Tag Archives: meal plan

Weekly Eating – 7/17

 

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!

Monday:

Breakfast – yogurt bowl with fresh cherries, crushed almonds, and chia seeds. Let me tell you, there is nothing quite so delicious as fresh bing cherries in the summer! But boy are they a pain to cut up and remove the pits, plus my finger tips are red for hours… almost as bad as beets…

Lunch – can of Progresso soup in my desk drawer. This is why you should always have some “backup” lunches, in case you forget yours. This can I got on sale for $1 saved me $5-10 at the cafeteria.

Dinner – the world’s most amazing tomato soup & grilled cheese! You’ll just have to check BE’s Facebook for the recipe…

Snack – these delicious brownies, with a healthy secret! ¬†ūüėČ

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Cinnamon raisin bagel thin with almond butter & cut up apples. Easy, filling breakfast on the go.

Lunch Рwhole wheat turkey cheddar wrap with homemade refrigerator pickles & mustard

Dinner – chicken enchiladas

Snack – hummus with raw veg, cottage cheese

Wednesday:

Breakfast – cinnamon raisin bagel with almond butter

Lunch – turkey wrap with cheddar & pickles

Dinner – Crock pot chili

This was a low-key and boring day, because I worked late (to make up extra hours) and it was our last night together. I wanted something stress free so we could maximize the few hours we had before early bedtime. I have to be up and out the door early because…

Thursday –¬†The Weekend:

I will be at the beach, celebrating mommy dearest’s birthday!

We have been planning and looking forward to this for a long time, I’m super stoked it’s finally here. We will be staying at the home of a friend of hers too, so super double bonus savings!

Don’t worry, I’m not going to leave hubby to starve or blow tons of cash on takeout and pizza… keep reading below.

Total:  $70.44

My goal is to keep this number under $100 all the time, and eventually get down to $75/week for food.

This was a great week for not spending! I went to ALDI and stocked up on tons of staples and fresh produce and even cheese, all for about seventy bucks. I love that store so much. And much of it hasn’t even been used this week (due to me going out of town) so that homemade pizza with fresh mozzarella will have to wait until next week, hopefully bringing down next week’s total!

Lessons Learned

It’s always a good idea to plan ahead! Since I will be gone for a while, and don’t want hubby to starve to death, I made sure to have foods I know he likes to make and eat in the house. We have all the fixings for burritos, I made extra-large batches of dinners I know he will love for leftovers, plus a few freezer meals. Hopefully he remembers to feed both the dogs and himself while I’m gone ¬†ūüôā

Double batch of enchiladas to survive the weekend

Also, it is a great idea to plan ahead for vacation foods! I intend to pack a small cooler full of travel snacks, like string cheese, homemade KIND bars, and raw fruit and vegetables. My breakfast will be ready to go along with a cold brew coffee, so I can just grab them on the way out the door, and not waste time and money on a drive through.

Anything I don’t eat on the way will be safe in the house we are staying at for snacking throughout the week. We will also probably go to a local grocery store as one of the first items of business to get some staples to have around the house. We don’t want to impose on our gracious hosts too much!

Finally, plan for vacations financially. I am fully expecting to eat several great meals out, and get some splurge items on the beach (pineapple drinks anyone??). Thus, I made sure to eat a little lighter this week, and will next week too in order to make up for the calorie splurge, and have a budget which I am not allowed to go over for food and drinks. That way, I can relax and not stress at all! I know that the money I’m spending is planned for and guilt free.

 

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

Weekly Eating #3 – 7/2

 

 

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!

Monday:

Breakfast – microwaved 2 scrambled eggs on top of an everything Bagel Thin and slice of cheddar cheese. Homemade “mocha latte” (coffee + hot cocoa mix + milk, blended)

Lunch – leftover stir fry

Dinner – BBQ pulled pork mac-n-chili (?) This was a weird idea I had to use up several leftovers. 1/2 lb cooked penne, 1 cup bbq pulled pork, 1 cup pinto beans, 1 whole shredded yellow squash, 1 cup shredded cheddar, 2 tbsp butter and a splash of milk. Luckily for us, it turned out really delicious!

Snack – fresh cherries, hummus + cucumber/carrots

Tuesday: Fourth of July!

Breakfast – kind of slept in and skipped this part, mostly just had coffee, and then early lunch

Lunch – chicken, broccoli, rice casserole: this is ridiculously simple, and came out amazingly delicious! Layer chopped broccoli, mushrooms, 1/2 cup rice, and shredded chicken. Add 1/2 cup stock and 1/2 cup milk, and cheddar cheese. Top with some more broccoli, cover in foil and bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes. Done!

