Thursday Pantry Challenge: Sweet Potato Fries

What's for Breakfast:
Scrambled eggs with green peppers and feta cheese
Cranberry-walnut bread
Fruit Smoothie

What's for Lunch:
Butternut Squash Soup (from Trader Joe's by Stacie)
Sweet Potato Fries with Spiced Aioli Sauce (recipe below)
Plantain Chips (from Trader Joe's by Cori)
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (Made by Mary)

What's for Dinner:
Italian Wedding Soup
Honey-Whole Wheat Bread
Baby Greens Salad with Goat cheese, sunflower seeds and raisins
Sauteed Cinnamon Apples

Is it really Thursday? It's hard to believe how quickly the week is flying by. I'm over the "hump" of the week and the halfway mark of this challenge. I'm already starting to think about next week - and not just because I have permission to go to the grocery store. I've actually been contemplating what lessons I've learned from The Great Pantry Challenge and how I can apply them to my future eating, spending, saving and giving habits.

One of the biggest "money-saving tips" I've learned - or at least been reminded of this week - is that you save more if you stay out of the store. In other words, less time shopping equals less time spending. Seems obvious but more so since I've been practicing. I have not walked into a store - any store - since October 19 when I left Trader Joe's with my normal groceries. At the time, I didn't realize I would be doing this crazy challenge. Somehow this moratorium on grocery shopping has extended beyond the grocery store. I haven't had the desire to shop for anything else. I secretly challenged myself to use the toiletries we have (one roll of toilet paper left and counting!) as well as be content with the clothes I'm wearing, the craft supplies I have in my closet, and even go without other entertainment spending.

The revelation: my life is not boring. Each day has been ripe and full of good food, priceless people and a long list of reasons to be grateful for what I have.

In the process of this challenge, I've found some great resources and blogs that have really inspired me. I started this whole challenge because of a post I read by Money Saving Mom. MoneySavingMom.com is an encouraging blog dedicated to helping you find great deals, stretch your hard-earned dollars, and live on less than you make so you can save more and give more. Another mama blogs about her Menu Planning every Monday and shares tips and recipes, not to mention a host of great ideas on how to organize your home, your pantry and your life. I definitely need that.

My friend Susan turned me on to the blog of another woman who takes a "No Spend Month Challenge" every July. She and her family of three live off $250 for all their groceries, gas, toiletries and extras. Her ideas and reflections were very inspiring. I'd like to figure out how to do that one. One family committed to eat rice and beans for a month not only to save money on their grocery bill but then to "pay it forward" by helping another family with their adoption fund. So humbling.

I'm a big fan of A Place Called Simplicity, a blog that has challenged me to appreciate my family and to think of creative ways I can share our abundance with those in need, especially the world's orphans.

I've also been inspired by some of my personal friends. Brandy explains her Menu Planning philosophy for her family of seven and how she keeps sane by visiting the grocery store every two weeks. Then there's AnnMarie who is bent on "shopping and saving NOT spending" and sharing how she does it. Let me tell ya, she's the coupon queen bee.

What resources have you found? What has inspired you? Leave us a comment.


Today's meals included a little more "on the edge" creativity. For example, we are used to making smoothies every morning for breakfast. We've skipped that several days this week simply because we did not have the fresh fruit available. (In the future, I will be stockpiling on cheap fruit when it's in season and filling up my freezer.) This morning I begged my hubby to make me a smoothie. We used a measured quantity of our juice (Hibiscus-Cranberry from Trader Joe's), raw milk, some applesauce, sweet potato, zucchini, banana and honey. It actually tasted great and we started our day with some good antioxidants for this flu and cold season.

I sent my hubby off to work with a large leftover helping of Fall Flavors Veggie Lasagna and Chicken Cacciatore from early in the week. My girls and I made up a batch of Baked Sweet Potato Fries with Spiced Aoili (recipe below) and headed to Playgroup at our friend Stacie's house. I love sweet potato fries but I've never made them from scratch before. I usually buy the flash frozen fries from Trader Joe's or order them at a favorite restaurant. Sure, it takes some time to wash, peel and cut these babies but I can afford the extra time if it's saving me money.

For Playgroup, the other mamas raided their pantries and we feasted on Butternut Squash Soup, our fries, plantain chips, popcorn and homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with organic ingredients. Yum-o! Not to mention Organic Puffs for the babies...

Dinner tonight was a classic Italian meatball soup called Italian Wedding Soup with a few changes. I swapped out the spinach and swapped in three bunches of chopped bok choy from our garden. (I know, I know. I am really a black thumb but something is actually growing in those planter boxes out back. Amazing.) I also didn't have the beloved cannelini (white) beans so I used some leftover whole wheat pasta from our dinner on Monday to make this meal a little more hearty. This is feel-good food on a budget. Tonight's Italian Wedding Soup was full of mini meatballs. This will be our only beef for the week and it's all about quality, not quantity.

A Note from our Nutrition Guy (aka my hubby Ericlee)

We buy organic, grass-fed beef from Trader Joe's or our local farmer's market. Why spend 5-6 smackers per pound when you could be catching a sale for $2-$3/pound on ground beef? The answer is quality counts. Most American cows are fed corn - not just any corn but genetically-modified corn. What did God design for cows to eat? Grass. When cows eat corn, their tummies become quickly acidic and they die sooner than they should. To combat this, many ranchers pump their cows with hormones and antibiotics. They also keep them confined so they can put on weight faster and then be moved down the line to the butcher. The poopy part for those who eat this beef is that now they are consuming four times as much saturated fat, not to mention hormones, antibiotics and genetically-modified junk that wreaks havoc on the human digestive system.

We've decided to spend the same amount of money on our meat, but to buy a smaller quantity. For example, Italian Wedding Soup serves 6-8 people with one pound of organic, grass-fed ground beef fashioned into mini meatballs. You don't have to become vegetarian to be healthy, just eat quality meat in moderation.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries with Spiced Aoili

-4-5 sweet potatoes
-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-2 tablespoons rice flour
-1 teaspoon sea salt

Spiced Aoili Sauce:
-1 cup mayonnaise (Trader Joe's brand)
-1 teaspoon paprika
-1 teaspoon cumin
-1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
-1/2 teaspoon sea salt
-2 tablespoons fresh basil, finely chopped
-1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

Serves 5

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with tin foil.
2. Wash and peel sweet potatoes. Cut into 1 by 5-inch wedges.
3. In a small bowl, drizzle olive oil over fries. Toss with rice flour.
4. Spread fries out on baking sheet and bake 30 minutes until soft. Using tongs, separate and turn.
5. Meanwhil, stir together ingredients for aioli sauce.
6. Turn on broiler. Stay close by and broil fries for 3-4 minutes until crisp on top. Be careful not to burn.
7. Cool and serve with aoili sauce.

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