4 Rules for Home Cooking Done Quick

A lot has happened in the past couple of months.  We decided to move out of state to live near family and enjoy a lower cost of living and better weather.  Since we’ve moved down here I have taken it upon myself to be the best wife and parent that I can be while I look for a new job.  One of the most important things that I’m maintaining with this big life transition is how we prepare meals, eat dinner as a family and do so in a healthy and time efficient way.  I prepare all of our meals from scratch but I like to imagine sometimes that I run a prepared food test kitchen.  Here are a few of my rules for doing dinner in a  healthy and efficient way.

Rule #1:  Use your freezer as a money saving tool and not just a place to keep frozen novelties.  I hear it a lot “why would I buy in bulk if we can’t eat it all before it goes bad?”  Your freezer stops the clock on food spoilage and allows you to take advantage of lower prices.  My two favorite times to use my freeze is when I’m buying in bulk to get a lower price per pound and when meat is on ‘manager special’ and at 20% of the normal price.  I once found chicken quarters for $0.29 per lb!  That’s insane and you know I filled my cart.

When you buy a lot of food that can be frozen make a plan to freeze it.  Do not wait until the expiration date to save the old meat from the trashcan.  You need to portion and bag the food within a day of buying it.

If you freezer is already full go through and evaluate each item that is in there. How old is it?  Can you eat it within the next month?  Is it junk food that we shouldn’t be eating anyway?  Your freezer space is valuable real estate that is there to save you time and money, make sure you are using it that way!

Rule #2:  Dinner will only take 30 minutes from prep to table.  I did this while we were both working full time and wanted to eat dinner as a family before our baby needed to go to bed.

To accomplish this 30 minute rule you need to have a game plan for dinner before you open the fridge.  This is where meal planning comes in handy.

Some of my favorite meats to cook start to finish are:

  • Porkchops – use dry seasoning or a marinade on the meat when you pull it out of the freezer.  Let it thaw in your fridge for at least 24 hours.  I always let it thaw in the dish that I plan to back it in.  1/2 inch chops will bake for 20-25 min at 350ºF.
  • Tacos – use ground turkey or beef and you can brown the meat in about 10 minutes.  Add black beans to bulk up the meal and stretch your dollar even further.  Use it twice in the week for tacos the first night and nachos a few nights later.  Very popular in our house.
  • Salmon (or any fish) – Baking or grilling can be done in under 20 minutes.  We love this marinade for salmon on the grill:  1 part soy sauce, 2 parts oil, 3 minced garlic cloves all mixed together add 1 lb raw salmon and marinade for 20 minutes.  Grill over high heat for 8 minutes turning halfway through.
  • Steak on the grill – We eat steak usually once a week.  Use your favorite dry rub, and grill for 8-10 minutes over high heat flipping once halfway through.

My favorite prepare-ahead-of-time-and-freeze meals are:

  • Meatballs with pasta – the prep kills me but I love having meatballs and pasta.  If you are not a plan-ahead type of person you can always make meat sauce instead.  Meatballs freeze really well and I’ll usually cook a large batch and we will eat it once a week for about 3 months.
  • Chicken – I rarely cook chicken during the week since it is one of those meats that cannot be rushed (or served rare).  I will usually buy whole chicks and roast them in the oven for about 2 hours, sometimes 6 birds at once.  Once the meat is cooled my husband and I will spend a little time pulling the meat off of the bones, portioning meat into freezer bags and freezing.  If I’m low on chicken stock I will take the bones from one of the birds and throw it in the crock pot and make some overnight stock (which also gets frozen).
  • Chicken Taquitos – another labor intensive meal that is completely worth making a giant batch of.  I can take these puppies from frozen and bake them for about 20 minutes and we have a tasty dinner.  We have also used these as quick appetizers when entertaining or if we have unexpected dinner guests.  Serve with sourcream and hotsauce!
  • Pulled pork – Pork shoulder is a cheap cut of meat that becomes a tasty easy meal. Use either a dry rub or a bottle of your favorite bbq sauce and cook the pork shoulder in a crock pot for 8+ hours.  Once it is done, remove the meat and shred with a fork, using a strainer add the juices from the crockpot and mix together with the meat.  Refrigerate overnight and then portion into bags to freeze.

