Tips to Reign In An Out Of Control Family Budget: Let’s Start in the Kitchen!

707538835876fc5c438018d57701bc2f.jpgUntil the end of the year, I’ll be posting some articles with realistic tips and methods to save money and reign in spending. None of these are going to the same old “Clip coupons, grow your own garden, etc.” that’s all over the internet- and honestly, here in Southern California, the old, standby advice isn’t going to help you. Grow a garden to save money? Water is so expensive here!

Clipping coupons and shopping grocery store sales/circulars will save you a fraction of the amount that it used to. In years past, I was saving 60-80% with coupons and store sales. Now, I’m lucky to save 50%.  With all of the restrictions on coupons (example: limit one like coupon per day- LAME), stockpiling to save money isn’t always possible without a lot of work/trips to different stores (and that’s not saving time). We’re moving past that, and delving into other ways to save money and take advantage of opportunities that are out there.

Today we are going to start with my pet project: Saving in the kitchen! If you feel like you’re spending too much money on food and groceries, here are my recommendations for getting the grocery spending under control:

  1. Go through your refrigerator/freezer and pantry. Make a note of the food that you have on hand. I like using the kitchen inventories here. This will also give you an opportunity to clean out food from the kitchen that has expired or that you won’t eat. Unexpired food that you won’t eat, can be donated to a local charity.
  2. Now that you have a handle on what you have in your kitchen, take a look at the list and come up with some recipes or meals that can be created with what you have on hand. You’d be surprised by how many meals you have in your kitchen! Make a list of the meals that you can make with what you have. And plan on having one or two of those per week. This will help keep grocery spending down. Make a list of meals that you can make but require one or two ingredients (like fresh vegetables), and add those ingredients to your next few shopping lists. By relying on what you already have in your home, you will be keeping your out of pocket down.
  3. Before you head to the store, take a look at the sale flyer which is available online, and see what is on sale. Plan meals around food that is in season and on sale. Continue to use coupons, but don’t go out of your way to subscribe to multiple newspapers per week to get a hold of lots of the same coupons.  Don’t forget rebate apps! Use of these apps gets us $10-$20/month cashback, sometimes double that, depending on what bonus offers are available- Fetch Rewards and Ibotta often have Bonus offers.
  4. Track your spending over a few weeks to see how much you are spending, and what you are buying. If you still find that you’re spending a lot of money on food, I would try shopping at a different store. I find that even with club card sales, and rebate apps like Fetch Rewards, some grocery stores (like Vons) are just too expensive to do my weekly shopping. I love starting my shopping at $.99 only. I am able to get a lot of snacks, name-brand treats, and fresh fruits and veggies there, and I am still able to stay on budget. Another fun place where I save money is Grocery Outlet. They have great prices on cheese, fruit juice, coffee, and frozen meat. They also have an interesting selection that changes weekly: snack food, protein bars/cookies, and cereal. If you are in the military, a military family, or a veteran, consider shopping at the commissary. Here is my article about saving money at the commissary. 
  5. Consider cooking more from scratch. It is healthier, and pantry stables are generally pretty cheap (the ingredients for a batch of chocolate chip cookies runs about $3.00 and yields 4-5 dozen cookies, while a package of chocolate chip cookies from the grocery store is about $4.00+ and is usually 3 dozen or so).  I buy fruits and veggies whole and break them down and pack them into serving size bags. You can learn more about that and Batch Cooking here.

If you are still having a hard time keeping your grocery budget in check, or if you are finding that the ends don’t meet, consider the San Diego Food Bank Neighborhood Distribution Program. No documentation is needed to receive food assistance from a
Neighborhood Distribution site where people can receive fresh fruits, vegetables, and bread, based on availability. Families are encouraged to bring reusable bags or
a cart with them to carry the food items.

There are programs out there to help those struggling to feed their families here in San Diego County. Here is my list of San Diego County Food Resources.

I work very hard to keep my family on a budget, I work very hard to make sure that we are saving money and taking advantage of as many deals and opportunities that present themself. I know that this is not something that everyone wants to do or something that everyone can do. There are so many programs and discounts out there available for various groups of individuals.

