Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New Challenge is Coming!

The new Household Challenge is coming. This one is a total non-kitchen/non-cooking one. We'll be announcing it on Monday, the 22nd, so be sure to check back!

In the meantime, we are looking for blogs to host the Household Challenge in 2009. If you are interested, please drop us an email at lotsofkids123[at]

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cake in a Cup


If you are looking for good and inexpensive gift for teachers, the mailman, beauticians, or the other people on your list, a Cake in the Cup may be your answer. You can use dollar store mugs, a few inexpensive ingredients from the store, and with a little time and effort, put together some really nice gifts. Best of all, the recipe makes a truly delicious and decadent treat.

First of all, I want to warn, this is NOT the standard recipe that is widely circulated on the internet. If you are unsure, here is the one I am talking about. I started with that recipe and, after extensive testing, have come up with a modified version. I have made a couple of small but significant changes. I don't want to bog down the post for people just coming in for the recipe, but if you want to see my reasoning for the changes, they are at the end of this entry.

I have 2 versions of the recipe. One is the traditional version which requires the gift-recipient to add their own egg. The other only requires the recipient to add oil and/or water. You can get powdered egg in your grocer's baking section; you can use powdered egg whites if they don't carry powdered whole egg. Note, powdered egg is a bit expensive, so that may determine whether you use it or not. However, while a can is pricey, it usually contains a lot of eggs, so it can be used for a while.

Cake Dessert in a Cup -- Basic Recipe

1 cake mix any flavor
1 (4 serving size) instant pudding mix (not sugar free), any flavor

Place dry cake mix and dry pudding mix into a large bowl and blend well with a whisk. This will be about 4 – 4 ½ cups dry mix and will make 8-9 coffee cup cake mixes. Place ½ cup dry mix into a sandwich bag. Place mix into a corner of the bag and tie it there with a twist tie. Continue making packets until all your dry mix is used.

Cake Dessert in a Cup -- Powdered Egg Recipe

1 cake mix any flavor
1 (4 serving size) instant pudding mix (not sugar free), any flavor
Powdered egg (equivalent to how much the cake mix asks for--usually 3 eggs)

Place dry cake mix, powdered egg, and dry pudding mix into a large bowl and blend well with a whisk. This will be about 4 – 4 ½ cups dry mix and will make 8-9 coffee cup cake mixes. Place ½ cup dry mix into a sandwich bag. Place mix into a corner of the bag and tie it there with a twist tie. Continue making packets until all your dry mix is used.

Glaze mix

2 heaping tbsp powdered sugar
1 tsp dry flavoring, such as powdered lemonade mix, powdered orange breakfast drink mix, cocoa powder (optional)

Place the glaze mix ingredients into a sandwich bag and tie into corner of bag. Label this bag “glaze mix” and attach it to the other bag with a twist tie (snack-size bags work well for this too).

Cake Flavor Combinations

I found that a yellow or white cake with pretty much any complimenting flavor works well. But here are some combinations to consider:

• Lemon cake mix-lemon pudding
• Yellow cake mix-chocolate pudding
• Devils food cake mix-chocolate pudding
• Pineapple cake mix-coconut pudding
• Butterscotch cake mix-butterscotch pudding
• Yellow cake mix-butterscotch pudding
• Orange Supreme cake mix -vanilla pudding
• Strawberry cake mix-vanilla pudding
• Yellow cake mix-pistachio pudding
• Chocolate cake mix-pistachio pudding
• German Chocolate cake mix chocolate pudding*, use shredded coconut in glaze
• Chocolate cake mix-banana pudding

Putting together the Cups
Select a large coffee cup. It should hold at least 1 ½ cups of water. Make sure it doesn't have any metallic paint on it as it will be used in the microwave. Place one bag of cake mix and one bag of glaze mix in each coffee cup. Place a copy of the instruction card in the cup, then wrap in plastic and secure with a ribbon. In the photo above, I simply used clear plastic kitchen wrap. I prefer using multi-colored yarn to tie gifts instead of ribbon, since it is much easier to work with, costs much less, and is still pretty. Also, I have to admit I didn't label the bags. It might have been a nice touch, but I didn't think it was necessary, especially since the directions make it clear which bag to use for each step.

I have created instruction cards which you can print out and use for this project. There are actually 3 sets. One for the original recipe (with my modified cook time), one for the powdered egg recipe, and one for a water-only recipe (using powdered egg, and great for students and others who may not have access to oil and eggs). I created a version with a graphic for color printers, and a B&W version as well. If you want to make your own cards, the text instructions are under each version.

Traditional Version
Graphic Tag: Single Tag, Multi-Tag
Black & White Tag: Single Tag, Multi-Tag

Bake a Cake in a Cup
Generously spray inside of coffee cup with cooking spray. Empty contents of large packet into cup. Add 1 egg, 1 tbsp water, and 1 tbsp of oil to dry mix. Mix 15
seconds, carefully mixing in all the dry mix. Microwave on full power for 1-1/2 minutes (2 minutes for low wattage microwaves). While cake is cooking, place ingredients from "glaze mix" into a small container and add 1 tsp water. Mix well. When cake is done, pour glaze over cake in cup. Enjoy while warm!

Powdered Egg Version -
Graphic Tag: Single Tag, Multi-Tag
Black & White Tag: Single Tag, Multi-Tag

Bake a Cake in a Cup
Generously spray inside of coffee cup with cooking spray. Empty contents of large packet into cup. Add 2 tbsp water, and 1 tbsp of oil to dry mix. Mix 15
seconds, carefully mixing in all the dry mix. Microwave on full power for 1-1/2 minutes (2 minutes for low wattage microwaves). While cake is cooking, place ingredients from "glaze mix" into a small container and add 1 tsp water. Mix well. When cake is done, pour glaze over cake in cup. Enjoy while warm!

Powdered Egg, Water Only Version -
Graphic Tag: Single Tag, Multi-Tag
Black & White Tag: Single Tag, Multi-Tag

Bake a Cake in a Cup
Generously spray inside of coffee cup with cooking spray. Empty contents of large packet into cup. Add 3 tbsp of water to dry mix. Mix 15
seconds, carefully mixing in all the dry mix. Microwave on full power for 1-1/2 minutes (2 minutes for low wattage microwaves). While cake is cooking, place ingredients from "glaze mix" into a small container and add 1 tsp water. Mix well. When cake is done, pour glaze over cake in cup. Enjoy while warm!

