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Our Favorite Winter Meals

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I love that the cooler weather is here. We are enjoying our last week or so that we get to stay home two nights a week (before volleyball practice starts.) As a result of these two things, we are cooking a lot. I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon of posting a few of our favorite winter meals, some of which are pretty affordable

Hashbrown Potato Soup

This is the hands down family favorite. You can make it either the crockpot or on the stove. We prefer it on the stove, and I save time using frozen hashbrowns rather than whole potatoes. There are lots of recipes on the internet, some include meat, some cheese, we cook straight potato soup and then everyone doctors their bowl to their own taste.

Deviled Eggs

Princess has become famous around town for her deviled eggs. She’s even been paid by locals to make them for special events. Sea Cadet recently asked her to make them for a Christmas Party he was attending.  We are spoiled by her love to cook. (Tonight she made brownies.)

Meatloaf

Gymnast favorite meal to make these days is meatloaf. I think he just likes to get his hands dirty…literally. (We haven’t had to buy meat since we moved. We are still eating through the freezer of meat we brought from Virginia. We are down to our last week of that though.)

We also eat a lot of beans and noodles.. Sea Cadet makes Asian inspired dishes almost every time it’s his turn to cook. Noodles and pasta sauce are another thing we are still working through from our rations we brought from Virginia.  Who knew we had so much food!

I’m so blessed that all my kids enjoy cooking and better yet, are good at it. Cooking at home saves us money, even when we cook more elaborate meals. But the best part is the fun we have preparing and trying new things. Some of our meals are true hits and some of them force us to take a McDonalds run and eat fries and sweet tea for dinner (okay, that’s only happened once.)

I hope you are enjoying the beginning of this holiday season with your loved ones. Taking time to slow down and just enjoy the holiday decorations and festivities. Enjoying some quality time. And being grateful for all the many blessings. I know I am.

 


Freezer Meals

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One of our big downfalls with our budget has historically been in the area of food. We’ve relied a lot on eating out for quick and easy meals when time is short, work in long, etc. But because of you guys, I’ve been challenging myself to try to make more freezer meals. Over Thanksgiving week (really, in the wake of Thanksgiving), I created several freezer meals to have on-hand that can help with those busy nights when I know I won’t have time to cook.

My photography skills are not the best, but this will give you an idea of some of the things I’ve thrown together and will maybe give you an idea or two for creating Freezer Meals out of leftovers at your house!

Turkey Shephard’s Pie:

This meal was truly thrown together as a random hodgepodge of ingredients, but it worked out so well together! I did a take on “Shepherd’s Pie”, but using turkey! I made it up as I went, but it was somewhat similar to this recipe. I used shredded turkey that had been chopped up (rather than ground turkey). I didn’t use the heavy cream or egg and, instead, had stirred in a can of cream-of-celery soup to the meat mixture. I still did include peas with the meat, topped it all with potatoes, and then a generous serving of cheese. It was delicious!

Turkey Enchiladas Verde

I got real ambitious in making a TON of enchiladas! We had a MASSIVE turkey (16-lb. for our family of 4!) so this was the one meal I planned on making ahead-of-time, knowing it would be a great way to use up a bunch of turkey. In all, I made 3 containers-worth of turkey enchiladas. I used up a can of green chilies that had been in my pantry for a long time and used a store-bought can of verde enchilada sauce. Topped with some cheese, and placed gently in the freezer for future use.

Turkey Sandwiches

There’s no reason that every meal has to be this big, elaborate thing. My Mom was a stay-at-home Mom until I was a teenager, so I think I got used to each meal being this “event.” Every meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) was served at the dinner table with everything nicely “set” and each meal was totally balanced: fruit, vegetable, protein, and dairy. <3

I love my mom and would love to emulate her in any way I can. I still insist that we eat at the dinner table each night together because I think it’s nice to sit all together and talk about our days, etc. But I also don’t think every meal needs to be this big elaborate thing. One night we just had plain-jana leftover turkey sandwiches. I made a little honey mustard sauce (literally just mixing together honey and mustard) and it was a tasty dinner one night with carrot slices and chips on the side as accompaniments.

