I am prepping my shopping list for our monthly grocery stockup. My boys are bottomless pits and I am trying hard to come up with nutritious snack ideas and still stay within budget. What's my budget, you ask. Well, it's about $150 for the month, but since we need meat also, I am going to eek it up to $200. In addition to the food I purchase tomorrow, we received a good amount of vegetable and a dozen eggs every week through our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) which cost us about $25 a week. It's tight, but we are used to it at this point. What I'm not used to yet is the volume of food my sons are able to consume on a daily basis.
I have always tried to feed my family well, but I am on a mission to up the ante and improve their nutritional intake even more--with no extra funds! This is my challenge and I am taking you along for the ride. I will be posting recipes that we make and how we stretch our meat to keep everyone satisfied. Today I will start with how I am planning my meals for the month.
I have found that giving each day a theme really helps in planning. I only do themes for weekdays and try to make at least one day over the weekend a smorgasboard of leftovers, although, we seem to have less and less of them. Here are my themes:
Monday- One Pot Meal/Something Easy
Wednesday- Slow Cooker Meal
Once I have my themes, I fill in a dinner for each night on the calendar. If there is something planned that we won't be home, I plan a packable dinner. If we have an event that also will feed us, I do the happy dance!
Having a meal on the calendar makes getting dinner on the table so much easier. None of that 5:30 frantically searching the cabinets for an idea. This also saves me a lot of money because I can plan out ingredients so that they don't get wasted. For instance, if I have two recipes that each call for half an avocado, I will plan them in the same week. Less waste, less cost.
I recycle leftovers into a new meal when planning. This saves loads of money and makes cooking so much easier. For instance, if I plan to make a large pot of chili on Tuesday, I will plan a Mexican casserole for Saturday, then freeze whatever is left over and turn that into Chili Mac later in the month. Likewise, when I make a chicken, we eat the roasted chicken the first night, use the left overs for something like Chicken Fried Rice another night, and freeze the stock made by the cooking chicken to make soup later in the month. I have already taken one chicken and created four dinners from it. This allows me to purchase meat straight from the farm. The extra that I spend for natural, pastured raised meat, is made up by using the meat multiple times.
We eat much less meat than the average family. If I make a large steak for instance, that is the meat for the entire meal for five of us. This definitely stretches our meat and allows me to get quality meat for my family. We purchased an 1/8 of a steer in January (we split a 1/4 steer with a friend) and still have a little bit left. We have eaten primarily the beef, with the exception of about 20 pounds of chicken that I purchased from the farm while they were having a sale. We spent $320 on the beef, and another $65 on chicken. That has been our source of meat for over 9 months!
Another thing to consider when purchasing meat, is that farm raised meat includes much less waste. When I would purchase split chicken breasts from the grocery store it always had very thick skin and large deposits of fat attached to it. Not only did this mean I was getting less meat for my money, but it also cost me time trimming the meat so that I could cook it.
So now, you have your plan and are spacing out the meat. It also helps to stretch the meat. We do this by adding wholesome ingredients that not only add bulk, but nutrition. If I am making Dirty Rice--a family favorite--I will add an array of vegetables to create a more filling meal. Last week when I made Dirty Rice, I added a turnip cut into small cubes, two sliced carrots, half a cut of pepper grass diced, and the corn cut from one cob. These were all random leftovers from our CSA pick up over the weekend. One cob of corn is not much use for a family of five. However, with those veggies added, I was able to turn one pound of chop meat and one cup of dry rice into a full meal that even allowed a bit of leftovers. This also allows me to sneak in items that my picky Buddy would never eat on his own.
Another great way to stretch meat is to add some beans, mushrooms, cooked quinoa, and brown rice. These will bulk up a casserole or stretch a soup, can even extend a pan of taco filling.
Shop from a list and stick to it. Once your menu is set, make a list of ingredients that you need to make all of the meals listed. My lunches are loosely planned and adjustable based on leftovers available and how much running around we need to do that day. This month I am beginning to plan breakfast to up the nutrition and make mornings easier to organize. Instead of cooking breakfast everyday, which I really do not want to do, I am planning a weekly breakfast treat that I can spend a little time on Saturday preparing for the school mornings the following week. This way the kids will start the day off well, be less likely to be searching for snacks as soon as I begin read alouds, and have no reason to whine at me that there is nothing to eat despite a kitchen full of food. (I will post my breakfast recipes next week.)
Make sure that you have every ingredient on the list of in your kitchen, and that every item on your list has a purpose. We monitor and plan every item. This not only allows us to stay on budget but reduces the random snacking and over indulging that happens every time anything extra is in the house. So, the list is your friend in more ways than one. If you are not used to being on a budget or shopping by a list, I encourage you to carry a calculator so that you can see what you are spending BEFORE reaching the check out.
Make the most of what you have around you. A well stocked pantry helps in so many ways, but that isn't the only resource you can tap into. Foraging can provide a wide array of delectables and also keep you on budget. Right now, in our area, there are blankets of black walnuts covering the lawns, many wild greens sprouting around, and my family's new personal favorite, Autumn Olives, to pick by the gallon full. Not only are these items free for the picking, but they are highly nutritious. Autumn Olives have seventeen times the lycopene of a tomato. Make the most of what you have at your disposable, but please pick and forage responsibly. Unless the item is invasive, only harvest a portion and leave plenty for the plant to continue to thrive and spread. Also, do not harvest from areas near heavy traffic or where pesticides are used. Lastly, make absolutely sure you know what you are eating!! There are plenty of great books and websites to help with identifying friend and foe.
With a little bit of work and planning, it is possible to feed a growing family, healthy foods, even on a tight budget. In the next few weeks I will share some of my favorite "go to" recipes that are healthy and inexpensive. Thanks for stopping by!