Expats Move Home: Is Getting Groceries Easier in America?

Thrifty Travel Mama | Is Getting Groceries Easier in America?Grocery shopping – it’s either a mundane chore or an obsessive activity depending on who shares your shack. If you only cook for one or two, restocking the fridge may be an afterthought or even an annoyance. But for those with HUNGRY munchkins nipping at their heels, getting groceries is serious business.

While purchasing provisions in Germany vs. the US might not be as drastically different than, say, bartering for baloney in a rural Mongolian market, the discrepancies while abroad were enough to make me pine for the greener pastures of Publix, Kroger, and… Costco.

During my weekly German Aldi run, I longed for a bulk store like Costco or Sam’s. I was completely over the cashiers’ stares when I bought my standard ten liters of milk every Monday. Must I always insist that I am not feeding a herd of baby cows each week?

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: Is Getting Groceries Easier in America?

Rookie German grocery mistake: don’t buy more than your teeny fridge can hold.

In Germany, buying in bulk is just not a thing. Are you a big-box or warehouse shopper? Do you buy your milk by the liter or by the metric ton? I would’ve preferred the latter, but really, all I wanted was to shop at one store.


Super Size It

America has done such a bang-up job of exporting BIG abroad – BIG brands like Oreo and BIG companies like Coke (to say nothing of BIG hair and BIG bodies plastered on the BIG silver screen). Unfortunately, my homeland failed me in neglecting to force the rest of the world to jump on the jumbo food packaging train.

Did I count down the days until we could join an American warehouse club store? You betcha.Thrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and Recipes

Shop Around

Beyond the super-sized milk jugs and bloated boxes of cereal, the second major annoyance focused on the necessity of patronizing a minimum of two grocery stores every week to purchase ingredients I needed or wanted. More often than not, I visited three OR MORE… e v e r y    w e e k.

Give a little shout out if you that routine sounds major awesome!! No one? Really..?

One store. That doesn’t seem to much to ask, does it?

You might say, but hey, don’t you often sign the praises of Aldi? Yes, you’ve caught me. I do love Aldi, so much so that I pitted German Aldi vs American Aldi in a supermarket smackdown which you can read here.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: Is Getting Groceries Easier in America?

Weekly Aldi grocery run.

Unfortunately, as a discount store that aims to keep prices low, Aldi does not and cannot carry everything. Another German grocer, Rewe, is as expensive as it is amazing. Most Rewe stores are sparkling clean with two or three times as many products as Aldi or Lidl. But, that variety comes at a premium. Prices at Rewe were too high to shop there exclusively.

Despite their advantage over Aldi in terms of options, even Rewe doesn’t carry cilantro for my homemade salsa or black beans for this cheesy Warm Chipotle Dip. Want to know why?

I’ll let you in on a little secret… many Germans do not like dishes that feature a lot of spices (the exception being, of course, currywurst). Plain Jane is the name of the German flavor game. Grocers in Deutschland don’t carry a plethora of ethnic products because the majority of German customers won’t buy them.

So, what if you want to buck the well-established German flavor system and cook delicious dishes like curries and stir fry? Where are you going to find the essential ingredients?Thrifty Travel Mama | Global Eatery - Sri Lanka

The best place for global cuisine staples is an Asian or Middle Eastern specialty shop. Since I just can’t live indefinitely without my red lentils or soba noodles, I added yet another stop to my grocery groove – the Turkish market.

Exhausting and irritating yet unavoidable for the flavor seeker – patronizing multiple stores was my weekly routine. And every time I did the dance, I dreamed of being about to shop at one store per week.

Just ONE.

Coming to America

By now, you’re thinking that the neighborhood Walmart sounds like a fabulous place to shop in comparison – yeah, you and me both. Well, okay, maybe not Walmart. That place sends me into an absolute panic.

As you can imagine, one of the things I looked forward to the most when moving back to the States was one-stop grocery shopping. One store – done.

Bahahahahaha. Boy, was I wrong.

In Arizona, we became Costco members, and I gleefully loaded my colossal shopping cart with industrial-sized laundry detergent, a city block of toilet paper, and enough ketchup to last me until the apocalypse. Those first few weeks of buyers bliss were seriously something awesome.Thrifty Travel Mama | Reverse Culture Shock: First Thoughts on Reentry

But, I soon realized something.

Costco really is fabulous, but it doesn’t carry all the produce we usually eat. Kroger has low prices, but they don’t have all the natural and organic foods I buy. Sprouts is a decent health food store, but even they don’t carry all the ethnic food ingredients needed for more exotic dishes.

Oh my… here we go again.

I still find myself frequenting at least two stores every week here in America, often three if I add Trader Joe’s in the mix.

The main difference is I zip around in my car instead of my bike, burning gas instead of calories, while stressing out about traffic instead of whether the heavens will open up and drench both me and my bike trailer full of groceries. Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: Is Getting Groceries Easier in America?

Win, Lose, or Draw?

If neither Germany nor America can give me that one and done experience – will ANYONE win?

On the plus side for America, it really is nice to save money in the land of grocery competition where stores often sell items at a loss just to get you in the door. I am once again using coupons (though nowhere NEAR the level I did once upon a time) and shopping the sales.

But, other than that aspect – significant as it may be, I can’t say that the American market experience is much better in terms of value added. America just stocks more products, offers more choice, and advertises more options… all of which isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially for an expat in reverse culture shock recovery.Thrifty Travel Mama | Global Eatery - Sri Lanka

I do like that I can get any ingredient I need at nearly any time of day or night. And, yeah, the free samples at Costco and free cookies at Publix are a godsend when shopping with little boys. It’s also a big bonus to have my groceries bagged for me instead of having my meat and potatoes flung at me by an overzealous Aldi clerk because I’m not sacking them fast enough for her…

I don’t like that every time I go to the grocery store here, I am loaded up with a zillion and one plastic grocery bags. Where is the petition to ban these convenient nuisances from stores? Please, put my name at the tippy top.

Environmental concerns aside, those piles of plastic are a mushrooming monster, multiplying at an alarming rate and silently conquering every available nook and cranny in my house. At least German stores charge for plastic bags which passes the cost to the customer and makes one rethink how many bags are actually necessary.

Even if I can’t shop at one store, maybe I could make it out of each one with only ONE reusable bag instead of ONE thing in each plastic sea-creature-suffocating bag… A Sip of Summer - Refreshing Blueberry Lemonade and Green Tea

Wrapping Up

Contrary to my domestic daydreams, the grocery shopping grind in the US isn’t all I had hoped it would be. Despite living in the land of infinite possibility and choice, grabbing groceries every week at ONE store is simply not possible unless you possess (a) loads of cash that allow you to always pay full price or (b) a personal shopper who goes to all the various stores for you.

