Thursday, October 31, 2013

Homemade Krypto the Superdog Costume (For a Baby) Instructions

My time is short now, but I realized I had a homemade costume idea that I never shared with you, and thought the timing was right. When Anneliese was a baby, we dressed her up as Krypto the Superdog, a character in a show my boys liked to watch. It was a very easy costume to make, but I think it came out cutely. It wasn't perfect, but I think it did the job.

This costume is very simple. Krypto is an all white dog, wearing a red cape, and a yellow collar with a Superman S logo hanging from it.

I made Anneliese's costume for about 75 cents or less, with a few pieces of clothing from a thrift store (some of which were scraps from other costumes I made with the same thrifted clothing).

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Not a perfect replica, and definitely not a perfect picture, but.... its the best pic I had, and I think the costume is close enough to the "real deal" to get the same feel.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

(Extremely) Frugally Furnishing a Home From Scratch - Bare Basics

After posting my recent post on how to have a frugal wedding, a super traditional friend of mine said "Ok, Penny, you covered the actual wedding itself, but what about all the expenses entailed in setting up a household for after the wedding?" In some traditional circles, setting up a household is part and parcel of a wedding, because that is often when the couple first moves out of their parents' homes and into their own home, but that is not how the whole world works, I told this friend of mine. Getting married often is followed by moving into your first home, but not nearly all of the time, and hence it is two separate posts.
So, whether you're furnishing a home for a newlywed couple, or just moving out of your parents' home and into your own place, or even moving abroad and starting from scratch, here's how to furnish a place without breaking the bank.

First, I have to admit that this post will probably irk some, as many extreme frugality posts do, because I question the notion of what is a need and what is a want, and some people find that upsetting, because they assume I am making a value judgement on them and their lifestyle. So let me preface this by saying that I know that some of what I'm writing here is very extreme- I am offering it as an option for those that are seriously tight on money, and if they spent more money on furnishings it would mean less food on their table, etc...
I am also offering some less extreme ideas, so if the very extremely frugal option doesn't speak to you, there should still be some stuff here that can work for you.
But if you have the money, and spending money on nice furniture is important to you, then do so- I won't judge- everyone has to make their own value judgments about what is important to them, and while brand spankin' new furniture isn't high on my list of priorities, I understand that for some other people, it is, and that is ok.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Big Reveal...

I have wanted to make this post for so long, but have been sitting on it until I felt the timing was right... But I felt bad not posting it earlier, because I felt you long time loyal readers might think either that I lost interest in my blog, and it was dying... or that something was wrong in my life...

Fortunately, the reason for the slower rate of posting lately is not because of anything bad, like my losing ideas for post or losing interest in this blog, nor because anything is wrong...

In fact, the reason why posting rate has been slow has been because....

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Yes, that is a pregnant belly you're seeing.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lentil Chicken Meatballs Recipe- Gluten Free, Grain Free, Egg Free

My kids have pretty much told me that they will not eat lentils. They might eat them occasionally in a soup, or when I surreptitiously put them in another recipe, and on a rare occasion will eat something with obvious lentils in it, if all the rest of the ingredients combine to form something delicious, but... on the whole, my kids have nixed lentils.

But I haven't. They're easy and quick to cook, and one of the cheapest forms of protein I can get my hands on. And I don't want to write off something cheap just because my kids are being picky.

The solution to that, I've discovered, is sneaking the lentils in together with meat. I did it with my sneaky spaghetti bolognese- half lentil and they didn't even realize, and now I did it again with my lentil chicken balls.

At first, I was looking for a recipe today that made vegan lentil "meatballs" but all the recipes contain walnuts, some other nuts, and/or mushrooms, to help the lentils taste more meaty.
Now I don't know about the prices where you live, but in my neck of the woods, walnuts ain't cheap. Mixing lentils with walnuts to make something meaty tasting might work, but is it really frugal? Wouldn't it be cheaper simply to mix ground chicken with the lentils to stretch them, and make them taste more meaty, giving the nutritional benefits meat instead of walnuts, and cheaper to boot? Because, yes, chicken (not on sale) is about 1/3 the price of walnuts per pound locally, so it's actually cheaper to make it this way. (Especially because I got my chicken on sale, so its even cheaper than how much it usually would cost.) I just take de-boned chicken (chicken breast in this case) and grind it up in my food processor instead of buying ground chicken, since it works out to be cheaper than buying it pre-ground and the texture works just fine.

