Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My monthly menu board

For those who are curious what my monthly menu looks like, here it is. This is the product of me taking inventory of what is in the house, looking at our past menu items, and planning it out for the month. It is just a dollar store frame with the cardboard removed and a sheet of scrapbook paper inserted.

This will be our menu from December 10-January 12. Each time we eat something, I just wipe it off so I know what is left. I try to stay pretty true to the order, but there are always times when I've forgotten to thaw a meat or something else comes up. Doing the menu on a dry erase board keeps me from having to rewrite the whole menu if things get juggled around a bit.

I always keep frozen chicken breasts and we have a handful of chicken recipes that get rotated through. As you can see I try to use big and either inexpensive or on sale cuts of meat for several meals, saving both time and money. This month, it's pork shoulder and a spiral sliced ham that was on sale for the holidays. As per usual, beans make a few appearances monthly, as do breakfast foods. Leftover nights are planned in and I try to have a dessert on those nights as an incentive to clear out the fridge.

We pick up take and bake pizza (using a coupon) nearly every Sunday, so those days aren't included on the menu. We will also have Christmas Eve with my parents and Christmas dinner with Anthony's mom, so I don't have to worry about those days, either.

This is just what I have found has worked for me over the years. This is not the first "system" I've used, but it seems to be the most practical and the easiest.  It also helps to keep our grocery budget low, because I use what I already have, know what I'll be cooking from night to night, and uses up leftover food before it has a chance to go bad.

In case  you were wondering, yes, that is a tub of Lincoln Logs and an IKEA kiddie stool in the picture. I cropped out the Animals of the World encyclopedia and A Picture Book of Frederick Douglass, as well as a stack of coupons waiting for me to clip them. It's pretty real over here guys!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Eat What You Have Days 28-49

OK, so I've waited so long to post what we've been having that I've forgtten what we even had for a few days. Boo.

Day 28- Leftovers
Day 29- Dinner at a friend's
Day 30- Burritos
Day 31-?
Day 32-?
Day 33- Pizza
Day 34- ?
Day 35- Spaghetti
Day 36- Thanksgiving with my family
Day 37- Thanksgiving with his family
Day 38- Chili Friday
Day 39- Leftovers
Day 40- Pizza
Day 41- Parpadelle with carmelized onions
Day 42- Salsa chicken with beans and rice
Day 43- Pizza (Mama was sick)
Day 44- Breakfast
Day 45- Turkey and sides
Day 46- Leftovers
Day 47- Birthday dinner for the twins at Nana's
Day 48- Turkey and dumplings
Day 49- Turkey burgers

So, I finally went for a grocery trip after 49 days. I still have about 10 meals in the house, though, in the effort of warding off a mutiny, I gave in. Gotta keep the family happy. Usually, after my annual Eat What You Have Challenge, I end up spending $100 or so more than I usually do. This year, I was actually $50 UNDER my monthly budget of $400! It can only help that I was able to make a stop at Aldi's.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Easy jambalaya

This is recipe that comes togther quickly and is cheap and tasty. Confession: I usually make this on a day when I haven't thought ahead and thawed some meat. I just boil the chicken from frozen and pop the sausage in the microwave for a minute and it's ready to go. Add more or less seasoning depending on how hot you like your Cajun food. This is one recipe where I don't mix my own seasonings, though I've shown what you would need to do so. We use Tony Chachere's Cajun Seasoning instead. This is also another recipe where I use rice that I've cooked and frozen ahead of time as a time saver.


2 Tbsp Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1lb chicken breast
1pkg smoked sausage, cut into ½ inch rounds
1 ½c rice, cooked according to package directions
1 Tbsp Cajun seasoning -
     1tsp ground red pepper
     ½tsp salt
     ½tsp chili powder
     ¼tsp garlic powder
     ¼tsp onion powder
     ¼tsp black pepper
     ¼tsp oregano

  • Place the chicken in a small saucepan, cover with salted water, boil until cooked through, coarsely chop; reserve cooking liquid.
  • Heat the oil in a pot over medium high heat; add onion, pepper, and garlic, cook until slightly softened; add chicken, sausage, and 1-2 cups of reserved liquid; add seasoning, cook until warmed through.
  • Add rice to meat & vegetables, stir to combine; serve hot with extra Cajun seasoning.
Price breakdown
Oil - 30¢
Onion - 35¢
Green pepper - 50¢
Garlic - 10¢
Chicken - $1.79
Sausage - $2
Rice - 15¢
Seasoning - 5¢
TOTAL - $4.24
Price per serving (6 servings) - 71¢

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Task 8 - Shop "alternative" stores

Another great way to save money is to look to stores that you wouldn't normally shop. A great store to save you tons of money is Aldi. If you have one near you, I would encourage you to add it into your regular shopping routine. The closest one to me is quite out of the way, but it is on the way to my mother-in-law's, so I plan my trip accordingly. There are tons of Aldi shopping tutorials out on the web. Their best prices for me are on oats, spices, all dairy - including eggs, bottled water, canned goods, tortillas, and cheese.