My one-and-done goal turns out to be downright unattainable under current circumstances. But, who knows? Maybe ONE day, that dream will come true.

What do you like and loathe about your weekly grocery trip? If you have grocery delivery, I would love to know your experience and if you think it simplifies things for your family.Signature Thrifty Travel MamaLead photo credit


Expats Move Home: Do We Miss Germany?

Thrifty Travel Mama | What We Miss About Germany“Do you miss Germany?”

I get asked this all.the.time, and the answer is a resounding, YES!

The more difficult question involves what we miss about Germany, because there are things we most definitely do NOT miss. Hang on to your hats – that list is coming next.

In struggling to adapt back to American culture, I find myself often looking back on our European adventure with rose-colored glasses.

It seems that in every frustrating encounter with our broken American healthcare, every failure to communicate in my native language, every awkward social encounter with a spandex-clad, minivan-wielding soccer mom.. I want to quit. I want to give up and go back. I long for the “good ol’ days.”

But, were those olden days really… good?

If so, then what was good?

Over the past months, I’ve been compiling a list – both for you and for me. For you, the curious – and for me, the perspective. In no particular order, here is what I miss the most about living in Europe.


This is where I truly struggle the most. America boasts many treasures, and I don’t discount that fact. But, they are all American and relatively new in the history of the world.

What I adored about living in Freiburg was the ability to hop in the car and find myself in a completely different country and/or culture in a half a day’s drive (or less).Thrifty Travel Mama | What We Miss About Germany

The European landscape is littered with old castles and ancient fortresses. And, if the drive to a new place seemed too long, budget airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet made further-flung destinations just a quick flight away.

I guess the ancient old-world feel of Europe is just my style. I could explore and photograph charming provincial villages all.day.long and never tire of the rustic old stones, writhing iron, chiseled wood.

America has a different look that makes her special and unique. Sadly, Route 66 and Palm Springs just don’t do it for me. Perhaps that will change with time. For now, all I want is to be lost in the hill towns of Tuscany.

There’s also something to be said about the European idea that vacation time is a necessity, not a luxury. And while not every European can afford to spend a month in Spain, nearly every one of them receives much more time off than the average American… and the European uses it.

Riding My Bike

When we were searching for jobs last fall, Doc Sci and I desperately wanted to find and move to a walkable or bikeable community. We longed to keep some of that liberating feeling of using our own two legs to get us wherever we need to go.

While our current city is on the smaller side and thankfully doesn’t have too much traffic, it is NOT set up for getting around on two wheels.

For starters, American drivers just absolutely do not watch out for cyclists. I know, because I used to be one of those drivers. Retraining my brain to check the bike lane at every intersection in Germany was not easy, and I constantly worried about accidentally hitting a pedestrian or cyclist.Thrifty Travel Mama | What We Miss About Germany

Here in the US, you’re often taking your life in your hands using the bike lane. I know some people do it and don’t die. But with kids? Forget it.

I have tried riding on the sidewalk with the boys to a few places only to discover that sidewalks exist only on certain streets, abruptly beginning or ending without rhyme or reason. It’s there one block and gone the next. Rarely do the sidewalks extend along the full length of our route, forcing us to venture onto the actual road (yikes).

I guess we’ll have to stick with mountain biking or cycling nature trails. Enjoyable – but not at all the same.

Simplicity of Food

You can find many American foods in German supermarkets such as Coca Cola, Oreos, Pringles, etc.; but beware – these goods are not exactly the same. Sure, American Oreos and German Oreos share a common product name, but the ingredient lists are not identical!

American packaged food is often full of chemicals – preservatives, artificial colors, fake sugars. In Germany, soda is made with real sugar, and artificial ingredients are uncommon due to strict labeling laws and a population of consumers that prefer things au natural.

If I want to buy a simple bag of pretzel sticks in the US, I have to search multiple brands and products in order to find one with a short ingredient list and few allergens (and they ALL have sugar!).

Not one single product could boast an ingredient list like the ubiquitous German Salzstangen: flour, water, oil, salt, malt, and yeast.Thrifty Travel Mama | What We Miss About Germany

In Deutschland, we grew accustomed to eating whole foods; only rarely did we buy something prepared. In the US, it often feels impossible to find raw ingredients for a decent price. Why is it that packaged food costs less in America than simple pantry staples?

No Bags at the Grocery Store

Can this really be a thing to miss? I have never been much of a staunch environmentalist (though I do think it’s important to care about the earth), but I appreciate a minimalist approach to life, especially with kids.

I have three growing boys, and they want to eat three meals a day and two snacks for some reason (the nerve!). As you can imagine, we buy a car-ful of groceries every week.

At first, I brought my reusable bags everywhere. But, I often forgot to hand them over before the cashier started bagging my items (often double bagging!). I ended up with bushels and bushels of these stupid nuisances within just a few weeks.

The waste drives me nuts; and the effort to recycle them is just one.more.thing to remember when I shop. Now, I just leave the reusable bags in the car and ask for no bags or use the self-checkout when I want to avoid the stares and comments (are you SURE you don’t want ANY bags?!).


During our cross-country move, I ducked into a store to grab a few things for dinner at the hotel. The woman in front of me in line whipped out a checkbook to pay for her groceries. A check?! Who pays with a check?

The cashier didn’t even know how to process the thing. I just stared. What is this, the 90s?

Nope, it’s 2015 in America – but, we’re still living in the dark ages of banking.

If you want to pay someone in Germany, you simply ask for their bank account number, and you transfer the money. It’s simple and free. Stores accept cash, debit, and sometimes credit. Chip and PIN cards and TAN blocks make transactions secure. If you’re curious, you can read more about German banking here.

While e-banking has changed by leaps and bounds since 2010 and nearly every business accepts some form of electronic payment, the last holdouts still cling to the comfort of old-fashioned checks. I have at least two payees that only accept cash, check, or money order (speaking of relics..). The sooner these antiquated bits of paper make their way from pocketbooks to museums, the better.

Freedom to Roam

Did you know that first graders in Germany are expected to walk themselves to and from school? Sure, parents are encouraged to show the kids the way, even walk the route with them a few times to practice. But then the parents should leave the child be to walk alone.

I’ll admit, I am not ready to give my seven year-old that kind of freedom. But, I do think he should be able to play on our street and in our neighborhood and work up to walking to the park or library by himself when he’s ready. Thrifty Travel Mama | What We Miss About Germany

I want my kids to roam freely without fear that I will face repercussions for allowing such actions. Tsh from The Art of Simple discusses her wish for the same thing and gives a rallying cry that we, as a culture, need to stop blaming and start trusting our neighbors and each other. Amen.

Along with allowing our kids the freedom to wander, Germans allow their children to take risks. Playgrounds in Deutschland are full of every kind of wonder that would never be allowed on American soil. The risk of injury and subsequent lawsuit is just too great in the US.

