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 Update Feb 4-11

Here we are again, checking out my weekly grocery budget.  I did pretty well for week 3.  I’ll admit, I wasn’t feeling very enthused about meal-planning this week.  Our produce box had a lot of items, but not very interesting ones.  When everything was plotted out in my meal plan, there wasn’t too much to buy, so I could use some of this week’s budget on stock-up items.  We also need to eat down our freezer a little, so I am trying to pull bits and pieces from that stock for the next few weeks.

In addition to eating more fish, I also want us to incorporate more bone broth into our diets.  I’m trying to have soup every week–an easy use of the bone broth and (usually) quite a cheap option for dinner!  I am recent(ish) soup convert.  It was never something I enjoyed growing up, until around high school when I made myself learn to like tomato basil soup.  Some of my favorite kinds have already graced this blog: tomato basil, French onion, Italian Peasant soup, Pot Pie soup… I am excited to try a couple of new ideas in the coming weeks, as well!groceries-feb-4-feb-11

I did very well shopping this week (and remembered my receipts!)  Nothing beyond our usual produce box, so that clocked in at $15.  I had to go to our local Asian grocery store to grab the gochujang, but that, along with my Aldi purchases, came out to $34.44!  So here is this week’s breakdown of our $49.44 grocery haul:

groceries-pic-feb-4-feb-11

Hungry Harvest Produce Box: 1 leek, 1 orange, 1 grapefruit, 1 “yellow” tomato, 2 (large) potatoes, red onion, 1 yellow squash, 1 zucchini, 1/2 lb grapes, 1 pint cherry tomatoes, 1 cabbage, 2 bell peppers

Aldi: 1.5 lb chicken wings, 4.25 lb bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (bones & skin will be saved up for the next batch of bone broth!), 2 packages of frozen spinach, eggs (my mother is out of town this week–none from her coworker), garlic, 2 lb carrots, white wine (for cooking & occasional drinking), half & half, butter, plain yogurt, sour cream, and gluten-free bread

Other:  gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste) from the Asian grocery store

I think it’s so interesting to see how my $35 goes each week.  This is pitiful compared to the first week, when most was fruit and veg.  It does go to show just how expensive animal products, be it meat or dairy or eggs, are and how quickly they add up!  Thankfully, these will all stretch for a few weeks!

The only items that will be entirely used up this week are the leek, potatoes, cabbage, fruit, chicken wings, and maybe bread–depending on how many sandwiches we go through.  I am not touching the tomatoes, squash/zucchini, peppers, chicken thighs, spinach, or half & half, but I will use them next week!  I see creamed spinach, swedish meatballs, and my (hidden veggie) surprise muffins on the horizon.

Here is this week’s meal plan:

Sunday: Honey-Sriracha Wings & Jalapeño Popper Dip (And Rocky Road Brownies)  We stayed home, but I still wanted the Super Bowl snack food!  I’m currently obsessed with these wings–I shared the recipe on instagram.  I also realized that I could cobble together a jalapeño popper dip from the bits of cream cheese & cheddar cheese in our fridge, plus a few of our home-grown jalapeños from the freezer!  I wanted a little dessert too, and brownies are one of the most pantry-friendly desserts out there.

Monday: Loaded Potato, Leek, & Cauliflower Soup   Here is the rest of last week’s cauliflower!  Simmer in broth with the potatoes and leeks from this week’s produce box, then blended up with a little milk and the last of our cream.  I topped mine with a little sour cream, cheese, crumbled bacon, and chopped scallions.  Plus, there’s enough leftovers to last for several lunches!

Tuesday: Leftovers  I work late.  M is out.  I’m sure there will be soup waiting for me.

Wednesday: Stuffed Acorn Squash   M is cooking while I go to class.  We have acorn squash left from boxes from weeks ago, that he’s stuffing with rice, vegetables, maybe some sausage, and other odds and ends from the fridge.

Thursday: Out  I’m out with friends.  M can do leftovers or something quick for himself.

FridayCheeseburgers with cole slaw and sweet potato fries  Those hamburger buns are taking up valuable freezer space!  This dish will use up the cabbage and some carrots in the slaw, with sweet potatoes from last week, and ground beef from the freezer.

