Tag Archives: save money on food

Pantry Challenge – Week 3

 

So now we are in the home stretch of this challenge!  Week 3 of January has come and gone, and I’m planning our final week of January and eating from the pantry.  If you’re just tuning in and want the full scoop, check out these posts:

How it all started & Why
Week 1 Update
Week 2 Update

The only wrench in this week so far is the impending snow storm the East is getting this weekend.  As I write this early Saturday, we already have a few inches of accumulated snow, with more on the way all weekend long.  But I’m not worried.  We have plenty of food still stocked in the freezer & pantry, including non-cook items like packaged salmon & tuna, granola bars, and pop-tarts (yeah, I still have a few boxes I bought on sale a while ago hanging out…)

Chair covered with snow

To prepare for the snow storm, we also brought in three extra stacks of fire wood and piled it in a corner of the living room, found three flashlights and made sure there were new batteries, and have lots of water stored away, just in case.  When it comes to Mother Nature, you just never know what she’s gonna throw at you.

This week, all I’ve bought at the grocery store includes:

Dairy Fruit/Veg
Kefir (2) 5.28 Avocado 0.98
Half and half 3.98 Apples (3) 1.87
Ricotta cheese 3.47 Bananas (9) 0.86
Yogurt (8) 3.64 Oranges (2) 1
TOTAL $21.08 Pears (2) 1.32

 

I’m just over my $20 limit, which is fine.  All told, I’ve gone over each week, but by $3 or less each time.  If this were an actual life-or-death financial situation, I would definitely not be buying as much fresh produce, or any at all.  Sometimes, you have to sacrifice short-term nutrition until you are in a more stable financial place before you can add back in fresh produce and dairy.  But I am lucky enough to have the resources to not worry if I go over my budget by a dollar or two, and am very thankful for that!

This past week’s menu included:

Jan 16 – Butternut squash macaroni & cheese for lunch, Olive Garden for date night dinner
Jan 17 – Black bean turkey burgers & fries, salad
Jan 18 – Chicken cacciatore
Jan 19 – Leftover burgers, asparagus, potatoes
Jan 20 – Burritos
Jan 21 – Stuffed shells, salad
Jan 22 – Leftover buffet

Breakfast was mostly oatmeal (steel cut oats, dried cranberries, cinnamon & water or nut milk) or toast & almond butter, and lunches were almost exclusively leftovers from dinner.  One day I went and got lunch from a food truck at work, and one night we used a gift card from Christmas to go to Olive Garden for dinner.  Both of those occasions ended up giving us enough leftovers for two more meals as well, so one time eating out = 3 meals total.

Butternut Squash Macaroni & Cheese

Overall, this challenge is not as challenging as I thought it might be, but that is likely because I’ve stocked up so thoroughly before now that I have too much excess.  So I guess I’ve learned I need to either calm down on buying when there are deals (sad face) or have these challenges on a more regular basis, where I use up a good portion of pantry items before I buy more.

It is also teaching me to be more creative about leftovers.  For example, I had a butternut squash that I had used for decoration for Halloween (yup, they last a looooong time) and also some cracker-sized cheddar cheese slices I’d bought on sale and we never used.  Therefore, I naturally decided to make butternut squash mac & cheese.  Even using only half the squash made a TON (there is still enough for another serving or two…) and I have half a cooked and mashed squash, to turn into soup, or butternut squash gnocchi this week!

Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese

Just looking in the fridge at what odds and ends are still hanging around can give you ideas about what to make that will cost you little to nothing extra for a whole new meal, so this is a big money-saver.  And of course, if all else fails, make soup!  Now with winter finally roaring to life, there’s nothing quite so warm and comforting as a hot bowl of soup.  You can throw just about anything into a pot, add water and spices, and have a meal ready in 20 minutes flat.

Stay tuned for the final week!

 

How to Save Tomato Seeds

 

As the world settles into the summer-fall change of pace, kids going back to school, traffic patterns adjusting, temperatures cooling off, birds are migrating, stores change their displays to autumn holidays, and gardeners are busy preserving the tapering bounty of produce.

In season now are fresh juicy peaches, heavy enough to break limbs as they nearly fall off the tree, pears of all shapes, sizes and colors, summer squashes like butternut, delicata, and sweet dumpling, the tail end of watermelon and cantaloupes, and the heat lovers like peppers and tomatoes are ramping down production.

Tomato_Seeds.1
Although, this doesn’t look very ramped-down to me!

Meanwhile, the cold weather lovers like spinach, bok choi, brussels sprouts, pumpkins, and winter squash are coming alive and some may be planted now for a second fall/early winter harvest.

