An Itchin’ Budget?

Living in this day and age is expensive.

Living in an allergy home is even more costly – regular trips to (very expensive) allergists, dermatologists and doctors, regular updates of asthma medication, epi-pens and bottles of antihistamines for every place they go. Creams, creams and more creams. Gosh it adds up quickly.

Then there’s the groceries ….. no options for $1 bags of pasta or flour. Allergy friendly options are often 8-10 times the price.

Don’t get me wrong – I am so very grateful  that my husband has a job, we actually have allergy friendly options in shops and that we are able to access the specialists we need to care well for our children. We are better off than many.

I remember a couple of years ago, following a friend do a challenge that was ‘Feed your family for $150 a week’ and it just made me giggle. Yep, no way is that ever going to happen in this house. There is 6 of us and a dozen foods that we need to avoid or substitute.

And then I started to realise that, even though I wrote a menu for a fortnight and was a pretty good budgeter, I had fallen into into the trap of ‘just popping in’ to the supermarket to pick up some extra things for baking, or things we’d run out of …. and I had suddenly spent another $50 … how does that happen?!?! Eek!

I grew up watching my Mum take out the entire grocery budget in cash once a fortnight and when it ran out, that was it, we had to wait. And my Dad had litterally sat me down with a pen and paper and taught me how to budget. What had happened to those lessons I’d learned?

So with 1 income (for the past 8 years!), 4 kids who are expensive to feed, ever increasing costs, a husband who requests meat for lunch and dinner 6 days a week and a desire to eat well with minimally processed foods, I set myself a challenge: Menu plan for a month, write my grocery list for a month, 1 big, careful shop and then that’s it – no going back. Scary Stuff! It’s been 4 months now …. and I love it!

I’m not trying to convince all of you to shop for a month at a time – in fact, I know that some of you won’t have the space …. I am incredibly fortunate that my Nanna gave us her old deep freezer, which makes this process possible for us. But the general ideas I think can work for everyone – so, after being asked a squillion times for my tips, here is what works in our home:

  • Check what is in my pantry and freezer – write a list out – don’t be vague about it!
  • Write a menu (whether that be for a week, month or more), and use up what you already have for those meal plans.
  • Shops in different places for different things (obviously this will be different depending on where you live).
    • Meat, milk, honey, eggs, cheese and all fresh fruit and veg come from the farmers markets. Local, cheaper and often much better quality.
    • I buy all of my flours, nuts and seeds, salts and yeast etc in bulk (my favourite  online places are 2 Brothers Foods and Weigh N Pay)
    • Buy all packaged goods from one place (and use the rewards system to your advantage!). I currently shop mostly at Coles. For us this includes things like tinned beans and legumes, coffee, plain cereals, frozen berries, Nuttelex, oils, milks (Oat, almond, rice and soy), pasta, rice, rice crackers, dried beans, dried fruit, specialist cheese, vinegar, vegemite and all toiletries (this includes sanitary items, everything for washing, cleaning and use in the kitchen).
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The big shop!
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Online flours, nuts and seeds

Admittedly, when I get all of this home – it takes a significant amount of time to put away!

The meat is a bit of different category – I buy in bulk for 3 months at a time. I get cheaper cuts like chicken thighs, gravy beef, lamb and beef bones and mince, then break them up into meal sized portions before freezing (usually approx 800g for thighs and gravy beef and 4-500g for mince) and I buy large joints/pieces of things like beef, lamb, pork, silverside etc and when I cook them I stretch them out over 3 or 4 meals (think roast, pies, soups, pastas, gravy etc). To make our meat meals spread further, we bulk out everything with veg, lentils and mushrooms as much as we can. Our national dietary guidelines suggest that we shouldn’t have protein as more than about 1/3 of our meal so we try not to make meat the main focus.

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3 months of meat! (there are layers you can’t see!)

The things that people have told me that they ‘pop’ to the shops for are bread, milk, yoghurt and snacks for the kids.

