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Posts tagged with: cheap meals

No Spend Week Diary – Day 1

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Today marks Day #1 of our No Spend Week challenge (see here for why we’re doing an unplanned No Spend Week). I wanted to give a bit of baseline for where we’re at and what we have planned in terms of meals. I started by taking a good inventory of our fridge/freezer and pantry. We have plenty of meat, lots of boxed/jarred/canned goods, and a little bit of fresh produce, milk, etc. I came up with a whole list of possible meal ideas based around foods that we already have! I’m more excited about some than others, but I’m confident we’ll have plenty of food to get us through the week, especially if I get a little creative in the kitchen. 🙂

It’s still early in the day here in Tucson (we’re currently on Pacific time zone), but I brought my lunch with me to work today so I know breakfast and lunch and I’ve already got dinner planned as well.

Day #1 Notes:

I used the last of milk for girls’ with breakfast. <yikes! That will have to be replaced likely tomorrow or Wednesday, coming out of my $13 cash that I’ve still got in my wallet!

Husband ate the last of our homemade Instant Pot yogurt and an apple as his breakfast. No more yogurt is going to be a bummer, and it’s not likely to be something we replace mid-week. I’m going to save the $13 for milk and fresh fruits & veggies, as needed.

Fresh fruit and vegetable supply count:  2 nectarines, 10-12 strawberries, half a celery stock, half spinach bunch, plenty of carrots

 

My meals:

Protein smoothie with frozen fruit, protein powder, & spinach

Chicken & green beans (Sunday leftovers) with white rice <I made a big batch of white rice so I can use it throughout the week. Saves time and money!

Chicken (Sunday leftovers) with cooked pasta and jarred pasta sauce from pantry. < this is one of my favorite ways to “make over” a previous meal! I’ll take leftover cooked protein (usually either chicken or ground beef) and add some type of pasta sauce (e.g., Alfredo or creamy sun-dried tomato with chicken; usually a marinara/tomato-based sauce with beef). I boil up some noodles since we always have plenty of boxes of noodles on hand. BAM! A leftover/made-over meal in 15 minutes or less! Not too shabby for a manic Monday night! 😉

 

For those of you joining along, tell me whats on the menu at your house today! What are some meals you’ve got planned for the week? I did a big rotisserie chicken over the weekend, so we’ll likely be having it a couple of different ways in the coming days as we try to eat it up and conserve our money!!!


Cheap Meals

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I mentioned that money is extra-tight this month, and I’ve really been making a conscious effort EVERY.SINGLE.DAY not to spend money. It’s weird really. You know how once something is “forbidden” it’s suddenly all you can think about?

For example, I’ve been pining over the idea of doing a little garden. I have the blackest thumb known to man, but I like to try to plant flowers from hanging baskets in the back yard and see how long they’ll live (my record is about 2 years, but most only last a matter of months). I also used to have a pretty good herb garden and I’d love to get that going again, as I’ve been missing fresh rosemary and basil in our meals. Sorry to those of you in freezing weather, but we’re probably past our last freeze here in Tucson so it’s the PEFECT weather for planting stuff! But that all costs money – soil, seeds (and/or starter plants), maybe some new pots, etc. Sigh. That stuff’s all been put on the back burner for the time being (maybe next month when things aren’t so tight I can squeeze an extra $20 from our budget for gardening stuff).

But that’s not all. It’s probably no surprise that the area where my shopping urge has manifested itself the most is with food. Oh, food. But unlike last time (in January), where I justified extra grocery shopping trips as a necessity, this month I’m really, really trying to be good. No extra trips to the store. Use up everything at home first. Figure out creative ways to make meals with things we already have. Eat stuff out of the freezer. You get the point.

And I have to say that so far I’ve been proud of myself. Here’s a look at some of the cheap meals I’ve made lately to try to stretch our grocery bucks to the limit.

