Tag Archives: meal planning

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!

Weekly Eating – 9/25

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!

 

I spent part of the weekend making ahead breakfasts and lunches by making a pitcher full of smoothie and putting it in mason jars, as well as mason jar salads. That way all I had to do was grab a jar from the fridge every day and lunch was ready to go! It is a great way to save money and time (buy in bulk, make 5 days lunch at once) and to get my daily greens & veggies.

My aunt and grandmother were also in town all weekend and through Wednesday, so we got to hang out a lot. We went to an Oktoberfest in downtown Durham, played games at the Atomic Fern, sampled all the things at the 10th Annual Pepper Festival, and explored Lafayette Village in Raleigh. It’s always fun spending time with family, but even moreso when ALL your family lives 1000 miles away, and you only get to see them a few times a year. 🙂

Side note, holy what it’s October?! Ok, Bye 2017…

Monday:

Breakfast – Toast with peanut butter. Not gonna lie, a cold smoothie just didn’t sound good, and whole grain toast with peanut butter is one of my top easy go-to breakfasts.

Lunch – Mason jar salad. Super delicious, healthy, and surprisingly filling. The trick is to put the ‘heartier’ things on the bottom, like cut carrots, broccoli, and olives, and then things like peppers/ cheese/ beets/ red cabbage and delicate greens on top. Come lunch time, just dump it all into a bowl!

Dinner – We were supposed to go to Myrtle Beach today, but my grandmother wasn’t feeling up to the long drive. So instead we took dinner to them! Hubs made some chicken thighs while I was driving home, then I fried up some chopped cauliflower and baked some biscuits. Paired with a simple salad, it was a perfect, relaxed dinner.

Tuesday:

Breakfast – oatmeal from my desk oatmeal jar, another easy breakfast go-to that’s healthy and frugal

Lunch –  I took a half day in lieu of Monday, and we went to CowFish in Raleigh! They were both amazed at the wacky decor, and the crazy fusion menu. This time I got The Big Squeal. With a bison patty, BBQ pulled pork, fried onion rings, bacon slaw, and chipotle aioli, this massive beast was a big, delicious mess!

The burger was basically bigger than my head, and those sweet potato fries are SO GOOD. My aunt got the Hamandegger, which features a burger layered with a fried egg, cheese, and sliced ham. It looked quite delicious, and there wasn’t much talking once the burgers showed up, so I’m thinking it was good! And Gram got the plain baby burger with Swiss & tomato. We had to pay extra for the cheese, by which she was outraged. It was kinda funny.

Dinner – We had a good time shopping all afternoon in Raleigh, and were too tuckered out to deal with going out again. Plus cooking at home is fun for me, and way cheaper! We stopped at a Kroger to get all the ingredients for our family’s famous Fettuccini with shrimp, broccoli & carrots.

Snack – Oh, and while we were out we found a place called Duck Donuts… and holy crap are they good! It might be worth driving the 30 minutes to get these made-fresh-when-you-order, totally customizable doughnuts! The maple bacon was AHmaZING.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – smoothie in a jar

Lunch – salad in a jar

Dinner – This was their last night in town, so we went big for seafood at Full Moon Oyster Bar. This was a fun spot, with open seating, you just walk up to the bar and pick a spot. They have dedicated “shuckers” to get your fresh oysters to you and take your order. We had a bunch of apps and dishes, plus Wednesday is half off wine bottles! The seafood pasta was oh so tasty.

Snack – peanut butter cookie

Thursday:

Breakfast – raisin oatmeal at my desk

Lunch – mason jar salad

Dinner – I had a great time making pepperoni rolls 3 ways! As rolls, as biscuits, and as sandwiches. I got most of the ingredients on sale, which made total ingredients cost about $8 for 2 rolls, 16 biscuits, and 10 sandwiches. With even more pepperoni leftover to freeze.

I made 4 big batches, so that we can take some extra with us this weekend, and freeze a few for later too. They make great snacks, and keep hubs full when its time for “second dinner”.

Snack – 2 tbsp Ranch & raw veggies

Friday:

Breakfast – Mango Peach Smoothie. We finished all the pre-made smoothie jars, so I just whipped this up in the morning with canned peaches and frozen mango and split it with hubs. It was quite delish!

