Frugal Meals

So I was hoping to be able to do a post of what my shopping trip was like and what we ate this past week. That is just not going to happen. The fruits have been sick, so Mr Vine and I have been dashing to the store when we can, but not any real formal shopping trip.

I thought that I would share some of the ideas that we typically use.

Breakfast: Oatmeal (made fresh that morning or overnight in the crock pot), homemade granola (lightly doused with milk or a dollop of yogurt), pancakes, dutch oven pancakes, coffee cake, toast, or french toast (on rare occasions).

Lunches: Leftovers, soups, pasta, loaded baked potatoes, pbj, hummus sandwiches, quesadillas w/ re-fried beans and rice, grilled cheese, homemade pizzas, breakfast for lunch, hot dogs, dal and rice, and lunch meat sandwiches (rare occasions)

Dinners: pasta, tacos, fajitas, chili. chicken and rice casserole, bean/ sausage/ spinach soup, lasagna soup, taco soup, white chicken chili, 2 meal roast (split into 2 meals 1 pot roast other bbq beef, or Asian beef w/ noodles), chicken Caesar salad sandwiches, Egyptian Lentil Soup, Sausage w/ peppers & onions (served w/ rice or couscous),Swedish meatballs, risotto, gnocchi, philly steak sandwiches, beef stroganoff, and blts.

Snacks: fruit, yogurt, veggies & dip, cheese, bread w/ butter, popcorn, and homemade cookies

Meal Planning

I’m going to be up front and honest, I hate meal planning. It is so laborious. I am not the type A person, I can be to some extent, but I love to have the freedom to go with the flow. The freedom to give in to the whims of my cravings. When those cravings come a knockin’ it’s hard for me to ignore. This has been one of those weeks, nothing has sounded good. I’ve slugged my way through the week, and to be honest I have slipped up big time this week. Oh well, today is a new day to start fresh.

So when I do meal plan I give myself grace, I think that is where I failed this week. Having a few ready to go meals (preferably homemade, so much cheaper!) stocked in the freezer or pantry help when the day gets away from you or your original meal no longer sounds tasty.

I use a method which is referred to as reverse meal planning, when I am not on a kick to clean out the freezer and pantry (more on how I adjust for that). I use to meal plan by picking all these fabulous meals, that would call for gobs of ingredients I didn’t have on hand (thanks pinterest!). I would dutifully write out my grocery list, filled with items that I would only use a fraction of (spices, exotic veggies/ fruits anyone?) Then after a week or so these moldy odds and ends would get pitched or the spices shoved in the back of my spice drawer to be forgotten. My grocery bill was crazy! So I tried a new plan.

On Sundays I get the circulars of the local grocery stores delivered (free!) to my house. After church I take a few quiet minutes to peruse them. I jot down all the food that we like that is on sale and at what store. Now for those of you that hate shopping at multiple stores, I don’t blame you, but sometimes (when your budget is tight) you have to. Thankfully I can typically go to 1 store and get everything I need. Once I find the sales, I look at what I currently have to see what I can make based on what I have and what is on sale. I make a meal plan based on this. I do take to pinterest if my creative juices get clogged (I guess you redeemed yourself here pinterest!)

That is it! So basically unless an item is an absolute staple (i.e. milk, butter, eggs, etc.) I will not purchase it if it isn’t on sale. For example: I hardly ever pay more than $1.99/ lb for chicken breasts. In fact I know that if I am patient enough I can get chicken breasts at my favorite store for $1.77/lb. When they run that sale, I stock up baby! I love grassfed beef, but it is so EXPENSIVE! Again at the same store they will run it on sale for $3.99/lb (everywhere else sells it for $6/lb), I even was able to get it for $2.99/lb once 😀 I won’t pay more than $2.99/lb for roasts (beef), but I live for when they put it on sale for $1.99/lb.

This is where knowing what items typically cost when not on sale, and what the typical sales are, comes in handy. Again I am not a type A personality. I love lists, lists do not love me. In fact they typically run away from me….er get lost…or thrown away or destroyed by the fruits. So if you are like me and you are blessed to have a smart phone, take a picture. Sounds nerdy I know, but it works. Someone recently asked me if the organic maple syrup at Costco was cheaper than the regular maple syrup at Trader Joe’s. I didn’t know! I hadn’t looked at their maple syrup in a while, in fact I hadn’t been to Trader Joe’s in a few months. As fate would have it I need to go to TJ’s a few weeks later. I took a picture of the maple syrup with the price listed below. Then on my next trip to Costco I compared the price. Costco was $2-$3 cheaper! I was so glad that I took that picture because I had run out of maple syrup that week.

