Getting Closer to Grocery Shopping Once a Month

Grocery Shop Once a Month

 

 

If you had to explain grocery shopping to someone who never has done it, how would you describe it?  Would you talk about how you work hard all week only to spend a fortune on prepared food that is only slightly less expensive than the take out place down the road?  Would you say that it is a big time commitment that leaves you with sacks full of food and no real plan to use it?  If I were to describe grocery shopping I would say that its an opportunity to be creative, save money, and a challenge to see how well you can organize your food storage space.

I’ll admit that I used to stress about getting to the grocery store every week.  It would take me about an hour to get everything that I need and I would still occasionally forget something and need to make a last minute trip on my way home from work which would inevitably leave me with 10 extra things that I didn’t need.  I would cut weekend trips short if I knew our fridge was bare.  And grocery shopping on a Monday night was just such a pain and it that meant that we didn’t make lunch for Monday and both my husband and I would end up eating out that day.  When I buy my lunch at work I want it to be my choice and not a default answer to poor planning.  It took me a while to realize that instead of trying to shop for the week I could buy enough for the month.

Every day I’m amazed at both how much money we are saving on groceries and how much time I’m saving by not going grocery shopping as often.  The start of a new month gets me excited.  I’ve started doing one big shopping trip during the first week of the month.  I pick up all of my staples and replenish my pantry and fridge.  I buy all of the potatoes, onions, beans, olives, eggs, cheese and tubs of sour cream for the month.  One of my favorite parts about shopping this way is that I don’t need to remember what is getting low in the fridge or pantry since I’m not making a big grocery list every week.  If we run out of sour cream before the end of the month, we will do without.  Same thing goes for potatoes, onions and eggs.  The world isn’t going to end if you have to eat rice with your steak instead of the usual mashed potatoes.

There are a lot of ways that you can achieve a shrinking grocery bill.  You can copy someone else’s grocery list item by item and cook exactly what they cook.  But what if your family doesn’t like some of the meals on that list?  What do you do then?  That is why I think a better long term solution is to create your own list.  Of course could just copy my grocery list but unless you cook exactly what I cook – it just won’t work.  

Here are the steps that I take to maximize my grocery shopping efficiency.

  1.       Make a list of all of the groceries that you buy during the month
  2.       List how much of each item you will need to last you the entire month
  3.       Remove the items that expire quickly that cannot be frozen – like milk, salad fixings, fresh berries.  You can still buy these but only buy enough that can be used prior to expiration.
  4.       Save this list in a place that can be easily accessed.  I keep my grocery list in good docs and print it out when I do my big monthly shopping trip.
  5.       Print out this list (or keep it digital and edit the document) and take a quick inventory of your pantry, fridge and freezer
  6.       Grocery shop with the intention of only buying those items on your list during your once a month trip.
  7.       Keep track of when in the month that you run out of the items on your list.  For example:  I thought that we could get through the month with 6 cans of olives since we use them in our   salads for lunch, I forgot that we also use olives on tacos and nachos (and those are on the meal plan almost weekly).  After one month of running out 3 weeks into the month I upped our monthly amount to 8 jars.
  8.       Repeat next month.

 

Of course this method isn’t a one size fits all, but it is designed to be tailored to your own eating habits.  When you consolidate your shopping into one trip instead of spending extra time at the grocery store, you can spend your time doing the things that you want to do.  Always think of your list as a work in progress.  You should be forever tweaking the amount of what you buy or even the types of food that you eat but always make a decision for that month and stick with it.  Also, make it your mission to eat through all of your pantry and freezer fossils so that nothing goes to waste and it makes room for all of the tasty new foods that you want to try.  If you truly don’t like a food that you tried, there is no sense in allowing it to take up space – just get rid of it.  Either give it to someone who will use it or just throw it away.  Of course you should keep a good variety of fresh vegetables in your diet and use frozen when fresh is not available or too expensive.

Easy Slow Cooker Chicken or Beef Stock

chicken stock

My favorite way to add extra flavor to any dish is to use chicken or beef stock anytime a savory dish calls for water.  Making your own stock is simple and gives you a much tastier result than store bought stock.  When you cook from scratch you control the quality of the ingredients.  With this recipe you get a low sodium stock.  If you find the stock lacking in flavor you can add extra garlic or a little bit of salt.  I normally will skip the salt and add it to my finished dishes as needed.