Dinner – leftover buffet

The holiday was nice and relaxing, we got some laundry done, played some games and I finished a book. I did also bake up some red velvet cupcakes with blueberry cream cheese frosting! I made way too many, so I took a few plates to our neighbors ¬†ūüôā

Wednesday:

Breakfast – peach smoothie: 2 peaches, 2 bananas, 1 cup yogurt, 1 cup orange juice

Lunch – out with a work colleague; rosemary chicken panini

Dinner – chicken and dumplings with some of my homemade foccacia

Snacks – brown rice cakes

Thursday:

Breakfast – homemade yogurt with peaches and granola

Lunch – slow cooker “refrigerator soup”. Basically I chopped up all the veggies about to spoil, added some lentils & quinoa, salsa and homemade chicken stock in a small slow cooker on high all day in my cube. By noon, the whole office smells AMAZING and I get a nice hot, filling, super healthy and super frugal lunch.

Dinner – ravioli per hubby’s request

Friday:

Breakfast – parfait with fresh peaches, yogurt, and 1 smashed up Nature Valley Oats & Honey bar

Lunch – pasta salad

Dinner – stir friday: pork! You may wonder, why stir-Friday every week? Doesn’t that get boring? Well, no definitely not because there are so many options! And the reason is simple: it’s delicious and super frugal. It gives me the chance to use up whatever bits of veggies are in the fridge, so that I don’t throw them out.

The Weekend:

On Saturday we just hung out, cleaned inside and outside a bit, and then hosted a dinner party.

I made a recipe from my sister-in-law for a knock-your-socks-off delicious summer salad with arugula, cheese, macademia nuts (from a friend’s family farm in S America!), corn, craisins, and baked salmon. I’m drooling just thinking about it! I made some lime-ade for the drivers, and some tropical rum punch for whoever wanted it. ¬†ūüôā

Total:  $116.91

My goal is to keep this number under $100 all the time, and eventually get down to $75/week for food.

Oops… This is why I’m not allowed to go to grocery stores by myself anymore…

In my defense, I did stock up on several staples I will not use this week alone, like pasta, lentils, pearled couscous, 3 loaves of multigrain bread for 0.99 that I will freeze, brown rice, sliced cheese. We also were running low on doggy teeth-cleaning treats for the pups, and that is included in the total.

Lessons Learned

I did a pretty good job of using up weird bits of leftovers and creating new meals, so that was a definite plus! But, I also let the grocery gremlin get me, and tell me that “these sales are way too good, you definitely need to stock up on 5 kinds of pasta, more salad than you can actually eat in one week, $10 of beer, and the pups are so cute they totally deserve $20 worth of treats!” All we can do is learn from it, and do better next week.

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

Weekly eating #2 – 6/26

 

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 me on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting. Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

Monday:

Breakfast – a piece of spinach/zucchini strata I made on Sunday, half an heirloom tomato with salt, and a handful of blueberries from the Farmers Market

Lunch Рthe last leftovers of the One Pan Buffalo Chicken Potato Bake

Dinner – Burgers (from the freezer) with fresh tomatoes, roasted cabbage quarters and zucchini/sweet potato fries

Snack – cut up honeydew and cantaloupe from Farmers Market

Tuesday:

Breakfast – homemade KIND nut bar

Snack – coconut almond yogurt flip

Lunch – free Margarita pizza at a work event!

Dinner – BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, roasted cabbage, & corn from the Durham Farmers Market

Wednesday:

Breakfast Рhomemade yogurt  with blueberries, walnuts, & agave

Lunch Рleftover white fish over brown rice with homemade salsa on top & sauteed zucchini

Dinner – hamburger stew in the crockpot (freezer meal!)

Snacks – homemade KIND nut bar

Thursday:

Breakfast – homemade yogurt with a cut up fresh peach, walnuts, and agave

Lunch – black beans & rice with salsa from Farmers Market. It was so tasty last week, I had to make it again! This may be a new favorite.

Dinner -Stir Friday! (What?!) Chicken fried rice stir fry with zucchini, onion, and cabbage. We ended up planning dinner with friends for Friday, so today’s planned mac-n-cheese got the boot, and we moved Stir Friday to Stir Thursday! … Stirsday?

Friday:

Breakfast – smoothie: 2 bananas, 2 peaches, 1 cup of homemade yogurt, OJ, and protein powder. MAN, fresh peaches really make a smoothie sing! This may be my favorite breakfast all week. I slurped it down so fast I didn’t even get a picture ¬†ūüėČ

Lunch – baked sweet potato with black beans and salsa, blueberries

Dinner – pasta & meatballs, with garlic bread & salad

Snack – hummus with carrots & cucumbers

The Weekend:

Breakfast – 1 egg + 2 egg white omelet with leftover zucchini & sweet potato from Monday & tomato

Brunch – Dim Sum!¬†After Saturday morning rooftop yoga (yup, I’m totally hooked on this now), we went to Hong Kong Dim Sum in Durham. Cozy, quaint little place with deeeeelicious food!