Side note: I am NOT a chef, nor am I even a very good cook. So I’m not giving recipes here, I’m just giving ideas of cheap foods I’ve made. If you want a recipe, do yourself a favor and google one because I have no advice to offer on the cooking front. : )

Black Bean Burgers

Okay…..this meal came THISCLOSE to being just tossed in the trash. I was all proud of myself to use all ingredients we had on hand, many of which were begging to be used up (e.g., leftover beans and cilantro from a previous taco dinner). But when I read the directions I missed the part where it said to put everything in the food processor except the beans!!! Instead, I food processed everything to a pulp, then wanted to cry as I thought there was no way the burgers would hold together. I seriously stood there with the glop mess next to the trash for a good 30 seconds contemplating my options when I finally decided just to try the bean mess. The original recipe called for cooking it in a little bit of oil in a skillet. I immediately nixed the idea (0% chance the burgers would hold together), and instead opted to bake them in the oven. God must have smiled down on me because, lo and behold, the burgers held together! They didn’t look pretty, but they tasted just as good as if I hadn’t pulverized the beans into a nasty-black colored pulp.

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Uh oh, caught a little hand trying to still the cheese!IMG_0790

Much better! Well…still not the most appetizing-looking, but you get the point. And it tasted great!

Pantry Foods

I haven’t always been this way, but in recent years I’ve tried to make more of an effort to eat FRESH and NATURAL foods.  So although it is not the norm for us to essentially eat-out-of-a-can, I do still have many canned foods in the pantry. And – what can I say – they’re cheap. I’ve found myself resorting to a meal-in-a-can a couple of times this month so far, particularly for quick lunches. The two main things we’ve had so far are canned soups (seriously, these needed to be eaten because they’ve been hanging around forever, but I know the sodium content & ingredient list is awful and I never buy them anymore) and tuna fish sandwiches (something about canned meat creeps me out). No disrespect intended to those who love these foods. I think our knowledge about food nutrition has come a long way and these are totally normal foods that I ate all the time as a kid, but not something I want to be feeding my own family on a regular basis. But I also hate waste and these are foods we already owned, so might as well eat them up. Highly unlikely that I’ll be replacing any of these canned meals, so it almost feels like a free lunch.

Vegetarian Meals

One of the best ways to stretch a buck is to make vegetarian meals since veggies often cost way less than meat. This can be tricky for us carnivores, though, because it often doesn’t feel as filling or you might get full initially but then be hungry again an hour later. But I make a couple of vegetarian meals that are particularly hearty. One is eggplant parmesan. It’s a bit prep intensive, but I always double the recipe and freeze half for a quick meal sometime down the road. Plus the eggplant is thick and hearty – I’d even call it “meaty.” Plus super tasty. I also like to cook up some  frozen cheese tortellini as a super quick veggie meal. In my local stores I can get a bag of cheese tortellini for $2.50 and its enough to feed my family of 4. I boil the noodles, add some marinara sauce, and stir in spinach over the heat so it wilts before serving. This is another great idea for a quick lunch, but it can be dressed up for dinner with a side, too (steamed broccoli pairs well).

“Steak” Quesadillas

We’d had a pot roast a few nights prior that was huge. I’d eaten leftover roast for a few days and was sick of it, but didn’t want to waste any of the leftovers. So on this particular day, I sliced up the roast, sprinkled it with some taco seasoning (pro tip:  I buy the bulk jar of taco seasoning from Costco instead of individual packets from the grocery store. It’s much cheaper per oz. and then you can just use what you need instead of being committed to a full packet), and called it steak fajita meat. LOL. Obviously I could tell that it wasn’t the real thing, but I got no complaints from the girls and even hubs was tricked into thinking I was serving a new meat (he’s not a huge fan of leftovers). Mwhahaha!!!!!!!

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Here’s the roast meat all sliced up and sprinkled with taco seasoningIMG_0738

Cooked in a tortilla with some cheese, beans, onion, and bell peppers (another pro tip: I buy bell peppers when they’re super cheap in summer, then slice them up and freeze them so it’s easy to take out just a few and cook as needed). I add spinach or lettuce after its been cooked for a little boost of greens.

Chicken Everything

Okay, no pictures to share of this, but can I just say how many different chicken meals I’ve cooked lately? First, chicken is one of the cheapest meats around. Second, it’s just so easy to spice up in so many different ways! From regular grilled chicken to bbq chicken, chicken on a salad or in a wrap, chicken smothered in honey mustard and cheese, chicken stir-fried and served with noodles and peanut sauce, chicken dunked in wing sauce and served with ranch, etc. etc. etc. Lots and Lots of chicken dishes. It’s getting comical. Hubs asked the other day, “What are we having for dinner? Let me guess, chicken!” Yuuuup! Though you’re welcome to cook if you want something different ; )

So there you have it. These are some of our cheap, quick, and easy meals that I’ve been relying on lately. And anytime I can cook once and eat twice (or three or four times!!!) is always a good thing to me, so I’ve been loving trying to find ways to rollover and repurpose already cooked foods into a new meal. Good stuff!