Design Variation - Cake in a Bowl

This was actually inspired by my sister who is a school teacher. When I thought about giving out this gift to her, I cringed knowing she gets dozens of coffee mugs every year from her students. It then occurred to me that a small bowl would work just as well. You can usually get nice small candy dishes at the dollar store. I thought this would be perfect and would be different than ordinary mugs. There is no change to the recipe at all. Now, I'll admit, it's not a "cup", so technically the tags above don't fit, but I didn't want to make a whole new batch since the majority of the gifts I were giving *were* mugs. So, if you use this idea, you can make your own tags, or simply use the ones provided above.

Changes to Original Recipe

As I mentioned above, I tried this recipe before making it for gift. And I'm glad I did. Our testing was wide and pretty thorough. In fact, we turned it into a big science/home-ec homeshool project, so if you want the details of the scientific aspect of our testing, you can check out this post here.

The first and foremost thing I found with the recipe is that the 2 minute cooking time was WAY too long. I ended up with a badly burnt cake. I have a high powered microwave, and I tried a variety of times and 1-1/2 minutes was plenty. Mind you, I do believe the 2 minute time would be perfect for a low wattage microwave (the original recipe warns that 2 minutes might not be enough for a low wattage, and I disagree with that) I found the version with the whole egg too was just a wee bit too eggy. At the suggestion of another LOK blogger, I substituted powdered egg--the equivalent of the 3 eggs the cake mix calls for. With the powdered egg, I needed to up the water to 2 tbsp or else it was too dry and would not cook right.

As for the glaze, 1/3 cup of powdered sugar was just WAY too much. I mean, I know people like glaze, but this would make so much, the cake was swimming in it. Not to mention cost and waste. After trying a variety of measurements, I settled on 2 heaping tablespoons of powdered sugar and 1 tsp of water. I tried the powdered flavoring, but honestly it was just a bit too much. The cake was very rich, almost like a brownie, and didn't need a contrasting flavor. However, I could see where someone might want to use it, so 1 tsp worked well.

When we got the core recipe down, I will tell you the cake was fantastic. Aside from making this just for gifts, I could definitely see myself making a batch and keeping it in a container for quick snacks. I mean, how awesome is that? Cake anytime, in just a minute and a half. Awesome...and dangerous!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Learning to Love our Fake Tree

We used to have a real tree every year, we would go out to a Christmas tree farm, choose the tree and then chop it down as a family. The last time we did it, we spent $50 on the tree. That tree was beautiful for about 2 weeks, then dropped all it's needles on my carpet and cost us an additional $25 to dispose of after the holidays. That experience helped us to make the decision to switch to an artificial tree. We paid $100 for a 7 ft prelit tree. This will be our 4th yr using it & although we have to put additional strings of lights on it because some of the built in ones don't work anymore, I feel like we are getting our money's worth. Realistically, I can see us using this same tree for at least another 4 or 5 yrs, maybe longer.

I fought the idea of a fake tree for many years. Hubby's family had been using one for years, but when we got married I insisted that we absolutely must have a REAL tree. We developed a routine of waiting until the weekend before Christmas to get the best price. Those first few years we bought trees that were already cut, being sold on a lot or even outside the grocery store. We tried to never spend more than $10 on our tree and our city public works dept took the tree away for free as long as you put it out New Year's week. When our oldest 2 sons were 4 and 6 we discovered the Christmas tree farm. It was an amazing place. We got to ride on a tractor and go out into a field to pick out our very own perfect tree. When we had found the right one, we got to cut it down with a little saw and then the tractor would haul it back to a barn where there was a bonfire. We drank hot chocolate by the bonfire while a man with a chain saw measured our tree and cut the stump off straight so it would fit in our tree stand. That first year we spent $30 on the tree and another $25 on the tree stand. For the next 11 yrs we returned to the same tree farm every year and each year we paid a little more for our tree until that final year when we paid $50. Our city also cut back on services and started charging a fee for picking up the tree at some point in there.

The first year we used an artificial tree was after our big move from California to Tennessee. We moved the first week in November and wouldn't have been able to find a tree farm if we had wanted to. Hubby and I were both working full time, our kids were still adjusting to the move and time was at a premium, so to make things easier and cut down on clean up we decided to go with a prelit artificial tree from Target. At the time, I think that Hubby and I both thought it would be a one time deal. We had every intention of going back to our old routine when life was less hectic, but instead we discovered how much easier it was for us to simply take the tree out of the box every year & set it up. No pine needles on the floor, no pine sap in the carpet, no removal fee. We were instant converts. The kids complained a little, but even they were happy to not have the chore of keeping the tree watered and the needles vacuumed up. The youngest kids have never seen a real tree in someones house.

Over the years I estimate we spent about $500 or more on live trees. None of those trees were in our house for more than 3 weeks....that now seems like such a waste.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Decorating for Christmas

Decorating for Christmas is challenging in a house with small children. It is made even more challenging when you have a large family in a small space & have to figure out where you are going to put a tree. Adding to this for us this year is the fact that we will have 2 one year olds running around (and wanting to pull things off the tree). Our living room is literally wall to wall furniture. On the longest wall, we have a couch with end tables at each end. We have decided that one of those end tables will temporarily be relocated to make room for our tree. That corner is closed off by the side of a chair & the side of the couch, hopefully this will be enough to keep the babies from trying to actually climb the tree. I had considered putting the tree on top of the end table, but our artificial tree is 7 feet tall & the ceilings are only 9 ft. We won't be buying any new decorations this year & a smaller tree is definitely not in the budget. We will also be limiting the amount of time we keep the tree lit to save electricity.

We have tons of decorations, so making the house festive is something that we can do that the kids will enjoy. I find it very helpful to move all the furniture out away from the ways & vacuum all around the walls before starting the decorating process. This way I can do a mini deep clean of the living room and the kids are enthusiastic about helping because they know when it is done we will get to put up & decorate the tree. The trick is to not trash the rest of the house while getting the living room done, some years we have more success with this than others. I've adapted the basket method of cleaning to try to help with keeping things under control.

