Tag Archives: meal plan

Weekly Eating – 2/12/18

 

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!

 

Over the weekend I cooked up a big batch of black beans in the slow cooker, which became some meal prep black beans and rice lunches, my best black bean soup, and a little left over for burritos or whatever is needed later.

black beans and rice lunch meal prep

I also finally got up the ambition to make a butt-load of pierogi! If you have had pierogi, you know how damn delicious these carb-on-carb dumplings are. If you have not, you are missing out on some serious buttery deliciousness.

mashed potato pierogi

Not going to lie, there is almost zero redeeming nutritional qualities to pierogi, but they are amazing, even more so when homemade, and I intend to take them to the next Bull City Food Swap. These will be a very high-ticket trade item, so I’m hoping to get some good swag in return!

mashed potato pierogi ready to freeze

Monday:

Breakfast – Cherry Waffles! The boy’s favorite fruit is cherry, cherry everything and anything. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day this week, I picked up a can of cherry pie filling with the intent to make some sort of delicious things with it. And I did.

cherry pie filling waffles

They came out very soft vs. crunchy, but I actually preferred them that way. And I turned more of the cherries into a berry sauce by boiling it down with some cherry juice added.

cherry pie filling waffles

Snack – So there were some muffins left over at work from last week, and we all know I can’t say no. So I had a second breakfast of a banana nut muffin. No regrets.

banana nut muffin

Lunch – there was a grilled cheese & soup potluck today! It was amaaaazing, and so perfect on a chilly, rainy day. I stuffed myself silly on jalapeno popper grilled cheese and southern Pimento grilled cheese, chili, tomato soup, and I brought my best black bean soup.

grilled cheese

Snack 2 – I was feeling a little guilty about the carb-licious day, so I snagged a cupful of fresh raw veggies from the veggie tray someone brought to snack on at my desk all afternoon.

veggie tray

Dinner – I’ve been jonesing to try a spicy Thai carrot and sweet potato soup ever since I traded for some at December’s Food Swap. I roasted some carrots and sweet potatoes, and whizzed it up in a blender with ingredients including cayenne, garlic, ginger and tahini.

spicy carrot and sweet potato soup

Topped with some cashews and golden raisins, it was absolutely perfect! I’m in love. Just in time for V Day. (Even if the boy said it looked and tasted like baby food…)

spicy carrot and sweet potato soup

Tuesday:

Breakfast – I found this recipe at my friend Stephanie’s blog, and for once was excited for a smoothie with turmeric! It has a pretty strong flavor, even for a die-hard exotic spice lover like myself. This turned out great though, the yogurt makes it smooth and the mango was the major flavor that stood out.

mango and turmeric smoothie

Lunch – Black beans & rice with salsa, steamed broccoli, and leftover lentil veggie burgers

beans and rice with veggie burgers

Dinner – Tuna noodle casserole, a childhood classic 🙂

tuna noodle casserole

Tonight was also spa night! The puppers needed a trim badly, I cut off almost a whole dog’s worth of fur. Yes, I did it myself, and yes I used scissors. He is an amazing animal and calmly stood still the whole time. That face though, right?!?

puppies after a fur trim

And mama also got a haircut finally! I’ve been complaining about it for months, but my frugal heart won’t allow me to spend money on going to get it cut at a salon. So usually I ignore it, and go 2-3 years between cuts. But I figured, hey, the dog doesn’t look completely insane, may as well try myself next! (Yes, I used different scissors).

giving myself a hair cut

And you know what? It came out ok! I took off almost 6 inches, and there was still so much left that not a single person commented on it all week. LOL.

Wednesday <3:

Breakfast – For breakfast on Valentine’s Day, not only did hubs get his usual coffee in bed, but I also used the remainder of the cherry pie filling to make cherry heart shaped pancakes! With some cherry sauce and a little melted chocolate, oh my, it was heaven.

cherry pancakes with chocolate sauce

And then proceeded to make Twitter jealous, ha, not my intent…

Lunch – Black beans & rice with salsa, and leftover turmeric mango smoothie

black beans and rice with turmeric smoothie

Snack – our admin gave us cute valentines with a KitKat, and a coworker brought in special white chocolate dipped cookies!

Valentines

Dinner – I cook 364 days per year, but this day is the boy’s day to cook 🙂 He did a fantastic job, with bouquets of flowers inside the door and on the table.

Valentines day bouquet

We opened a bottle of the “good wine” (yeah an actual bottle, not a box!), and he impressed me with a salad to start, followed by fresh baked bread, and mozzarella stuffed shells. He even got a bunch of parsley and diced it to put on top you guys! It was soooo tasty, omg.

Valentines day table set with wine and flowers

Didn’t even get a picture, because a) we scarfed it down too fast and b) no tech allowed tonight. He got a cute handmade card from me, and a chocolate bar that said “you’re one in a billion”  🙂

Thursday:

Breakfast – Mixed berry smoothie

mixed berry smoothie

Lunch – the rest of the carrot-sweet potato soup & blueberries

spicy carrot sweet potato soup and blueberries

Snack – handful of peanut M&Ms on my way back from a meeting

handful of peanut mms

Dinner –I made the split pea soup recipe from Plant Powered For Life, and it was damn delicious. I can’t believe I’d never had split pea soup before now! And I had some green beans that were going to go bad soon, plus a half bag of cranberries, so I simmered them together with a little lemon zest for a tasty tart side dish.

split pea soup and cranberry green beans

Friday:

Breakfast –Loaded baked sweet potato with black beans, sauerkraut, salsa, and avocado. It’s a pretty weird flavor combination, but I’m finding out more and more that that’s what I’m all about! I love the sweet potato sweetness, plus the creamy avocado, and the red cabbage sauerkraut is just the right salty tang.

loaded baked sweet potato

Lunch –black beans & rice & salsa! I may be boring but it is always guaranteed to be delicious. And super cheap.

black beans and rice and salsa

Snack – blender hummus and bell peppers/cauliflower

blender hummus with raw veggies

Dinner –Stir Friday! It has been a while since a stir Friday has happened, so I was excited about this one. Basmati rice in the rice cooker, and I found a stir fry mix on sale $1.69. It was so green and totally vegan, and the boy said “for what it is, it didn’t suck, good job”

green veggie stir fry

The Weekend

This weekend we are taking the leap and finally doing TSA precheck! We have some serious travel coming up between a back-to-CT trip for work, a long overdue vacation, and at least two family weddings this year, so it made sense to finally get it. Hopefully it will make traveling slightly faster and less stressful.

We are also ripping off the band-aid and doing our taxes! Who knows if we will owe or if Uncle Sam will owe us, but I will feel 1000 times better having this particular chore off the to-do list.

Food Total: $80.12

Well, I overshot my $75 stretch goal but I’m under my $100 goal, so I’ll call this week a win! It also included a trip to both Harris Teeter and Kroger, to take advantage of sales and coupons unique to each place. I am lucky that I live about a mile from both stores.

$25.77 coupon $8.56
Dairy $10.99 Staples $0.00 Fruit/Veg $11.15 Extras $3.63
Chobani 4pk x2 7 Stir fry veggies 14oz 1.69 Vday choc bars 2.97
HT brand yogurts 5 2 Stir fry broccoli 12oz 1.69
Sliced provolone 8oz 1.99 Bananas 11 3.14
Asparagus 1lb 1.84 Tax 0.66
5lb Potatoes 2.79
$54.35 coupon $19.10
Dairy $0.00 Staples $17.61 Fruit/Veg $14.11 Extras $22.63
Sargento sliced cheddar 0 Garlic bread loaf x2 3.58 Frozen pep/onion mix 1.5 Foil 200 sqft 6.99
Sesame bread loaf 1.49 Sweet potatoes 99/lb 2.65 Cracklin’ Oat Bran 4.99
Bagels- plain 6 0.89 Avocado 0.99 ZZZquil 5.99
Canned tuna x3 1.5 2lb green beans 2.99 Toothpast 3 4.66
Pasta x5 2.5 Bell peppers 2 1.98
extra wide noodles 1.99 Pint blueberries 2 4
pasta sauce can 0.89
Pancake/waffle mix 1.79
Grits 1.29
Pancake syrup 1.69

I do find it slightly amusing that aluminum foil is more expensive than any grocery item I buy… but 200 sq ft should last quite a while. And it makes me feel pretty great to have no spending at all in the “Meats” column this week.

Lessons Learned

We have been going pretty hard on the carbs lately, and I’m not sure why. Other than they are constantly on sale. I’ve gotten super cheap pasta, rice, bagels, and bread lately. It’s unfortunate that our food system encourages the consumption of pretty nutritionally void foods while making things like “salad mix” cost $6 or more… but also, during the winter and rainy season I really am not feeling salads. Winter is for comfort food. So long as I keep fitting in my jeans, I won’t panic yet. I know spring is right around the corner, and with it the abundance of produce I’m beginning to crave.

 

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

Weekly Eating – 2/5/18

 

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!

 

So remember that sweet deal on a waffle maker I got last weekend? Well, this past weekend I decided to go big, and made a huge batch of sweet potato waffles! The recipe made 14 big, fluffy waffles, which we happily ate 4 of and then I packaged the rest into Ziplocks for the week’s breakfasts.

sweet potato waffles with syrup

For lunch, we decided to explore a bit, and ended up at a pizza place in Chapel Hill called Magone. I got a “small” bacon ranch pizza, and this thing was ‘UGE! And delicious. And filling. The boy couldn’t even manage more than 3 slices of his Hawaiian. I ate 2 slices, and took the rest home, so there was a ton of pizza left over.

chicken bacon ranch pizza

Monday:

Breakfast – Sweet potato waffles! I’d tried reheating in the microwave, and it made them kinda soft and mushy. So I heated them in the toaster, and that came out perfect! New fave breakfast for sure.

sweet potato waffles in the toaster

Lunch – Veggie chili; I made a big ol batch in the Crock Pot with dry beans I’d soaked overnight. We had plenty for dinner, and I packed up the leftovers into several containers.

vegetarian chili

Snack –cuties & more coffee

cuties

Dinner –Black bean & corn California burritoes, with some purple cabbage for color and baked in the oven for crunch.

black bean and corn burritos

I thought I did a pretty good job wrapping, though one ripped a bit, but I’m not nearly as expert as Cheesy Finance 🙂

black bean and corn burritos

All day Monday I had a dull ache in my abdomen, thinking it was just hunger or a stomach ache. It turned into roaring cramps by the end of the day, and I was unprepared. On a suggestion from a friend, I wanted to use a heating pad, but we don’t have one. So google said, make one from putting rice in a sock!

sock rice

I’m here to say that it actually does work. I used a funnel, and filled up hubby’s sock with rice. Microwaved for 1 minute at a time, 2 or 3 times, it holds heat for quite a while. However, microwaved sock rice smells very weird. And hubby refuses to eat it after I’m done with it… so that’s a waste of 2 cups of rice! Haha (Would you eat sock rice?)