Thanksgiving Bowl

Probably the ugliest picture of them all (and this was totally lopsided because I swear the potatoes were not that out-of-portion with the rest of the meal!), but this is what I called the “Thanksgiving Bowl.” I got the idea from the KFC Bowl. If you’re unfamiliar, the KFC bowl consists of layered food: mashed potatoes, sweet corn, and fried chicken, with gravy and cheese on top. Sounds like a lot going on in one bowl, but it comes together nicely. I decided to do a similar thing with leftover Thanksgiving Food. In our bowl, I layered turkey on the bottom, leftover stuffing, sweet corn, mashed potatoes, and gravy. It looked pretty gross, but it tasted delicious! The kids gobbled it up, each asking for more! That’s a win in my book!

Turkey Noodle Soup

Last but not least (and, unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo), I did a turkey noodle soup! I used the turkey bones to make a homemade turkey broth (remember my last homemade broth?). To it, I added turkey, chopped carrots and celery, and some frozen noodles. This was our last of the Thanksgiving-related meals. We had one serving while still “fresh” and I froze the other serving to have on-hand for an extra freezer meal.

I have LOVED having additional freezer meal options on-hand! Even though they do require some advance planning (in order to take them from the freezer to thaw out), I can typically look at my schedule and estimate what days they would work best. It’s been so convenient that I really hope to maintain this new “tradition.” I hope to plan at least one meal per week that I can double (eating half of it and freezing the other half), but I also plan to stock up on freezer meals at times when I’m home more (e.g., over the winter break will be a great time to stock up!)

Do you cook freezer meals? If so, link to recipes you like to use! I’d love to compile a list of options!


Homemade Beef Broth (& Stew!)

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I hope everyone is staying warm wherever you are! Here in southern Arizona, we’re finally starting to get a little bit of chill in the air! Don’t get me wrong, it’s still 90 degrees mid-day. But the mornings and evenings are nice and chilly!

I’m pretending it’s colder than it really is by making yummy (and cheap!) cold-weather comfort food! And I’m doing it by using up leftovers! We’ve been doing GREAT this month using our money envelopes for groceries! I plan to stay consistent with the money envelopes for the time being because it’s really helped squash excess food spending! I’ve been in the process of a huge budget overhaul so a cheaper grocery budget is in our future! I’m glad I’m working my way back into a more frugal grocery lifestyle!

One night, I made a roast in my trusty crock-pot. I took the roast bones and put them in a pot of water on the stove and simmered them for a couple hours while I cleaned everything up and got the kids ready for bed. By the end of the night, I had wonderful homemade beef broth (with some chunks of beef that had been stuck on the bone).

A couple days later, I used up the broth and some of the leftover roast by making a simple homemade beef stew. I only used veggies I already had on hand:  potatoes, celery, and carrot – I would’ve loved some onion, too, but we were out. I used onion powder for flavor and it worked just fine.

Considering how picky my kids’ palates can be, they both absolutely LOVE soup of any kind! They both gobbled up everything in their bowls and asked for seconds! That’s a WIN in my book!

The best part is that we had an easy, yummy, homemade meal that cost us no money at all because it was made entirely from food we already had on-hand! I LOVE repurposing food from previous meals so we get every single penny’s worth! Score!

What are you eating this weekend? What are your favorite cold-weather comfort foods?


Frugal Potluck Recipes

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Hi Friends!

I hope your weeks are going well!

I wanted to pop in today to crowd-source some frugal/budget-friendly potluck recipes! At our kids’ school, they’re having a teacher appreciation luncheon next week and I signed up to bring a dessert item. And in a couple weeks we have a family-friend’s BBQ that we’ll be attending. The friends are providing the main dish, but everyone is asked to bring a side or dessert.

