December 2016

Freezer Meals Save Money On Groceries

Freezer Meal Planning

A  lone Christmas light peeking out of the snow

The festive lights along the railing are chilly and snow-covered. Its cold outside, but I’ve been busy inside trying to find ways to frugalize the grocery budget during the holidays.  With a little imagination and a well-stocked freezer, our bellies are full and our Christmas budget is going further.  A very merry occasion indeed!

When you have a family, buying groceries anytime of year is expensive.  This is even more true during the holidays.  Even if you’re a frugal shopper like me, all those special holiday meals and snacks increase the old grocery bill (and maybe your midsection).  I’ve found a great way to combat this – plan meals out of the freezer and pantry for a week or more.  This is a good idea anyway because 1) it allows you to clean out the clutter and use up things that may have been waiting around for a while to be eaten and 2) it  saves you a ton on groceries.

A Well-Stocked Freezer Save You Big-time!

I like to shop sales and stock up on things even if I won’t use them right away.  For example, when meat goes on sale, I will buy extra and put it in the freezer for later.  This allows me to buy at the cheapest price and skip it when its more expensive. This is true of other foods too and my pantry is full of great things.  Last week, I decided to put these goodies to good use.  I carefully went through my pantry and freezer, planning meals around what I had.  I couldn’t get away from shopping completely, but I didn’t need much.  My last post was an admission to being a bulk food hoarder, which provided quite a bit for my n0-grocery-shopping-week(s).

Drumroll For The Freezer Challenge Menu

Below is a list of what I came up with.  As you’ll see, we aren’t going hungry.  In fact, we’re eating really good meals.  Not too shabby if I do say so myself!

  • Pork chops with mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables
  • Spit pea soup and bread
  • Lasagna and salad
  •  Chicken enchiladas, rice and beans
  • Moroccan chickpea stew and pita bread
  • Beef roast, mashed potatoes and green beans
  • fettuccine alfredo with frozen peas and shrimp
  • White chicken chili
  • Spaghetti with Italian sausage and antipasto
  • Pinto bean soup and cornbread
  • Tamales with rice and beans
  • Roasted salmon, carrots and roasted potatoes
  • Chicken and dumplings
  • Cuban black beans and rice

I have 14 meals planned out of mostly what I had left in my crisper, pantry and freezer!  I could easily add a few more things, but that would require a more extensive shopping trip for some fresh things. Notice that some are vegetarian dishes.  The best part of these meals is that I’m getting more than a single pass on some of them.  Quite a few provided tasty leftovers for lunches and leftover dinner nights.  Yah for not having to cook every night! So I actually have more than 14 meals here.

I have 3 teenage boys at home along with myself and my husband.  Our grocery bill can easily total $170, and that’s if  I’m being really careful.  That means these meals are “saving” us about $340 over the next two weeks. Of course, the ingredients had to be purchased at some point, but instead of full price, I got them on sale. This is really helpful to making our Christmas budget go further.

I Challenge You To A Frugal Food Duel!

I challenge you to see how creative you can be with meals by using what you already have.  When you start digging through the dark recesses of your freezer and pantry, it will be surprising how much is there!  I was able to do really well and there were no sad meals of spaghetti  O’s or ramen.  We had lots of great protein, legumes and vegetables.  I should mention that I had a delicious stash of granny smith apples too.  I paid a whopping 88 cents per pound for them.  Granny smith apples always seem to keep forever without getting mealy. They’re great if you want to buy fruit in advance when on sale. So, no worries, we have plenty of vitamin C and not a hint of scurvy!

Let me know what you come up with!

Save A Bundle: Buy Food In Bulk

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 The Bulk Force Is Strong With Me

I recently cleaned out my pantry. Apparently, I have a serious problem with buying too much in the bulk department.  For example, I get really excited when rice goes on sale 2 pounds for a buck and I just can’t help myself!  What can I say – I don’t get out enough!  I was admittedly a little freaked out to discover my food-hoarding tendencies (as evidenced by the photos below).  It’s all good though because, on a positive note, I found a goldmine in my pantry that can be used to slim down the grocery bill for the next few months.

I’ve since given myself a stern talking to and will NOT be buying anything else of that nature unless I am out and need it right away.  Never fear though – all those dry goods will last a long time.

Bulk Foods Are A Frugal Win!

Buying food in the bulk department of my grocery store makes me happy.  I cook most everything from scratch, which is already mega-cheap, but its even better when I can get ingredients on sale.  When things do go on sale in that department, I take full advantage and stock up.  You can get tons of tasty and nutritious things this way; dried beans, rice, baking supplies and nuts.  It’s a great way to lower your grocery bill and have nutritious foods on hand.

Planning Meals Saves Money

To conquer this mess, I broke out my mason jars.  I just absolutely love these things.  They are so useful, cheap and pretty! How could you not love them?  I now have all my dried beans, rice, nuts, and grains housed handily in these beauties.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t fit the baking supplies, such as sugar and flour in them.  These items will stay in their bags until I can use them.  I cook so much, freshness shouldn’t be an issue. The before picture is below. (I conveniently posted the tidied-up version at the beginning of the post).

The neurosis revealed

 

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This got me thinking that cleaning out your freezer and pantry is a great thing to do periodically.  I mean, seriously, it’s so stinking easy to lose track of whats way in the back. When did I buy those tamales?  Where did this roast come from? What IS that?  I usually go through my fridge pretty often when I’m planning my menu for the week.  The pantry and freezer get a glance as well, but from here on out, I will be doing a more thorough search and rescue mission before menu planning.

