Meal planning this week was mostly about eating leftovers and using fresh produce that needed to be eaten. We did our last major grocery run on 1/02/22 so after a couple of weeks some of our produce was looking like it would go bad. I […]
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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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My husband and three year old made these marshmallows by David Lebovitz a few weeks ago. He has made them in the past and they are delicious! Our three year old loves to cook and she is obsessed with marshmallows so it was a fun activity for them to do together. We got the recipe from David Lebovitz’s website and it can be found here. It seems like a lot of steps but it really was easy to make, most of the time was spent waiting for things to heat up or cool down.
First step dissolve the gelatin. We used standard Knox gelatin which can be found at your local grocery store or online. We usually can find it pretty cheap at Fred Meyer. It doesn’t really go bad so it is a good idea to stock up on it when it goes on sale during canning season or around the holidays. You can also use this gelatin for making homemade jello or if you are into synchronized swimming for putting your hair up into an elaborate bun that will stay beautiful under water. Just don’t ask me how long it will take to remove the gelatin from you hair…
Here is where you mix your sugar and corn syrup and cook it on the stove.
You add water and bring it to a boil while you are also completing the egg white step with the mixer.
While your sugar mixture is heating up, add your egg whites to the mixer and beat on low until they are frothy.
Yay! Frothy egg white goodness!
Once your sugar mixture has reached 245 degrees slowly add it to the egg whites.
Slowly now! Try to keep it from hitting the beater and splashing all over the sides. Add your gelatin to your warm sugar pan to dissolve it and then slowly pour that into your egg whites as well.
Add your vanilla and whisk until the outside of the bowl is cool.
Sift your mixture of potato starch and powdered sugar evenly over a pan.
Make sure to cover all of the surfaces with no gaps or your marshmallows will stick.
Pour your marshmallow mixture over the pan.
Quickly spread it so that it is even.
Let cool completely.
You can also spread the potato starch/powdered sugar mixture over a plate to make blob type shapes if you don’t want to cut out sheets of marshmallows.
We did this for the kids so that they could “sample” them sooner. Next up, cutting!
Before he cut the marshmallows my husband sprinkled more potato starch/powdered sugar over the marshmallows so the blade wouldn’t stick.
Then he peeled them back and repeated spreading the mixture on the other side.
My husband used our handy kitchen shears to cut the marshmallows into rectangles.
And a cookie cutter to cut out one Mickey Mouse one for our daughter.
We stored them in a Tupperware container in a cool, dry place but we had some friends coming over so they didn’t last long!
That’s it for our fun marshmallow project! They would be great to take to a summer party or you could dip them in chocolate when they are cool and make marshmallow pops as another fun activity with kids!
Marshmallows by David Lebovitz
Delicious Marshmallows by David Lebovitz are an easy candy to make.
- 2 envelopes (17g) powdered gelatin or 17g sheet gelatin (8 to 10 sheets)
- 1/2 cup (125ml) + 1/3 cup (80ml) cold water
- 1 cup (200g) sugar
- 1/3 cup (100g) light corn syrup
- 4 large egg whites (1/2 cup, 110g), at room temperature
- pinch of salt
- 2 teaspoon teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon vanilla paste
- Step 1 One part corn starch (or potato starch), one part powdered sugar (about 1 cup, 140g, each)
- Step 2 In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the 1/2 cup (125ml) of cold water to dissolve and soften. If using leaf gelatin, soak the leaves in about 2 cups (500ml) cold water.
- Step 3 In a small saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, mix the sugar and corn syrup with 1/3 cup (80ml) of water. Place over medium-to-high heat.
- Step 4 (Note that you will use this saucepan twice, to make the syrup and melt the gelatin, eliminating the need to wash it between uses).
- Step 5 In the bowl of an electric mixer, pour in the egg whites and beat on low speed until frothy. Add the pinch of salt.
- Step 6 When the syrup reaches about 210ºF (99ºC), increase the speed of the mixer to high and beat the whites until they are thick and fluffy.
- Step 7 When the syrup reaches 245ºF (118ºC), while the mixer is running on high speed, slowly pour the hot syrup into the whites, pouring so that the syrup does not fall on the whisk since some of the syrup will splatter and stick to the sides of the bowl.
- Step 8 Scrape the gelatin and water into the pan that you used for the syrup, or put the gelatin sheets and 2 tablespoons of the water into the pan and swirl it to dissolve. (There should still be residual heat left in the pan from making the syrup in it to dissolve it).
- Step 9 Pour the liquified gelatin slowly into the whites as they are whipping. Add the vanilla extract or paste and continue to whip for 5 minutes, until the mixture is feels completely cool when you touch the outside of the bowl.