In thinking about my normal “crowd favorites”, I realized that they all seem to have one thing in common…they’re not very frugal! They may be tasty and, in some cases, extremely easy to put together (I have a layered dip people rave about that is SO EASY!). BUT, there are so many different ingredients and/or the ingredients are expensive enough that I find a single dish to run upwards of $10-15. In looking at our new grocery budget ($150/week max, but I’m trying to stick to closer to $100/week), I really cannot justify spending up to $15 on a single dessert or side item. At home, I could scrape up an entire meal for our family of 4 on that amount! Why on earth would I spend that much on a single side dish?

So I thought I’d consult with the experts….YOU!!!

Do you have any frugal potluck recipes that you’d be willing to share in the comments (or link to recipes online)?

Just for fun, I want to share a link for a dessert people go crazy over! Part of it could be homemade instead of store-bought (e.g., dough), but if all store-bought, it tends to run me about $10 or so. It’s always a favorite, but not necessarily a very frugal one! (Picture credit from this website).


Cash Envelope System

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As you all know by now, one area where our spending has gotten out-of-control is in the realm of food (groceries and eating out). To try to combat the ever-increasing line item in our monthly budget, I decided to return to the cash envelope system. It’s been a loooooong time since I’ve done cash envelopes. But they helped me once, I know they can help me again.

To start, I’m using envelopes for eating out ($200/month) and groceries ($600/month). This represents a HUGE decrease compared to what we have been spending the past few months. Our groceries, for instance, have trended over $1,000/month the past several months. And our eating out/restaurant budget has trended in the $350-$500ish range. Just a disgusting amount of money spent on FOOD!

Reducing down to $800/month for all food (restaurants + eating out) is a big savings for us!

Here’s how I’ve figured it:

$600month/4 weeks = $150/week. Because I want to save a little money for mid-week perishables (we always run out of milk and fresh produce), my goal is to stick to $110-120ish for my big/initial grocery trip. That saves about $30ish for a smaller mid-week grocery run (and/or leaves some wiggle room for the last half week of the month).

I’ve been doing the cash envelope system for a month now (I started at the beginning of September) and so far, so good. My only “wrench” this month is that I really need to hit Costco to stock up on some bulk items. Does anyone else find it impossible to get out of Costco for under $100?!

 

Source

Because of our need for some bulk items, I’m actually going to try to limit our grocery store budget to closer to $100-110/week so I can save the excess for two weeks to have a solid $80-ish bucks or so for a Costco trip. This way, I’ll be able to get my bulk stuff but still be sticking to our overall grocery budget!

Do you have a Costco (or Sam’s Club) membership? How do you manage to save while buying in bulk?


October – No Spend Month

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Ashley and I must be in sync. While she did an impromptu “No Spend Week,” the kids and I have been planning for a No Spend Month. The idea has actually been noodling around in my head for a while, but the push came with the loss of our second car last week.

The first blog I ever followed, was actually a young SAHM mom, who did no spend months quite regularly. She eventually shut down her blog, but I so admired her. Another thing that has kind of pushed me in this direction is my kids. Some of them are really struggling with shame and envy. Ok, I struggle with it myself. While I know exactly why we are where we are, they are having a harder time with it. Specifically they are struggling with seeing how other’s live and then looking at their own lives. My mom heart hurts.

I know in my head we are in the right place and I am doing my best. But as you can see from our budget, spending has ballooned since my income skyrocketed (especially compared to being practically homeless and jobless.) So we are going cutting back to the bone for one month.

