First Ever Guest Post!

 

So, one of my goals for my Seventh Year of Blogging was to post at least one guest post and accept at least one guest post.

I’d been working on a mammoth post, on a topic that is becoming more and more near to my heart, for several days. It was getting longer and longer every time I went in to edit, and was nearing completion. I was polishing up the last edges, when Angela over at TreadLightlyRetireEarly posted her One Year blog birthday post.

Now, I had “known” Angela for almost a year, since Military Dollar convinced her to join Twitter (and thank you for that!). Then in May I had the absolute honor of staying with her and her family in Seattle.

Turns out, she’s just as cool in real life! Cooler, actually.

And as it so happens we have a lot in common. Like frugality (duh) and saving money and investing. We both still have a lot to learn too, of course. But we also are both passionate about the Earth, loving it and treating it well.

So, since this article was all about my thoughts on our wasteful society and what I hope to do to help in any small way I can, I figured this could not be more perfect for a cross-blog post!

Angela agreed, and so today, I bring your Budget Epicurean’s first guest post as well as Tread Lightly Retire Early’s first published guest post!

Pursuing A Zero Waste Lifestyle (Guest Post From Budget Epicurean)

 

Weekly Eating – 7/09/18

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Gosh, it feels good to be back y’all!

This summer has been a lil crazy, and we haven’t been great about meal planning with being gone or hosting family pretty much every weekend. But that’s ok, sometimes life is like that.

Over the weekend I made a huge ol pork roast and a big batch of ground turkey, because the boy was sad about how long it had been since we had burritos. So… lots of meat in the fridge. He was pleased. I also made a giant crock pot full of black beans which became my best black bean soup and black bean burgers.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

While my sister was in town last weekend, we also went shopping and picked up a ginormous box of honey cheerios on sale, because she has discovered that she has a gluten, soy, and corn intolerances. As you can imagine, that significantly limits ones food choices. Turns out cheerios is one cereal that has no HFCS or soy or wheat in it.

And, we also made a batch of macarons! Because almond flour is just fine. And I’ve always wanted to make them! They turned out pretty darn good looking too. I added a few fresh strawberries to the filling and we put cocoa in the batter for some chocolate strawberry flavors going on. Delish.

Oh I also got a big-a$$ watermelon, and turned it into all kinds of goodies! I pickled a big batch of rinds for a Food Swap next week, we ate tons of it fresh, it became a watermelon-feta-mint salad, and several smoothies.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Monday:

Breakfast – Honey cheerios + a banana + soymilk

Lunch – Black bean soup!

Dinner – Enchilada casserole. This used up some small corn tortillas, black and pinto beans, pulled pork, corn, and tomatoes. Topped with pickled jalapenos, cheddar, guac, and salsa. SO DANG GOOD.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Snack – a macaron

Tuesday:

Breakfast – same cereal, bc I’m boring!

Lunch – leftover enchilada and a salad that happened to match the skirt I was wearing that day, haha

Dinner – portobello stir fry

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Wednesday:

Breakfast – smoothie with watermelon, pineapple, frozen blueberries, blueberry kefir, and greens

Lunch – leftover stir fry, and a Greek salad

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Dinner – Leftovers! We are going out of town again for the weekend, so I’m busy using up or freezing all the perishables

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Thursday:

Breakfast – smoothie with watermelon, pineapple, frozen blueberries, blueberry kefir, and amla powder

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Lunch – uhhh it was a bit of a crazy day, so I didn’t get a lunch per se. I did sneak a maple bacon donut that was brought in to work. #noregrets

Snack – a cranberry yogurt

Dinner –we were tired of all the leftovers, so we decided on a spontaneous date night to AYCE sushi at RocknRolls!!

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan
In case it was unclear, I REALLY love salmon sushi. Also I ate three teenage boys next to us under the table!

Friday:

Breakfast – I finally successfully used up all the watermelon, so today’s smoothie was frozen blueberries and cherries, pineapple and flaxseed powder

Lunch – Black beans & rice

Dinner – whatever we can scrounge up before heading to the airport. Everything else will get frozen while we’re gone.

The Weekend

We had a death in the family, so we are out of town for the weekend. It will definitely be interesting seeing how expensive and wasteful traveling is. I am going to try to plan ahead and pack at least some nuts or trail mix to take so I don’t give into temptation to buy things at the airport.

Y’all are in for something BIG on Monday, so stay tuned!

Food Total: $5.92

All the major expenses happened last week or earlier, so I’m not counting them for this week. When we return though I’ll have to do a stock up trip. If you really want me to fess up, that pic at the top was an ALDI stock up last week that cost us $68.79.

The only things purchased were on a whim, a stop-in at Walmart on my way to work. I desperately needed Ibuprofen (one to keep in my car) and some cold sore medication (BOO cold sores, the worst) and while there I grabbed some bananas and avocados.

Luckily, I remembered to grab one of my reusable canvas bags from the car! So no plastic bag, yay!

Lessons Learned

So, the boy actually eat way less meat than I think he does. Especially now as I am borderline vegetarian and am not very helpful in eating it. And I think… that… I may have actually burnt him out on burritoes! I did not know that was possible. But he said he actually got tired of the ground turkey and pork (I guess that’s what happens when that is all there is to eat for lunch and dinner for a week straight…)

 

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

5 Freezer Meals for 1 or 2 in 30 minutes

 

I know that’s a lot of numbers in the title, but what do you expect from a finance & food blog? 😉 There are many ways to save money on one of most people’s biggest budget categories (after housing): food.

  1. Eat at your parents house
  2. Eat only Ramen noodles
  3. One meal per day
  4. Intermittent fasting
  5. Freeganism
  6. Vegetable garden/farming
  7. Bulk buying
  8. Couponing
  9. Meal planning
  10. Freezer meals

I could go on and on, but you get the point.

But every tip will not work for every person and every situation.

If you are in a dorm with just a small refrigerator and 6 months until you move again, your life is drastically different from a family with four children in the suburbs with two chest freezers.

I’ve designed meal plans for the Dollar Tree, one week of dinners from one pork roast, and 10 freezer meals in one hour.

The Freezer Meals For 2 Plan

This plan is designed for smaller households, who have a freezer.

One or two people.

I made all of these meals for a friend who was about to have a baby. Having freezer meals on hand makes feeding yourself when sleep deprived and stressed so much easier! But these meals are also great for single people or couples who don’t like to cook, as they are super easy and stress free.

So if you have a big family or a big appetite, these recipes might not be for you. However they are very easy to scale up, simply double or triple the ingredients, and use larger freezer bags.

This is also designed to go straight from ingredients –> bag –> freezer –> thaw in refrigerator –> oven or crock pot.

5 freezer meals in 30 minutes

To complete these 5 freezer meals, in addition to the food ingredients you will need:

  • 5 quart sized freezer bags
  • Sharpie or other permanent marker
  • Container in which to thaw the bags in the refrigerator (otherwise they will leak condensation all over)

The ingredients are pantry staples (at least in my house!) and items you can easily find at most any grocery store. You can of course step up your game slightly and use dried beans you cook yourself, or produce straight from your garden. These tricks will lower the total cost even further.

But the total for this should be less than $30, for 5 nights of meals for 2 servings each, possibly with leftovers. I will also include some tips at the end on how you can jazz up each one to make it your own.