Tuesday:

Breakfast – I slept poorly and my body was still confused, so I didn’t know what to do about food. You know how some days, every thing you think of your stomach is like “Nah, I don’t want that”. I almost made toast, almost made eggs, almost had waffles. I made some sauteed greens because for some reason it sounded good, but that wasn’t enough. So I added it as a topping on the leftover pizza.

pizza with greens

Lunch –Can of chicken noodle soup. Nothing exciting, just needed to have some calories and still wasn’t hungry.

Snack –bag of sunflower seeds

sunflower seeds

Dinner –Tomato soup & grilled cheese with leftover tomato juice from the chili and some freezer pesto. Pesto is one of my favorite secrets to delicious and layered flavors in a simple tomato soup.

grilled cheese and tomato pesto soup

Wednesday:

Breakfast –Tropical smoothie; and this finally used up the rest of the frozen fruit mix I don’t like!

tropical smoothie

Lunch –Chili! With some mixed steamed vegetables on the side.

vegetarian chili with steamed vegetables

Dinner –I met up with a new friend after work at Starpoint Brewery/ Beer Study in Durham, and had a Chocolate Stout that was seriously amazing. It tasted sort of like a chilled hot cocoa, but with beer in it. It was worth every penny of the $8 for a 16 oz glass. When I finally got home, I didn’t feel like cooking, so I had more leftover pizza; at least I added some greens on top.

chicken bacon ranch pizza

Snack –Pineapple & cucumber. Cucumber isn’t the best alone, I should have made some hummus to dip it in. They were also close to going bad, so the other container I decided to quick pickle for later.

pineapple and cucumber

Thursday:

Breakfast –Tofu scramble with greens. I used up the last container of tofu, and the rest of the sauteed greens I’d made. I also added some cayenne and nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor. But honestly, it was pretty not great. Word to the wise: scrambled tofu tastes 0% like eggs. I won’t be making this again.

tofu scramble with greens

Lunch –leftover black beans & corn taco filling with brown basmati rice, salsa, and avocado (basically, a burrito bowl)

burrito bowl

Snack- Ghiradelli sea salt caramel & a tiny Snickers

candy

Dinner –Burgers: bison and lentil. I had some bison meat in the freezer that I bought on sale a while ago, and made burgers from that to make the boy happy.

bison burgers

Then I also tried a new recipe for lentil veggie burgers. I’m trying to find the perfect recipe to balance taste and texture and health. I used the ends of a loaf of bread in this instead of bread crumbs, rather than throw them out.

lentil burgers

These were good, but a bit too dry. Maybe I need to tone down the amount of bread, or add more liquid to the mix before baking.

burgers with potatoes and edamame

Friday:

Breakfast – the last of the sweet potato wafffles w blueberry sauce. I’m loving this quick sauce option: I microwave 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries with 1 packet of splenda and some lime juice, then mush the berries with a fork. It’s so simple and sweet and perfect.

sweet potato waffles with blueberry sauce

Snack – I had a busy morning, and knew lunch would be later than normal, so I had half a protein bar around 11

protein bar omega 3

Lunch –leftover lentil burgers with Green Goddess dressing, salad, and edamame

lentil burgers with green goddess dressing and salad

Snack 2 – We had a meeting at which they gave out muffins. I can’t say no to a moist and tasty lemon poppyseed muffin! But now I know I shouldn’t take any drug tests for a few days.

lemon poppyseed muffin

Dinner – My stomach was confused again, so I was hungry but nothing sounded good. Eventually around 6:30 pm I had a bowl of homemade yogurt with the remaining blueberry sauce from waffles and some tropical granola.

homemade yogurt with blueberry sauce

Then I was informed by Twitter that it was National Pizza Day, so naturally I can’t not celebrate a food related holiday. I was going to try this taco pizza recipe I read in a magazine later this week, but now it seemed like a good time to try it out.

taco pizza recipe

And it turned out pretty good. I liked the corn crust, but I need to cook it longer or roll it thinner next time, it was still soft and chewy in the middle and stuck to the foil a bit. The cauliflower, onion, and pepper toppings I used were tasty, and it used up the last bit of pasta sauce from the vegan meatballs last week. So that was a win.

masa harina corn pizza crust

The Weekend

This weekend is predicted to be rainy both days, which is kind of a bummer. It means it’s perfect “start spring cleaning” weather, but also that I bet there’s a 98% chance we will lack motivation to do so. I do need to return a library book, and maybe will browse and pick up some new ones while there. We also need to “adult up” and get our tax paperwork together… #adultingishardthoughyaknow

yoga and beer in durham

Oh, but I might have a friend who is interested in attending Beer and Yoga on Sunday with me! Two of my favorite things. We shall see.

Food Total: $26.21

I was very pleased that we got through this week without spending any more money at the grocery store! And not going out to eat either, besides one beer. Last week I was a bit of a spendy pants

The only groceries this week were obtained while Erin from ReachingForFI was in town, and we needed some wine for our hangout and chat time 🙂 And then avocados were on sale 2/$1, so naturally we both had to get a least a half dozen! She had a hilarious way of carrying her bounty home too.

Fruit/Veg $8.39 Extras $18.32
Avocado 6 3 wine 4L 16.89
Bananas 6 1.4
Mandarins 3lb 3.99 tax 1.43

This week, I’m trying to learn from my previous mistake of not taking a list, and going grocery shopping while hungry. This week I have a plan, read the ads, scoped out my current stash of coupons, and am making a meal plan after checking the freezer and pantry first. In other words, I’m taking my own advice 😉

Lessons Learned

Well, I’d say there were a few lessons this week. For one, using up leftover odds and ends isn’t nearly as hard as some people think it is, if you’re willing to be creative and eat potentially strange food combinations. There are also so many different way to re-purpose bits of this and that into different recipes.

For another, you need to plan to change your mind occasionally. I had taken the pesto out of the freezer with the intent of making pasta with pesto, which was actually my second choice when shrimp linguine began to not sound great. Then I didn’t feel like pesto pasta, so I decided it would be better used by adding it to the tomato soup. I think we changed up the meal plan every single night this week.

And finally, cooking is an experiment! Don’t be afraid to try new and different recipes. The absolute worst that can happen is it is inedible and you throw it out. People waste about 40% of their food, but if you can find new recipes your family will love, it may cut down on waste over time. Several things I tried this week didn’t work out, but that’s okay. We will keep trying and keep learning!

 

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

Weekly Eating – 1/29/18

 

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!

 

February 2nd was #WearRedDay for heart health. Cardiovascular disease is the #1 killer, ahead of car wrecks, diabetes, cancer, and many other seemingly more deadly diseases. More than 600,000  people every year are being killed by their own heart.

And the honest truth that the food and drug industry doesn’t want you to know?

#WearRedDay for heart health

Want in on what many call “the best kept secret in medicine”?

Given the right conditions and fuel, the body can heal itself of almost anything. Seriously.

Don’t believe me? The Cleveland Clinic has an actual “Heart Disease Reversal Program“, which has been proven to take some heart patients from death’s door to healthy and fit in mere months. You can literally reverse heart disease and prevent it from worsening based on what you put in your mouth three times per day.

 

On a less serious note, here was the popcorn situation last weekend:

popcorn kernels in a glass jar

Now, if that seems like plenty to you, YOU DON’T KNOW ME. This is a shortage. This is near-panic-level popcorn status.

fifty pound bag of popcorn kernels

And then this showed up on our doorstep on Monday. And all was well in the world again.

Monday:

Breakfast – tropical smoothie. I’d gotten a frozen bag of mixed tropical fruit, and it has chunks of coconut in it. I’m weirded out by coconut, and do not like the chewy-ness. But I will soldier through until it’s gone in the name of not wasting food…

tropical fruit with coconut

Lunch – I meal-prepped a 3-day batch of my famous salmon and couscous salad to have for lunch at work this week. I also repurposed the old “Green Goddess” container to hold my healthier and more delicious recipe 😉

salmon and couscous salad prep

Dinner – Bitter melon & potato curry. Have you heard of bitter melon? Unless you’re Asian or a foodie, probably not. It is a tropical vine fruit, grown throughout Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. And it totally lives up to the name; raw it tastes horrid.

cut up bitter melon

However, despite it’s off-putting taste, it has many redeeming health qualities. “The fruit contains at least three active substances with anti-diabetic properties, including charantin, which has been confirmed to have a blood glucose-lowering effect, vicine and an insulin-like compound known as polypeptide-p.” (source) It also has been shown to have beneficial or reversal effects on obesity and metabolic syndrome. (source)

bitter melon and potato curry

By generously salting it prior to cooking with it, and then rinsing the salt off, you can remove much of the bitter taste. And it blends right into strongly-flavored dishes like curries. The boy said that in this dish, the bitter melon was actually great and the green beans were the worst part!

