25 Pantry Staples for Last Minute Meals

25 Pantry Staples for Last-Minute Meals {keeperofthehome.org}
Image by Larry Hoffman

Guest Post by Kate Tietje

There’s nothing worse than looking at the clock and realizing you need to have dinner on the table, soon. Only you have no idea what to make.  (Hmm…pantry staples to the rescue!)

It happens to all of us.  Some more often than others!

With some simple pantry staples, though, you’ll never get caught off guard again.  Sure, dinner may not be fancy.  But it will be healthy, it will be quick, and it will not require a trip to the grocery store.  Plus, it won’t require take-out or pizza delivery, and that’s a huge plus for your health and your wallet!

My family really enjoys eating Italian and Mexican-inspired dishes, as well as all-American comfort food.  This list of pantry staples and meal ideas are great for those types of meals!

Best part?  The meals or meal ideas with ^ next to them can usually be prepared in 30 minutes or less – exactly what you need when you don’t have a lot of time.

25 Pantry Staples for Last-Minute Meals {keeperofthehome.org}
Image by Lucia Sanchez

Top 25 Pantry Staples

1. Canned (organic) diced tomatoes

Why it’s good: Diced tomatoes are very versatile and can be tossed in almost anything.  They also can be pureed for an easy tomato sauce.  I always keep them around!

What to make:

  • Toss them in with chicken and Mexican spices for quick chicken tacos^
  • Add basil, onion and garlic for spaghetti sauce^ (add meat and/or veggies too if you like)
  • BLT pasta^
  • Add to sautéed onions and chicken stock for tomato soup^

2. Canned (organic) chick peas

Why it’s good: These are inexpensive and filled with protein.  Usually I recommend soaking and cooking your own dry beans, but canned work in a pinch.

What to make:

3. Canned (organic) black beans

Why it’s good: Black beans are a great addition to Mexican food.  They can be a side dish or tossed into a dish itself.  Plus, they’re nourishing and pretty cheap.

What to make:

4. Spaghetti 

Why it’s good: Spaghetti is really versatile, and it’s cheap and quick to cook.  Choose quality spaghetti.  I usually pick brown rice pasta, or Einkorn whole wheat pasta.  I don’t recommend standard white pasta (not very nourishing).

What to make:

  • Simple pasta and tomato or meat sauce^
  • Break up into bite-sized pieces and add to simple chicken noodle soup^
  • Add a cream sauce, veggies and chicken for a quick tetrazzini bake

5. Brown rice

Why it’s good: Brown rice is a hearty, healthy staple in any pantry.  It’s nice to cook up a double portion when you make it so that it’s ready for a second, super quick meal.  I like to cook mine with butter and chicken stock.

What to make:

  • Quick stir fry with whatever veggies and meat are in the freezer^
  • Taco salad, with rice, meat, beans, cheese, salsa, lettuce, whatever you have on hand^
  • Baked chicken over rice, one dish meal or even crock pot
  • Add to quick chicken and veggie soup^

6. Anchovies

Why it’s good: Anchovies may seem like an odd thing to include on the list.  They’re inexpensive and yet most brands are wild-caught and packed in olive oil, so they’re really nourishing. If you’re bold, put some on a pizza too.  I like it with pineapple!

What to make:

7. Tuna (in a can)

Why it’s good: Tuna’s an old favorite.  It can be served in casseroles, salads, or straight up on a plate.  My kids are partial to that last one.  Skipjack tuna is lower in mercury and also pretty cheap, too.

What to make:

8. Salmon (in a can)

Why it’s good: Salmon is full of excellent omega-3 fats, which most of us could use more of.  Canned salmon is pretty frugal and really quick to use.  My kids like to eat it straight out of the can, but there are lots of more elaborate uses too!

What to make:

9. Whole wheat flour

Why it’s good: A staple in most kitchens, whole wheat flour is a great way to get whole grains into your diet.  I prefer to soak mine before baking, or use my sourdough starter.  If you remember at breakfast, you can soak any of these recipes first.  See more on what soaking is and why we do it, as well as how to do it.

What to make:

10. Coconut flour

Why it’s good: If you’re gluten-free, or committed to using whole wheat flour only when you can soak it first (like me), coconut flour is a nice substitute.  This is what I use to bake when I want something really quick (I often pair it with almond flour and arrowroot powder, and it bakes up pretty close to ‘normal’ wheat flour!).  Just a warning, if you’re not used to baking with it, it can’t be subbed 1:1 for wheat flour – you need recipes specifically designed to use it.

What to make:

11. Olive oil

Why it’s good: A versatile and healthy oil, olive oil can be used in any salad dressing, plus for cooking (although some believe you should never heat it).  It’s full of monounsaturated fats and is a great addition to your pantry.

What to make:

12. Red wine vinegar

Why it’s good: This is my favorite vinegar, personally.  Apple cider vinegar is also great, if you prefer it.  Get it raw, with the “mother” still in it.  Use in all kinds of recipes for a little sour kick!

What to make:

13. Potatoes

Why it’s good: I love potatoes – and I try to always have them around!  Despite the bad rap white potatoes have gotten, they’re actually high in potassium and B vitamins and are a great food for some, plus they’re really frugal.  We use potatoes in many of our favorite dishes.

