Budget Update and Meal Plan for April 2-8

Hectic week #1 is over!  We only had carryout food twice and I only cried once.  😉  But honestly, I know that I have to work on not letting stress get the best of me.  This week was just another reminder of the work that I still have to do towards stress management.  I also have to recognize and foresee how I will react in stressful situations.  It’s usually the same, so I shouldn’t be so surprised: I don’t feel like (or don’t have time for) cooking and I crave comfort foods.  And let’s be real for a second…  no matter where I go on this food journey of mine, I am always going to have a weakness for (Utz) cheese puffs and boxed macaroni and cheese (pro tip: Trader Joe’s GF version is the closest in taste to Kraft…I did a very careful study! 😉 ).  So yes, my cravings often include the totally expected: burgers, fries, chips– and the not so expected: chicken tikka masala, sushi rice, anything with rice noodles, etc.  So my main goal right now is to save money.  Even if that means the occasional convenience-type food.

So, I am trying to prepare better for my next crazy week.  And that means even faster foods and calling back to those comfort-food cravings.  Being able to grab from the freezer and have food ready in 15 minutes will be my only chance to avoid just giving in and spending money on expensive fast food meal.  Thankfully, this week is pretty normal (although M and I are on opposite schedules) so I get a little peace for the next seven days, as well as a chance to spread out my stocking-up over a few grocery trips.  I finally had a spare dollar or two, to add to my change from a few weeks ago, so I could get some cashews!  I’ll probably portion them out so that I can grab them for a snack during my late rehearsals.  If I can work in a bag of almonds next trip, I will be in good shape in the snack department!  Part of my quick-food stock up also included frozen fries.  This $2 bag of frozen french fries has almost 3 times the amount that I would get for $2 at a restaurant.  I am aiming to grab a bag of GF chicken tenders next week, in order to have a super-quick meal option available to us and yes, probably a box of mac & cheese, just in case of extreme comfort-food emergencies.

However, this week, things are nice and normal.  We got a pretty good box of produce from our delivery service, which drove my meal-planning, as always.

Here is how I spent:

receipt

Hungry Harvest Box: $15

Aldi: $33.33

Lotte Asian Market: $2.85

Total: $51.18*

*I had $2 stashed from a shopping trip a few weeks ago that was under $50, so I don’t really consider this “over-budget” in a way that is concerning…

Here’s what I got:

groceries

HH Produce Box: 2 pears, 3 tomatoes, 3 tangerines, 1 mango, 2 bell peppers, green onions, 1/2 lb. green beans, 1 pint sugar snap peas, 1/2 bunch collard greens, 3 sweet potatoes

Lotte Asian Market: tofu, 2 artichokes (so happy it is artichoke season again!)

Aldi: Bacon, frozen french fries, organic milk**, GF bread, chicken breasts, 10 lb rice***, olive oil, butter, cashews, brie

+ 18 eggs from my chicken-lady hook-up 😉

**in the most unscientific observation throughout many years, my family and I have noticed that organic milk (specifically Horizon, if its in your budget) keeps much, much longer than the non-organic variety.  I don’t know if its the cardboard vs plastic carton, but since I’ve almost always had to pour out sour milk in the past few weeks when I’ve purchase regular milk, I made room in my budget for the organic variety and will continue to try to do so

***this is the type of stock up that allows us to keep to our $50 budget.  To be eating gluten-free (and not baking our own bread) on this type of stipend, that does require a starch with every dinner, just to make sure that the meat and vegetables can stretch a little further and so we feel full.  We had a 15 lb bag of rice that we have been working our way through for months, and we used the last of it last week.  I knew it would be an investment to pick some up–and I was planning to spend $10 at the Asian market.  Thankfully, I noticed this 10 lb bag for $4 at Aldi right by the register!  That allowed me to grab my artichokes, cashews, and french fries!

And here is what we are eating this week:

Sunday: Teriyaki Chicken, Snow Peas, and Rice a thrown-together sauce using all of my stock-up from last week!  I’ll coat the chicken in a spoonful of cornstarch for some crispiness, too.