These are just a few ideas but what is most important is to cook what you like and make sure it freezes well.  So if you find a recipe you like and want to try to make a big batch next time – take a little bit from dinner and freeze it.  After a week let it thaw out and check the quality.  Make sure you do this before you cook 10 lbs of meatballs because you wont know how it freezes until you try it.

Rule #3: Use your day off to make a big batch of side dishes, prep fresh veggies and make lunches for the week.

This can be done whether you work or stay at home.  Make something that you love eating so that you are more likely to stick with the plan instead of ditching it for fast food.  If you are not big on leftovers – do not pack them for your lunch at work.  Every Sunday I will make 4 sandwiches for my husbands lunch.  He will take a sandwich and a yogurt to work 4 of 5 days.  He will eat out with co-workers at a restaurant once a week.  Taking your lunch to work compared to eating out every day saves one person about $2000.

Lunch meals that can be prepped at the beginning of the week:

Sandwiches – Deli meat and cheese will hold up nicely for about 5 or 6 days.  Make sure to skip the tomato, pickles and other veggies as it tends to not keep as well.  If you love lettuce on your sandwich, throw it on the morning that you plan to eat the sandwich.

Leftovers – I’m a leftover lover.  If dinner was great (and it usually is!) I have no problem packing a container with the extras and eating it for lunch.

Salads – Every once in a while, usually a couple months before our summer vacation, my husband and I will start eating a little bit less bread and a little bit more veggies.  We will make salads for each of us for the whole week with fresh veggies, hard boiled eggs, and cooked chicken (from the freezer).  Make sure to either add salad dressing the morning that you are going to eat it or put it in a separate container.

For more ideas check out reddit’s meal prep sunday section.

Rule #4:  Make this plan your own.  Everyone has a plan that works but usually it works because they created that plan for their own situation.  My recipes and meal plan will not work for everyone because of taste preferences or food allergies.  What is important is you take things once step, one recipe, one batch of food at a time.  See what works and doesn’t work for your family.  No one goes from spending an hour in the kitchen every day to half of that without some planning, experimenting, and practice.

  • First find one meal that makes it to your table on a weekly basis.
  • Next think of ways to simplify the preparation of that meal.  What can be prepped and then frozen, what can be cooked ahead of time, etc.
  • Then make a batch and see how much time you save with the ahead of time prep.

Start by having 2 meals a week that are quick to prepare, then make it 3 and then 4.  At the moment we plan for 6 nights of at home meals and allow one to be either a night out or a cooking experiment (sometimes I need to switch things up with something fancy).  Figure out with works for you and keep at it!  Soon you will be saving money and finding more time on your hands.

Why we are not buying toys for a year

 

NOT BUYING TOYS

I wanted to share with you all that we have no plans to buy our daughter toys for a whole year.  She was born in the fall and we brought her home hoping that we could handle being new parents.  I tried to hold off on purchasing small things, knowing that we would get gifts from our friends and family.  My husband and I discussed not purchasing toys for our daughter until she was older.  We figured that we would be just adding to the clutter while feeding our own consumerism itch.  We have stuck to this plan for the most part only caving and purchasing a small toy to use up the balance of a gift card.  Before you call me a monster for neglecting my child – think about this; how many toys does your child get from grandparents, friends and relatives?  If it’s anything like my family, you will get more than enough.  My daughter is 9 months old and has 7 toys, some are soft and some play music and she has played with all of them.  At this rate by the time she is 5 years old and wants specific things she’ll probably have over 60 toys.

OK the first image is a bit dramatic - my daughter loves her toys
OK the first image is a bit dramatic – my daughter loves her toys

My plan for toy management:

I’m not a heartless ice queen and know that having something to play with is extremely important for a child.  I was a kid once and have fond memories of playing with marbles and stuffed animals.  Keep in mind that I am a minimalist.  This isn’t some journey or life changing step by step program that I’m taking – it is simply who I am.  Less is more: less things = less time spent cleaning = more time for leisure.  I get rid of the things that I do not use.  I plan on doing the same thing for all of my child’s possessions.  Of course I’m not going to go straight from ‘you haven’t touched this doll in months’ to ‘time to donate all of your toys.’

My plan for keeping the toys under control is to keep 10 toys readily available for play.  The rest will be tucked away in small storage bins ready to be rotated in when a toy that is in use becomes disregarded.  When my daughter gets bored of a toy I’ll put it away and pull out one that she hasn’t seen for a while or once she is able to communicate what she wants to play with she will have her choice of what to keep out and what to put away.  

