Sunday, April 5, 2009

Something Out of Nothing

This is another one of those saving money posts. So if you're not interested in saving money, step away from the computer and go do something expensive, like shopping.

How many of you plan out your meals for the week? I think this is the biggest thing you can do to save money on food - both groceries AND eating out. Granted, I'm horrible at planning meals. It takes thought and time - two things I have low supply on these days.

Yet, when I do sit down and do it. Food possibilities magically open up to me, ones that I would NEVER have come up with say, 15 minutes before dinner.

Let's take this week for instance. I wanted to spend the least amount of money possible on groceries and not eat out this week. Mark and I worked on the budget last night and I got my "number" for the month on what we can spend on groceries and eating out. Before you start thinking we have it together, be aware that we've been going with no budget for months now. This is our first month back "on budget". A kitchen remodel will do that to you...

I love it when Mark just gives me a number. Spend this. It's like a challenge. First, how great of deals can I get? Second, how much can I save? I love having "extra" money left over only because I was a wise shopper that month. But most importantly, I love having a "number" to spend because I never feel guilty about any of my purchases. When we off budget, my mind also nags me - you don't really need that. But when I know I haven't exceeded our money, I am free to get us those little "extras" if there's any left over.

So this month I wanted to start off right. I knew we had lots of food that could be the start of "meal makings". For instance, we have dry rice and beans. A great combo to make Spanish rice and a large pot of beans. That's dinner tonight.

Rice I make by following the cooking directions, but also adding 2 chicken bouillon cubes and a can of diced tomatoes with green chilies. Since I had it all but the diced tomatoes with green chilies, that meal only added on item to the grocery list. About 74 cents.

Beans are just soaked overnight, then cooked a couple hours with cilantro, garlic, onions, and the seasonings of my choice (mostly salt and pepper, haha). We had onions leftover from the bag I bought weeks ago, I bought a LARGE container of garlic cloves awhile back and put it in the freezer, and now all I needed was cilantro. So put cilantro down (only 50 cents by the way).

We are big tortilla eaters in this house, so we still had some corn tortillas left, but I put my special flour ones I like on the grocery list too. Again, 99 cents for 20 tortillas.

Granted, you may not have dry rice or beans in your pantry. But I highly recommend adding it to your list! I can make steamed rice, fried rice, add rice to a casserole dish or soup. Beans can be refried for breakfast tacos or a side with dinner. And both of those items are dirt cheap.

The next meal I got was pure luck. Last week on impulse I had thrown a tortilla soup mix in the cart. We love it. It's cheap for the amount of soup it makes. You add 8 cups of watter to the mix and that's it! I generally like to boil and shred chicken to add to it. It makes the soup stretch further. I always buy the big bag of frozen chicken breasts. Those are around 10 bucks and last us 2 weeks if we don't have folks over for dinner. One chicken breast shredded typically is enough for the soup. The soup mix is a little less than 4 dollars. Which isn't bad since it serves 4. Bake some of your tortillas for chips or buy a bag of tortilla chips. We like the blue corn tortilla chips since they are low in fat, but they are more expensive. It's one of our "luxuries".

Now that I had two meals down that both produce LOTS of leftovers, Wednesday is a freebie. Leftover night. Take your pick between rice and beans or tortilla soup or both! They all go together.

Thursday is an easy meal. Spaghetti!! Most of the time I just make tons of spaghetti and skip the sides. We're happy with that. But if you need variety on your plate, add some zucchini or asparagus. Zucchini is the cheaper route, but we LOVE asparagus and get it at least a few times a month. Zucchini is super easy to make. Just slice up and put in a pan with a small amount of olive oil. Add salt, pepper, and garlic salt. Cook until tender. Yummy!! I usually buy the spaghetti sauce in the jars. I used to buy the cheapest kind (less than a dollar), but lately I've been going the more natural/organic route and get Prego's organic mushroom. It's a little more expensive (2.50 I think), but it's the cheapest organic sauce I've found. Once my tomato plants start producing, I think I'll try my hand at homemade!

We always have spaghetti leftovers, so Friday is a repeat. Plus I NEVER feel like cooking on friday and I know it. So planning a cooked meal that day is just silly. We just rummage around and eat whatever is left from the week.

Saturday is tacos - another cheap and easy meal. I like to use the taco seasoning packs for flavor. Add whatever you love to the tacos. Pico de gallo, lettuce, avocado, whatever.

Sunday is a treat. I love IKEA meatballs, cream sauce, and lingonberry sauce. Yum!! I bought the frozen meatballs, sauce mix and jar of sauce a few weeks ago. It makes about 3 meals in my opinion.