Dinner – Leftover pasta & roast chicken. Will shred the rest of the meat for next week, and make stock in the crock pot overnight.

I’m also using the whey from making my own yogurt to attempt my first ciabatta bread! We will see how that goes… ¬†Sunday will be something with the leftover chicken most likely, and depending on weather a soup or a big salad.

Total:  $33.62

My goal is to keep this number under $100 all the time, and eventually get down to $75/week for food.

Lessons Learned

We did stay pretty close to our meal plan this week, which is great! I see meal plans as a simple guideline, but we often switch things up, like on Thursday we had mac n cheese on the plan, but swapped stir fry to make room for a different dinner Friday. I also try to leave at least one night a week for a ‘leftover buffet’ or take-out meal.

I spent very little at the store this week, I was quite proud of myself for sticking to the list and the budget! I have a bad habit of being unable to help myself around sales and produce… but I did it! And at the farmers market, I did spend $5 on fresh heirloom tomatoes, but by golly that is a worthwhile expense. The little yellowgold cherry tomatoes were so sweet and perfect I nommed nearly half the container at my desk before I even got them home.

Although…. confession time. ALDI had a 3L box of summer sangria on sale for $9.99 this week! I couldn’t not buy it, so $20 of that total may have been wine. And I don’t regret it one smidge, it was DELICIOUS! I need like 20 more haha

 

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

Weekly Eating #1: 6/19

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the first edition of the new 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.

 

Monday:

Breakfast – 1 egg + egg whites omelet with the last 2 mini bell peppers, diced onion leftover from quesadillas & spinach

Lunch – leftover noodle stir fry with tofu & a soy sauce packet I found in my desk drawer

Dinner – 1-pan pork chops, broccoli & sweet potato fries (OMG delish! Recipe coming soon)

So simple, so delicious, and like 5 second clean up!

Snack: Popcorn! It’s no secret I’m a huge popcorn addict, but the homemade stove-top-popped stuff is WAY cheaper and (mostly) healthier¬†so I don’t feel bad about eating a giant bowl full. I make a big batch, and pack it up in Zip-locks for days of happy snacking.

Tuesday:

Breakfast – drive thru breakfast wrap. Sometimes, you just cannot morning.

Snack – coconut almond Greek yogurt flip (I know, packaged brands are WAY too expensive but guys, seriously, this is SO GOOD! My mother-in-law got me hooked. I promise, I’m gonna try to find a way to make it myself cheaper, but for now, forgive me my guilty indulgence.) ¬†UPDATE: I did it! And so can you!

Lunch Рleftover slow cooker black beans & rice & salsa from a weekend party. This was basically free because it was all bits of leftovers that ended up being amazing all together

Dinner – pasta with vodka pink sauce, leftover bread sticks, salad. The sauce was a little pizza sauce leftover from Saturday’s pizza night plus a 1/3 jar of alfredo rattling around the fridge with a tbsp of pasta cooking water to thin. I love using up all the bits of things to make something new and delicious! Plus not throwing away food makes my heart sing.

(Although, my heart later broke because I threw out a 1/2 pan of homemade tiramisu :,( We just didn’t eat it fast enough, and it got stale and dried out and gross. Mreow. Also tossed 1/2 a shortcake a friend had gotten me because strawberries aren’t green. And fuzzy.)

Wednesday:

Breakfast – everything Bagel Thin with 1 tbsp cream cheese

Lunch – miso soup. Honestly, I just had a couple chunks of tofu left from last week’s stir-Friday that I didn’t want to go to waste. And I¬†keep a tub of miso in the fridge (it lasts basically forever) so I just stirred a tbsp into some water, added the tofu and the last few sheets from a seaweed snack pack (yes I’m a weirdo but that stuff is addictive!) and called it lunch.

On a whim, I sliced a couple super thin pieces of onion to add (red, since I didn’t have green) and that was a great decision! It was warm and tasty at my desk on a rainy day.

Dinner – One Pan Buffalo Chicken Potato Bake using leftover chicken I had cooked in the crockpot on Sunday. I did half sweet potatoes and half white potatoes with a bag of frozen “California mix” veggies (cauliflower, broccoli & carrots), Ranch dressing, hot sauce, and cheddar cheese.

Guys, this stuff is so freaking good, I had to have seconds!
Sorry not sorry.

OMG. Can’t. Even.