I start by locating & emptying every laundry basket we own. We currently have 8 serviceable good size baskets. Each basket is designated for a particular room in the house. One basket for each of the kids rooms, one basket for the kitchen, one for the garage, etc. As we find things in the living room that belong somewhere else, instead of our old method of sending a kid to put away that one thing, we put it into the basket for that other room & we continue working until either the living room is done or the baskets get full. When it is time to put the things in the baskets away, I've had the best success when the kids & I take one basket at a time & put everything in it away together. I don't do this with things that belong to my 18 yr old, he is the oldest at home & he usually isn't home to help much, so we just put his basket in his room & I insist he "do something" with the contents so I can have the basket back. We don't do this as often as we should, but it does work very well when we do.

I keep my Christmas decorations in 2 large Rubbermaid totes. These totes are a shade of green that is different from any of my other totes & they are stored in an under the stairs closet that only contains holiday decorations and coats. In years past I had to search for days to find the decorations, so a few yrs ago I switched to this plan & it has worked wonderfully. The tree is in the original cardboard box from when we bought it & it is always the first thing to go up. Next we open the totes & start decorating the tree. Our ornaments are a variety of styles. Each child has a few that belong to them individually and then there are some plastic ones & stuffed toy ones that are for the youngest kids to put on the lower branches of the tree. All the glass ornaments go toward the top out of reach of little fingers. My porcelain angel goes on the top as the last decoration & then we light the tree. The kids only really care about the tree. I usually wait a few days after the tree is up & then put the stockings & other decorations out while the babies are napping and the older kids are at school. I keep the decorations the kids make at school every year & try to use as many of them as possible as well.

I put lights up in the windows that face the street. I find this easier than putting lights up on the roof line, the kids like it and we only keep them lit from after dinner until bedtime. Having them inside also means we can use less expensive light strings. We do have a few strings of outdoor lights and we may put them in our bushes the weekend before Christmas. Spreading out the decorating saves on electricity and also seems to keep my kids enjoying the progression up to the holiday itself.

This year we will be emphasizing enjoying our family time and helping others in need. I'm hopeful this focus will compensate for the fewer gifts under the tree and the elimination of some traditional activities that are just too expensive for our budget this year.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Hands full & Loving It (Mostly)

Hi! I'm new here. Don't I look cute in the avatar to the left? It's fun to have an avatar because if I had to use a picture, I'd have to track down one of my children, get them to take a picture of me that's not too fuzzy, then photoshop out the messy house in the background and the spit up on my shirt to get such a good likeness of myself.

But seriously, I'm cute in real life, too. My name is Christina, and I'm a busy mom (like you!) with a house full of fun and quirky kids that keep me on my toes. I've been blogging at my own site, Hands Full & Loving It (Mostly), for several years and thought it would be fun to be here as well. My life revolves around the chaos and joy of seven little ones, ages 9, 8, 6, 4, 4, 2, and 3 months. I have 5 girls, 2 boys and one set of identical twin girls. People comment often about my family's size, question my sanity (I'm not crazy. Really. I'm totally normal), and tell me I have my hands full. They are pretty full, but I'm loving it. We plan on more children, but we don't know how many yet.

I'm pretty laid back (aren't we all after a certain number of kids?), and I look forward to getting to know you better. I like to be organized, but I don't obsess about it. I like routines and order, but I also know there's times when plans have to change and routines don't work. I don't take myself too seriously and neither should you.

When I'm not strategizing some new way to keep chaos from reigning supreme at our house, I enjoy reading, blogging, and digital scrapbooking.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Turkey Day Wishes

From all of us here at the Full House Blog, and from the Family...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sticker Shock

It's been lean times in these parts. Like many, we are struggling to survive in the wake of a wounded economy. Large families, in general, are weathering this time better, simply because they are used to having to be frugal and economize, even during times of plenty. Still, everyone I know is hurting in some way or the other.

There are a lot of times people will ask me what my best cost-saving tips are. Thing is, it isn't that easy to rattle a few off the top of my head. Not that I don't economize, but the fact that it's not really one thing, but a series of things that help me stay afloat budget-wise. Many of the things have become almost second nature...I don't really think about them and it doesn't *feel* like I'm doing anything extraordinary.

The same applies when it comes to groceries. I'm usually on autopilot. I know which store has the best price for meat, and that store might not be the same place I can get my toiletries at bargain prices. It's not uncommon for me to frequent 2-3 different stores during a shopping trip to maximize my savings. There's nothing wrong with that. However, when you do things like that for so long, you tend to lose sight of how it is on the other side. Meaning, most people don't live (or shop) like that. I have to admit, I'd forgotten quite a bit about the non-frugal lifestyle, until a few days ago.

Since we don't have a lot of money, our donations to local charities have been minimal This is a terrible side-effect of our economic crisis. At a time when more people need charity more than ever, donations are at an all-time low in our area. People just don't have the extra funds to give when they barely have enough to cover their own expenses. So, when our local church mentioned they were participating in a grocery store share program, I was excited at the prospect. Basically, we would do our shopping at a particular store and part of our purchase would be donated to the church. Now, the store was not one I shop at regularly since they are not very competitively priced. Still, I felt this was an easy and important way to give, and decided to do our bi-weekly "big" shopping trip there.

All I can say is...WOW! And that's not a good "wow", if you were wondering. As I went through the store, getting the items off my list, I almost felt sick. There were some items that were twice what I would pay at another store. Most items were 20-30% more expensive. I do frequent this store on occasion, to get a few things here and there. But because I never really bought my standard groceries there, I never really stopped to look at the different prices; I never realized just how much their normal pricing was. Granted, because of the holiday, there were a few really good deals (and these are the types of things I would normally grab and stock-up on). However, any savings were more than eaten up through the cost of regular-priced items.

What shocked me is the fact that I know many people who shop there. They never think twice about prices. If they get something on sale, it's a bonus. However, they like shopping at a "higher-end store" and wouldn't dream of stepping into an Aldi. Thing is, while I never had anything against discount grocers, before I had a large family I *did* shop at this store regularly. How things had changed--not so much in the store, but in my own spending mentality.

In the end, I wound up $40 over budget. Utilizing my regular multi-store routine, I would have walked away with change. I realize now, I probably could have just given that overage amount in the donation basket and saved myself the aggravation. But I think overall the percentage of what we spent will still end being more for the church, so it was worth it. Not to mention, I got to learn, or rather re-learn, a valuable lesson. I often grumble on my grocery trips, as we hit one store for this and then another for that. Most of our shopping takes several hours as we make 3-4 stops. I come home exhausted, not wanting to face the extra hour it will take to put up the groceries. I sometimes do wonder if it's worth it. But, as I looked at that bloated register tape, I was reminded that the extra time, the extra aggravation, and even the extra gas (when prices were high), are a small price to pay to keep our grocery budget in check...and to allow us to survive.