  • Well – our dairy milk gets frozen in the deep freeze (about 14 x 3L bottles!). I get the new one out at night when required (at the same time as I get out the frozen meat for the next day) and it defrosts overnight in the kitchen sink. The UHT milk we buy (dairy and soy) is used to make our yoghurt as required.
  • And bread, we don’t eat much of it, but I bake it as we require. If you’re not into baking it…. just buy what you need and freeze it.
  • Making your own snacks is SO SO much cheaper than buying them in store. Less processed, fewer artificial colours and preservatives, less sugar and more nutrients too! Let the kids choose what kind of muffins, slices, biscuits and muesli bars they want to make with you! Freeze them ready to drop into their lunchboxes (and yours!) each day.

Fruit  and veg are the only exception to my no returning to the shops rule.

  • I buy in bulk, blanch and freeze some things when they are on special (think green beans and cauliflower etc)
  • some things, like green peas, I just buy frozen to start with.
  • I deliberately overbuy bananas and avocados to freeze ready for baking and smoothies.
  • I try to buy the veggies I need for my meals that week so we don’t waste. I work at being creative with what we have and don’t return to market for more until we have really used all we have.

Consider this fair warning …. If you shop like this, people tend to stare …. and they don’t even try to hide it. I’ve had all sorts of jokes and comments about the coming apocalypse and having a dozen children etc etc. Mostly I just smile – sometimes I tell people that it’s for a family of 6 and we only shop once a month … then they just look even more shocked!!

So where do we put it all? It goes in the fridge, freezer, pantry and …. the (now jokingly called) ‘Apocalypse shelf’ in one of our cupboards. The store of toiletries all goes in the laundry cupboards. By the end of the month, they are all pretty empty and it makes it easy to start again 🙂

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The Apocalypse Shelf 😉

If any of you are still reading, well done, and yes, I realise, as my husband lovingly tells me, I am an organisational freak! I also love numbers so I broke down our expenditure and this is what I have discovered:

It costs us, on average, between $5.50 and $6 per day, per person to live (roughly $0.60c of that is meat). This works out to between $230 and $250 a week for 6 people. Not so bad considering the $150 a week challenge that I mentioned earlier was for 4 people ($225 for 6 people then). This cost is all of our food (every meal and snack), all of our toiletries, washing powders, gladwrap, cleaning products etc etc.

My 2 other tips for making your budget stretch when it’s tight are:

  • to grow as much as you can yourself (even if it just some fresh herbs in pots!), and
  • to arrange swaps with like-minded friends. We have swapped propagated plants and excess veg, or homemade flavoured salts and oils for honey, eggs, lemons, chillies, garlic etc – awesome for encouraging others and building community too!
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Part of the Itchin’ Kitchen garden in suburban Perth – who needs grass?!

So – that’s how we do it in our family – I’d love to hear if you have any other tips for making your budget work!

Washing, bathing and cleaning in an Itchin’ house

Sadly, lots of kids with food allergies also have related conditions such as asthma, eczema and hayfever. We have all 3 of these in our house, which we have learned to manage fairly well.

On top of this, our Mr 3, Harry, has a very serious allergy to some cleaning products and certain chemicals. After a particularly scary reaction and a race to the emergency department just after he turned one we were given an epi-pen, which we carry at all times. However, we have since discovered that he is a super sensitive little dude and that even a visit to a recently cleaned public loo or a change in sunscreen can leave him crying in pain from the nasty burn type reaction that spreads over his body from contact.

So I wanted to share with you some of the ways that our family washes, bathes and cleans, whilst managing these allergies.

*Please keep in mind that I am NOT a doctor or dermatologist and am not suggesting that the things that work for our family WILL be the answer for yours – but we have had a long journey to work out these things and I’d love to think that it might give you a place to start if you also have an Itchin’ household that is not restricted to the Kitchen. Additionally, we are not in any way paid to endorse these products!!

My 3 beautiful reasons for changing the way we do things!
My 3 beautiful reasons for changing the way we do things!