What to make:

14. Oats

Why it’s good: Oats are a simple whole grain, and one that many people tolerate well, even if they’re gluten-free.  They’re more often used for breakfast, but who says that “brinner” isn’t an option?

What to make:

15. Coconut oil

Why it’s good: Coconut oil is an excellent saturated fat that’s filled with beneficial medium-chain fatty acids (like lauric acid) and which has been shown to boost immunity and promote fat loss.  My kids will eat it off a spoon!

What to make:

25 Pantry Staples for Last-Minute Meals {keeperofthehome.org}

10 Spices That Are Pantry Staples

In addition to these 15 excellent pantry items, I like to keep the following spices on hand.  That way, my cooking is never boring!  I’ve listed them in order of how often I use them.

Spices:

16. Sea salt

17. Onion powder

18. Basil

19. Garlic powder

20. Chili powder

21. Cumin

22. Parsley

23. Black pepper

24. Turmeric

25. Cinnamon

Other Items to Have on Hand

In addition to pantry staples, I like to keep the following items in my fridge and freezer.

  • Assorted frozen veggies (peas, green peas, green peppers, broccoli, cauliflower)
  • Assorted fresh veggies (onions, garlic, carrots, celery, lettuce, tomatoes)
  • Cheese (cheddar and parmesan or Romano, sometimes mozzarella)
  • Milk
  • Butter
  • Frozen fruit (peaches, pineapples, mixed berries)
  • Yogurt
  • Assorted meat (ground beef and whole chickens, mostly; sometimes bacon and chicken breasts)

Honestly?  With just these items I can make almost every meal my family eats on a regular basis.  My grocery list is usually pretty simple!

Stocking up

One final (really important) tip: I use a lot of chicken stock, for soups, sauces, gravies, or to cook rice or veggies.  I like to have it ready to go at all times, so I keep it in my Crock-Pot.  As I remove stock, I add more water, and I keep it going for a full week.  Then I dump out the bones, rinse it out, and start again.  I roast a whole chicken once a week so that I always have stock!  It’s so simple, and so nourishing.

I do my meal planning and recipe searching on Tradishen, a brand new real food recipe and meal planning site.  There are over 500 real food recipes (no compromises) with new ones added each week.  Tradishen offers create-your-own meal plans or use pre-designed meal plans (traditional or GF/DF) plus one-touch automatic grocery lists.  It’s printer and mobile friendly, so use it anywhere.  Revolutionize your kitchen and never wonder “what’s for dinner” again!

What are your top pantry staples and favorite quick meals?

Weekend Links

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Links for this week:

Dreaming Big…In Motherhood and Beyond @ Inspired to Action

What You Have to Do to Come to Peace with This Season of Your Life @ A Holy Experience

Healthy Ambrosia Salad with Toasted Coconut @ The Nourishing Home

What If We Gave Them the Benefit of the Doubt? @ Life Your Way

Naming and framing @ The Art of Simple

Lavender-Chamomile Bath Soak Recipe @ A Delightful Home

10 Meaningful Lessons from The Story of the Mexican Fisherman @ Be More With Less

From Our Head to Our Feet @ Becoming Minimalist

3

Starfish Project 50|50 Sale

Starfish Project is a non-profit and fair trade certified organization that helps women leave exploitation. Starfish offers the women a place to live, counseling, further training and education. One of the services they provide them with is employment – making jewelry to be sold internationally which they offer through their website. Right now, Starfish is offering a 50|50 sale during which you can get 50% off when you spend over $50 on 150+ participating products!

Not only is the jewelry beautiful and high quality, but we also wholeheartedly believe in the work that Starfish does with exploited women in Asia. Stephanie has friends who work with Starfish and it’s an organization where you can rest assured that your money is going to good use!

This sale only lasts until July 15th, so take advantage of it now!

July Sponsors

Are you looking for companies that share the same values you do? Here at Keeper of the Home we curate a fabulous selection of companies that fit well with our audience. Here are our KOTH sponsors for this month!

Plan to Eat | Eating at Home is About to Get Easier

Etsy Kids | Your Handmade Gift Guide for all Things Baby, Toddler, and Kids

Paula’s Bread | An Oklahoma Business Since 1987

On the Road to Joyful Motherhood by Jessica Fisher | A 31-day devotional to redirect our hearts, minds, and hands to this glorious calling of motherhood.

MadeOn Hard Lotion | Hard Lotion For Dry Skin

Homemaking with Essential Oils | A class that teaches you how to keep your home clean and healthy with a simple supply of essential oils!

Bundle of the Week | Bringing you a new bundle of five related digital resources each and every week for only $7.40!

How does your family celebrate holidays during the summer?

Growing and Using Fresh Mint

Growing and Using Fresh Mint {KeeperoftheHome.org}
photo credit

By Andrea Green, Contributing Writer

If you are someone who has always believed you’ve got a brown thumb, I’d encourage you to try your hand at growing fresh mint. Mint is a prolific grower and therefore it is hard to screw it up.

Mint isn’t picky about sunlight. While it prefers a cool, moist spot in the yard, it will do fine in full sun.

When picking out a mint to grow, all varieties do equally well. While I prefer the classic taste of peppermint, I’ve had great success with chocolate mint. And if you happen to find pineapple mint, the variegated leaves are beautiful in the garden.