No, it's not vegan, but I am not vegan (and have no qualms about my eating meat), I just like cheap food. And this is much cheaper than regular meatballs. So I'll probably take this over a lentil walnut mock meatball any day.

My husband and baby both tried it and loved it- my husband couldn't taste the lentils in it, and said they tasted just like regular meatballs to him, and my baby enjoyed it too. I really liked it as well, and as soon as my kids come back from the park (thank you Mike for taking them!) we'll see how well they like them. But I'm sure the answer will be "Mommy, this is delicious! Make it all the time!" knowing how they've reacted in the past.
If you're not a chicken fan, or for whatever reason you want to use a different type of meat, you can use ground beef, turkey, pork, lamb, venison or whatever else instead of the chicken, just keep in mind that it will change the price and taste somewhat.
This recipe is egg free, grain free, paleo/primal, allergy friendly, and GAPS diet friendly.

And unlike most of the lentil balls I've seen, these are cooked on the stove top, inside a pot of tomato sauce, which I like much better in terms of ease, efficiency, texture, and flavor.

Lentil Chicken Meatballs Recipe- Gluten Free, Grain Free, Egg Free

Prepping for 2014: 3 Finance Tips for the New Year

This is a guest post by Nancy Evans, a freelance writer who enjoys living well on a minimal budget.

It may seem as if summer has just ended, but a single look out the window is proof enough that fall is in full swing. Winter is right around the corner, which means we're heading into a new year in the very near future. Many people come up with a host of resolutions in order to guide their behavior once January 1st rolls around, but sticking to these changes can be easier said than done - especially when it comes to finances.

The thing is, you can use the onset of the new year as a motivator for making changes to better your financial situation. Whether you stick to these principles or not is up to you, but it's certainly worth a shot.

Chilled Cantaloupe Soup Recipe- Vegan, Gluten Free, Refined Sugar Free

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I almost feel silly posting this recipe, because cantaloupe is a summer fruit, and we're definitely in autumn right now, nearing winter, but... I was looking through my draft posts and saw this recipe saved but never published, and knew that if I didn't post it now, I probably never would get around to posting it, which would be a shame...
This soup came about by accident- I had a cantaloupe in my fridge that was getting a little old, and on top of that, it wasn't the tastiest cantaloupe ever, so it didn't tempt me to eat it plain.
I knew you could make a chilled gazpacho with watermelon, and assumed that you probably could make a delicious similar style soup with cantaloupe, but wasn't sure.
I experimented with it, and not only did it come out decent and edible, it came out so super awesome that my kids were begging me to make it again and again, and were so disappointed that the recipe didn't yield so much. They called it "candy soup" which says a lot. Not that it's very sweet- it's actually not- it's just delicious.
So even if you don't have cantaloupe available for cheap now, I suggest you bookmark this recipe for when they come back into season, because this is one recipe you definitely should try.

Chilled Cantaloupe Soup Recipe- Vegan, Gluten Free, Refined Sugar Free

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Super Easy, Quick, and Delicious Chicken Recipe

 photo IMG_1051_zps2c9c3ac7.jpgLegumes are cheaper to make than all other proteins, but they aren't so quick to make, and some people really dislike the taste of legumes, or are sensitive to them, etc...
This chicken recipe is the basis of my super quick, super easy, super tasty, super healthy, and super frugal supper that I make on those days that I have no energy to cook but know that I need to be feeding my family healthy food that they'll actually enjoy. (Ok, fine, some might argue that mashed potatoes aren't super healthy, but compare it to any fast food or most prepacked foods, and it wins by a long shot.)
My favorite thing about this recipe is that it cooks so quickly that I can put it on stove and whip up some quick side dishes, like instant mashed potatoes and a chopped salad, and by the time those are ready (less than 4 minutes), the chicken is also ready.
I've found that chicken breast recipes either require being baked in the oven, which means you have to factor in oven heating time into the cooking time, or they are time consuming on the stove top (like shnitzel) or they are bland and flavorless, or they have a weird texture (I hate boiled chicken breast, and chicken breast cooked in sauce tends to get that texture). But this has the perfect texture, is super quick, and still is full of flavor.
And best of all- it's made from a homemade spice mixture, made from ingredients that you'll otherwise throw in the garbage- tomato skins- so its green and frugal to boot.

