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Meal Planning to Save Time and Money
I have heard of the wonderful idea called meal planning many times over the past few years and every time I read a post about it I love the idea of having all of our meals planned out at the start of the month but quickly come to the realization that we are not that great at planning out our meals. We are very last minute dinner makers and our only “planning” is to decide what meat and vegetables we want during our weekly Costco trip and then cobble together a meal based on what else we have lying around. And let me tell you, that is after years of making a serious effort at not just going to the store the day of to buy whatever we want for dinner. I will confess that we used to go to Costco multiple times during the week, sometimes daily, to pick up one or two items (at least we were good at only getting what we needed right?) and make dinner that night. There was no planning involved. It was all very haphazard and as you can guess we ended up throwing out a bunch of food because we would forget what we actually had at home.
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I went back to work a couple of weeks ago so I thought we would try a little bit of meal planning to reduce the stress of trying to figure dinner out every night. I got a full-time job which I am really excited about but I have not worked full-time since my oldest daughter was a preteen so needless to say it will be a huge adjustment for our family. I worked very part-time before and after our 4 year old was born and quit when she was about a year to stay home and I am really appreciative of my time as a stay at home mom but it is time for me to go back to work. I did not have my act together enough to have all of the meal planning ready for all of April but we are going to try it out for a couple of weeks and see how it goes.
Planning Out Grocery Trips
We have made a genuine effort to cut back on our Costco trips and most of the time we are really good at going once a week now. I am still going to the store more than I would like but we have discovered that certain items are cheapest at a particular store and many of the dairy-free items we buy are not at the same store so it leads to multiple outings. Generally throughout the month I go to Target, Whole Foods, and Fred Meyer once or twice each depending on how much dairy-free milk and cheese we go through. Target has the cheapest price on the milk our kids like, Whole Foods has the best price on their yogurt and cheese and Fred Meyer has the best price on soy milk for the adults, the dairy-free yogurt I like and on Luna bars which have become a great source of protein and calcium for our kids and sometimes the only thing I eat for breakfast. The morning rush out the door for us is no joke and many times I do not have time to eat so I always keep a couple of Luna bars in the car to munch on during my morning drive. They are also great for those morning when the kids sleep in and are too tired to eat before we leave. Hands down the family’s favorite flavor is the Chocolate Peppermint flavor. They go super fast in our house!
Once every few months I make a trip to our local Franz Bakery outlet to purchase massive quantities of bread. This particular run netted me so much bread I had to do quite a bit of rearranging to fit everything in the freezer and it only cost us $19.98. It would have been $10.00 but I bought two loaves of gluten-free raisin bread for my peanut butter toast in the morning and they are sadly $5.00 each but they are way more in the regular grocery store and I was able to get an extra pack of hot dog buns out of it so it saved us an extra couple of dollars that way too. Most of it goes in the freezer as soon as we get home and we slowly work through it over a couple of months. My kids love bagels and sandwiches on hot dog buns and at 4 for $5.00 and a free loaf of bread for every $10.00 you spend it is a bargain you can’t beat. Having a freezer full of bread is also a great way to always have a meal on hand. You just need a few extras stored away and you are set for a week even if you have a week where grocery shopping is not in your budget. For this reason we always have peanut butter, sun butter, jam, frozen hamburger patties and some sort of meat for sandwiches on hand. Bagels can also be made easily into breakfast sandwiches with an egg and a little mayo or of course with cream cheese (we buy this brand for our dairy-free people in the house). Since I have a freezer full of bread I also have no qualms about gifting it when requests for food due to financial stress come up in our Buy Nothing group. Sadly this has become a frequent occurrence in our group and 95% of the cases are a genuine need from families that have come upon rough times with no emergency funds.
Meal Planning Motivation
After participating in the Uber Frugal Month Challenge this past January I was amazed at how we were cooking way too much food on a weekly basis. We still have not adjusted to having one less adult in the house and having our daughter home for an extended Christmas break threw off our cooking schedule. In January we also ate less meat and for some reason we just didn’t need to cook more. Our fridge was emptier but we still had plenty to eat. We only had to cook every few days and we still had extras for lunch.