This toy sings "open up your wallet" etc, etc, I tease my husband that pretty soon our daughter will be batting her eyelashes and asking daddy for money :)
This toy sings “open up your wallet” etc, etc, I tease my husband that pretty soon our daughter will be batting her eyelashes and asking daddy for money 🙂

At the moment there are a few places around my house that toys are kept.  We keep one toy in the parent (our) bedroom – this is because we will hangout in this room as I get ready for work, a few toys are kept in the living room since this is where we spend most of our leisure time, a few toys are kept in the nursery (calling it a nursery makes me feel a little bit like Mary Poppins) these are mostly to entertain during the mornings where I have to run around like a crazy person and feel guilty popping the baby in the crib for 5-10 minutes, so I give her 4 toys to play with – what’s funny is she usually opts to chew on her blanket instead of playing with the stuffed animals or plastic books.  I did keep a toy or two in the kitchen but she really likes playing with measuring cups and plastic container so I moved the toys away and have been rotating Tupperware and other utensils that are baby safe.

Of course my baby is still a baby and doesn’t really care how many toys she has, as long as she is entertained.  As she gets older we will see how my practices work.  I’m striving to keep it minimal as opposed to keeping it organized.  Less toys means that it is easy for my daughter to pick them up every night – complicated organization means that mommy gets to spend time sorting and organizing children’s toys.  And I can definitely think of better ways to spend my time.  Not to downplay the importance of a great organization system but keeping the house clean should be easy or it won’t happen, at least for me.  If I had to take my dirty clothes down stairs every time I was done wearing something, then my floor would be covered in dirty clothing.  Instead I keep a laundry basket and our dirty clothes (mostly) live there until it is time for laundry.  Some people have the willpower to spend the extra time every night doing chores but I am not one of them.  I spend my predetermined amount of time on household chores and if things don’t get done in that X amount of minutes then I leave it alone and then think about ways to make chores more efficient.  No one should need to spend an hour ever night to keep their house in order – if you do then you need to spend a little time revamping your system.

 

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.

More and more savings on groceries (July)

In July we spent a whopping $153.53 on groceries for 2 adults and our 8 month old. Our grocery budget is $400 per month which I’m sticking with for the rest of the year since this level of savings is new to me. We were spending on average $500 per month for 2 adults. Its crazy how much we are saving and we don’t feel deprived at all, we even eat steak once a week.  What made the biggest impact on our grocery bill was we stopped buying drinks (like soda, bottled juice or milk), we started cooking everything from scratch and that means that we don’t even have a frozen pizza in our freezer, we started aggressively tracking the price of meat and make our choice of grocery store for the week based on the sales.  I dabbled in couponing this month and I’m still tweaking my method to maximize my dollar saved and minimizing my time spent messing with coupons.  One thing I definitely need to address this month is a better filing system for the coupons.  They are kind of all over the place right now since I don’t like keeping extra stuff in my purse.

monthly grocery totals

It’s the start of a new month and I’m excited to do my monthly stock up shop. My freezer is getting a little bit low, so I’ll be buying a few things that I can cook in bulk and freeze for later. The goal is to have enough pre-made food in the freezer so that we only need to cook 3 nights each week and those nights will be quick food on the grill or tacos so a max of 30 minutes from prep to table.

I assume that for each adult in our household I need ¼ lb of meat for dinner so that’s 15 lbs of meat for the month. For lunch we do chicken salads so I need ¼ of chicken breast for each salad which is 2.5 lbs of chicken breast per week for the both of us, which is about 12 lbs of chicken breast or 10 chicken breasts. This meat could come from packages of boneless skinless breasts or from 5 chickens.