Snack – Grapes & 2 cuties

grapes and cuties

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Over the weekend we went to the thrift store, where I snagged a sweet a$s deal: $0.99 for a waffle maker!! It was pretty dirty, but still worked. It didn’t have a tag, so I took it to the counter and asked the lady what it would cost.

dirty waffle maker

When she quoted me that price, I couldn’t hand over a dollar fast enough! So with it all nice and cleaned up, I made some yummy fresh waffles with a quick (from frozen) blueberry sauce.

waffles with blueberry sauce

Lunch – Salmon & Couscous Salad with Green Goddess

salmon and couscous salad monday

Snack – I’m glad I packed an “extra” lunch today, because I was starving yesterday afternoon. I brought the tiny bit of leftover red lentil dal and rice from last week and nommed it around 2pm.

dal and rice

Dinner – I tried a new recipe for vegan tempeh ‘meatballs’, and they were dang tasty! I absolutely love them.

tempeh meatballs

The boy even said it was good, and I’m allowed to add it to the list of “vegan meals that don’t suck” so that’s a huge win.

spaghetti and vegan tempeh "meat"balls

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Wheat Sandwich Thin with pears and peanut butter

sandwich thins with peanut butter and pear

Lunch – Salmon & Couscous salad, and a bowl of leftover pork & rice soup with collard greens

salmon and couscous salad and pork and rice soup

Dinner – I went out and met a new friend from the Bull City Food Swap at a local Indian restaurant called Sitar. She’s vegetarian, so I was super excited to split the “vegetarian for 2” dinner. It came with 2 appetizers, 3 main courses, and 2 desserts!

leftover indian food from Sitar

It was so much food, and it was all SO GOOD! We both ate our fill, and had enough left over for us both to take home 2 more meals’ worth. I’d say that’s a pretty great value.

Snack – rice cakes & an orange

rice cakes and an orange

Thursday:

Breakfast – tropical smoothie

tropical smoothie

Lunch – leftover Sitar part 1 – naan, basmati rice, vegetable vindaloo and chickpea saag

leftover Sitar 1

Snack 1 – trail mix still leftover from our Texas trip (I paid the ridiculous airport prices of 2/$20 because I was dying of starvation and the mix actually was pretty nutritionally sound)

goji berry trail mix

Dinner – After a brutal HIIT workout, I was ravenous and grabbed the first thing I saw in the fridge: leftover bitter melon curry

bitter melon curry

Snack 2 – later that night after dinner, I was still hungry and desperately needed a post-workout snack, and nommed a few handfuls of Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Puppy Chow

protein puppy chow and popcorn

Annnndddd then I made stovetop popcorn, which I sprinkled with nutritional yeast 🙂

Friday:

Breakfast – another smoothie! I’m bad at remembering to take pictures of smoothies… maybe breakfast is too early, or smoothies just don’t feel like ‘real’ food?

Lunch – the last of the leftover Sitar. Not gonna lie, I was sad that it was all gone now…

leftover Sitar 2

Snack – my coworker had been at a conference all week, and brought back some strange chocolates. They were good though.

weird candy

Dinner – The boy had to fend for himself in the wilderness of the fridge, because Erin from ReachingForFI was in town! And when she’s here, we go ALL IN on AYCE sushi.

all you can eat sushi: before

This was the appetizer round. In case you haven’t read it yet, here is my review of Rock’n’Rolls sushi in Durham for your enjoyment.

Unfortunately, it seems too many people HAVE read it, because there was a line out the door! Good thing there was only 2 of us and we were more than happy to sit at the bar. After a little less than an hour, this was the aftermath.

all you can eat sushi: after

They now have a bunch of fried options, including spring rolls, crab rangoon (mostly cream cheese, let’s be real), and gyoza dumplings, as well as a few more specialty rolls.

 

The Weekend

This weekend is the “Big Game”, I guess, but we couldn’t care less. If you want ideas, though, I’ve written plenty about it:

Our plans include reading, writing, and video games. With a chance of brunch on Sunday 🙂

Food Total: $140.54

Ugh, I broke two of my own cardinal rules: never shop while hungry, and never shop without a list!

I did great at the Spice Bazaar, picking up only some fresh produce staples and a few things I wanted to try (looking at you, bitter melon) and the only impulse was a 10lb bag of basmati rice that was on sale.

Staples $10.48 Fruit/Veg $10.36
10lb basmati rice 7.99 Frozen bitter melon 2.99
tamarind paste 2.49 cauliflower head 2.99
ginger root 0.5
turmeric root 0.6
fresh bitter melon 1 0.79
3lb red onions 2.49

But, I went to ALDI right after, and it was past lunch time for me by then. I’m a sucker for ALDI on my best day, and I hadn’t been since the store had evidently been remodeled! It was huge, and bright, and packed with great deals. Y’all, I lost my mind a little bit. I admit it.

Dairy $5.57 Staples $38.00 Fruit/Veg $40.52 Extras $35.19
organic soymilk 2.19 olive oil mayonnaise 3.45 tomato juice 1.39 seltzer 1L x2 1.18
cage free eggs 12 2.29 coconut water 2.89 frozen berries/mango 4.18 frozen pizzas 2 3.98
1/2 gal whole milk 1.09 plum cherry juice 2.69 frozen edamame 2 3.38
org blue corn tortilla chips 1.89 1lb green beans 0.99 Winking owl syrah 2.89
org wheat spaghetti 2.18 bix box org spring mix 3.79 Winking owl red 3L 10.89
olive oil cooking spray 2.98 celery 0.95 German lager 5.99
green enchilada sauce 1.89 cara cara oranges 6 3.95 Amber ale 6pk 6.49
Coffee 4.79 Avocado 4 1.96
spinach wraps 8 1.99 Org Pears 8 3.49 tax 3.77
shelled pistachios 7oz 4.49 Pineapple 1.29
fresh pico de gallo 4.79 Sweet potatoes 1.29
Pasta sauce 1.98 Bananas 11 1.95
2lb dry northern beans 1.99 Broccoli crowns 3 1.49
green grapes 2lb 2.61
greens trio 1.99
cranberries 0.99
Artichoke hearts 2.49
Cucumber 0.45
mission figs 1.89

I also let myself restock on wine & beer, which I had been trying to go all of January without buying more alcohol. But COME ON, their 3L box of “house red” for under eleven bucks?!? And the specials this month were a German lager and an amber ale, my two favorite beer types. Sigh…

Lessons Learned

My only defense is that at least I bought a sh&t-ton of produce, and we should be able to make it through at least 2 weeks in a row of not buying groceries now. The majority of the spending was on super healthy stuff, which we should be eating anyhow (please ignore the frozen pizzas. The boy needs ’emergency foods’ for when he has no leftovers left).

 

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

Weekly Eating – 1/22/18

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!

 

This weekend I was on my A-game with meal prepping.

Sunday meal prepping

Bell peppers were on sale for 0.99/each, which usually only happens in the height of summer. So naturally I planned on making a batch of stuffed peppers. I’d also been hankering for hummus, so I whipped up a half batch in the blender, and at the last minute decided “why not throw in some turmeric too?” It came out a lovely vibrant yellow! I even used real tahini rather than my usual cheap-o peanut butter.

stocked refrigerator after meal prepping

With the other half can of chickpeas I made a Greek tabbouli type salad with cucumber, tomato, couscous, and red onion. (CRAP! I should’ve added kalamata olives too… ah, next time.) Bags of pre-cut cauliflower were cheaper per pound than buying a whole head, so I roasted a bag of that and added buffalo sauce for funzies. And a big ol pan of enchiladas, mostly pork for the boy with two black bean and mushroom vegetarian ones for myself.

black bean mushroom enchilada

Blueberries were also on sale this week, so I portioned out a few small containers. Whew! Now, on to the week!

Monday:

Breakfast – a piece of fruitcake from the holiday Food Swap! I had never had fruitcake, since it has such a sterling reputation, but y’all. This lady’s recipe was amaaaaaazing! It was dense and moist cake, and was just bursting with huge chunks of mango, apricot, papaya, and whole nuts. It was seriously addictive. I’m so bummed it is a super secret family recipe, she legit won’t share it!

holiday fruitcake and tea

Lunch – Lentil & couscous stuffed pepper. This is so simple, just cook 1 cup couscous, rice, or quinoa. Mix with 1 cup cooked lentils, black beans, or pinto beans. Add 1 can diced tomatoes, and stuff into 3-4 bell peppers. Bake for 350 about 25-30 minutes until soft.

lentil and couscous stuffed bell pepper

Dinner – Stir Fry! I used some veggies from the fridge and some from the freezer, plus the tofu from the sale a few weeks ago, to whip up tonight’s batch of stir fry.

stir fry veggies in pan

Note to self: when oven-baking tofu, don’t use the pre-chunked kind! The pieces are just too small and stick to the pan something awful. It was still super tasty though.

tofu stir fry

Snack – blueberries

blueberries

Tuesday:

Breakfast – I made some oatmeal with dates, but forgot to take a photo, oops! It was tasty and warm, and very filling.

Lunch – Tabbouli. I like this type of meal because it’s totally fine at room temperature and very portable. I didn’t even need a lunch bag I just threw it in my work bag and went.

tabbouli with chickpeas, cucumber, and red onion

Snack – I had got some protein bars on super sale (like 90 cents) and tried one today. It was horrid. It was hard but chewy, and tasted like basically a caramel with protein powder. And also had chunks of raw coconut. Gag. I swallowed the one small bite and tossed the rest. I hate wasting money 🙁

Dinner – White Bean & Barley Soup – this was a crossover between my Ham & Barley Soup and my White Bean Soup. I didn’t have a lot of ham, just a tiny bag of a few frozen cubes left over from who knows when that we found in the freezer. So I figured, add a can of white beans to bulk it up, and dang, it was a great combo! This might be my new go-to.

ham, white bean, and barley soup

Wednesday:

Breakfast – loaded baked sweet potato. I zapped it in the microwave covered in a wet paper towel for 10 minutes, then piled on some black beans, salsa, purple sauerkraut & avocado. Mind blowingly good, and I nommed the whole thing!

loaded baked sweet potato

Lunch – Black bean & mushroom enchilada, buffalo cauliflower, and blueberries

black bean enchilada with buffalo cauliflower

Dinner – Black bean veggie burger with Green Goddess, sauerkaurt, freezer mac n cheese, and veggies on the side. Yes, I know I had black beans at every meal today, and yes I’m quite proud of that fact.

veggie burger with green goddess and mac n cheese

Making our way further into the freezer, I pulled out a box of Aldi black bean patties and an old pre-made mac n cheese, plus some frozen edamame and corn on the side for a colorful, healthy, and super filling dinner.