Tomorrow, we’re tackling saving money on the entertainment budget.

Weekly Meal Plan

stemarie_1650skitchen

AHHHHH!!! The last day of school is Wednesday.  Summer school doesn’t start for the big kid for 2 weeks. I’m going to have to ramp up my frugality to 11! Here is my article about keeping kids fed over the summer, and my article on free lunches this summer for kiddos. 

For those of you that are new to meal planning, I’ve got an easy 101 style post here with super easy tips and steps. After you get that down, here is info about batch or freezer cooking.

I’ve gotten a pretty good inventory of the pantry, freezer, and fridge done, so I’m able to plan meals and use up what we’ve got with little waste. If you are looking for kitchen inventory printable, I like the kitchen inventories here. They are great printables.

You may notice a lot of plant-based meals- We are not vegetarian, but I am trying to get more veggies into our diet. I do a lot of cooking from scratch- I find it easier to get veggies and fruit into recipes that I can have 100% control over.

I only post our dinner plans for the week, because our other meals are usually the same each day:

Breakfast: Coffee with heavy cream for me, and pancakes or something along those lines for the kids (they love the Kodiak Cakes Mix).  I also keep sandwich Ziploc bags of other frozen fruit on hand to make the kids smoothies when they request them (a few times per week). Berries, peaches, and mangos are pretty popular.

Lunches are leftovers, salads, or soups for me and the Little Bit, and The Big Kid has a specially packed lunch of whatever he’s into at the time (which changes frequently).

For dinner, when we’ve got busy days (like Mondays), I’ll try and put something in the crockpot in the morning, or pull something I’ve already prepped out that can be quickly cooked.

  • Monday: Chicken meatballs & Cheesy cauli-rice.
  • Tuesday: Breakfast for dinner (Waffles, bacon, and melon)
  • Wednesday: Frittata and fruit salad
  • Thursday: Nugget Night! This was such a hit last week, we’re doing it again! The big kid is a vegetarian, so I make him Chick’n nuggets, and the rest of us have chicken nuggets or another variety of meatless nuggets. The Buffalo Chick’n nuggets are popular among the grown-ups. I serve carrot sticks, and apple slices on the side.
  • Friday: Date Night (dinner out)
  • Saturday: Birthday party leftovers! Bitty’s 4th birthday party is Saturday and we’ll have pizza, cake, and fruit leftover.
  • Sunday: Leftover Night

Weekly Meal Plan!

stemarie_1650skitchen

I’m done with college! Now I’m back to all of my frugal habits, I’m no longer even more pressed for time. I’m stoked to be able to get back into my groove of cooking healthy food, exercising, and keeping up with the kiddos!

For those of you that are new to meal planning, I’ve got an easy 101 style post here with super easy tips and steps. After you get that down, here is info about batch or freezer cooking.

This weeks meal planning goal is to eat up what we’ve got in the pantry. I’m finishing the pantry inventory this morning after my coffee. I like the kitchen inventories here. They are great printables.

You may notice a lot of plant-based meals- We are not vegetarian, but I am trying to get more veggies into our diet. I do a lot of cooking from scratch- I find it easier to get veggies and fruit into recipes that I can have 100% control over.

I only post our dinner plans for the week, because our other meals are usually the same each day:

Breakfast: Coffee with heavy cream for me, and pancakes or something along those lines for the kids (they love the Kodiak Cakes Mix).  I also keep sandwich Ziploc bags of other frozen fruit on hand to make the kids smoothies when they request them (a few times per week). Berries, peaches, and mangos are pretty popular.

Lunches are leftovers, salads, or soups for me and the Little Bit, and The Big Kid has a specially packed lunch of whatever he’s into at the time (which changes frequently).

For dinner, when we’ve got busy days (like Mondays), I’ll try and put something in the crockpot in the morning, or pull something I’ve already prepped out that can be quickly cooked.

