Budget Updates & Meal Plan for April 9-15

Here we are at week three, where our schedules begin to get hectic and a smidge crazy!  This week, I only have three days of late-night rehearsals, versus the 5 days a week coming up in the next two weeks of my internship.  But this week’s shopping was driven by prepping for the next few weeks and I am feeling very optimistic about our pantry and fridge!

This weekend, I had off from our usual Saturday classes, as all the kids are on Spring Break.  My extra time meant that I could do more shopping for our patio, go through all of my clothes in order to reorganize my side of the closet, and then spend almost all of Sunday out with some friends, at a wedding expo (there were 4 fiancees in our group a 7 ladies) and at our local winery.  It was wonderful to actually have a little time to decompress with friends and to get so much work done around the house!  We have also been lucky to have weather in the 70’s all weekend!  I’m hoping it lasts, as I am planning to fill up our herb planter and plant tomatoes in our garden plot this Saturday.

In the middle of the week, M and I also bought a new charcoal grill.  We’ll have a little bit of a learning curve, as we are both more used to propane grills, but the deal was too good to miss and it even has a smoker box.  I may be bold enough to try my hand at smoking a salmon fillet.  Our favorite smoked salmon came fillet-style from a vendor who no longer comes to our farmer’s market and I haven’t found a good substitute for my Smoked Salmon Salad in any of our usual grocery stores.  But I bet I could get a nice low temp, with a little smoke, and just spend the day hanging out on the patio while the fish cooks.  We used to freeze our salmon from the farmer’s market, so I could stock up a a large fillet, smoke it, and stash it in the freezer in smaller pieces, in order to last us a while.

Speaking of stocking up, I am pondering the idea of, in addition to my usual weekly budget of $50, if it might be worthwhile to have a small, monthly “stock-up” fund.  I’ve discussed my frustrations before, that, while shopping on a budget, not having one more dollar can sometimes mean settling for half of the amount of food.  For a short span, while we had a Costco membership, we did a pretty good job of stocking up on meat at Costco once per month, and filling in everything else in our weekly grocery trips.  But, if I wanted to smoke the salmon in an amount that was appropriate for the full day of babysitting the grill, I really should be looking at a large piece of salmon…probably $25-$30 worth, which, as we know, is almost all of my weekly budget to spend at the grocery store, in order to round out after our produce box.  I’ve been toying with the idea of pulling together maybe $20 more each month, to be spent on those larger, “stock-up” items.  I still want to get through this month on the current budget, to have a better comparison of our expenses, but we shall see…

Starting this week, with our schedules filling up, snacks are super crucial.  My rehearsals are on campus, where there are a plethora of food establishments close at hand, but I certainly don’t need to be spending that money every day on fast food and coffee.  So I wanted to have snacks that are easy for me to bring and heartier snacks that M can have at home, since a couple nights a week we may be eating later or he may be cookings and leaving me leftovers to reheat when I get home.  Thankfully, he is used to eating dinner later from his childhood (the various Europeans I’ve met tend to find American dinnertime oddly early), so it won’t be as much of a stretch for him when we push back dinner.  My receipts this week are all over place, as I picked up some homestuffs at each store and randomly found the GF chicken on sale at Giant during the week, so I snatched that up, but forgot to save my receipt.  Oof.  Lots of numbers, folks, but still on budget!

Here’s what we spent this week:receipt

Hungry Harvest Produce Box: $11.25 (my friend signed up and put my name as a referrer, so I got 25% of this week’s box!  So excited to have found myself with a few extra dollars to spend!)