What cheap meals are you loving lately? Feel free to link to any recipes you use!


A New Budget + Stretching Food Budget

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Hi all! Hope your Friday is off to a good start! We’ve been battling colds over here (again!!! I swear, this cold/flu season has been the worst!!!!!) but we’re all finally on the mend, the girls are back in preschool (after being home sick on Wednesday), and life is good! ; )

I’ve already mentioned that I overspent January’s budget (particularly in our grocery budget). I’ll give you all the details on Monday with my January budget update post, but today I wanted to tell you a little bit about how I’m making our food dollars stretch to try to spend a lot less on groceries this month.

First, I’ve been really trying to eat from our pantry and freezer. Second, I’ve been trying to repurpose meals by making leftovers into a second (or even third) meal so that every single bite of food is eaten and not wasted. I HATE wasting money and food waste is always one of the biggest culprits! Whenever I have to throw away old lettuce or meat or whatever, I see dollar signs being tossed in the trash. It’s a HUGE pet peeve of mine! So I’ve really tried to re-focus on making sure all food gets eaten before it goes bad. Here’s a list of the things we’ve eaten lately, and how I’ve tried to re-purpose leftovers so meal time doesn’t get stale:

  • Sausage wraps with broccoli & shells with cheese (sausage from freezer, broccoli was on hand, and shells & cheese and tortillas were in the pantry).
  • Ham and potato cheese soup (ham chunks from freezer leftover from last time we ate ham, potatoes from pantry, cheese from fridge, homemade rolls on the side). Also ate leftover soup throughout the week for lunches!
  • Cheeseburgers with home fries (meat from freezer, sliced and baked fries from potatoes we had in pantry, cheese on hand in the fridge, and leftover homemade rolls for the buns).
  • BBQ chicken, corn, and shells & cheese (chicken from freezer, canned corn from pantry, leftover shells & cheese from a previous dinner).
  • Spaghetti and meat sauce with garlic bread (crumbled leftover burgers for meat, used sauce and noodles from pantry, sliced up leftover rolls that I buttered and sprinkled with garlic before broiling for the garlic bread)
  • BBQ chicken “pizzas” and corn (leftover BBQ chicken that I shredded, cheese from fridge, made on top of tortillas instead of traditional pizza crust; leftover corn…doesn’t really go with pizza, but it worked).

It takes a little forethought to make sure I can reuse and/or repurpose leftovers, but I’ve already noticed such a huge difference in my grocery spending. Not only does it cost less money this way (i.e., re-using leftovers in future meals), but its actually easier, too! It’s the whole “cook once, eat twice” mentality (not sure where I’ve heard that, so can’t credit a source but I think it’s a pretty well known phrase). It’s so, so much easier when parts of the meal are already cooked (especially when the meat is already done, as with the spaghetti and meat sauce and the bbq chicken pizzas). When the main protein is already pre-cooked all I have to do is just assemble, heat, and serve! Score!

So I’m really making an effort to try to get my spending back on track and, so far, I think I’ve been doing pretty well. Toward this end, I’ve also made the decision to do a new budget. Not just a new budget, but a  new budget software, too! Remember back when I’d tried to do YNAB (you need a budget), but I’d bailed less than a week into the month? I wasn’t ready at the time. But I gave it another shot a few weeks ago and have fallen for it hard. Once you get a hang of it, it’s really so superior to my old Excel spreadsheet. If there’s any interest I’d be happy to write a full review at some point.

In the meantime, if anyone is interested in purchasing the YNAB software, usually $60, I’ve got a link I can share that will get you a 10% savings. Note that if you purchase through this link, you get $6 off the price and I get a $6 referral credit. A win-win (plus you can share your personal link with friends to earn credits, too). Just wanted to be transparent on that (you can also try a free month-long trial by going to their website, too).

What are your favorite rollover meals or cheap meal ideas?