No Spend Week Rules

These are the changes we are making for our “No Spend Month:”

  • I am only going to pay the minimum due on all my bills. (You will see the weekly payouts in my Friday posts.)
  • We are cutting our grocery budget to $25 a week for milk and fresh fruit and veggies and eating through our freezer and pantry which is VERY well stocked. We are looking forward to being creative with our pantry, at least for the first couple of weeks.
  • I am going to continue to give the kids allowance, but we will NOT use $200 “spending” money this month.
  • We have one exception to our minimized budget, we are going to move forward with the “clothes” money this month because frankly, the kids all NEED clothes. Because we do it in one fell swoop, we did agree that we have permission to eat out the two days we will be shopping. (Because we are down to one car, I have to take all three kids shopping, and because we live in a tiny town, the closest shopping other than Wal-Mart is an hour away.) We are going to shop this coming Friday and Saturday.

Wish us luck. I think we are prepared. We have prepped with laundry detergent and toiletries and I am confident this month will be a great learning and bonding experience for all of us. The kids have bought in. We are going to use the experience to have weekly talks about money management and making wise choices and even sacrifice.  I’m just grateful we get to choose our sacrifices this time rather than having them forced on us by job and hoe loss as we have experience in the last couple of years.

Have you helped your child deal with envy or shame regarding circumstances beyond their and sometimes your control? I would love some guidance.


Working Smarter, Not Harder

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Since my kids have started back to school this Fall, I’ve really been working to try to streamline our mornings. Their start time is earlier than last year which is good for me, but makes our mornings hectic. I know I should’ve been doing this all along, but I’ve recently started preparing school lunches the night before. Back when I was working full-time + part-time, I’d be busy working in the evening for my part-time job so I rarely made lunches until in the morning before school. With our earlier mornings, now, we don’t have that same luxury of extra time for food prep so I’ve been trying to find ways to save time by preparing things ahead of time as much as possible.

One example is that I’ve made a whole Snack Bin in our pantry. I like to buy things in bulk-size since it’s cheaper (e.g., pretzels, veggie sticks, and Cheese-It’s are all things I’ve bought in huge-sized packaging from Costco). But since we need individual-sized portions, I’ll open the bag and divvy it up into smaller-sized packages. I have a plethora of Glad-ware, so I try to use those as much as possible since they’re washable and re-usable. I also use ziplock snack-size bags sometimes as well. I take a few moments once per week to pre-portion our snacks and throw them in our Snack Bin so they’re easy to grab and add to a lunch box and/or be used as part of the kids’ morning snack.

Another example I borrowed (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, yes?) from another blogger. I recently saw a youtube video (and then a blog post < linked here for credit) from fellow-blogger, Jordan. She talked about making her own meat-and-cheese sandwiches in bulk and then freezing them for school lunches. Genius, right? She swears the kids love them and since it’s just meat-and-cheese it freezes and thaws out perfectly. No weirdness like you might get with lettuce or other additional ingredients.

Well, I had some lunch meat on its last leg anyway, so it either needed to be used or tossed out. What better use for it than to try Jordan’s idea of make-ahead meat-and-cheese sandwiches?

I used a couple different bread options:  I already had some homemade rolls that also needed to be eaten or tossed (winning! I love that these “last leg” food items weren’t wasted!), and I’d recently bought a long baguette from our grocery store that was only partially-used with dinner so lots leftover of it, too. I sliced everything up and added 2 thin slices of turkey lunchmeat and one slice of cheese (cut in half to fit).

After the assembly line, I put everything into big gallon-sized ziplocks and put straight into the freezer. I’m crossing my fingers that this works out. I just barely made the sandwiches so we haven’t tasted them yet. My kids can be picky, but I think they’ll enjoy having a meat and cheese sandwich on some “fun” bread (instead of boring old “normal” sandwich bread). I always pack a variety of other things as well (e.g., fruit, veggie, a juice box or “treat” of some kind, etc.), so hopefully the frozen sandwiches will be a part of a well-balanced school lunch! Woohoo!!

If you’ve got kiddos, what do you do to streamline your mornings? Have you ever tried making lunches in bulk and freezing for later? Any other “Work Smarter, Not Harder” type of tips?


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