One of my absolute favorite things about gardening is the seeds. And the miracle that one tiny seed is capable of producing pounds upon pounds of produce. And that one single fruit from that plant, if you keep one single seed and plant it again, you can again get pounds and pounds of produce!

I honestly sit and wonder sometimes how many growing seasons it would take for one tomato seed to reproduce enough to cover the planet.

Say one tomato makes 200 seeds, and each seed is planted the next year to create 200 plants. Then each plant creates twenty fruits, each with 200 seeds. Now you have 40,000 seeds, each capable of being planted again the next year.

And so on.

Tomatoes could inherit the Earth in about 10 years, I think.

Tomato_Seeds.12
Seeds from heirloom Italian tomato varieties

There are so many good reasons to save seeds:

  • It promotes heirloom varieties – non-GMO and non-altered versions of a plant that will create new, similar plants the following growing season; each unique
  • You produce plants that are best-adapted to your individual climate, elevation, and soil. No store-bought seeds can be ideally suited to every location, but a few growing seasons of choosing the best fruit and saving the seeds will breed the traits that are best for you & your plants
  • It is essentially free food! If you save seeds, you only have to buy them one time, but can plant indefinitely
  • It promotes self-reliance. If you can grow your own food year after year, it doesn’t matter if the store runs out or doesn’t have any nice-looking produce, you know you can harvest your own right out of your back yard
  • You can create ‘designer produce’. Seed saving is a little bit like genetic modification, only much slower and done as nature does. You can choose fruits based on how quickly they mature, how many leaves the plant grows, or color, and by choosing the trait(s) you want you can enhance the chance that more of the next generation will have those traits. Eventually you can create an entirely new, true-breeding species!

With that said, here’s how to save seeds from tomatoes easily. It is much simpler than you may think!

Ingredients:

  • 1 large tomato of a variety you want to save
  • Cup of water
  • Time

Tomato_Seeds.2

Step 1: Cut the top off the tomato & discard or compost it.

Tomato_Seeds.11

Step 2: Cut the tomato into wedges, and squeeze out the pulp and seeds into a cup. It’s okay to get juice and goo in with the seeds, you will get rid of it soon.

Tomato_Seeds.5

Step 3: Cover with a paper towel or cloth and let it sit at room temperature for a day or two. The water may get frothy, and some seeds may sink while a few float. The goo will slowly degrade, leaving the seeds uncovered.

photo 1(1)

Step 4: Strain through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth, or simple pour off the cloudy water and re-cover until there is nothing left but seeds. Spread onto a plate and let air dry for 24 hours.

photo 3

Step 5: Put the dry seeds into an envelope or other container, and store it in a cool, dry area where it is not likely to get wet or be invaded by insects.

Tomato_Seeds.4
Canned tomato sauce from my garden tomatoes

Step 6: The next planting season, plant your seeds and watch them grow! Soon your seeds may have stories attached to them, you can create your own fun names for the new species, and pass them down to your friends and family for their enjoyment too.

Meals Under $5

 

We all experience some times where we are on a tight budget. Maybe that time is only during college, and you are lucky enough to get a good-paying job with degree in hand. Maybe that time is during the holidays, when food budgets are stretched with all the family get-togethers and parties. Maybe that time is your whole life. Maybe you have plenty of cash to spare, but want to use it for things other than extravagant meals.

Whatever the case, making a frugal meal definitely does not have to be tasteless and boring!

With my “Less Than 5” category, I am aiming to create and share recipes which take less than $5, less than 5 minutes to make, and/or less than 5 ingredients. Bonus points for me if all three apply!

I will update this post periodically as I continue to add more “Less Than 5” recipes. This one will be specific to meals which will cost less than $5 per serving. So if you only have a few dollars in your pocket, you are better off reading these recipes and heading to the grocery store than blowing it all at once on a dollar menu. These recipes will (mostly) be filling and somewhat healthy for pennies a plate.

money

First let’s get the classic budget recipes in a list:

  • Peanut butter & jelly sandwich
  • Macaroni & cheese (though with the price of cheese soaring, I don’t know about homemade mac n cheese anymore)
  • Ramen noodles
  • Beans & Rice
  • Tuna salad sandwich

Now these are a little bit more creative:

Do you have any recipe ideas that are less than $5? Please share in the comments!

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

 

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

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

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

What is Meal Planning?


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

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

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

Why should I bother?


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

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

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

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

How to make a meal plan

A typical week’s meal plan for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grocery cart

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

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

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



Do you plan meals in advance?