Oatmeal makes cheap breakfasts. If you want a "treat" buy those muffin packets - I had one left in my pantry for apple cinnamon muffins that I might whip up this week. Simple lunches of sandwiches or salads are cheap too. Also, eating the left overs for lunch is a big money saver.

Often if I'm doing a special diet, I'll make Mark the "menu" then pick and choose from it and add my own "diet" foods. Like no sugar, or carbs. Often the few foods I need to add to supplement any dieting aren't expensive if I don't try to make the whole family eat that way. Add a 3 lb ground beef, sausage links, veggies and cheese to the grocery list and you have the makings of low carb food. This also makes the leftovers last longer because I'm not eating as much of the "menu" food.

Anyway, this week I got out of the grocery store under $30!!!!!! Of course every week won't be that way, but buying in bulk and using what I have left over has been key to me saving us money.

But even if I hadn't had a lot of that on hand, it would only have been around 20-30 more, which is still not bad. And those additional items would have been more than one meal. Like buying a bag of frozen chicken or dry rice.

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Gail said...

I know it doesn't feed Corbin, but does this feed Hayden too?

Gail said...

How does your food budget work? Is the kid's foods and drinks part of it, or another category?

Just Me said...

Ah yes the kids. Formula we buy at Costco (20 dollars for two large cans). We probably use a little more than a can and a half a week I think. So that comes out of the food budget, but since we buy in bulk we bought the formula $40 worth last week. That should last almost the whole month. We may have to go back the last week.

Hayden eats some things and not others. He'll eat spaghetti for sure, so that covers him.

I buy him frozen chicken nuggets, make homemade mac-n-cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, cheese quesadillas. He loves fruits so he eats bananas for breakfast. Sometimes I buy the Kashi cereal bars. I also buy canned fruit in 100% fruit juice or water. I throw veggies in his mac-n-cheese and spaghetti.

Hayden only drinks water and milk. I buy 2% milk for Hayden, and fat free lactose free for Mark if I am making something requiring milk that week for Mark. We don't do juice.

Corbin's food I buy in bulk - a box of 18 jars. If there is a good deal on frozen fruits/veggies or fresh, I might buy and make myself. But my time is limited so I don't do that much.

Hayden's "luxury" is string cheese, and goldfish which are more expensive. But I buy both in large quantities. Although I have recently found a goldfish recipe I'd like to try out so I can cut those from both his diet and my budget.

Hayden loves cereal, but I'm not really a cereal fan. Not that I don't like it, but I just don't think it's that healthy for you. Didn't like what I read about how it's made.

Anywho, I hope that's enough of a glimpse to make sense. At this age their food consumption isn't large enough to impact our budget (minus formula which will be ending in 3 months anyway)

Gail said...

How is it made? Now you got me curious? Like all cereals are made in a scary way?

Just Me said...

Oh my goodness. Don't make me have to search threw the bazillion blogs I read to get back to the source.

I've no time for re-researching. But just start doing some research on cereals. I believe it specifically was mentioning the synthetic fortification/revitamization process, as well as the extrusion process.

Again, most of our information found online comes from "biased" sources. Otherwise it would be up. Whether this is completely true or not, I don't know. But it does bring up questions and made me think of other things...

It's mostly in the vein of eliminating processes foods from our diet, which is an incredibly slow process considering most of what we ate/eat was/is processed!

Minus how it's made, just take a look at the ingredient list. Not a pretty sight. Corn syrup, lots of sugar, artificial flavors, etc.

So I gave up cereal. And I LOVED cereal.

Amanda said...

First of all -- I LOVE the Weston Price Foundation -- lots of good info on food and eating healthy options!

Second -- This is kind of what I was doing this week too -- actually this month. Eating out of the pantry and freezer for me -- I am hoping it will save some cash to put towards some debt.

This week, I think I have everything I need for my entire meal plan except some of the fresh ingredients...and I am planning on checking out the Farmer's Market on Wednesday to see if I can even get those things cheaper! I hope to spend less than $25 this week for everything...we shall see how it turns out.

Meal planning is definitely the way to go to save money on food -- if you plan ahead you are less likely to eat out since that would be double least for me.

Gail said...

I will have to research this. What about "healthier" cereals, do they exist?, like not so processed, more natural, etc. I will have to check out that site tonight...

Just Me said...

I guess it's how you define processed. For me, cereal is the epitome of processed food, HA! The very nature of it is that it's processed. Short of throwing some nuts in a bowl, I'm not sure how you could turn it into a whole food.

Gail said...

That site is hard core,lol, even for a wacko like me,lol.
But it did get me thinking...
uh oh. :)

Shelley said...

Ooooh, I need to call you and get planning ideas. :)