Giant: $5.00

Trader Joe’s: $4.49 (on food)

Aldi: $28.04 (on food)

Total: $48.78

Here’s what we got:

groceries

Hungry Harvest Box: 1/2 dozen sweet potatoes, 1 pint cherry tomatoes, 1 lb carrots, 3 blood oranges, 1 lb fingerling potatoes, 2 yellow squash, 1/2 lb green beans, 1 apple, 2 cucumbers, 1 pack of portobello mushroom caps

Giant: 2 packages GF breaded chicken tenders

Aldi: tortilla chips, 2 bags fruit/nut/seed trail mix, clementines, hummus, greek yogurt, parmesan cheese, brie cheese, drink mix packets, deli ham, deli turkey, coconut milk

Trader Joe’s: 5 mini brie “bites”

Misc: 18 dozen eggs from my mom’s chicken lady connection 🙂

And here’s how we’ll use it:

Sunday: Out to the Winery That’s where the larger round of brie will go, along with some GF crackers I had in the pantry, a jar of my Cranberry Chutney that I canned in December, and a few of the clementines.  The rest of my friends also brought snacks for a great picnic.

Monday: Mushroom Risotto with Roasted Tomatoes I’m trying to get in this favorite as much as I can before the weather get too warm! I’ll be using arborio rice from the pantry, broth from the freezer, and some of the portobellos (I’ll slice at oven-dry the rest for a future flavor booster), some of the parmesan, and the tomatoes.

Tuesday: Rehearsal Night, Quick Chicken Tenders + French Fries + Green Beans I’ll bring a little snack pack with me (I’ve found that 1/4 cup of trail mix, 1 brie bite, 1 drink mix packet, and 1 clementine can fit quite neatly into a half-pint jar).  When I get home, I’ll toss a couple of the chicken tenders and some fries from last week’s grocery haul in the oven  and sauté green beans before a small, quick dinner.

Wednesday: Class + Rehearsal Night, Macaroni & Cheese  I warned you last week that I go straight back to comfort food when things get busy and stressful!  Not to mention, I still have a couple boxes of GF mac & cheese in the pantry from when I found them on sale for $0.68 a box.  So this meal didn’t pull from this week’s budget at all.  I’ll have my snack pack at rehearsal and M can snack as well.  We might add some frozen peas or tuna if we want the macaroni to be more substantial.

Thursday: Chicken Fajitas We have tortillas, onions, tomatoes, and a bell pepper in the pantry, along with chicken, sour cream, and cheese in the fridge, so this is another meal pulled entirely from our pantry, rather than this week’s budget.

Friday: Rehearsal Night, Quick Chicken Tenders + French Fries + Green Beans the last late night for this week will use up the last of that quick chicken, beans and fries.

Saturday: Breakfast for Dinner we can roast up the potatoes for a hash and maybe make some egg & ham sandwiches.  Nice and simple.

Breakfasts will be eggs or yogurt with fruit.  Lunches will be leftovers or sandwiches.  Snacks will be trail mix, fruit & cheese, hummus & cucumbers, chips & salsa (from the fridge!), deli meat, or hard-boiled eggs.

A lot of chicken and potatoes, for sure.  But this week was all about stocking up and those cheaper meats and starches let me focus my money elsewhere.  I’ll still have sweet potatoes, yellow squash, carrots, possibly cucumber, chips, clementines, trail mix, yogurt, cheese, hummus, deli meat, and coconut milk leftover after this week.  I should actually have enough clementines and trail mix to last through all three weeks of my rehearsals, and I’ll work everything else into my meal plans for the next few weeks.


Grocery Budget & Meal Plan for Mar 5-11

It’s been a weird week, folks.  Maybe it is the weather finally acting a little like winter, maybe it’s stress, but I have been in a bit of a funk all week.  To top it all off, I allowed myself to get a little excited as I wrote my grocery list, because it seemed like so little.  I thought I’ve have more than a few dollars to stock up.  Unfortunately, I forgot how much dairy eats up our budget.  Don’t you dare try to swing me on that dairy-free lifestyle–I absolutely love all things dairy.  Cheese, ice cream, milk, yogurt…<3  But our current consumption schedule has made it so that we tend to run out of our dairy products in the same week, and then there goes my budget.