Thrifty Travel Mama | What We Miss About Germany

German playgrounds don’t sport signs or warnings such as those pictured here.

Fresh Bread

Ask a German in the US what they miss about home, and the words BREAD and BAKERIES will come flying out of their mouth. I never understood why they thought their carbs were so much better. Up until 2010, I ate squishy loaves with the rest of America, laden with dozens of ingredients, multiple allergens, and a hearty dose of preservatives.

In Germany, every grocery store offers freshly baked bread, sans preservatives. Some stores like Lidl even offer a machine where you can slice the whole loaves yourself. Bakeries exist on nearly every corner. Why? Bread is important to Germans, and – I’ll let you in on a little secret – that bread tastes amazing when it’s fresh.

Fast forward to 2014. We’re back in the US, hunting the local store for something to bookend turkey and cheese.

First, we check ingredients; lists read like a food science textbook. None can stick with the basics like flour, yeast, salt, and water. I decide I’ll be generous and settle for allowing a bit of sugar or honey. But no, even this is not enough. I have to wade through -ates and -ites and countless dough conditioners (what the CRAP are those?).

Giving up, we then move on to the squeeze test. If the loaf squishes easily like your favorite pillow, it’s out. Each package crumples like a deflated balloon with the slightest touch.

Nearly a year later, we still have yet to find a great bread here that isn’t made from scratch at home or costs $5+ a loaf. If you know of one, please share it in the comments below.

German Speakers

Over the course of four years, I grew accustomed to hearing German spoken and the quiet that surrounded my lack of fluency. And, since I lived in a university town, I shared the streets with people from all over the world. My neighbors were from Israel, Ghana, India, Tunisia, and China. I loved that.

Yes, America is very diverse and many cities in the US host various ethnic populations. Just not my city. It’s starkly… white. And, considering it’s Arizona, I rarely even hear Spanish being spoken.

Earlier this year, I saw two young men that looked to be from India walking out of Costco as I was walking in. I fought the urge to rush over and ask them where they hung out, where they bought Indian groceries, what the best places were to eat Indian food. In the end, I restrained myself. Out of context, my questions might come across as, well, creepy. I didn’t want to be the one to scare off the only Indians in the city!

Wrap Up

Well, there you have it. All the things I miss and can’t easily obtain in my current place and time. Our German expat experience was incredible; but, it wasn’t all castles and chocolate. For the things I don’t miss, come back on Wednesday.

What things do you miss from a place you used to live or visit frequently? What did you do to cope?

Signature Thrifty Travel Mama


Disposable Baby Diapers in Germany

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expat Life - DiapersSeveral weeks ago, I gave you a snapshot of the options for jarred baby food in Germany.  But eventually all that food is going to come out the other end, and you might want to be in the know about what kind of products we have here to cover your (baby’s) bum.

In short, the two main disposable diaper options in Germany are Pampers and generic store brands.  I have never seen Huggies diapers (only a strange, stray box of DRY wipes), nor do we have Luvs or Seventh Generation.IMG_0107 copyThe diapers are sized similarly, but the weight ranges are in kilograms.  Whatever US diaper size your baby wears (1,2,3,4,5,6) will most likely be the same in Germany.  IMG_0101 copyIMG_0102 copyIMG_0103 copyIMG_0099 copyIMG_0106 copyAs for cost, I did a quick comparison of the German Pampers prices with the American Pampers prices on diapers.com, no sales or coupons.  When you convert euros to dollars, the diapers work out to be about the same price in both countries.

If you’re looking to save some money, the generic disposable diapers at dm are actually of decent quality.  Grocery stores like Lidl and Aldi also sell store brand diapers, but I would only use these in a pinch except for the Lidl pullups which are similar in quality to the dm ones.IMG_0100 copyWe used Pampers diapers for all three boys (including Big Foot who was born here in Germany) when they were newborns, and then switched to generic diapers once they hit size 3 (except for when we used cloth diapers which I really, really miss).  On any given day, you can find dm diapers on Big Foot’s bum, and we have personally used the dm pullups as well.  IMG_0093 copyIMG_0095 copyIMG_0096 copySpeaking of pullups, the options for underwear-style diapers are the dm ones I mentioned and Pampers Easy-Ups.  For older children, DryNites are also available.IMG_0098 copyIMG_0091 copyIMG_0105 copyFor those that want to go a more environmentally friendly route, dm also sells chlorine-free diapers.  They are cheaper than Pampers and a little more expensive than the generic dm brand.IMG_0109 copyAnd, for summer and trips to the pool, dm sells their own brand of swim diapers.  I haven’t seen any Pampers swim diapers, but they may be lurking in large grocery stores that I rarely visit.IMG_0097 copyThough we have less choice than in America, I think this actually makes diapering decisions easier.  I’ll take three decent options over fifteen mediocre ones any day.

Have you tried disposable diapers in Germany or elsewhere outside the US?  What was your experience?Signature-Marigold

Make It Yourself: Homemade Salad Dressing, 3 Ways

Thrifty Travel Mama - Salad Dressing, 3 WaysSpring is officially here!  I sure hope it looks more like spring from your window than it does outside mine.  At least there is no snow.. today.

With the promise of sunnier days and warmer weather, it’s high time to start thinking about adding hearty dinner salads to your meal planning rotation.  We eat salad a LOT in our house, perhaps more than Doc Sci would like, because I really do have a soft spot in my heart for the green stuff.

When we first moved to Germany, the only prepared dressing I could find at the neighborhood grocery store was white, thick, and creamy.  I must admit, I’m not really a ranch dressing kind of girl, but this stuff couldn’t even be compared to Hidden Valley.

It took me a while to figure out that the only way I was going to have a vinaigrette dressing up my hearts of romaine was to make it myself.  Sure, the discounters sell packets of salad dressing seasoning destined to be mixed by the consumer with oil, water, and vinegar, but they taste terrible.   Regular ol’ oil and vinegar was better than that.

And, so I started simply, with olive oil and balsamic which are both good and cheap here in Germany thanks to our close proximity to Italy.  I worked my way through a dozen or so variations, and I have four favorite salad dressing recipes.  I’m giving you three below; you can find the fourth here.Thrifty Travel Mama - Salad Dressing, 3 WaysBalsamic vinaigrette is the most versatile.  It’s extremely simple to make, and it goes with almost any salad.  I can’t think of any salad it doesn’t go with, but I’m willing to concede the remote possibility.

When I was pregnant last summer with Big Foot, I got the idea of making a Costco-sized bottle of the stuff to last us through the newborn days.  Pure genius, I tell ya.  I haven’t gone back to making a small batch since.