One word of caution when growing mint: Mint can be invasive. Find a spot in your yard where it will be contained or grow it in pots. Otherwise you might find you can grow more mint than you want!

No matter where you plant your mint, make sure to plant it in a good potting mix. Doing so ensures you won’t have to fertilize it for months.

Once you’ve found a place to plant your mint, all you need to do is provide water. Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?

Growing and Using Fresh Mint {KeeperoftheHome.org}

photo credit

Now that you know you can grow your own fresh mint, here are some suggestions on how to use it:

1. Make a great cup of peppermint tea. Have excess mint? Learn how to dry your peppermint for herbal tea.

2. Make Homemade Herbal Throat Lozenges.

3. Whip up a tasty bowl of Homemade Peppermint Ice Cream.

4. Enjoy an Icy Cold Mint Lemonade.

5. Make homemade peppermint essential oil.

6. Hydrate yourself and make a flavored water.

7. Dig in to Quinoa Tabbouleh.

What is your favorite way to use mint?

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. When you buy through our links, it helps to support this site, so thanks!

Your Camping Menu Primer (With 50+ Food Ideas!)

Your Camping Menu Primer {KeeperoftheHome.org}

Guest Post by Elsie Callender

For the adventurous, camping is one of the best summer excursions. It carves out time to do the things we want – but often fail – to do in everyday life: live more simply, closer to nature, with less technology, more movement, more relaxation. Oh, and camping also gives us plenty of time to savor delicious food! We need hearty fare to bookend days of hiking, canoeing, or seeing sites along the road.

Whether you’re grilling, cooking over an open fire, or using a gas camp stove, food prepared outdoors has a special flavor. Here are some pointers for having a well-fed camping trip!

Before You Go

Even if you usually don’t have time to meal plan, do plan the menu for your camping trip! You want to have everything mapped out ahead of time so that you can pack exactly what you need to prep each meal.

Plan to eat your meals in a logical order.

If you’re tent-camping and relying on an ice chest for refrigeration, plan to eat more perishable items (like meat) early in the trip and save the dry goods (like spaghetti) for the end. Extend the life of perishable items by freezing what you can ahead of time. You can eat the food when it thaws, and in the meantime it will keep the ice chest cool!

Pack produce that travels well.

Bring hearty fruits and veggies that hold up to the rough and tumble nature of camping and that won’t spoil quickly. For instance, I wouldn’t bring bananas unless we could eat them the first day–otherwise, they’ll begin to bruise and make the rest of the food smell like bananas.

Make what you can ahead of time.

Camp cooking is fun, but in unfamiliar surroundings it takes longer to prepare than it would in your own kitchen. If you can get the meal ready quickly, you can spend more time sipping your coffee in the morning, or watching fireflies at night.

Items you can make or prepare ahead of time:

  • Baked goods, like muffins and cookies
  • Bread for toasting and sandwiches
  • Pancake mix
  • Meat, chopped and marinated
  • Most snacks

You don’t want to be stressed out with endless preparations before your trip, so pick just a few meals to make ahead and keep the rest of the on-site cooking simple.

Once you’ve planned out your menu, think about what ingredients (including condiments) go into each meal and create your grocery list. I also like to mentally prepare each meal in my mind, so I can think about which cooking utensils I need to pack.

Your Camping Menu Primer {KeeperoftheHome.org}
Image by tchago

At the Campsite

Make dinner early.

Cooking by the light of a battery lantern swarmed with bugs isn’t the life for me. Begin meal prep with plenty of daylight, and then you can linger long over the campfire or turn in to read in your sleeping bag and tell scary stories.

Prep lunch the night before.

On our Michigan-to-California road trip last summer, we saved time on the road by making our sandwiches for lunch each evening while preparing supper. Even if you’re staying in one spot, it’s nice to have a picnic lunch ready to go so you don’t have to haul out all the food and do extra dishes.

Give everyone a job.

Whether the job is helping with cooking, doing dishes, or another camp chore, assign a task to everyone on the trip. Rather than taking turns with different jobs, giving everyone a “specialty” makes expectations clear and allows room to learn efficiency in one particular task. This was my parents’ system on our homeschool-on-the-road camping trips. Each of us six kids had a specific task for setting up camp, and after a few days we slid into our routine and could get a tent set up and dinner on the table in the time it took our neighbors to figure out their pop-top.

Ready to meal plan for your camping trip? Here are 50+ ideas for your real food camping menu!

If you don’t want to prepare your own camping menu, check out these sample menus from Don’t Waste the Crumbs, and Oh Lardy! Here’s a gluten-free camping menu from Kitchen Stewardship.

Your Camping Menu Primer {KeeperoftheHome.org}
Image by Richly Rooted

Breakfast

Bacon or sausage (freeze ahead)

Berry Breakfast Cereal (easy to adapt for over the campfire)

Breakfast burritos (One of my readers suggested making these ahead, too)

Campfire Bannock

Eggs (if you’re worried about breakage, you can whisk together and freeze ahead of time, as Stacy suggested in this post)

Grits and sardines (since these are dry goods, this is a great meal for later in the trip)

Hash browns

Lemon Blueberry Buttermilk Muffins (make ahead)

Pancakes (make dry mix ahead. If you bring your raw milk on the trip, make pancakes a couple days in when the leftover milk begins to sour and turn to buttermilk.)