I’ve been wanting to get some nuts for snacking and some sauces and such, but my extra dollars usually go towards something more pressing.  This week, I did know that I wanted to spring for some of those herb paste tubes at Giant.  Specifically, one each of cilantro and lemongrass.  They are a few dollars each, but (especially the lemongrass) lasts forever, since the paste is concentrated.  So while I was disappointed to pass up the cashews, I knew that I would be rewarded with super flavorful dishes.  And, maybe I could stop spending $1 each week on fresh cilantro.  However, I definitely underestimated the price of these herb pastes.  I thought I had saved enough money to get both, but these things are $4.50 a piece!!  Oy.  Only one this week, then.  The lemongrass is definitely worth it, so I will have to save a few dollars to pick up that one soon, but I will pay attention to our use of the cilantro paste to see if it is actually worth that price.

I mostly let go of my deprivation funk today when I realized that we have popcorn kernels in the pantry and then when I used one of last week’s zucchini to make my Chocolate Surprise Muffins.  (I used all flax eggs, plus replaced all of the various vegetables with one large zucchini, undrained.  Also added in a 1/2 cup of shredded coconut! They ended up being vegan.)  A little bit of that crunchy popcorn and chocolate went a long way towards making me forget the cashews, peanut butter, and chips that were left behind at the store this week.

I also planted the first seedlings of the year in our garden plot!  Kale and swiss chard, to hopefully survive our cooler temperatures.  I also planted some carrot and radish seeds, which will have a few weeks for the weather to warm up by the time they sprout.  A second batch of bone broth had been in the crockpot for a few days, as the last of the broth from the previous batch will be used up in this week’s soup.  I also tried flavoring my kombucha for the first time: with vanilla beans, which made a perfectly pleasant brew.  I’m even getting M hooked on kombucha, now that it is readily available!

Here is the breakdown for this week:

receipt

Hungry Harvest Produce Box: $15.00

Aldi: $26.27 ($8 was spent on a pilates ring I found in their home-goods aisle.  Super excited to try that out!  But of course, it doesn’t count towards our food budget.)

Giant: $6.23

Total: $47.50

I came out under budget this week.  I’ll put the change towards last week’s overage and keep the $2 in bills for a future trip.  Maybe this is how I’ll be able to afford those cashews…build up my change!

This week’s groceries:

groceries-mar-5

Hungry Harvest Produce Box: 2 bell peppers, 1/2 lb. brussels sprouts, snow peas, 2 oranges, 3 apples, an onion, 3 sweet potatoes, 2 carrots, and a pint of cherry tomatoes

Giant: coconut milk, cilantro paste

Aldi: goat cheese, sausages, ground ginger, persian cucumbers, hummus, spinach, yogurt, half-n-half, artichoke hearts, white northern beans, an avocado, bread, milk

Plus a dozen eggs from my mother’s chicken lady hook up. 🙂

Here is the meal plan for this week:

Sunday: Roast Chicken and Vegetables with gravy using the whole chicken from last week, some bone broth from the freezer, lemon from a few weeks ago, and some of this week’s carrots, sweet potatoes, and onion

Monday: Zuppa Toscana using last weeks red potatoes and kale (I found the recipe right after I made last week’s meal plan and knew I needed to make it!), plus the last of the bone broth and some sausage, white beans, and half-n-half from this week’s groceries

Tuesday: Leftovers  M is out, as per usual, so I will figure something out, or eat more soup.