Vaccuming – Since dust mites and dust are an asthma trigger for us, and we have 3 little people and dog inside (!!), I vacuum twice a week. We have pulled up all carpet and put down bamboo and we don’t have cloth blinds/drapes to eliminate as much as we can.  Lots of vacuums just stir up dirt and blow it back out again so a really good vacuum is helpful. We installed a ducted vacuum system (which you can do yourself if you are handy, like my husband, to save big $$) which means that the pipe goes straight to the motor outside in the garage and there is no dust re-circulation. I know lots of other allergy sufferers who swear by their Dyson’s too.

Dusting – I use a damp or electrostatic cloth to avoid stirring up dust. I dust weekly to keep on top of it – we live in an area where there is still quite a bit of house construction so it gets really dusty!

Mopping – When I had a tiled floor I had a great steam mop. Loved that I could get a really clean floor without any chemicals. Sadly, steam mops are a big no no on wooden floors so I have recently purchased a Norwex microfibre mop that I use with plain water. Enjo also make a similar product and there are other less expensive versions available at the supermarket.

General cleaning – Orange oil, bi-carb soda and plain white vinegar are my new best friends. I haven’t always been a fan of this type of cleaning product but as I have tried to protect my family I have also been convicted of the need to protect our environment (and our household budget as a bonus!). I use about 10 drops of orange oil in water mixed in a spray bottle to clean the bathrooms, toilets and showers. As opposed to tougher chemical cleaners, you do need to do this more frequently because it isn’t as good at cleaning up a scary build up of mould and grime, but if you keep on top of it weekly, it works well. Bi- carb and warm water is a great cleaner for most things, use it as a paste if you need more of a cream type scrub or mix with a small amount of vinegar if you want a fizzing clean. Works for cleaning kids bath toys, un-blocking drains, and de-scaling your iron and kettle. It also works for getting smells (like pet wee or vomit) out of carpets . I do have to confess that I still use a bit of bleach on the inside of my toilet bowl – it is away from contact with Harry and those ingrained ideas about germs are very hard for me to completely ignore 😉 I use white vinegar in my dishwasher as my standard rinse aid and if I run out of the dishwasher detergent I use a heaped tsp of bi-carb and 3 drops of orange oil – works beautifully!

Two of my best cleaning friends
Two of my best cleaning friends

Washing clothes and nappies – My favourite washing detergent is called ‘Rockin Green’. I haven’t found it in a supermarket yet but it is easy to order on line with a Google search. It is totally phosphate free and also free of enzymes and optical brighteners. It is particularly amazing if, as we do, you wash cloth nappies. If I don’t have the Rockin Green, I use a standard sensitive washing powder, but I use only about 1/3 of the amount specified on the pack and often do and extra rinse too. As a pre wash for cloth nappies, a teaspoon of bi carb is amazing. I also sprinkle a tsp of bi-carb into the bottom of the nappy bucket to help absorb the smells.

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Bathing – Any kind of detergent is out for Harry, so we bath the kids nightly in warm water and a few tablespoons of Dermaveen Oatmeal Bath and Shower oil. If they are out at another house it is just plain water and a face-washer. A couple of drops of food colouring in the bath turns it a great colour if you want to make it more interesting. The oatmeal oil is beautiful and moisturizing and it is lanolin, paraben and fragrance free.  Because I am in so much contact with the kids, I also use this to wash myself.

Skin care after baths – To keep on top of the rashes and scaly skin we need to make sure the kids are very regularly moisturized. We use Dermeze Ointment. It is a soft white paraffin and quite thick, but it works wonders for sore and sensitive little bodies. We also use organic rose-hip oil on sore spots if they’re not bad enough to require the really strong medicated creams we also have. Dermaveen also make a nice thick eczema cream that is lovely and relieving and not as greasy if you aren’t so dry or itchy.