ALDI black bean veggie burgers

Snack – tea and a Stroopwafel. GUYS. Have you had a Stroopwafel?? It is as much fun to eat as it is to say! It’s a thin, crispy waffel, well, two of them, with a layer of sweet salty caramel in between. It is absolute heaven with a cup of hot green tea.

tea and stroopwafel

Thursday:

Breakfast – Homemade yogurt with blueberries and tropical granola

homemade yogurt parfait with blueberries and granola

Lunch – Stuffed Pepper & a banana

stuffed bell pepper and a banana

Dinner – The famous One-pan Buffalo Potato Bake, with previously cooked & frozen pulled pork. Have I mentioned my love of freezer meals enough yet?

buffalo pork potato bake

Snack – blueberries and a Sesame bite from Puerto Rico!

berries and sesame bite

Friday:

Breakfast – PBJ sandwich thin

peanut butter and jelly sandwich thin

Lunch – lentil & couscous stuffed pepper & blueberries

lentil and couscous stuffed pepper with blueberries

Dinner – Masoor Dal, or red lentils, over black ‘forbidden rice’

ingredients for masoor dal

I want to cook more ethnic dishes this year, so I’m easing into it with a super simple dish. Lentils are insanely good for you, and insanely cheap too. Plus all the spices in typical curry are also highly rated on the health-o-meter.

red lentils and black rice

Snack – Turmeric hummus and veggies. How could you not love the neon yellow color?!? I know I did.

bright yellow turmeric hummus

The Weekend

This is another chill weekend, as the boy is still not feeling 100%. I’m planning to head over to Spice Bazaar and pick up some more delish Indian foods and spices, and while I’m on that side of town I’ll hit the ALDI as well. We are running a little low on produce.

Food Total: $41.23
Meats $2.89 Dairy $4.40 Staples $7.49 Fruit/Veg $26.45
1lb turkey 2.89 Yogurts 11 4.4 Flatout Wraps 2 6pk 5 Bananas 12 3.07
seltzer 12 pack 2.49 Avocado 2 2.5
chopped cauliflower 4.99
bell peppers 4 3.96
1 cucumber 0.99
pint mushrooms 1.99
blueberry pints 2 3.76
Dry prunes 18oz 5.19

Eating healthfully does not have to be expensive!

I mean, look at the enchiladas. $1.99 for 10 tortillas, $1.25 for a can of sauce, $1.99 for pint of mushrooms (I used half), $0.25 for a can of black beans = $5.48 total and you can make 8 enchiladas, so 0.68 per serving! With 2 tortillas left over for a PB, banana, & honey snack or turkey pinwheels.

What about the stuffed peppers? $3.96 for 4 peppers, maybe 0.50 worth of lentils and another 0.50 of couscous (or rice), 1 can of diced tomatoes at 0.25 = $5.21 total so $1.30 per serving. And if you don’t have a big appetite one huge pepper can be 2 different meals. They also freeze pretty well for later.

Lessons Learned

Meal prepping is such a great time saver! I enjoy cooking too much to make enough for lunches and dinners, I would get bored quickly. But for lunches, it is really nice to already have meal options cooked and packed and ready to go, you just grab the container you want that day. Same thing for healthy snacks.

 

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

Weekly Eating – Jan 8

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!

 

So remember the part where we are eating 80% vegetarian this year? I’d say we have totally nailed it so far! We had some great successes this week, and a few fails too. The week did include an impromptu cross country trip, for a family emergency situation, so that sort of threw the meal plan off the rails a bit. However, it was for good reason, and didn’t damage the budget too badly.

Monday:

Breakfast – Banana berry smoothie

Lunch – Beet & Sweet Potato veggie burger wrap with sprouts, red sauerkraut, tomatoes, spinach, & Green Goddess.

Beet, Sweet Potato, Black Bean Burger Patties

I just adore the bright pink colors going on here! Imagine all those lovely flavonoids running around my bloodstream detoxing and getting rid of free radicals… no, just me? #sciencenerd

Beet, Sweet Potato, Black Bean Burger Wrap

Dinner –Homemade pizzas. I whipped up overnight refrigerator pizza dough on Sunday so these were easy breezy. The boy had pineapple, ham and mozzarella on his, while I added handfuls of veggies to mine.

Homemade Veggie Pizza With Pork

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Banana & Cardamom Pancakes

Banana and Cardamom Blender Pancakes

Dudes, I had never had cardamom before (I think) but it’s one of the highest antioxidant spices so I’m trying to incorporate it into my cooking more. This pancake recipe was so simple, I whipped up the batter in a blender and poured it right onto the griddle. Easy peasy, and they came out fluffy and perfect. #winning

Banana and Cardamom Blender Pancakes

Lunch – Big salad with sprouts, walnuts, cranberries, quinoa, and my amazing Green Goddess dressing.

quinoa and greens sprout salad

Dinner –Tempeh Teriyaki Stir Fry.

Teriyaki Tempeh Stir Fry

Guys. Guys, I made a vegan meal that the boy said he loved and would eat again! That’s a huge win! TBH it was super tasty, I would eat it again, and also I nailed the plating. (Pats self on the back)

Wednesday:

Breakfast – mixed berry smoothie

Lunch – leftover mushroom risotto from last week. There was a lot left and we were leaving town, so I wanted to eat it up. However, after sitting for a few days, it became thicker and… blah. I forced down a few forkfulls, but couldn’t come close to eating it all. That led to a starving afternoon of snacking…

Mushroom Risotto

Snacks – first up was a handful of dark chocolate with almond kisses that someone at work brought in. I figured, dark chocolate has good flavonoid & antioxidants, and you can’t go wrong with almonds right?

dark chocolate with almond kisses

Well apparently 3 almonds isn’t enough protein to satisfy, so I was rooting through my desk drawers about a half hour later. I did bring this vegan banana bread that I swapped at last month’s Bull City Food Swap… sad to say, it also was “meh”. But when I found a tiny peanut butter packet, and was also getting hangry, it was like sweet mana from heaven, and I ate half the loaf.

vegan banana bread

Dinner – Lemon Garlic Parmesan Pasta with a salad. I needed to use up several lemons, so I whipped up a super simple pasta dish.

Lemon Garlic Pasta with Kale and Sausage

Thursday:

Breakfast – stressful morning getting to the airport and literally making our flight by ONE minute… so, breakfast was coffee and airplane snacks.

Lunch – stopped by a BBQ place, and they had a Thursday Special: $2 pulled pork sandwich! We were totally in, and they were delicious. The pork was so moist, and the BBQ sauce flavorful.

Stubb's BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich

Dinner – a local pizza joint is a favorite here, so we had to indulge when in town. I got the Brussels sprouts one, which had sweet hot pepper jelly on it and was super tasty, while the boy got a meaty spicy one and compromised with a bacon jam covered in arugula as well. They were all amazing, and we ate nearly the whole thing!

Three whole Pieous pizzas

Friday:

Breakfast – Pineapple jalapeno smoothie and toast.

green smoothie and toast

Mom in law is obsessed with this smoothie which includes pineapple, spinach, coconut water, and jalapeno. It is fruity with a hint of spice, which is strange but definitely tasty.

Pineapple Jalapeno Smoothie

Lunch – Leftover pizza, which I threw a handful of salad greens on top of to make myself feel better about eating pizza for at least 4 meals this week…

leftover pizza with greens on top

Dinner – Korean tacos. It is super simple, a crock-pot beef roast with sweet sauce, a fresh crunchy slaw, and a peanutty dressing. They were really tasty, and I need to get the recipe.

Korean beef tacos

Snack – Chips & salsa. I cut up half an avocado, and mixed it with a half cup of salsa for a satisfying snack.

blue chips and avocado salsa

The Weekend

This weekend will be spent relaxing and spending time with family. We may get to go out and explore a little, and perhaps see some of hubby’s friends. The in-laws are great and are covering most of the groceries, so for food we will only spend on anything we go out for.

Food Total: $72.86

This week was just stocking up on frozen berries because we were out, and some other staples like soymilk, produce, and boxed wine. Don’t judge me, tons of people love boxed wine, even frugal folks and hard core wine lovers!

Thanks to last week’s big stock up, and tons of food still hanging out in the freezer and pantry, we should be set for at least another week (with the exception of a produce run). Maybe I need to do another of my own January Pantry Clean-Out challenges.

 

How was your week? Are you flexible with meal plans, or how do you deal with surprise travel?

Weekly Eating – New Year Edition! 1/1/2018

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!

 

Welcome to the first Weekly Eating of 2018! This series got a bit off track back when I decided to tackle my Holiday Weight Loss Plan for a Christmas/double 30th Birthday/NYE cruise. My eating got pretty boring for a few weeks. (Though, maybe that’s a thing readers want to know? Shoot me an email or leave a comment if you’d actually be interested in that).

For those of you who are used to being on the edge of your seats every Sunday morning, just waiting to drool over the BE family week of goodies, despair no longer, it’s back! There will be some twists this year though. As most people make “eat better” new year resolutions, the BE family will be tackling a big one:

Eat 80% Vegetarian in 2018!

*collective gasp from the audience*

But WHY?! You might think. What about all the flank steak, BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, and bacon wrapped pork roasts? Won’t you develop anemia and deficiencies and die without eating 300 grams of proteins in the form of cooked animal muscles at every meal??

Well, dear readers. Let me first assure you that these are all quite common myths. There are some legitimate nutritional concerns to be aware of, such as getting enough vitamin B12. But on the whole, even a fully vegan diet can supply more than enough protein, vitamin and nutrients for an Olympic pro athlete.

My in-laws got me a book for Christmas which I’ve been desperate to read for some time: How Not To Die. It is a compilation of all the food science and nutrition articles, and what we know about the links between food and disease. And I’ve devoured it cover to cover in under a week. (My husband is not thrilled.) Between that book, Forks Over Knives and a bazillion other blogs, books, movies, and resources, I can fight it no longer.

Science says: to avoid, alleviate, and even reverse disease, it’s super simple: Eat plants. All of them. All the time.

So, that is what I intend to do. I rather like living, and particularly enjoy my hubs being alive too. (Sometimes he hates that I try so hard to keep him around). Unlike myself, who loves a good steak, but wouldn’t die without it, he really does love meat and might die without it in his diet. And he is allergic to vegetables*.
*not really, he just says that so he doesn’t have to eat them

A happy marriage is all about compromise, so to avoid the all-out war and depression announcing we are now vegan would cause, we settled on a bargain. 80% vegetables, 20% meat/dairy. I think we can both live with that, and live with it a whole lot longer to boot! 😉

Without further ado, here’s our first week of the New Year’s meals:

Monday: January 1, 2018

Breakfast – A fun souvenir from traveling is coming down with a cold! I spent the first few days of the new year sniffling and coughing and generally feeling suuuuuuuuper exhausted. I was too tired to bother with actual breakfast, plus we slept in a bit. (We also went to bed by 10:30pm on NYE, woooooo 30s!)