I have the following in the freezer:
– 9 dinners of chicken taquitos
– 10 dinners of meatballs

I plan to add this month to the freezer:
– 15 dinners of pulled pork

Monday 8/1 shopping list

Geissler’s
5lbs potatoes – $2.00
48 oz Turkey Hill Icecream – $1.00 (with coupon)
3lbs green beans – $2.07
2lbs zucchini – $1.98
2lbs yellow squash – $1.98
2 pts grape tomatoes – $3.00
2 loaves day-old bread – $3.50

Total: $20.40

Pricerite
8 cans of olives – $7.92
1 celery stalk – $1.49
6 dozen eggs – $5.94
1 lb bacon – $3.00
1 lb sweet potato – $0.99
4 sour cream 8oz – $6.00
1 tortillas 10 ct – $2.99
5 bags frozen veggies – $4.95
2 yogurt chobani 4 packs – $5.98
2x 6 oz pepperoni – $5.98
8 chicken breast – $15.25
12 lbs pork loin – $22.00
3 lbs sweet italian sausage – $6.00
5 lbs shredded cheddar – $10.99
2 cucumbers – $1.18
1 lbs tomatoes – $0.99
hershey syrup – $1.99 (gotta have it to go with the icecream)
4 bell peppers – $4.39

Total: $108.03

Super Stock up total: $128.43

This leaves me $271.57 to use on our weekly trips for salad fixings, fresh produce and super deals on meat.  We only have 2 ribeyes left in the freezer (oh the horror) so I’m hoping to find another great deal on those.  I got about 8 ribeye steaks at $5.99 per lb where normal price for ribeyes can be between $12-$16 per lb.  If I see them that cheap again I’ll be buying a lot more than 8 steaks!  So this is a pricey week for me, what are you buying at the grocery store?

August Meal Plan

Aug Meal Plan

My method of meal planning is a simple one.  We stock up on meat when it’s on sale and freeze the bulk of it.  Once a month I pull everything out of the freezer and take inventory and create a meal plan for the month based on what we have on hand.  I prefer this method to creating a plan and then buying the ingredients since it allows me to take advantage of deep discounts and save even more money than shopping around a recipe.  We know what kind of meats that we like and what tends to be inexpensive, so our meals are a rotation of favorite recipes with a couple experiments sprinkled in a few times a month.  I use a small magnetic white board to keep track of what is in the freezer and pantry.   I haven’t had chicken stock for the past month and it has really limited my sauce recipes.  I made some chicken stock this morning and froze 2 more bags of chicken bones for later use.  It stinks running out of ingredients but it also teaches us to plan a little bit better.Freezer and pantry inventory
Our freezer is getting a little bit low, so I filled some of the gaps with sausage that I bought yesterday.  I’ll be working a lot harder to stock up this month so we can utilize our freezer space.  Empty space in the freezer is an opportunity to cook something delicious so that we can have more time during the week to do the things that we want to do instead of spending time cooking dinner.  I was planning to buy a pork shoulder to make pulled pork but the selection at the supermarket wasn’t too appealing.  I’ll check next week or when I go to BJs, the price the beat for pork shoulder is $1.29 per lb which is what the discount grocery store near my house sells it for.

Aug Meal Plan

We mostly stick to our meal plan but there are times when I cook something in a big batch to freeze and its easier to also eat that for dinner.  I made a giant batch of meatballs last month and we ended it up eating them that night.  We also will flip around nights that we grill if the weather is looking bad on our normal Saturday steak night.  You don’t have to stick to a meal plan perfectly for it to save you time and money.  Being a little bit flexible helps us to stick to our meal planning long term.  All I ask is when changing the plan to allow at least one day so that the meat can thaw in the fridge instead of trying to microwave a brick of solid, raw meat into a workable product…the microwave is for heating food and not so much for defrosting raw meat.  I’m not a fan of the edges being cooked and the center being frozen.

I don’t plan out what we are having for our side dishes ahead of time.  Sides normally consist of a vegetable and a starch.

Vegetables:  Fresh veggies from that week at the grocery store or farmers market, frozen veggies if we need something quick

Starch: Rice, barley, potatoes or pasta

Here is what our meal plan looked like at the end of July.  We had about a week of vacation that helped us keep the food bill lower than normal.  We got take out once and ate dinner out one night during the month.  By sticking with the routine we are able to save a ton of money without compromising what we eat.  Not only does it save us money by meal planning but it saves us a ton of time during the week.  We both work full time, so we try to make as much time for family after we get home and before bed time.  Making it easy for yourself will help you stick with meal planning long term.

