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I’m Changing the Way I Approach Meals (And Saving Money In The Process)

Cutting down on the grocery bill is always a goal of mine.

With a few significant extra expenses in the last few weeks (some expected and some unexpected) combined with my husband losing his job a couple months ago, cutting back everywhere I can is higher on the list of priorities than ever.

We have eight mouths to feed right now. There’s me and my husband. Then a 17-year-old, 12-year-old, 11-year-old,  8-year-old, 7-year-old, and 5-year-old. The three younger kids don’t eat massive amounts of food. But the other three kids eat a lot.  A LOT. They are growing and doing sports and it seems that they are burning off more calories than they can keep in their bodies.

So we need a decent amount of food.

I try to stick to a $250/ week grocery budget. This budget includes other things, too. Laundry detergent, toiletries, cat food, etc. I come pretty close to that each week.

But the last couple weeks, I’ve been trying to keep it under $200.

I’ve been doing it, but I’ve had to make some changes to the way I’ve been doing things.

And I think these changes are going to lead to even more changes which will enable me to get my grocery bill down closer to $650/month, which is my goal.

So what changes have I made?

First, let me rewind.

When I was in high school, I went on an exchange trip to France where I lived with a French family for three weeks. One of the biggest differences between life in France and life in the United States was how meals were shopped for, planned, prepared, and eaten.  Shopping was done on pretty much a daily basis. Nobody rushed through meals or ate in the car and the kids never ate goldfish and granola bars and bags of chips (I don’t think I ever even saw a bag of chips while I was there).

Eating was an experience.  Meals were prepared daily and they were delicious. There were plenty of treats. We’s have one snack when we got home from school. The one I remember the most was a chocolate sandwich. It was part of a baguette hollowed out with a few slices of chocolate put in the middle.

OhMyGod it was SO GOOD.

If you’ve ever been to Europe, you probably noticed that they don’t have refrigerators the size of Rhode Island in their houses and apartments, and they don’t have stockpiles of fifty boxes of cereal and enough bottles of shampoo and conditioner to last until their kids graduate from college.

So I thought about that.

I also have been bothered by the amount of food that gets thrown away in this house.

It happens quite often for a number of reasons.

First, there is too much crap in our fridge, and it’s rarely organized. Second, I buy food in bulk which would make sense for a family the size of ours, but then I often don’t cook it immediately, or I don’t freeze it immediately, or I make more than we can eat at once and have plans to do something with the leftovers, but then for whatever reason, I get off track in the meal planning and prep department, and I forget to use it.

Then, two weeks later, I find it buried in the back of the fridge where it’s on its way to becoming penicillin.

So back to the changes I made…

1) I stopped buying processed snacks again.

All of them. No chips. No crackers. No salty junk at all, really.

I struggle with this. I struggle with the worry that if I don’t let my kids eat garbage that when they go off to college or are living on their own, they’ll just binge nonstop on the crap they weren’t allowed to have as kids.

But here is the thing. They already do that.

Whenever I buy crap, it’s the only thing my kids want to eat. When we have cereal, that’s the only thing they want for breakfast. When we have junk, the more junk they eat, the more junk they crave. Shitty food is designed to make you crave more shitty food.

And that’s exactly what happens with them.

So I hope to teach them about the cost of food and how to prepare food that tastes really good but is also halfway decent for them.

And I am trying to teach my kids that it’s okay to be hungry. Hunger is a healthy thing.

We have this mindset here in the United States that our kids should never be hungry. That’s not true!

I am definitely guilty of this fear-of-my-kids-being-hungry thing.

How many times have I fed my kids and then packed four million snacks to take with us before we walk out the door so they aren’t hungry at all wherever we are going?

Then we become adults who don’t eat because we are hungry. We eat because we haven’t learned how to cope with any amount of hunger at all!

It’s okay to be uncomfortable. Slight discomfort is not equivalent to malnutrition.

This being-hungry-thing happened just yesterday.

It was 5 pm and Number 5 was starving. She was going to die.

I was actually in the kitchen at the time starting to get dinner ready. I assured her she was not going to die, and I told her she’d have to wait until dinner was ready to eat.

She stomped out of the room yelling about her impending starvation-related death.

I made some pretty good stuff for dinner. I made a version of these cheeseburger quesadillas, corn, a green salad, three-bean salad and smoothie popsicles for dessert.

(It was almost as if we were eating dinner in Paris 😉 ).

When dinner was ready, I called the kids into the kitchen.

And you know what Number 5 said?