Lunch – Didn’t have the energy to make real food yet, plus the fridge was wicked empty from cleaning it out before traveling. So I just pulled a bag of mixed veg and a frozen bag of beans & rice from the freezer, boiled it together, and called it soup!

Dinner –I did manage to pull a pork roast from the freezer and soak some black eyed peas overnight, so that I could produce the required New Year meal of pork, sauerkraut, greens & black eyed peas. We definitely want luck and prosperity in 2018, so I made sure we had peas & pig for luck, and collard greens & sauerkraut for money. I added just a tiny bit of pork to flavor the greens, and the rest of the roast was just ‘around’ for whenever hubs needed meat.

I got a bit of an energy boost once the DayQuil kicked in, so I meal prepped for the week a bit by batch roasting a bunch of veggies and cooking a big slow cooker full of black beans. They will become lunches, black bean soup, and possibly black bean hummus.

Tuesday:

Breakfast – smoothie with banana, blueberries, and some spinach thrown in for greens

Lunch – black beans & rice, salsa, and roasted brussels sprouts

Dinner –Falafel balls served over rice with mushroom gravy. They were delish, though not quite the flavor I was looking for. I will keep playing with the recipe until I get it right, and then I’ll share it here.

Snack – RUM CAKE! Erin from ReachingForFI.com and I did a little holiday swap, my famous Cracker Cookies for her famous Rum Cake, and boy was it tasty! Sweet but not too sweet, with just enough rum to know it was there. It’s a good thing it was a small size cake, because I’d eat a whole one without a second thought.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – strawberry banana smoothie

Lunch – Leftover black eyed peas & collards with sauerkraut & a salad with radish sprouts. The greens and peas had a creamy earthy flavor, which was complimented beautifully by the salty tang of the sauerkraut. Plus, since I made it using red cabbage, it was such a lovely bright pink color! I’d eat this on the regular for sure.

Dinner –Veggie packed alfredo mac n cheese, using plain yogurt instead of milk. It gives it a nice tangy flavor. I added chopped collard greens and broccoli for extra veggies and fiber.

Thursday:

Breakfast – I wanted oatmeal with strawberries and goji berries, but we evidently had some pantry moths. Those little #&@*ers ruined a whole bag of dried goji berries. >:( So I ended up with chocolate maca peanut butter instead, which I managed a few bites of before my stomach was like “nope, you’re done.”

Lunch – I made a big batch of my best black bean soup with the crock pot black beans, and this was an awesome comfort meal on a cold day when also feeling sick. Quite filling too.

Dinner – Mushroom risotto with collard greens. I had a pint of mushrooms and another head of collards still left from NYE that needed to be used up. I also had some barley from the Indian spice store (more below), so naturally I was thinking risotto.

I found this recipe from Williams-Sonoma, and of course adapted it to what I had on hand. It turned out pretty tasty, but be warned, it makes a LOT of food! We each had 2 bowls and there is plenty left for at least another 3 lunches.

Friday:

Breakfast – I did my trick of putting jam in my yogurt to make natural fruit-on-the-bottom, and topped it with my homemade tropical granola. Delightful!

Lunch – Black beans & rice with salsa and a small sweet potato. I added turmeric to the beans, and cinnamon & ginger to the sweet potato for extra antioxidant power.

Dinner – Oh my goodness, so many leftovers!

Snack – A friend at work went home to S. America over break, and brought back fancy chocolates to share. I enjoyed her generosity with a blueberry chocolate bar.

The Weekend

This weekend will be low key since we are both recovering from traveling and being sick. I am searching for tofu & tempeh recipes that will convince the boy that plant based eating isn’t the worst thing in the world. Give me a shout if you’ve any to share! I’ve found several BBQ recipes I’d like to try, so there will probably be some experimentation going on in the kitchen.

We are out of frozen berries, so a grocery run is in order to procure that and some soy or almond milk. Also Kroger is running a 1 day only $0.99 sale on cheese… is it worth it? So torn… I want to cut down on dairy but also burritos are hubs’ source of strength in this world, and that’s a really great price point…

Food Total: $162.70

My first adventure of the new year was to visit an Indian grocery nearby to check out the goods. Many cultures around the world have thrived on a plant based diet for centuries, so I assume they know how to do it right. I plan to cook many more Asian, Indian, Ethiopian, Latin American, etc. dishes this year.

I spent $62.61 there, and for the money I got a total bounty! Plant based eating can be super cheap, y’all. The haul included: shredded coconut, soya wadi, sesame seeds, ginger & garlic paste, 3 types of lentils at 2lbs each, barley, bulgur, tahini, golden raisins, turmeric, beets, cloves, and Amla powder. Not a single thing cost more than $5. I would highly recommend checking out an ethnic grocery near you for cheap staples like grains, beans, rice, and spices.

The rest of the grocery shopping was from Harris Teeter, where I stocked up on tons of produce and other healthy staples. They had a surprise sale on tofu and tempeh, which is perfect timing. I also snagged Black Rice at a cheaper price than Amazon offers, along with crazy-cheap canned beans & tomato (4/$1!!). That should be enough produce to last us quite a long time, though I will still have to restock the things that spoil (like greens/spinach, frozen berries, almond/soy milk, bananas) weekly.

Lessons Learned

So I did basically double my target grocery goal, but I’m hoping that now I am pretty much set for all of January. Except for occasional re-stocks of fresh and frozen produce, yogurt for the boy, and nut milks, we should not need groceries for a very long time. We will see how that plays out in real life. I’m a notorious menace in the “mark down” aisle of a grocery store.

Also, an initiative I’m taking on for this year is to purchase at least one grocery item every week to donate to a food pantry. It blows my mind and completely saddens me how many people in our country do not know where their next meal is coming from. Especially when I am so blessed and spend 70% of my waking hours thinking about food and recipes and meal plans.

Given the hullabaloo of the #BombCyclone this past week, did you even think what impact that has on children and families that depend on free or reduced meals at school to make their weekly budgets work? After much research, I think Urban Ministries of Durham will be the place to which I donate. And hopefully, I will even get to go cook and serve some meals there at some point.

 

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

My Top 10 Money Saving Strategies

If you read enough personal finance and frugality articles, you will see a definite theme. Spend Less. Save More. (Next level? Pay off debt, start investing).

There are thousands of ways to save tiny amounts of money by shopping less and shopping strategically, making and doing things yourself, and getting creative. You can also really slash your money needs if you focus on reigning in your biggest expenses: housing, transportation, and food.

I can’t really talk about saving money on housing (can I say how good it feels to finally own a house and NOT be paying someone else’s mortgage?), but I can tell you about my transportation tips, and as the Budget Epicurean I hope I know a thing or two about saving money on food! Food spending is in fact one of the lowest hanging fruits when first looking to trim the budget, as I will show you below.

Over the past decade or so, I have read and learned a LOT, and built upon my semi-frugal upbringing. We had leftover nights and no exotic weeks long overseas vacations, but we also ate out on occasion and never had to scrimp for new school clothes. I’ve tried out several hundreds of frugal strategies and tips, and kept the ones that work for me. You should do exactly the same!

All advice does not work for all people. Some people have a one-person household in a small apartment to care for, while others may have multiple children and pets, a blended or extended family, or you may be elderly and living alone without a next generation to be concerned about. Take this advice with a grain of salt, and look at it through the lens of your own situation. I hope you find it helpful!

And now, on to my top ten money-saving tips:

1. Meal Planning

In my 2014 article about meal planning, I explained how simple it can truly be to plan your meals, and not much has changed over the years. Sure, now I write mine out on a fancy whiteboard, but that’s just because I got tired of wasting so much paper!

Creating a meal plan each week (or each month, if you’re really ambitious!) is a top ten frugal strategy because it keeps your grocery bill low in many ways.

You can plan meals around what is on sale this week, lowering your total at the cash register. You can take stock of your pantry and freezer, using up food items you’ve already paid for. And you can plan for batch cooking and using leftovers, keeping you from throwing hard-earned money right into the trash because you forgot to eat it before it spoiled.

Start slowly. Maybe just write a list of things you know how to cook or enjoy cooking, and make one of those meals this week, plus a little extra, and freeze it. Then write in that leftover meal for one night next week.

Try to creatively use ingredients in multiple meals in one week, like my multiple uses for a pork roast, or a cook a whole chicken and use the meat all week. Plain cooked grains (rice, quinoa, couscous, barley) or cooked beans can be mixed and matched endlessly, and they also freeze well for later.

A word of caution: don’t try to become someone you’re not.

Make sure to add in meals you know you and your family will like, and write in “dinner out” or “order pizza” or “leftover buffet” occasionally to keep your plan in line with your lifestyle. If you eat a “flexitarian” diet now with occasional meat, you may have a riot on your hands if you try to plan vegetarian only meals for a month. Similarly if no one likes soup and you make ten gallons, the odds of food waste are high, and that’s what we are trying to avoid!

2. Cooking at Home

To go along with tip #1 to plan your meals, also try to cook at home as much as possible. When you order food outside the house or go to a restaurant, you are paying for the food in addition to the time for someone else to make it, package it, and clean up after it. You are paying for the convenience. You may also be paying taxes and tip on top of all that.

When you make your food at home, you pay for the food.

Cooking is a skill, and it is one that must be learned and practiced over time. If you have never so much as scrambled an egg, don’t panic. Just start small, have fun with it, and accept that every meal doesn’t have to be a four-course five-star success.

Breakfast is a simple meal to start cooking at home. Try make-ahead egg muffins, breakfast burritos, orange-cranberry muffins, or make your own granola or granola bars. Then work your way up to making lunches like tuna salad, grilled cheese, salmon-couscous salad, or a big batch of chili or minestrone soup.

Pack your own snacks, like hard boiled eggs, peanut butter and apples, turkey cheese roll-ups, or trail mix. Before you know it, you won’t even have to think about it, and will be cooking up whole food healthy meals for pennies on the dollar.

This goes for drinks too!

