Since yesterday was December 1st, I thought it would be perfect start to the first week of our 60-day grocery challenge. While I did do the grocery shopping Friday, we already had a long-planned dinner with friends, so I started our cooking week Saturday. It’s a rare treat for us to have a dinner out; we reserve that for special occasions. I’ve deducted the cost from our entertainment budget, which has gone untouched for quite a while, giving us peace of mind and a wonderful evening.
I planned the menu this week around what was on sale, making our dollars go further. I did have a few things in the pantry and freezer to add to the haul. I’ll deduct that from the total to try estimating per serving price accurately to what was spent.
The hubby and I love to cook. We like to plan a nicer, more labor-intensive meal or two on weekends. These usually work out to the more expensive meals of the week and we look forward to them. Of course, cooking meals at home, even nicer ones, is so much cheaper than eating out.
While we ‘re working in the kitchen on Sunday, it makes good use of time to prep other things for the week. Like everyone else, weekdays are busy and we don’t have much time in the evenings. Having vegetables diced, cheese shredded and other time-consuming things like this done make getting dinner on the table simpler. A food processor is a great tool to use here; you can quickly shred cheese or chop veggies in seconds. I’ll either store veggies in separate containers or make one container for each recipe – whatever makes most sense for each meal.
Once that’s done, we have a well-stocked fridge and can pretty much throw things together during the week. Clean up is quicker this way too. Instead of dirtying up chopping boards and other dishes every day, we do it all at once. One prep day, one major clean up and done. We try to make it fun; putting on music and chatting makes it go faster. And really, it only takes about an hour.
I’ve been obsessed with my crock-pot for years. It is absolutely heaven to come home to dinner done and waiting for us. Recently, I picked up another gadget similar to the Instant Pot that is so popular now. Since I already have a pressure cooker, I opted for the Crock-Pot 5 in 1 Multi-Cooker. It steams, sauté, bakes, and slow cooks. When preparing recipes that need to be sautéed or browned first, the multi-cooker saves time and extra dishes because you can do it all in one pan, rather than two or three. Love it!
Another great way to avoid stress in the morning when everyone is trying to eat breakfast, pack lunches and get ready is assembling the Crock-Pot meal the night before. When putting the finishing touches on dinner, I put all the ingredients together for tomorrow evenings meal and store it in the fridge. With all the ingredients pre-chopped, I just need to throw it together. All I have to do is take it out and turn it on in the morning. The trick here is remembering to do that last part!
It’s pretty easy to make traditional recipes in the crock-pot. You may need to increase or decrease the liquid called for and cook the pasta separately, but otherwise it’s very easy.
When a recipe calls for beans, I use dried. They are super cheap, keep forever and contain no added salt or preservatives. You can add them straight to the slow cooker recipe, so long as you add extra water or broth. Alternatively, I prepare them ahead of time in the slow cooker, which takes almost no work on my part, and store them in the freezer. As long as you defrost them slowly, they hold up really well. I have about five different kinds ready to go when I need them now in my freezer. I live at high elevation, so one batch takes 10 to 12 hours. Just do a batch here and there as you have time. They cook, you live your life. It’s perfect. Just add to the crock-pot later in the cooking process so they don’t get overcooked.
Speaking of freezers (can you tell I love mine?), I often will make a double batch of recipes that freeze well. We eat one right away and freeze the other one for a quick dinner later when life gets hectic. Freezing leftovers in individual portions for lunches is an easy way to have grab-and-go options too. When you have easy meals prepped, it’s not as tempting to get take-out when one of those crazy days happens.
Notice the leftover night mid-week. We take leftovers for lunch, but there always seems to be this and that left even still. Having a leftover night is a great way to use up everything and avoid food waste. Sometimes the combinations are a little weird, but seriously, who cares?
Without further delay, I give you this week’s budget meal plan. I’ve included links to recipes, or the cookbook, in case you want to try them out. Sometimes I’ll create my own recipe, but my meals are usually someone else’s brainchild.
- Saturday: Butcher Sauce, pasta and salad from The Italian Slow Cooker
This is a rich, savory recipe that is even better the next day. It’s so easy to throw together, but it tastes like it took all day. You can vary the meats you use, depending on what you have. I had a single Italian pork sausage in my freezer, so used that in place of the ground pork
The recipe I’ve provided calls for quite a bit of bacon. I never use that much. It tastes amazing with half or less, and is cheaper that way too. This is an example of one of our weekend meals that requires more work than a weeknight meal. I enjoy cooking when I have time. Side note: leftover quiche warmed in the toaster oven for breakfast is so good!
- Monday: Tomato Basil Soup and grilled cheese sandwiches
To avoid the dreaded food rut, I try to put a new recipe on the menu each week and this is it! I began with a crock-pot version and deviated quite a bit from the original. If it works out, I’ll share it with you all. The heavy cream leftover from last night’s dinner gets used up here.
- Tuesday: Moroccan Spiced Chickpea Soup and salad
I use my crock-pot for this one instead of cooking it on the stove. The house always smells amazing when I get home. This tasty recipe calls for spinach, so what I didn’t use in the quiche goes in.
- Wednesday: Leftovers
If there are any stragglers left in the fridge after dinners and lunches have happened so far during the week, this is the night we try to clear them out! Eat all the things!
- Thursday: Shrimp and Veggie Fried Rice
Stir fries are a great way to use up all those little bits left from the week. Be creative with your combinations. I have a bag of frozen shrimp in the freezer and it’s going in too! You can add leftover rice near the end too if you have some leftover.
- Friday: Quick Tomato White bean and Kale Soup and salad
My garden produced amazing amounts of kale this summer. I kept harvesting, blanching and freezing it. Recipes like this are perfect for using it up. Since I grew it in the garden, I didn’t deduct it from my budget.
I’m pretty pleased with my food scene this week. Several vegetarian options helped stretch the budget and provided us with lots of healthful veggies. Using up some of this summer’s garden produce tucked away in my freezer is also a big help in sneaking in more nutrition to our meals.
Sprouts Farmer’s Market: $82.66
Whole Foods: $36.10
Trader Joe’s: $5.98
I am excited to have come in $25.26 under budget! Note that I didn’t account for the price of any spices, and while the amounts I used were small, I’m glad to have a few bucks left that would cover the cost of them. I also skipped buying coffee this week. I decided to drink hot chai this week, which is delicious, so this is no hardship! My daughter gave me a nice tin of chai tea not long ago, so I haven’t deducted it from the budget this week. I love yummy gifts!
With Christmas right around the corner, I’m sure I can use the leftover money for extra food expenses that are bound to happen during this time of year. I’ll put it aside and use it if necessary.
I have a fridge full of good food, emergency meals and lunches is the freezer and leftover dollars in the budget. Not a bad first week!
Happy shopping and eating to all of you!