Super Easy, Quick, and Delicious Chicken Recipe

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tips for Tiny House Living

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Cara's tiny kitchen/laundry room before
her husband built more shelves to make it more
space efficient
You might remember when I posted about when I visited a friend who lived in an even tinier house than mine? That friend, Cara, shared this lovely guest post with her reasons behind living in a tiny house, and how she and her husband make it work. Though most people don't live in a house as small as hers, and wouldn't even consider it, these tips are worthwhile for anyone who is interested in downsizing their home, and how to make the best use of less space.

My husband and I have been married for two years and three months. We've never lived in a big house—nor do we want to, for a variety of reasons.

First of all, we are both slightly nervous in wide-open spaces and prefer the comfort of walls around us. Kind of the opposite of claustrophobia, although I wouldn't say it's even that bad. Also, I'm a terrible housewife, so the less space I have to clean, the better.

Our first apartment—which was in the suburbs, actually in the same little town where Penny's husband grew up—was 183 square feet. One bedroom and a tiny little kitchenette that I could barely find space to cook in. It was a basement apartment with only one window and barely any furnishing. Naturally, guests were out of the question—we managed to squeeze a girlfriend of mine in for dinner once and another time my sister came over for lunch, but that was all.

Fortunately, we moved out of there and back into the city around six months later. Our second—and current—apartment is 225 square feet. It feels like a palace compared to our old place. The rent nearly doubled, unfortunately, from 340 dollars to 565 dollars, but we nearly made up with that what with not having to take the 3-dollar-each-way bus into the city for work every day. From here, my husband is able to bike everywhere (see this guest post Cara wrote about their uber cool bike) and I'm able to walk most places, so our transportation costs are nearly zero. And now we are not so isolated out of town, and can even have guests, including the Penniless family. (Having guests over for meals is a big part of our culture; people are much more likely to invite their friends over for dinner than to get together outside for a movie or whatever.)

We are happy living in the city, despite the increase in price, and plan to stay here long-term. I'm American, living in a country where I don't speak the native language very well, so jobs are limited. In our tiny place in the suburbs, I was always on the run (or more accurately, the bus), from this to that to the other low-paying part-time job, usually babysitting. Right now, that's not an option—for medical reasons I need to be in the city and I also need a flexible schedule, ideally working from home—which means it is essential that we live in the smallest, cheapest apartment we can find.

Here's how we make it work:

Monday, October 21, 2013

Frugal Weddings- Tips and Advice

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Me at my wedding
I was so convinced that I had already written a post on my blog about frugal weddings that recently, when a friend of mine asked me if I had any advice for her as to how to make a wedding cheaply, I directed her to a non existent post on my blog. Haha, guess I didn't write it yet, and it's about time.
I realize that every culture has different types of weddings with different expectations, so what might work in one place won't fly somewhere else, so these are just general guidelines, which you can then work with to fit your needs.

In my culture, men and women tend to get married on the younger end (I was 18.5 when I got married (somewhat young even in my circles, but not unheard of), my husband was 20, and my older sister was 20 when she married), so parents pay for the wedding because the couple doesn't usually have the finances to pay for their own wedding. In many families, there are fights about what one set of parents think it is worth paying money for, and the other may or may not disagree, and the couple's needs and desires get distanced, and the money ends up being money not well spent, and the wedding expenses end up being a big source of stress. My sister, Violet, and I got married 4 weeks apart, and my parents didn't want to deal with the headache of wedding planning two weddings at once, and they wanted to teach us some financial responsibility with which to start our married lives. What they decided to do was figure out how much they could afford to pay for our weddings, and then give myself and my sister the same exact amount of money, and it was ours to do with what we wanted- with no input from them unless we wanted. Whatever money was left after wedding expenses would be ours to keep.
I highly recommend this method of wedding planning. It allowed myself and my sister to make the types of weddings that we wanted to make, and get the most out of our money, and not spend money on things we thought were frivolous or wouldn't enhance our wedding.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Keeping Track of Grocery Expenses, Down to the Last Cent, and My Latest Shopping Trip

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My fridge, at the moment, with most of the produce I bought today inside.
On this local "money smart" board I am on, there was a discussion about how much is a normal amount of money to spend on groceries per family, and a financial consultant gave a really high number that many people were shocked to read. A bunch of extra frugal minded and just relatively frugal minded friends were surprised by the number, and all claimed to be spending much less each month on groceries than that. The financial consultant wanted to know what exactly we were buying that we were spending that little...