Snacks – hummus, carrots & cucumber slices

Oh, and the hospital where I work has a Farmers Market every Wednesday! How cool is that?! I got a pint of a mixture of delicious heirloom cherry tomatoes, an itty bitty adorable cauliflower, and a big ol zucchini.

Thursday:

Brekfast – 1/2 a big homemade KIND nut bar

Lunch – leftover¬†One Pan Buffalo Chicken Potato Bake. I can’t believe we demolished a 9×13 pan in 2 days… oh wait, yes I can. There’s a reason that’s my #1 post!

Snack – other half of the KIND bar (I brought hard boiled eggs, but turns out they were so old they became mushy by noon, and smelled awful. Whoops! It made me sad but I threw them out rather than risk food poisoning.)

Dinner – Chicken enchiladas! I had some roasted cauliflower from the market yesterday, and literally microwaved a cup of spinach to have on the side. Delicious and quite filling.

Friday:

Breakfast – cherry berry smoothie: frozen cherries + strawberries, 2 bananas (about to go bad), 1 cup orange juice, 1 scoop unflavored protein powder, 1 cup spinach. Blend for a long time until smooth.

Hubby loves waking up to a smoothie beside the bed! And I love sneaking in a serving of veggies before 9am ¬†ūüėČ

Lunch – Panzanella with leftover homemade bread from last week, cucumber & cherry tomatoes from the farmer’s market.

This is a great example of a frugal use of leftovers, because who enjoys stale bread? But this way, the juices from the tomatoes and cucumber and olive oil (or Italian dressing) soaks in and mixes together with some fresh basil and spices it becomes a whole new delicious meal. I tossed in half an avocado too, because, duh.

Dinner – Stir Friday! This week we had garlic shrimp. AND I made my own Yum Yum Sauce! Sure did. If you haven’t had it, it totally lives up to its name.

I could probably eat half my weight in stir fried rice. For reals.

Saturday:

Breakfast – microwaved some spinach & egg whites, and put it on an everything Bagel Thin for a light, healthy breakfast before I went to a really cool rooftop yoga class downtown

Brunch – after yoga I met up with some friends to wander the Durham Farmers Market, and then we got a delicious brunch at Scratch. Oh, and the bacon jam, is totally my jam!

The Duck Egg Sandwich was outta this world, and the rosemary lemonade was so tasty it inspired me to go home and create some more fruity & refreshing beverages.

Blackberry mint lemonade (with berries from the market) and rosemary lemonade (with rosemary from my front yard!)

Dinner – Tacos at a friends house! Good food, good people, wine from Unique Pairings¬†(which, if you’re ever in Myrtle Beach, definitely stop by!), and games combine for a splendid way to spend a summer evening. And all the food was provided, I just brought 2 bottles of vino!

Sunday:

To be determined, but I definitely plan to use up some of the goodies I got at the farmer’s market. Maybe a quiche or strata.

I’m also going to spend some time today making next week’s meal plan, using all the delicious fresh produce and trying to clear some space in our freezer. I’m aiming to not buy anything else food-wise this week except maybe some bananas (for the hubby’s addiction).

ALL THE PRODUCE!!! Nomnomnom

Total: ~$98

This is a rough estimate, because at markets where I use mostly cash it gets hard to keep track. Plus I buy things on sale or clearance and freeze or otherwise store for later use, so ‘weekly’ cost averaging can be tough.

For grocery stores, I only bought yogurt and milk and bananas this week, which is great. And I’m okay with spending a little more on fresh produce to support my local farmers! <3

My goal is to keep this number under $100 all the time, and eventually get down to $75/week for food.

Lessons Learned

So it seems this week was great in that we used up a lot of little bits and ends of leftovers, but we were also pretty wasteful with food. There were several things left over from parties that ended up in the trash. We aren’t big on sweets anyways, so we rarely buy or make them, and this just reinforces that knowledge.

When I make a big batch of something (like hard boiled eggs) I need to make sure I actually use it all up before it goes bad. I wouldn’t throw a $5 bill in the trash, but that’s exactly what I’m doing when I toss out old food.

 

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week? Off to make a meal plan for next week!

Freezer Smoothie Packs

 

We all know mom always said breakfast is the most important meal of the day.¬† But we all know that sometimes it is the hardest meal of the day. It’s too early, we don’t have time, we can’t think of anything that sounds good, you don’t want to cook… the list of excuses goes on and on.

It’s hard to come up with something that is tasty, healthy, and also can be made in the 5 minutes you have before you rush out the door for the day.

Don’t worry dear reader, I’ve got your back.

Smoothie packs ready for the freezer

Enter: the freezer smoothie pack.

