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Giving Myself Some Grace

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When I wrote about my first week of work and the changes I was adjusting to (specifically the looooong days), I had several people comment to remind me to take care of myself and allow a couple weeks to get used to this huge adjustment in my life.

I’m definitely taking those comments to heart and although I don’t want to make long-term budget changes yet, there’s one in particular that I want to make at least for the short-term:

Increased grocery budget.

Prior to starting as a blogger here, I spent a TON of money each month on food. Between groceries and eating out (including $$$ drinks), we easily spent a thousand a month!

When I first started blogging, I set a grocery budget of $400/month for our family of 4, and a restaurant/eating out budget of $75/month (which I later increased to $100/month). So I’ve essentially cut our food spending in half!!!!

But it hasn’t been all daisies and roses! I have notoriously struggled with the grocery budget, in particular. I’ve written several times about how if I lose even a bit of focus that it comes out in my grocery spending. I’ll pick things up all willy-nilly at the grocery store just because it looks good or sounds good at the time. I’ll stray from my list and get random things that are really unnecessary or convenience foods I could make myself from scratch for cheaper. So it’s not like I’ve been operating at 100% this whole time but, in general, I’ve done a pretty good job of sticking to about $400/month in groceries for our family.

With this new job, however, I’m already finding it challenging to have the time to make all the from-scratch foods I like to make. I’ve tried to help myself by doing rollover meals (example: one night I made ground beef tacos and I browned some extra beef so the next night I could make a beef casserole dish), and I’ve done food prep once a week where I wash and cut up fruits and veggies so they’re ready-to-go. But I’m still finding it to be a bit of a challenge.

So I’d like to start buying a few prepared/frozen foods that I can just pull from the freezer, heat, and eat – especially on those days I’m feeling particularly drained. I don’t want to eat this way all the time (I still prefer fresh foods, myself), but I can see how the convenience is worth a little extra money at the grocery store – especially when the other option I’m considering is take-out. Frozen, prepared grocery store foods are still cheaper than take-out! So I think maybe 1-2 grocery store convenience meals per week might be a new thing for the next couple weeks.

I’m also going to try to beef up my own freezer stash. For example, in regard to the beef casserole I mentioned above, I made enough for 2 meals and froze half of it so we can eat at a later date. But until I’m fully stocked on my own homemade freezer meals and while I’m still trying to transition to my new roles both at home and the office, I want to offer myself a little grace in the form of an increased grocery budget. I don’t know what exact numbers will look like long-term, but for right now I’m thinking an extra $25/week (extra $100 per month) will really help ease the burden a bit during the evening rush to make food and feed the kids before other evening chores set in.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear some of your favorite work-night recipes, websites, or blogs that you frequent for quick, healthy meal ideas and kid-friendly foods!


23 Comments

  • Reply Taira |

    I am gone 12 hours a day for work and have 3 toddlers so this has always been a challenge for me. A few things I always do though – I buy ground beef 5 pounds at a time, cook it all and freeze in 1/2 lb portions so I can take it out in the morning or evening before and just add to make sloppy joes, tacos, speghetti etc. I have peppers and onions chopped and in the freezer all the time so I don’t have to cut them up on a regular basis. I double all casseroles, soups, chili and freeze half for another date. We usually have breakfast for dinner once every couple of weeks and you need to make the crockpot your best friend.

  • Reply stephanie |

    My husband and I both work and we have school aged kids. We need to eat shortly after arriving home from work so that we have time to eat together as a family and the kids can shower, do homework and still go to bed at a reasonable hour. We do a lot of crock-pot cooking during the week. I recommend you get a good crock-pot (with at least an auto-off/warm setting). We like Campbell’s crock-pot sauces but explore recipes on the internet. I found one for a pretty decent crock-pot lasagna.

  • Reply Juhli |

    Another approach is to make super simple dinners on work nights. Slice a chicken breast, season and cook quickly in a frying pan. Add mixed veggies and some fruit and perhaps a roll. Done. That is the way we cooked all the years we had kids at home and both worked. Make a list of very simple dinners including soup and sandwiches, pasta with veggies, breakfast for dinner, etc. and leave the casseroles and batch cooking for weekends.

  • Reply Gwen |

    Our favorite quick meal is Adell’s chicken apple sausages cut up and sauteed (add some peppers or onions if you are feeling fancy), served with instant mashed potato and green beans. All from Costco. The chicken sausages are pre-cooked and an unopened package has a very long life in the fridge. The meal takes 15 minutes to cook. We also keep frozen cheese pizza (and might add our own toppings) frozen tortellini, and frozen orange chicken and rice (not healthy but delicious! for quick meals. I’m getting ready for baby #2, and plan on freezing some chicken fajitas for various mexican-inspired meals. I’ll probably also freeze some pulled pork for sandwiches.

    • Reply Walnut |

      I think we have the exact same Costco shopping list!