Honestly, if I hit the lottery tomorrow, I just don't see myself going back to that kind of spending. I don't see myself being able to justify paying all of that money when I know there are alternatives out there. Granted, I would love not to have to watch every penny, but I don't think I could feel okay knowing I am paying double for something I can get down the street for far cheaper. The frugal lifestyle may be a necessity, but, for me, it's also just make good sense.

Large Family Laundry

Just wanted to post a link to a good post about one large-family mom's take on laundry. It's over on the 4 or More blog, and you can check it out HERE. Be sure to click through and check out the pictures of her family closet.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dishwashers and Gift Bags

It's not what you think. It would take a pretty big giftbag to fit a dishwasher in! I just wanted to point out a couple of new articles that I put up on the LOK site.

While laundry is the #1 scourge of most large families, the dishwasher is the appliance that actually gets used the most often. I did a lot of research recently and wrote an article on ways you can save money using this appliance. There are recipes for homemade detergent, as well as tips on keeping the unit running well, in addition to tricks on how to get your dishes their cleanest. You can read it HERE.

Another article I did was on a project that I took up 3 years ago. It's for making fabric drawstring bags to wrap your holiday gifts in. Now, this is not a project for the rushed and harried. It takes quite a while to make enough bags for a whole family. But it is far worth it. Last year was the first year we exclusive went cloth, and I cannot tell you how happy I was. Wrapping was a cinch, and I felt so glad not having to run out and buy paper and tape--or fear running out of either in the middle of wrapping. To read more about this, you can check out the article HERE.

Oh, and while I'm at it, I'll also mention that we have a new article on inexpensive holiday gifts which you can see HERE.

Happy reading!

House Blog Cleaning

We've been tidying up around the LOK blogs! We've been updating our sidebars so that our readers can more easily find what they are looking for. We've also added some new functionality like subscribing to our feed, as well as a translator so our friends from abroad can have an easier time reading.

In addition, we are still looking for bloggers to join our group here. If you have a large family and would like to share your stories, tips, and tricks on running a large-family household, drop us a line for more information at lotsofkids123[at]

Thank you everyone for your support!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

40 (or so) Days of Christmas

I was reading the forum over at our sister-site, Tons of Kids, and there was a discussion on how to do a non-gift Christmas. As I mentioned in my previous post, this is a big consideration for a lot of families as they struggle with limited finances due to the bad economy. There was a post from a woman who was planning to do this but with a little twist. I thought the idea was so good, I'm sharing part of the post here (and will be adding this idea to an article I'm working on for the Lotsofkids site):

"We decided to do a no gift Christmas this year. Our children were so appallingly selfish last year. It was a real wake up call as to how my husband and I were failing in teaching our children the real reason for the season. Instead we are giving them the one thing they really want; more time together as a family. Starting November 22 and ending December 31 we are having what we call "40 days of Christmas". We have one family activity planned for every day and at least twice a week the activity has to focus on Jesus. And since we are also dealing with a small budget all activities are low cost/no cost. Some of the things we are doing are: game night, sledding, making a snowman (huge sacrifice on my part since I hate snow), making a thermos of hot chocolate and driving around looking at Christmas lights, decorating an outdoor tree for the wildlife (bag of cranberries, bowl of popcorn, and some string), candlelight dinner, snow ice cream, scavenger hunt, watching Christmas classics, I'm having the children make the Christmas cards this year instead of buying them, making cookies for teachers/neighbors/friends instead of buying gifts (we are making Belgian cookies, which costs about $20 a batch but makes 90 gazillion cookies-I love them!), we are also shopping for the local food shelf and the angel tree.

The kids were disappointed when we told them that we weren't giving them presents this year but once we explained what we were doing instead they really got on board. We also let the kids help with the planning and they were able to choose activities that they've always wanted to do but my husband and I weren't willing to do. I'm really looking forward to the holidays this year and I hope that this ends up being the best Christmas your family has ever had."

Of course, a family could do any variation of this. The 12 Days of Christmas, 21 days, whatever works with your schedule. Of course, you could do this as expensive, or inexpensively, as you like. What a wonderful way to bring the true meaning of the holiday to your family.

A special thanks to "Janelle" for this great idea!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Frugal Holiday

We've cancelled Christmas.

Okay, not really. In actuality, because of unemployment and the struggling economy, our Christmas is going to be pretty meager. What's funny is the fact that last year during the holidays my husband was out of work too. We thought that holiday season was tight, but this one is turning out to be even more a challenge.

I have to admit to feeling bad. We are not really the ones to overindulge our kids, whether during the holidays or during the year. Even still, our kids have plenty. They have video games, and dvds, and other fun stuff. Sadly, they haven't gotten any *new* stuff in a long while. That has happened in the past as well, but there is always that thought that you'll make it up to them during the holidays. Not this year.

I think the biggest thing I am having trouble getting over is MY feelings about it. The end-of-the-year holidays are very special to me. They really are the time where you focus on family. Gift-giving is an extension of that for me. It's the magic of the season. I love seeing the kids happily opening presents on Christmas morning. I love thinking of meaningful gifts for them...even if that turns out to be a much-requested video game. I know deep down they will be okay without a ton around the tree. I'm sure we'll managed a few small things, not to mention we're pulling out the power tools and sewing machine for homemade gifts. Still, it just doesn't feel the same.

Thing is, I have to get over it. As much as they may want the newest gadget, chances are it will be collecting dust in a few months. The simple gifts are always the best. I'm trying to look back and remember the things I loved, and to remember only a few things really stand out in my mind. It's usually the little things, too.

As if in answer to that, just the other day we came home from the grocery store. There were quite a few items we hadn't had a chance to put up. They went to good use:

Simple boxes turned into blocks, creating buildings and terrains. The kids improvising. I'm sure this was much like what children did in the past, in the days before we had all these fancy gizmos. I guess they don't say that a cardboard box is a child's favorite toy for nothing.

I'll admit, my older kids are not going to take much solace in mac&cheese building blocks. They want more sophisticated things. Still, they have learned some lessons. Their wish lists are much smaller this year, and focused on the things they *really* want. It was heartening to hear my son tell me, "I found this game I want and it's only $5!" Maybe the holidays won't be so bad afterall.

