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 ūüėÄ 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?

$$$ saving tips

Ok, so by now there are about a million posts out in the blogosphere about how to save money at the grocery store.

Yeah. This is not one of those posts…

If you aren’t open to thinking outside the concrete maze. Or the card board box.

This post probably isn’t for you….then again, maybe it should be.

By now you’re extreme couponed to death. I know the grocery stores are!

Ha! My local grocery store is now putting limitations on coupons.

I guess they got tired of owing people money! ROFL

And it’s not new news that you can purchase meat on clearance that needs to be frozen,

same with veggies and fruit. Yes, even those bananas that are turning brown.

Throw them in the freezer (peeled, wrapped, and then sealed in your vehicle of choice)

Then when you want a smoothie, throw that bad boy in there! No need for ice or really

sweetener for that matter. It defies logic, but for some reason bananas are sweeter when frozen!

Any who, back to what I was saying…. this is not one of those posts.

Here’s my tips:

1. Become a farmer. Uh, well maybe not really. But I venture to guess that most people have a window that gets some¬†sunlight. A few small pots and some seeds can get you started. Oh and don’t forget the water! Depending on space and sunlight there are a variety of things that you can grow. If you don’t have a ton of space, but are very excited to get started check¬†out pinterest. There are a lot of great ideas to maximize space to grow food indoors. ¬†Say what? You’ve never grown anything before? Not even in elementary school for earth day? Oh well. Start with something simple, say a herb or even lettuce. I highly recommend butter crunch for lettuce, oregano, or thyme for herbs. I’ve killed a lot of stuff over the years and those seemed to have held up well despite the blunders that I have made while learning. This coming from the girl who grew up in a family where a vegetable garden was the norm. If I wanted a snack, I went out back for berries, or to the front yard for apples. Yeah. I still killed stuff despite¬†my “experience”. Enough about me, back to you.¬†The nice things about the butter crunch lettuce is that if you leave say an inch on the plant when you cut it, it’ll grow more. But keep up on cutting it so that it doesn’t go to seed.

What does go to seed mean? Basically the plants at the end of its life cycle and is going to “reproduce” by providing more seeds. It’ll send up a tall(ish) shoot (on lettuce) and flower. The flower thing is the same for herbs btw. You don’t want to eat it once it has done that, tastes very bitter. blech! Even if you can’t use it right away, don’t throw it away! Give it to someone else ūüôā Which leads to…

2.¬† Be a good steward. All right, I’ve got the first point down pat. Don’t believe me? Scroll back up! That pic at the beginning was all produce that I grew! But back to reality. I may grow all that stuff, but I’m not necessarily a good steward of it. So according to some article on Yahoo!, yes Yahoo! Americans are terrible about throwing their food away. This is where I. AM. GUILTY! Sigh. Ever since reading that article I have been *trying* to do better. Hold on a minute…….

Sorry ’bout that! Thinking about that article reminded me I picked a bunch of basil today to make/ freeze pesto. Had to take care of it before I needed to toss it ūüėČ

Try to be very deliberate about what you purchase or grow. Make sure it is something that you will eat quickly or stores well. Found the deal of the century on onions? Chop those suckers up (don’t cry on me now!) and portion it out to freeze. Veggies looking like they are almost on their last leg? Don’t look at me all crazy. ¬†You know what I mean, those ones that were hiding in the back of the fridge that you forgot about ūüėČ Don’t throw them out, make a soup! Bought chicken breasts in a pack of 5 but there are only 4 in your family? Cook them all and immediately put up the largest. Sweet mother of pearl, I have been able to take 1¬† large chicken breast¬† and turned it into shredded chicken tacos for my entire family too many times to count! Actually it’s one of my family’s favorite meals ūüôā

3. Prep not plan. I know the big push is to meal plan. Sorry not going to happen. At least not for me, I’m not a meal planner. I may be a sahm, but I’ve got 3 little kids and I home school the oldest. Anyone that has had children knows stuff comes up. It’s getting close to dinner time, I’ve started getting things together. Then WAAAAHHHHH! Little fruit decides it’s milky time, and she likes milky time. It takes her a while, not because she’s a slow eater, but because she eats so much! Or middle fruit didn’t tell me he needed to go potty, so now he needs to be changed. Big fruit¬†decides to¬†pick a fight with middle fruit. Screaming and yelling then ensues. I have to put down a now crying little fruit (who wants her milky back) to stop the argument between big and middle fruit, before there is blood…er juice.