Per serving total = $3 or less

Recipes included:
  • Chicken & Rice Casserole
  • Chicken Tortilla Soup
  • 3 Bean Vegetarian Chili
  • White Bean & Barley Soup
  • Corn & Potato Chowder

5 freezer meals in 30 minutes

Entire Ingredients List:

  • 2 cans pinto beans
  • 1 can white beans
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • 1 can black beans
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 can corn (can use frozen)
  • 1 bag frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 large chicken breast, cut in half, or 2 total
  • 1 cup barley
  • 3 large carrots
  • 1-2 large baking potato
  • 1 onion, diced, or dried onion
  • Garlic powder or fresh garlic
  • Italian seasonings
  • Chili powder
  • Bouillon
  •  1/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup rice

You will be using half or a third of some of these cans, I did not measure it out, I just eyeballed it. If you feel more comfortable with exact numbers, go ahead and get out a measuring cup.

Step 1: Cut up your carrots and potato and onion into a small dice. I did not peel either the potatoes or carrot, but you can if you want. You can also use canned potatoes, though the end product will be soggier. You can also use dried onion, like I did.

Step 2: Label your bags and write the instructions out. Trust me, you want to do this part before the bag is full and possibly wet outside.

Step 3: Open and drain all your cans.

Step 4: Cut a large boneless skinless chicken breast in half, or use two smaller cuts. You can leave the breast whole, or dice it up, either way works. You could also use canned chicken, 1 per recipe.

 

Once you have your labeled bags ready, just dump the ingredients into them, in the order listed. You want to put the meat in last, so it is the first thing to come out when you cook it. Then push out any air in the bag, and seal. Freeze laying flat if possible, as they are then easier to stack and take up less freezer space.

 

Chicken & Rice Casserole

  • 1/2 can corn
  • 1/2 bag frozen mixed veggies
  • 1 cup of rice
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 bouillon cube
  • 1 chicken breast

*Thaw overnight. Bake at 350 in a casserole dish for 1 hour, or in crock pot on low for 2-3 hours, shred chicken before serving.

 

Chicken Tortilla Soup

  • 1 can pinto beans (or black beans)
  • 1/3 can diced tomatoes or 1 cup salsa
  • 1/2 bag frozen mixed vegetables
  • Diced or dried onion
  • 1 chicken breast

*Thaw, simmer on stove for 1 hour, or in crock pot on low 2-3 hours. Top with tortilla chips, sour cream, cheddar cheese, avocado…

 

3 Bean Vegetarian Chili

  •       1 can of 3 different kinds of beans
  •       1/3 can diced tomatoes
  •       Dried onion, garlic powder
  •       2 tbsp chili powder

*Thaw overnight. Add to slow cooker with 3 cups water, cook on low 6-8 hours, or high for 4-6 hours, stirring every hour or so if possible.

 

White Bean & Barley Soup

  •       1 cup white beans (or 1 can)
  •       1 cup barley
  •       ½ – 1 cup cut up carrots
  •       ½ white onion, diced
  •       1-2 cubes bouillon
  •       1/3 can diced tomatoes

*Thaw overnight. Add 6 cups water, simmer 2 hours on the stove or cook in crock pot on low for 6-8 hours.

 

Corn & Potato Chowder

  •       2 potatoes, diced
  •       ½ can corn
  •       ½ cup flour
  •       Garlic, onion, bouillon
  •       Optional: 1tbsp Italian seasoning

*Thaw, add 2 cups water and simmer 2 hours on the stove or cook in slow cooker on low 4-6 hours.

 

5 freezer meals in 30 minutes

 

 

 

Lucky Number Seven

Wow, y’all.

SEVEN YEARS!

That’s how long this blog has been around.

It is always fun to go back to early posts to see how much my writing style, and life in general has changed. From the very first post on July 6, 2011, my life and this blog has evolved and changed, and we have covered a lot here.

As for the blogging side of things:

I love days with peaks, and a large “area under the curve”. When the number of visitors and visits is nearly the same, it means someone showed up, read one or two articles, and left.

But when I see big peaks, it tells me that someone came here, liked what they saw, and stuck around for a while. Those are the deep readers, the true fans, who muck about in the Index to mine the archives for gems.

I see you. And I appreciate you!

Since the blog was down for some time, I had a nice little break from writing to re-evaluate… and good news for you, I want to keep blogging!

Goals for this lucky number seven year:
  1. Continue to write high quality content at least 1/week
  2. Expand the social network (go drool over my new Insta!)
  3. Monetize a tiny bit in a smart way (?)
  4. Complete one ebook by the end of the year
  5. Post at least one guest post here (email me ideas!)
  6. Submit at least one guest post to somewhere else
  7. Continue to seek contentment & balance in all things

Trent at the Simple Dollar said it well in his post How Epicurean Principles Can Help You Transform Your Financial Life.

Epicurus argued that pleasure is found by living modestly, curbing one’s desires, enjoying simple pleasures in the moment without gluttony, and reflecting on and understanding the world. Doing this leads to tranquility and freedom from fear (and, to some extent, less physical pain) and that those factors together are a huge source for personal happiness. Epicurus considered this state to be the highest and best form of happiness and pleasure.

That was the original founding idea of this blog, that you don’t need much in life to be happy and content.

We are constantly evaluating things, people, and processes in our life with an eye towards minimizing, frugalizing, and streamlining our days and our spaces.

We are pursuing building wealth in order to eventually attain Financial Independence, aka freedom to use our time however we see fit to maximize happiness.

We are pursuing our best health in order to enjoy a long, fulfilling life to maximize our enjoyment of our time freedom, while also enjoying and being thankful for every day during the journey.

Hopefully these values come through in the writing and ideas here, and the simple yet delicious recipes I try to create and share with you all.

If there is some topic or food you want me to explore in the future, drop me a line, I always love emails from readers. Or come find me on any social media and lets be friends. You never know when we might have a chance to meet up and become IRL friends!

 

So, friends, how have your past 7 years been? Any goals/hopes for the next 7? Do you have any favorite posts from the first 7 years here?

Restaurant Review: The Little Dipper

In case this is your first BE review article, I’ll remind you of the rules.

Food locations will be evaluated based on:

  • Taste: 1 (wet toast) – 10 (your taste buds have died and gone to heaven)
  • Atmosphere: 1 (gas station bathroom) – 10 (best you’ve ever experienced)
  • Value: 1 (not worth it) – 10 (super duper deal)

All opinions are those of the Budget Epicurean.

Tucked inside the North Building of Brightleaf Square on the outskirts of downtown Durham NC is a hidden gem. Called “The Little Dipper: Fondue on Main”, Durham is its second location. The owner is from Durham, and followed a girl to Wilmington. Their first date was at the Wilmington location, and it must have made quite the impression. When they eventually married and moved back to Durham, they decided to take a leap and open their own here.

The Durham location opened in April of 2013 as a full service fondue restaurant. Each table has at least one burner built into the center for the table to share. The owners also designed, built, and painted the entire interior from booths to eclectic decor to crazy sand wall art. They are known for our specialty sauces, all homemade and delicious for dipping cooked meats and seafood.

The Durham location also offers a “LOCAL ‘919’ MENU,” which includes options for each course made with locally sourced farm ingredients.  The Durham Dipper is proud to be part of such a strong community who supports local farmers by offering seasonal features and sustainable menu items changing on a regular basis.