Seasonal fruit

Zucchini bread (in a Dutch oven)

Your Camping Menu Primer {KeeperoftheHome.org}
Image by Richly Rooted

Lunch

Boiled eggs (made the night before)

Chicken Salad (make ahead)

Cold quiche (make ahead)

Farmhouse Muffins (make ahead)

Sandwiches

Sugar Snap Pea Pasta Salad with Shrimp (make ahead)

Tabouli (make ahead)

Your Camping Menu Primer {KeeperoftheHome.org}
Image by Joyful Thrifty Home

Supper

Baked potatoes

Biscuits with Salmon Gravy (make biscuits ahead of time, or use tortillas instead)

Cheeseburger Tortilla Skillet

Chicken Vegetable Bake (in a Dutch oven)

Grilled cheese sandwiches

Grilled Chicken Fajitas (prep ahead)

Grilled meat (marinated/frozen ahead of time)

Hamburgers (make ahead and freeze)

No-Knead Dutch Oven Bread

Tomato Soup (make ahead and freeze)

Spaghetti

Your Camping Menu Primer {KeeperoftheHome.org}
Image by Richly Rooted

Snacks

Most of these you’ll want to make ahead of time! Store in tightly-sealed containers, as things tend to get stale more quickly in out-of-doors humidity.

Apples (these are a good pick for non-messy fruit since they’re crisp, rather than overly-juicy)

Bell peppers (sliced)

Boiled eggs

Carrot sticks

Chocolate Chip Cookies Bars

Chocolate-Covered Pretzel S’mores

Cheese crackers

Energy bars

Fruit leather

Fruit snacks

Graham crackers

Granola bars

Homemade prunes

Homemade marshmallows

Hummus

Kettle corn (make and enjoy around the campfire!)

Maple Glazed Walnut Coconut Crunch

Peanuts

Trail mix (any combination of nuts, chocolate chips, dried fruit, etc.)

Your Camping Menu Primer {KeeperoftheHome.org}
Image by Red and Honey

Drinks

Mix up these drinks before you leave home, then refrigerate or freeze in large glass jars. Shake well before serving.

Homemade Electrolyte Sports Drink

Honey-Sweetened Lemonade

Raspberry Ginger Iced Green Tea

Sun tea (This one you can make at the campsite! Let it steep while you do your daytime activities, and then chill it in ice in the cooler while you prep dinner.)

Watermelon Limeade

Your Camping Menu Primer {KeeperoftheHome.org}
Image by jcheever

Do you love to camp? What are your favorite camping meals?

If you’re looking for more healthy food ideas, camping-specific recipes, and tips for camping (with real food and with young children), The Family Camping Handbook from Kitchen Stewardship is an excellent resource! Pick up a copy HERE.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. When you buy through our links, it helps to support this site, so thanks!

Warm Potato Salad with Bacon, Asparagus and Swiss Chard

Warm potato salad with bacon, asparagus and swiss chard. Forget the hard boiled eggs. This is now my favorite version of potato salad, ever.  {via Keeper of the Home}

You don’t even understand how good this potato salad is.

A month or two ago, Ryan and I were out on a date. We had just discovered that our new home came complete with a very responsible teenage girl living next door. After our year of non-stop togetherness with four kids, being able to go out on date nights sounded divine.

We found ourselves at Earl’s, a local restaurant chain we enjoy. Not feeling particularly picky, we ordered the seasonal special, which included a steak, together with a decent coleslaw and a warm potato salad, whatever that was.

Well.

It was phenomenal. Now, I’m definitely a red meat girl and I love me some steak. But for some reason, I just kept going back to this salad. The skins were browned to perfection, the bits of vegetables and bacon were succulent, the whole thing was just delicious. I knew I had to try to recreate this recipe.

A few weeks ago I attempted it for the first time on an evening when Ryan was out. Not wanting to waste any (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it), I consumed a rather large portion by my lonesome. I happened to mention what I had made on Facebook and several friends gently hinted that I might have a blog on which I should share such things. Subtle, ladies.

Last week, I made it again since Ryan had missed out the first time. There were a few differences the second time around, namely that I substituted spinach for swiss chard (this didn’t really affect it, in my opinion), I used medium potatoes instead of the small nugget ones (again, not a big difference), and I added bacon instead of frying up turkey deli meat (mmm, yes, this was definitely the best change I made).

Ryan agreed with me. This was incredible. He thought it was even better than the one we had at Earl’s.

I know that the name sounds sounds a bit gourmet and I often shy away from fancy-schmancy recipes myself, but it’s really so simple to make, and not fussy at all. My 2-year-old liked it and the 4-year-old cleaned off her plate, so it’s definitely kid friendly as well.

Warm potato salad with bacon, asparagus and swiss chard. Forget the hard boiled eggs. This is now my favorite version of potato salad, ever.  {via Keeper of the Home}

Warm Potato Salad with Bacon, Asparagus and Swiss Chard

Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish.