Lunch – Mason jar salad. I was very pleased with how well these held up all week long. I was a little concerned that the salad greens would get wet and mushy, but they were still crisp by Friday after making the jars on Sunday. This is a weekly trend I plan to continue. The Green Goddess was probably my favorite dressing this week too.

Dinner – Leftovers buffet! We are headed out of town this weekend, so we need to finish up anything that won’t last until Monday.

The Weekend

This weekend we are heading to a friends’ cabin in the mountains! It will be a mix of people we know and people we don’t, with a dozen of us and five dogs in the mix. There will be mostly hiking and game playing, we are taking turns making meals by couple, and there will likely be no or spotty cell phone reception. All in all it should be a super fun, disconnect-from-the-world, very frugal weekend of making new friends and getting closer with friends we already have! I’m very much looking forward to it.

Total: $97

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

We spent a little more than usual this week due to family being in town and eating out more than normal, plus extra groceries to cook for 4 a few times. Totally worth it though, to spend time with family! Plus they paid for eating out far more often than we did, so it was an overall win for sure!

Lessons Learned

Make-ahead smoothies and salads are AMAZING! This is a super quick prep that saves me SO MUCH TIME in the mornings. I get together the jars and ingredients, toss them in layers, using about 15 minutes. Then all I do is grab a to-go jar in the morning and toss it in my work bag. Maybe I can actually get around to doing yoga in the mornings now with all this free time?!? (HaHa)

Also, eating out a lot makes me feel like blah… I don’t regret it, the time spent with family is totally worth it. But after so many years of cooking for myself at home, I can really feel the difference. First of all, the portions are insanely huge compared to what I eat at home, which is sort of a perk because I almost always have leftovers. But then that messes up the meal plan a little bit, by having ‘extra’ meals around.

And then the restaurant food is saltier, fattier, and generally lacking in vegetables compared to what I would cook. This makes me not feel my best for days afterwards. Good thing weeks like that are only occasional treats. It blows my mind that SO MANY Americans live like that, on a daily basis. I couldn’t do it.

 

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

Weekly Eating: Labor Day 9/4

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!

 

Hope y’all had a nice long weekend, and made it through the short week! I know I had a great time, a friend’s wedding on Sunday was so much fun! It is nice to be part of such a joyful day in someone’s life. Plus, the food was phenomenal! Brisket, pulled pork, duck, the world’s most to-die-for creamy mac n cheese… mmm! Wedding calories don’t count, right?

Monday:

Brunch – since we had the day off, we slept in a little. Then I made a sausage and pepper breakfast strata with black beans.

Dinner – We decided to go exploring nearby, and ended up in the town of Pittsboro. It is a tiny little quaint main street southwest of Chapel Hill, in the middle of some beautiful country. We stopped and walked around the downtown, and had some sandwiches; I had a Reuben. It was huge and I only finished half, so hooray leftovers!

I also cooked a whole chicken in the crock pot overnight, and in the morning shredded it all into a container in the fridge for dinners / lunches this week.

Tuesday:

Breakfast – breakfast strata

Lunch – leftover sausage & peppers, black beans, mixed with some water and rice to make soup

Dinner – Ham & Potato soup (freezer to crock pot meal!)

Snack – sliced apple

Wednesday:

Breakfast – breakfast strata

Lunch – Leftover 1/2 Reuben sandwich, pickle, edamame

Dinner – Buffalo Chicken Potato Bake, one of my all-time favorites. I used Ranch instead of sour cream, and added frozen (thawed) cauliflower and broccoli. Winning!

Snack – 1/2 a cucumber sliced

Thursday 

Breakfast – granola bar

Lunch – Chicken salad w grapes, avocado, edamame; this was a very ‘green’ lunch   🙂

Dinner – Crock Pot Chocolate Chili. I tried a crazy new idea, and added a few tbsp of Hershey’s syrup to the chili, along with some coffee and hot sauce. It came out complex and delicious! We also stir in a bit of plain Greek yogurt, I’m a big fan of the flavor.

Snack – mint chocolate chip yogurt

Friday

Breakfast – chocolate coco loco yogurt

Lunch – Turkey sandwich, sunchips, mozzarella stick. I packed my sandwich in the bread bag because I’d used the last 2 slices, and waste not want not right??