The Menu is insanely huge and can feel a bit overwhelming at first glance. It is set up to be a three-course experience, so make sure you have plenty of time set aside to fully enjoy this meal! You get to choose your cheese dipper appetizer, a soup or salad, and you main entrees and cooking style.

The desserts are priced separately, but honestly it is the best part of the experience! Make sure you also have a lot of room, and very stretchy pants 😉

review the little dipper durham

The servers are extremely helpful and friendly as well, and can answer all your questions and provide suggestions based on what you like and are looking for. We decided on a premium fontina and basil starter. They light your burner, and bring over a massive cast iron pot full of molten cheese and a sampler tray, and then the fun begins!

They supply long fondue forks which you use to spear your fruit or veg, and then dip into the lava like bowl of cheese. I was a little leery of the fruits, but it turns out cheese covered grapes are delicious. We ate and ate and then realized we had 3 more courses to go!

review the little dipper durham

Once you throw in the towel on the cheese, they whisk it away and bring your salads. It is not the star of the show to be sure, but it felt nice to have a light lettuce moment between the heavy cheese and the goodies to come. And the salad itself is large enough to be a meal, so I ended up packing up half to take home.

Then your main course arrives. We went with the traditional peanut oil, which is again brought out in a huge iron pot. You can choose a pre-selected variety of meats, or like we did, the “undecided” where you get 3 different protein options.

I went with tuna, dumplings, and filet while my dining companion chose scallops, shrimp and filet. It comes with your choice of 3 of their homemade daily dipping sauces, as well as a plate of mushrooms which you stuff with their aphrodite herbed cream cheese, dip in breading and fry.

There is a handy tip sheet on suggested cooking times for each item, in case you don’t know how many seconds in boiling peanut oil it takes for a scallop to be considered done. They also supply a long “rescue spoon” for anything that happens to jump off the fondue fork for a swim.

It was great fun dipping and dropping different cuts into the pot while chatting about life and stuffing our faces. The wasabi lime sauce on the filet was my personal favorite of the night.

review the little dipper durham

Drumroll please……

Then they cleared the table, and brought out the steaming bowl of molten chocolate laced with caramel and topped with pecans that I’d been waiting for! Oh yeah, you better believe we went with the Turtle dipper. And a ‘classic dippers’ plate, because we’re indecisive like that.

You can also go with just fruit dippers, or upgrade to the “supreme dippers” or “Swanky Fondue” options for things like rice crispies, oreos, or liquor-laced dipping sauces.

review the little dipper durham

The Turtle fondue was so amazing, I wanted to just eat it with a spoon. Thankfully I was in so much pain from being too full so I couldn’t do it! 😉

The whole meal took about 2 hours total, and was a very relaxing experience. I loved the funky atmosphere, and the energy of the place. I cannot wait to go back!

 

Overall I’d rate The Little Dipper:

  • Taste: 10
  • Atmosphere: 10
  • Value: 9

DIDJA MISS ME???

 

Guess what??!!??

I’m back!

(I know, you’re like, duh, I’m reading this so clearly that is true)

The boy is a magical wonderful unicorn man who fixes the things I break, bless his heart. I’d be a sad half of a whole without him. There are still evidently several hundred thousands of folders that we aren’t sure where they’re originating from, but he deleted enough that things can happen again.

I don’t know what coder magic was wrought upon this blog, but the glorious outcome is that we are back up and running!

I never thought I’d be so excited to see a spinny wheel of update. That little round and round arrow meant my site could create new folders again, and with a push of a button I could single-handedly update WordPress and all 9 plugins which required it.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…… big sigh of relief.

So I am officially back from my sort-of-forced “break”.

I wish I could say that I’ve spent the past few weeks brainstorming blog posts and series, or writing anything at all. But nope. I’ve used the past few weeks to enjoy the heck outta life, going lots of places and having tons of adventures and summer fun.

That is the point of a break I guess. I’m not good at ‘resting’.

But the flip side of that is, I’ve gone places, and made and tried a bunch of fun foods and recipes. And I want to share it with you.

So without further ado, here’s a brief overview of some highlights from BE’s summer so far!

 

Places We’ve Been

Well, I finally went on my ‘graduation’ cruise to Alaska! It was a gift from my aunt, supposed to be 10ish years ago. We finally just picked a week, and this May we cruised up and down the coast, visiting Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan, Glacier National Park, and finally Victoria British Columbia.

It was as beautiful as everyone said it would be and the photos make it look. The mountains were breathtaking, surrounded by icy blue water everywhere. We lucked out big time and the weather was phenomenal the whole trip. We even got a sunburn from sitting on the deck reading on one of our sea days!

Both before and after the trip I took an extra day to spend some time with Angela from TreadLightlyRetireEarly and her husband and kiddo in Seattle. They were wonderfully gracious hosts, and went out of their way to make me feel like part of the family.

We had a ball visiting Woodinville and wine tasting, taking long walks and hikes along the river and in the park behind their house, and hunting for deals in the ethnic grocery stores.

We traveled to historic New Bern, CT for our 2 year wedding anniversary weekend. Did you know New Bern was the original capital of NC? I didn’t either! They also were discovered by a Swiss explorer, and Bern means “Bear”. So there are all these adorable painted bears all over town.

We stayed at a fantastic little cottage AirBnB, and the whole town was so quiet and relaxing. We took the pups with us too. Lots of long walks around town and to the beach, and we got to pop into all the little shops. New Bern is also the birthplace of Pepsi, so of course we got an old fashioned float.

Then we spent a whole day driving down to the “Inner Banks” coast and explored tons of little beach towns: Morehead City, Beaufort, Atlantic Beach, Pine Knoll Shores, Indian Beach & Emerald Isle. And we took a ferry out to Carrot Island for a nice long hike and to see the wild ponies! There was only one out and about; it was a really hot day.

We’ve also made it out to Sunset Beach a few times, once for a friend’s 30th birthday week and again when my mom was in town. Beach time is always so relaxing and awesome! Though I’ve now gotten sunburn thrice, which is not great, but I do have a nice tan.

Speaking of relaxing and awesome, I also got to go on a camping weekend to Morrow Mountain State Park. It is about 2 hours SW of the Triangle, nearly all the way to Charlotte. It is along the Pee-Dee River, and backs up to the Uwharrie National Forest.

There were 5 of us and 3 dogs in total, and we had a great time hiking, relaxing, playing with fire and eating s’mores.

eating s'mores while camping at Morrow Mountain
We used the Jumbo marshmallows, which was ridiculous.

We did a total of about 11 miles between Saturday and Sunday. There are some pretty great views. But we were definitely all feeling it! The pups did great, hiking the whole way. Except the last half mile or so on Sunday, the little girl hurt her paw on the sharp rocks and was limping, so I did carry her for a bit.

Andddddd, saving the best for last, I MET THE GROOVIES!

They have recently relocated from Charlotte to Wake Forest, which is super close to Raleigh. Read all about their homestead building adventures here. We met up at the Raleigh Beer Garden for some good beer, good food, and great conversation.

Things I’ve Made

Well, we finally tried a Vegan Week! It was actually the boy’s idea!
(I know, I was as shocked as you are).

It went quite well, and we tried a bunch of new foods: soy nuggets, sweet potato puffs, lentil sloppy joes, & cashew cream to name a few. Mr. Tako inspired me to bring matcha lattes back into my occasional treat repertoire, and I’m sure glad I did.