So what do you do when your money is really strained or you just need to come up with a little extra cash? Cut the groceries of course! Typically you have to cut money some where (or make more income) and groceries (when you are already on a bare necessities budget) is what gets cut. I sat down and meal planned 4 weeks worth of meals based on my freezer and pantry, then allotted myself $50/ week. It is similar to the above, but the emphasis is on using what you have 1st before buying the sale items. Typically I have my meal plan already written out based on what I have before I even look at the sales. So my grocery list is mainly staples (milk, eggs, etc.) and then only fruits and veggies that are on a great sale. As a sample here is what I purchased this past week:

12 lbs chicken breasts ($1.77/lb!), asparagus, peppers, lettuce, peaches, 2 pineapples, bananas, onions,  3 boxes of pasta, 1 rotisserie chicken, soda (yeah bad habit that needs kicking), and baby food.

My total was $60 for this week, I allowed myself to go over because of the sale on chicken breasts. I only had enough food to get through the 4 weeks on $50, but I really needed to get through 6 weeks. Purchasing the extra chicken will allow me to do that, thankfully my wallet also had the room to allow it. Wait! No milk?  I have cut down on the amount of milk that I serve my children per day, so now I can make a gallon of milk last longer than a week. They each get one small cup a day and we might have to skip a day of milk, but they will live! They still get plenty of calcium from cheese and yogurt that they eat throughout the week. Again cheese is bought in bulk from Costco, so I only need to purchase 1x a month and the yogurt is every other week deal.

I think that about covers it! How do you do grocery budgeting? Do you meal plan?

Homemade Handsoap review

So I am back! Here is a review of homemade liquid hand soap recipe that I found on The Farmer’s Nest http://www.thefarmersnest.com/2011/11/liquid-hand-soap-diy.html I will clarify that I was not able to find Mrs. Meyer’s bar soap, so I used Dr Bronner’s castille soap. I think that it turned out well! So here is goes the review:

Pros~ Easy to make; gets the job done for hand washing; makes a huge batch for the price!

Cons~ in using the Dr Bronner’s it seems to dry your hands out a little if you wash a lot (i.e. when in the kitchen I wash almost every 5-10 minutes); before you go to refill your soap dispenser, you need to shake it back up; it really does take a full 24 hours for the soap to sit up when make it.

Now I don’t see this as a con, but a word to the wise: the soap is not quite as thick as store-bought, but close enough for me. Had I been able to find Mrs. Meyers bar soap, it might have turned out differently. I made this soap about a month ago and I am using it in 2 bathrooms and the kitchen. So far we are doing well and have quite a bit left. I have bought a bar of french milled soap with Shea Butter in it to see if there is a difference with the next batch. If you like a more luxurious feeling soap I recommend going that route first using a soap that has shea butter or a natural lotion to it.

Results: 4 out of 5 vines!

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent Review

Today I am doing what I hope is the first of many reviews. If you are like me, I love the idea of making my own cleaning supplies. Not only is it more natural, but it saves money on your budget. However I find it a little daunting when delving into the cyber world trying to find recipes to make things myself. You never know if  the recipe will actually work and if you are like me, I hate wasting time and money. So here I have tried a recipe from www.choosingsimplicty.blogspot.com for homemade liquid dishwasher soap. For the recipe click here http://choosingsimplicity.blogspot.com/2012/01/choosing-simplicity-homemade-liquid.html

I have to admit that I have nothing bad to say about this recipe. I’ve been using it for about a week and a half now with success. I can’t tell the difference between it and store bought dishwasher detergent. I’ve tried several recipes in the past, most of them a powder version. It didn’t get my dishes very clean and honestly left a gritty film on them. This one is the exception and I have not had a problem with that in my dishwasher.  Now the only tip that I can give is: if you have hard water add lemon juice and salt to the mixture. I got this helpful tip from my friend Michele at www.seriouslythatsmylife.blogspot.com .