Monday: Tofu Pad Thai with Green Beans using the rice noodles from last week and eggs and various sauce ingredients from the fridge.  Plus some cabbage and carrots from weeks past!

Tuesday: Tomato Bruschetta, Steamed Artichokes, & Brie  I’ll make a have batch of my French Bread recipe tomorrow night, to slice up for bruschetta made with the tomatoes and pantry ingredients like balsamic vinegar and dried basil.  Plus some brie, artichokes, and whatever odds and ends we have in the pantry: crackers, dried fruit, carrot sticks, etc.

Wednesday: Leftovers  My class runs late and M is out at work through the evening.  Whatever is left over from the first half of the week!

Thursday: Collards & Bacon Bake, with Roast Sweet Potatoes  Not quite a savory bread pudding and not quite a gratin, I’ll sauté up the collard greens with some bacon, onions, and sourdough bread cubes from the freezer.  Coat all that with a béchamel sauce, top with some cheese and bake along side some sweet potatoes!

Friday: Buffalo Chicken-Stuffed Peppers The remainder of the chicken breast shredded with hot sauce and some cheese, and a little rice, scooped into the peppers.  Possibly with some more sweet potatoes on the side, depending on how we are feeling.

Saturday: Sausage with Pasta Keeping things simple!

Breakfasts will be eggs, fruit, the last of the yogurt, and granola (I’ll make up another batch).  Lunches will be leftovers or turkey sandwiches or hard-boiled eggs.  Snacks are cashews and/or dried fruit.

In terms of my stock up, I won’t touch the french fries, will barely dent the rice, and should have some milk, bacon, cashews, butter, olive oil, and possibly some brie leftover for next week.

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Budget Update & Meal Plan for March 19-25

I’ve gotten so much more careful with my food use since I started holding us to this tight budget.  I’m trying to be clever and creative so that all leftovers get eaten and every food item is stretched to provide the most sustenance for us.  This makes it much more upsetting when I encounter a crack in my plans…like when the last of the milk has gone sour, right on the day I was meant to use it up in cornbread muffins.  😦  Thankfully, I had enough sour cream, half-in-half, and–yes–water to make up for the milk in the recipe.  But it was still disappointing.  I knew it was nearing it’s turning point, and I purposefully moved the muffins up in my meal plan in order to use up the milk before it soured.  But my timing was still off.

As I said, I did still manage to make corn muffins, so not too much is lost, except for a little milk down the drain.  But it is interesting to see my thought process and values changing as we adjust to this new budget.  I’m accepting almost everything that is offered to me.  I’m certainly not begging, but I find myself taking advantage when I can.  My mom’s been collecting pieces in Safeway’s monopoly game, and she has handed a few of the “free item” coupons over to me when she doesn’t plan to use them.  I got a free avocado a few weeks ago and a box of English Breakfast Tea today.  Even though they are minor, it’s a nice little treat to get something that I wasn’t able to fit into the budget.  We aren’t eating poorly, or even boringly, but it’s nice to have an unexpected item to round out my meal plans every once in a while.

Officially, we don’t really have to follow this budget anymore.  I started this strict budget this year because I was feeling the pressure from a new medical bill.  My tax return this year was enough to cover it and, as of today, it is paid off in full.  But, I think I will stick to the plan for a while longer.  If I used to average about $70 per grocery trip last year, I should free up almost $100 a month as I continue to follow this budget.  It will be nice to properly and methodically save for some short-term goals, and I intend to do just that!  So, our $50 weekly budget will continue.  I think the smaller amount of money we can adjust to living on, the better.