Easy crockpot chicken or beef stock

Ingredients:

  •         3 to 6 oz of cooked bones (chicken or beef)
  •         1 onion – leave the skin on the onion if you want a darker colored stock
  •         1 carrot
  •         3 cloves of garlic
  •         1 celery stalk

Instructions:

  1.       Remove fat skin and meat from the bones.  You don’t need to have perfectly clean bones, a little scrap of meat and fat here and there will add flavor.  You want the bones to come from cooked meat so this means you would use the bones from a roasted chicken or from bone-in steaks, roasts or beef ribs.  If you want to use raw bones it requires a little more work.chicken bones
  2.       Put bones in crock pot along with the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic.
  3.       Fill crockpot to the top with water
  4.       Turn crockpot on high and let cook for 8+ hours.  The longer it cooks the more flavor you will get in your stock.  I will usually set this up after dinner and let it cook over night.  Do not cook longer than 18 hours or your bones will start to disintegrate.
  5.       Carefully pour stock through a mesh strainer into a large bowl.bowl of chicken stock
  6.       Let come to room temperature and then refrigerate overnight
  7.       Using a spoon, scrap the excess fat that has floated to the top and solidified
  8.       Now your stock is ready to use.
  9.       Storage:  Refrigerated stock needs to be used within 3 days.  Frozen stock will be good for 6 months.  I freeze my stock in an ice cube tray and then put all of the cubes in a gallon size storage back in the freezer.  When adding stock to a recipe 8 ice cubes is about 1 cup.

Ice cube tray of chicken stock

Ice cube trays are my preferred tool for storing liquids.  It gives you about a 1 oz portion per cube and allows you to utilize your freezer space a bit better than if you were freezing cup portions in plastic containers.  I’ve tried using portion bags in 1/2 cup size and the bags tend to leak a bit prior to freezing completely.  They don’t fit into my door compartments as easily as the cubes and sometimes you want less than 1/2 cup.

chicken stock ice cubes

I am always using chicken or beef stock in my cooking.  Here are some simple preparations using the stock:

Brown Rice – 1 cup dried brown rice, 1 ½ cups chicken or beef stock, ½ salt, 1 Tablespoon dried thyme.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes.

Barley – 1 cup rinsed barley, 3 cups chicken or beef stock, ½ salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes.

Marsala Cream Sauce – Chop 1 clove of garlic and 1 shallot, fry in a skillet with 1 tablespoon of oil for 3 minutes, add ½ cup marsala wine and cook for 5 minutes, add 1/3 cup heavy cream and ½ cup chicken stock and cook for 10 minutes.  This sauce is great on scallops, pork and chicken.

White Wine Cream Sauce – Chop 1 clove of garlic and 1 shallot, fry in a skillet with 1 tablespoon of oil for 3 minutes, add ½ cup white wine and cook for 5 minutes, add 1/3 cup heavy cream and ½ cup chicken stock and cook for 10 minutes.

Chicken Soup – Combine 2 chopped celery stalks, 2 chopped carrots, 1 chopped onion and 2 Tablespoons of olive oil into a stock pot over medium heat.  Stir occasionally for 5 minutes.  Add 6 cups of chicken stock, 2 cups chopped cooked chicken, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper.  Cook over medium heat until veggies are tender.  Add cooked noodles right before serving if desired.

 

The Best Baked Dairy Free Meatballs

Meatball recipe

Do you love the ideas of freezer meals but get tired of eating out of your crockpot? Lucky for you there are so many different main dishes that you can freeze for those nights when you would rather spend the time you normally spend cooking, doing something else – like spending time with your family, reading a book or taking a hot bath ***catching Pokemon XD.

Every 3 weeks I make a big batch of one of our go-to meal to stick in the freezer. Normally that batch will last us about 3 months with us eating it once a week. I normally keep a stock of chicken taquitos, pulled pork, and meat balls in our freezer for some minimal effort meals. What would you do if you had 3 nights during the week where you could have a homemade meal on the table in 5 minutes? I know that if I’m cooking from scratch it normally takes me about 45 minutes to put a meal together. So this saves me a few hours per week by having something ready to go.

I want to accomplish 3 things when I make a big batch of food. First I want these meals to save me money so that means that it needs to be from reasonably priced ingredients. Second these meals has to save me time and this is accomplished by making things that will last a while in the freezer. Third, this meal needs to be relatively healthy and taste good. I make almost everything from scratch and that includes my chicken stock and sauces.