She said, Hold on Mom, I just want to finish watching this show.

She wasn’t gonna die anymore!!! It was a miracle.

So, as I had suspected, her hunger wasn’t life threatening and her death wasn’t imminent.

In fact, it took her all of ten minutes to forget she was even hungry at all.

But when it was time for dinner, the kids ate, and they ate well. Their appetite hadn’t been ruined by mindlessly snacking on a bunch of garbage an hour earlier, and they willingly ingested vegetables.

Then the next thing I did…

2) I cleaned out the fridge.

If it’s not organized, I won’t know what’s in there. How I’m going to discipline myself to stay on top of this, I’m not sure.  (But #4 is going to help).

3) I used the leftovers immediately for snack.

There were a couple quesadillas left over last night. I heated those up for a snack along with some hard boiled eggs and grapes.

It was easy to find the quesadillas because the fridge was clean and neat!  Plus, using that for snack immediately the next day prevented me from completely forgetting about them until they became something completely unrecognizable.

Killing two birds with one stone and having the kids eat leftovers for snack and decluttering the fridge is extremely satisfying.

4) I’ve started going to the grocery store almost daily.

This is a big change. It probably takes about an extra hour out of my week to make the extra trips.

But because I’m not doing a massive weekly shopping trip and consequently opening the refrigerator door and struggling to find space in the fridge for everything I’ve just bought, this has cut down on any food being wasted, forgotten about, and thrown away which is saving me a significant amount of money.

This new way of looking at shopping for my family and preparing food will take some tweaking to really be as efficient as possible. I still plan to prep and plan meals and buy only things that are on sale. I’ll use coupons when I can. And I plan to make double batches of things that I can freeze and reheat on those super crazy nights and weeks.

Maybe one Sunday a week will be a big meal prep day. I don’t know. I still have to figure that out.

I also have another plan to cut down on expenses…

Our electric bill is not small. We have a second fridge in the mudroom which is at least fifteen years old. It’s definitely not energy efficient. We also have a chest freezer.

With this new way of shopping and thinking about food, we don’t need two full size refrigerators and a freezer!

I think it’s time to get rid of that second fridge. Not only will that help us to be more efficient with the food, it should make a pretty big dent in our electric bill.

I’m kind of — okay — really excited about this new direction.  I’ll keep you updated on anything else I find to be helpful in the upcoming months.

Stay tuned for updates and tweaks that you might also be able to incorporate to cut down on your monthly food bill, too!

 

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I’m simplifying the dinner plan.

Since declaring this upcoming school year to be The Year of No, I am really looking at every area of my life to find ways that I can simplify.

We have thirty-seven days until the first day of school (not that I’m counting or anything).

While my days are going to be more free now that all the kids will be in school, the afternoons are still going to be ridiculously crazy. We will have less than a half hour after Number 5, 6, and 7 get home from school before we have to leave to go to the pool, and we  won’t get home until about 7:30.

I really, really, really want to streamline the afternoons and the evenings as much as possible.

So I have decided to seriously simplify the dinner plan.

I do like to cook. A lot.

But being gone every night from 4:00 – 7:30 makes cooking at night impossible. And I don’t want to spend a large part of my free time during the day figuring out what’s for dinner. I also don’t want to make multiple trips to the store.

I really just don’t want to occupy any brain space with thinking about what’s for dinner.

For at least the first two months of school, I need major simplicity.

I need a  menu.

A menu that’s just like the school menu.

One where you know what’s for dinner on Monday and on Tuesday, and on Wednesday and on every other day of the week.

This makes me a little bit uncomfortable because I don’t want to fall into a food rut.

But kids don’t complain about every Tuesday being french toast sticks or every Wednesday being a chicken patty or every Friday being pizza day at school.

In fact, I think they like the predictability.

On the other hand, I don’t want to create unadventurous eaters either.

But I don’t know what I’m worrying about when my kids ate hot dogs for approximately 22 out of 30 days in June.

Okay. That might be a slight exaggeration.

But my kids ate a lot of fucking hot dogs in June.

I can change up the menu for the next two months. And If I feel like I really need to switch things up, I can always do a two week rotation.

But I’m coming up with  seven meals that I know everyone loves, that I can prepare ahead of time and freeze, that require fairly little in the shop/prep/cook department, and I’m sticking with those for September and October.

When I come up with that plan, I’ll let you know what it is.

But having only seven meals to think about (actually, it will probably only be six because Friday night will most likely be Big Y pizza night) for two months means I can prepare a buttload of them at once.