Over the next month or so, we'll be focusing on having a Frugal Holiday Season. You'll be able to find lots of tips and tricks, as well as general musings here, on the LOK Cooking blog, and our general blogs. (You can get to them all by clicking on the Lotsofkids Blogging Home button on the sidebar.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Creating a Pantry

We are renting a split level house. Because we are renting, we are very limited on the changes we are allowed to make. I have a LOVE/HATE relationship with this house. I LOVE it because it works & we are able to live peacefully with our 5 youngest kids in it. I HATE it for too many reasons to name....mainly cost & energy efficiency, things that I have no control over.

Since my options are limited, but I NEED storage space in the kitchen, I had to be inventive. While I call the house a split level, I have been told it is technically a split come in the front door & you are on a landing, you can either go up to the kitchen & living areas or you can go down to the laundry & the space we are using as our master bedroom. For todays purpose we go UP. At the top of the stairs, there is a "hall" closet to the right, the livingroom to the left and the kitchen straight ahead. While we could really use a place to hang our coats, a pantry was of more urgency. The kitchen has four small cabinets that barely hold our dishes, glasses & pots & pans. We needed a place to store food.

We solved the coat storage problem by putting removable hooks on the back of each bedroom door and decided to use the "hall closet" as a pantry. The closet had a traditional rod for hanging coats & a shelf above that. We took a 3 shelf (cheap) pressed wood bookcase & mounted it just above the baseboard in the closet.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

It's cold out there!

Every year I do this dance. It's called the "when will we break down and turn on the heat in the house?" dance. Living in Chicago, we are used to brutal winters. Autumn is my favorite seasons, and while we are often gifted with a few lovely days well into November, we can get some pretty cold days as early as September. I hate the thought of the heating bills we are hit with in the deep winter months. So, I play the game, trying to keep from turning on the heat until the last possible moment. With temperatures dipping into the 30s at night, it's been hard not to. We haven't caved yet! Though, admittedly, we are cheating a bit, using small heater fans to supplement. But I really want to hold off a little while longer.

How long do you wait until turning on the heat? Have you broken down and used yours yet? Comment and let other readers know how you handle the beginning of "heating season."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Musing about when Less is More

I have a new Michelle's Musing over at Lotsofkids. There has been a lot of talk about how the bad economy is having an unexpected positive effect. People are going back to the basics. Frugality was once equated with being cheap. Not anymore. Erika writes about how being frugal is a blessing for her family over at 4 or More. You can find countless articles and blog entries on the Internet where people are talking about getting back to the basics. This is a good thing. I think most readers of this blog are looking for ideas on how to live comfortably on less. I hope some of the tips here will inspire. As sad as the reasoning is behind this trend (a recession and struggling economy), I am happy that the lifestyle many large families on suddenly not being frowned upon. Encouraging, indeed.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Simplify those clothes!

Last night we went clothes shopping for the kids!! I know to many this doesn't sound all that exciting, but this is the first time WE (my dh and I) have been able to really buy clothes for our kids. Up until this point it's mostly been grandma or hand me downs from other people.

That said, for some time now I have been planning out how we can simplify our clothing. We have four children 7 and under, one more on the way and Lord willing, we'll have bunches more. Clothing can QUICKLY become overwhelming when it comes to storage and maintaining. One things we have always tried to do is DE-CLUTTER the clothes on a regular basis. For example, my 5 year old does not need 10 pairs of pants, even if they are all cute - so together her and I pick out 4-6 pairs she is going to keep.

When we went to buy clothes last night I went with very specific ideas in mind. All we needed was jeans for all three of the bigger kids, socks & a few long sleeve shirts for the two oldest and underwear. To make laundry easier, I planned on only buying ONE TYPE of sock for each particular child. So I bought a big 10 pack of socks for each child and they have one or two random "fancy" socks at home. This makes matching and sorting easier. For jeans, everyone got only two pairs of jeans (oldest got three, he has NO pants LOL!). This may seem like very little, but in all honesty, with how often we do laundry and how quickly kids wear clothes out, the likelihood that we'll need more is slim. AND if we do need another pair we can go get them, rather than having one too many and it going to "waste" or take up much needed space.

I don't know if this little bit of info will be helpful to anyone lol :) but I thought I'd share. I wish someone had told me about this with child #1 so we wouldn't be spending our time now trying to figure this out with four kiddos.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The New Kitchen Challenge

A few months ago I had the idea to do a cooking challenge. Meaning that periodically we would run mini-contests, posing cooking tasks to the community, and seeing what everyone would come up with. I knew this was not a unique concept (official names for such contests are "food events"), but I wanted to do something that regular family cooks could participate it.

Our first couple of rounds went well. However, we had a bit of a shake-up prior to our last contest, and as a result our most recent one fell kinda flat. We only had 2 entries to our "cereal challenge." So, I realized that perhaps the challenge needed a reboot. After some thought, I decided that the best thing would be to broaden it a bit. And thus, the KITCHEN Challenge was born.

This Challenge will have the same concept as to cooking one, except it won't be limited to cooking. The goal of the challenge is to help inspire our readers in all areas of the kitchen, from cooking, to budgeting, to organizing.

Since we have several people who have indicated they want to help in this endeavor, the challenge will be periodically guest-hosteded on different blogs throughout the year. The host will be in charge of coming up with the challenge and participate in the judging. If you're interested in possible hosting a Challenge, drop us a line at lotsofkids123[at]

Usually our Challenges are host bi-monthly, but since things kinda fell flat last month, we are going to be doing a new challenge this month. It will be hosted by our sister blog, Large Family Cooking. Be sure to check out the current challenge here.

For more general information on the LOK Kitchen Challenge, as well as to grab banners to put your website, click HERE.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Shoe Storage

One of the things that I think is hardest for large families is the "clothes" situation. That extends to outerwear and footwear. Keeping your family clothed appropriately for all seasons means that you need to store that stuff. My salvation in that regard was utilizing several cube organizers designed for shoes. I labeled them for easy use. You can see pictures on this page, near the bottom.