July Meal Plan 2

Why I make my own baby food

Homemade Baby food

Baby food seemed like one of those things that you just have to buy, because how else would your baby get solid foods?  When my baby was ready to start exploring solids, which we knew because she started opening her mouth like a baby bird when ever we were eating, I started out with a couple of jars of the pureed baby food.  I spent about $0.80 per 2 oz jar or $0.40 per oz of blended green beans.  They didn’t taste that good.  You might think that I’m weird for tasting the baby food, but I don’t want to feed my daughter anything that I’m not willing to at least try.  Anyway, after the first couple jars of food I started to see all of the empty jars in our future, and all of the money that we’d be wasting on expensive blended vegetables.  I started to do a little research on how to make your own baby food.  I was surprised to see that it was quite simple to put a meal for baby together with the equipment that I already had.

A lot of the veggies I’m buying are around $0.99 per lb and will make about 16 oz of food or $0.06.  If my baby is eating 8 to 12 oz of food per day this means that we save $2.72 to $4.08 per day or $81.60 to $122.40 per month.

What you need:

Food – We started with sweet potato, green beans, and peas when she was about 5 to 6 months old.  Now that she is around 8 months old we also give her lentils, zucchini, yellow squash, barley, potatoes, beans, and yogurt.zucchini

Something to cook the food in – a pot with boiling water, a steamer basket or the microwave has been used for several of our different baby food preparation sessions.

Something to process the food – You can use a food mill, food processor, or blender.  I have a Nutra-bullet because – hey I like smoothies (and other blended drinks) so this is what gets used to blend the baby food 90% of the time, mainly because it’s easier clean up than the food processor.  You can smash the food with a fork if you have a truly minimalist kitchen, you might need to peal your veggies if you’re using that method.

Zucchini waiting to be blended

Something to store the food in – We have little glass dishes that hold about 4 oz of food.  I like using the glass dishes because they’re safer to microwave than plastic and you can easily see what is in them.  I also freeze extra baby food in ice cube trays so that I only need to make baby food once every 2 or 3 weeks.  I like being efficient with my time and think batch cooking is a life saver.

Baby food in ice cube trays

Things that I’m figuring out while feeding my daughter:

I’m not afraid to give my baby texture.  I’m a believer that exposing a child to a variety of different colors, flavors and textures will help them keep an open mind in the future.  We shall see how my theory works out since I’m mostly flying by the seat of my pants right now as a first time parent.  I hear that kids don’t get picky about food  till they’re about one year old – so we shall see 🙂  Right now we mix shredded chicken into vegetables, we have lentils with chopped up carrots, onion and celery (which she loves) and I’m starting to chop foods into small bits instead of blending everything.

Gagging will happen, this is different from choking.  I don’t leave my baby unsupervised while she’s eating.  But if she starts to gag a little bit I let her work through it and only hook a finger in her mouth if it goes on more than a few seconds.  I try to stay calm when things like this happen so that I don’t startle my child.

Before we started feeding solids I wanted to try baby led weening.  As we all know, things don’t always happen as planned.  My baby doesn’t really put things in her mouth, which is awesome when there is dirt on the floor but not so awesome when I want her to put some beans in her mouth.  So we are using a spoon and when she gets tired of the spoon, and wrestles it away from us to happily bash on the high chair tray, she eats food from our fingers.  This is more of a ‘go-with-the-flow’ technique than any sort of baby feeding method.  It’s working for us so we’ll continue to flow.

Monthly Meal Plan for June 2016

It is the beginning of summer and the time for losing weight!  We are changing our eating habits a bit when it comes to how we are getting our calories.  In general we eat well balanced meals.  All of our dinners have a protein, vegetable and starch.  The ratio of those three foods could use some tweaking but that’s an easy fix.  The plan is to reduce the portion of meat and add some legumes to the plate so that we are getting more plant based protein.

The protein part of our dinners are planned out on the calendar ahead of time and the sides are composed of what ever veggies are on sale that week.  We have been eating a lot of corn thanks to the $0.20 ears from last week’s grocery trip.  I’ve also picked up some summer squash, asparagus, and zucchini this week.

For breakfasts we’ll be eating the following:
– Hummus and veggies
– Eggs and potatoes

Lunch for the both of us:
– Salads with chicken, chickpeas, a hardboiled egg and lots of veggies
– Leftovers from dinner
– Soup from the freezer

Baby food for this month we are going to introduce:
– Avacado
– Lentils
– Chicken
– White Potatoes
– Barley
– Oatmeal

Thanks to another sale on whole roaster chickens at $0.59 per lb, I have a super stock of chicken that I’ll be adding to the freezer. This helps a ton with the switch to salads for lunch since we use about half of a chicken breast per salad.

