This past year I realized we have fallen down a hole of eating not so healthy foods more often then we should. We totally fell off the bandwagon of both eating well and keeping our grocery costs down. The pandemic has really split our routine into many different parts. We now have to base our budget on whether or not the store has our food in stock, if the kids are home from school for a bit and whether our oldest daughter will be at our house. Since the oldest has moved out this has become less of an issue and she fully embraces scrounging for food whenever she stops by, and “shopping” our pantry but honestly now that she is on her own we don’t really worry about food costs for her any more.
We have also in the last couple of years had to adjust how we eat. We now have a nut allergies, gluten-free, vegetarian, and sensory preferences to account for and honestly we now have so many different foods for everyone that we have to keep on hand that we would be fine for at least a few weeks if we had some sort of emergency situation where we couldn’t go to the store as long as we have the right foods on hand. Our biggest issue is with our kid with food preferences since the rest of us are more flexible and will be ok with alternates. I am always worried the store will be out of one of their preferred foods and we will have to figure out a work around, which is not fun on a bad day. We did run into this over the summer when the correct dried fruit leather was nowhere to be found or beyond overpriced. Luckily fruit was in season so I was able to make some fruit leather on my own and that was an acceptable alternate. Phew…
A few years ago I wrote the below Meal Planning post in my first attempt at meal planning. Let’s just say, attempting to change our eating ways right before starting a new job was not one of my best ideas but it did make me think about how we can do better. Over the past six months or so I have been obsessively been watchin grocery haul, extreme grocery budget, freezer meal making and meal planning videos on YouTube and I have gotten tons of ideas. I especially love the videos where they make meals for a week from the a dollar store since there are so many people living in food deserts where Dollar Tree is the only grocery store around. I will link some of my favorites down below.
I thought we would take a stab at meal planning again this fall in an attempt to keep our costs down and create some organization to the chaos of our lives. As you can see, there are a lot of holes in my meal planner for November/December. The kids helped me with some of it and we instituted chicken nugget night for our selective eater so that with pizza night as well, they had at least two nights of the week that were predictable and dinner was something they liked. Most of the time the grownups eat chicken nuggets as well on Tuesdays but if there are extra leftovers I usually eat those instead since gluten-free chicken nuggets are really expensive and I am not a huge fan of fried food. We did run out of chicken nuggets a few weeks ago and it was predictably a disaster. Fish sticks were not an acceptable alternative and dinner was skipped that night. We now have chicken nuggets back in the freezer so hopefully we will not forget to get more next time we are low.
Our first month was definitely an adjustment and overall it went pretty well. I made a lot of dishes from my childhood such as steamed potatoes, cabbage and Kielbasa, tuna casserole and tater tot casserole (a huge hit with my daughters). There were a couple of nights where something else was made by my husband but we just adjusted and I pushed out the next night of cooking. I am hoping to be better about following the plan in the future though since it threw off our groceries and when we were using up things in the fridge.
We are mostly vegetarian and I am gluten-free so most family meals need to follow along those lines for us. One of the ways we did some light meal prepping was to hard boil about eight eggs and then eat them over the course of a few days for extra protein. We all love lentils so when we make them we usually eat them for dinner the first night and the kids have them for breakfast the next day. I bought some gigantic Spanish Queen olives from Costco last month. I am trying to eat fermented foods or olives every day and a great way for me to do that is to eat an olive with one or two meals a day. I love kimchi as well but we are currently out of it. We should probably make some more!
One way I have been trying to eat healthier is to eat vegetable soup a few times a week. Usually I put in greens from the garden, carrots, tomatoes, beans and whatever else I need to use up in the fridge. In September and November I made a bunch of veggie broth and put it in the freezer along with blanched greens from the garden. I have been using that to make soup every couple of weeks. I did however make a batch from the turkey broth we made from Thanksgiving which made the soup seem really rich to me after months of straight vegetable soup. Usually I serve it for dinner and freeze half the batch into portions for later. When I heat it up I add in an egg or leftover meat for protein. Both my daughter and I love soup so usually when I make it she will eat some as well.
Another item we have been eating a lot of are pancakes with a hard boiled egg on the side. They are easy to make, keep for a couple of days and I got an excellent deal on some gluten-free pancake mix at Grocery Outlet so we have tons of it, like literally I probably have 10 of 15 boxes left at this point. Since these are confetti pancakes we usually serve them with jam and then make Nutella sandwiches with them for lunch the next day for the kids. My selective eater loves Nutella sandwiches (who doesn’t?) so on that day usually their lunch comes back pretty empty which is a major win for us. This is a great way to cook once and have meals for a couple of days. I usually make half the box at a time and honestly I am not above snagging one later on for snack time with a hard boiled egg. You could totally make the whole box and freeze some for later in the week as well if you are short on time.
One of my favorite YouTube recipes I have found is this Oatmeal Bake from Acre Homestead on Scratchpantry.com. I absolutely love it because it contains almost a dozen eggs and it is great to make and freeze half of it for later. It is super healthy, full of protein and in a first, keeps me full until lunchtime. Usually with oatmeal I get super hungry an hour or so after I eat it but with the eggs and fruit in there this one keeps me going until lunch which is fabulous. Only two of us like to eat this for breakfast so usually I slice and freeze half to thaw out the second week. That way I am only making two a month which really saves on time. We are also currently without a microwave so I have found a great way to heat it up is to mostly thaw it, slice it and then cook the slices in butter for a crunch edge. It is delicious!
We love roasted vegetables in our house and can eat an embarrassingly large amount of them for dinner. Our favorite is roasted cauliflower and honestly when my oldest is home we can eat a whole Costco bag in one meal. It is that delicious! We have been trying roasted broccoli since the bag is much larger and cheaper. So far we love the broccoli as well. We have made it several times and there are usually no leftovers either. Roasted veggies are something that are quick to put together and you can make ahead. They freeze well if you are putting them into containers and can be heated up on the stove or in the microwave. They also add some fabulous flavor to soups if you need to use some up.
All in all our meal planning is going better than I expected. We are going to keep it up for January along with an attempt at eating through our pantry. We did go to the store for a major grocery haul today which I was not planning on but we were low on a few key items and with the new Covid variant spreading like wildfire I wanted to get groceries now and then not go for as long as possible. I am pretty sure we can make it to the end of January with a couple of exceptions like eggs, seaweed (we forgot it) and salad greens.
How do you incorporate meal planning in your house?
My favorite YouTube channels:
I love how Becky tries to eat everything from her garden and she has some fabulous freezer meal recipes.
Christine does a great job of showing how to make cheap and healthy meals on a super restrictive budget. She is also a fan of bargain grocery shopping like me and I love sharing the thrill of a good deal when she finds them.
Lisa is a fabulous person trying to spread the word of how to buy groceries if you have a limited budget. She has my same love of beans and is an excellent cook. Lisa is probably my favorite because she is so kind and I love how much she tries to help people find ways to get around food insecurity.
Jamerrill is a mom of a large family who has a no frills way of showing how she feeds her family. Honestly when Jamerrill first showed up in my feed I was skeptical because so many large families try to capitalize on their kids but Jamerrill’s respect for her kids’ privacy and honest videos when things go wrong are so refreshing that I fell in love with her.