If you use a lot of spices, like we do by cooking Indian, Middle Eastern, and Mexican dishes, you should look in your area for an Indo-Paki grocery. I buy spices in bulk usually at a 70% or more savings over a traditional grocery store. That can really add up over time. If you think you won't be able to use a larger amount, split the difference with a friend.

Meat is one of the biggest grocery expenses. Look for alternatives here, as well. I, personally, look to small independently run stores in more rural areas. For you locals, I stop by Country Mart in Taylorsville monthly or bi-monthly. They have cheaper meat prices overall and have a 10lb. meat sale monthly. You can also look at more rural butchers and Mexican groceries and/or butchers, as well.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Deconstructed Cabbage Rolls

I LOVE cabbage rolls! I had never eaten a cabbage roll in my life, or even heard of them for that matter, until I married my husband. His Slavic mother made these for a family dinner and that's where the love story began. I must have oohed and ahhed over them just enough, because she makes them for me every year for my birthday.
I asked for the recipe. It was so involved that I've never attempted them myself. Then I began to see recipes for deconstructed this or that. I decided to try it. The result is below. Now, I would never claim that it is as good as my mother-in-law's cabbage rolls. It's not. However for a quick, inexpensive, one skillet meal, it's pretty darn good!

1 medium onion, chopped
2lbs ground beef
1c uncooked rice
4c crushed tomatoes
1lb cabbage, chopped
1 can sauerkraut
1c water
Salt and pepper to taste

  • Place onion and beef in a large skillet over medium high, cook, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, until meat is no longer pink and the onions have softened
  • Add rice, tomatoes, cabbage, sauerkraut, and water to skillet, stir to combine. Bring to a boil; cover and cook 30 minutes, until rice is cooked and cabbage has softened.
Price Breakdown
Onion - 35¢
Beef - $5
Rice - 10¢
Tomatoes 75¢
Cabbage 60¢
Sauerkraut 50¢
TOTAL $7.30
Price per serving (6 servings) $1.22

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Turkey Time!

I have broken my no spend streak. Our local Meijer had frozen turkeys on sale this week for 54¢/lb. with an additional $10 purchase. I priced matched that at Wal-Mart.
The cashier must not have known who he was up against when he explained to me that their turkeys are priced by unit, not per pound and that he couldn't honor the Meijer price. I explained that he absolutely could, that's why the sign over their turkeys read 88¢/lb. I even walked him through which keys he would need to push on his register to make that happen. Nope. It is just not their policy. I paid for the rest of my purchases and marched my penny-pinching tush right down to customer service. I explained. She rolled her eyes, guessed which cashier, and said she'd send the Customer Service Manager right down. Much to his embarrassment, she told him to do it exactly like I had. Kid just thought I'd give up that easily. Tsk. Tsk.
Anyway, while I was there, I noticed that their celery was only 74¢. Now, I can never get through a complete bunch of celery before it works. I know there are tricks to keep it crisp, but, truth be told, I only ever use celery in soups, stews, and pot pies anyway. So, I'm going to chop it up and freeze it in a Ziploc bag.
They also had sweet potatoes for 38¢/lb. We have eaten all of the sweet potatoes from our garden, so this was definitely stock up price! The great thing about sweet potatoes is that you can store them in a cardboard box in a cool, dry area - your basement or garage for several months. Eat any With scratches or bruises first. You can also boil, mash, and cool them, and freeze them.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Make it yourself - Marinara

I believe that, for the most part, decisions regarding frugality usually come down to saving time or money. This is one of those situations where I do not believe you are saving enough time to justify spending the extra money. Spaghetti sauce - #1 the jarred stuff doesn't taste better & and it's loaded with chemical preservatives and #2 it can not save you more than 2-3 minutes over making your own. This is one of those items you should be making. I usually double the batch & use it for another meal or freeze it.
I buy the huge 6 pound, 6 ounce can of crushed tomatoes at Sam's for less than three dollars. It makes 12 one cup servings. I halved it in the recipe below. Boil a pound of pasta and you've got a meal for 6 for under $2.50! You can't beat that! When I made mine tonight I topped it with homemade mozzarella to the tune of $1.50, bringing the price of our meal to $4.23. I doubled my sauce recipe and will likely have baked pasta or meatball subs later in the week.


2-3 Tbsp Olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbsp dried basil
6 cups crushed tomatoes
Salt & pepper to taste

  • Heat oil in a pot over medium-high; Add garlic, cook until garlic is light golden brown, stirring; Add basil.
  • Add tomatoes to the pot; Stir to combine; Heat through, stirring occasionally, about 15-20 minutes. Serve over hot, cooked pasta.

Olive oil - 15¢
Garlic - 10¢
Basil - 5¢
Crushed tomatoes - $1.43

TOTAL - $1.73
Price per serving (6 servings) - 29¢