There have been a few Bull City Food Swaps, one of which I missed due to travel. My energy bites were a bit of a hit, while the flip flop & bikini Nutter Butters did not go over as well. It’s always a bit of a crap shoot, what other swappers are looking for. And, we might get featured in a news article soon! So that’s cool.

I also finally got around to trying out Erin’s Turkish Red Lentil Soup recipe! I used Gochujang instead of Red pepper paste. Luckily she isn’t going to stop being friends with me over it. And I’ve baked several more loaves of the perfect white bread, feeding my current breakfast addiction: cinnamon sugar toast.

cinnamon sugar toast
Totally obsessed with this childhood favorite.

Oh, and I think I’m giving up drinking the water where I work, because now I know 2 people who just had a baby and 2 more with buns in the oven! The only buns I want in my oven right now are the ones I plan to take to a swap…

Anyways.

A work friend threw a very nice baby shower for one of them who is about to have their first little girl. So I decided to make a nice stack of easy freezer meals for the parents-to-be. It took me less than a half an hour to whip up 5 different meals, using things I already had in my freezer and pantry. Post to come soon.

budgetepicurean update

The new parents were very thankful for one full week’s worth of dinner they didn’t have to think about. They are all designed to be able to be thawed and tossed right into a slow cooker. He reported back that they both loved each one and had used them all up in the first week home!

Garden Update!  🌱 🌼

The early spring plants are dying now, we got a few good salads out of the spinach and romaine. Sadly it got too hot too fast for the broccoli, and they went to seed before I got any. C’est la vie. I got 8 different tomato plants in the ground and they are starting to flower.

My sweet potato is getting out of control, and I planted more purple sweet potatoes, with no leaves yet but tiny buds are beginning to poke out of the ground.

garden update
Attack of the sweet potato vines! Slow and steady attack.

The beans were slow to start but now they’ve taken over the trellised back fence area, and some are nearly ready to harvest!

The peas seem to be struggling in the heat, I don’t have high hopes there unfortunately… The zucchini and squash and cucumber didn’t come up so I did a second seeding, and they are now getting big and happy, and even have some flowers.

We invested in future years’ harvest at our house by planting some asparagus this year, and blueberry and blackberry bushes. The blueberry look like they may be struggling, but the blackberries are started to pink up a bit!

And then…

Disaster struck.

SOME MF-ing ANIMAL GOT OVER A 6 FT FENCE AND INTO THE BACK YARD AND ATE THE BERRIES.

All of them.

Even the green ones.

Down to the stem.

If anyone knows a super-lethal-to-deer-but-doesn’t-harm-plants solution, I’m all ears. I will turn those jerks into venison hash.

>:-(

In the front area, the herbs are doing great. I’ve already gotten several batches of pesto, from the 3 I planted this year plus several volunteers from last year’s seed. I need to do something with the huge sage bush and rosemary hedge (this thing is ridiculously hearty and starting to take over).

The damn deer did also get the tomato and beans in the front. Not that I didn’t see it coming… I even had been spraying ‘deer-away’ after each rain. Oh well. It is food after all.

front yard garden

And then my adorable neighbor called me one night, and had gotten a great deal at the local nursery on some plants. He had more than he could fit in his yard, so he gave me a flat. I put in 4 coleus, a giant pink begonia, and several pink/purple ones I don’t know the name of.

I like the pops of color in the front yard now.

The next day, he called again, with 3 more flats of plants to give me!

We are overwhelmed with flowers now. But, our across-the-street neighbors were coming home right about the same time, so I called over to them if they wanted some. Their 2 little girls just lit up when I said they could pick out their favorites to plant. It totally made my day to see them so excited, and share the generosity.

 

 

Phew! That’s all folks, now you are nice and caught up on the life and times of the Budget Epicurean. I sincerely apologize for checking out for so long, and hope that you won’t forsake me! See you soon 😉

 

 

TELL ME! What have you been up to so far this summer? Any more fun plans?

We apologize for this interruption in our regularly scheduled programming…

 

There is some issue with GoDaddy and running out of file folders or something of the sort. Moral of the story is, I can no longer upload a single photo or update anything… BE will be down indefinitely until myself and the IT Department (aka the boy!) can solve this mystery and bring it to a hopefully joyous conclusion including continued posts. We thank you for your patience!

 

June Update : 
Called customer service and found out it’s an error with having too many folders, such that I have exceeded the limit (Which is 250,000 sooo… yeah). I cannot upload any photos or update anything because that requires a new folder to be created. They gave us a script to run to find whatever is creating so many folders, and then deleting can begin to free up space.

However, between my already-admitted biggest vice and having this forced break, I’ve been enjoying the time off from blogging. Not having to spend hours writing and researching is freeing, and I’ve also been doing a bit of a social media detox for mental health and time management reasons.

Blogging is mostly a labor of love, with little to no reward other than the community you build (which, don’t get me wrong is AWESOME). It is easy to get burnt out, and I don’t think I realized that’s where I was. So I decided to take the summer off, and to re-evaluate in the fall if this is something I am still doing because I love it and whether to continue or not.

I will be much quieter on the Twitters, though I have finally caved and joined Instagram. That food porn tho… so find me there, or I am always reachable via email. Thanks folks, that’s all for now!

<3 BE

Weekly Eating – 4/16/18

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

The weekend was as expected, Saturday was gorgeous and sunny, and we had a fun time grilling and sitting around the bonfire in the back yard. Sunday was wetter, with increasing chance of rain until it hit 100% by the evening. Nonetheless, we decided to get out and explore a little before the storm hit.

Umstead state park

I also meal prepped a little bit, by making a big batch of these Cauliflower Cashew Barley Bowls for lunches. I also made a batch of chocolate chip cookies with my friends’ super secret recipe! We sort of messed it up a little, but they were still really tasty. Some of the best cookie dough I’ve ever eaten haha

This week is also a grand experiment: The boy will be in charge of dinner all week! Yup, I’ve talked him into it (meaning, kept asking until he finally agreed) and every dinner will be made by him. I even offered to go grocery shopping for whatever he wanted, but he said we had enough ingredients in the freezer and pantry, so we didn’t spend any money on groceries this week. Of course that means I’ve agreed to do all dishes this week, so… I may or may not have won?

Mostly I just want to see what will happen. I have a method to my madness, and I want to see how dinner in the boy’s mind works. He might give me some new, great ideas.

Monday:

Breakfast – Leftover crepes

Lunch – Cauliflower Barley bowl & a salad

Dinner – Chicken breasts with salad and couscous

Snack – chocolate chip cookie

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Waffles with blueberries

Lunch – Cauliflower Barley bowl

Dinner – Pasta and meatballs, with green chilie sauce. The boy said he wanted a ‘different’ flavor, and we had cans of green chilies in the pantry, so that’s what happened. It was better than I expected.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – last of the crepes with strawberry jam

Lunch – Cauliflower Barley bowl

Dinner – Bacon wrapped pork chops! With rolls and a side salad

Tonight I also put together a couple freezer meals for a friend having a baby soon. They scheduled a c-section for Friday, so they know the due date in advance, which is nice. I figured 5 nights of meals they don’t have to think about would be a helpful gift.