We all see the crazy deals that you can get on ground beef when it comes in the plastic sleeve. It’s normally a very high fat ratio and around $2.50 per lb or less. I’m going to show you an easy way to use that 5 lb meat log and stock your freezer at the same time.  If you have ever tried the store bought frozen meatballs you know that they’re not as good as the homemade version.  This recipe is super easy and doesn’t require skillet cooking.  Just roll the meatballs out and bake!  Don’t be afraid of the 27% fat ratio – repeat this mantra: Fat = flavor.

Here is the log of ground beef. Don't be afraid - it's here to save you money!
Here is the log of ground beef. Don’t be afraid – it’s here to save you money!

Prep and cook time: About 2 hours depending on how fast you roll balls.
Yields: 160 meatballs or about 32 servings

Ingredients:
5lbs ground beef – for ultimate value buy the tube or meat log, sometimes found in the freezer section
2 large onions
3 eggs
1 cup bread crumbs
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon cumin
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons steak or bbq sauce (optional)

Instructions:
Dice the onions finely and place in a large bowl – probably the biggest bowl in your kitchen. In a pinch, you can use a stock pot for mixing if you don’t have a big bowl.
Add all of the ingredients to the bowl except for the meat. Mix so that the spices are evenly distributed
Add your ground beef and mix with your hand until the mixtures is even and uniform. This should take you about 3 to 4 minutes of mixing. If you mix your meat too much it could make your meatballs tough.
In a small skillet over medium heat cook about 1 teaspoon of the meat mixture for about 5 minutes. Allow to cool and taste for seasoning. Add additional seasonings if needed. This step is super important when making big batches of food. You want to make sure that the food is up to snuff so that it doesn’t turn into a freezer fossil.
Using a spoon, create meatballs a little bit bigger than 1 inch in diameter, they will shrink by about 20%. To create the balls, take about 2 tablespoons of meat mix and roll it gently between around in the palms of your hands. Place on a baking sheet leaving about an inch between each meatball
Bake at 350 for 15-17 minutes.

Meatball ingredients

Add all of the ingredients to the bowl except for the meat.
Add all of the ingredients to the bowl except for the meat.
Mix so that the spices are evenly distributed
Mix so that the spices are evenly distributed
Mix your ingredients for about 3 to 4 minutes
Add the meat and mix your ingredients for about 3 to 4 minutes.
Roll your meatball just a little bit bigger than 1 inch across. They will shrink when cooked
Roll your meatball just a little bit bigger than 1 inch across. They will shrink when cooked
To create the balls, take about 2 tablespoons of meat mix and roll it gently between around in the palms of your hands
To create the balls, take about 2 tablespoons of meat mix and roll it gently between around in the palms of your hands
These guys are ready to bake! Who has time to pan fry meatballs?
These guys are ready to bake! Who has time to pan fry meatballs?
All done! These meatballs are ready to add to your favorite ball friendly meal.
All done! These meatballs are ready to add to your favorite ball friendly meal.

For Storage: allow to cool to room temperature and then put in plastic storage bags. Refrigerate overnight and then lay flat in the freezer. The meat balls should be in 1 row and not stacked on top of each other. This allows you to pull only what you need out of the freezer instead of needing to thaw out the whole bag. These keep in the freezer for 3+ months.

Once your meatballs are cooled put them in storage bags in a single layer
Once your meatballs are cooled put them in storage bags in a single layer

This is the best part about having frozen meat balls. To use them in a meal, place the frozen meatballs on a plate in a circle. Use the defrost setting on your microwave for about 7 minutes for 8 oz of meat. Your mileage may vary depending on your microwave. At this point they are hot and ready to eat and can be added to your dish.

Some of my favorite ways to eat meatballs:
Spaghetti and red sauce
Spaghetti and mushroom cream sauce
Meatball subs or sandwiches
Meatballs with veggies and mashed potatoes

So how much does my 32 servings of meatballs cost?

These are the prices that I got when I picked everything up at Aldi
5lbs ground beef log – $9.99
2 Onions – $0.50 (at $.99 per lb)
3 Eggs – $0.25
1 cup bread crumbs – $0.25
Pepper – $1.20
Salt – $0.06
Cumin – $0.80
Oregano – $0.60
Basil – $0.60
Worcestershire Sauce – $1.40
Steak Sauce – $.10

Total = $15.75
This works out to $0.49 per serving of meatballs. It might be a little bit less expensive than this since I used Amazon prices for the spices. I buy the store brand for spices and almost always get the bulk containers.

So that’s my meatball story, what are some of your favorite foods to batch cook and freeze?