Wednesday: Veggie Curry Stir-fry using this week’s snow peas, peppers, carrots, brussels sprouts, and coconut milk, with curry paste from the freezer and rice from the pantry

Thursday: Tomato & Goat Cheese Tart with salad  I froze the other half of the pie dough when I made quiche last week.  That will thaw, then drape over those cherry tomatoes, tarte tatin-style, with a little balsamic vinegar and dried thyme from the pantry.  Goat cheese will be crumbled on top after it’s cooked.  I’ll pair it with a salad that uses up any remaining kale plus some of the spinach

Friday: Tuscan Chicken Sandwiches  based on what I ate from the sandwich shop almost every day of my freshman year of college, before I was gluten-intolerant.  Some chicken from Sunday’s roast, with goat cheese, spinach, (freezer) pesto, roasted red peppers, artichokes, and aioli.  If I feel extra proactive, I might try some baked sweet potato chips

Saturday: Chicken Tacos  with the last of the roast chicken, plus tortillas and various fixings from odds and ends in the pantry and fridge

Breakfasts will be yogurt with fruit, zucchini muffins, avocado toasts, or eggs.  Lunches will be leftovers from dinner or cucumbers and hummus + hardboiled eggs, with fruit.


Weekly Grocery Budget & Meal Plan for February 19-25

I scored majorly this week!  We had a very good produce box this week, even creating one of those serendipitous moments of including a cauliflower and potatoes for the week when I was toying with the idea of Aloo Gobi (Indian Cauliflower & Potato Curry)!  I am still really digging Asian–type flavors this week.  Plus, after finding out that Aldi stock’s gluten-free imitation crab, I knew I would also be making California rolls.  Super exciting!

Once the box was confirmed and I was making my list for the store, I knew I was going to have a fair amount of extra money left over…it turned out to be around $11, so I able to spend NINE DOLLARS to stock up on a 5+ pound pork butt!  That is the toughest thing about this $50 budget–that there is rarely ever enough remaining money to cover those bigger cuts of meat (that are actually quite cheap in terms of dollars-per-pound, but still require a slightly steep investment up front).  Believe me, I am trying to get creative with how I save up for them–maybe I’ll tuck the changes away each week until it builds to $10-$15.  Either way, by using our pantry a lot this week, I did manage to squeeze in the pork butt (and a treat: potato chips!)  I’ve already portioned the pork into 3 different 1.75 lb bags in the freezer.  You can bet that Citrus Pork Chilaquiles from Ashley‘s Date Night In Cookbook will be on the menu next week.**   The other ingredients with be a little bit of an investment–things like orange juice, avocado, tortilla chips, and queso fresco with run me between $1-$2 a piece at Aldi.  But I will get creative with the rest of the week’s meals in order to make it work because these chilaquiles are HEA. VEN. LY!

If you are careful with your pantry items and invest in spices, there is absolutely no reason to boring, flavor-lacking food when you are eating on a budget.  As you may noticed, M and I favor super bold cuisines: Thai, Mexican, Indian and eat dishes from those cuisines fairly often!  Spices are the absolutely key to keeping things interesting!  I’ve found that cheap spices can be found in the “Mexican/Asian” aisle of regular Giants.  They have very cheap bottles of garlic powder, oregano, cilantro, etc and even had little baggies with a couple whole star anise or a few whole nutmegs for like $2!  Check it out, and try to put together a few dollars towards spices every other week–you will soon be on your way to a flexible and useful spice cabinet!

**This is not a paid endorsement at all.  M got me the book for Christmas two years ago and I just love it!  The chilaquiles is our absolute favorite recipe…with Basil Mint Bourbon Jubilees coming in close behind!

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This week’s tally:

  • Hungry Harvest Produce Box:  $16.50 (added on the grapefruits)
  • Aldi: $27.75
  • Lotte Asian Market: $5.28
  • Total: $49.53  (If I hadn’t had those stock up/splurge items, we would have barely cracked $35 this week!)

This week’s groceries:

img_6834

Hungry Harvest Box: 2 grapefruits (add on), 1 red onion, 0.5 lb brussels sprouts, 3 apples, 1  head of organic cauliflower, 1 pint cherry tomatoes, butter lettuce, 1 mango, 1.5 lb fingerling potatoes.