A few things you may notice about these recipes…

First, all of my salad dressings are heavy on the vinegar.  If you’d rather hold the sour stuff, just change the ratio of oil and vinegar to 2:1 or 3:1.

Second, all three incorporate strong flavors of raw onion or raw garlic.  Don’t be shy about adding them to salad dressing!

The key to mellowing out the bite is to age the dressing.  Toss together the ingredients in a screw-top bottle or jar, and leave them a week or more in the refrigerator, shaking at least once daily, before using them on your salad.Thrifty Travel Mama - Salad Dressing, 3 Ways

Blast of Balsamic Vinaigrette
adapted from The Food Network

12 cloves garlic
4 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 3/4 c balsamic vinegar
1 c extra virgin olive oil

Finely mince the cloves of garlic with a knife or garlic press.  Put the minced garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper in a large bottle (I use an empty 750mL olive oil bottle with the spout removed).  Carefully pour in the vinegar and oil.  If you prefer a 2:1 oil to vinegar ratio, pour in the vinegar first and eyeball it.  Seal and shake vigorously to combine.  Store in the refrigerator, and age at least one week before serving.

Goes best with: anything, but especially mixed greens, spinach, and salads containing hard cheeses such as Parmesan or soft cheeses such as blue cheese or feta.

Honey Dijon Vinaigrette
adapted from Once Upon a Chef

3 Tbl honey
2 Tbl Dijon mustard
4 Tbl red wine vinegar
1 1/2 T finely minced shallots
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
6 Tbl olive oil (or sunflower oil)

Add all ingredients to a screw-top jar.  Seal and shake vigorously to combine.  Store in the refrigerator and age at least three days before serving.

Goes best with: heartier leaves such as romaine and bitter greens such as radicchio.  Excellent as a topping for a dinner salad with chicken or a chef’s salad with ham and hard boiled egg.

Creamy Italian Salad Dressing
adapted from Marie’s RecipeZaar Collection

1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbl red wine vinegar
3 Tbl sour cream or low-fat yogurt
3 Tbl grated parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Add all ingredients to a screw-top jar.  Seal and shake vigorously to combine.  Store in the refrigerator and age at least one week before serving.

Goes best with: heartier leaves such as romaine or spinach.  Excellent as an accompaniment to salads with pasta or pasta salads.

So, which one’s your favorite?


Baby Food in Germany: The Jar Options

My neighborhood dm stocks a wide variety of jarred baby food.  Muller and Rossman are other drugstores with decent baby food departments.

My neighborhood dm stocks a wide variety of jarred baby food. Müller and Rossman are other drugstores with decent baby food departments.

Big Foot has just made it to the six month mark (yay!), and he’s decided to join his brothers in becoming a fast and ferocious eater.  The kid LOVES food.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate to sleeping well at night, but that’s another topic for another day…

As with the other two boys, I’m making my own baby food.  I use the schedule and the frozen food cube method from Super Baby Food.  For the most part, it’s worked well for me and the babies.  But, I have to admit – it lacks portability when traveling.

For instance, Doc Sci and I took a road trip when T-Rex was about five months old.  I packed my food cubes in a cooler on ice for a 12 hour trip (uh, yes, we were totally nuts, and no I do not recommend a road warrior mentality when traveling with an infant).  By the time we arrived at our destination, all those neat and pretty food cubes had melted into each other, and it was impossible to tell where the avocado ended and the banana began.

Never again.

As you might know, when Screech was ten months old, we moved to Germany.  Luckily, I had a heads up about two months in advance that we might be hopping the pond, so I busted my you-know-what to make sure Screech was down with the chunkier textures and scarfing down the same stuff as his big brother and parents.

He was game to grow up a bit ahead in the baby food game, and I found that a pair of kitchen shears was all I needed to make my plate of spaghetti into Screech’s delight.

And good thing, too.  The baby food jar options in Germany are, well, um, interesting to say the least.  Now that I’m gearing up to take another road trip next month (only 7 hours this time!), I’m again venturing into the commercial baby food world to weigh my options.

Want to take a look with me?  Let’s head down to my neighborhood dm and give it a gander.

But first, a few notes to help decipher labels for those traveling to Germany or new to the country…

  • Bio = organic, and it’s pronounced B-O as in the gym locker fragrance, not Bi-oh as in biology.
  • Ohne Salz Zusatz means without added salt and Ohne Zuckerzusatz means without added sugar.
  • Hipp is usually the most expensive brand, but almost everything is organic and of good quality.
  • Nestle/Alete is usually the cheapest brand and has a rotten reputation.
  • Foods are labeled with which month they are appropriate to use (usually 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 months).  The higher the month, the chunkier the texture.
  • Just like in the US, the jars are rather expensive.  I’ve included prices in the photos below for reference.
German babies all start with the same food - carrots.  It is the only vegetable I have found that comes by itself in a jar.  Watch out though - some brands have added oil to provide omega 3.

German babies all start with the same food – carrots. It is the only vegetable I have found that comes by itself in a jar. Watch out though – some brands have added oil to provide omega 3.

All other vegetables come packaged with something else.

All other vegetables come packaged with other ingredients.  No single green beans, peas, or broccoli to be found here.

Spinach is processed with milk and cream and labeled as suitable for four month-old babies.  We have a history of food allergies in our family, so milk is completely off limits at four months.

Spinach is processed with milk and cream and labeled as suitable for four month-old babies. That might be okay for some little ones, but we have a history of food allergies in our family so milk is completely off limits at four months.

The only other green vegetable I've seen is zucchini.. but again, it's with potatoes.  Carrots and potatoes are the German baby food staples.

The only other green vegetable I’ve seen is zucchini.. but again, it’s with potatoes. Carrots and potatoes are the German baby food staples.  By the way, this stuff smells and tastes totally rank.  There’s nothing zucchini about it.

Here are some more potato-laden baby food options.

Here we go with the lineup of potato-laden baby food options.  I guess the Germans think the potatoes will make the other veggies palatable..?  But parsnips.. who eats parsnips?  I’ve never even seen them sold in grocery stores here, let alone considered them as infant fare.

There are more fruit options than vegetable ones, but often they are paired with apples.

There are more fruit options than vegetable ones, but often they are mixed up, shaken, not stirred, with applesauce.

Many fruit options also have grains included.  Spelt (Dinkel) is a very popular baby food option here.  Watch out if you have a history of wheat or gluten allergies/intolerance.

Many fruit options also have grains (Getreide) included. Spelt (Dinkel) is a very popular baby food option here. Watch out if you have a history of wheat or gluten allergies/intolerance.

And speaking of grains, Germans feed their babies Milchbrei (cereal with milk or formula).  I find it super ironic that the organic, bland, sugarless culture feeds their babies cookie and chocolate flavored infant cereal.