Bath time and after bath skin care
Bath time and after bath skin care

Nappy Rash – This has been a big difficulty for Ellie as well as Harry, so after lost of bleeding bottoms (after only 1 acidic nappy) and doctors visits, we seem to have a routine that clears it up fairly quickly. We avoid commercial wipes and use warm water mixed with a tsp of bi-carb and wipe with a soft, chemical free, make up pad.  Then when it is particularly bad, we use Hyrdozole cream (from your Pharmacist, it is a anti-fungal mixed with a cortisone) and then after a few minutes, use a very thick layer of Nappy Mate paste over the top (this was developed at the Children’s hospital in Perth for kids who were admitted to hospital with Nappy Rash, and is very thick and can be quite tricky to apply but it is by far the best healing barrier cream I have ever come across). Also let those bottoms air as much as you can … fresh air and a bit of sunshine works wonders!

I realize that all written down in one place, this looks like a lot to change – but be assured, we have done this gradually and it’s now just second nature.

Keeping your kids safe and well is always a big challenge – Good Luck and please let us know if you have any other tips for managing these things in your Itchin’ house.

Homemade bread crumbs

Two things made me want to make my own bread crumbs – the ingredients list on a box of commercially produced bread crumbs (hard to believe you need fish in them!) and a comment on a series of Survivor a few years ago about a lady who had been in the competition and realised how much food she wasted including the end crust of a loaf of bread. She said she’d never throw one away again, she appreciated food so much more. So now, I keep our end crusts in the freezer and when there’s enough I make my own bread crumbs. Here’s how I do it:

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Collect my crusts from the freezer
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If only I could recycle the rubbish too!
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Tear the bread into small bits and place into a preheated oven at a low temp around 100C until the bread is completely dried out and crusty. It usually takes a couple of hours.
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Put the cooled bread into a food processor and wizz it up. Store bread crumbs in an airtight container.

Tips for having a successful weekend away

“How many sleeps Mum?!”

We fielded that question for at least 10 days – the kids were super excited about our weekend away in the country, and so was I. There was some trepidation on my behalf though – having kids with allergies makes travelling quite a bit harder and requires some forward planning – but I think my preparation made our weekend a great (and allergy safe) one.

Before you go:

– think about where you are going and staying –

  • What type of accommodation are you booking? I think self-contained is a great idea for families with food allergies. It doesn’t give the cook as much of a holiday but it certainly reduces the risk.
  • Is there a hospital in the vicinity? This is something to think about if you are dealing with anaphylaxis. We had a district hospital nearby and I knew we were only a short air-lift to Perth.
  • What activities will you do that could be risky? We were staying at a farm where we would be feeding animals – I made sure I remembered to ask the farmer when we arrived if there were nut products in the feed – there was, so we were able to help our kids adjust to the fact that they coudn’t feed certain animals and the farmer was fabulous too – he let our kids feed the other animals so they didn’t miss out.
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Feeding Katie the Kangaroo

– plan your meals –

  • Dinner – I planned our menu for the weekend and froze two dinners/partial dinners from our meals in the week so that I didn’t have to cook much while away. We had soup and rolls the first night – all I had to do was reheat the soup and put the rolls in the oven for 5mins. The second night I used the leftover taco mince I had frozen in a pasta bake – so I cooked pasta and added some grated carrot, cooked broccoli (just throw it in the pot of boiling pasta 5min before it is finished) and then I took Jemima’s portion out before sprinkling cheese on top and baking in the oven.

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    Ready to bake my Vegan Chocolate Fudge Cake – thanks to RetroMummy
  • Snacks – I brought fruit and dip and crackers (as well as baby snacks)  but I also baked a cake for us to have as a treat (see here for the recipe). Very exciting for the kids!
  • Lunch – we planned to have bakery lunches as we knew there was a bakery in the town. Those who could had pies and Jemima had hot chips as the bakery wasn’t as well stocked as we had hoped. Very thankful for the humble hot chip! The one thing that could have gone wrong was that the pie Cohen chose didn’t end up being the one he got (the lady picked up the wrong one) but we didn’t notice until he was a few bites in. That made us very thankful that there hadn’t been a satay pie or something and that we will need to be more careful next time!
  • Breakfast – we had special “holiday” cereals that we don’t normally allow at home. 2 days of Coco Pops and Nutrigrain was super exciting for the kids and easy for me. Emmalyn was very happy with her Weetbix still especially with the view of the alpacas out the breakfast window.
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Saying hello to the duck who was after our breakfast!