I have to admit, I am still torn on bread.  It is tough to see almost 1/7 of my spending money go towards a loaf almost every week ($4 seems like an awful lot when you are only working with $35).  I tried to get into the routine of gluten-free sourdough, with which I had moderate success. But it eats up so much flour in order to strengthen the starter, and we don’t have quite enough time, nor eat enough baked goods to eat up the discard starter.  So it felt very wasteful, in flour and in money.  My non-sourdough loaves are nice for a change of pace, but don’t make for good sandwich bread (which is where most of the store-bought goes each week: into M’s lunchbox).  So for now, it is a price I have to adjust to, and one of the facts we have to live with, being gluten-intolerant.  The quality and price of gluten-free products is so much better than it used to be, but it is something that I have to contend with each week.  Thankfully, I’ve mostly forgotten how gluten-full products and prices compare.  So as long  as I avoid looking at those prices, it doesn’t get to me very much!

Here is my spending this week:

receipts

Hungry Harvest Box: $15.00

Aldi: $30.29

Trader Joe’s: $3.99

Total: $49.28

Here’s what we got:

groceries

(It looks like a lot this week.)

Hungry Harvest Produce Box: 1 pint grape tomatoes, 1 head (local!) lettuce, 2 bell peppers, 1 lb red potatoes, 1 mango, 4 plums, 2 pears, 1/2 bunch green onions, 4 apples*, and 5 oranges*

*We requested not to get the eggplant this week and the apples AND the oranges were substituted in for it!  Makes me wonder how big that eggplant was, in order to equal 9 pieces of fruit?!

Aldi: 1.2 lb ground turkey, 5 lb chicken thighs ($0.69 per pound!), yogurt, sour cream, turkey lunch meat, white vinegar, cabbage, sliced almonds, white sugar, gluten-free bread, 2 lb carrots, red wine, 2 cans dice tomatoes, korma simmer sauce, and 1 can of chickpeas

Trader Joe’s: gluten-free rolled oats

And here is how we are eating this week:

Sunday: Turkey Chili + Cornbread Muffins Turkey was cheaper than beef, so it will get a splash  of worchestershire sauce to deepen the flavor, plus onion, diced tomatoes, carrots, and bell pepper.  I found a packet of GF chili seasoning in the pantry, which I use along with a little hot sauce to kick things up.  One the day we moved into our apartment, M’s mum made a big crockpot of chili for everyone, with chickpeas and fresh tomatoes.  It was SO GOOD (probably because we had just moved an entire apartment’s worth of furniture in a snowstorm), so I am adding the chickpeas to call back to that.  The cornbread muffins were primarily a way to use up our milk, but, as mentioned, plans had to change.  Thankfully, Aldi only has 16 oz sour creams, so I had enough to put into the muffins and still have enough for a dollop on the chili when serving.

Monday: Singapore Street Noodles with Tofu using the rest of last week’s tofu, along with some peppers, cabbage, carrots, and green onions.  This is the last of our stockpile of rice noodles from the pantry, and we still have plenty of sauce ingredients (tamari, etc) in the fridge.

Tuesday: Leftovers  M’s out.  More chili for me!

Wednesday: Crockpot Chicken Korma with Rice using the rest of last week’s fingerling potatoes, the rest of the bell peppers, some carrots and chicken.  I could have saved about $0.20 by getting a can of coconut milk and making the sauce myself with spices from the pantry, but I decided that my time was worth the $0.20 and grabbed this jar of pre-made korma sauce.

Thursday: Coq Au Vin with Mashed Red Potatoes I love Tieghen’s recipe, though I’m not putting that much butter into my potatoes this time around.  I’ll use the last of the sweet potatoes from a few weeks ago.

Friday: Chicken Caesar Salad I’m slightly risking the green lettuce by waiting until Friday, but this is the perfect simple dinner to whip up after my longer class.  Parmesan from last week and dressing from a few weeks ago.

Saturday: Leftovers/Pasta Whatever is scrounge-able!

I’m making a big batch of homemade granola and I’m saving the liquid from the chickpeas to try my hand at aquafaba meringues for the first time.  Wish me luck!

Breakfasts will be granola+yogurt+fruit or eggs+fruit.  Lunches are leftovers or sandwiches, along with more fruit and cucumbers left over from last week.  The sugar and vinegar is for my home-brewed kombucha, which is giving us about 80 oz a week for the cost of a couple teabags, a cup of sugar, and a few tablespoons of vinegar!