Monday, September 24, 2012

Meal planning

Our grocery allowance for this month was $400.  I have no idea how much it actually costs to feed a family of four because we ate out so often in the past, so I picked $400 as a goal to stick to.  Some months we will spend less, and other months we will spend more.  I do think of myself has a thrifty shopper on a regular basis, but we have been extra thrifty in the previous 24 days.  I actually checked a sales add or two this month.  Amazing.  I envy those people who are "extreme couponers" - I really do.  I want to be you.  The time or two that I've purchased a Sunday paper for the coupons, I've spent more on the paper than I got back in coupons!  I try to use online coupons, but I always forget to send them with Pen or he forgets to use them.

Instead of couponing, we just eat cheap.  Bottom line.  We split a cow with my parents every year right after we get our tax return.  They purchase half a cow, and my brother and I share the other half.  My younger brother also raises pigs for 4-H, so we have the opportunity to purchase some of that meat from my parents as well.  While it's more expensive up front, it's cheaper overall, plus we always have something to eat in our house. 

I've been making a meal calendar for many years (not that we actually stuck to it in the past).  It's helped tremendously with grocery shopping, and I highly recommend it.  You could always look at sales ads to make your menu, but we just try to eat cheap as a general rule.

We're a big pasta-eating family.  I love pasta.  And bread.  And cheese.  But I digress.  We often have spaghetti (I was fettuccine noodles because spaghetti noodles make me gag.  They're like little worms) with garlic bread.  To get some more veg into our diets, I sometimes cut a head of broccoli up really fine and add it to my sauce.  We use our french bread recipe to make garlic bread by making a butter spread with garlic and onion power in it and adding cheese on top.

We have Taco Tuesday every week.  I shared our taco seasoning recipe with you already, and I've been using that for years.  We'll sometimes do tortilla chips with that, but not every Tuesday. 

On Wednesdays Pen normally hangs out with some friends from work, so it's just the Piglets and I for dinner.  Sometimes we'll eat leftovers, but normally we eat chicken and noodle soup with grilled cheese, especially during the winter.  I like to make my own soup, but in the case we don't have the money in the budget for that, the $5 family size Campbell's can does just fine! 

Thursdays we generally have breakfast for dinner.  This is probably our cheapest dinner overall.  I buy 12 eggs every Wednesday from a lady who comes to the hospital and sells them for $1.50.  The usual dinner is scrambled eggs with bacon and pancakes, but sometimes we have bacon and egg sandwiches.

Friday is Pizza and Movie Night (as I've mentioned countless times).  We've been making our own pizza crust, french bread, and sauce, and it's been a much cheaper alternative to eating Pizza Hut every Friday.  We've saved $60 just by not buying pizza this month (it would have been $90, but . . . Saturday happened).  We also went to the gas station and bought fountain sodas for this "event", but we've been getting a "Buy 1 Get 1 Half Off" coupons on the Pepsi Next bottles.  That's a pretty good deal!

I work until 5:00 every night and Piglet 2's bedtime is 7:00, so I have a limited amount of time during the week to vary our menus.  It's also helped us to have a routine with our meals.  Pen knows every Monday to set out a pound of ground turkey or beef, etc.  It's helped us to stick with our meals.

On Saturdays and Sundays, I have the chance to experiment here and there with our meals.  We generally do a big meal on Sunday nights (shredded pork, smoked turkey, or lasagna).  Saturdays we often grill (pork steaks are a favorite at our house - yummy and cheap!).  We also do homemade biscuits and gravy, and we try to throw in some more chicken here and there.

My biggest "secret" to eating cheap is this: Make enough for leftovers!  Sure, I cook for a family of four (or maybe five . . . six at the most, except when I'm making pasta, then I make enough for my family and 75 of our closest friends and extended family), but my kiddos are not big eaters.  We always have leftovers around for lunches for the week, or "scavenge" meals.  Pen has to take his lunch every day, and so I try to make him at least another meal or two out of what we're having for dinner.  When we're making breakfast for dinner, he'll make some extra pancakes and freeze them in aluminium foil for Piglet 1's breakfast the next day.  There's always spaghetti sauce left over, and generally there's enough taco meat for two more tacos (he fries them in some veg oil so they don't fall apart throughout the day).  We also keep frozen fish around, as that's really easy for him to make in a hurry in the morning. 

Here's one of our favorite (cheap dinner) recipes:

Chicken Broccoli Casserole

4-6 boneless skinless chicken breasts (we use the frozen kind in the bag for this recipe)
1 box of bow tie pasta (or really any type of pasta)
3 to 4 cups of broccoli florets (again, we use the frozen kind)
2 cans cream of chicken soup (or cream of broccoli or mushroom)
Parmesan cheese
Salt, pepper, Italian seasoning

I cut the thawed chicken into bite size pieces, season with S&P and the Italian seasoning, and cook on the stove top in butter and olive oil until done.  At the same time, I cook the bow tie pasta.  When the pasta if about five minutes from being done, I add the broccoli to the boiling water.  Once everything is cooked, I add the pasta and broccoli to the pan I cooked the chicken in (lots of good flavor on the bottom of that pan!) and add two big handfuls of Parmesan (you can never have enough cheese!) and one can of soup.  I add about half a cup of milk, then stir (I use tongs).  The soup and milk will make a nice sauce, but occasionally it will be too thin or too thick.  About half the time I end up adding the other can of soup (and some more milk along with it), but it just depends on the size of the chicken breasts.  We eat it warm for dinner with bread and butter, and cold for lunches the next day.

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