And speaking of grains, Germans feed their babies loads of Milchbrei (cereal with milk or formula). I find it super ironic that this organic, bland, sugarless hippie dippy culture feeds their babies cookie and chocolate flavored infant cereal.  But, they do.

If you've got a poor sleeper, or a hungry monkey, you can give a "Good Night" jar a whirl.  Apparently these mixtures are supposed to take longer to digest and therefore help the baby sleep longer.  (Unfortunately, this hasn't worked for us...)

If you’ve got a poor sleeper, or a hungry monkey, you can give one of the “Good Night” jars a whirl. Apparently these mixtures are supposed to take longer to digest and therefore help the baby sleep longer. (Unfortunately, this hasn’t worked for us…)

If you're going for pureed meat (mmmmmm, delicious), a few companies produce jars of plain chicken and plain beef.  It's quite expensive though, as you can see.

If you’re going for pureed meat (mmmmmm, delicious), a few companies are hawking jars of straight up chicken or beef. It’s quite expensive though, as you can see.

I am used to giving my babies one food at a time, waiting a few days to check for any allergic reactions, and then moving on to another single food.  I am not sure how you do this in Germany without making food on your own.  Other than the few fruits and vegetables I have pictured, the rest of the baby food jar options are "menus" or complete meals.  Here are a few of the menus for four month-old babies.

I am used to feeding my babies one food at a time, waiting a few days to check for any allergic reactions, and then moving on to another single food. I am not sure how you do this in Germany without making food on your own. Other than the few fruits and vegetables I have pictured, the rest of the baby food jar options are “menus” or complete meals. Here are a few of the menus on the market for four month-old babies.

This one baffles me... noodles (wheat), tomatoes (highly acidic), pork (hard to digest), and the long-standing staple, carrots... for a four month-old.

This one baffles me… noodles (wheat), tomatoes (majorly acidic), pork (hard to digest), and the long-standing staple, carrots… for a four month-old.  Say, what?!

Here's another good one.. Lamb?  What?

Here’s another good one.. Lamb? Well, it’s new.  Maybe it’ll be a flop.

There's a tie for the most outrageous four month-old meal.  The first contestant isn't pictured; dm was out of the salmon in cream sauce.  So, this one wins.  Who feeds their young baby veal?!

And the award for the most outrageous four month-old meal goes to… Wait, it’s a tie.  The first contestant isn’t pictured; dm was out of the salmon in cream sauce. So, this crazy concoction wins. Who feeds their young baby veal?!

As in the US, there are a few toddler TV dinners.  I'm not big into these because by the time the baby is one year old, they usually eat everything that the rest of the family eats.  But just in case you're looking for a microwave meal, there you have it.

In case you’re itchin’ to know, there are a few toddler TV dinners on the German baby food market. I’m not big into these because by the time the baby is one year old, they usually (hopefully?) eat everything that the rest of the family eats. But just in case you’re looking for a microwave meal, there you have it.

Okay, the TV dinners and these squeezy fruits aren't jars, but whatever.  I know these pouches are all the rage in the US, but they have just started catching on in Germany.  They're here, but few and far between.

Okay, the TV dinners and these squeezy fruits aren’t jars, but whatever. I know these pouches are all the rage in the US, but they have just started catching on in Germany. They’re here, but few and far between.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our little tour of the baby food section at my neighborhood dm drug store.  Unfortunately, I’m still without a traveling baby food solution.  Maybe I could convince Big Foot to subsist on carrots and pears for a weekend?  Yeah right…

Make Four Weeks of Pancakes in 10 Minutes

After my Freezer Meal adventure, I’ve been trying to find ways to keep up the convenience.  I’m always looking for ideas that help me have fast and healthy meals ready to go.

I recently read this statement somewhere (probably on Pinterest) – “We are pancake people.”  And I thought, YES!!!  So are we!!  Every Sunday for almost our entire stay in Germany, I’ve made pancakes for breakfast.  We LOVE this weekly tradition.

But we have no Bisquick here, so all pancakes must be made from scratch.  Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you.  I once bought a few boxes of the healthified version of Bisquick when we lived in the US only to realize that by the time I added all the extra ingredients that I wanted, I may as well have just made the whole thing myself.

And, seriously, making pancakes yourself is SO easy.  And you know what is just as easy??

Making four weeks of pancakes in only a little more time than it takes to whip up just one batch!

We have tried tons of different pancake recipes, and the recipe you find below is my own creation based on years of taste-testing experience.  Note that I use this recipe to make three different pancake bases: plain delicious buttermilk pancakes, cinnamon pancakes, and chocolate pancakes.  Use them either as is or as a springboard to discovering new family favorite flavor combinations.

To add some pizzazz to the buttermilk base, try throwing in some blueberries (fresh or frozen), strawberries (diced or sliced), or mini chocolate chips.  Really, you can add anything you like to this one.

To dress up the cinnamon base, stir in some chopped pecans or walnuts, pumpkin puree, gingerbread spices, or chopped white chocolate.

To add variety to the chocolate base, toss in some chocolate shavings (left over from making amazing chocolate chunk cookies), peanut butter chips, dried cranberries, or toasted, chopped almonds.

Thrifty Travel Mama’s Easy Pancake Mix

1 cup unbleached, all purpose flour (3/4 cup if making chocolate pancakes)
1 cup whole spelt or whole wheat flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder (if making chocolate pancakes – I like lots of cocoa but you can use less)
1 Tbl ground flax
1 Tbl wheat germ
1 Tbl cinnamon (if making cinnamon pancakes – I like lots of cinnamon but you can use less)
2 tsp natural or brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

First, assemble the cast of characters. We’re all about getting some healthiness in with our pancake fix, so this quick and delicious breakfast mix is not afraid to get its whole grain-flax-wheat germ thang on.

Next, get your materials ready. I store my pancake mix in glass jars formerly of spaghetti sauce fame. I assemble my mix on sheets of parchment paper.  You’re also going to need some measuring cups and spoons… obviously.

Start with some good ol’ flour. If you don’t like the taste of whole wheat, try whole spelt.

For the chocolate pancake mix, make sure to only use 3/4 c white flour instead of 1 whole cup. Then add 1/4 cup of cocoa powder and turn that whitey tighty mountain peak into a dark and brooding volcano.

For cinnamon pancakes, give the pile a nice spicy shower.

To all mixes, add two teaspoons of natural, granulated (or brown) sugar. You can leave this out if you’d like or substitute another dry sweetener.

Next, get your flax and wheat germ out. If you need to do this when no one is looking, then so be it!  There’s no shame in sneaking some health food in the family breakfast game.

Finally, swirl some rising magic onto your mountain – add the baking soda and baking powder. A pinch of salt is good but not required.