Just a few minutes of prep ahead of time on a weekend and you can have a whole week’s worth of healthy, on-the-go breakfasts ready and waiting in your freezer. These little bags are such a simple yet brilliant answer to the morning breakfast rush. And boy, are they customizable! All you really need is a good handful of greens, a fruit or two or three, and some baggies.

In the morning, just grab one bag, toss it in the blender with enough liquid (milk, almond milk, coconut water, tea, juice, whatever you like), blend and go. And if you have the kind of blender that makes single servings and you drink right out of it, your morning could not BE any simpler!

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For each smoothie pack, you will need:

  • 1 medium zip-top baggie
  • 1/2 – 1 cup greens (spinach, beet greens, kale, collards, etc)
  • 1/2 – 1 banana
  • 1/2 – 1 cup chopped other fruits

You can try just about anything in these freezer bags. It makes a great answer to almost-mushy fruits in the fridge, halves of things left over, and whatever fruits are in season and on sale. I used peaches, pears, bananas, local blueberries, and avocado. I also had half a pineapple and some beet greens from my garden, so I tossed those into a few bags as well.

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Step 1: Wash, peel, and cut up your fruits as needed. You can also slice your greens into smaller pieces to make blending easier.

Smoothie pack and blender

Step 2: Toss your baggies into the freezer. That’s it! When you are ready for a super quick healthy breakfast (or lunch, or snack, or dessert…) pour the contents of the bag into a blender, and add your liquid of choice. I like green tea for a gentle caffeine kick, or almond milk for some creamy smoothness.

Enjoy!

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One Week of Meals from One Pork Roast

 

Do you ever wish you had more time?¬† Do you feel like you spend too much time at the grocery store, or in the kitchen, or waiting for delivery? Does you bank account look emptier because of all the ordering out you do?¬† Do you want an easy way to make a week’s worth of homemade meals, for less than $100, with minimal prep and cook time from one grocery trip?

I thought so. Here is your answer!

This post is created to show you how to get a week’s worth of dinners (with some leftovers for lunches too) from a single 4 pound pork roast.¬† All recipes easily feed 2 adults, with many recipes making much more food for leftovers and re-make meals.

By planning ahead to use one main dish all throughout the week, you can get creative and ensure that none of your food dollars get wasted by literally throwing them away. You will save time throughout the week by not having to go to the grocery store to pick up “just one or two things” and not having to worry what to make for dinner, it’s already planned out. And you can eat healthy, whole food, home cooked meals all week long!

Here is the list of recipes you will be making if you follow this plan:

As far as cooking equipment, you will need at least a frying pan, and preferably a slow cooker. You can slow cook the pork in the oven, and make the casserole in the oven as well, but that requires slightly more hands-on time from you. The full grocery list can be found at the bottom of the post, and you can go to individual recipes by clicking on the links throughout.

The first thing you’re going to need to do is assess your pantry and freezer situation.¬† If you have plenty of Italian dressing, some frozen mixed veggies, noodles, and plenty of spices, you’re already halfway there on this week’s grocery list. Then make your list of what you still need to make the recipes, and head to the store.

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You will need to pick up a nice pork loin roast, or other pork roast. I recommend 3-5 pounds for 2 adults for one week’s worth of meals.¬† You can adjust to larger or smaller sizes if feeding a larger crowd, or just one, or if you wish to double recipes or omit certain recipes this week.

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Once you have your pork roast, use a sharp knife to cut 2-4 pork chops off the end. You can also ask your butcher to do so if you go to a regular grocery store. These pork chops can be frozen for later depending on when you want to make the Italian Pork Chops.

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Once you have your chops cut, take about 1 pound off the remaining roast. This will be diced up into cubes.  You can also freeze these chunks for later, depending on when you want to make the Pork Lo Mein Stir Fry.

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As for the remainder of the roast, put that guy into your crock pot.¬† This is gonna become one delicious, fall-apart pot of BBQ Pulled Pork. If you’re game, add a sliced onion and a can of beer, then cook on low for 8-10 hours or high at least 4 hours.

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Shred the pork roast with two forks.  I recommend removing half of the meat to a container in the refrigerator, and adding 1 cup BBQ sauce to the rest and cooking another hour on low.

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Now you have about a pound each of plain pulled pork and BBQ pulled pork! Plus 2-4 chops, and a pound of diced pork in the freezer. And that’s after less than an hour total of hands-on prep time.

Now you can use the shredded plain or BBQ pork for:

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Pulled Pork Burritoes (above) or Quesadillas:

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And slow cooker pork and rice and broccoli casserole:

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And the diced pork chunks for a delicious homemade lo mein:

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And the best part is, you can choose when to make these recipes and in what order, because the pork chops, diced pork, and shredded cooked pork all freeze very well. You can turn these into breakfast and lunch too, pulled pork omelettes are great, as are BBQ pulled pork sandwiches on nice thick buns.  Enjoy!