Dinner – Tyler’s Taproom pulled pork mac n cheese & garlic fries (I stole a few from my dining companions 😉 ) I should write a review on this place, they had great atmosphere, great service, and the food was OUTSTANDING! Highly recommend.

The Weekend

My dad was in town (a trip to the Georgia coast got cancelled due to Hurricane Irma) so we hung out. Walked around downtown Durham and found some cool new hangout spots, watched The Office on Netflix, and had a miracle berry tasting party!

If you’ve never heard of Miracle Berry, check it out. It coats your taste buds, so that anything sour or acidic tastes sweet! It’s pretty weird, a great mind game. We tried pickles, sauerkarut, cranberries, lemons and lime juice, wines, and straight shots of vinegar! It was quite fun.

Total: $0!

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

We did not spend any money at the grocery store this week which is awesome! However we did spend some money out. Since my dad came for a spontaneous visit, we had to treat him to a few meals. We also did a fun ghost walking tour of downtown Durham, which stopped at a few pubs along the way, so we had a few drinks as well. It was so fun, we heard some great stories about Durham’s past, and found several great places that we want to come back to in the future.

Lessons Learned

It’s good to keep your grocery budget and your ‘eating out’ budget seperate! If you do well not spending on one, you can always boost the other. But to me, they are very different things, as eating out is a social occasion. Groceries are to have in stock in the home. And we also try not to eat out very often, about 90% of our food is all cooked at home. This also helps me to not feel at all guilty when we do indulge!

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

Weekly Eating: 8/28

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 week, the whole nation has Texas on our minds and hearts. With the crazy amount of flooding and destruction from Hurricane Harvey, I hope our readers and family/friends are safe, dry, and warm. We will rally together as we always do after tragic events, and will rebuild to rise stronger, y’all! If you feel the desire to donate to help those affected, please see one of the charities HERE.

On Sunday, I made my typical whole chicken in a crock pot, and then broth overnight. I had some fresh rosemary, sage, and thyme so I added that, as well as some bay leaves hanging out in the spice cabinet. This is one of my favorite smells ever to wake up to. Plus it makes several quarts of high quality stock to use to cook things like beans and quinoa the rest of the week, along with the pieces of the chicken for use in various dinners.

Monday:

Breakfast – Mixed berry smoothies (that I remembered to take a picture of!). 8oz frozen berries + banana + yogurt + protein powder + pomegranate juice = YUM

Lunch – turkey wrap & grapes. This is an easy peasy lunch option to throw together, plus it’s portable in case I’m away from my desk at lunch time (i.e. in clinic).

Dinner – Shredded chicken quesadillas with quinoa & black beans. I made a big batch of both quinoa (with the stock of course) and black beans to eat throughout the week. Some of the chicken meat from Sunday was shredded and turned into these delish quesadillas.

Snack – white bean rosemary hummus & 1/2 cucumber

Tuesday:

Breakfast – tropical mango smoothie. I used frozen mango and peaches, canned pineapple and bananas. Plus some pomegranate juice and plain Greek yogurt. SO GOOD! And it made enough for like 4 smoothies, which makes hubby happy.

Lunch – quinoa & black beans – I brought a big container full of both to work, to keep for easy lunches. I added some avocado and salsa to round it out and for flavor.

Dinner – Chicken Paprikush! This recipe tastes like a warm hug from the inside out. It’s salty, creamy, and absolutely perfect. I used plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream to lighten it up a bit, and to justify eating at least 2 bowls at a time.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – egg & cheese Bagel Thin sammich. This is so dang easy, just scramble an egg in a cup and microwave it, put it on the bagel with cheese and zap the whole thing for 15 seconds. Done.

Lunch – quinoa & beans. I love bringing in a big container of something on Monday, and having lunch ready for several days in a row. This is a super easy option. I got extra fancy and also added a quarter of an avocado and some salsa.

Dinner – Whole wheat penne pasta with the bratwurst from last week’s Food Swap, peas & broccoli. I love one-pot meals! And the bratwurst was SO DELICIOUS!