Ingredients:

  • 8 medium red or yellow potatoes, or 20-25 small potatoes
  • 1/2 cup chopped swiss chard (spinach is a good substitute)
  • 1/2 cup asparagus pieces (can use 1 cup, if you really like asparagus)
  • 1/2 cup chopped cooked bacon from clean source of pork (I’ve also used fried deli meat, like turkey, which isn’t quite as good but still works well if you don’t have/like bacon)
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • 1-2 cup to 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Warm potato salad with bacon, asparagus and swiss chard. Forget the hard boiled eggs. This is now my favorite version of potato salad, ever.  {via Keeper of the Home}

Method:

1. Roast potatoes at 400 F for about 15-20 minutes (baby potatoes) or 40 minutes for medium ones. You want them to be soft enough to poke a fork into, with brown, crispy skins. The crispier the skins, the better it tastes.

Last time I made this, I didn’t have small potatoes and in an effort to speed up the process, I cut my medium potatoes in half and roasted them with the cut side down on my stone baking sheet. This was serendiptious, because I had unknowingly added an extra surface that could be crispified.

2. While potatoes are cooking, get out a frying pan and saute your other ingredients. First, cook up your bacon then set it aside.

Drain out some of the bacon grease, and then use the remaining grease to fry your asparagus pieces, and once they’re almost finished (they only take 5 minutes or less if your pan is already hot), then add the swiss chard (spinach, whatever leafy greens you’re using) in for the last minute. You only want to wilt the greens, mostly, not cook them to death.

Warm potato salad with bacon, asparagus and swiss chard. Forget the hard boiled eggs. This is now my favorite version of potato salad, ever.  {via Keeper of the Home}

3. Let potatoes cool off for a few minutes after coming out of the oven. I cut them in half to speed this up.

In the meantime, measure out your olive oil, balsamic vinegar and mayonnaise. Start with 1/2 cup, and you can up it to 3/4 cup mayo if you feel like the potatoes are a bit dry still. Chop up green onions and add them to the bowl, along with your sauteed asparagus, greens, and chopped bacon.

4. Cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces (about 1 inch). I actually like using my kitchen scissors for this job, but you can just chop them on a cutting board.

5. Mix it all really well in a serving bowl, add your salt and pepper, and let it sit for 5 minutes so the flavors can mingle a little.

That’s it. Serve while still warm. Though not quite as good, this salad still tastes great as cold leftovers the next day, if you actually have any left over. Enjoy!

Warm potato salad with bacon, asparagus and swiss chard. Forget the hard boiled eggs. This is now my favorite version of potato salad, ever.  {via Keeper of the Home}

 

PlanToEat-150x150This post is sponsored by Plan To EatIf you know that you need to make strides towards regular meal planning and you’re looking for a tool to help you do it, I highly recommend that you check out Plan To Eat’s tour (so that you can see what it’s all about) and then sign up for a free 30-day trial to see how it would work for you! Plan To Eat was born from a desire to eat real food — great food — prepared at home, together as a family. Plan to Eat is an online menu planner that uses your recipes, scheduled for the days you want them, automatically generating your grocery list, organized the way you like to shop. Eat well. Eat together.

Weekend Links

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Links for this week:

The Decorating Truths You Won’t See on HGTV @ nesting place

A prayer for all the weary Thursday mothers @ Lisa-Jo Baker

Pecan Bar Recipe (Grain-Free) @ Mommypotamus

The Single Easiest Habit Change to Improve Your Life Forever @ Becoming Minimalist

Waste your time @ Simple Homeschool

Rhubarb Salsa @ GNOWFGLINS

I Am Clay @ The Better Mom

Faces over Facebook, People over Pixels @ (in)courage

What are some tasty recipes you’ve tried lately?

Risks and Benefits of Sun Exposure {+ A Roundup of 5 Homemade Sunscreens}

Risks and Benefits of Sun Exposure-Keeper of the Home

By Erin Odom, Contributing Writer

As a redhead with fair skin, sunscreen has always been a staple in my summertime skincare regimen.

The few blistering sunburns and sun poisoning that inflicted me when my parents forgot to slather it on me as a kid left a lasting impression: Going without sunscreen hurts!

But over the course of the past few years I’ve started to change my tune on sunscreen and sun exposure.

When I became aware that many Americans are deficient in Vitamin D, which we get naturally (and freely!) through sufficient sun exposure, I began to question whether or not sunscreen was always a must.

On top of that, I began to grow wary of the ingredients in most standard sunscreens on the market today. Putting potential carcinogenics on my skin to protect myself from skin cancer didn’t really make sense.

When I became the mom of three little fair-skinned redheads, I knew that I had to intentionally decide the risks and benefits of using sunscreen versus sun exposure. I didn’t want their delicate skin absorbing chemicals, but I also didn’t want to leave them open to the same blistering sunburns and sun poisoning that I remember getting as a child.

To create a balanced approach, I began investigating the benefits versus the risks of sun exposure and how to maximize those benefits and minimize those risks. I also began seeking out alternatives to conventional sunscreens.

Benefits of Sun Exposure-Keeper of the Home
image by Public Domain Pictures

Benefits of Sun Exposure

The sun is vital to our health.  In fact, without sun exposure, we’re likely deficient in vitamin D.

Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption and is necessary for bone growth (source). Studies have also shown that maintaining proper vitamin D levels can help boost the immune system (source).

In addition, it is possible that low vitamin D levels can contribute to depression and psychological disorders!

But many Americans are deficient in this vitamin.

A few years ago my husband discovered he was vitamin D deficient. His doctor prescribed him heavy doses of vitamin D3 in an attempt to boost his levels.

