oil in frying pan and brown on both sides. Serve these hot. Baked casserole: Add 2 eggs, 1 c grated cheese and beat well. Spread in casserole and sprinkle with paprika and small amount of shredded cheese. Bake until puffy and hot through.   Terri

• Potato Candy
1 c. leftover mashed potatoes  (without herb flavoring)
Powdered sugar
Peanut butter
Mix in vanilla and enough powdered sugar to make a stiff dough.  Roll out into a long narrow rectangle.  Spread on peanut butter or other nut butter.  Rollup from a long edge jellyroll style.  Refrigerate then slice in thin slices from end.  If potatoes are not real loose and creamy it doesn’t take as much sugar so it sounds.  The candy doesn’t work as well with instant potatoes and takes a LOT more sugar.  Anita

• I make my Salmon Cakes with leftover mashed potatoes. By using the bones from the salmon and adding mashed potatoes made with milk, these salmon cakes are an excellent source of calcium. If you like them crispy on the outside, roll them in bread crumbs or Japanese panko before frying.

• Kristen’s Salmon Cakes
1 15 oz. can salmon
1 c. leftover mashed potatoes
1 egg, beaten
1 thinly sliced green onion
1 T. chopped green pepper
1 T. chopped fresh parsley
1 T.  lemon juice
1 t. Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 t. salt (I prefer sea salt)
1/2 t. Worstershire sauce
1/4 t. pepper

1. Remove large round spine and skin from salmon. Place salmon along with the small rib bones in a food processor. Process until no bones are visible. This is a great source of calcium and the bones are soft. If you prefer you can remove the bones and flake the salmon into a bowl.
2. Thoroughly combine salmon & remaining ingredients in a bowl.
3. Shape into 2 inch patties. Fry in a bit of butter or olive oil until golden brown. Serve with tartar sauce and a lemon wedge.
Note: You can also bake these in the oven to reduce the fat. If you put bread crumbs on the outside, spray with just a little bit of Pam so they crisp up in the oven. Kristen

• Our family really enjoys this. It is quick and easy.  Slit open lengthwise hot dogs, spread mustard over the cut sides of the hot dog. Layer on left over mashed potatoes. Put under broiler until the top of the potatoes start to brown. Enjoy Marge

• Norwegian Griddle Cakes (Lefser)
4 c  Riced hot potatoes
2 1/2 T Light cream (2 of the liquid creamers you generally turn down at the restaurant)
2 1/2 T  Lard ( I use margarine or butter)
1 1/2 T Sugar
1  t.  Salt (if using leftover mashed potatoes omit)
2 c  Sifted all purpose flour
Mix riced potatoes with cream and lard.  Chill for 1   hour.  Add sugar, salt and flour.  Blend thoroughly.   Take about 1/3 cup of mixture and form into 2 balls.   Continue with remaining dough.  Chill balls for 1   hour.  On a lightly floured board roll each ball into  a paper thin round about 5 inches in diameter.  Cook on heated griddle over low heat until very light tan.  Turn and cook on other side. Serve hot or cold.  All Lefsa – Sprinkle with hot water and let lay awhile, then butter and sprinkle with sugar and   cinnamon, fold and cut. (or rewarm in the microwave).  During the holidays I butter these, sprinkle with sugar and roll up then cut in half.  Spear with a toothpick.  they may seem bland if eaten without anything on them… jelly,  or mayo & turkey or sliced ham is very good. My husband calls them Norwegian tortillas.   Barbara

• I have taken leftover mashed potatoes and mixed them with grated parmesan cheese, minced garlic, basil, grated or chopped onion and small amount of crushed rosemary leaves, and chopped leftover meat (meat may be omitted) Mix well. Top with sliced tomatoes, shredded cheddar cheese and baked for approximately 1/2 hour at 325 degrees. Serve with salad.

Leftover Meatloaf

Basic Meatloaf Recipe: This will feed about 6 people depending on the age/size of the children & adults.
1 pound of beef
6-8 saltine crackers
grated cheese
2 eggs
whatever you have in your refrigerator that would go well with it (here is an opportunity to use 1-2 tablespoons of corn or peas)
tomato paste

Mix all of the ingredients together and bake in the oven at 350 degrees or until meat is cooked through.  (It takes me about 1 hour).  About 15 minutes before it’s finished top with tomato paste or sauce.   Don’t throw away even a tablespoon that’s left.