I don’t have hard water, but I do have an older dishwasher and adding these 2 things really helps. I added several tablespoons of salt and the juice of 3 lemons. Now don’t you dare throw out those lemon rinds! They have powerful anti-bacterial properties that can be used for other cleaning projects. Later this week I hope to post a collection of recipes that will show you how to utilize the awesome power of lemons!

Well Stocked Pantry

A well stocked pantry is something that has been on my heart and mind lately. I tried doing my grocery challenge yet I found that I was ill prepared in way of veggies. I had plenty of food to eat, but I can’t do with out my veggies, most of them ended up going to my son for baby food. Then I would need to make another trip to the store. I didn’t need to buy anything else for about 2 weeks, as my pantry was pretty well stocked. There are 5 reasons for a well stocked pantry:

1. You have unexpected guests stop by around a meal time. Sometimes friends or family stop by when you are getting ready to make a meal. If you have a well stocked pantry it is easy to whip up something to include these unexpected guests. Things like rice, beans, canned/frozen veggies, can help stretch what you already had in mind to prepare.

2. A family in need. In my church it is normal to help of a family in need. Whether it is a new birth, a death in the family, or an illness. We hear the need and set up volunteers to make food for the family, anything to make the time easier on them. In any of those cases it is a relief to the family not needing to worry about cooking. Sometimes these things can come up unexpectedly and having a well stocked pantry can allow you to pitch in without having to make a quick trip to the store.

3. There is an emergency or crisis in your family. Right after Christmas my husband and I became very ill, and my father came from out-of-town to watch the kids. My pantry was well stocked and he was able to feed the kids without needing to go to the store or a restaurant. Another crisis none of us like to think of is what if your spouse gets laid off from work? If you have a pantry that is well stocked you can stretch your groceries for months, to help you get over that rough spot.

4. Sudden rise in food prices or utilities. There are several factors that go into considering the cost of food and preparing it. Supply and demand, cost of oil, etc. Now I know you are probably saying cost of oil? Not cooking oil, crude oil. We as a society have moved away from an agrarian culture. We eat food in mass, yet we don’t produce it in mass, and fewer still grow /raise their own food. Most of us buy our food in a grocery store. Ever think of where your food comes from? That juicy red tomato that is in your store in the dead of winter is not local (obviously). It had to be flown/ trucked in to your store, which is factored into the price you pay. So say there is unrest in the middle east….and they control the oil…..and a lot of the countries are blaming the United States for the unrest….so they raise the price of oil…..scratch that it would never happen 🙂 Oh wait….it is happening! We the consumers will then get passed along the cost of the price of oil in our gas, food and countless other things.

5. Natural / economic disaster- Natural disasters can’t always be predicted. In fact our government urges us to have enough food and water on hand for at least 3 days for everyone in your house. Now I say that you need at least 2-3 weeks. When hurricane Katrina hit, we in the midwest got slapped by the tail winds, and some communities around here were without power for a week! So not only do you need food and water for yourself, but you will undoubtedly have friends and family that were not prepared that you will want to help. In addition to the food, you will need a way to prepare it. A charcoal grill, and of course the charcoal is a great way to cook your food. Can openers are helpful, and if you are like me a hand-operated grain mill. I mill all my own flour with an electric mill, so if the power goes out for an extended period of time I am up a creek without a paddle!

So how do you know what to stock? Make a list of frequently used ingredients. There are plenty of companies that sell emergency kits out there, but if you wouldn’t eat it, then it’s a waste of money. The church of the Later Day Saints have an excellent tool to help you figure out what you may need to feed your family for a year according to the size of your family and the ages of the members. Now I am not promoting their beliefs or saying that I agree with their doctrine. All I am saying is they have a free tool that is beneficial if you want an idea of how much to stock. If you don’t want to stock for a whole year then do elementary math to figure out how much you need based on how long you want to sustain. I will post in my links how to get to the calculator if you are interested.

Some of the things that I am going to stock up on:
Charcoal, candles, water, baking soda, borax, super washing soda, castille soap, distilled white vinegar, toilet paper, toothpaste, tooth brushes, deodorant, and dish soap. With all these things I can take care of cleaning and personal hygiene.