Soda, teas, fruit juice, energy drinks, and sports drinks are not only sugar and calorie bombs, but come at a premium price outside the house. If you must have your Gatorade or Diet Coke, at least save yourself several hundred dollars over the years by buying a 12-pack at the store and bringing it from home rather than paying $2 per day at a vending machine.

3. Eating Leftovers

When I got to college, and even more so when I moved off campus to an apartment, one of the biggest surprises for me wasn’t how much laundry I can produce in one month, how little sleep I can function with, or even how often people fall asleep in lecture halls.

It was how many people hate leftovers.

I met so many people who wouldn’t even take leftovers home from a restaurant meal, or would put boxes in the fridge to be ignored and then eventually thrown out weeks later.

You are literally throwing your money in the trash! I wanted to yell.

When you buy a meal out and eat half of it, then bring the other half home, that is like $5 of the $10 total sitting in your refrigerator. If you eat that meal, you’ve now had two $5 meals. If you throw it away, you have had one $10 meal, wasted perfectly edible food, and contributed to our growing food shortage crisis and landfills.

Why??

I grew up with the concept of a leftover buffet almost every week. On a busy weeknight, mom would just pull out all the containers in the refrigerator, spread them out on the kitchen table, and we got to pick and choose and put together a meal. Sure, maybe it was meatloaf and stir-fried rice and a bowl of wedding soup, but it was an already-made meal that we were not going to waste.

Weekly Eating 8/7/17

In my series “weekly eating” I try to showcase how I use leftovers creatively to become new meals, and even plan for it on purpose. This enables me to buy in bulk and on sale, to use freezer meal cooking, and to make “free meals” where I use scraps that could be tossed and instead turn them into soup or casserole or stir fry.

All these tactics together can save you thousands of dollars!

So suck it up, buttercup, and have the other half of that chicken pesto panini or leftover Pad Thai for lunch today. Is it as good as it was fresh? Probably not. Is it cheap and a hell of a lot better than ramen or cereal? Probably yes. You may find it tastes even better after sitting overnight.

4. Buy & Try Generics

So you’re at the store, auto-piloting through your grocery list, with some other household items in mind as well. You cruise up and down the aisles, grabbing your Tostitos chips and Pace salsa, Oreos as a treat, a refill on Bounce dryer sheets, and some Dawn. A case of Diet Coke and a box of Frosted Flakes get thrown in the cart too.

If you grew up eating, drinking, or using a certain brand, you may have an emotional attachment to it. You truly believe that brand of product is the best one at what it does. Or you’ve seen enough commercials for it you can quote them word for word. Or there is one type of snack that you just have to have in the house at all times.

What you don’t realize is how those nickles, dimes, and dollars are bleeding your bank account dry year after year.

The difference between a name-brand product and a similar (or nearly exact) generic or “store brand” item may be just a few cents, or it may be $5. The point is, it all adds up over time. For example, if you just tried one new item in the generic form rather than the name brand each week, you could save yourself maybe $4 per month.

The items that you find taste or work the exact same way as the brand you like? Keep using them! Automatic savings. The ones where there is a noticeable difference in taste or outcome? Switch back! It really is that simple.

In my house, we will only use Dawn dish soap for greasy pots and pans, because I really think it works better, faster, and more completely than other store brand soaps I’ve tried. I save the dollar store soap for washing the car or the floor.

But when it comes to paper towels, I have yet to find a $3 per roll brand that can’t do the same job as a $0.50 roll of “Thrifty”, or whatever is on sale. I also can’t tell the difference between $1/jar Kroger brand pasta sauce and $3/jar Bertolli. The line of where it becomes worth it is different for everyone, but you owe it to yourself and your bank account to find that line.

5. In-sourcing

As a semi-famous mustachioed genius once said, “Muscle over Motor” is a great way to save money.

By that I mean, do physical chores with the type of tools your grandparents would have used rather than buying a gas- or electric-powered version to do it faster (and more expensively). Use a rake to rake leaves rather than a leaf blower. Shovel show with an actual shovel. Mop the floors with a mop, or even better, a washcloth and a bucket of hot soapy water.

Household tasks like lawn care, landscaping, gardening, pet maintenance, personal grooming, cooking, and cleaning, are all things that we have varying degrees of love, hate, or tolerance for. And we could easily fork over a few hours’ of our labor in the form of cash to outsource these tasks to someone else.

Or, you could learn and practice useful life skills, and keep your money for yourself!

For example, we bought a $20 electric razor kit, and now my husband never has to go pay for a haircut the rest of his life. I trim my own hair between (every other year) cuts too. We mow our own lawn, rake our never-ending leaves, clean our gutters, snake our own drains, fill the cars’ wiper fluid and check oil levels, change our own wiper blades, trim our own trees, bathe and anti-tick and clip the dogs’ nails and fur, and more.

These small tasks may be annoying, or tedious, or an interruption to an otherwise Netflix-and-video-games filled weekend. They may also be a little scary because you’ve never done it before. That’s what YouTube, or your dad or neighbor are for.

The time spent insourcing our own tasks is time well spent because we did not have to pay someone with time spent at our day jobs to get it done. Many small, regular preventive maintenance tasks also keep your home/appliances/car/self running better longer, keeping you from having to pay for a more  expensive repair or replacement later down the road.

6. Frugal Hobbies

We all have the same number of hours and minutes in each day. And we all get to choose how we spend those hours and minutes.

A few of these hours have required items, they are spoken for. We must eat, and we must sleep. That is basically it. We do need to house and clothe ourselves, we almost all have relationships we participate in, and we must find ways to pay for our necessary expenses (if you don’t already have passive income taking care of that for you). How we do these things is up to us.  We also get large sections of “Free Time” which is not yet spoken for.

Even if you have an expensive commute, eat all organic and expensive foods, have a large family, and wear the nicest name-brand work clothes, you can still cut corners in your personal time.

There are many “toys”, sources of entertainment, hobbies, and past times that are just huge money-sucks.

For example: boats, jet skis, skiing, golfing, shopping, having to play the newest video games, frequent movie-going, concerts, or nightly partying at the bars downtown. It is so easy to blow $50 on one night of drinking and dancing, or $500 on a weekend at the lake, or $5000 on a ski trip to Breckenridge twice per season.

I definitely think it is important to be social, to find like-minded friends and nurture those relationships. But you don’t have to blow your whole paycheck every weekend to do so!

By cultivating frugal hobbies, you can entertain yourself and possibly others, while doing small or no damage to your bank account and future financial goals. There are plenty of hobbies which may even further enrich you!

Some ideas might include: bird watching, baking, board games or card games, reading books, drawing, knitting, dog walking, nature hikes, blogging, cycling, or geocaching.

These types of hobbies and entertainment can provide the same kinds of enjoyment and escape from the mundane and from work or home life, but without causing you to have to work more to support paying for them.

Use your ‘free time’ to free yourself from having to trade your time for dollars.

7. Ignoring “the Joneses”

As you cultivate these new frugal hobbies and pastimes, and begin cooking at home more and cutting your own lawn, you may feel some judgment from those around you. Your friends, neighbors, coworkers, or even your family may discourage your new habits.

Ignore them.

How you live your life only impacts you and your immediate family. If your neighbor buys  a new Bentley, you don’t feel the weight of that car loan, he does. And if your aunt tells stories about her latest and greatest European vacation, you can enjoy the photos but not the credit card bill that comes due every month.

In the same way, if you are making good choices like cooking at home twice a week and taking your lunch to work, your coworkers might miss you at Chilis but you won’t miss that missing $50 every week. Instead you can transfer it into your savings account, pay down your student loans or mortgage faster, or buy some stocks.

And the best part is, as you are ignoring those who choose to be spendier than you, you will also be putting yourself in good places and a good mindset to start meeting people with similar goals and lifestyles. Maybe your neighbor asks to borrow your ladder rather than buy one too, or your coworker starts chatting with you about that delicious looking chicken salad sandwich you brought, and you discover a mutual love of Go Fish. You never know.

8. Driving an Older, Paid-off Vehicle

I wish I could also say that I save money by having a small commute or being able to walk or bike, but I did make a bit of a commuting mistake, as I wrote about here. If you are able to telecommute (work from home), or live close enough to your place of business to walk and/or bike or take public transit, I highly recommend that.

However, if as I do, you have a long commute every day, you can still make frugal choices to slash the amount of stress that commute puts on your yearly and life-long cash-flow.

In 2017, we have set a new record: the average new car loan has topped $30,000 for the first time ever. A record 17 million Americans have a car loan, and we are taking out bigger and bigger amounts to be paid back over longer and longer periods of time.

Average loan: $30,032
Average monthly payment: $503
Average payback length: 68 months

That is FIVE AND 2/3 YEARS. To pay off a car, that you will be tired of after three, and continue driving for what, maybe 8?

Rather than take on that crazy payment for a depreciating item, why not save up over time. Keep your crap car, or walk, and pay yourself what you would have taken out for a car loan, by putting it aside in a savings account. Then, after 2 or 3 or 5 years, you have a few grand saved up and can buy an older used car outright!

Of course, this in itself is a balancing act.

All cars, no matter how well built or maintained, do have a finite lifespan. Unless you have access to new parts and a ton of machine know-how, there comes a time when maintaining an older vehicle is more costly than replacing it.

If your beater car is worth $500, starts making weird noises and/or shaking weirdly and you find out there is a minimum $3000 you have to put in to get it running again, I’d say cut your losses and start looking for your next ride.

9. Recycling, Creative Re-Purposing, & DIY

My grandma used to have a phrase that I assume was learned from living through the Great Depression:

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”*

I LOVE that saying. Because it strikes at the heart of much of what frugality is. (It does kind of tap dance on the line between frugal and cheap, but that’s a whole other discussion). One of the greatest destroyers of wealth is shopping, plain and simple.

We live in such a throw-away culture, where devices are purposefully built to last only a few years or less, people are wasting up to 40% of all the food that enters the house (see the leftovers rant above), and if something gets a scratch or even slightly malfunctions we simply chuck it in the bin and buy a new one to have delivered in two days.

Wasting and re-buying these things, or even buying in the first place, is also chucking your hard-earned cash money in the trash bin.