Leftover Meatloaf Ideas

If you have only 1 or 2 tablespoons left save it and warm it up the next day and serve on a cracker as an appetizer or  mix with pasta for an easy lunch for a toddler.

If you have a couple of slices left make a meatloaf sandwich the next day for lunch or dinner.  Toast a hamburger bun and top with the leftover meatloaf and top with cheese.

If you have a larger portion left, freeze it and for a quick dinner add some more browned beef and mix with tomato sauce for an easy spaghetti.

My great grandmother was from Italy, and grew up poor, but her family always ate well. She kept a large Tupperware container in her freezer ALWAYS….as do my Mother and Sister and I now……ANY piece of meat that is leftover….meatloaf, chicken, hamburger, steak, roast, pork chops….etc. We put it in our "mystery meat" container. When the container is full….we make spaghetti sauce. Since we cook this all day either on the stove or in the crock pot, the meat will fall apart and you can’t decipher what it is until you bite into it…..but boy is it delicious!  I love your newsletter!  Shelly

Grate leftover meatloaf on 4 sided box grater. Place in lightly oiled casserole and add enough chicken or beef broth to lightly moisten. Stir in leftover vegetables or add frozen peas. Season with basil and freshly ground pepper. Cover with generous amount of mashed potatoes and bake in 350 degree oven until potatoes start to color.  This is our favorite version of Shepherd’s Pie.   

You can chop  it up and put in in a quiche or an omelet, you can mix it in with chilli, you can add it to the meat part of a shepherd’s pie. You can add it to taco meat, bean dip or underneath the cheese for nachos. BBPD

First off, it’d make a great sandwich. Second, I’d grind it up in my food processor to make pre-cooked ground beef, then add it to a 25-cent Mac-and-cheese dinner with a can of tomato sauce or some marinara, and PRESTO! Meat Loaf Helper!! Third, if a food processor isn’t around, I’d try cutting it up into small cubes to add to macaroni, rice, or potatoes for a casserole starter. Another way of making "ground meat" without a food processor–use a potato masher or pastry blender.  Heidi

Just a quick thought on one serving of leftover meatloaf–how about crumbling it and using it as a topping on pizza?  Thanks for the great newsletter  C.W.

Mexican Cheese Dip

Q. Every Mexican food restaurant in the country has the exact same incredible cheese dip (white, bland, drippy, maybe not 100% cheese). I have looked and looked for a retail outlet for this stuff but can’t find it. Nothing else is as good but I calculate by buying it by the dish, I’m paying about $100 per gallon. I can’t buy a gallon can from a wholesaler. Anybody know where I can get this stuff retail? –Jay

• I go to the deli department in my local grocery store and purchase Land ‘O Lakes White American cheese.  To me, it taste exactly like the Queso (cheese) in Mexican restaurant.  I thin it to whatever consistency I want with milk.

• Cheese Sauce is available in Mexican portion of the ethnic section of my grocery store. (Dillons, a Kroger owned store)  Seek or call your local stores to see if anyone has it!

• I live in El Paso, Tx and have come across some of that delicious dip Jay  mentioned in the last issuse of The Frugal Life newsletter. Jay you may be able to find an ok dip at one of the large wholsale places like Sam’s or Costco, depending on where you live. If you don’t live near one of these here is a fantastic recipe I got from my husband’s family who are from Mexico:

CHILE CON QUESO (Chiles or peppers with cheese)
1 pkg of processed cheese, such as Velveeta, cut into small squares
1 med finely chopped onion
1/2 c butter or margarine
1 – 1-1/2  cups of milk
2 – 3 fresh jalepeno peppers, washed, seeded and chopped

Simmer chopped onions in butter over low-med heat til onions are tender.  Add processed cheese and about half of the milk and melt over low heat so as not to burn cheese.  Add peppers and rest of milk. Keep on very low heat to keep warm and allow the peppers to become tender.

Other specialty peppers may be used that require being roasted quickly over a gas stove burner or in a skillet. The peppers must be rubbed with a light coating of vegetable oil before roasting. The point of roasting is to remove the skin. If done in a skillet, simply coat with oil and place in skillet, turning every few minutes. Over the burner, coat with oil and hold by stem and turn until pepper is roasted. peel skin off of pepper, remove seeds and slice. Add to cheese sauce. The roasting can be done long in advance and frozen for months.