Saturday: Pasta or Spaghetti Squash   Keeping things simple after my long day at work!

Breakfasts: eggs, yogurt & fruit, toast, or oatmeal

Lunches: Leftovers or sandwiches with more fruit


Hello 2017: Our $50 Weekly Grocery Budget

Hello world!  The end of the year got away from me again.  I am working on it, I promise!

We had a lovely run of our children’s shows, my finals for my classes were perfectly dandy, and then, one week before Christmas, I had (totally planned for) surgery to remove my gallbladder.  After sorting out the first 72 hours (I react a little poorly to strong painkillers and nausea gives me anxiety…), my recovery has been very good!  In fact, on day seven post-surgery, I actually forgot to take even plain ibuprofen and everything been fairly well-managed since then!  During my two weeks on the couch, I was able to binge both Westworld and The Crown (and would highly recommend both!), in addition to tons of Food Network and HGTV.  I’ve still got another week and a half before I can shed all my restrictions (I’m so ready to lift more than 15 lbs and/or do core exercises, right?!?), but adjusting to a gallbladder-less life has been much easier than I imagined.

Right after new year, we went away to our wintry beach house once again (I sat out of all physical debauchery) which prolonged our vacation even more.  The last week or so has just been putting our routines back together in the new year.  While we do eat a couple fruits and vegetables during that week, M and I eat a lot more junk food at the beach house than anywhere else.  It’s amazing how quickly our palates adapt to all that sugar and fat.  Getting back to our usual diets has been slow, but this is the first week where I really felt like I had a handle on it.  I planned for some of our favorite dishes, but made sure that they could be crammed with vegetables.

One of my many goals for this new year is get us back on track with our grocery budget.  I’ve loosely aimed for $50 a week/$200 a month for the past couple of years.  Given that we will go out a few times in the course of the month, there is no reasonable excuse as to why $200 cannot healthfully and deliciously sustain two people for four weeks.  Unfortunately, most of the time, I was very loose with that aim.  I would estimate that, last year, it was more like $65-$70 a week, at least.  Sometimes a whole lot more.  I started trying for this $50 budget back when we still had roommates and I realized that I had spent almost $500 on groceries that month.  We have gotten much, much better in the years since then.  But, we needed to tighten our belts again–just by a little.  Between student loans, medical bills, and our desire to save a bit of money for say…a trip to Harry Potter World…a second dog…a house…(you know, the usual), those extra bucks from groceries could be better used elsewhere.

So I am back to keeping that hardline budget.  I figured checking in here would help to keep me accountable!  I want my $50 to include the $15 that we pay for our weekly box of recovered produce.  Those fruits and veggies are the start of my meal plan each week, and almost every piece is incorporated.  But that leaves me with $35 to spend on any meats/grains/dairy/additional produce/pantry items each week.  I’m getting better at balancing, for sure.  I’ve also been shopping at Aldi (which means M will never go with me, as their lack of music in a PA system weirds him out).  Their pricing is really what keeps this goal achievable at all!  While I would love to be able to buy pastured animal products and organic produce, that is usually not in our budget right now.  Aldi lets us eat nutritious, real food for extremely reasonable prices.  Aldi does have an rotation of higher quality items (including a gluten-free selection) that is impressive given their price point, and when I can work organic chicken or milk into the budget, I do.  But an egg or ground beef of the non-pastured variety is still going to provide so much more nutrients than a box of cereal or macaroni and cheese.  This is what works for us right now.

receipt-jan-21

I was very happy this week, because I actually only spent $46 dollars on groceries (a $4 box of trash bags upped my total).  This week I am both stocking up in the fridge/pantry and eating down some of our freezer storage.  I knew that we wouldn’t have to purchase any meat this week, thanks to what we had in the fridge, but when I had saw that I had a few extra bucks, I managed to snag the shrimp that were on sale!  The blue line marks the divide between our produce box and what I purchased at the store (everything from Aldi except the tofu, which was $1.99 at Trader Joe’s). Since I am using a lot from the pantry this week, I tried to delineate sources in my meal plan below.  I also just started a big batch of bone broth in my crockpot–I’m planning to get about 3 quarts out of this batch of bones.  That broth is (essentially) free, so I’ll be making soups often too!

groceries-jan-21-divided

From our $15 produce box: 2 corn, 2 oranges, 2 onions, 2 apples, 3 kiwi, 1 avocado, 1/2 lb brussels sprouts, 1 eggplant, 2 green bell peppers, 1 bunch kale.