 

Full Grocery List

  • 1 4-5 pound pork roast
  • 1 cup Italian dressing
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • Frozen or fresh vegetables of your choice
  • 1 cup BBQ sauce (or more, to taste)
  • 1 package tortillas
  • ~1 cup white or brown rice
  • 1 can beans (black or pinto)
  • 1 package lo mein noodles
  • Soy sauce
  • Shredded cheese
  • Fresh or frozen broccoli
  • 1 cup milk (optional)
  • Burrito toppings – sour cream, guac, salsa, etc.

And seriously, that’s it! I guarantee you can buy all of these items for under $100 (at least everywhere I’ve lived from Colorado to Connecticut).

 

Also, if you’ve read this far and you’re curious, I also have a post explaining all the cuts of a pig. So next time you go to the store, you can know the difference between a rump roast, shoulder roast, and a loin. ūüôā

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January Pantry Challenge

 

Wow, so February starts in just a few hours, 2016 is already 1/12th over!  How are you all doing with those new years resolutions?  Been to the gym every day, stuck to a calorie goal, finances in ship-shape, in fact taxes have already been filed?  Yeah, me too.

Just kidding!

I don’t really do the resolution thing, because it is far too easy to set yourself up to fail. ¬†I am more a believer in long-term goals with short-term goals break down. ¬†By taking a big life goal, solidifying your reason for desiring it, and then breaking it down into smaller, easily achievable goals, you set yourself up for continual personal improvement. ¬†Plus you have the ability to look back and see what worked and what didn’t, and tweak or change your goals if your lifestyle and desires have changed.

This is the final post in a series of a challenge I set for myself Jan 1st, to cook out of my pantry/freezer and only spend $20 per week on fresh groceries. ¬†Below are the first three week’s summaries:

Week 1 Recap
Week 2 Recap
Week 3 Recap

This final week, I was surprised at how quickly this month had flown by. ¬†When I did my one grocery stop, it felt like more than enough. ¬†I think I have adjusted to fewer grocery store trips, which is likely a very good thing. ¬†Looking back at the past few weeks’ lists, I realized I still had 3 out of 4 kiwis in the refrigerator. ¬†I also had to throw out half the cucumber because it went to mush before I could slice & eat it. ¬†Other than that, I have done quite well with not buying too much or wasting produce.

Fruit/Veg $11.96 Meats $3.29
Celery 1lb $2.49 2/3 lb ham $3.29
Ginger root $0.30 Dairy $5.35
3lb oranges $3.77 White cheese $1.48
Bananas (8) $1.35 Organic yogurt $3.87
Avocados (2) $2.00
Collard greens $2.05 Total $20.60

 

This week I got brave and bought a head of collards, because I know they are chock full of chlorophyll and good stuff.  I chopped up a few leaves to toss into salads, some of the leaves got blended into a sauce for the gnocchi, leaves were added to soup, and one day for lunch I used the leaf as a wrap for tuna salad.  I also ended up getting a small pack of ham and some white cheese to make sandwiches for my fiancee for lunch.

White Bean, Sausage, & Collards Soup

Jan 23 – Pork ribs & baked potato soup
Jan 24 – Leftover stuffed shells for lunch, pork chops, Spanish rice & salad
Jan 25 – Buffalo chicken sandwiches
Jan 26 – Butternut squash gnocchi
Jan 27 – Sausage, white bean, & collard greens soup
Jan 28 –¬†Lasagna¬†with spinach
Jan 29 – Leftover lasagna
Jan 30 – Leftover pizza, buffalo chicken on salad

AS for the budgeting part of the challenge, not counting the couple of times we had meals outside the home, the total I went over is: $3.30 + $2.34 + $1.08 + $0.60 = $7.32

Which means a total of $87.32 for all the “fresh” groceries the entire month of January. ¬†Not bad at all. ¬†I don’t think realistically I can keep that up for many more months beyond this, but it is a good illustration of how much having a stocked pantry can help, especially in case of a natural or financial emergency. ¬†Now I know that if something catastrophic were to happen, or the fiancee and/or I were to lose a job and we had to really tighten our belts, the pantry I normally keep can indeed see us through.

 

How about you, any resolutions or goals you are keeping, or struggling with?  Feel free to share!

 

Welcome to 2016!

 

Happy New Year dear readers!