Snack – 5 Susannah Smiles cookies & peppermint tea. This is a new lemon cookie from Girl Scouts, and someone at work brought in a box. Since I was making tea, I decided this would be the perfect accompaniment. They were tart, and quite hard, but when dipped in the tea it was perfect.

Plus my other snack option was an apple… today, I chose sugar 🙂

Thursday 

Breakfast – Tropical granola & milk

Lunch – chicken paprikush, with more left for tomorrow! I just love this stuff. Tastes like my childhood.

Dinner – Chicken Broccoli Cheddar Rice. This was a change-up from our planned Buffalo Chicken Potato Bake because I had a really long day at work, and got home exhausted and starving. I didn’t have the patience to wait for the oven to bake the things for over an hour, but we already had a baked chicken breast from Sunday and some leftover rice (I always make an extra big batch), plus I always have frozen broccoli. So pulling this together just required a little microwaving and we had dinner ready in 10 minutes.

 

Friday

Breakfast – Oatmeal with Apples, Raisins & Maple Syrup. Now that fall is setting in, and you can feel the chill in the air, I fall back on my favorite cold weather breakfast, hot oatmeal! Oats are very cheap, and filling, so they are an awesome frugal breakfast choice. And there are so many ways to dress them up, from Chai Apple & Brown Sugar to Peach Kefir to Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana.

Lunch – more leftover chicken paprikush! Hubby is not a big fan of soups, which normally frustrates me because I make a lot and can’t eat it all… but this one, I’m not mad about keeping all to myself!

Dinner – Mozzarella Stuffed Chicken Breasts. I saw some variation of this somewhere, and when I mentioned it to hubby his eyes got huge and I could practically see the drool…

So since I had some breasts in the freezer, I just quick-thawed them in hot water and we pulled this together in about 10 minutes (plus 40 bake time). With some fettuccini on the side, it really was super delicious! I would make it again for sure. But with fresh chicken, so it’s easier to pound flat.

The Weekend

Labor Day Weekend is a long one, but we don’t have any big plans as both the things we were going to do fell through. It’s all for the best though, as hubby has a project to work on and a trip back to CT for work things soon, and I can now attend a friends’ wedding on Sunday! Then take Monday as a bonus relaxation day. Ahhhh.

Total: $26.06

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

As you can see, we had a little rearrangement of the meal plan. I am really digging this whiteboard on the wall from our kitchen update, my hubby is the best! But I kept to the plan pretty well, with the exception of the late work night. Which brings up the point of convenience… a lot of people don’t want to or can’t cook every night due to their job and or life schedules.

I get it, when you are wiped out tired and hungry NOW, sometimes the last thing you want to do it spend an hour in the kitchen. That’s why it’s so important to have 3-5 meals you know you can pull together quickly and easily, with things you always have around!

Lessons Learned

We did really well this week! I tried to plan more based around what I already have stocked in the pantry and freezer. This is why I love stocking up on great sales, like $0.98/lb chicken breasts, or whole chickens on clearance. You pay more up front, but less per unit so that when you do use the food, the price per meal is lower than if I’d had to run to the store the week I need it.

 

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

Weekly Eating 8/7/17

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

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

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

 

Monday:

Breakfast – Cherry Vanilla Protein Smoothie. What you see is what went in the blender, except I used frozen already-pitted cherries. The fresh ones were for snacking all week.  🙂

Lunch – chili with edamame and grapes. Organic frozen edamame are my favorite, because I love them (covered in sea salt of course) and they count as a green vegetable with any meal!

Dinner – one pan rosemary chicken and potatoes with zucchini. I speared chunks of chicken onto the rosemary stems, and sprinkled the leaves all over about 4 cubed potatoes. 2 zucchini got diced into spears, and the whole thing covered in foil and popped in the oven at 400 for about 35 minutes. It was so delicious, and really easy cleanup!

Snack – banana pudding y’all! We made some from scratch, and it was gooooooooood! We used ginger snaps instead of vanilla wafers, and I had no idea pudding is actually so easy! Tasty, and dangerous…

Tuesday:

Breakfast – smoothie! The rest of yesterdays (I made a double batch, and put the rest in the refrigerator)

Lunch – Chili with edamame and grapes. Yes this week is pretty boring, but I had SO MUCH chili left over from last week. Rather than freeze it I decided that was just what I was eating this week. It’s easy, super healthy, and super cheap.