Wheat berries, Spelt berries, Oat groats, corn, beans, lentils, split peas, oil, spices, dried fruit, canned veggies, nut butters, honey, rapidura sugar, molasses, baking powder, and yeast.
I am not doing pasta as I can make that from scratch. No jams for me as I will use Sally Fallons method of making fruit spreads from dried fruit. No rice either, white rice stores longer than brown rice, yet has less nutritional value than brown. I am able to make many dishes that call for rice by substituting whole wheat or spelt instead. Another tip is that you can sprout wheat, spelt, lentils, and beans. Doing so unlocks all sorts of nutrients, makes the food easier to digest, and prevents scurvy.

Other items to consider investing in: hand grain mill ( if you want to make your own flour), cast iron cookware (can be used on an open flame), and a food mill (you won’t be using a food processor or an immersion blender if there is no electric).
In addition to stocking your pantry also consider a garden if you have the space, the fruits and veggies will taste better, plus help your wallet. If you don’t have much space, many veggies can be grown in containers: tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, etc. Does your family have a well stocked pantry? How long could you live off of it? What is in your pantry? Do you have an alternative means to cook if you lost power? I am interested in hearing people’s thoughts and their experiences. Thanks!

Homemade Butter

In my quest to lower the frequency of trips to the grocery store, I ordered heavy cream from my milk share. I finally braved it this week and made homemade butter. The results are amazing, and with very little effort on my part. I’ve been told that you can make butter in a food processor, but I don’t have one. So I turned to my work-horse (Kitchen Aid stand mixer) to help out. Voila! 25 minutes later I had raw butter! Now I have been told that if you make Piima cream or Creme Fraiche that you can turn that (using the same principles) into cultured butter and the left over milk is buttermilk! The simplicity of things never cease to amaze me 🙂

Ingredients:
1 quart heavy cream
cheese cloth

1. Place half of cream into a stand mixer and using the whisk beater, turn on to a medium speed. Checking occasionally, scrape down the bowl as necessary. Mix for about 20-25 minutes.

2. Using a slotted spoon, remove butter from the mixer and place into cheese cloth. Squeeze gently to remove any excess milk, and then place butter in desired storage container.

The cream will first turn into whip cream (as shown above) and then get heavier until it turns back to a liquid (as shown below).

When it starts to look like the nursery rhyme about curds and whey, you know you are in the home stretch!

Butter!!

Save and use the leftover milk like you would in any recipe that calls for milk. Put the rest of the cream into the bowl and start the process all over 🙂

This is shared as a part of pennywise platter with the Nourshing Gourmet.
http://www.thenourishinggourmet.com/2011/02/pennywise-platter-thursday-224.html#more-3875

Homemade Laundry Detergent Pennies Per Load

I can’t believe it, but it is actually time to make laundry detergent again! The last time I made the laundry detergent was before Andrew was born. So it’s been 9-10 months 🙂 It is easy and very inexpensive! You will need the following:

5 gallon bucket with lid
1 c liquid Dr. Bronners castile soap
2 c Super Washing Soda
2 c borax
rinsed out old laundry detergent bottle

1. Mix 1 cup of the castile soap with 3 cups of HOT water. Let sit for a few minutes.

2. Meanwhile put the Super Washing Soda (must be the super not regular baking soda) and borax in the 5 gallon bucket. Fill the bucket half way with Hot tap water, stirring as you go.

3. Add the castile soap water mixture and then fill the bucket up the rest of the way with HOT water.

4. Cover bucket with lid and let sit overnight. The soap will become thicker, but it will not be as thick as store-bought detergents. Store bought detergents have thickening agents added that don’t really get your clothes clean.

5. The next day fill your detergent bottle 1/2 way with the detergent concentrate from the 5 gallon bucket. Then fill the rest of the way with hot water. Put cap on and shake bottle so that it is well mixed. For top load washing machines use 2/3 c for front load use 1/4 cup per load.

* I have found that people who try to make this in smaller quantities don’t have much luck getting it to turn out. If you tend to have very dirty clothes add 8-10 drops of tea tree oil the concentrate before you let it sit over night. You can add other essential oils if you wish they have different cleaning properties and can add fragrance to your clothes. As I have a baby I use this recipe, and just add 1-2 drops of tea tree oil to the laundry when need be.

** If you don’t want to buy the liquid you can grate bar soap and then add it to 4 cups hot water cook over stove until it soap is melted. Then follow rest of recipe. I personally like the liquid soap it takes less time and I use the leftovers for bathtime etc.