Making Apple Cider Vinegar

Q.     Please ask your readers if they know how to make apple cider vinegar at home.

A. Look for a bottle of apple cider vinegar that hasn’t been processed heavily, and/or for one with a layer of brown sediment at the bottom. This is the "mother", and, if it hasn’t been pasteurized, which will kill it, is the bacteria for making vinegar. If you are working with your own pressed juice, there will be bacteria from the environment in it, which may or may not be the type you want. You may want to pasteurize (and then cool) the juice before putting some of the "mother" in it. From here, I would proceed as if making wine, with an air lock on the bottle to prevent other, unwanted, bacteria from getting in. You may be able to just let the juice work on its own, but the risk of spoilage is higher. Once you have a good batch of vinegar, be sure to keep a sample of it to inoculate future batches – just like sour-dough. You might experiment with freezing small quantities – like in an ice cube tray – so you always have a ready supply.

Kids ‘n Honey: A Natural Mix

Raw honey is not only tasty, but it’s extremely nutritious. Incorporating it into your daily diet is an excellent step to take towards maintaining general good health. Dr. D.C. Jarvis says "I am saddened when people tell me that they don’t eat honey because costs more than white sugar. In the long run, you must pay either the grocer or the druggist." Honey can be substituted for white sugar very easily, even in baking, and the health benefits for everyone but especially for children are worth every penny. Here are some simple suggestions for getting some honey into your kids!

Baked Honey Apples
Core 4 apples, peel a ring of skin away from around the middle of each apple. In the center of each, place 1 Tbsp. chopped nuts and drizzle with honey. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Glazed Bananas
Peel and slice lengthwise 2 bananas. Place flat side down on a greased cookie sheet. Brush with warmed honey, bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

Simple Sesame Seed Bites
For an exceptionally nutritious and easy to make snack, grind 1 cup of sesame seeds in food processor, empty into medium size bowl. Add enough honey to make a stiff paste. Shape into thick ropes, cut into bite size pieces, roll in whole sesame seeds.

Children’s Sweet Milk .(for children over a year old)
Stir in 1 to 2 tsp. honey into an 8 oz glass of dairy or non-dairy milk. It is reported that children who are given this honey-fortified milk suffer less colic and digestive upsets. In addition, the honey contains potassium vital for growth, and it provides both "quick-release" and "slow-release" energy. This helps maintain blood sugar levels and avoid extreme energy level swings

Hot Honey Nog
Beat together one egg and 1 Tbsp. honey. Heat 1 cup of milk to just below boiling, add to honey and egg mixture. Top with a sprinkle of nutmeg.

Excerpt from "101 Things To Do With Honey "

Crock Pot Cooking

Q.    I would like it if you could send me some recipes for Slow Cooking. I have a handicap and can’t use my left hand. Please help! Go to the Better Homes and Gardens website, Cooking section, Crock pot recipes—if this is what she’s talking about. There are quite a few there. Hope this helps. Jan I stumbled onto an awesome site. It takes a while to load because it is such a big site with so much in it. I was thrilled to find a section in the site dedicated to crock pot recipes, over 1500 of them ! I hope this helps. Merry Christmas to all!  Vicki Here’s a couple recipes: Fall Fruit 3 medium apples (peel, core & cut in pieces) 1 large can pineapple chunks in its own juice( drain pineapple and save juice) 1 cup grated cheddar or Colby cheese 3/4 cup sugar 1/3 cup flour Layer 1/2 of the fruit on bottom then add half the dry ingredients and then half the cheese. Continue layers. Pour this mixture over last layer: 1/3 cup butter (melted) 1/2 cup pineapple juice Top with nuts, pecans or almonds. Bake uncovered 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Fix it in the crockpot for 1 hour on high. Double the recipe for a large crowd. Crock Pot Potatoes My son says he could eat them for breakfast! 2 lb. bag frozen hash browns 1 stick melted butter or margarine 1 pt. sour cream 1 can cream of chicken soup (any cream soup will work) 1 chopped onion 1/2 lb. –1 lb. bacon or soy bacon, cooked and crumbled salt and pepper to taste Spray Crock pot with Pam. Pour in hash browns. Combine other ingredients and pour over potatoes. Stir well. Top with paprika, parsley, or a package of butter flavored crackers, crushed. Cook for 3-4 hours on high. I haven’t tried cooking them on low yet so if anyone tries it, let me know. These really are good. I think the recipe came from Quick Cooking. Enjoy.