Week of Budget Dinners

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Last week on my Instagram account I did quick posts about what I made each night for dinner, along with how much I spent total and then broke it down to the per person costs (for our 5 person family).

I wanted to put them up on here as well so I could post links and more information and so they would be more permanent. I also hope to do this more and more.

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  1. Honey-Apple DrumsticksI found this recipe here, on the Food Network website a few weeks ago searching for easy, healthy dinner ideas. The first night, it got rave reviews, and the second time were even better because I had more practice making the glaze. Even Sam ate two drumsticks after six years of refusing to touch any food with a sauce on it. I was intimidated at first because I had no idea how to make a glaze, but it’s seriously so easy, and I feel like a more experienced cook now. Doesn’t take much I guess.
    Served with two dry packaged Spanish rice bags.
    Cost: $4.88 total, .89/person.

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2. Spiced-Apple-Stuffed French Toast Casserole

After taking two months of the summer off, I restarted Weight Watchers last week (and lost 5.4 lbs!).  So when I was looking for dinner ideas, I knew I should check out some WW ones just to make my life easier. I found this crockpot recipe here, on the Weight Watchers website. I like having breakfast stuff for an easy dinner, and this was just filling enough. The apples and spices in it made it taste like fall, so I’m sure in a few weeks it’ll be a new favorite.
Cost: $4.10 total or .82/person

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3. Soup and Paninis

This is on the meal plan every week. Another easy, fast dinner, and everyone can have just what they want (read: no whining). Conveniently this was for dinner the first night I started feeling really sick with what I now think is Lyme disease after visiting my doctor and starting treatment the other day.
Don’t have a panini maker? No problem. You can also use a waffle iron, a non-stick-sprayed pan (as if you were making grilled cheese), or toast both pieces of bread before assembling the sandwich and microwaving it for a few seconds.
Cost: $4.23 total, or .85/person.

4. Pizza Night

Ok I was feeling pretty cruddy by this point AND I worked until after we usually have dinner, so there’s no picture for pizza night. Anyways, this is another thing that stays on my meal plan. I love pizza. We used to order delivery several times a month; sometimes ever more than once per week. This was obviously ridiculously expensive, and after we added drinks and sides, we could top $40-50 easy, for one dinner. Not wanting to give it up, I have a frozen pizza night weekly. Aldi has a million different varieties that go from classic cheese and pepperoni to roasted veggie bistro style to (my latest favorite) taco and gyro pizza. I get two so little people have options and we usually have left overs for lunch the next day. Sometimes we even do make-your-own, and pick out our own toppings and have a little mini-cheffing.

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5. Honey Mustard Pork Chops

This one was from my Weight Watchers cookbook, but I also found it here, on food.com, except I go with boneless chops. I must be on this week because all the kids ate this one too. Pork chops are so cheap, and after they’re left to marinade, they cook on broil in like 12 minutes.
Served with mashed potatoes (red russet because you don’t have to peel them). You could also add a bag of frozen veggies for under $1.
Cost: $3.60 total or .72/person.

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6. Skinnytaste Greek Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner

From my Skinnytaste Fast and Slow cookbook, but you can also find the recipe here. So I couldn’t fine heirloom carrots and I wasn’t interested in driving all over creation to find them, and I used goat cheese crumbles instead of feta because my Aldi was out this particular day. Anyway, it turned out delicious and we ate every bite. Definitely going on the plan for next week.
Cost: $6.45 total or $1.29/person

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7. Leftovers/ Poverty Meal

I really have to say, when I posted about pasta with butter on my Instagram, I never ever thought it would get such a response. So many people (considering my small amount of followers) either said they had something similar or wanted to know how to make it. Something borne in my childhood when we had no food in the cabinets, and no money to get anything more, this still goes on my meal plan for Wednesday nights to supplement the week’s leftovers. Its cheap, easy and for some reason, everyone seems to like it.
For those of you looking for the recipe: 
Boil 1lb pasta (any type) and drain.
Add 1 stick of butter and mix until butter is melted and pasta is coated.
Sprinkle with grated Parmesan/Romano cheese.
Add salt and basil to taste.
Cost: $1.61 total or .32/person

I really like the idea of the budget meals posts. I’m definitely going to try to post more on here as I discover and try some more out so stay tuned!

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Meal Planning, Even When You Hate It

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I hate meal planning.

For years I railed against it. “How am I supposed to know what I’m going to want to eat on Friday when I’m shopping on Sunday?!” I would proclaim (I’ve written about it before in my Surviving the Grocery Stores post).