Of course, one size does not fit all, and you may not be able to use shoe cubes which can take up a lot of wall space. Or you may simply want another solution. One of the Lotsofkids staffers, Melanie, came up with this great solution for her family. Her kitchen closet is used to store coats and other outside gear. Since there was unused space in the front of the closet, her husband mounted store bought wire shelving on the door. The shelving was deliberately mounted upside-down and at an angle, so that there would be a lip to hold the shoes in place. I absolutely love this idea, and think that it could also work well in basements and on regular walls! Another bit of ingenuity from a large-family mom and dad.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Potracks on the Cheap

Living in an old house, the layout of our home is not the most efficient. While the house it not small, it’s not huge either. Most of the rooms are narrow and there is not a lot of free space. The kitchens in particular are pretty small. That has forced us to be very practical and utilize the space wisely. One of the ways we do this is by using pot racks. Having the majority of pots hanging above the stove freed up valuable cabinet space for other items. We have 2 kitchens in our home, and I have utilized a pot rack for years in the upper kitchen. However, last year we did a small remodel of the downstairs kitchen (just paint and new hardware, but it made a big difference). I wanted to utilize a potrack for that kitchen, but 2 things stood in my way.

First challenge: The ceilings are very high and have ceiling tiles on them. To mount a rack on chains in the ceiling would be very difficult.

Second challenge: No money. Our other pot rack had cost $60 15 years ago. Nowadays a comparable rack would easily run over $100.

So we needed to come up with a solution. I went to the internet for inspiration. I wanted to find cheap, do-it-yourself racks. There were a lot of options, but most involved buying plans and then buying a lot of material. I bookmarked about a dozen sites that interested me and then weeded it down from there. Here were my top picks:

Pipe Potrack - This was a great rack and I thought it was a very clever and inexpensive way to do a rack. Due to the problems I mentioned earlier, this one wouldn’t have worked, but it was worth an honorable mention.

Wire Shelving Potrack - I fell in love with the ingenuity of this rack. I mean, it really is functional and cheap and…well, I love it. I wanted SOOOO badly to go with this design, and even had a piece of wire shelving I could have used. But our layout didn’t work. Still, I felt the need to share it here because I think others might find inspiration.

Bike Wheel Potrack - Actually, I love this idea, even though it wouldn’t have worked in our space. Very clever.

Home Depot Potrack - What I liked about this link is that they give you the instructions, and the pot rack is really nice and classy. But, bottom line, the materials would have cost as much as a regular rack.

Log Potrack - This one really intrigued me. A first I just thought it a neat (and cheap) concept. Eventually, though, it would be the one I would base our design off of.

So, once it was all said and done, we decided to go with a rack made from a simple 2x4. Using the design from the rack listed above, we bought hardware and put it together. Because of the high ceilings, we needed a way to mount it lower and from the wall. That is where I got the idea to use heavy duty plant hooks. I utilize these in another part of my house for lighting (will write about that another time. It did add a little more cost to the project, but turned out fine.

Here’s the pictures of our project. Oh, and one of our cat who decided to sniff around while we worked. Click on the picture to view a bigger version in a separate window.

The whole project cost us $35. If we had been able to ceiling mount it, the cost would have been $25. Note that we did not stain the wood, but plan to in the future. For now, it’s functional, looks pretty darn good, and did its job—freeing up storage space. Who could ask for anything more.

September Cooking Challenge

Cooking with Cereal

This challenge actually was born out of a dilemma I recently had. We had purchased cereal on sale a while back, and for whatever reason it had not gotten eaten. Probably because it was not a super-sweet brand the kids normally eat. So, I started thinking that I didn't want this to go to waste, but I had no idea how to eat it other than the traditional way. So, I thought--there must be a way to incorporate cereal into a dish. And not just a dessert. How about a snack, or a main dish.

So, the challenge is born. Of course, there is the temptation to go with a rice-krispie-treat knockoff. But I am hoping you all are a bit more creative than that. So the challenge is to create a dish incorporating cereal. Since we are trying to use up the cereal, you should incorporate at least a one cup of cereal.

No limit on which brand or type of cereal you can use. The recipe should be original, or a fair alteration on an existing recipe. Creativity will factor heavily into this challenge, so keep that in mind.

Since we are still hammering out who is going to be hosting the challenge, as well as tweaking the overall rules a bit, we are not going to have a formal "rule page" for this month's challenge. The only rules that need to be followed is that you need to either post your entry somewhere on the web (and give us a link) or email us the details. Pictures are a plus, but not mandatory. Any further information on the challenge will posted on this blog, and links to any entries can be posted here in the comments of this blog.

Happy cooking,everyone!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Coming Soon!

Coming Monday. Our new Cooking Challenge for September! Be sure to come back and check it out.

Also, we've been a bit slow here on the blog, but are hoping to get things started again. We have a lot planned, including cooking help, household organization, holiday fun, and more.

Lastly, we are looking for bloggers to join our team! If you are a mom of many (4 or more kids--natural/adopted/blended) and are interested in sharing your household journey with us, drop me a line at lotsofkids123[at]

I'll be back this weekend with a new "space-saving" blog entry. See you then!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Finally...Cooking Challenge Update

Goodness, it's been over 2 months since we started this challenge, and we're just getting around to finishing it off! It's been crazy. Unfortunately, we had a few hiccups along the way. Plus, July is's "sabbatical" month, when we just kick back and take it easy. However, we're back on track, and ready to close out the current challenge.

We didn't have a lot of participants this time around, and one of the issues some of the families had was that the challenge was cooking for 4. Particularly for large families, I think some of us moms have forgotten how to cook for less than a half-dozen people! Either way, we did have a few players and it was fun.

Below are the participants. Also, there is my additional entry which is listed below this post.

Annie Jones at Real Life Living
Kim at Growlies for the Gang
Anne at Cooking with Anne
Mirz at Large Family Network

And the winner is...KIM at Growlies for the Gang. Her dishes looked good, and from her description they tasted good too. She managed to make quite a few selections with the $15, too! Good job, Kim! She'll be receiving a winners badge to display on her blog or website.

Our next challenge is going to be something different. Be sure to check back September 1st when we announce our newest challenge.

June Cooking Challenge - Round Two!

I did this challenge last month, and when it got extended another month, I decided to give it another go, trying to come up with a totally different meal. So, with this in mind, I hit a different Dollar Store. Though, I should note it was a different location, but part of the same chain. What I noticed first and foremost was since I had shopped there last, their prices on most items had increased. Most items were .10 more than last time, and some as much as .25 more. That was really a significant thing, since on average the cost of the meal was 15% more than last time. That actually impacted me, as I had to make alterations to my plan based on the increased prices.