I learned a few things from May that I’m going to be incorporating into the June plan.  The one pound portions of meat will almost always yield left overs.  For some meals I’ll only be using half of the pound of meat in the recipe.  A couple of my go to meal items can use up left overs!  We have a new favorite pizza recipe and it involves pulled pork and BBQ sauce!  So that means we can have pulled pork for dinner and then a couple nights later we will make pizza with the leftovers.  We do the same with left over taco meat when we make nachos.  Have I told you how much I love nachos?  It’s definitely in my top five.  With these tweaks to the meal plan this should leave us less leftovers and allow me to eat the soup that’s in the freezer and possibly make more soup throughout the month.

I’m really excited to try some new recipes.  It really helped to establish a food schedule with our go to meals in order to get in a good routine.  But now I want to flex those culinary muscles and make a few new and exciting dishes.

Freezer:
70 taquitos
9 corndogs
3 potato and chicken soup
7 Rib eyes
2 ham
5 lbs shredded cheddar
8 kaiser rolls
4 lbs chopped chicken
1 lb ground beef
1 pulled pork
1 lb shredded mozzarella
1 cup peaches
4 cups chicken stock
1 black bean
1 rice
1 cup peppers
6 bags of frozen veggies

Pantry:
2 lbs black beans
2 lbs chickpeas
1 lbs split peas
1 lbs barley
5 lbs brown rice
4 boxes of pasta
3 containers of breadcrumbs
15 lbs potatoes

I didn’t list everything in my pantry, just the items that I want to work on using.  I have some super old pasta and we eat it so rarely.  I’m thinking of making some cold pasta salads with tuna, olives, and capers to use some of it up.  Here is my meal plan for June:

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I need to think of some creative ways to serve chicken that incorporates the beans that we have.

Home Decor Projects – Yard Sailing for Deals!

I am in search of some killer deals for my house this summer.  I set a deadline for the last day of August because if I don’t give myself a deadline then years will pass and I still won’t have my living/bed room furnished.  This worked really well last year when my daughter was born in the fall, we knew when she was coming and had her bedroom good to go well before that.  We’ve been talking about getting better bedroom furniture for years now and haven’t found anything.  We currently are using a metal bed frame with no headboard and 2 small Kmart special dressers.  While this set up is functional, it is very plain.  This has been our setup for about 5 years.  I am against spending thousands on a cheap looking bedroom set from a discount furniture retailer.  I want quality furniture that will last us the rest of our lives.  This is one of the reasons that I’m looking at second hand furniture, a lot of older items are built more solid than the manufactured furniture today. Here is my list of furniture for in the bedroom:

  • 2 Large dressers with or without mirrors
  • Bed frame with headboard
  • 2 side tables
  • decor for the walls
  • New bedspread

 


Also on our list of projects is our dining/living room.  Our kitchen is a little bit bigger than our dining room.  The plan is to get rid of the giant island in the middle of the kitchen and that will give us lots of room for our table.  The current formal dining room will be changed into a main floor living room.

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This room is huge and while it worked really well for the previous owner as a dining room with her giant china cabinet, buffet, grand father clock and large table, it just doesn’t work for our family.  Right now it is a lot of wasted space.

I’m really excited about this project but have also given myself till the end of August to complete it.  I have a picture in my head of how I want this room to look.  I will need the following pieces to complete this look:

  • Large area rug
  • Matching runner for the hallway
  • Ceiling light fixture
  • 2 upholstered arm chairs
  • Entry way table about 2 feet wide
  • 2 book shelves
  • Wall mounted TV
  • Some sort of wall feature, either wall paper or reclaimed wood
  • Cream colored sofa

One thing that my husband and I can never agree on is our taste in home decor.  He likes masculine and modern pieces.  I prefer more traditional and french style fancy things.  Our current living room was mostly picked out by my husband and consists of a large black leather sofa and recliner, and a simple coffee table/side table set.  I did get to pick out the lamps and these are the pieces in this room that I consider to be more of my style.img_06431

 

The plan is to hit up thrift/consignment shops as well as tag sales on Saturdays.   I’m also searching craigslist once a week.  I found a beautiful armchair at a second hand store that I most likely will go back and buy this next weekend if it is still there.  It is a little bit steep at $125 but hopefully I can talk them down a little bit.  I’ve had a little bit of luck so far this yard sale season.

img_06441This mirror hangs on the wall separating the kitchen from the current dining room (future living room)  I am searching for a small entry way table to put under the mirror.

img_06421I picked this piece up yesterday with no real plan for it.  It is a little project piece that I plan to sand and refinish and then put back together.  The whole piece is very loose so at the very least it will be a $2 lesson in taking furniture apart and putting it back together.