      I also highly recommend Costco’s salmon fillets from the frozen section. They’re packaged individually and thaw out in the sink really fast. I pair that with frozen veggies and whatever grain or starch is easiest to toss together.

    • Reply Ashley |

      mmmm! I just clicked on the link and the picture of that honey balsamic chicken looks AMAZING!!!

  • Reply Jen from Boston |

    Quinoa is handy because it cooks quickly. I’ll saute an onion and some garlic, then toss in the quinoa, whatever seasonings I”m in the mood for, and the water and let it cook.

    Another easy dish is tomato and cucumber salad. Just cut a tomato and cucumber into bite-sized pieces (usually 1 large cuke to 2 regular tomatoes), season with garlic powder and pepper, and toss in crumbled feta cheese if you want. Or, skip the cheese and mix it with soy sauce and sesame oil.

    • Reply kili |

      I guess it’s not getting as much attention as Quinoa over in the US, but Bulgur is also nice for salads and side dishes, because it’s done a lot quicker than rice.

    • Reply Walnut |

      To add some extra flavor to quinoa, I add chicken broth instead of regular water. I’ll then add the quinoa to some pasta, broccoli/brussels sprouts and the chicken sausages above to make a skillet dinner. It’s easy as can be with a little more nutritional value than just pasta and sauce.

  • Reply Kerstin |

    I third the frozen salmon fillets at Costco-the ones by Morreys are the ones we buy. We may brown rice in the rice cooker, and saute some of the frozen organic broccoli, also from costco, and voila, dinner in a pinch. I also love the huge bag of organic frozen green beans from costco. I saute some in random spices and serve with scrambled eggs and toast if you want more starch and voila, dinner is awesome. You might want to take a look at the cook book Well Fed. There is a section in there on spice blends for how to make the same food taste different (I don’t know intuitively how to make things taste the way I want), and a section on “hot plates” which is basically different proteins and veggies cooked up. Then we just add a quick starch if we want it. It keeps our meals really simple, healthy, and low budget and low in time and effort. The biggest thing to remember is the thaw the protein! We also love doing crockpot slow roasted pork. We live in it for days! I often make a second meal in the crockpot late at night just before dinner and it cooks while we sleep then we dish it up in the morning. Sometimes we eat if for breakfast. One of my fave easy crockpot recipes is cream cheese chicken. 1) throw a lb or slightly more of FROZEN chicken breast in crockpot, 1-2 cans of beans, your choice (we like black or kidney), jar of salsa (or 2), or sub a can of diced tomatoes or fire roasted tomatoes (my fave is from trader joes), cook on low for 6-8 hours or whenever, then add a block of cream cheese for 30 minutes and it will melt down and any spices you may want in addition. We like Penzey’s northwoods fire. Then shred with two forks and put on salad, in tacos, or eat straight from the crockpot! A great easy convenience food that can last a few days and be a warm meal, sandwhiches or salad toppings the next is a rotisserie chicken. G stores near me have specials on Fridays where they are $3.99 or $4.99 so it’s a great meal, as long as you can get a high quality one not filled with gross stuff, if you know what I mean. You can do this!

  • Reply Kerstin |

    oh, and best summer easy meal. Caprese salad. Chop up tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella (we buy the two packs from Costco, and freeze one), olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and papper, and some greek seasoning from penzeys if you want. We have a garden so that helps. SO GOOD! You can add it to pasta or another grain or eat it plain if it’s really hot. YUM!

    • Reply Ashley |

      I’m OBSESSED with caprese! Bonus – we have a basil plant so fresh basil is free : )

  • Reply Caryanna |

    With regard to grains…
    You can freeze rice in meal-sized portions and then just microwave. We make a big batch of brown rice and freeze the rest. It doesn’t dry out in the fridge this way.

  • Reply Connie |

    Look into Blue Apron. You get to choose the number of meals you buy and how many people they will serve. Each meal includes the meat, organic vegies, spices, etc., even butter! And a recipe than can be made within about 30 minutes. They’ll give you one or two free to try them out, and it makes healthy, semi-gourmet food. When you consider the time saved in not going to the grocery store, having everything delivered to you and the quality, I think it’s an excellent deal.
    Also, since you’re kids are so little, you could either stretch 2 meals out of each one or at least have really good food to bring for lunch the next day.
    Blue Apron isn’t the only service like this either. There are others, but I can speak to Blue Apron’s quality.

  • Reply Desperately in Debt |

    I do a major food prep day the first weekend of each month and pack my freezer with ready to dump in the crockpot bags (we like a bunch of the recipes on 5 dollar dinner mom site), ready to heat casseroles or lasagnas, and batch cook a couple pounds of beans and then divide into family size meal portions. We frequently do breakfast for dinner night, leftover smorgasbord night, and occasionally turn to a frozen pizza or other pre-packaged food. I’m not going to lie, that first weekend of the month food prepping is a ton of work but it has saved us from eating pb and j’s for dinner and our budget from excessive dining out!

So, what do you think ?