Lotte Asian Market: whole lemongrass, fresh cilantro, fresh parsley, 2 lbs sushi rice

Aldi: dried cranberries (stock up), 1.5 lb pork tenderloin, 5.12 lbs pork butt (stock up), chips (splurge), cucumber, 5 lbs potatoes (stock up-forgot about the fingerlings in HH box), avocado, diced tomatoes, milk, sriracha (stock up), cooking spray, imitation crabmeat

Here is how we are eating this week:

Sunday: Paneer Masala, Aloo Gobi, Coconut-Creamed Spinach, & Rice   I’ll be making the paneer with that gallon of milk and some lemon juice!  It is so simple and I should get between 12-18 oz of cheese for about $1.50.  I’ll cook down a masala sauce with the tomatoes, some spices, and some of the half-n-half from two weeks ago.  The spinach is from two weeks ago and the coconut milk is from last week’s grocery trip.  The veggies from the box will pair with spices for the Aloo Gobi and we purchased a huge 15 lb bag of rice ages ago, that we have been slowly working our way through.

Monday: I’m out late with meetings for my internship.  I will probably grab something on the run.

Tuesday: Leftovers  M is out and I work late.  I’ll eat leftovers or some scrambled eggs when I get home.

Wednesday: Pork Tenderloin, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, & Fingerling Potatoes with Mojo Verde sauce  M will be cooking while I’m in class.  Mojo Verde will someday make it up here on the blog–it’s similar to chimichurri.  An herby sauce with cilantro, parsley, garlic, vinegar, and all sorts of tasty stuff!

Thursday: Sushi! A big old batch of rice will get rolled into California Rolls, veggie rolls, maybe I’ll even break out the shrimp if I’m feeling fancy!  Check out my last post for a step-by-step guide to rolling sushi!

Friday: Larb Gai  I’ll mince up some chicken thighs with the freezer and sauté them with my pantry items (fish sauce, lime juice, etc) and cilantro and serve with the red onion and butter lettuce for a light dinner.

Saturday: Odds and Ends Whatever I’m feeling like.  I know I need to use up the eggplant and do something with tomatoes!  We will still have chicken thighs and a few sausages in the freezer, if I want some meat.

Breakfasts will be eggs or oatmeal or fruit and toast.  Lunches will be leftovers or sandwiches using the roast beef from last week!


Weekly Grocery Budget & Meal Plan for Feb 12-18

I am feeling back on track and excited for my budget planning this week!  It has been so eye-opening to truly keep track of my meal planning and shopping for the past few weeks.  I was going through the motions before, but not giving myself a chance to sit down and assess my shopping and planning each week.  I can already tell that posting my weekly updates here are helping me!  In order to stick to the budget, I have started writing the cost of each item on my shopping list as I go, so I can keep a running total to stay under budget.  Well, this week, I realized that doing this means I am also starting to gather information to make a general cost list by store–so I know the general price of items and I can snag a deal (or avoid a more costly purchase).  For example: I now know that limes are $0.25 a piece at Aldi, so, unless I find them cheaper, I know to wait to purchase the limes there.

This was so helpful for this week, because I went to our local Asian grocery store before Aldi.  We needed a few ingredients that I suspected that I could get cheaper there, even cheaper than Aldi.  I was able to go back through my shopping lists and have general costs for the items that I knew I wanted from Aldi (I’ve found that dairy, especially, is more expensive at our Asian grocery store) and have the costs for items that I wanted to get at the Asian grocery store.  So as I walked into the store, I knew that I should aim to have around $20 left to spend at Aldi and I had prices for almost every individual item, so I could compare the prices to Aldi’s on the fly.

It was a great system!  By doing a little math ahead of time and some more while I was in the store, I knew when I had an extra $2 so that I could, say, choose a larger jar of curry paste.  This investment will last us through probably 8-10 dishes, so the investment now will definitely pay off later!