I can quadruple a recipe, make it once, and have every Monday night for the month of  September completely covered. I could take care of two months of dinners in less than a weekend that way.

So that’s my plan.

Dinner will be set for two months.

My husband will know what the deal is, and if he gets home before me, he can just pull out that night’s dinner, heat it up, and be good to go.

And the best part of this plan?

I won’t have to answer the question What’s for dinner? for at least two months.

 

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Costco Turkey Chili — quick, healthy, inexpensive, and delicious


I want to share my Costco turkey chili recipe with you because it’s super easy to make, it’s tasty, it’s fairly healthy, it freezes well, and it’s inexpensive.

(And if there’s anything I’ve learned to do over the past year, it’s feed my family fairly nutritious meals on a budget).

Now if you are a purist who only buys organic and who won’t buy canned stuff and who would never dream of using taco seasoning from a packet or a plastic container, then this isn’t the recipe for  you.

But if you are on a tight budget, if you try to make the healthiest choices you can on that tight budget, and if your time is limited, well, then you might want to give this one a try.

Plus, it only requires six ingredients:

  1. ground turkey
  2. red beans
  3. black beans
  4. crushed tomatoes
  5. corn
  6. taco seasoning

Total cost for those six items from Costco: $41.48

Here is what it looks like when you buy that stuff from Costco:

 

chili4

(I forgot to take a picture of the corn with all the other stuff before I opened the can and used some of it for something else, but here’s what it looks like):

chili5

So for this chili, of those items you will use:

  • 2 packages ground turkey
  • 4 cans red beans
  • 4 cans black beans
  • half big ass can of corn
  • half big ass can of crushed tomatoes

or, half of the items you bought. So you will have half of that stuff left over, plus more than half of the taco seasoning, and this recipe will cost you about $20.

Here’s what you do:

  • Brown 2 packages of ground turkey in a big stock pot. Drain, and add in taco seasoning according to directions on the label.

Add in:

  • 4 cans red beans (including liquid)
  • 4 cans black beans (including liquid)
  • half of that big ass can of corn (including liquid) — (store leftover corn for later use in fridge or freeze in gallon freezer bags)
  • half of that big ass can or tomatoes (use the other half of the can to make my awesome and inexpensive Costco pasta sauce).

Then comes the hard part…

  • Stir and then simmer on low for an hour or so. If you have time, let it simmer for a couple hours, but if you don’t, an hour (or even just until it’s heated through) is fine.

Yep. That’s it.

(My family isn’t a big fan of a lot of heat in any food, really. The taco seasoning does have a little kick to it. If you like a little more heat, use more taco seasoning or add in some chili pepper or red pepper).

So easy, and it’s really good! My husband loves it and I love it and most of the kids love it.

This will make about four dinners for eight of us (bigger portions for the bigger family members and smaller portions for the smaller family members), or three dinners and then enough chili for me to eat it for lunch for the week (which is what I often do because I love it that much and all I have to do is throw it in the microwave for a couple minutes).

I put a quarter of it in a bowl to eat in the next couple days. I portion the rest out into three, one gallon freezer bags, and I freeze them for later use.

chili1

That works out to about 24-32 servings, depending on the size.

$20/24 servings = $.83/serving! (even less if your portions are smaller).

chili2

Enjoy!

 

Not Your Average Mom’s Costco Turkey Chili

What you need:

  • 2 packages ground turkey
  • 4 cans red beans
  • 4 cans black beans
  • half big ass can of corn
  • half big ass can of crushed tomatoes

What you do:

  • Brown 2 packages of ground turkey in a big stock pot. Drain, and add in taco seasoning according to directions on the label.

Add in:

    • 4 cans red beans (including liquid)
    • 4 cans black beans (including liquid)
    • half of that big ass can of corn (including liquid)
    • half of that big ass can or tomatoes (use the other half of the can to make my awesome and inexpensive Costco pasta sauce).
    • Stir and then simmer on low for an hour or so. If you have time, let it simmer for a couple hours, but if you don’t, an hour (or even just until it’s heated through) is fine.

 

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Want to try couponing but don’t know where the heck to start? Start here. Couponing 101.

If you want to save money on your grocery bill each week and have wanted to try using coupons but are overwhelmed and don’t know what to do first, you are in luck.

I am going to help you.

I am not an extreme couponer.

I do not buy anything and everything just for the sake of scoring a deal.

But since money has become super tight, I have changed the way I shop for groceries. I have been doing this for about two years now.