The living room project is funded by proceeds from my own yard sale and things that I’ve been selling on craigslist.  So far the fund has around $700 in it.  This will be fun to see if I can stick to the budget!  I have 14 weekends till the end of August and my goal of having these rooms completed.  Wish me luck!

 

Starting My Backyard Garden #2

I started my seeds for my backyard garden a few weeks ago and they are doing well, as in they are still alive!  I am not known for my green thumb so this is a huge accomplishment for me.  I planted a new egg carton with Green Beans.  I hope to have another egg carton empty by the end of the week to start some Kale.    I’ve been rotating the cartons so that they grow evenly and not just leaning one direction.

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The tomatoes look a little sad.  I’m hoping that they continue to grow and remain green.  I have tried to grow tomatoes in the past but haven’t had much luck with them giving me any fruit.

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The peas are looking awesome!  I’ll be transplanting these outside pretty soon.  It says on the seed packet that they need support so my plan is to run some string between two stakes and have them lean against that.  I’m just hoping that we don’t have any more frost after this weekend.  Wish me luck!

You Need a Meal Plan – Getting Started

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If there was one habit that I picked up that has saved me the most it is using a Meal Plan. Every week I write out what we are going to cook at home and post it.  Use a piece of paper, a calendar or a white board to post your plan.  I use this magnetic whiteboard from amazon that I got for around $10.

Here is a picture of my current meal plan.  All of the meat for the next 2 weeks is in the freezer so that only leaves sides and snacks for my grocery list.  You can be as brief or as detailed as you want with your meal plan.  I list the proteins of the dish and then come home and throw together some sides which usually consist of a vegetable and a starch.  If you benefit from more organization, write out all components of your meal plan.  Do what works for you.

img_05911The area of our budget (which I keep on the other door of my fridge) that saw the most savings since we started meal planning has been in our restaurant/take out food.  We cut our spending in this area by 80%!

Freezer Inventory – I use my freezer a lot, so the first thing I do at the beginning of the month is I take inventory and write down everything that I have in the freezer.  I make special note of anything that is on the older side and make an effort to use it up.  Every day I look at my meal plan and pull anything out of the freezer and put it in the fridge to thaw.  This was probably the biggest change to my cooking routine.  Prior to meal planning, I would get home, look in the freezer for meat to cook and then microwave it on defrost and inevitably end up partially cooking the meat and messing up my recipe.

Creating your plan – Everyone has their favorite recipes to cook.  Start with planning to make meals that you know.  Save the new adventures of a intricate recipe for a day that you don’t have a lot planned.  I try to make at least 3-4 of my meals during the week low maintenance.  This week it was; Nachos – used up the taco meat and beans from the previous week, Chili – which I prepared the night before to pop in the slow cooker, Pork – frozen pulled pork from last week, Pasta and Meatballs – frozen cooked meatballs from a couple weeks ago.

Prep what you can the night before – Every day take a look at you meal plan and think about what can do to save some time.  Move any meat from the freezer to fridge to thaw.  Are there any veggies that you can wash/peel/chop so that they are good to go for tomorrow?  Any crock pot meals that can be completely put together the night before and stuck in the fridge?

Finding Accountability – I post my meal plan on a forum that I’m active on in order to hold myself accountable.  You are more likely to stick with something when you already told others what you plan to do.

Cut yourself some slack – It takes time to form a new habit.  You may on occasion ditch the meal plan and order a pizza.  That’s OK!  Don’t be discouraged.  If you find yourself wanting a low fuss day try to make that a day where you eat leftovers or use your slow cooker.  It’s less tempting to cheat when dinner is ready to go.

Share with me your meal plan, tips, tricks or success stories in the comments!