Time goes by so quickly, does it not? ¬†Now is the time to reflect back on 2015, and look ahead to 2016. ¬†What good things happened last year? ¬†What do you want more of in your life this year? ¬†Now is the time to assess what worked and what didn’t, and what changes need to be made to make your life more of what you want it to be.

As you reflect on the past 365 days, assess all the areas of your life: health, finances, and relationships.

HEALTH

Health can include your general fitness level, your diet, how often and what types of exercise you do, your visits to any doctors or dentists.  Do you see a general practitioner for a once yearly physical exam?  Do you see a dentist for cleanings every 6 months?

Take an honest look at your diet, your snacks, “grazing”, portion sizes. ¬†No one will know but you so there’s no reason to not be honest. ¬†How closely does your current diet over the past year reflect your ideal eating habits?

What steps can you take to improve this year?

FINANCES

Finances should cover how much you make from your main job and/or business, income from other side jobs or seasonal jobs, income from investments, as well as outgoing money.

How much do you spend per year, per month?  What do you spend your money on?  Can you lower any fixed expenses, negotiate a better payment on your cell phone, rent, utilities, or a better bank rate if your credit improved?  Can you take on a side job, baby sit, start a blog?

I recommend hitting the library and taking out finance books, or reading finance blogs. There is a HUGE wealth of information out there to help, no matter what your situation. ¬†Whatever the problem, credit card debt, school loan payments, default, bankruptcy, divorce, or just general money management, you don’t have to figure it out alone.

RELATIONSHIPS

As for relationships, this spans everything from work to friends to family to spirituality.  And most importantly, your relationship with yourself.

If you have family members with whom you do not have a good relationship, ask yourself why.  What can you do to mend those relationships?  Do you need to forgive, or ask for forgiveness?  Do you need to show compassion or interest?

Are you happy with your current friends?  If not, think of ways to bring the kind of people you want to be around into your life.  Maybe you could join a book club or sports group, or hang out in libraries or take a dance lesson.

Do you love yourself?  Do you know what makes you happy, and take the time to do those things?  When you are fulfilled and happy and joyful, you are more able to give and love others.

 

My 2016 Resolution?

I have decided I will challenge myself to not buy any pantry staples for the month of January.  At first, I thought about trying to live solely from what I already have in the house, but then after discussing with Mister Epicurean, I realized we need certain staples that basically must be bought fresh.  Mostly yogurts (which he goes through about 7-10 per week), milk/creamer, and fresh veggies.  I can rely heavily on frozen and canned produce this month, but I do like having fresh salads and adding things like avocado to burritos.

Therefore, the challenge this month would be to meal plan and cook out of my freezer & pantry, and to have only $20 per week of “fresh” foods budget. ¬†Our average food budget monthly is $400, so to cut that down to 1/5 is pretty great! ¬†Of course, that $400 usually includes “stock up” purchases, such as when canned beans were on sale last week for $0.49, and I bought a case.

This challenge has several purposes:

  • Help clear out space in the freezer & pantry
  • Evaluate what I buy too much of, or not enough of
  • Challenge my creativity in making meals
  • Save us significant money on groceries

By doing a pantry-clear-out challenge, it will help me to realize I have a lot more food hiding in plain sight that I thought. We all have those half-boxes of pasta, a can of corn shoved behind something else, some spices or condiments bought for a recipe but never used, or used once.  Now is the time to reach back into all the dark corners of the cupboards, and down to the bottom of the freezer, and see what can be used.

This month will also help me to see what I have stocked up on far too much, and what we use more often than I thought that I could consider stocking more of. ¬†For example, if I think I have more than enough canned tomatoes, and we run out by week 2, I will know that going forward. ¬†Or if I count 20 boxes of pasta to begin with, and at the end of the month we still have 19, then I should probably stop buying so much pasta when it’s on sale.

The final two points go together well, in that creativity saves you money.  Like I mentioned earlier, the half-used ingredients?  Figure out a way to combine them into one meal, and you have not only saved food from being throw out (which creates waste, takes calories out of the food system in a way that helps no one, and is basically like setting dollars on fire), but you also have created an almost-free meal.  If you never used those ingredients, they would be wasted. Instead, you have eaten again for the same amount of money you already spent & had in the house.

So, this is the challenge, which started on Jan 1st. ¬†No stocking up, no matter how good the sale, and only $20 per week maximum towards fresh dairy & produce. ¬†I won’t even be buying any meat, I will be using what I have in the freezer. ¬†Good thing I just recently cleaned it out & reorganized.

Wish me luck!

 

How about you, any goals for 2016?  Any Resolutions for this year?  Feel free to share your goals & progress!