M and I decided that we are not going to go out for Valentine’s Day this year.  I still have to work a little late, and both of us just don’t feel like dealing with the crowds and reservations.  So, I made a little compromise on our budget this week.  M insisted that he would be in charge of dinner while I handled dessert, so, while I worked my dessert ingredients into our budget, we will be spending more money for Tuesday’s dinner ingredients (even though we’ve hit our weekly budget).  But, as long as we stay well under what we would have spent going out to dinner (not so hard, when you add in a drink each and tip!), we can comfortably cover this splurge.

grocery-receipts-2-12

So, here is the breakdown for this week:

  • Hungry Harvest Produce Box: $15
  • Lotte Asian Grocery Store: $14.11
  • Aldi: $19.38
  • Total: $48.49

Hmm…looking at that total, I now realize that I would have been able to get fresh raspberries for my dessert.  I made do with black berries, as they were about $0.50 cheaper.  I suppose that totaling is one more step to add into my math when I shop at multiple stores!  Ah well, you live and you learn, huh?

This week’s groceries:

groceries-2-12

Hungry Harvest Produce Box: green onions, kale, 2 bell peppers, 2 plums, 2 seckel pears (my favorite!), eggplant, acorn squash, cucumber, (1 lonely little) parsnip, 1 lb red grapes

Lotte Asian Grocery Store: corn tortillas, 1 lemon, red curry paste, nori, cilantro, 2 limes, mushrooms, 2 cans coconut milk

Aldi: blackberries, butter, 1 lb. pork sausage, cheddar cheese, chocolate chips, eggs, deli-style roast beef, milk, gluten-free bread

The corn tortillas and nori will last far past this week, as will some of the cheese, coconut milk, milk, butter, curry paste, and acorn squash.  I found a super intriguing recipe for acorn squash roasted with onions and served with yogurt.  I’m thinking that I will pair that with last week’s frozen spinach for an Indian-inspired dinner next week!  I’ll be roasting those red peppers, to keep them longer as well, since I’m only just getting to last week’s pair of green peppers.

Here is what we are eating this week:

Sunday: Swedish Meatballs, Pasta, & Kale Salad I’ll use up some of last week’s sour cream and half-n-half.  I’ll also split one of my quarts of bone broth between this gravy and Friday’s soup.

MondayTeriyaki Salmon, Cucumber Sushi Rolls, & Sesame Broccoli The salmon is from a few weeks back, and the broccoli is from the freezer.  The sushi will be a tasty use of the cucumber without loading up on starch and will be easy leftovers for lunch the next day (where as the salmon wouldn’t be…)

Tuesday: Valentine’s Day Dinner (M’s choice) with Flourless Chocolate Cake with Blackberries  Yup.  Throwing it waaaaay back for dessert.  But this cake is so simple, yet so decadent!

Wednesday: Leftovers/Omelet  M will be out and I have class until late evening.  I’ll make whatever is quick and simple for myself when I get home.

Thursday: Chicken Fajitas With last week’s chicken, peppers, and sour cream, plus we have some salsa stashed in the fridge and the fresh cilantro.  Salsa are a great option for adding flavor to a dish, and is an ingredient that will keep for quite some time in the fridge!

Friday: Tom Kha Gai Soup with Rice Here’s where the mushrooms, curry paste, coconut milk, and more cilantro will go!  Flexible enough that I can either throw the broth in the crockpot in the morning or heat it up fairly quickly when I get home from work.  Creamy, coconut-y, spicy goodness!

Saturday: Spaghetti Squash with Red Sauce and Sausage Because yes, we still haven’t actually gotten to it.  Good thing the sauce and sausage are frozen and squashes keep forever. 🙂

Breakfasts will be yogurt and fruit, eggs and toast, or oatmeal.  Lunches will be leftovers or sandwiches paired with fruit!  If I can get my act together, I’ll make the eggplant into roasted eggplant dip/spread for lunches.  If not, then I’ll incorporate it somewhere next week!