I later found out that I was vitamin D deficient as well. During this time, I also experienced some thyroid problems. I had thought I had postpartum depression, but I now theorize that many of my health issues at the time could have been traced back to my vitamin D deficiency.

The puzzle pieces began coming together when I discovered that vitamin D deficiency can actually be a precursor to thyroid disease (source).

It’s difficult to get enough vitamin D solely through diet (source). My husband and I began taking about 5,000 IUs of vitamin D3 per day during the winter, and I give our girls up to 1,000 IUs per day. But perhaps the very best supplement to boost your vitamin D levels is cod liver oil.

During the warmer weather months, when we spend plenty of time outside, I cut down our supplementation to account for the best vitamin D we can get–straight from the sun.

Besides the benefits of vitamin D, sun exposure can also help improve mood (source).

Risks of Sun Exposure-Keeper of the Home
image by digasalinas

Risks of Sun Exposure

Although I tout the benefits of the sun for proper vitamin D intake, I have no doubt that too much sun can be a very bad thing. I’ve witnessed it in my fair-skinned siblings and experienced it myself as a child. Blistering sunburns and sun poisoning are not something I want my children to ever experience if I can help it.

The risks of too much sun exposure include:

  • dehydration,
  • immune system suppression,
  • eye damage,
  • skin aging, and
  • skin cancer (source).

DIY Natural Sunscreen

So should we use sunscreen?

How can we take advantage of all the sun’s benefits while protecting ourselves–and our families–from the sun’s harmful effects?

I believe it takes an intentional approach.

Some studies indicate that slow and steady exposure to the sun over time is much safer than heavy doses of sun exposure all at once (source). A Scandinavian study of melanoma risk published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2003 found that adolescence is actually the most dangerous time to get a sunburn (source).

And could some sunscreens actually accelerate skin cancer?

A few years ago, I came across this article referencing a study that theorized that some sunscreens may actually accelerate cancer because of ingredients like vitamin A.

“…the EWG researchers found the initial findings of an FDA study of vitamin A’s photocarcinogenic properties, meaning the possibility that it results in cancerous tumors when used on skin exposed to sunlight.

“In that yearlong study, tumors and lesions developed up to 21 percent faster in lab animals coated in a vitamin A-laced cream than animals treated with a vitamin-free cream,” the report said (source).

Also, according to the The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, sunscreens could possibly be to blame for widespread vitamin D deficiency:

“The same DNA-damaging, sunburn-causing UVB wavelengths that sunscreens are designed to block also do some good: They kick off the chemical and metabolic chain reaction that produces vitamin D. Research shows that many people have low vitamin D levels. There is a well-documented relationship between low vitamin D levels and poor bone health. Now links have been made to everything from multiple sclerosis to prostate cancer. ‘Linking’ low vitamin D with these diseases doesn’t prove cause-and-effect, but it suggests that possibility.” (source)

I do not believe we can live our lives in fear. But my research led me to allow my three daughters–who are currently 1, 3 and 6–to get a decent amount of unprotected sun exposure while they are young. Now is the time to be slowly building up their sun exposure.

My girls play outside nearly every day. And I do not slather on the sunscreen. What has shocked me the most? My little redheaded, fair-skinned girls have not had sunburns. In fact, I burn far more easily than they do. (And my husband is a fair-skinned redhead himself, so they aren’t getting any tanning genes from him either!)

I believe the slow and steady sun exposure is already helping them not to burn–along with the mostly whole foods diet I have fed them since birth (source).

We use a natural sunscreen if we are going to be outside for an extended amount of time. (Check the EWG Skin Deep Database for safe sunscreen ratings as well as some of my personal reviews I have linked to at the end of this post.)

Minimizing Sun Risks Without Using Sunscreen-Keeper of the Home
image by Public Domain Pictures

Minimizing the Sun’s Risks Without Using Sunscreen

It’s important to remember that there are ways to minimize the sun’s risks without using sunscreen, such as:
  • seeking out shade via an awning, umbrella, tree or even hat.
  • wearing swimsuits that cover a lot.
  • checking yourself and family frequently for skin changes that may indicate cancerous growths.

5 Homemade Sunscreen Recipes {+ Natural Sunscreen Recommendations}

The very best way to make sure your sunscreen is safe is to make your own! Check out these 5 homemade sunscreens to get you started:

DIY Natural Sunscreen @ The Humbled Homemaker

Homemade Sunscreen Lotion @ Keeper of the Home

“Diaper Cream” Sunscreen @ One Good Thing by Jillee

Essential Oil Sun Protecting Blends @ The Encouraging Home

Homemade Sunscreen Bars @ Wellness Mama

A few years ago I had the opportunity to review several top-notch natural sunscreens. You can read those reviews here:

Kabana Organic

MelanSol

TruKid

And here’s my nitty gritty on all three natural sunscreens. I’ve also since discovered Lexie: Naturals and Made On sunscreens, which I personally recommend.

(Stephanie’s note: We use either my homemade recipe linked to above, or else we buy Badger Sunscreen which is fantastic, though I think Erin’s recommendations are all great choices as well!)

The Risks and Benefits of Sun Exposure-Keeper of the Home

Were you aware of the risks and benefits of sun exposure? Have you ever tried making homemade sunscreen?