1 can of garbanzo beans - $.89
1 jar of minced onion - $1.10 <--up .10
1 bottle of olive oil $2.50 <-- the price on the shelf said $2.25, but clerk said that was old price, it's now $2.50
1 box melba toast $1.10
1 can chunk chicken $2.25 <--up .25
1 can of peas $.60
1 bottle of teriyaki $1.10
1 jar chunky peanut butter $1.10
1 box of spaghetti $1.10
1 4-pk of HandiSnak pudding cups $1.00
2 cans of strawberries in light syrup $2.00


I wasn't sure what I wanted to do for an appetizer. When I saw garbanzo beans, I immediately thought to do my simple hummus. But I didn't want to cheat and use oil as a pantry item. As I was deciding on something else, I was excited to see that the dollar store carried a very small bottle of olive oil. At $2.50, it was my most expensive item. But I wanted to do the hummus, and I figured I could use the oil for the main dish, so I went with it. I then purchased a bottle of minced garlic. I expected to serve it on regular crackers, but was pleasantly surprised to see this dollar store carried melba toast, so I opted for that. The hummus was made by running the garbanzo beans (a/k/a chick peas) through the food processor, adding a generous amount of minced garlic, a tablespoon of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste from the pantry. I should note, I didn't drain the beans well, and thus the consistency was thinner than normal. But, that was my bad, since I know better. It tasted fine though.

I was really lost on a main dish. I figured since there were so many pasta options, I would go that route. But I didn't want to do a typical Italian dish. I wanted something different. Then I remembered this recipe from Steph's Kitchen. It is a peanut-vegetable lo mein. Now, I had stumbled upon the dish months ago and bookmarked it, but had never actually made it. So, I had to go on memory, and modify it to fit into this challenge. Now, I had really wanted to use a different meat this time, and figured I could do a beef lo mein, but this is where the price jump affected me. The quarter difference was huge ($2.50 for a can of beef as opposed to $2.25 for the chicken). I didn't have the extra money to buy the beef, so I used chicken instead. Aside from the chicken, I bought 1 box of spaghetti, 1 jar of chunky peanut butter, and 1 bottle of teriyaki sauce. I bought a can of peas, planning to serve it on the side, but eventually decided to throw it into the stir-fry.

First I made the spaghetti according to box direction. For the sauce, I drained the chicken, reserving the liquid. In a deep frying pan (I don't have a wok, but you could use one if you have it), I fried up the chicken and 1 tablespoon of the minced garlic. Once heated through, I removed from the pan. I then added the reserved liquid, 1/4 cup of the teriyaki sauce, 1/2 jar of peanut butter, and 1 cup of water. Inspired by Steph's recipe, I also added a dash of cayenne pepper from my pantry. I didn't use any additional salt or other seasonings, as the teriyaki covered that. I cooked the sauce until the peanut butter was smooth, then simmered for about 5 minutes until thick. Then I added the chicken and the peas to the sauce, mixing well. Then I took about 3/4 of the spaghetti and put it into the frying pan, tossing until coated. 3/4 of the box turned out to be more than enough for the 4 adults that ate.

I have to admit, we were surprised how good this was. I mean, it was a really easy and good peanut sauce. I do think the dish would have been a lot better with wider variety of fresh or frozen veggies, but for a quick meal, this was really tasty and substantial. The one complaint I had wasn't about the dish, but about the brand of peanut butter. It said it was chunky, but there were very few peanut pieces. I think the dish was good as-is, but if I would make it again, I would use a different chunkier brand of peanut butter. I might even throw in some regular chopped peanuts. Also, I upped the amount of teriyaki used in Steph's recipe, but still thought it could have used a bit more than that. In fact, when I reheated leftovers, I did add additional teriyaki and it was much better. So, in the future, I would 1/2 cup of teriyaki. That said, overall, this was a hit for the adults. My kids don't like Chinese, so I didn't even try to get them to taste it!

I was totally torn on dessert. Basically my store had cake and brownie mixes (which mostly use refrigerator items which were not allowed), or pre-packaged Little Debbie type cakes. There was a lot of canned fruits. Then I came upon the best deal of the day. A 4-pack of pudding cups. For $1, this was a great deal. I had used canned strawberries for the last challenge and really didn't want to repeat, but "chocolate covered strawberries" is one of our favorite desserts, so I went ahead and got 2 cans. Dessert was simply 4-5 strawberries surrounded by chocolate pudding. This was a super big hit. Not nearly as good as the version with fresh strawberries, but a hit nonetheless. I do want to note, had prices not gone up so much, I estimate I would have had about $1.10 extra. If that was the case, I would have picked up a box of vanilla wafers to serve with the dessert.

I would definitely serve these dishes again. Though, this challenge did make me more appreciative of Aldi and other discount stores. I am still able to save a lot of money on groceries, but have a much better selection, and makes putting dinner on the table a lot easier.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Cooking Challenge Extended

With things being so hard economy-wise, even $15 is hard to swing. Or, probably more accurately, the gas money to get to the Dollar Store. So, in light of that, we have decided to extend our bi-monthly Cooking Challenge and amend the rules a bit. So, if you're game to play, now's the time. Here's the "cheats":

The premise is the same, $15 to make a meal for 4 (appetizer, main course/side, and dessert), but you are allowed to use things you have on hand in your own pantry...provided you could reasonably get them from a dollar store. An extra allowance is that you are not restricted to dollar stores, you can purchase the items from any discount grocer (such as Aldi). Again, just be fair and pick items you'd be able to get from a Dollar Tree or similar store.

I would really like to get more people involved, so if you wanted to play, here is your chance! Good luck!

Also, just to avoid any confusion, all entries will be listed with links in this thread.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

CWA/LOK Challenge entries

With the deadline looming...TOMORROW...Anne and I have posted our entries for this month's challenge.

You can read about Anne's HERE.

You can read about mine HERE at my new blog over at the Large Family Network. I decided to go with a family friendly hash. The blog entry has pictures of everything, but my favorite pic is below. I just think it looks great on the Pooh plate!

Blog/Site Roll of Other Entries:

None Yet.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

My Walls Will Never Be Clean

I'm thinking about this in a realistic light, really. I mean, I do have moments where I'm totally frazzled by the fact that the kids seem to be following behind me as I clean, messing up everything I've just done. That's not an exaggeration, either. I've actually caught them doing it! In fact, just the other day I was cleaning up the "library" (a.k.a. sun-porch-on-the-second-floor-now-filled-with-books) and I turned to grab something and Ian and Lara were happily playing with books I had just previously re-shelved. I wanted to put little signs on their chests reading, "Free to a Good Home" and set them out on the front walk, but I shook my head and sighed instead.