- Step 10 Dust a baking sheet evenly and completely with a generous layer of the marshmallow mixture. (I use a sifter to do this.) Make sure there are absolutely no bare spots.
- Step 11 Use a spatula to spread the marshmallows in a layer on the pan. Allow to dry for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, uncovered.
- Step 12 Put about 1 cup (140g) of the marshmallow mixture into a large bowl.
- Step 13 Dust the top of the marshmallows with some of the marshmallow mixture. Use a pizza cutter or scissors (dusted as well with the marshmallow mixture) to cut the marshmallows into any size or shape pieces that you’d like and toss the marshmallows in the marshmallow mixture. Shake the marshmallows vigorously in a wire strainer to remove the excess powder.
- Step 14 Alternatively, you can dust a baking sheet and put scoops of the marshmallow on it, and let them cool, as shown in the post.
- Step 15 Storage: The marshmallows can be made up to one week in advance, and stored in an airtight container
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My grandma made fruit salad for us growing up and it was always my favorite because she put a few marshmallows in there. My mom was always trying to eat healthy so marshmallows were a rare treat in our house. I made this yummy salad with my three year old today because she ate most of it last time we made it and I needed to use up both rainbow marshmallows (bought by the oldest on a whim) and coconut cream from when I made Cauliflower Coconut Curry earlier in the week.
One of the best ways to save money on groceries is to reduce your wasted food to almost nothing. So many people forget about food in their pantry/fridge and don’t find it until after it has gone bad. I always try to use up ingredients by using them in multiple meals throughout the week and to use leftovers from recipes right away. We also have a smaller fridge in our kitchen so that we can’t store too many leftovers at once and have leftovers for lunch every day and a couple of nights a week for dinner. We have gotten way better about reducing our food waste over the years using these strategies.
I had my daughter help me make the salad because she loves to cook and this recipe is great for kids to help with. There really isn’t a way to mess it up and mixing is my daughter’s favorite cooking task right now so it was right up her alley. Since the baby can’t help I found something for him to do while we made fruit salad. He has gotten better at using a spoon over the last month so I set him up with some sensory play using dried beans, dried peas, a couple of bowls and a spoon. This sort of activity requires that the kid does not put the small pieces in their mouths so it is important to wait until they are able to keep things out of their mouth without constant supervision if you are giving it to them while you are preoccupied. My son just turned 14 months and I am just starting to be able to do these types of things with him. He loved it and didn’t start throwing beans on the floor until near the end so it worked out perfectly. I have reused these beans and peas many times with my daughter so there were a few paper clips in there. Ha! I also gave him one of these scoopers because he wanted to be like his sister but he was a little young for it.
I opened the can of fruit cocktail and drained it over a bowl so that my daughter could drink the juice.
Next I had her practice scooping by transferring the fruit cocktail into a mixing bowl with a large spoon. She loved doing scooping with her brother!
Next we added the marshmallows and my daughter stirred.
I scooped about a half cup of the coconut cream into the bowl and had her stir. Make sure to mix the coconut cream first so it isn’t lumpy. I was a little sleepy so I also put some in my coffee which is a great dairy-free substitute for cream.
Then we added a bit more coconut cream and stirred it really well to complete the fruit salad.
It was lunch time so I made wraps with leftover pork loin sliced thin, lettuce, mayo and mustard. The fruit salad was a refreshing end of the week treat to go with our lunch. To change things up you could also use cool whip/whip cream if you can do dairy. You could also add some coconut flakes or fresh cut fruit to the salad. I made it with fruit cocktail because it was fast and easy and my daughter didn’t have to wait for me to cut up a bunch of fruit. Having a bit of canned fruit on hand is also great for an emergency kit or for if you can’t make it to the store but be sure to use it before it goes bad or it will just be money down the drain!
Grandma's Fruit Salad
Fruit salad like my grandma used to make, only dairy-free!
- 1 can of fruit cocktail
- 1/2 to 1 c coconut cream
- 1/2 c rainbow mini marshmallows
- Step 1 Open the can of fruit cocktail and drain for about 10 minutes.
- Step 2 Transfer fruit cocktail to a medium sized bowl and add the marshmallows.
- Step 3 * Optional * Using a hand mixer, mix the coconut cream until smooth. This should only take a couple of minutes.
- Step 4 Stir in about 1/2 cup of the coconut cream, add more until all of the fruit cocktail is covered but it isn’t soupy.
- Step 5 Serve immediately. If you want your salad a little colder you can always pop the can of fruit cocktail into the fridge ahead of time to cool it down but you may need to drain it longer if you do this step. Alternately you could drain the fruit cocktail in the fridge if you have room!
- Step 6 Enjoy!
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