Why not try to imagine a creative way to turn something you no longer like/use/works into something else? Maybe someone else  has a vase you can borrow (or keep) rather than buy a new one with each bouquet, you can turn wooden pallets into all kinds of creative decor and projects, a broken picture frame plus wire can become an earring holder, a burnt out lightbulb can become an oil lamp, there are literally infinite ideas online.

Sometimes all you need is a new perspective, a fresh coat of paint, and a free afternoon to create something functional, interesting, beautiful, or useful, and also save yourself some serious cash. You might be surprised at all the ways you can turn trash into treasure.

*Qualifier: This isn’t the Depression, of course. There are obviously products you should spend some money on, like good shoes or a set of quality pans. I’m saying be mindful of your purchases and think about the long-term cost per use rather than whip out the credit card just because you like that shade of blue on that pillow.

Quality over quantity, folks.

10. Planning Purchases & Avoiding CC Debt

Ah, delayed gratification. That beautiful, crucial life skill which makes you much more likely to be successful, and yet so many people lack these days.

In the era of exponential technological advances where nearly anything can be learned, watched, bought, or done with the swipe of a finger, the art of waiting is something which we should all try to cultivate.

We have tons of data on past sales and price fluctuations, use that knowledge to plan when is the best time to purchase anything. For example, do you want to remodel your living room? Maybe wait until April for discounts on carpet, and May for cheap paint. Whether you have kids or not, you know August is the time to stock up on cheap school & office supplies. And go figure, November & December are the best times to invest in a new gas grill. When no one is grilling.

Almost all of our purchases can and should be anticipated and planned for. We know how long phones tend to last, we know we will need furniture, lawn equipment, when family and friends’ birthdays are (well… maybe not those of us with horrible memories), the dates of anniversaries and national holidays. There is no excuse to not have a plan for these events.

As for regular, everyday purchases like paper towels, Windex, dish soap, diapers, deodorant… you can keep a running list on the refrigerator, in a Google doc, or on your phone. Then you can order it all at once, or make one large trip, saving yourself the temptation from multiple store runs. Simply avoiding impulse buys ever can save you hundreds, even thousands of dollars each year.

A handy rule I used before I had my iron will fully developed is to wait 7 days per $50. So if there was something I wanted because I saw it in an ad or someone told me about it, I put it on a list.

And then I waited, researched it, and comparison shopped. If, after a week, you still want the item, it is something you legitimately need and or will use regularly, you know which place has it for the best price, and assumedly have read reviews saying it is a worthwhile thing to have, go ahead and purchase it.

If you find yourself hardly remembering what it was you wanted last Tuesday? Not a thing you need in your life.

Before long, this process becomes second nature, and you find your life much less stressed from lack of money, because now you have more, and lack of space to put all your stuff, because there is less stuff!

 

 

What are your best frugal tips? Do you already do any or all of these?

Weekly Eating – 10/23

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 – I had a few applesauce muffins still left from making friends with the neighbors, and half a raspberry NOOSA yogurt

Lunch – the rest of a pasta salad I made from last weekend’s Triangle on FIRE Meetup, and a mason jar salad

Dinner – Minestrone Soup. I had this bag in the freezer from my batch freezer meal prep session a long time ago.  I defrosted it overnight, and then tonight just put it in a pot with the broth from the rib bones last week until boiling.

I was a little worried that the noodles would be mushy and gross from being frozen and then thawed, but it actually turned out to be the perfect consistency. This was a really tasty batch, I would use this recipe again.

Snack – I had a little packet of a nut butter sample in my desk drawer, combined with some pretzel crisps I keep as well it made a perfect little afternoon pick me up snack

Tuesday:

Breakfast – applesauce muffins 

Lunch – the last of the Buffalo Chicken Potato Bake leftovers

Dinner – I had a quick burrito before running off to the October Bull City Food Swap. This month’s swap was awesome, there were some really outstanding goodies. Especially the homemade smoked sausage made by my new best friend!  😉

I had brought several items for trade, including some marigold seeds from my yard, hickory nuts (we have 3 trees, and more nuts than we know what to do with) and some homemade garlic rosemary bread. The bread was a hit, as baked goods usually are. I think I found my niche, as you can trade for really good items with homemade bread.

I got lots of caramel corn, jerky, baked goods, fresh pasta, and some pesto. Luckily, pesto was already on the menu for tomorrow! I had also taken out a giant pack of chicken quarters I got on crazy clearance a few weeks ago.

It was $4.44 for 6 leg quarters! That is a lot of chicken for less than a buck a piece. I roasted them up on a sheet pan to keep in the fridge for the boy to snack on whenever he’s hungry this week.

Snack – blender hummus and veggies

Wednesday:

Breakfast – peanut butter granola bar

Lunch – leftover minestrone soup

Dinner – Pesto pasta, using up the fresh pasta from the Food Swap and the rest of some frozen blender pesto I’d made when the basil was done for the season. So garlicy and delicious!

Snack – a mini snicker bar at work

Thursday:

Breakfast – egg sandwich with 2 slices of my garlic rosemary bread

Lunch – a chicken quarter with some brown rice and edamame

Dinner – Beef roast in the slow cooker. I just chopped up some carrots, celery, and potatoes and tossed them in with a beef roast from the freezer. I paid about $10 for a ~3 lb roast, which is not bad

Luckily I have a programmable slow cooker, so I could set it on high for 4 hours, and then it automatically switches to “keep warm” setting so it doesn’t burn. It was a perfect meal for a chilly fall evening. I love that it is just starting to turn kind-of-cold now.

Friday:

Breakfast – I bought a pack of white corn tortillas with the idea to make quick breakfast burritos this week. They were delicious, but the tortillas fall apart and are way too flaky to eat in a car. Flour tortillas from now on.

Lunch – Beet and Goat Cheese Salad with a coworker. I did spend about $7, but this is my first lunch out all month, and the salad was really delicious. No regrets.

Dinner – Burritos, because there is never a bad day for a burrito.

Snack – chocolate peanut butter granola bar

The Weekend

This weekend is pretty exciting, we have a housewarming for a neighbor on Friday and will take a bottle of red wine over to say welcome to the ‘hood. They are about our age, so I’m hoping for a future friendship there. We got invited because I am the only one who has come to say hi since they moved in! It pays to be friendly.

Saturday is the NC Wine Festival in Raleigh! There will be 36 wineries, all from North Carolina, and all tasting is included. There will be food places too I believe, but you probably have to pay. We plan to have a big lunch, and hydrate well prior to going. The tickets were my 1-year ‘paper anniversary’ gift.  🙂

And then Sunday will be recovery and chores. Sleeping in, raking leaves, doing dishes and laundry. You know, all the fun adulting things you have to do. But probably a healthy dose of video games thrown in too.

Food Total: $63.85

This week I am quite pleased with groceries, especially since I was going for super healthy and lots of produce. Most people see winter as the time to gain a little “insulation”, but since we have plans for the holidays which may involve a swimsuit, I’m actually cracking down on my diet, meaning even more produce than normal, and hopefully lower volumes of carbs and dairy. We will see how the next few months go.

I did find some great deals, for example grass fed free range bison, which is absurdly expensive, was marked down nearly half off. It is still shockingly expensive to me, but we do love the flavor and so since I was far within my budget I picked it up to have as a treat at some point. Eggs were on super sale, at 79 cents per dozen, so that will likely be my go-to snack this month. And I found marked down crab meat for 0.99, so I’m going to try some new recipes.

Lessons Learned

This week really reinforced the benefits to eating leftovers. Every dollar spent on food is a sunk cost, so not eating leftovers and throwing away food is like throwing dollars in your trash can. I’m so glad hubs and I both don’t mind, and in some cases prefer, leftovers. I even plan many meals to make more than we can eat in one day, so that we have easily reheatable meals and snacks around.

I also am finding that I have way more food than I think we do! Just pulling most of our meals from the freezer this week, has helped tremendously in keeping overall cost down. And those stocked freezers come from picking up things on sale as I see them, then putting them away for future meals. The flexibility of being able to put together a meal from pieces picked up over time is a skill which can be developed by practicing over time. I’d highly encourage it!

 

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

Weekly Eating – 10/16

 

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!

 

Hey y’all, for those who don’t know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (along with a whole host of other causes I’m sure). Though I agree with BitchesGetRiches on how empty the promises of “raising awareness” I do want y’all to be aware that:

  • It is estimated that in 2017, there will be at least 252,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer among women
  • 40,610 deaths will be caused by breast cancer
  • A self-exam is the best preventative thing you can do
  • Men can also get breast cancer
  • Mammograms aren’t always the best idea before 40
  • About 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer in their life
  • Costs of cancer care can easily be in the hundreds of thousands, even with great insurance
  • Diet and exercise can lower your risk of developing cancer

(Sources: Susan G Komen.org, breastcancer.org, cancer.org, MayoClinic.org, The CDC, USNews.com, Washington Post)

Ways you can help:

Save the boobies!

Monday:

Breakfast – I had made another big batch of smoothie in jars for this week, so I had a strawberry banana smoothie. It was also nice and pink!

Lunch – Salmon Couscous Salad: I brought enough for 3 days lunches

Dinner – Ham & Bean soup. I had some veggie soup leftover, plus some of a pork loin from the weekend. To use them both up and make it into something new I just chopped the pork, added a can of white beans, and simmered it together for about 20 minutes. With the rest of the leftover rolls, it was delicious and perfect!

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Smoothie in a jar

Lunch – Salmon Couscous Salad

Dinner – White cheddar shells with pork. I just could not even, Tues was a stressful day. So I said F it, I’m making boxed mac n cheese. Hubs was sweet and took over, and decided to tear up the remaining piece of pork loin and add it to the mac n cheese.

It turned out really really good actually! Since the mac n cheese was a Friday Freebie at Kroger and the pork was leftovers, this was basically a free meal. Not bad for not wanting to cook.

Snack – 2 Cookies & Green tea

Wednesday:

Breakfast – smootie in a jar

Lunch – Salmon couscous salad

Dinner – Ribs with potato wedges & roasted cabbage. I had planned to make stuffed cabbage casserole, but the face hubs made when he saw that on the meal plan board was so sad… since I was grocery shopping today, I decided I’d pick up whatever was on sale and surprise him. And boy, when I saw organic grass-fed ribs on sale for $5, you better believe I snatched that right up!