I’ve been saving quite a bit on our grocery bill since by planning  meals using these recovered items.  Lets just say it will be quite some time before I need rice or beans.  Please organize an intervention if I deviate from this plan during the next few months!

This post has gotten me thinking about how many meals I could potentially make with all this stuff.  Plus – I haven’t even gone through the freezer!  I may not shop for months! Look for the menu plan in my next post!

Warm Up With This Delicious Thai Butternut Squash Soup

Baby, its cold outside!

Baby, its cold outside!

Cozy Soup For Snowy Days!

I woke up this morning to a winter wonderland that was hovering at a balmy 12 degrees.  There was no eye-rolling or complaining on my part; I’m like a little kid with the snow.  When the weatherman says snow is coming, I’m wishing for a blizzard wicked enough to leave us house-bound for a week!  That hasn’t happened yet, but a girl can dream! Snow is beautiful, especially here in Colorado, where it leaves the white-dusted pine trees and frigid mountains looking like a postcard.

On my list of favorite things, right under snow, is soup.  Starting in the fall, I develop an insatiable appetite for the stuff and could easily eat it for every meal.  An added benefit of soup, apart from being simple and satisfying, is that its cheap (also on the favorites list)!  It’s the most forgiving of recipes and you can toss in all manner of bits from the fridge. Leftover vegetables and meat from the week can get used up in nutritious and creative ways. We’ve done really well eating up our leftovers this week, so today I made a yummy butternut squash soup with a Thai twist.  I’ve tried several recipes, but liked them all for different reasons.  I’ve borrowed and concocted them into my version. Delicious!  I’ll post the recipe below so you can enjoy it!

Soup-er Star!

This soup is great as a light meal with a salad for lunch or for dinner along with roasted chicken. I eat it often in the fall because squash is so cheap that time of year!  I think I got 2 pounds for $1 when I bought these!  That means I spent a whole dollar on the main ingredient for this soup.  This is a frugal food for sure!  Great for the body and the wallet!

First, peel your squash.  This one was about a pound and a half.  I washed and peeled it with a potato peeler.  That seems to be the least dangerous way for an uncoordinated individual like myself to get it done. Plus you waste a lot less.

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Peeling this guy is a tricky job

 

 

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Kitchen safety at its best

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, cut the squash in half (This is my favorite part because the inside is such a bright orange color).   At this point, I scoop out the seeds and set them aside because they are way too tasty to throw away.  While my soup is cooking, I’ll roast them – more on that later.  Cut the squash into quarters and then cubes of roughly the same size.

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Very little waste!

 

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Too good to toss

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love how easy the next steps are: combine the diced onion, garlic, ginger, spices, lime leaves and broth into a large pot and simmer covered until tender.  I peel my ginger with the potato peeler, give it a rough dice and throw it in.  Don’t even worry about grating it because its going in the blender anyway. This will take about 30 minutes.

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When the squash is tender, blend ingredients until you have your desired consistency. I like mine really smooth, but do as you like. Return to the pot and add the curry paste and coconut milk.  You can use low-fat coconut milk if you like, but it won’t be quite as rich. Simmer for a few minutes longer to allow the flavors to combine nicely.

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You can serve immediately or store for later.  This soup tastes just as good the next day, so enjoy those leftovers.  Quick tip: I put several individual portions in the freezer to eat later on.  I like to do this with all my soups because it gives you some variety for quick lunches at another time and saves you from eating it leftover too many days in a row. I have a nice little stockpile of soups and stews waiting in my freezer for quick options or for when I’m just too lazy to cook! SO much cheaper than buying prepared soups and healthier too!

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I just LOVE this color!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now for the seeds…did you think I’d forgotten?  I love roasting pumpkin seeds from our carved pumpkins at Halloween.  They are full of great nutrients and make convenient, healthy snacks. I actually think butternut squash seeds are even tastier!

After scooping the seeds out, I soak them in salt water.  This gives them a little more flavor, but mostly, it makes separating the seeds from the squashy material easier. Once they’re clean, I spread them out on a paper towel to absorb some of the water.  After a few minutes, I put them on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and broil them for about 20 minutes.  The timing here is a little tricky, so you should watch your seeds to make sure they don’t burn.  I use an electric toaster oven for most of my small baking jobs because its cheaper to run it than my big gas oven.

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So crunchy and salty, these tasty treats rival chips!

 

 

 

 

 

 

After they cool, you can enjoy however you like.  I sprinkle them on pasta, salads, soups (of course!) or just snack on them by the handful!

 

Print Recipe
Thai Butternut Squash Soup
This soup is flavorful and smooth. Perfect for chilly fall or winter evenings. Even better - it is just as good the next day.
Course Soup
Cuisine Thai
Prep Time 20 Minutes
Cook Time 1 Hour
Servings
People
Ingredients
Course Soup
Cuisine Thai
Prep Time 20 Minutes
Cook Time 1 Hour
Servings
People
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Peel and cube squash, removing seeds. Peel ginger and garlic, giving a rough chop
  2. Saute squash for 10 minutes. Add garlic and ginger, saute 5 minutes more. Add curry paste and salt, saute 2 minutes more. Add broth, cover and simmer until squash is tender.
  3. Once squash is tender, transfer to blender and process until desired smoothness. I like mine silky. Return to pot, add coconut milk and lime juice. Simmer until warmed through.
  4. Serve immediately. I like to roast the squash seeds with olive oil and salt. Use them to garnish soup.
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