The nice thing about using so much of our pantry is that much of this week’s groceries can be carried over into next week.  The only things that will be entirely consumed this week are the tofu, one can of tomatoes, the mushrooms, most of the produce from our box (left of the blue line), perhaps the limes,and the eggs.  At least half of that 2 lb bag of carrots should remain, as well as a lot of garlic and bananas, all the shrimp, some cheddar cheese, a bit of the swiss, the ketchup, some milk, most of the almond milk, some butter, and most of the pineapple (they were $0.99 a piece, how could I not grab them?)  One pineapple will likely be frozen for smoothies and the other split between fresh eat and some kind of salsa/skewer meal next week.  I’ve learned that the most effective way to stick to my budget is to loosely plan for two weeks, since so many ingredients are not entirely used up in just one week.  This is especially crucial for higher priced items like meat and dairy.

Without further ado, here is how all of these groceries are being used:

Weekly Meal Plan: Jan 22-Jan 28

Sunday: Shepherd’s Pie (with 1/2 lb beef from the freezer cut with one package of the mushrooms; a bit of the garlic, heavy cream, and butter; onions + carrots + potatoes from our produce box; and peas from the freezer, bone broth from my crockpot batch, and cream cheese from the fridge for the mashed potatoes)

Monday: Tofu Pad Thai with Kale (noodles from the pantry; all of the kale + tofu, some of the limes + carrots + onions + cilantro from this trip; and the sauce ingredients like sriracha and fish sauce are from the pantry)

Tuesday: Spaghetti Squash with Sausage & Marinara sauce (a complete pantry meal: the squash is left over from a previous week’s box and I made a froze a big batch of sauce made from 1 lb of cooked sausage, 1 shredded zucchini + 1 shredded carrot for bulk, and a jar of store-bought marinara)

Wednesday: Taco Soup  (even years later, I’m still loving this soup–I usually have most of the canned ingredients on hand.  I did this week–except for diced tomatoes.  I’ll use more bone broth from the batch I’m cooking right now. This time, I’m skipping the bacon and trading the frozen corn for the fresh corn from our box.  The shredded cheddar from the block, avocado, fresh cilantro, and fresh lime juice will liven things up.  This will be super easy to throw in a pot and bring up to heat after I get home from my marketing class!)

Thursday: (Sort of) Baba Ghanoush, Shredded Carrot Salad, & Beef Koftas (some kind of riff on smokey eggplant dip with the eggplant from our produce box; a couple carrots dressed up with spices and vinegar from the pantry; and the remaining 1/2 lb of ground beef will become tiny, well-seasoned meatballs.  If we feel like a bread element, we’ll use tortillas from the pantry or I’ll make some kind of simple flatbread from the flours I have on hand)

Friday: Turkey-Broccoli Quiche (I found some turkey stashed in the freezer!  I get to make a second round of my favorite quiche!  Broccoli, turkey, and bacon are from the freezer/fridge.  Swiss cheese, milk and cream (to make homemade half-n-half) and eggs from this week’s grocery trip.)

Saturday: Cheesy Lentil & Mushroom Rice Bake, Brussel Sprouts (lentils, spices, and rice from the pantry will join up with cheese, milk, and the remaining mushrooms.  The brussels sprouts from our box will be roasted as a side dish)

Breakfasts and Lunches: Breakfast will be scrambled eggs, oatmeal from the pantry, fruit and toast, smoothies, or those egg+banana pancakes that all my Whole30 friends are freaking out about.  By my judgement, all of our dinners should make enough for us to take the leftovers for lunch along with a piece of fruit, but in case they don’t stretch, we can always make quesadillas or hard-boiled eggs.