Even better, when I got to the checkout, the sale price rang up wrong, about $2 more than it should have been. I politely pointed it out to the lady, who checked the sticker and saw I was right. Turns out, if something rings up incorrectly and you catch it, you get that item for free! So we had FREE ORGANIC RIBS! Best day ever.

Of course, having ribs meant having bones leftover. And I’m not one to waste an opportunity, so of course I tossed the bones into the small crock pot overnight with some spices and odd and ends, so now I also have a quart of organic beef broth!

Snack – a coworker brought in pumpkin oatmeal bars, so I had one of those with some green tea. Delightful. I’m trying to cut back from 2 cups of coffee a day to only one, plus it is finally getting chilly around here, hence all the green tea this week.

Thursday:

Breakfast – (free) Raspberry Noosa & my homemade tropical granola. Noosa was another Kroger Friday Freebie, and I already know I love this brand, so I was pretty excited about it. I used half the container and added about 1/2 cup of granola for a perfect and tasty breakfast.

Lunch – Peanut butter and banana sandwich, (free) peach cottage cheese, mason jar salad. The cottage cheese was another Kroger Friday freebie (I really love these things) and it sounded interesting. I love cottage cheese, and I love peach yogurt. but I gotta say, not a fan of them mixed together. I could only handle about half, and then I threw the rest in the trash. I know, I’m sorry!

Dinner – Spaghetti with meatballs, garlic bread, and zucchini. I had a half loaf of garlic bread in the freezer, so I pulled that out and roasted it on a pan with some meatballs and zucchini while we went for a nice walk. When we got back I just boiled up some pasta, added sauce, and pulled the pan out of the oven.

Snack – granola bar

Friday:

Breakfast – mason jar smoothie

Lunch – Employee Appreciation Day picnic! We got free lunch of bbq pulled pork, baked beans, chicken tenders, pasta salad, and coleslaw. I haven’t had chicken tenders in ages, so that was delightful. There was live music and games and tons of free swag too! You know my favorite price is “free”.

They were pretty good gifts as well, multiple travel sized toiletries which will be perfect for upcoming trips, a full sized bottle of ibuprofen, a tshirt which will probably see many yoga workouts, a nice divided lunch box, and several nice pens. All in all a very good day, I felt quite appreciated.

Dinner – Stir Friday! I found 2 pork chops in the freezer, which I took out and thawed. I also got a marked down bag of chopped cauliflower rice for myself, and made regular brown rice in the rice cooker for hubs. With a cup of frozen mixed veggies, some garlic and soy sauce, it was a perfect simple meal.

The Weekend

This weekend I am super excited to have found a Triangle FIRE Meetup group! So I’ll be making some pasta salad to take to that, and hopefully learn a lot and make some new friends. We are also contemplating going to the NC State Fair, since Sunday is the last day to do so.

I need to make another batch of peanut butter granola bars since I’m running low, and maybe a few more mason jar salads for next week. If we find the energy, we might find a pumpkin patch or go apple picking. I also acquired a Singer sewing machine, which I need to look up the manual for and try to get it working.

Food Total: $55.13

I was very pleased with this week’s food shopping. I had an offer from Kroger where you get 200 bonus fuel points if you spend at least $50, but I didn’t want to go very far over that. Especially since last week I inventoried the freezers and have the rest of October already planned out. So hitting just over $50 was perfect, I got the bonus fuel points which will help keep gas costs down, but didn’t over-spend on my food budget.

Lessons Learned

It is SO GOOD to have a flexible meal plan, backup meals in the pantry, and knwo how to cook several simple meals. On days where work is stressful or you’re upset or whatever and you just cannot think about cooking something, having a pantry with options you can just make happen in 20 minutes or less is so critical. It saves us from the expense of ordering delivery or going out to get food, food that is probably not very healthy (because it would be either pizza or Firehouse brisket and cheddar subs, I guarantee).

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

My Favorite One Dollar Lunch

When I’m not meal prepping mason jar salads or bringing in leftovers, I am usually rotating through a small handful of standby recipes for lunch. These include things like my salmon salad, classic PB&J, chicken salad, and tuna salad.

On our journey to save more and spend less so we can trade our money now for time later in life, one of our top strategies is to reduce spending in all areas of life. This means buying less home than we could “afford”, driving older model cars with good mileage, avoiding unnecessary “beauty” products, and many other small savings strategies.

In America, according to CNBC, our average yearly spending on alcohol has slightly decreased from $575 in 2004 to $463 in 2014, likewise food spending has decreased from $7,245 in 2004 to $6,759 in 2014. This is due partly to rising costs of education, and people are spending more on housing and entertainment.

This is not necessarily a good thing. There are so many factors that go into food prices, including locality, seasonality, processing and packaging, distribution and supply chains, how far the food travels to you, the international prices of commodities, and more. Sometimes, cheap price = cheap ingredients, and your health will pay. Sometimes, you get a great deal at the farmers market because they don’t want to lug home a hundred baskets of potatoes.

One of the strategies we are adopting towards food (this blog is half about money and half about food after all) is the $1 per meal strategy. Essentially, if you use smart grocery purchasing strategies and employ a meal plan, eat your leftovers and rotate food to avoid spoilage, it is possible and even easy to average $1 per meal per person over the course of a week or month.

Check out these article for more inspiration on the $1 strategy.

Using the ‘$1 Per Meal’ Strategy to Save Big Time on Food Costs

How to Eat on Less Than $1.00/meal

Some days, the meals will be more like $5 each, and some days a meal might cost a few pennies. But if you focus on an in-season, whole food, mostly plant based diet, this is definitely doable. Dried beans are quite cheap per pound, as are most whole grains like brown rice, millet, oats, or quinoa. Making your own staples like biscuits, bread, and pizza dough costs maybe $1 compared to double, triple, or more at the store.

Shop the sales at your store, or visit farmers markets towards closing time to scoop up bargains. Grow your own food, or trade services with someone who does. Try the store brands rather than being brand loyal. Use coupons, but only on things you would buy normally. Give frozen fruits and vegetables a try, they are basically as nutritionally sound as fresh.

Your Wallet Will Thank You

If you can average your meals out to $1 per month, 3 meals per day, 30 days per week, that is an average monthly spending of just $90! Compare that to that average per adult spending of $563, and you are saving yourself almost $475 per month, or $5680 per year!

Your Health Will Thank You

Many studies show over and over again the health benefits to eating vegetarian or vegan meals. Even if it is only one day, or one meal per week. Cutting meat and/or dairy will take a huge chunk out of your grocery bill (though maybe that trend is reversing), and you can only benefit from eating more beans, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.

Another way to keep the price per meal down is to limit portions to reasonable sizes (which we are SO bad at estimating!) and eating properly sized portions of food has scores of health benefits too.

The Planet Will Thank You

Eating a plant-based diet is much easier on the planet, because it takes far less land and water to grow an acre of corn, soybeans, squash, or lettuce than it does to feed several dozen acres worth of produce to an animal which we will then eat. Animals are pretty inefficient at using plant calories to produce muscle.

And the protein levels in legumes versus meat is pretty comparable. A 3 oz serving of chicken has about 21 grams of protein, which is the same amount found in:

  • 1.5 cups chickpeas
  • 1 cup + 3 tbsp lentils
  • 1 1/3 cup black beans

At the American average of 185 pounds of meat per year, just having one meatless meal per week could cut meat consumption by about 26 pounds per person per year. Imagine all the land and water saved, and the greenhouse gas emissions no longer emitted.

The journal Frontiers in Nutrition did a study in 2015 which concluded that  a diet that is vegetarian five days a week and includes meat just two days a week would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and water and land use by about 45 percent.

Oh also, for those who believe Paleo is all about bacon, our ancestors were probably mostly vegetarian. Just sayin.

Get to the Recipe!

Okay okay, all this to say that I’ve been trying to find ways to reduce meal costs but also to center my diet around whole plant based foods. This is the dirt-cheapest but most delicious recipe I’ve found. Yes, it is “beans and rice”, yes you can roll your eyes and say “oh classic frugal foodie starving themselves”, but I dare you to try it. Just try it, once a week, and see how you feel. Change it up a little, add some bouillon to make the rice tasty, add some frozen veggies to mix it up, pour on some salsa or hot sauce. But give it a fair chance.

Black beans: $2.49/ 2 lb
I usually cook 1-2 cups of beans at a time, and they roughly double in size. One cup of dried beans is about 1/2 pound, so let’s say $1.25. Then that makes 2 cups of cooked beans, and one serving is about one cup. So each 1 cup cooked beans = $0.63

Brown Rice: $2.99 / 3 lb
I also cook 1-2 cups at a time in my rice cooker, and this definitely puffs up to 2-3 times the size. To keep it simple and over-estimate lets just say that one cup dry rice is about 1/2 pound, so $0.50. One cup dry = 2 cups cooked, one cup cooked is a serving = $0.25

Salsa: $1.87 / 16 oz
I only use one or two tablespoons, just enough for some extra flavor. Let’s just say 1 oz per serving, so $0.12

Sometimes I’ll also sprinkle some salt on top from a tiny jar I keep in my desk drawer. The tiny bottle was a gift, so I’ll consider that $0. For my work lunches, I typically bring in 2-4 days’ worth at a time, and take each day’s portion from a larger container I leave in the office refrigerator. The calculations for one serving comes out to exactly one dollar!

That’s it! You can of course get fancy from here, adding spices to the beans like bay leave, pepper, cumin or adding chopped veggies like onions and peppers, or sprinkling shredded cheddar or avocado on top. It’s up to you to decide what tastes you cannot live without, but I find that the simplicity is perfect.

You can get the costs even lower by purchasing the rice and beans in larger volumes, rather than a few pounds at a time, or buying only when they are on sale. The cost will of course go up per serving if you add in cheese, other spices, or vegetables.

If you are concerned about the ‘lack of veggies’, the best option would be to add a cup or so from your favorite frozen vegetable. For example, a peppers and onion mix, or “California blend” can add fiber and nutrients to about 4-5 servings and make it even more filling. You could also buy a large container of spinach or mixed lettuce and have a salad on the side or serve the rice and beans over the greens.

 

Tell me, what’s your favorite $1 or less meal? Have you tried “Meatless Mondays”, or are you full vegetarian? Share your successes and questions in the comments!