Thursday:

Breakfast – Toast with PB & a pear

Lunch – Last of the cauliflower barley bowl, and some grilled veggies and beans leftover from the weekend grill out

Snack – Seriously STOP with the Reese eggs already! I Cannot help myself… Last one, I swear…

Dinner – Out to the Durham Co-op $3 Thursday dinner! A friend lives near there and I’ve been meaning to go. Every Thursday they host a $3 community dinner; tonight was pasta & meatballs with an option for vegan sausage.

I of course tried one of each. The meatball was delish, but the vegan sausage … I was a little let down tbh. It was like chewy salty bread. But the side salad was impressive, it was actual fancy lettuce, not just like a head of iceberg. So even though I carbo-loaded I felt like I got at least some veggies in too.

Friday:

Breakfast – Hashbrowns with bacon & eggs. We have bacon soooo rarely now, and when you haven’t had bacon in months, and then you have it… it’s salty crunchy bliss. I’m sorry.

Lunch – Chickpea salad sandwich & leftover vegan chili. Pro tip: use chickpeas you cook yourself from dried, or simmer the ones from the can a bit. I cheated and used canned for this one, and they were still very firm. It was extra hard to get them to mash.

chickpea salad sandwich and chili

Dinner – Pork roast with potato wedges and canned green beans. The boy had a ridiculously stressful day, so I took over for the last night’s dinner. He had already pulled the roast from the freezer to defrost, so I just seasoned it and put it in the oven. I adore canned green beans, but he hates them, so I legit ended up eating a whole can on my own. No regrets.

I also made a batch of pretzel bites. We were having a game night Sat and the next Food Swap is next week, so I wanted to try out a new recipe. They are SO GOOD I ate nearly the whole first batch immediately… oops. Still no regrets.

The Weekend

The weekend will be chilly but sunny, into the 60s. I may try to get a second planting of peas and beans into the ground. It is still a bit too cold to get nightshades planted, that will have to wait until mid-May.

Also we are hosting board game night on Saturday! I am suuuuuuper excited! I love hosting parties and games and making food for people so this is right up my alley. I’m hoping for a nice day too, so we can pull out corn hole and have a fire as well.

Food Total: $0!

Lessons Learned

Having the boy be in charge of dinner was a great way to use up some of the meat still in our freezers. Since trying to be mostly vegetarian this year, I’ve bought very little meat to replace what we use up, but there are still a few roasts, chicken quarters, meatballs, and various things in the freezer. It’s good to use those up. And as hard as it was, I did not go to the grocery store. And we survived! So I consider this week a great win, even if I did have far more meat than usual.

Uh, also, I really need to call our server for this site… I can no longer upload any photos. Ran out of folder space, or something? So that’s a huge problem…

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

Spring Cleaning: Decluttering Clothing

 

As spring truly heats up down South (we are in a brief temp dip but soaring back to the 80s soon) and is still yearned for up North (I try really hard not to laugh at the snow in Ohio, really I do… but I moved for reasons… this is a big one!), many people begin to think about Spring Cleaning, and all that comes with it.

While I despise actual cleaning, unless the mood hits, I do love the ideas of purging, de-cluttering, and minimalism.

A clean house just feels nice. You don’t feel trapped or dirty, and it looks nice too. It can also be great for your finances.

Don’t believe me?

Ways Decluttering Can Be Financially Beneficial:
  1. You let go of the past, and accept the present – by tossing your ‘ideal skinny jeans’, or that glittery mini dress from your single days, you can let go of past expectations and focus on who and where you are now.
  2. Saves time – by narrowing down choices and better organizing them, you can more easily see what you have to work with. And by getting rid of things that don’t make you look and feel great, you know that basically any choice will work!
  3. Saves money – if you already have 4 plain white button down shirts both long and short sleeved, you don’t need to buy another. But that only works if you know you have them already!
  4. You make room for new – by purging your clutter, you create space, both literally and mentally.
  5. Could make you money – if you have nice enough items, that you have taken good care of, a little effort could turn into cash! Try taking things to a consignment store or reselling online.
  6. Bonus — not really for you, but by donating gently used items you may allow someone in a worse financial situation to buy these things at a markdown to be used again and give them a second life

I decided to tackle my personal things, focusing on clothing.

I do not honestly spend much on clothing for myself. I prefer Goodwill over department stores, and am blessed to have a mother and sister who willingly let me have first pick of their castoffs.

I have also hosted a few clothing swaps, and have benefited from several friends hand-me-downs over the years.

I would bet my 401K balance that I’ve spent less than $1000 on clothing for myself in the past 10 years. Probably less than $500.

But I still have so. much. clothing.

Mounds of free t-shirts from college days.

Hoodies and sweats also from those days.

Random items that have survived since high school.

Too tight sports bras ‘just in case’… all the other ones are dirty and it’s worth the discomfort to get a jog in right now?

A gifted sweater I ‘feel bad’ getting rid of.

Clothes I’ve outgrown physically or mentally but can’t let go of.

Bags or clothing with holes or stains but ‘still usable’.

I have so much clothing that I actually am using two closets!

The master bedroom has 2 small closets, of which hubs and I both get one. But mine overflows into the guest closet too.

I use that one as an ‘off-season’ wardrobe, with summer/short sleeved tops/dresses in one and sweaters/layers/sweater dresses in the other.

Oh, and we both have huge 8-drawer dressers.

And a coat closet downstairs too.

Do you see a problem here?

Honestly, I could probably get by with a wardrobe merely a fifth of its current size.

I need maybe 3-4 work pants, 10 or so tops, a few sweaters to layer. And then 2-3 pairs of jeans and casual pants, a couple shorts, ditto a few casual tops and layers.

Add in pajamas, bathing suit, socks and underwear. A few different weights of coat, for kind of brisk versus face hurting cold. And we are still talking maybe 100 pieces of clothing.

I ended up donating more than that number!

pile of clothing to be donated

Back when we first moved in, I had culled my wardrobe after one year. I did the trick where you hang everything with the hangars facing one direction. Then when you wear it and put it back, you flip the hangar. After one year has passed, anything that is still facing the original direction has not been worn and you can get rid of it.

The things that had not been worn in a year were put into a box, and that box was put into the attic, waiting for a trip to Goodwill.

That box contained:

  • 2 pairs of boots
  • 1 pair of tennis shoes
  • 2 pairs of flats
  • 1 pair of sandals
  • 5 skirts
  • 3 sweaters
  • 5 dresses mostly too tight or short
  • 15 tops, mostly nicer work shirts
  • 7 old tshirts
  • 1 pair of pajamas no longer used
  • 1 sweater with a hole
  • 1 older jacket I no longer wear

This box had sat up in my attic for another 6 months, waiting for me to “get around to donating it”. One weekend I finally got fed up, and brought it down, along with a brand new empty box.

In this second round, I ended up with:

  • 3 skirts, mostly too short
  • 6 t-shirts, including “the bride” t-shirt from my wedding week
  • 1 pair jeans w ripped belt loop
  • 1 pair of jeans too tight
  • 1 beach bag w stains
  • 2 bags no longer in use
  • 1 winter rain jacket
  • 2 fleece zip ups
  • 1 sports bra too tight
  • 1 long sleeve shirt
  • 4 short sleeve tops
  • 2 pairs sweatpants 
  • 3 pairs shorts
  • 11 pairs of scrubs
  • 2 hoodies 
  • 2 dresses that just don’t hang right
  • 3 string bikinis
  • 3 old bras
  • 1 belt
  • 3 scarves
  • 1 pair too small boots

This totals over 100 clothing items!