Then came February and we hit a few bumps in the reducing our food waste bandwagon. We hosted a large group of people, threw a birthday party, attended several friend’s birthdays (free lunch!), had major illness in the family and our oldest daughter was in and out for a couple of weekends and we ended up buying a lot of food we didn’t end up needing (I am looking at you lettuce I found in the back of the fridge). I am not even sure if we made our grocery budget because I have not had a chance to look at it. Needless to say we need to make some changes and make more of an effort to reduce our food waste and stay on track with our budget. Cleaning out the fridge this week and finding tons of little containers with a mouthful of food or two was a huge motivator to be more conscious of the food we are buying.
Meal Planning How-to
The basic idea of meal planning is to sit down at the start of the week or month and write out a plan of what you want to eat every day. Some people get very involved and write out breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks so that they know exactly what they will eat for every meal. There are a bunch of different ways to write out your meals and you should probably use which ever one makes the most sense to you. Some people make a spreadsheet, use a printed calendar, use a digital calendar, us a planner or even just write it out on a piece of paper and tape it to the fridge. The important thing is to look ahead and see exactly how much food you need to buy without wasting any. A lot of people do this by buying one item that can be used many different ways. For instance, we buy chicken in bulk from Costco and that is our meat for the week. One day we might have fried chicken, another teriyaki chicken, another “basic chicken” and then we would use leftovers on a salad, in soup or even as chicken salad so that the one jumbo pack of chicken lasts the whole week (or even two if you incorporate vegetarian meals as well).
This past month we did this with a ham we bought. My husband found it at Safeway with a 50% off sign and the entire 20lb ham ended up costing us about $7.50. It was a steal! Mr. Oscoey heated it up with the sous vide so it would not dry out and then sliced a large chunk of it. We then ate it over rice with steamed vegetables, in sandwiches and also cold straight from the bag (our kids’ favorite method of consumption). He also made a delicious ham broth out of the bone and used that to make a lentil soup that also used up some carrots in our fridge. We still have a lot left that we sliced and put into the freezer.
Getting Started with Meal Planning
We are going to start our mini-meal plan adventure next week. This week we have a wonky schedule due to the flu going through our house and nobody is eating their normal meals. Next week is Spring Break but neither my husband or I can take any time off since we were home so much with the kids this past week. On Friday I am going to sit down and finalize a plan for just our dinners for the week. We have sandwich stuff for lunches and I will just need to buy some fresh fruit this weekend and breakfast is usually toast, oatmeal or cereal with eggs. Baby steps are the key to making any change in our household!
Our plan will be something like:
Sunday: chicken, rice, roasted Brussels sprouts
Monday: leftover chicken, steamed peas/salad, rice
Wednesday: chicken nuggets, steamed green beans, carb (Dance Night so we have to eat quickly and early)
Thursday: chicken cooked a new way, Beans, salad/corn
Friday: My husband usually comes home early enough on Fridays to cook dinner so I will have to see what he is thinking but I have a feeling we will be having more chicken
Saturday: Grocery shopping day! We will see what new meat we buy for the week and go from there!
It will be interesting to see how the week plays out and how well we stick to our plan! Have you tried meal planning with any success?
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We are entering our final days of the Frugalwoods Uber Frugal Month Challenge and it has been a great refresher for us to get back into our frugal habits. I am finally caught up on all of the emails and they really made us think about how we spent our money. Last week was a rough one for us and the entire week seemed against us but it did not effect our spending and we are on track with our grocery spending for the month. Yay!