You get the picture, life happens. You just gotta learn to roll with it. In a matter of minutes or hours your meal plan goes flying out the window because something happens. Keeping a well stocked pantry and freezer can help with that. Buying items that use frequently in bulk can help with this. Some other good ideas is to have pre-cooked rice or beans in your freezer. It’s much cheaper for you to buy these dry and cook them yourself, then freeze. Although if you are not one of those people, you by all means can buy the rice that way in the freezer section and can beans. Keeping items on hand that you can quickly throw together with the few spare minutes you have is key. Go through the recipes you have under your belt. Which ones do you make well? Which ones take the least amount of time? Make sure you keep the ingredients always in stock at your home. Try to do any prep work that might save you time, i.e. frozen chopped onions, cooked rice, etc.

The last and quickest way to keep from picking up the phone for pizza, is to make sure you have completely cooked meals in your freezer. Making chili this week? Double the recipe and freeze it. Grilling chicken? Well you get the idea. In a pinch I have been known to fall back on scrambled eggs, pb&j, or pasta. I try not to make a habit of it, so when it does happen I refuse to feel guilty.

4. Get out of that concrete maze! Farmer’s markets are a great resource. 1st of all, the longer a fruit or veggie sits before it gets to you, the less nutrition and flavor it has. Local farmer’s market (not all but most) consist of produce that was grown near you. Most of which was probably picked that morning or the day before. You may discover you have a love of carrots. I’ll never forget the day I served big fruit a raw carrot from our garden. She thought it was cooked because she hates raw carrots. This carrot was good! So it had to be cooked! It took a while to convince her that it wasn’t. Her question…why don’t all carrots taste like this? Good point! There’s the obvious: different varieties of carrots. However nothing beats a carrot just pulled from the ground or a tomato just plucked from the vine. The flavor is incredible! My hubby hates apples bought from the store. He claims that they must suck all the flavor out of them before they hit the store. Why and how the stores does this he doesn’t know, but he wants his apples from the local orchards. Which means eating seasonally, that also helps lower costs. Do you realize that the tomato you bought in Decemeber doesn’t grow here in winter? It had to be shipped (typically) from another country. Before it was ready to be picked? Also that because it isn’t local that is why it is so expensive?

Another benefit of farmer’s markets? The people and the wealth of knowledge. Don’t know what to do with those little ity¬†bity¬†green cabbage like things called brussel sprouts? Chances are the farmer can give you several good recipes to try. After all they more than likely eat what they grow! See an unusual fruit or veggie? Farmers love to share that kind of thing. If it’s something that can be eaten raw, they may even give you a small one to try right there. At the end of the day markets will start marking down their produce. Typically stuff that they don’t think will sell well the next day. You can save a lot of money this way! Now please note not all markets allow their sellers to do this, why I don’t know. So try to contact whomever is in charge of organizing it before you go. I’d hate to see you get your hopes up for nothing.

5. Go directly to the source. So by now you are (hopefully) getting excited about checking out your local farmers market. Your taste buds are tingling in anticipation that they will finally know what foods¬†are supposed to taste like! How about taking it a step further….go to the source. If you have a deep freezer, or have room for one (space and budget wise) you may want to consider this. While your mouth is doing a happy dance over all the new produce, there is another world waiting for it to discover! Do your research, get to know the farmers. Some of them also offer meat and dairy products. While I haven’t found the dairy products cheaper, the meat can be. This is where your deep freeze comes in handy.

Wow! A lot of beef huh? To be precise it’s a 1/4 of a cow. Which will keep my family well fed for the year. How much does it cost? Well there are a lot of factors that figure into that. Location, conventional vs. organic, grass-fed vs. grain fed etc. This beef is organic and grass-fed. So it’ll be more $$ but it still beats buying organic grass-fed from the store. Where I live 1/lb of this ground beef would go for $6. I got every cut for $4/lb, every cut (yes that includes sirloin, new york strip, and filet mignon). So with that kind of savings on organic grass-fed you can imagine the kind of savings for conventional, since it’s always costs less. 1/4 cow too much of an investment? Find someone to go in with you to split the beef and the cost. ¬†Just please, please research the source if you decide to go this route.

Don’t know where to start? Check out www.localharvest.org

More tips coming soon! What are some ways that your family tries to save?