Things that I barely or never wear, had outgrown, or was stained or unable be used. Things that someone else may be able to give a second life to. Things I no longer wanted to store.

Oh, and I also finally got rid of at least a dozen pairs of socks and undies that had tears which were beyond the point of being able to mend them, or had been sitting by the dryer for over a year looking for their lost mate.

While I was on a roll, I also tackled the master and guest bathrooms.

pile of clutter from the bathrooms

Items that got the boot:

  • 1 old gross brush
  • 2 old hair sprays
  • 2 old lotions
  • broken curling iron
  • nearly empty nasal saline spray
  • tons of plastic medicine cups
  • hydrogen peroxide (I had 3?!)
  • 3 broken headbands
  • 1 broken hair clip
  • 2 bags our wedding rings came in
  • old unused makeup
  • dried out makeup wipes
  • couple hair ties
  • glasses & case – to donate
  • to sell: micro pedi kit, 2 fancy razor heads, brand new perfume

Many of these items just went straight into the trash.

The old glasses and case I hope to find a charity to donate to, because they are high quality lenses and someone somewhere can probably use them.

A few items could actually bring in some cash, so I’m going to try to list them on Craigslist or Ebay.

I also have several sets of scrubs from back when I worked in a clinic. They are solid color pants and various patterned tops. Most are like new, and all are very comfortable, I almost want to keep them around for lounge wear.

But I would prefer they go to a nurse or student or tech who can use them, and I’d love to give them away rather than donate to Goodwill to have the person have to pay for them.

Though some people don’t like hand-me-downs or may feel guilty about accepting them, as someone who adores giving things to people, I cannot think of something that would make me happier than to help someone who needs these things that I no longer do.

I listed these separately online, and hopefully will get some interest.

stacks of colored scrubs

Overall, my house now feels way less cluttered.

I can move things around in my closet, and not have to forcefully stuff things together to pull out one hangar.

I can see at a glance all the tops and skirts and blazers left. (I also color coordinate, but that’s a whole other topic…)

There is more room on the bathroom cabinet shelves, and I can see what’s all the way in the back.

Now, I do still have clothing in both the master and the guest room closet. Baby steps, people.

I definitely don’t think I will go so far as to count every single item I own with the hopes of getting under 100.

But a regular spring cleaning purge feels great!

 

 

 

Tell me! Are you a devoted minimalist? Do you purge regularly? Are you due for a spring cleaning?

Dollar Tree Meal Plan

 

It should come as no news to anyone that access to fresh produce and quality food is a good indicator of overall health. It is further not surprising that poverty and food insecurity are strongly linked.

If you do not have the financial means to pay for fresh food, it is likely your diet will consist of fast food, packaged and processed foods, and frozen meals.

If you live in a “food desert”, whether you can pay for produce or not doesn’t matter because there isn’t any for you to buy.

There is more and more evidence that this can become a vicious cycle as well. You or your family is at or below the poverty level, and the only places you can afford to live lack access to food and the money to pay for, and this contributes to poor nutrition and obesity, which in turn may stifle earning potential and opportunities further.

The issues of poverty, food insecurity, and the increasingly wide-spread and frightening rise of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and other ‘lifestyle diseases’ has been on my mind more and more.

It seems we have lost our way, as a country, and things keep happening to make it seem worse and worse.

How do we fix this?

How do we keep ourselves, our family, and our children fed and healthy, without going over budget?

It is a long road, and not an issue I can tackle and solve myself. But I can try to do small things to help. Like creating as healthy of a meal plan as possible that would be relatable to the people who need it the most. So I went to my local Dollar Tree to scope out the options.

Most households in America, even if they are not near a grocery store, should be within walking or bus distance of a Dollar Tree or Dollar General or similar type store.

I figured this would be a good base to work with, and provide the best ‘bang-for-your-buck’ that most people on a very low income are looking for.

Let’s be real, even as a dual income family with more than enough room in the budget to not have to care what we spend on food, we still care a lot, and stick to a budget. We are all potentially just one disaster away from poverty.

Whether you are a single mom or dad trying to feed your growing family on a part-time income, a struggling college kid paying your way with a scholarship, part time job, and a ridiculous loan, a newly married couple just trying to figure out how money works, or a retiree on a fixed income, I hope that this information can be helpful.

 

Dollar Tree shelves frozen section

If the store has a frozen section, this can be a great place to start. Though there will be options to avoid (I’ll mention more about that next) you will be most likely to find the healthiest choices here with frozen fruits and vegetables.

Produce that is frozen is usually picked at the peak of ripeness, and then flash frozen for storage and transport. Though it isn’t right out of a field, it will still contain much of its original nutrition, and sometimes even be more nutritious than fresh, similar produce.

Frozen fruit makes a great snack, addition to smoothies, or are perfect to add in to oatmeal for a filling and healthy breakfast or anytime meal. When it comes to potatoes, just be careful about the ingredients and amount of added fat. French fries are still fries, even if you make them in your own oven.

Frozen vegetable blends are my personal favorite. They are great to heat quickly in the microwave as an easy side dish, you can mix onion and peppers into scrambled eggs, top baked potatoes with broccoli, add mixes to soup and stews and tacos, or toss into stir fry. Try to eat at least 5-7 servings of vegetables every day. A serving is about 1/2 cup frozen, or about 1/6 of a bag of frozen vegetables.

I noticed at my store that they had frozen fish filets as well. Salmon, tilapia, and flounder were on offer. I can get into all the details about how to choose sustainable fish, but at this level I think any fish is a luxury and you don’t care where it came from, as long as it’s cheap.

Fish does provide lots of lean protein, and is a great source of omega 3 fatty acids. Fish is also an important protein in the Mediterranean diet, and a far better choice in general than red meats, or even lean meat like chicken or turkey. So if you are able, add one to two servings of fish per week to your diet.

dollar tree freezer

This is an example of some of the less desirable frozen food options, nutritionally speaking. Pancakes, biscuits, and waffles can be made healthy if you make it yourself from whole grain flours, but these pre-made and frozen options are likely full of preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, and other ingredients you don’t want.

Try instead this simple blender pancake recipe, this slightly healthier one with added banana and oats, or this one with only 3 required ingredients. Even the box of mix from the store with some milk or water would likely be healthier.

Pudding and granola bars may seem like a good ‘convenience’ item to pack in lunches and have on hand for breakfasts or snacking. But be wary of the sugar content. Some granola bars can have a sugar content equal to or greater than a candy bar!

You can easily make your own granola bars too using just oats, honey, peanut butter, and maybe some bananas or dried fruits or nuts. The best news is that oats are generally pretty cheap too, so per serving regular oatmeal for breakfast, granola bars, or plain baked granola are really affordable options.

There are a lot of packaged beverage options, especially juices. Kids in particular tend to adore juice, at breakfast, after school, with dinner, before bed… but you need to be careful of the sugar content.

Many juice types these days is only 5% actual fruit juice, if that! They are instead colored and flavored sugar water, with the vast majority of their calories coming from high fructose corn syrup.

The healthiest beverage, always, is water.

And the best part is, water is free from the tap! If you are trying to get your kids (or yourself) to drink less juice, for health or financial reasons, try diluting it with water slowly over time.