We dug into our pantry a bit this week and used up some cans including olives, refried beans, tomatoes and a can of chicken. My kids love the cans of Costco chicken made into chicken salad and it is one of the few things I can send in their lunches that they will actually eat. I have tried making it from scratch chicken but even though I love it my kids are iffy on it. We also used up some of the corn tortillas I found in our freezer. There are still quite a few in there though! Here are a couple of our other meals:
As you can see a simple green salad with sunflower seeds has become a staple in our house. I have always loved salads and try to eat at least one a day but I fell out of that habit while I was pregnant with our son. For some reason any sort of fresh fruit or vegetables made me sick and nearly two years later I am still trying to recover from it. Have you ever had a weird food aversion like that? Thankfully I can now eat salad again but I am still working on fruit. It just isn’t appealing to me any more even though I used to love it. I am hoping this summer when we are out picking fresh fruit it will spark my interest again! Our kids are not super fond of salad although they will eat a piece or two of lettuce sometimes when we ask them to try it so we always offer another vegetable and give them a choice of what they want. In the summer when we have lettuce growing in the garden the kids eat it all day long so apparently lettuce is only tasty to them straight from the garden? I may have to finally try growing some indoors and see if they will eat it.
One of the things my husband did for the kids this week was make homemade English muffins and make them breakfast sandwiches in the morning. They absolutely loved them and my son ate a whole one by himself which is crazy! Other days they ate them with peanut butter or even some of our homemade jam. We have ground our own meat for many years and my husband makes the most delicious garlic sausage. He made it this week and we have been eating it all week. I love garlic so it has been wonderful!
The other food we have been munching on quite a bit lately is popcorn. My husband loves his spicy but the kids and I love his dairy-free kettle corn made with coconut oil. We have been making it so much that we wore out his stove-top popcorn maker. A new one is on our list of high priority household items to buy in the next couple of months. We use it several times a week for a cheap and easy snack!
We had more than a little bit of cabin fever this week. Our kids were finally getting over two months of back to back colds and needed to get out and do something. Since we are being frugal we tried to find things for them to do at home but there reached a point last week when we had about 30 minutes to take them outside in the windy and very wet weather to jump in puddles to burn off some energy. It ended up being tons of fun! We went on the trail through the woods that I have been hearing about since we moved in but never gotten around to walking on and it was a pretty trail to walk on. We ended up doing a 3/4 (2yo and I) and 1 mile (4yo and Mr. Oscoey) loop and both kids walked the whole way and jumped in as many puddles as they could. We will probably start doing more family walks around the neighborhood like that, especially since our son didn’t need to be carried. It is a great free activity for the family to do and it is important that our kids know the layout of the neighborhood for when they are older.
Another boredom buster we did was to break out the paint. I realized we stopped doing our afternoon art because we got busy with the holidays. We have started it up again and the kids picked painting this time and had a blast. We cut up some sponges I bought a couple of years ago to paint with and our son wanted water colors so he practiced his painting skills and blending colors. They did make quite a bit of mess and we had to talk about how we behave while we paint but overall it was a success.
One unexpected thing that came up this week was some damage our puppy did to our wall. My husband patched and repainted this spot masterfully a couple of weeks ago but our puppy, being the crazy dog that he is, ran into the wall again and dented it with his gigantic bony elbow. He is incredibly observant and noticed right away that the wall was slightly different so he investigated it and discovered he could peel back a section to chew on. Seriously. He did this while I was dealing with a kid “emergency” and he was not the least bit remorseful. In fact he tore another chunk off as soon as I wasn’t looking. I am really thankful that my husband is able to repair minor drywall damage and we do not have to pay someone to do it. We have saved so much money doing small repairs ourselves and Mr. Oscoey has gotten better over the years and now you can barely tell that it was repaired. I highly recommend that you learn how to do minor house repairs like this so that you aren’t paying big bucks to have it fixed.
Overall the week was super frugal and we hardly bought anything besides necessary groceries like milk, fruit and some small key ingredients for recipes. I am excited to write up our end of the month recap later this week so look for it on the blog!
The Uber Frugal Month Challenge is almost over but how are you being frugal in your every day life?