Carefully gather two opposite sides of the parchment paper together. Gently place one of the folded ends into the opening of the jar. Slowly shake the dry mixture so that it falls into the jar and not all over your counter. If you are running out of room, gingerly tap the jar on the counter to settle the mix down a bit lower.

Whew! Mine just fits. If you’re selected a jar that is much too small for your mix, simply dump the mix back onto the parchment paper and go in search of something bigger. I use jars but plastic zip top bags or containers would work just as well.

You really should make the chocolate mix – it just comes out so darn pretty.

Now gather all the mixes together…

…add fancy schmancy labels to the front….

…and cooking instructions on the back. Mine are super simple so that Doc Sci can be the pancake chef if I need to feed the baby (or want to sleep in a few extra minutes – ha, yeah right!).

Pancake Cooking Instructions

Dump mix into a large bowl.  Whisk ingredients around a few times.  Then, add the following:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups of buttermilk (a 500g container for those in Germany)*
  • 1 Tbl oil (I use sunflower oil)

* – If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make your own or use plain milk.  But, I highly recommend real buttermilk.  It reacts with the baking soda to produce some real dreamy pancakes.

Using a whisk, combine the wet ingredients with the dry just until smooth but not lump-free.  If the batter is too thick, add a few tablespoons of milk to the batter and whisk several more strokes.

Pour pancake portions one at a time onto a hot griddle, and fry until golden on both sides.  I’m not an expert on pancake cooking methods, so if you need more instruction on flipping the perfect flapjack, Google it!

Pancake batter can be whipped up the night before and stored in the fridge until ready to cook.

What about you?  What are your family’s favorite pancake flavors and mix-in combinations?

Make Ahead Meals for Small Freezers – The Update!

Whew!  Big Foot has now made it through ten weeks of life!  Only 592,849,107 more to go, right?

Before he made his forgettable debut, I told you about my manic cook-n-freeze frenzyI’m happy to report that almost all of the meals I made turned out very well or at the very least, edible.  I was also super surprised by some pretty awesome friends who brought me some pretty delicious food during Big Foot’s first week before heading off on holiday.

As I was slaving away over a hot stove this summer, sweating it out sans air conditioning, I wondered if all the culinary madness was worth it.  The verdict?  Definitely!  The gifts of friends combined with the bounty in the freezer allowed me to cook almost nothing for a full month!  I can’t even begin to describe the value of having time to just be with my family and adjust to a new baby without having to worry about what in the world I will cook for dinner.

So, without further ado, here is the list from the previous post with my comments on how each item fared following its nap in the depths of the deep freeze.

Freezer Meals I Made

  • Pasta Sauce Great! This is hands down my favorite sauce recipe.  I wish I had made more.  It can be used for pizza, pasta, lasagna, polenta, gnocchi, etc.  I now make a vat of this sauce, multiplying the ingredients by 6!  I’d make even more at a time, but that’s all I can fit in my largest cooking pot.
  • Pueblo Corn Pie I love this meatless main dish.  It reheated well, but I’d recommend defrosting it overnight in the fridge before popping it in the oven.  It sucked way too much energy going straight from the freezer to the oven.
  • Potato Soup This one of two things I have not yet eaten.  But if the Twice Baked Potatoes are any indication, it should turn out just fine.
  • Lasagna Casserole I don’t really like ricotta cheese, but I found myself chowing down on this dish.  Very easy to make, freeze, and reheat in the oven.
  • Homemade Pizza Pockets (but I used Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day dough) These are better reheated in the oven than in the microwave.  Next time I might make half with meat and half vegetarian.
  • Teriyaki Chicken I never got the time to make this and then freeze it.  But I’ve made this meal again and our family really loves it.  It might sound crazy, but try serving it with mashed potatoes instead of rice!
  • Twice Baked Potatoes These take up a lot of room in the freezer.  I thought they were decent but could use a bit more cheese.  My boys didn’t like them, but I’m not sure why since they like potatoes, broccoli, and cheese.  Perhaps it was the potato skin??
  • Black Bean Burgers Cooking these burgers was a nightmare, and next time I will search for another recipe.  I still have not tested them since Big Foot has serious gas issues.  If anyone has a better homemade black bean burger recipe, please leave a comment with a link!
  • Lemony Lentil Soup A regular meal in rotation around here, and it tastes just as good after being frozen.
  • Creamy Turkey Wild Rice Soup I loved this soup, and I can definitely see myself making this a staple during the winter months.  No issues reheating the soup even with the dairy.  It’s a good idea to undercook the veggies as the recipe suggests. 
  • End of Summer Harvest Soup  I have thrown together this super simple slow cooker recipe many times in the past several years, but I was disappointed at how it turned out after being frozen.  The zucchini was mushy to the point of being unrecognizable, and the pasta absorbed most of the soup liquid.  Better to just cook this in the crockpot and eat right away.
  • Corn Chowder I added some black beans to this recipe which most likely contributed to it tasting a little off.  The texture seems grainy and chunky when cold, but it evens out when reheated in the microwave.
  • Lemon Chicken (an old recipe similar to Chicken Piccata without the capers – I froze the chicken separately from the cooked spaghetti and steamed vegetables mixed in with the lemon sauce)  If I did this again, I would only cook the spaghetti for half of the time called for on the package (even less than al dente).  I would also double the sauce and freeze the sauce in one bag and the pasta and chicken in another.  The steamed vegetables turned to mush.  I should have simply parboiled them!  Not a great dish to freeze but still a family favorite.
  • Taco Meat (with lots of extra veggies – I used zucchini, onions, and red bell pepper)  Delicious!  We made a huge baking sheet of nachos with this.  I should have made several bags of taco meat since it can be used for a host of dishes (tacos, burritos, nachos, taco soup, quesadillas, enchiladas, etc.).
  • Marinated, Grilled Chicken (fully cooked)  I undercooked these chicken breasts ever so slightly – smart move.  The reheated chicken was still moist and juicy even after being zapped in the microwave.
  • Roasted Vegetables (zucchini, bell pepper, onion – for quick omelets and vegetarian quesadillas)  We did indeed feast on veggie quesadillas!  I will be making lots of extras whenever we grill this vegetable mix again.  I can see myself tossing them in deep dish pizza, frittatas, soups, paninis, etc.
  • Cooked Black Beans  Convenient, but next time I will freeze in quart-sized bags instead of gallon bags.  Since Big Foot has so much extra wind flying out the behind, we have eaten beans & rice a lot less than I originally anticipated.
  • Cooked Pinto Beans  See above.
  • Salsa I regularly whip up a big batch of salsa and freeze three quarters of it since cilantro is hard to come by ’round these parts.  It does turn out a little watery, but that can be easily drained.
  • Whole Grain Blueberry Muffins  Scrumptious!
  • Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough  Amazing as always.  Freezing ready-to-go balls of cookie dough is pure genius!