One of those friends and I decided that for the next month, we'd keep track of every single grocery (and food/eating out) expense we have for the next month- yes, even when we go to the store and just pick up one thing, so we can see exactly how much we're spending, and what percent of our money is getting spent on what. I've decided to scan my receipts daily, and when there isn't a receipt, just write down what was spent and on what. At the end of the month, I'll tally up every expense, and see how much we're spending total, how much on different categories, etc...
This will also be beneficial for us to help us decide if we want to be spending the way that we are, or if there's anything we want to change. And it'll help us know for sure if the estimates we have on how much we spend monthly is accurate or off.
And yes, those nonsensical waste splurges will be tallied up as well....
For those of you who are local and know the name of my other neglected frugality blog... I'm posting my receipts and expenses there each time we spend, and at the end of the month, I'll do a summary on this blog... (If you're local and don't know the name if my other blog, email me at pennilessparenting at yahoo dot com and I'll give you the address. If you don't know if you're local to me... you're not.)

Because of this project I'm undertaking, I'll try to post here more often about my shopping trips, what I bought, and why.

Today I went to the farmer's market to produce shop. A few days ago I went to the grocery store and was very disappointed by what I saw in the produce department. All the produce was much more expensive than it was in the past. The cheapest veggies were 40 cents a pound, but most were closer to $1 per pound or more... I know that most American readers will probably think those prices are amazing, but in my country salaries are much lower, so $1 per pound veggies are pretty expensive for most...

Five Tips for Eating Paleo Frugally

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One of Ruth's money saving Paleo tips. Tip #2
I have this really wonderful friend, . I met her online, originally, because we're both part of the real food world, and she inspires me a lot with her breadth of knowledge, and has taught me a lot about what I know about healthy eating. We became "in person" friends after she traveled a really long way to be able to come foraging with me, and then I visited her in her hometown to try to go foraging with her there... but we didn't have so much success there... 
Ruth blogs at Paleo Diet Basics, which is chock full of great healthy living advice and recipes, and very many of them are equally suitable for a frugal lifestyle.
I asked Ruth if she could write a guest blog post for you readers about how she keeps this healthy lifestyle from eating away at her pocketbook too much. I hope you enjoy this post as much as I do!

Before I get into how to be frugal while eating a paleo diet, let me define paleo and explain what frugality means to me.

What is Paleo?
1. Eating highly nutrient-dense foods (i.e. ingredients packed with lots of vitamins and mineral per bite).
2. Eating unprocessed foods with as few toxins/additives /GMOs/ chemicals as possible. This includes eating meat from animals raised naturally and humanely.
3. Keeping sugar to a minimum.
4. Not eating large quantities of carbs. Some paleo people eat very low carbs, and no starchy carbs - no rice, root vegetables etc. - whatsoever, but one diet does not fit all. Others, myself included, find they are healthier with moderate amounts of starchy carbs.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Update on Kids Being in School

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Photo Courtesy of DigitalArt
I have been meaning to post this post for a long time already, ever since I posted 2 months ago about my boys starting school, after being homeschooled until now. People want to know- how are the boys enjoying school? How am I enjoying the boys in school? What are my thoughts as the mom of kids in school, etc....
And I've started to write this post so many times but something always came up. But today's the day I plan on actually getting it written!