 

Meal Planning: What it is, why you should, and how to do it

 

A very popular topic in food and cooking related blogs and forums is meal planning. What is it, how can you do it, is it worth the time? I’ll start by saying that this article is going to be just full of suggestions, tips and tools. Everyone’s situation is different, so I cannot write an article that will work for every single person who might read it. I don’t know if you’re single, vegetarian, diabetic, have three kids, on food stamps, or a combination of all those things. I will however try my best to give you general tips with more specific scnearios as we go along.

Feel free to email me at BudgetEpicurean (at) gmail (dot) com if you have a specific question, or any question really.

As featured on Stacking Benjamin’s podcast:
Meal Planning Made Easy

What is Meal Planning?


Meal planning is simply that: planning your meals in advance. The period of planning time may vary, for some you don’t plan dinner until it is 7pm and you’re starving. Some people plan per week, others plan per month. It is up to you how frequently you can and want to think about your upcoming meals.

The most common way to go about planning meals is to use a spreadsheet or pre-made printout. If you are an experienced cook or have adequate food in your home already, you could simply list the day and the meal(s) you intend to make. There are abundant options of formats available for free online, and there are also yearly or monthly services which will plan your meals for you. Most paid services will also create a grocery shopping list to go with the meal plan.

But why pay for a service you can do for yourself in 20 minutes on one weeknight? I am after all, the Budget Epicurean!

Why should I bother?


Well, if it really seems like too much trouble, you don’t need to read any further. Or pay for someone to do it for you. But meal planning can save you the loss of significant money in the form of food waste.

Americans waste billions of pounds of food per year, up to 40% of the food that households purchase!! This is due mostly to bad planning. You make too much and no one likes the leftovers. Or you cook, then go out, then cook again, and it goes bad before you can rotate the leftovers. Or you miss an expiration date and the goods expire. 

By planning your meals in advance, you are creating several opportunities to save money. You are also bettering your health. This is what planning meals and cooking at home does for you:

  • You can feature weekly sale items in your meals, saving you $$
  • You can buy in bulk for similar meals, saving you $$
  • You cut down on food waste, saving $$ and landfill space
  • You control portion sizes, helping your health
  • You control what ingredients go in it, meaning you can ‘have it your way’
  • You determine what meals to make, avoiding boredom
  • No preservatives or extra chemicals are added, boosting your health

How to make a meal plan

A typical week’s meal plan for me.

As stated above, there are plenty of free and paid templates online. But the simplest way to do it is make it on your own. If you are super new to cooking in general, take a gander at Real Simple’s “Cooking Basics” checklist. Then follow these steps:

Step 1: Make a list of meals you/your family likes to eat, and meals you know how to make.

Step 2: Draw out a grid for the week. Seven columns, and 3-5 rows for individual meals and snacks.

Step 3: Start filling in spaces you know. For example, if you have kids, you can fill in the “lunch” squares with “school” if they buy a lunch, or “PB&J + apple + string cheese + juice” if you make their lunches. Feel free to add in things like “Eat out” or “Leftovers buffet” for nights you know will be busy.

Step 4: Check your local grocery ads. Figure out what is on sale that could go into meals you would like to make. For example, if romaine, tomatoes, chicken, and salad dressings are on sale, you should schedule in a grilled chicken salad for dinner and/or lunch a few days this week.

Step 5: Once you have figured out what meals you are making, do a quick check of your cupboards and refrigerator. Write down any items you need to buy at the store. This is your week’s grocery list.

Step 6: Take your list to the store, and buy only what is on the list. Don’t let yourself be lured by that juicy looking steak or the whole rotisserie chicken, unless it was on your list. This will take willpower and practice, but will be a huge money-saver.

Step 7: Post your week’s (or month’s) meal plan where you will see it, maybe on the refrigerator door. Then simply follow it each day.¬†

Grocery cart

The planning process should take you only 20-30 minutes on a weekend or weeknight, and a 30 minute trip to the store. Once you get the hang of a basic meal plan, you can get much more detailed. For example, you can plan to make large amounts of a basic ingredient, like beans or rice, on the weekend. Then throughout the week take the portion you need for that day’s dinner out. Or have notes to yourself to defrost the pork chops you will cook Wednesday on Tuesday night.

Don’t forget to add in little things like snacks, desserts, and occasional days out so you don’t get ‘frugal fatigue’.¬†

For more information & ideas:
The CDC has a great article on cutting costs and calories by planning meals at home as well as one the go.
EatThisMuch has an awesome calorie calculator/meal planner that allows you to input a calorie amount, and it automatically gives you three meals (or more depending on what you choose) with that amount. You can change out meals you don’t like, or add more.
Cooking Light also has a weekly meal planner which allows you to choose recipes from their archives and drag & drop to create your week.



Do you plan meals in advance?