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. I am simply a mom who loves to research. Please conduct your own research and consult with your trusted health professional before making any decisions regarding your health. This blog is for entertainment purposes only.

Disclosure: Keeper of the Home earns a commission through purchases made through some of this page’s links. Thanks for your support of this site!

top image by jstn

Simple, Nutritious Snack Solutions

Simple, Nutritious Snack Solutions {Keeper of the Home}

By Hilary Kimes Bernstein, Contributing Writer

Looking for simple, nutritious snack solutions for your hungry children this summer?

Try fresh fruits and vegetables.

God has a marvelous way of creating snack food to be easily accessible and nourishing. You can curb your children’s hunger by letting them munch on something fresh and natural.

You don’t have to worry about getting all Pinteresty cute with your preparation and presentation. If you do, your kids would probably get a kick out of it. But I’ll be the first to admit I’ve never taken the extra time to create Bento Box-inspired little radish flowers or ladybugs made of cherry tomatoes and black olives.

Simple preparations – washing and cutting the produce into age-appropriate bites – are all you need. Or, in the case of bananas, just bring your snack along, peel and eat. It truly doesn’t get any simpler than that.

Simple, Nutritious Snack Solutions {Keeper of the Home}

Learning from experience

I’ve found that my children are happy to fill their bellies with nutritious, fresh snacks because it’s all we have in our house. Because I don’t buy pre-packaged, processed snacks, we’re not tempted to eat them.

My kids do eat Goldfish crackers when they’re served in Sunday school, and they know their friends eat prepackaged granola bars and yogurt in a tube. They’re happy to try those splurges when they’re at playdates. But as long as I’m the mama serving the food, I stick to healthy snacks. By doing this, I’ve found that even the pickiest eaters find something fresh that they like to munch on.

I’ve become the mom who serves the healthy snacks partially because I wasn’t raised like that. I preferred Oreos to apples since they were served in my home.

When my babies were old enough to start solid foods, I wanted healthy eating to come naturally to them. I didn’t want them to have to battle unhealthy food preferences well into their adult years. So I stuck to real fruits and vegetables in order for the flavors to become familiar and their favorites. To this day, my 6-year-old son’s favorite foods are vegetables.

Simple, Nutritious Snack Solutions {Keeper of the Home}

How to encourage your own children to eat healthy

Vegetables may not become your child’s favorite foods – and that’s OK. Just getting them to eat any vegetables may be a huge accomplishment in your family. Some fresh produce in a diet is better than nothing.

If you have the luxury of starting to feed your baby solid foods, start with simple mashed fruits or veggies. Mashed avocados or bananas are fantastic first foods. Slowly move on until you introduce a wide variety of fresh foods.

For older children, finicky eating habits could be pretty well-established. Yet it’s not impossible to help your son or daughter change. Just start small and expect a slow process. Keep trying.

If you don’t think your kiddos like veggies, watch what they’ll try when you serve a plate of baby carrots, cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes, bell pepper slices and snap peas. Most children I know would love to graze from a plate of blueberries, raspberries, sliced strawberries, chunks of melon, and apple slices.

One way to entice your children (or spouse) to eat healthier is to try a new fruit or vegetable as a family. Buy something you’ve never tasted before, cook it together and eat it. You may not care for the taste – or you may love it. Trying it is the only way you’ll find out.

Simple, Nutritious Snack Solutions {Keeper of the Home}

Time savers

If you don’t have time to prepare a platter of fresh produce, offer a simple choice like apple slices or carrot sticks. Your child will be happy to get to choose what he or she would like to eat, and you’ll be happy that the decision is a healthy one.

If at all possible, try to prep your veggies for snacking once you bring them home from the store or garden. Wash and cut vegetables, then store them in containers that are easy to grab from the fridge. It’s much easier to munch on celery, carrots or peppers when they’re ready to eat. 

Be encouraged to keep introducing different vegetables just so your family can try a variety of foods. And if you’re really determined to curb processed food, you can do what I do – just stop buying it. If you only have healthy food in your fridge and cupboards, your family will eat when they get hungry.

Want some more snack ideas and recipes?

What are your favorite fruits and vegetables to munch on? What are some of your simple, nutritious snack solutions?

What’s Helping Me Conquer Our Runaway Grocery Budget

What's helping me conquer our runaway grocery budget - Keeper of the Home

I bet you’d never guess the tools I find most useful when it comes to sticking with and maximizing our grocery budget.

You might think it has to do with meal planning. Or perhaps a kitchen appliance like a grain grinder or crockpot. Maybe it’s planting a garden or using my farmer’s market. Or finding ways to get great bulk prices.

Actually, it’s so much simpler than that. Almost too simple and it barely seems worth sharing EXCEPT that I so often forget to do this, and every time I do it, I’m reminded again how powerful it is.

And I need powerful right now, because since returning from our trip, our grocery expenses have skyrocketed. We’ve jumped up from being able to maintain about a $500 monthly budget, with which I had to be intentional but we ate really well and bought high quality foods, up to an average of $900 per month. In just over a year.

Of course, there are many factors at play here. Our youngest was an exclusively breastfed baby, and he’s now a 2 year old with a hefty appetite and chunky thighs. Our other three kids have grown as well, and their appetites have kept pace. We’ve been eating mostly gluten and/or grain free, which means less reliance on cheaper foods like grains bought in bulk, which fill up tummies faster. When we left, we used up or gave away our entire pantry and freezer stash that I had worked hard for years to build up. Not to mention, food prices have increased while we were away.