First off, I have to say that I am very impressed with the school. I have nothing but good things to say about the teachers- my four year old, Ike, has 1 main teacher and two assistant teachers in his preschool, plus another teacher who comes in to teach them letters, etc... This teacher who teaches Ike letters is actually 6 year old Lee's regular teacher, and Ike's head teacher comes to Lee's class to teach him for an hour or so daily. The principal is also wonderful. Each of the aforementioned staff members are caring, dedicated, and concerned about the well being of each individual child, giving them attention as needed, trying to help them transition, and giving them lots of love. The kids also really like their teachers and think they're great. I don't think I could have chosen a school I could have been happier with.

But that doesn't mean the transition to school has been an easy one, either for the boys or for anyone in the family.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Butchering Whole Chickens to Save Money and Calculating Costs

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Chicken I butchered and froze for later usage.
Yes, I know my freezer needs cleaning!
Lately I haven't been buying much chicken because the prices have been more than I'd been willing to pay. Occasionally I'd buy chicken wings, but even that was infrequent, because their prices, though lower than regular/whole chickens, were still higher than I'd like them to be.
Yesterday, though, I was in for a nice surprise. When I went to the grocery store, chickens were half the price I'd seen them until then- only $1.28 per pound. If I had more room in my freezer, I would have bought more, but I sufficed with buying 6 whole chickens.
Yesterday, I butchered and froze 2 of them, and today I did the other 4. (I really wanted to get a video of this, to teach people how to butcher chickens, because this usually is cheaper than buying chicken parts, but I got this done while Mike was busy, so he couldn't record me, and I don't trust Lee to take a video of me and for it to come out properly... so I'll have to make the video next time I do this.)

As I was chopping it up, I divided it into meal sized portions. For our family, I know how much of each type of chicken we generally eat in one meal. One thing I don't like about buying prepackaged chicken is that sometimes it is too much or too little for our family for a meal. If it's too much, and I defrosted it already, I usually end up just cooking the lot, and we eat more chicken than we would have otherwise, just so it doesn't get wasted... and since chicken is so expensive, we want to get the most out of it, and not eat it "just to finish it", but to eat it because we want to. And if a package is too small... well, then we end up defrosting and cooking two packages, which leaves us with even more extra cooked chicken, which is a waste, because eating something that is a special item/treat, just to finish it, isn't worth it. Making the perfect amount is the perfect frugal thing to do, in my opinion.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Grain Free Sweet Potato Pumpkin Porridge Recipe- Refined Sugar Free, Vegan

Sweet potato butternut squash porridge, topped with ground almonds
I'm a creative cook, I have a bunch of great ideas for new and interesting recipes, thankfully... but even so, breakfast is always hard for me. I struggle trying to figure out what to make for my family and myself that is tasty, relatively nutritious, and doesn't take too much effort to make... as well as being gluten free, dairy free, egg free, and refined sugar free. I fail miserably most of the time, which is why lately I must admit that my kids have been having store bought junky cereal and milk for breakfast (and good news- it seems that none of my kids are sensitive to dairy anymore!!)

This breakfast idea is one of my successes, when I actually figured out a breakfast that fit all the above requirements. It is perfect for a winter morning, is delicious and healthy and suitable for so many different types of diets, including grain free, gluten free, vegan, etc... The one down side is that it isn't so quick to make, which is annoying in the morning. So I'd recommend either making it at night and reheating it, or making it until step 3 and then finishing it off in the morning.

My kids gobbled this up like there was no tomorrow, and then were sad when there wasn't any more. They asked me to make this as frequently as I can. I plan on it!

Notes: I made mine with a mix of sweet potato and butternut squash, but you can use pumpkin in place of one of them. In fact, as long as you have between 9 and 10 cups of chopped orange stuff, you can use pumpkin, butternut squash, or sweet potato in whatever proportions you want- just adjust the rest of the ingredients to taste accordingly. If you go entirely with pumpkin, with no sweet potato, you'll want to use more starch to thicken it. Feel free to leave out the starch entirely, and make it with only pumpkin and butternut squash if you want to make this GAPS legal, just note that it will be more runny, so you may want to cook it down a little bit more until it thickens.