One of the easiest, cheapest and healthiest snacks I make my kids is dried banana chips. My son absolutely loves them! We buy a couple of bunches of bananas at Costco for $1.39, slice them up and put them into the dehydrator and at the […]
Today I decided to make some of my easy pear sauce. My kids devour it as soon as I make it. Luckily it only takes a little bit of work to make and is easy to make ahead.
We do most of our shopping at Costco to save money. Our kids work and play hard and even though two of them are under four they still eat a lot of food. I started making pear sauce in place of apple because the younger two kids were not big fans of applesauce as babies. Now they will eat applesauce but they still love my pear sauce and when I make it they get very excited. I buy a bag of D’Anjou pears from Costco and let them ripen for a week or two, sometimes three. I try to leave the bag as flat as I can on the counter so that the pears do not develop bruises in the areas where they are resting on each other. When I am feeling the need to cook ahead I will buy two bags of pears and make a double batch and freeze some of it. I have tried Bartlett pears and they work in a pinch but the D’Anjou pears make a more flavorful sauce. I am very excited for a few years from now when our pear tree is producing and we will be able to make pear sauce from our own trees!
The earliest I will wait to make the pear sauce is when the spot under the stem gives in slightly when pressed. The pears can still be green and slightly firm at this point but that is ok. I will also wait until the pears are yellow and almost overripe if I run out of time to make it. These D’Anjou pears work well for this because when life gets busy (as it often does in our house) you have a couple of weeks of leeway before you have a bag of rotten pears instead of delicious pear sauce. You can also pop the pears into the fridge if you look ahead and realize you won’t get to making the sauce for a few weeks.
Whether you peel the pears or not, depends on your preference and how much time you have. It takes me 15 min to cut the pears and get the sauce on the stove if I leave the peels on so when I am in a time crunch that is what I do. I was in a time crunch today so I did not peel my pears. They are also heading towards overripe since I did not get around to making pear sauce last week but that is the beauty of these particular pears, they are meant to be stored for a while so they will still taste yummy!
On to the sauce. You will need 7-8 pears, vanilla, cinnamon and a large pot. I use our 3.5 quart pot for this.
Wash the pears. Make sure to remove the stickers if you aren’t peeling them.
Cut them into roughly one inch square pieces (Quarter, take out core, slice each quarter a few times) and place into pot.
Add vanilla and cinnamon to the pot. I don’t measure this but I add about 1-2 tsp of vanilla and probably 1-2 tsp of cinnamon (I love cinnamon!). At this point you can add a little water to the pot depending on if the pears are juicy or what you are using it for. If it is for baby food you may want to add a little water (1 Tbsp or so) to make it thinner. If I am making pouches I will add about 1 Tbsp so that the pear sauce will be thin enough to go through the opening. You can also add water at the blending stage if you want to wait and see how thick it will be.
Place pot onto stove at medium heat and bring to a simmer. Stir frequently at first to make sure none of the pears stick to the bottom of the pot, Let simmer for about 25 min or until pears are soft and squishy.
Let cool. I usually cook the pear sauce during nap and let it cool for a couple of hours. This gives me time to clean up. Today while the pear sauce cooked I played with the puppy.
After the pear sauce has cooled put about half of it in the blender and use the pulse setting to make it smooth. Repeat with the other half of the sauce.
At this point I will either put it into the fridge, portion it into resealable pouches and freeze for the kids or dole it out to waiting children. Today I put it into a large container (reused from lunch meat). We ate some of it for dinner and I will put about half of it into reusable pouches tomorrow and freeze all but two of them. We use these reusable pouches and they work wonderfully! I fill them about 2/3 full and stick them in the freezer for up to a couple of months, but honestly they usually get eaten within a week. My kids get one pouch a day and I just pull them out as needed.
Some variations you could do are to cook a mix of apples and pears, steam vegetables and add them to the blender with the cooked pears to make baby food and to add nutmeg to the pear sauce.