Dinner –  macaroni & cheese, not even healthified, just something that was quick and easy to throw together, plus we had several types of cheese in the refrigerator that needed using. I sprinkled it with paprika to look fancy.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – 2 hard boiled eggs & a homemade pretzel chocolate peanut butter granola bar

Lunch – chili mac n cheese, just leftover chili and leftover mac n cheese mixed together. But oh em gee it is SO GOOD.

Dinner – gyros! Hubs made this one, since his favorite food of all time is a burrito. He loves other cuisines’ takes on burritos too, like enchiladas, sushi burritos, or schwarma. Or gyros. Mmmmm.

Snack – handful of pretzels and M&Ms

Thursday 

Breakfast – a piece of blueberry pie left from last weekend’s party

Lunch – tasty pasta

Dinner – broiled chicken breast, potato salad & kale. I tried cooking the kale in lemon juice until soft, but I think I let it go too long. It got this dark olive green color, and was barely edible. Next time I think I’ll just stick with kale chips!

Friday

Breakfast – granola bar & 2 hard boiled egg whites. Yes sometimes I get boring and repeat meals, what of it?! Plus, boiling a dozen eggs at the start of the week and making large batches of things like granola bars gives us plenty of quick protein filled breakfast and snacking options. So necessary at 6:30 am.

Lunch – chili mac n cheese = finally finished both the chili and the mac n cheese! Yes!

Dinner – Chipotle! I had been hard core craving this for almost 2 weeks, and finally caved. C’est la vie, I don’t regret it. Plus, I get a burrito bowl, and they always pack that container full. I put part of it into my own tortilla when I get home, and that way I turn one bowl into 2-3 meals! That’s like $3 per meal. Aw yessss.

The Weekend

This weekend is pretty relaxed, just going to Saturday morning rooftop yoga, and the Durham Farmers Market. We planned to explore some towns near us perhaps, and do some organizing at home. Maybe some video games… by maybe I mean definitely.

Total: $89.35

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

Lessons Learned

This was a good week, some things at our jobs were finally calming down and assorted outstanding items were done, so stress levels decreased overall. Always a nice feeling. Plus using up leftovers, even if it means repeat meals, is a top 10 frugal strategy.

On the flip side, I didn’t make a meal plan this week, so the meals were figured out the day of usually… and we also went out to eat twice, which is not our norm.  It is what nudged the week’s cost up, as groceries alone were only about $30. But it felt much more special exactly because it is a rare event!

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

Weekly eating #2 – 6/26

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating. Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep me on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting. Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

Monday:

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

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

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

Snack – cut up honeydew and cantaloupe from Farmers Market

Tuesday:

Breakfast – homemade KIND nut bar

Snack – coconut almond yogurt flip

Lunch – free Margarita pizza at a work event!

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

Wednesday:

Breakfast – homemade yogurt  with blueberries, walnuts, & agave

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

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

Snacks – homemade KIND nut bar

Thursday:

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

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

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

Friday:

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

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

Dinner – pasta & meatballs, with garlic bread & salad

Snack – hummus with carrots & cucumbers

The Weekend:

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

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

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

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

Total:  $33.62

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

Lessons Learned

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

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

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

 

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

How to: Save money on your grocery bill

.
Groceries are a fact of life. Unless you are one of a VERY small minority, you do not raise and/or grow all the food you eat. Also I’m sure there are people out there who never cook their own food, but rely on take-out and fast food for daily nutrition. That blows my mind of course, because I find such joy in cooking, creating, and enjoying homemade meals.
There aren’t many things more exciting to me than to bring home a big load of groceries for less than I intended to spend. Every time I go grocery shopping, I have a certain number in my head that I am allowing myself to spend. If I get everything I need for the week for less than that number, I am excited. If I go over that number, I just know I need to plan better, or have better impulse control, next time. 
 