– Make a list

  • My Mum always wrote packing lists so that’s what I do too. I write it a couple of nights before so that it’s in the back of my head and I am less likely to forget something come packing night.
  • Don’t forget your medications. As well as our regular emergency bag (epipens, asthma prevention meds and ventolin), I make up a little first aid kit including Panadol, Nurofen, Redipred (that’s a prescription one so only if you need it), our extra epipen, bandaids and Paraderm Plus (an antiseptic, anaesthetic and anti-itch cream – covers lots of bases).

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    Out collecting rocks and feathers

While you are there:

– Activities

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Fresh sour dough with lemon infused olive oil
  • With little kids, not doing much driving is the best choice for us so we enjoyed being a walk into town (that option had made the accommodation very appealing) and spent time exploring the farm, feeding the animals, playing in their playground and made one drive out to an olive oil company for a parents’ choice activity – yum!
  • We continued with our regular rest routine as Emmalyn needed to sleep anyway and the kids (and us!)love their downtime.
  • We enjoyed not having anything else to do and having my husband around without work needing to be done was great.
  • We brought a couple of toys each as we planned to be outside most of the time. The best one for the older two was Jemima’s Lego briefcase with a couple of extras. How great is Lego?!

We had such a wonderful weekend away – hoping we can do it again soon!

Menu Planning and Keeping my sanity!

Several times in the last 4.5 years on our food allergy journey I have made mistakes or oversights that have led to my kids having reactions … and trust me – it feels awful 😦

So I wanted to share with you some of our tips for how we cope in our home in the hope that it might help you too.

Menu

  • Have lots of safe snacks on stand by. Individually wrapped and frozen slices, muffins and breads are really handy. I always have some fruit or rice crackers in my nappy bag so I can feed Ellie if we get caught out somewhere for longer than I had expected.
  • We all eat the same thing at meal time as much as possible to avoid cross contamination (and it’s easier for me!)
  • We all use Nuttelex instead of butter or margarine so that there aren’t any remnants in spread jars.
  • Different face-washers each day for Ellie and the boys so that we’re not wiping allergens on her if the boys have been eating them.
  • Will’s allergy to most nuts is potentially life threatening so, as a blanket rule they are not allowed in the house, and Harry isn’t allowed to eat them when he’s out because he’s in such close contact with Will (we may need to rethink how we deal with this one as they get older).
  • Always check labels on packaged foods – ingredients change, even between versions of the same brand (eg plain or grain packet bread mix). I recently made the mistake of buying a home brand version of a cereal that is normally fine for Will only to have him break out in hives after eating only a tbsp. Turns out the home brand version had vitamin A extracted from peanuts in it!
  • I don’t love doing dishes so I try not to use 2 lots of utensils when cooking, so if we aren’t eating exactly the same thing, I tend to do Ellie’s first. Eg, drain the GF pasta first then use the same drainer for the regular pasta afterwards, or cut Ellie’s bread on the bread board and then when hers is on the plate, do the regular bread next.
  • Baking paper in the sandwich press is easily switched so that there’s no contamination from crumbs or cheese etc.
  • Make sure faces and hands are washed after meals and snacks and before kids play with toys.
  • Lastly we talk to our kids regularly about allergies. The boys are 2 and 4 and they know to always ask about nuts and eggs before they eat food from anyone else. Fortunately (in some ways) Ellie’s reaction to some things are quite instant so they have seen the welts pop up when they kiss her after drinking milk etc. And they know not to feed her anything unless they’ve checked with me – and even tell their little friends when we are out and about.

Do you have any other allergy survival tips to share?