Grain Free Sweet Potato Pumpkin Porridge Recipe- Refined Sugar Free, Vegan

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Yummy and Easy Rice Pudding Recipe- Vegan, Refined Sugar Free, Cheap

 photo IMG_0916_zps32b63512.jpgI really want to apologize for slacking on the blog front lately. I really meant to pick up the pace with the posting this week, but unfortunately this week was just as crazy as last week. I don't think I've had 2 busier weeks in my life... Crazy busy, crazy tired. I've been running on virtually no sleep, constant brain fog... I've been so exhausted that I suspected I might have mono (got a referral for a blood test, just haven't done it yet), but now I'm thinking it's just lack of sleep, because for the first time in ages I got a good night's sleep last night- 8 hours straight- and today I can actually see straight, think clearly, and come out of my haze... I must just have been severely overtired...

Anyone, in the middle of the craziness, we had a breakfast get together with friends in my community. It was potluck style with everyone bringing one dish or two... I was pretty sure that I wouldn't be able to eat anything that anyone else brought, what with my gluten, dairy, and egg sensitivities... So I wanted to bring a dish that was filling enough that even if that was all I had to eat, it would be enough...
I was also pressed for time, so didn't want to bake some gluten free goodies... Speaking of which, I've noticed that some people aren't so thrilled with gluten free goodies, even when I thought they tasted awesome, so I wanted to make something that was naturally gluten free so everyone would like it.
I decided to go with rice pudding, since I knew I could make it in the pressure cooker and it would be ready in no time.

This rice pudding was such a hit, even though it was missing all the standard ingredients from rice pudding- other than rice and cinnamon. It was vegan, and didn't even have any vegan milks in it, both to keep it cheaper, and because I was lazy and didn't feel like making them, but it was still terrific. I made it refined sugar free, but feel free to use regular sugar in it if you want it to be cheaper.

Yummy and Easy Rice Pudding Recipe- Vegan, Refined Sugar Free, Cheap

Friday, October 4, 2013

Sweet Potato, Pumpkin, and Lentil Curry Recipe- Vegan, Grain Free

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The delicious curry. I know- far from photogenic.
Curries are some of the least photogenic
foods out there, I just felt I still needed to
share a picture with this recipe...
This has been a super crazy, stress filled week for me. Nothing bad, but just lots of late nights out, traveling, and little sleep. I really like to have at least one "real" post written each week- meaning a thought provoking post, and not just a recipe... and had 4 planned out that I really wanted to write about... but life got in the way....
So at the very least, I wanted to post a recipe today, and then go back to my crazy life.

I made this really delicious vegan curry for supper the other night. It has a lot of ingredients in it, but they're all fall friendly ingredients, so perfect for this season and pretty cheap to make. I was hoping it would taste good, but it tasted awesome. So much so that my picky little sister, Lizzy, who was visiting, asked for a third helping and complimented me a million times on it. So that's good.

Sweet Potato, Pumpkin, and Lentil Curry Recipe- Vegan, Grain Free

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Lentil, Pineapple, Purslane Salad and Rice Paper Wraps Recipe- Gluten Free, Vegan, and Delicious

 photo IMG_0906_zps557f9cdd.jpgSometimes inspiration comes from the randomest of places.
I have to go out tonight, and I'll be gone for hours, including supper time. With my food restrictions, and budget, I can't just buy something while I'm out, so I was racking my brains for ideas of an easily transportable food to bring along for supper. Immediately I thought to bring rice paper wraps, but filled with what was the question. Purslane was the obvious choice, since it's free and abundant right now and it is amazing in wraps, but I wasn't sure what to put in it. Lentils are frugal, so... why not purslane and lentils? And the last ingredient was decided upon when I saw the cans of pineapple that I bought on sale yesterday at the grocery store, and hadn't had a chance yet to put away. I thought pineapples would add a sweetness and juiciness that would be much appreciated together with lentils.
 photo 0efed66c-3d95-41e6-a271-43e1d95db517_zpsa8e131c9.jpg This recipe, out of the randomest inspiration, ended up so delicious that I wanted to share it with you. You can make this just as a salad to keep it grain free, or you can put it into rice paper wraps and roll them, spring roll style (but don't fry them).

This recipe is vegan and easily transportable, pretty healthy, and cheap as well. What's not to like?
If you can't pick purslane in your area, many farmers markets and even regular grocery stores sell this nutritious and delicious green.

Lentil, Pineapple, Purslane Salad and Rice Paper Wraps Recipe- Gluten Free, Vegan, and Delicious