Pour one glass of juice, about 80% full, and top it off with water. Then work your way to half and half. Eventually you have a glass of water with just a splash of juice for flavor.

Another good source for fruits, if you don’t have access to fresh produce or it is not in season, is canned fruit.

I most often see canned pears and peaches, but I also saw pineapples and mandarin orange slices. These are all awesome snack or side options. It is best to choose “packed in water” or “packed in its own juices” over “canned in syrup” or heavy syrup.

It is worth glancing at the ingredients list as well, and the total sugar and calorie content.

Dollar Tree shelves canned vegetables

Canned vegetables are another good choice in lieu of fresh produce.

Cans last even longer and store better than frozen options, and better yet do not require a freezer or electricity. Canned vegetables tend to be overall pretty healthy, just check the sodium content.

Similarly with canned soups, check the salt levels. Some can contain nearly 100% of your daily recommended sodium in one serving.

Canned corn can be tossed into soups or burritos, or eaten with some butter and salt alone as a side dish. Canned green beans make a similarly easy and delicious side, can become casserole, or be tossed into minestrone or veggie soup.

Canned beets are surprisingly delightful on salads, or even eaten plain. And plain canned pumpkin is a great baking option, it can be mixed into waffles, pancake mix, cakes and pies and cookies.

Pasta, a definite frugal food favorite. At some grocery stores you can find it even cheaper, 0.95, 0.88, or even 0.50! But here, everything is a dollar. That doesn’t change the fact that when money is super tight, pasta becomes a life-saver. Maybe literally.

Pasta can be made healthier by pumping it up with extra vegetables.

It goes well with just about any frozen mix you can find, and most canned vegetables as well. Just dump the veggies right into your pot with the pasta during the last 3-4 minutes of boiling.

If you want to be sneaky healthy and have a blender, you can also blend canned or frozen veggies or beans into the sauce, and no one will even know!

And where would pasta be without its best friend, sauce!

Most people cannot fathom one without the other. The good news is that pasta sauce is relatively good for you, since tomatoes actually become more nutritious after cooking.

The bad news is, all the packaged sauces probably contain high fructose corn syrup as a cheap filler…

You’re better off just simmering a can of diced tomatoes as your sauce, and adding any spices you enjoy such as Italian seasoning, thyme, basil, garlic salt, etc.

Dried beans and rice are classic frugal favorites, and for good reason. Beans are a powerhouse of nutrition, containing lots of micronutrients, magnesium, iron, protein, and tons of great-for-your-gut fiber. One cup of dry beans plumps up to 2-3 cups once cooked, giving you even more value for your money.

The same can be said of rice, white or brown, which provides 200-250 calories per cup for roughly $0.10.

To cook beans from dry, you simply let them soak in water overnight or for 8 hours, then change the water and boil them for a few hours, until soft. Or cook them in a crock pot, if you have that luxury.

Now that you have cooked beans, layer as many different types of beans as you can find into a hearty chili, toss them into tacos and burritos and enchiladas, whirl them in a blender to make homemade hummus, or cook up some hearty red beans and rice.

Ah, rice. The food all frugal foodies sing praises to. And for good reason as well.

Rice is cheap per pound ($1/lb here, you can get it much cheaper in bulk but also sometimes you just can’t swing $15 for 25 pounds) but delivers tons of carbs (aka ENERGY) and a nice punch of nutrition in return. You can easily have a full week of meals for a dollar or two and a couple minutes of simmering.

To cook rice, simply mix rice and water in a one to two ratio (for example, 1/2 cup rice + 1 cup water) and bring to a boil. Once boiling, cover with a lid and simmer 20 minutes. That’s it!

It is also super easy to cook, as noted, and ridiculously versatile.

It can bulk up just about any meal to make it stretch: burritos, tacos, soups, stir fry, casseroles, curry… It is also the partner in crime to the other frugal foodie favorite, beans.

Try adding some to bulk up vegetable soups, add some simple spices and a can of tomatoes, corn, and/or beans for Spanish rice, or mix with frozen broccoli and some cheddar cheese for a delicious side dish or casserole.

Canned ravioli, Spaghetti-Os, and chili is not the best bet, they will have sky-high sodium, but if you are desperate for protein in an easy-to-open and store container, you could do worse.

I would highly recommend making actual pasta rather than go for the cans, especially for double the cost (1 box pasta + 1 can sauce vs 1 can of spaghettios). You get way more than double the food; more like 5 times as much!

As for soup stock, you can make your own for almost free! Just save vegetable scraps like potato and carrot skins, the ends of onions and celery stalks, pits of peppers and tomatoes, in a bag in the freezer. Once you have enough to fill a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer for an hour or so, and strain the solids out.

That liquid is pure homemade vegetable stock! You can use it to make soups, to fry instead of oils, and to cook rice in for extra flavor.

Dollar Tree shelves canned tuna and meats

Canned fish is definitely a great low-cost protein option. When you are on a seriously-ridiculous-bare-bones budget, you cannot worry about needs as high up the chain as ethically sourced mercury-free fish. You just want cheap sources of proteins.

Canned tuna and salmon makes great sandwiches, tuna noodle casserole, or latkes. Flake it over a salad or into any pasta dish, even adding it to soups or casseroles. Canned clams can make a frugal knockoff clam chowder, clam linguini, or top a pizza with them.

Boxed mac n cheese has all kinds of additives, fake cheese-like product, preservatives, and colorants.

You are better off cooking a box of actual pasta, and adding in a block of actual cheese to make your mac n cheese. But if even $3 is out of your price range (1 box pasta + 1 block cheese + 1 bottle milk) then the boxed kind will keep your belly full for a while.

Boxed pasta salad mixes are also not really worth the “extras”, which includes anti-caking agents, dehydrated flakes, “flavoring”, etc.

Just make a box of pasta, and add a bag of frozen peppers & onion mix. If you have one more dollar, get Italian dressing and mix it in too. It will taste better and be better for you, with actual vegetable pieces.

As mentioned above, if you have enough wiggle room in the budget to add dressing, Italian is my favorite. It is very versatile, bringing flavor to pasta salads, actual lettuce salads, or roasted chicken.

The Dollar Tree does not have any fresh produce, so we won’t have any real salad to go with it… but it does perk up pasta salads well, and is great over steamed frozen veggies.

For your baking needs, they do have smaller packages of salt, sugar, flour, and even shredded coconut. If I was on a super-tight budget, shredded coconut would not top my list. But if you have room and enjoy its taste, it is a great addition to oatmeal, soups, and baking.

Flour and water together can lead to your own super-frugal tortillas for your bean and rice burritos.

You can whip up you own naan for scooping curry and chili.

And if you can get ahold of any yeast, or a fermented sourdough starter, you can be well on your way to homemade bread, biscuits, pizza dough, and rolls as well.

For $1, this is a decent size jar of jelly. It makes me cringe just a little to see the high fructose corn syrup and how much sugar per serving is in there, jam made with actual fruit would be so much better.

But, again, this is about survival.

Food that will fill bellies and keep kids happy (or yourself) while keeping the lights on and gas in the car.

So when a PB&J is the compromise, you need the J part. It can also make a great topping for biscuits, toast, or pancakes.

Dollar Tree shelves - peanut butter

And of course the PB part of a PBJ. I was a little disappointed to see how small these jars were… 10 oz compared to jelly’s 19 oz. Can you tell we subsidize corn syrup in this country and not peanuts?