But I knew in the back of my mind that meal planning was critical in keeping within my grocery budget. One of my personal New Year’s Resolutions this year was to meal plan more often and I’ve been pretty much sticking to it. January I was $20 under our budget of $650/month, $196 under budget if you consider that I used some gift cards we had gotten for Christmas. In February I was $7 over, but this also included everything I spent for Ben’s birthday.

I think I’m more successful this time around because I’ve kind of put my own spin on the idea of meal planning. I’ve changed my perspective on it from being this super rigid Type A kind of activity, to a more flexible and workable guide for the week.

More of a tool to use to bring home the supplies I need than an iron clad law. Meal planning got so much easier for me when I realized:

  1. There’s nothing wrong with putting chicken nuggets on a meal plan. It’s a plan, and its yours. Put things on it that you actually will eat, that your kids will actually eat. I used to look to Pinterest for my meal planning ideas and I think thats partly where I started to get overwhelmed. In my world of 3 kids under 6, grilled Ahi tuna and asparagus spears do not exist.
  2. Since its your plan, you can change it. Your meal plan can be a loose idea of what you’re going to eat. Show me the law that says if you write Crock Pot Burritos on Monday, you’ll be hauled off to jail for having soup and sandwich instead. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

After those two things clicked in my brain, this whole thing got so much easier.

What I do now:

I shop for groceries every other weekend because of my limited work schedule. So when I plan I do it for 2 weeks.

IMG_2434I’m a very visual person and I need to have everything laid out in front of me, so I got this nice little planner off of Amazon.

Then I get out my favorite cookbook, Skinny Taste Fast and Slow, and my iPad and pick out about 5 or 6 what recipes I want to make. I also add in quick and simple things, like frozen pizzas, soup and sandwich night or pasta with butter (an old favorite from my childhood). I plan for all three meals, but breakfast and lunch are always super simple; cereal, Pop Tarts, frozen waffles, sandwiches, mac and cheese (from a box, not homemade bacon asiago). And yes, chicken nuggets.

I make sure I have enough ideas for each day on the plan, accounting for leftovers and any kind of function we’ll be attending like birthday parties or holidays that will substitute as a meal.

Then I write all of the ingredients and items I’ll need to buy in the margin of the planner as I add them to the weekly plan. If I’m going to use something I think I might have, I just write a little question mark next to it so I don’t rebuy something I already have. Like the time I got maple syrup three trips in a row.

We still have some.

Last year when we were redoing the kitchen (wow I can’t believe it was already a yearIMG_2432 ago) I bought this little chalkboard standing sign. It’s still on the counter and went unused for months, but now I use it to plan suppers.

Usually I write out four nights at a time because that’s as far into the future I can plan my life (and that’s as much as I can fit on the sign). And its chalk… very easy to erase and change 😉

To keep track, I leave the meal planner accessible and cross out the meals I’ve used, so I can easily see what’s left.

This system has really been working out so far. I like the flexibility and I love that it’s been keeping me on budget. Seeing what we’ve had and what we’re going to have has really helped me provide better meals. No more “have we already had pasta like three times this week or is it just me?” More like “if we have pasta tonight we should have baked chicken and some veggies tomorrow.”

The best part though… We. Have not. Ordered. Take out. In months. We used to spend upwards of $50 on take out in a whack between meals, sides, drink and a tip. And we also would order out a few times a month (despite the monthly takeout magnet on the fridge that is supposed to keep us on track). So this is huge.

The thing is, we weren’t ordering out because we were craving it. It was more because I was too stressed or busy to plan anything, and by the time dinner snuck up on me, it was way too late to defrost any meat or do any type of meal prep other than opening a menu.

So there you have it. My brand new mindset for meal planning thats working for us right now.

Baby Weight Update

I just wanted to write something quick as an update on my baby weight loss stuff and hopefully to motivate myself too since I’ve been in a slump this past week and a half.

I’ve been following Weight Watchers (using the old fashioned paper points slider and book, you know I don’t pay for online memberships 😉 ) since November 28 and as of Monday I’m down just over 12 lbs with about 28 to go.

I’m eating much healthier, working out about three times a week with some DVDs and weights I have here at home and take out is way down. Jeff got it twice for himself and the kids, and on Christmas Eve we had our traditional Chinese delivery. I skipped out on the pizza take outs, and for Christmas Eve I tried Szechuan chicken for the first time, which is just chicken and vegetables, unless theres something sneaky in the spicy sauce.

Anyways heres some starting out and recent pictures for comparison. I can see a little difference already!