The walls in my home are that way, too. I can keep them clean about as long as I can keep the windows clean; 5 seconds from the last wipe is usually it. For something I clean so often, they should be sparkling, but they're messier than ever and I know they won't ever be clean.

Why is this? Well, you could say that the kids will one day be gone and then the walls will be clean, and I'll miss it all:

'The hand prints on the wall get higher and higher until one day they’re gone.'

That should hold true, at least for a while, but with my oldest daughter nearing her 19th birthday, and my youngest just nearing 19 months, the chances that I'll have grandchildren before my youngest is out of the house are quite high.

So, you see, I should be able to have a reprieve, even just for a short while, but I probably won't. I'll have grand kids to fill in the "gaps" on the wall before I ever get a chance to get them clean. And you know what? I'm good with that.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Waffles for Large Families

I just posted this picture in the 1000 Words blog, but thought I would re-post it here, since it truly is a great tip for large families.

I have to admit, I use frozen waffles. I know there are a lot of other moms out there who insist it is better and cheaper to make them homemade. Thing is, time does not allow, and since I only buy them when they are on sale, they end up being a relatively cheap meal for my family. In the past, when I made them, I would cook 4 at a time in my double toaster, and then put the cooked ones in the oven on a low heat to keep warm until the whole batch was done. Since my family can eat 4 boxes, that would take a while. Then I had a "DUH" moment when I realized the oven would work just as well. So I placed them all on the racks and cooked them. Granted, this requires 2 things. First, the racks need to be relatively clean--though honestly I my toaster is pretty dirty. Second, you need to be careful to line them up so they don't fall through the cracks, and that means taking care when sliding the racks in and out. Yes, we have had a few waffle casualties on the bottom of the stove. Otherwise, it works great, is so much faster than the toaster.

June Cooking Challenge

We have a new Cooking Challenge for June! Get over there and check it out. Even better, see if you are up to the challenge and participate!!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Money Saving Trick #1

Just a quick note. A great way to save money when running a large family household is to consider cutting your family's hair at home. I know this sounds daunting, but it is easier than you think. Even if you resort to giving your young boys a buzz cut, it can save you money even if you take the olders ones to the beauty shop. For more information and ideas, check out this article.

Speaking of beauty shops, over at the Mega-Moms blog, I talk about some of my recent hair-cutting adventures, complete with pictures and all. If you're interested, take a peek.

And the Winner is....

Okay, before I go and announce this, I do want to apologize. This challenge was a bit unorganized. That was due to my whirlwind idea to do it on short notice. So I do extend a "sorry" to those who couldn't participate due to the tight timeframe. We're hoping our June challenge runs a bit smoother.

Anne has a post on her blog to all of the entries, so I'll just link to that post. However, I am going to link to all of the entries which were posted on official blogs, so be sure to visit and check them out.

Annie Jones' entry at Real Life Living for 5 people

From Lisa at Living Easy serving 5

Aside from the one below, I also had a person entry listed on my family blog Coffee & Chaos.

Oh, and the winner is: Annie of Living Life Real! We loved that Annie managed to get dinner and desert! Great job, and thanks to everyone for reading and participating.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The LOK Entry for the Cooking Challenge

Since we are hosting this Challenge, we are not eligible for the prize...but we/I want to play along too. So, here's the submission.

Note, this entry isn't officially late...the pictures are! I made this dish this past weekend and intended to post this on Monday, but our camera seemed to run off and hide for a while. Though all small children in this house are claiming innocence...

This was actually the dish that inspired the April Cooking Challenge. When I first made it I was so impressed how cheap it was, and how it fed my whole family. It was created after I searched for a good one-dish breakfast. The use of sour cream was inspired by all of the quiche recipes I looked at!

As with my personal entry, this is made using "grocery store" stuff. I wanted to do that to show that even moms who might not feel they are from-scratch cooks could still throw together a dish that was great to eat but inexpensive. Also, I was trying to be fair and using some of the higher prices I have seen around. I am sure I could make this dish cheaper, such as I got eggs for $1.25 at the store last night, would would reduce the overall cost by $1.54.

Rich Breakfast Casserole

1 dozen eggs ($2.79)
1 carton sour cream ($1.00)
1 2lb package of frozen tater tots ($2.00)
1 8oz pkg of shredded cheddar ($2.00)*
1 loaf of white bread ($1.20)

Defrost tater tots (I put them in the microwave). Place in glass casserole dish, breaking the tots up with a spatula into smaller pieces. Crack all dozen eggs into a bowl and add 1 cup of water. Beat until frothy. Add whole carton of sour cream and 1/2 of cheese. Mix well. Pour over tater tots and stir until blended and egg is evenly distributed. Cook in 425 degree oven for 30-40 minutes or until eggs are set. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top. Cook for 3-5 minutes longer until cheese is melted. Cut into squares and serve with buttered toast.

This come in at $8 and feeds my family of 11. We eat meatless a couple times of week, and this has become one of our favorite non-meat dishes. However, I have also made this using packaged bacon bits ($2 a package on sale) or cooked and diced brown-and-serve sausage ($2 or cheaper on sale). Simply add the meat to the potatoes and mix before pouring the beaten eggs over the top. Note, for the meat version, I only put in half a carton of sour cream. Even with the addition of meat, it still comes under the 11 for $11.

*You could use another type of shredded cheese, but I found that cheddar gives the dish a much richer taste than say shredded mozzarella. A good alternative is to put cheddar in the casserole and mozzerella on top.

Those with smaller families were doing the 5 for $5 thing. This dish easily comes in on that:

1/2 dozen eggs ($1.40)
1 cup cheese ($1.00
1/2 carton sour cream ($.50)
1 lb of tater tots ($1.00)
10 slices of bread for toast ($1.00)
TOTAL = $4.90


And here's the pictures. I made 2 dishes, one non-meat, and one with bacon bits. I should note, my family ate the non-meat one for dinner that evening and we had leftovers. We had the bacon one for brunch the next morning.

Making the casserole. Doesn't look pretty at first...

• In the oven.

• Perfection! The meat version is the one in front.

• The non-meat entry, cut and ready to serve.

• Ain't it pretty?