Oh, and if you have peanut allergies, well, tough luck. There is nothing fancy like almond butter or sunbutter options here.

I was pleasantly surprised at the wide variety of bread options!

Obviously, making your own without sugar or preservatives is healthier. But who has time for that nonsense between jobs and childcare?

At least you can choose whole wheat bread and rolls, and they even had a really nice looking multigrain option. For $1, this is actually much cheaper than a regular grocery store.

If you’re on a very limited budget, I highly recommend you switch to water as your main, or only beverage.

Actually I recommend that in general.

Water is the healthiest liquid you could drink, and has the added benefit of being free and clean from your very own tap. 24/7.

However, sometimes a warm or sweet beverage can be a needed pick me up, and I get that.

I noticed they had pre-cooked pizza crusts, and pizza sauce and small pepperonis. Any processed meat like sausage, pepperoni, etc. is not the best. But if you are going to have pizza anyways, making your own is FAR healthier and cheaper than going out. Even a $5 hot-and-ready is $5 compared to $3 to make your own.

In the refrigerated section, you will find 8-count eggs and yogurt. If you and your family does eat dairy, a 4-pack of yogurt for $1 is a pretty good deal, and will provide calories and some protein. Eggs are a good cheap source of protein. Though sometimes you can find better deals at ‘regular stores’, we are assuming there isn’t one.

 

The Meal Plan

I designed this plan to serve 2 people with average adult appetites for 3 meals for 7 days.

This may not apply to you, and you may need to change the amounts a little if you have little kids, or hungry teens, or a large family, or more or less meals per week to provide.

Scale up or down accordingly.

It is also designed with the least amount of cooking required as possible, which is not the best financial move.

But I understand that when times are tough and time is tight, making things from scratch is not the priority.

Grocery List:
  • 1 pack of 8 eggs
  • 1lb margerine sticks or a bottle of oil
  • 1 box mac n cheese (or 1 box pasta, 1 small jug of milk, and 1 block of cheddar cheese)
  • 1 box pancake mix
  • 1 bag frozen fruit: tropical blend, strawberries, mango
  • 4 bags frozen vegetables: stir fry blend, spinach, broccoli, California blend in 10, 12, or 14 oz
  • 3 cans sliced pineapple, mangoes, oranges, peaches, or pears
  • 3 – 1 lb pasta boxes, any shape you like
  • 1 34 oz pasta sauce can
  • 1 bag of 2 lbs white rice, or 1lb brown rice
  • At least 1 bag: 1.5 lbs pinto beans, kidney beans, black eyed peas
  • 1 16oz can or bottle tomato juice
  • Bottle of chili powder
  • 10 oz peanut butter
  • 19 oz jelly
  • 2 loaves of bread
  • 1 can tuna
  • 1 can cream of mushroom
  • 1 pizza base
  • Optional beverages: tea, coffee, hot cocoa, hot cider
  • Optional snacks: granola bars, 25.4 oz jar applesauce, yogurts
  • Optional seasonings: Italian blend, garlic salt, soy sauce

Grocery total: $27 (+ depending on your optional choices)

Day One

B – 2 eggs scrambled per person, plus toast

L – PB&J sandwiches

D – Make a big pot of chili

Day Two

B – Toast with PB and/or jelly, 1/2 can fruit

L – leftover chili

D – Mac n cheese using the box, or 1 box pasta + cheese

Day Three

B – Fruit pancakes (make a big batch, and refrigerate enough for the next 2 days)

L – Chili mac! Top leftover macaroni with leftover chili. Very filling.

D – Red beans & rice

Day Four

B – Leftover pancakes – you can pop them in the toaster to reheat!

L –  Leftover red beans & rice

D – Pasta with veggies (save about 1/2 cup sauce for pizza)

Day Five

B – Leftover pancakes

L – Leftover pasta with veggies

D – Pizza night! To make it extra healthy, microwave a bag of frozen mixed vegetables and drain. Top pizza with sauce and veggies, then bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Day Six

B – 1/2 can of fruit plus toast (with PB) per person

L –  PB&J

D – Veggie stir fry

Day Seven

B – 1/2 can of fruit plus toast (with PB) per person

L – Leftover stir fry or anything else left in the fridge

D – Tuna noodle casserole

 

How Do I Make That:

Vegetarian chili: 2-3 cans different beans (or ~4 cups from dried), 1 can diced tomatoes or bottle tomato juice, chili powder = $4. Put all ingredients in a slow cooker on low 6-8 hours, or simmer on stove top for about 1 hour up to 4 hours, stirring often to prevent burning.

Macaroni and cheese: 1 box pasta, 1 block cheese, 1 small jar milk = $3. Boil pasta noodles and drain. Return noodles to the pan, add the cheese (cutting into smaller pieces or shredding will help it melt faster) and 1/2 cup milk. Stir on medium heat until cheese melts. You can also add a bag of frozen mixed veggies for extra nutrition.

Fruit pancakes: 1 bag or can fruit + 1 box pancake mix = $2
Either drain a can of fruit & chop into small pieces, or microwave 1 cup of frozen fruit and drain. Add to the pancake batter in place of some liquid. For example, if you need 1 cup of water, add 1 cup fruit and about 1/3 cup water instead. Adjust liquid to your desired batter thickness. Cook on hot pan or griddle until brown, flip and cook the other side.

Red beans & rice: Cook 2 cups rice, cook 2 cups beans (or 1 can pinto /kidney), optional 1 cup frozen pepper & onion mix = $3. The key to this one is to simmer on low for a long time. It makes the beans break down a bit and thicken, add some chili powder for extra kick.

Pasta with sauce & veggies: 1 box pasta, 1 bag frozen mixed veggies, 1 can pasta sauce = $3. Boil pasta according to directions, add frozen veggies at the last 3-5 minutes to thaw. Drain, add sauce.

Pizza: thin crust, bag pepperoni, (optional) mozzarella cheese sticks or shredded cheese, can of sauce = $4. Top crust with sauce, toppings, and cheese if using. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Stir fry: rice, frozen mixed veggies, 2 eggs = $3. Cook 2 cups of rice and set aside. Microwave or boil veggies to thaw and cook. Scramble 2 eggs, and mix into the rice. Top with veggies. Soy sauce optional.

Peanut butter & jelly: 2 slices bread, 2 tbsp peanut butter, 2 tbsp jelly = $4 (not quite, because you only use 2 slices bread not the whole loaf)

Tuna noodle casserole: 1 can tuna (drained), 1 can cream of mushroom soup, 1/2 box pasta: $3. Mix together and either bake at 350 for 20 minutes or just stir together while pasta is still hot. For extra nutrition, add a thawed bag of frozen mixed vegetables.

 

And there you have it, 3 meals per day for 7 days for 2 people, or 42 meals for just $27 or just 64 cents per serving.

You can also at any point make a big pot of vegetable soup with a bag or two of frozen mixed veggies and stock or water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes to a few hours, adding whatever spices you like. This can be easily just a few cents per serving, and you can add rice and/or beans or serve with bread/rolls to bulk it up further.

Yes, it is quite carb heavy and not the healthiest ever. But you have to do what you have to do sometimes. And sneaking in some canned fruits and frozen veggies is better than pop-tarts, or nothing!

 

Please share with the class! What are your classic frugal meal ideas? Have you ever experienced hard times? Is this at all realistic and useful?

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