Since we're talking about growing your own food, I thought I'd take a day here to talk about making your food, and making it go as far as possible, especially when it comes to babies and toddlers.
Thinking that you don't have the time to make healthy, nutritious meals? Over the years, we've learned what is probably the easiest, and most obvious, trick to saving money and time (although, in truth, we don't always use it...don't ask me why...). By making food in large batches and then freezing the extra, you make multiple meals in just a little more time than it would have taken to make just one. It also means you might be able to buy your ingredients in bulk, which saves money, too.
Where we really use this is with baby food. Our 16-month old son can be picky. It can be somewhat disheartening to create a healthy meal that I was so excited to put together, only to discover that he just isn't into it, at least not today, at this meal. We've found the most expensive part about feeding a baby or toddler is the waste. *Sigh*.
The solution? A muffin pan and a freezer. I take the leftovers and freeze them in muffin-sized portions, then throw the "muffins" in ziploc bags to pull out another day. And usually, another day finds Chris more in the mood for whatever it was that he refused the first time.
This works for whole foods, like cous-cous, mac-n-cheese, spaghetti, chicken parmegiana, and such, but it also works for smoothies, yogurt and fruit mash-ups, oatmeals and other cooked cereals, and even baby food jars or pouches that I've opened but he won't eat. Just freeze in a non-stick or silicone muffin pan (silicone works great, because stuff just pops right out when you bend the pan), and pop out (using a spoon, if necessary).
Here is an example of the last meal I froze for our son. I had made Annie's Homegrown Organic 5-Grain Elbows & White Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese, which I then mixed with spinach, carrots, granulated kelp, and nutritional yeast for a healthy boost. Mac-n-Cheese is his absolute favorite, but for some reason (and, oh my, are there lots of reasons with toddlers, as you probably know!) that night, he wouldn't touch it.
I froze the leftovers in a muffin tin, which left me with 12 muffin-sized servings (anywhere from 6-12 meals, depending on how hungry he is). The next night, he asked for "nunus" (noodles), so I popped out a portion, thawed it in the microwave, and voila! He gobbled up the whole bowl in minutes. (FYI, the macaroni in this is made from super healthy grains like quinoa, spelt and amaranth, so it's super high in protein. The dish itself is a little high in sodium, like all packaged foods, but the other healthy stuff makes me feel a little better about it.)
And if you do the math, at about $2.50 per box, the macaroni and cheese I made comes out to between $0.20 and $0.40 a meal for Chris. Not bad!
If you need to freeze stuff in smaller amounts, for a younger baby or for smaller snack-sized portions, we've found the absolute perfect method involves using this Wilton Silicone Brownie-Squares Baking Mold. Because it's made of silicone, it bends, and the cubes just pop right out. Then you can throw them in a ziplock bag or airtight container, label, and freeze. They won't stick together, because they are already frozen, so you can easily take out cubes one at a time. This is how we made Chris's baby food from the time he was 6 months old, and actually, I still use it for freezing his 10-grain breakfast cereal and yogurt. He happens to really like frozen foods, so we let him chew on just slightly thawed cubes, which are reminiscent of frozen yogurt, and which, I think, feel good on his sore teething gums.
And while we're on the subject of baby, I should mention our two favorite baby food books: Super Baby Food and The Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook. The first one has the healthiest "super porridge" recipe I'd ever seen, made from all sorts of ground whole grains (which, surprisingly, was much easier than I thought it would be). Our son thrived on and actually quite enjoyed this addition to his diet.
So do you have any tricks to freezing food, or other ways to save time and money, that might make it easier to make nutritious, homemade food? We'd love to hear!