If you really want to save money on your grocery bill, it helps if you are willing to do two things:

1) Lose the loyalty to specific brands and be willing to by generic.

and

2) Plan what you shop for each week around what is on sale.

Yes, this takes a  little bit of time. But not the amount of time you might think.

And by spending just an hour each week planning, you can save $50 a week (or more!).

Now this is very basic, and it is meant to get you started without overwhelming you.

Once you try this and practice a little, there are plenty more things you can do to save. There are apps and websites and weekly flyers and coupons you can scan a print and all sorts of shit, but that can be major overload. Especially in the beginning.

Baby steps.

Ok. So I shop primarily at two places: Costco and ShopRite.

They are both close to my house and convenient.

And because we are starting simple, we will start with the place(s) you usually shop.

There are some things I buy at Costco because that’s where the best deal is. I can get a huge bag of lettuce for only $2.99. There is no deal like that anywhere else around here.

If you are a small family, then you might not need a shitload of lettuce, so even though it’s a bargain, you don’t want to end up throwing food in the garbage.

So you also need to know what makes sense for your family.

Milk and bread are also inexpensive at Costco, and so is some other produce.

I usually buy this stuff there.

But other things, like big ass bottles of shampoo at Costco can be deceptive.

This is also where the brand loyalty part comes in.

If you really want to save money, you need to be willing to buy what is on sale.

Unless it’s absolutely necessary, I don’t buy anything that isn’t on sale.

So whatever fruit and veggies we eat each week is whatever is the least expensive that week.

Sometimes it’s produce from Costco, and sometimes it’s produce from ShopRite.

I plan what I’m going to make for dinner around what is on sale, too.

If ground turkey is on sale, I will buy double of that.

Then I can make a week of meals out of it.

When you have coupons for things that are also on sale, that is where you can really save.

Each week in the Sunday paper, there are usually coupon inserts. They come from 3 companies: Proctor and Gamble (those come at the beginning of each month), redplum, and Smart Source.

coupons

Some weeks there will be inserts from all three companies. Other weeks there will be only one or two.

So in order to save, you want to combine the coupons from these with the things that are on sale each week.

Your store has a weekly flyer telling you what is on sale.

Like this:

 

coupon1

But there’s a lot of stuff to sort through between the coupons and the weekly sales flyer.

Luckily, there are websites that go through and do all this stuff for you.

They match up what coupons are available with what stuff is on sale in your local grocery store.

My favorite site is Coupon Mom. That one is the easiest and fastest for me to navigate.

coupon4

All you need to set up an account, which simply means entering your email and a password.

Then you click on the grocery store you shop in.

And you will get a list that looks like this:

coupon6

This is the list for the upcoming week. For all the deals from today through next Saturday (3/15 – 3/21).

I like this list because on the right it gives you the percentage of what you save and how much you will actually pay.

On the left is the date the coupons came out in the paper and which insert they were in ( RP= redplum, S = Smart Source, etc.).

If there is no date in that column, that means there are coupons you can print to save or that there isn’t a coupon and the item is just on sale.

So last week there was a coupon for Suave shampoo in the paper. And this week at Shop Rite, Suave kids’ shampoo is on sale. And if you use that coupon and buy that shampoo, it’s totally free.

And that is how you can save a decent amount of money using coupons and buying things that are on sale.

I try to only buy the things where I am saving at least 40%.

Last week I got a lot of shampoo and razors for free. And that is an example of how a little bit of time spent checking a website and cutting out some coupons can save you much more money than buying a big ass bottle of shampoo and conditioner at Costco.

A couple more things:

  • All stores have coupon policies. For example, Shop Rite will double coupons up to $.99 in value. So if you have a coupon for $.50 off an item, Shop Rite will double it to $1.00 off. And Shop Rite also limits you to 4 coupons per item per day. So if you have 20 coupons for something, you can’t use them all at once and clear off a shelf. You can check the store’s website for the details on their coupon policies.
  • Where do you get extra coupons? You start with your local paper. You can purchase two papers to get double inserts. The savings of buying the extra paper will pay for itself with one or two coupon deals. And if you have family or friends who don’t use their coupons, you can ask them to give you theirs.
  • Some weeks (usually on holiday weekends) there are no coupons. So before you go and buy a Sunday paper specifically for the coupons, check inside to make sure there are some inserts in there!

There you have it.

The very basics.

Consider changing the way you shop for groceries, and plan what you eat for the week around what is on sale.

Get yourself a paper today, check out Coupon Mom and give it a try.

Check back next Sunday for the next lesson in saving, Couponing 201.

Happy savings!

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