This year is the first one in a while I have been excited about my garden. Working from home for the past few months due to the Corona virus has greatly reduced my commute time from 3-4 hours a day to nothing and this means […]
About eight months ago I took a break from blogging. There were many reasons, the most pressing being a complete utter lack of time while trying to maintain balance with both Mr. Oscoey and I working full-time with small kids. To say it was difficult […]
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?
We have come to the end of our Uber Frugal Month Challenge and we were pretty successful! We kept to our super low grocery budget, were mindful about our purchases and had some great discussions about where we want our life to head and what […]
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 […]
Last week I posted a sort of list for our financial goals for 2018. Today I wanted to lay out some goals we have for our garden. We learned a lot last year about where the best light is for our small vegetable patch and this year we will definitely be making some changes. This year is our third year working on the garden and every year we learn a little bit more and improve our garden space.
Some things that worked for us last year were squash, green beans and pumpkins. Our pumpkins took up way too much space though so next year instead of planting four plants I will just stick with two and I am going to put them in the side yard so they can grow all the way down our hill. We loved our green beans and squash but I am embarrassed to say we did not eat all of it in time. Since we didn’t get enough each day to make a meal out of it or to freeze in a decent sized batch, some of our beautiful produce ended up in the compost bin. We still have one pumpkin, two decent sized spaghetti squash, and a few tomatoes that slowly ripened on our window sill left but other than that everything is gone.
My plan for next year is:
1. Organize my garden planning with a garden journal
This has been on my list for the past two years and I just haven’t followed through. I even bought a beautiful notebook and colorful pens to make wonderful drawings of all the plants we will grow but besides a few lists of what we planted (I think) it hasn’t been touched. I am pretty sure I wrote down what I planted at the beginning of the season but my notebook has been collecting dust since last spring so at some point in the next week I will get it out and start recording for this year. This year I want to have some simple diagrams of where we plant things for crop rotation and a better list of what grew where. I absolutely love how organized Annie over at 15acrehomestead is. She has tons of great posts for organizing your homesteading projects. I especially love this one where she lays out how to plan your projects for 2018.
2. Plant enough zucchini, green beans and peas to freeze for the entire year
This one is a little ambitious. We did not plant peas last year so I don’t know how well they will do in our space but I am hoping to find somewhere they do well. We need probably two more zucchini plants for a total of four to grow enough for the winter. I am the only one who eats it so we don’t need a whole lot but the challenge will be getting it processed every day. Last year we got quite a few green beans but the way I planted them made them hard to harvest and we did not inoculate at all (whoops) so I think as long as we get enough plants growing at the right time and I stay on top of picking and processing them we will be able to produce enough green beans to feed us all year. I am really excited about the possibility of green beans from our garden next winter! It turns out they are the only green beans my son will eat and it was a sad day when I cooked the last of them and then he refused the ones I bought at Costco as a replacement.
3. Remove the ivy from all of the trees in our backyard
We got a good start last summer pulling English Ivy off of the trees in our backyard and this year I would love to finish. I would also like to remove all of the ivy off the ground which is doable but it will constantly grow back so it will be an ongoing battle. English Ivy is a horrible invasive species here in the Pacific Northwest and many of the trees in the greenbelt behind our house are covered in it. If we don’t girdle the ivy on the trees near our house at some point the ivy will weaken the trees enough to cause them to topple over in a windstorm. We have frequent windstorms in our area so the possibility is definitely real. Every day I drive down the street behind us and look at these giant trees that are covered past their lower branches with a ring of ivy at least 3 feet thick all the way around. I know some day soon at least one of those trees will fall and completely block the road. I am really hoping that nobody gets hurt when it happens.
4. Continue to replace our high maintenance ornamental bushes with food producing ones
The lady that lived here before us densely planted these gorgeous ornamental bushes that are very pretty but require constant pruning and I am sure fertilizer. They also require a large amount of water in the summer which is pretty wasteful to me. The one thing I love about all of our flowery bushes is the healthy bee population they support. All spring and summer our yard is buzzing with friendly bees that easily pollinate our fruits and vegetables. The amount of pruning and watering they require is too much for us though so we are slowly replacing them with lower maintenance native plants.
5. Continue to keep our berry bushes and fruit trees in top shape
We love our fruit at this house! Last year we planted some raspberries, a pear tree, a blueberry bush and some strawberries in addition to the apple tree and blueberry bushes we already had. At this point we really don’t have room for much else without a major front yard overhaul so our goal is to keep them healthy and producing throughout the summer!
We have really enjoyed having a yard for the kids to play in. The back is pretty steep though and requires some skill to navigate safely so this year will be the first year our son is able to walk around back there on his own. The kids had fun helping me pull ivy last weekend and I introduced them to the cool space I found underneath a bush that could definitely be a fairy hideout. I am looking forward to spring and seeing the yard come alive again. What projects are you working on this year?
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 […]
Baking chocolate chip cookies with the kids is one of my favorite family activities. When we had to go dairy and gluten free I was a little upset but I found a way to make chocolate chip cookies with some easy substitutions. Back when we […]
We have had a super busy summer and I was really bummed that we missed the July blueberry picking season. Our bushes are only a couple of years old and don’t produce anywhere near enough berries for us to freeze. They were eagerly eaten every day by the kids with very few to spare. I was super excited to hear from another mom at gymnastics that there was a local U-pick farm that still had blueberries! We cancelled our plans to try an easy hike with the kids and headed out to pick as many blueberries as we could manage.
The farm we went to was super close and I am really glad I found it because the blueberries were delicious! My blueberry hating husband even liked them and actually ate a few. The kids of course ate themselves silly and enjoyed every moment of it!
We grabbed a couple of smaller buckets and one gigantic 5 gallon bucket to consolidate our berries into. It was a pretty hot day and we were worried about the kids overheating so we picked at lightening speed. Luckily blueberries are much easier to pick than raspberries or strawberries because you do not have to be super careful about placing them into your container. I just placed my bucket underneath a large blueberry covered branch and let them fall into the bucket as I massaged them off of the branches. It took us less than an hour to fill our five gallon bucket with over 20 pounds of blueberries!
The biggest issue we had was the fear of losing one or both of the kids. The bushes were overgrown and touching each other in many places so you could not see down the rows at all. We split up with one kid each and made the kids wear their hats for both eye protection and visibility. I highly advise buying your kids neon hats and jackets so you can easily pick them out in a crowd of people or when you are outside with them. It was really easy to keep track of my son’s bright orange Tigger hat even when I couldn’t see the rest of him.
I don’t remember what type of blueberry we picked but they were not organic (which I found out later on). Next time we will try and find an organic blueberry farm to pick from or I will see if the farm we went to has some that are organic. There were tons of them on the bushes though and we did not have to walk very far to pick all that we needed.
We did however come home with two half flats of berries and I am super excited to eat them this winter!
I immediately started freezing our berries in batches on a cookie sheet. We froze about three gallons total and I still have a half flat left. We have made blueberry jam in the past but we typically do not eat enough of it so we decided not to this year. We also have tons of raspberry jam which will be plenty of jam for us!
All week we have been eating blueberries on our cereal and our ice cream and the kids and I absolutely love it! We haven’t decided what to do with the rest of the berries yet and we may try to dry some of them in the dehydrator but I am really hoping my husband will make his famous blueberry peach pie!
Did you pick blueberries this year? What are some of the ways you prepared them?
Hello, Mr. Oscoey here. If you don’t love garlic, you should probably just move on to the next post. If you love garlic as much as my family does, or you have a vampire problem, read on. This site participates in affiliate links and […]