So there are reasons. Real ones. I get why we’re forking out more for our food these days. It’s driving me crazy, but I get it.

I’m working on a long-term plan to cut costs. It’s funny, because I sort of wrote the book on this subject (no, literally, I wrote a book about how to eat healthy food for less) and I’ve had to go back and re-read my own words, remind myself of the strategies that I had been implementing for so many years to make our budget work. Some of it I had forgotten. Some of it I still knew and wasn’t implementing, because we recently moved to a new town and I’m still sourcing out the best places to even shop right now. And some of it I was doing, but not carefully enough.

But what I reminded myself of the other night is that a big part of saving money is so much simpler than we think it is.

It requires three little things:

  • paper
  • pen
  • calculator (I use my phone)

See, this month we decided to just force ourselves to stick to $700. We’d like to ultimately get it even lower, but that will take time, re-establishing a pantry and freezer bulk stash, and possibly, going back on grains (we’ll see). For now, we’re just taking baby steps to do what we can, since summer is historically a lower-income season for us with our family businesses.

Well, I needed to do a big grocery shop the other night, keeping in mind that we still had 2 weeks left in the month. I looked at our $700 budget and saw that after an online order I had just placed for more almond flour and stevia, I was down to about $236 for the month. Yikes.

Here’s what I did: I wrote out a quick list of meal ideas that we could eat. Nothing fancy, just things we like and that I know I can make easily. Then I wrote out a list of foods that would make a lot of simple meals, that we enjoy, that I know to be mostly frugal choices (ie. cheaper cuts of meat, adding in some lentils, shopping from bulk bins when possible, and no just-for-fun extras). I guesstimated what those items would cost, so that I had a working total before I even set foot in the store. I was aiming to spend no more than $125, to leave us with a remaining $100 for produce and fresh dairy or a bit of extra meat to help see us through the month’s end.

Then, I went to the store, list in hand, and I pulled out my calculator. As I went along, I put items in my cart. Each time, I stopped and added the cost of those items onto my calculator. I kept a running tally the entire time.

I spent extra time looking really carefully at the meat section to find the cheapest cuts and the things I thought I could stretch into the most meals possible (we’re still looking for local farmers to buy higher quality meat from since we moved). I bought the produce that worked out to the best per-pound prices instead of being picky. I found some marked down produce and picked that up.

I made a few hard choices to put things back or buy less of something else so that I could buy more of something really practical. And I never let my $$ goal leave my mind.

calculator and receipt_

As I walked up to the till, I was pretty sure I had $136 worth of food in my cart. I had decided the extra $11 was acceptable because I was coming home with more meat than I had expected to buy, which would give us more meals, so it was worth it.

When I checked out, my total came to $136.45.

And that was the best feeling I’d had in a long time. As I packed up my food haul and drove back to our house that night, I knew I’d been faithful with what I’d had. I had spent carefully. Wisely. Intentionally. And now I could go home and make a workable, delicious meal plan, knowing that I had the food I needed to make it happen.

No extra items made their way into my cart. No splurge buys. No guesstimating that I was spending sort of the right amount and then getting to the till and realizing I had gone $50 over (how many times has that happened? Too many to count!).

All because I planned it out, and kept track of what went into my cart. It’s sooooo simple. It feels silly to even write a blog post about.

But it’s true and it works.

Meal planning and working out a carefully planned, carefully executed food budget are two of the things I feel like I go on and on about. Have you gotten tired of me yet? :)

If not, and you really want to learn to make a tangible difference in the money you’re spending and what you’re doing with the food you buy, then I’ve got a great deal for you (because it won’t do to have you spend extra money when you’re actually trying to SAVE, right?).

SUMMER SALE 2This week only, I’m putting all of my ebooks on a huge half-price sale. Every KOTH ebook is 50% off.

I have a 3-pack ebook bundle, which contains Real Food on a Real Budget: How to Eat Healthy for LessPlan It, Don’t Panic (meal planning guide), and Healthy Homemaking: One Step at a Time. Bought separately, they’re worth $38 and I usually sell the bundle for $28. But this week? It’s yours for $14.

Just use coupon code HEALTHYSUMMER to take 50% off of any individual book, or off of our 3 book bundle. You can see all my books HERE.

Happy summer savings!

If this topic interests you, you might also want to read:

What I Would Feed my Family on a Monthly Budget of $250 (granted, prices would have gone up by now, as I wrote this about 2 years ago, but the principles are all the same)

How I Would Improve my $250 Budget Even More

Weekend Links

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Links for this week:

The Filthy Shepherd @ Redemption Pictures

How Food Sensitivities Affect Behavior @ Wellness Mama

Ginger-Lemon Mocktail: The Perfect Summer Drink @ GNOWFGLINS

7 Invisible Benefits of Living Simply @ Be More with Less

A Way We Can Make Each Other Feel Safe @ (in)courage

Foolproof BBQ Chicken {Plus BBQ Sauce Recipe} @ The Nourishing Home

How do you find good friends? @ Money Saving Mom

Why Groups and Programs Struggle @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

How do you keep cool during the hot months of summer?