My plan of attack when it comes to grocery shopping is always the same. It comes down to:
1. Knowing what you use most often
2. Paying attention to sales & in-season produce
3. Price comparing between a few stores
4. Buying generic or store brands
5. Making a budget and sticking to it

Know what you use most often

To know what you use most often, simply pay attention to what you run out of the most. What types of foods do you and/or your family want to eat often? Do you make a lot of pasta? Maybe cereal disappears within a day. Is there a tradition in the family like Taco Tuesdays? Noticing what you use often will help you plan around sales and stock up on staples. What I use most hasn’t changed much over the past few years: rice, canned diced tomatoes, canned beans, frozen mixed vegetables. These things make up the bulk of my weekly diet. I don’t know that I’ve ever gone a week without eating each of those things somehow.

Pay attention to sales & in-season produce

Sprouts Farmers Market is a place I go often because of their amazingly cheap produce. I get weekly salad greens, fresh fruits and vegetables there. Most staple items like bread, tortillas, canned goods, etc, comes from King Sooper or somewhere else. Which reminds me, if there is something or certain kinds of food you need a specialty store for, keep them in your rotation of ads to watch.

All this produce was under $30! And most of that is just their everyday low prices, not bargain sales. However, most grocery stores will greatly discount whatever produce is in season, because they have a lot of it and it needs to sell before it goes bad. Pay attention to what is in season, and maybe try a new fruit or vegetable you’ve never had that’s on sale. You may have found a cheap new favorite!

Price compare between stores

Every week I get ads from at least seven different stores. I have a few favorites that I pick out, the others I discard because they are too far from me or for some other reason I don’t shop there. Typically Sprouts Farmers Market, King Soopers, and Albertson’s ads get saved and looked through.

I will sit down and look through each ad quickly, circling items which I know are a good deal, or which I use often and are on sale. Then I compare amongst the three which has more deals that week. Sometimes I will go to all three if the deals are worth it, usually I end up going to only one or two with the most things I want to buy. 

When there is a really good sale, I mean one that you only see once or twice a year, I will stock up. For example Albertson’s sometimes has “buy one get two free” sales on meats, or King Soopers often has 10 for $10 sales. I know how quickly I go through my pantry items, so if kidney beans are 50 cents, I will be bringing at least a dozen home. Because they usually are 69 cents, which saves me 19 cents per can. That may not sound like much, but it’s little things like that, added up over years, that makes a big difference in bank account balances. 

Buy generic or store brands

If you are a loyal brand-centric consumer and you don’t trust generics, start small. Try the store brand of flour, or salt, and cook with it. When you can’t tell the difference, try some granola bars or oatmeal. Pretty soon you will see what items you can’t tell the brand name from generic and which items are really different in quality. By this point, the things I refuse to buy generic I could probably count on one hand, because there just isn’t enough of a difference in quality for me to justify the price difference. And that saves me hundreds every year!

Make a budget & stick to it

As mentioned earlier, I look at a budget as a game. It is a number I set in my head, based on how much I think I’ll buy, that I try to beat. If I find some deal or coupon that brings down my total, I have a better chance of winning. If I plan and price compare, I have a better chance of winning. The lower the total at the register, the higher the total in my checking account!

You can read more in my earlier article on making a budget & sticking to it, which includes how to add in all the things you spend money on monthly, not just food.


I have read tons of articles that advocate for making a weekly or monthly meal plan, stressing those items on sale that week, and then buying only those things you need to complete the plan. I am not quite that organized to pull that off yet. Instead, I have a rotation of meals that I know I love and can make quickly, which all use the same basic ingredients. Then I add in a few meals I’ve found recently that I want to try making, or if there is an event coming up, I’ll add any items I need for those things to the list. 

If I’m feeling extra over-achieving, I will even split the list into types, like “dairy”, “carbs”, “produce”, etc.  to make navigating the store easier. But if I don’t get around to it, I don’t beat myself up. And almost every week for several months, I get more than enough groceries for under $100. I’m sure I could pare that down to half or less, but I also enjoy cooking new and more expensive foods now and then, and experimenting with things for this blog. 

Anyhow, if you normally only grocery shop when there’s nothing left in the house but a can of spaghetti-os and some green sour cream, try these simple steps. Check around and price compare, make a list before you go, then pick up only those things on the list. Short, sweet, and you can be sure you’re saving yourself some cash. You can look over those grocery receipts and smile.


How often do you shop for food?