In addition to the formidable amount of freezer meals I assembled, I also put together jars of dry ingredients for homemade Hamburger Helper and pancake mix.  I was so impressed by the convenience of these ready-to-cook items that I have continued to refill the jars when they become empty.  In fact, I so love having easy peasy Sunday flapjacks on hand that I’ve got a how-to post coming soon with my go-to pancake recipe.

But perhaps the most remarkable discovery for me during this adventure has been how well baked goods freeze.  After being delightfully surprised by my defrosted blueberry muffins, I have successfully frozen pumpkin muffins, lemon cupcakes, chocolate chip scones, peanut butter cookies, and more.  Sticking half the batch of whatever I bake in the icebox saves waist and waste!

Freezer cooking has truly changed how I manage meal planning in my home.  It’s been a positive experience that I hope will continue to save me time and stress for all those 592,849,107 weeks to come!

Have you tried any of the recipes above?  Let us know how they’ve turned out, or leave a link with your own favorites!

Pregnant in Germany: The Midwife Follow-Up Report

It feels like I have been out of the blogging routine for far too long.  It’s only been a few months, but so much has happened during that time.  I’ve got several updates, trip reports, and reviews to get out of my system before moving on to new stuff.  All the while, I’m doing my best to keep up with life and little boys and the adventures that come with the privilege of being a mama to three. 

Hopefully all your “what about…” questions will be answered very soon, starting with an update on my thoughts regarding what I consider a very positive aspect of the social health care system in Deutschland.  Take it away!

As I mentioned in a previous post, all pregnant women in Germany are entitled to midwifery care before, during, and after the birth of their child(ren).  Though my experience with one of the midwives at the hospital was less than stellar, I definitely lucked out with my ante- and post-natal care.

My midwife (let’s call her Maya) was of great help to me before Big Foot arrived.  She spoke great English so I didn’t have to stress about my German skills which seemed to rapidly disintegrate as the pregnancy progressed.  She came to my house so I could spend more hours at home than in a doctor’s office.  She brought a wealth of experience not only about the German system but also of the British system which seems to be a hybrid of the American way and the German way.

When I experienced a host of unexpected and severely unpleasant symptoms, Maya prescribed homeopathic and natural remedies.  She also presented me with free samples and coupons.  I think we might have been made for each other!

Maya also offered me suggestions on what to do and where to go when I realized I would need to be induced.  She told me which hospitals would be likely to cave to my sob story, and which doctors were better for situations that might arise such as a breech baby.

After Big Foot was born, I emailed Maya from my phone while waiting to be released from the hospital.  She set up a time to visit me the very next day which just happened to be a Sunday.  After that, she dropped by every other day for the first week and once a week after that.  In all, Maya came to my home for seven post-natal visits.

Each time she arrived, Maya would ask all sorts of questions about how I was doing, how Big Foot was faring, and how the family was getting along.  She really listened to me and cared about my answers.  She offered advice when I needed it without being pushy.

She checked my recovery, weighed the baby, and even did the heel prick test (similar to the test performed in the UK to check for hidden health conditions) so I wouldn’t have to make a trip to the pediatrician.

In the last two visits, Maya showed me some exercises I could do to wake up my abdominal muscles and strengthen my floppy midsection.  She left me with a poster detailing additional moves but not without first demonstrating each one to make sure I understood and could perform them correctly.

Maya mentioned to me at our final meeting that I still had several visits left in my quota.  Apparently, I can call her at any time up until Big Foot’s first birthday with questions, concerns, etc., and her services would still be covered by my insurance.  Wow.

I can’t say enough good things about my experience with a midwife, compliments of the health care system in Germany.  The only thing that would have made the whole shebang better was if she cooked, cleaned or babysat the older boys.  I guess that’s asking a bit much, but hey a girl can dream big, right?

Anyhow, despite my hospital horror show, it’s good to know that will remain but a lone dark spot in a mostly brilliant albeit baffling German birth experience.

Household Notebook

I finished my Household Notebook – yay!

Well, “finished” as in as complete as any project done by a perfectionist could possibly be.  I’m doing my best to let it be what it was intended – a tool that our family USES – and not merely a piece of art that adorns my desk.

So, what exactly is a Household or Family Notebook? 

Our family’s Household Notebook – turquoise!

I suppose it’s not the same for everyone; but, for us it’s a collection of documents to manage our family “business” better.  It will help me be even more organized, and it should provide valuable information for Doc Sci or anyone else who might need to take over daily affairs for some reason.  It should also provide quick access to vital information during an emergency situation.

I started out researching what other people had in their notebooks (using Pinterest and Google, of course).  I made a huge list of ideas, and then I narrowed that list down to 15 categories.  In those 15 categories, I wrote down items that were appropriate to the category and would be referenced or used frequently.  I then searched for existing templates that I could use as a springboard to design my own documents.

When poking around online, I noticed some people had four binders instead of one.  Other people used their binders exclusively to pay bills and didn’t include anything else like meal planning or personal health records.  I didn’t want my notebook to be a replacement for a file cabinet – but, I also didn’t I want my desk to be overwhelmed with a library of resources.

Ultimately, a Household Notebook needs to be something useful for that particular household.

So, what’s in my notebook?


My 15 categories and a few examples of the documents in each are as follows…

  • Contact Info
    • Emergency phone numbers
    • German & American contact numbers
    • “In case of emergency” document
  • Planning
    • 2012 and 2013 at a glance
    • Important dates (birthdays, anniversaries, etc)
    • Yearly calendaring list (everything from dentist appointments to dryer cleanings)
    • German and American holidays including daylight savings schedules (they’re different for the two countries)
    • Doc Sci’s work schedule and my weekly schedule
    • Party planning checklists
  • Home Management
    • Deep cleaning checklist
    • Storage unit contents – Germany and USA
    • Stain removal guide
    • Garment care symbols
  • Meals
    • Grocery lists for regular grocery stores
    • List of items only available at specialty shops
    • Meal planning sheets
    • A list of staple meals
    • A list of meals to try (and space to write the verdict)
    • Restaurants to try (and space to write the verdict)
    • Seasonal produce guide for menu planning
    • Stockpile inventory
  • Family
    • Children’s current sizes and measurements
    • Chart with American and European sizes, including shoes
    • Children’s daily schedule and routine
    • Babysitter notes for nights out
    • Birthday party ideas
    • Chore chart ideas
  • Health
    • Medical history for each family member
    • Physician phone numbers
    • CPR instructions
  • School
    • School contact info and phone list
    • Home school weekly planning sheet
    • Home school year overview
  • Money & Finance
    • Family budget
    • Wallet contents including card numbers & contact numbers
    • Password log
    • Yearly schedule of the best time to buy household items
    • Auto insurance coverage details
  • Travel
    • Ideas for local family outings (not overnight)
    • Vacation destination idea list (overnight)
    • Packing lists
    • Before-we-leave checklist
    • Frequent flier mile information for all family members
  • Expat Living
    • Copies of passports
    • Resources for renewing visas
  • Projects
    • Generic to do list
    • Generic project work sheet
    • Generic week at a glance schedule for completing a project
  • Holidays
    • Thanksgiving guest list, meal planner, and grocery list
    • Thanksgiving week planner
    • Christmas card labels
    • Gift gift lists
    • Christmas cookie swap party planner
    • Christmas guest list, meal planner, and grocery list
    • Blank copy of December 2012
  • Blog
    • Ideas page for future posts
    • Yearly calendar for planning
  • Activities
    • Local public pool schedules
    • Local sport club classes for kids
    • Ideas for activities during summer and holidays
  • Lists
    • Items I frequently (and currently need to) request from the US
    • List of topics to research
    • Household items to fix
    • Generic sheet for thoughts on a particular topic

Using the documents I found online, I created my own set of documents in Illustrator that fit our family’s situation (living abroad, don’t own a home, etc.).  I also had to make sure all the pages matched and looked pretty!

My funky European two-ring binder.

After designing all the documents, I organized them into folders on my computer hard drive that matched the categories above.  That way, when I need to print out new menu planning sheets, I can just open the “Meals” folder on my computer the same as I could flip to the “Meals” tab in the notebook.

The only tabs I could find that would reach beyond the page protects had to be cut by hand. Not great for someone who can’t snip a straight line to save her life!

I wanted to print out the documents at a lab so they’d look nicer.  Unfortunately, I don’t know of any existing print labs in my city, so I had to settle for our HP Deskjet. Surprisingly, Illustrator did a great job with color, and what I saw on the screen was how it looked on paper.  Sweet!

Some reference documents went in page protectors, and some were just hole-punched and placed in the corresponding category tab.

Page protectors are very cheap here – both in terms of quality and money.

I bought a plastic envelope to put in the back of the notebook to hold takeout menus and other small scraps of paper that didn’t fit anywhere else.  Unfortunately, it was too big, so I’ll have to check a few other stores for smaller pouches.

My too-big plastic envelope.

I have a few finishing touches to put on the notebook (for starters, filling in the budget and phone numbers by hand).  After that, I’m looking forward to how this notebook will help streamline my “mama” job and make life easier for Doc Sci when I’m out of it for a few weeks.  I think my Household Notebook will be a great tool for our family in the years to come.

p.s. – I’ve made a Pinterest board with links to all the documents I used for ideas.  You can view the board and links here.

How about you?  Do you have a household notebook? Why or why not?

Make Ahead Meals for Small Freezers

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been spending many of my waking hours in the kitchen cooking for the future.   I know it’s not that unusual for expectant mamas to make a few meals to have on hand for after the baby comes.  But, I think my preparation has become more of an obsession than a precaution.

When T-Rex was born, no one brought us any meals. It’s not that we didn’t have any friends.  It’s that we didn’t have many friends with kids and those that did have kids had newborns like us.

After Screech arrived, only two or three friends came by with food.  I didn’t really mind since we had gift cards or money for take-out.  We lived in an area with lots of restaurants, and this gave us plenty of choice (and convenience) the first few weeks.

Unfortunately, we won’t have that luxury this time around.  Takeout options for us are pretty much limited to pizza, McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, and Chinese food that’s full of fat but devoid of any flavor (Germans are totally into bland).  Subway and pizza are all right, but who wants to eat that every other night?

If we do end up with some meals from friends (and that’s a big IF considering it’s summer vacation and almost everyone we know will be gone), I am still left with the embarrassing fact that I am incredibly picky.  The list of things I don’t eat is simply pathetic.  I’m trying hard to broaden my horizons, but I am sure there are certain things I will never be able to eat unless truly starving.

Our old freezer, before we got a new one.

So, I set out to fill what little space I do have with the most food possible.

Also, I asked friends to let us store some meals in their freezers.  Most Germans have small freezers, so I had little expectation of anyone having free space.  However, I was pleasantly surprised, and I’ve been able to give about half of what I’ve made to others to store in their homes until the baby arrives.  That meal is then their ticket to come by and say hello to our new addition.

The new freezer – just the bottom portion.

In order to make the most of their freezers and mine, I’ve found that the key to maximizing space is to put everything in zip-top storage bags and freeze flat.  No jars, and no containers of any shape or size.  I realize this isn’t great for the environment, but this cook-ahead frenzy is a one-time thing.  I rinse out and reuse any plastic zip-top bags that I can.  Those that I cannot reuse, I recycle.

We have two drawers, but both are not created equal…

I always make sure to write on the outside what will be inside the bag, the date I made it, and reheating instructions.  Then, I fill the bag with the meal.

It’s helpful for space and for taste to get as much air out of the bag as you can before freezing.  Close the bag almost all the way, and then stick a drinking straw in the last little open bit.  Suck as much air out as you can, and quickly seal the bag.  Lay flat, and freeze right away.

One is only half of the size…

For casserole-type meals (see Pueblo Corn Pie and Lasagna Casserole below), line the baking dish you will use with several sheets of foil and allow overhang.  Fill the pan with the prepared food.  Cover with plastic wrap and freeze.  Once frozen, remove from the dish and fold the foil over the top.  Put in a labeled freezer zip-top bag, and freeze.  When ready to eat, it will fit easily in the pan and also have little to no clean-up!

…of the other.

I found most of my recipes on Pinterest, but some are dishes that we regularly eat in our house.  Many of the websites on Pinterest listing make-ahead meals  contain ingredients that are expensive (seafood) or we don’t eat (pork).  As such, you may find more options than I did if you decide to go on a mass cook-n-freeze marathon.  I’ll post a list of the recipes I used with links below.

While on Pinterest, I found a great deal of links to dry mix recipes.  Many of them I couldn’t make because I have yet to find powdered milk (update – found it at Kaufland!).  But, some of them were totally doable.  I mixed up three jars of homemade Hamburger Helper, and four jars of pancake mix.  I labeled each with directions for Doc Sci to follow since he will be doing most of the “cooking.”

FYI.. I also tried two other popular mixes on Pinterest – and they turned out horrible.  Only try making Brownies and Mac & Cheese in a mug at your own risk!

Since I’ve never done this freezer meal madness before, I have no idea how these meals will taste once we actually eat them.  I’ll post an update with the verdict for each after we’ve consumed them all.  And maybe the convenience of having some meals in the freezer ready to go will be so attractive that I continue the practice (albeit on a much smaller scale) after we’ve gone from four to five.

Freezer Meals I Made

Other Lists of Freezer Meals

Have you made any freezer friendly meals?  If so, would you do it again?  How was the taste?