  • Monday: Chicken Soup (using the roasted chicken I made the other night)
  • Tuesday: Spaghetti (I’ve been buying this kind because it’s high in protein) with bolognese sauce, steamed veggies
  • Wednesday: Madras Lentils, riced cauliflower
  • Thursday: Nugget Night! The big kid is a vegetarian, so I make him Chick’n nuggets, and the rest of us have chicken nuggets or another variety of meatless nuggets. The Buffalo Chick’n nuggets are popular among the grown-ups. I serve carrot sticks, and apple slices on the side.
  • Friday: Homemade Pizza Night- I’ll be making a few extra crusts to toss into the freezer.
  • Saturday: Burgers- We’ve got a bunch of meatless burgers floating around the freezer. The kids will probably have the Veggie Burgers from the 99 Cent Store (Chef Ernesto- they are like potato cakes with other veggies in them- they are super good with cheese and salsa) or grilled cheese. Served with applesauce- we have tons of it.
  • Sunday: Leftover Night

Oh, and I’m making cookies this week! These cookies to be precise!

Weekly Meal Plan!

stemarie_1650skitchen

The kids and I are going camping this weekend, so I’m only meal planning through Thursday! We’ll be going to a Society for Creative Anachronism Event, Potrero War. The kids are looking forward to playing with friends, making s’mores, doing crafts, and the big kid is really looking forward to participating in Thrown Weapons with his Grandpa.

For those of you that are new to meal planning, I’ve got an easy 101 style post here with super easy tips and steps. After you get that down, here is info about batch or freezer cooking.

This weeks meal planning goal is to eat up what we’ve got on hand that will spoil first. I’m not going to the grocery store to buy anything but milk and butter (oh no, we’re almost out!).

You may notice a lot of plant-based meals- We are not vegetarian, but I am trying to get more veggies into our diet. I do a lot of cooking from scratch- I find it easier to get veggies and fruit into recipes that I can have 100% control over.

I only post our dinner plans for the week, because our other meals are usually the same each day:

Breakfast: Coffee with heavy cream for me, and pancakes or something along those lines for the kids.  I also keep sandwich Ziploc bags of other frozen fruit on hand to make the kids smoothies when they request them (a few times per week). Berries, peaches, and mangos are pretty popular.

Lunches are leftovers, salads, or soups for me and the Little Bit, and The Big Kid has a specially packed lunch of whatever he’s into at the time (which changes frequently).

For dinner, when we’ve got busy days (like Mondays), I’ll try and put something in the crockpot in the morning, or pull something I’ve already prepped out that can be quickly cooked.

  • Monday: Leftover homemade pizza and strawberries
  • Tuesday: Spaghetti (I’ve been buying this kind because it’s high in protein) with red sauce loaded with veggies
  • Wednesday: Madras Lentils, white rice, and steamed veggies
  • Thursday: Grilled cheese sandwiches and soup (I’ve got a couple batches of soup in the freezer, so I’ll grab one and defrost it the night before. It’ll probably be Veggie Tuscan Soup).

Weekly Meal Plan!

stemarie_1650skitchen

This week, again, we’re focusing on what we’ve got on hand. Last week I went over budget on groceries by about $20- I needed to stock up on some essentials that we had run out of, so I’m hoping we can keep the grocery budget really down this week.

For those of you that are new to meal planning, I’ve got an easy 101 style post here with super easy tips and steps. After you get that down, here is info about batch or freezer cooking.

You may notice a lot of plant-based meals- We are not vegetarian, but I am trying to get more veggies into our diet. I do a lot of cooking from scratch- I find it easier to get veggies and fruit into recipes that I can have 100% control over.

I only post our dinner plans for the week, because our other meals are usually the same each day:

Breakfast: Coffee with heavy cream for me, and pancakes or something along those lines for the kids.  I also keep sandwich ziploc bags of other frozen fruit on hand to make the kids smoothies when they request them (a few times per week). Berries, peaches, and mangos are pretty popular.

Lunches are leftovers, salads, or soups for me and the Little Bit, and The Big Kid has a specially packed lunch of whatever he’s into at the time (which changes frequently).

For dinner, when we’ve got busy days (like Mondays), I’ll try and put something in the crockpot in the morning, or pull something I’ve already prepped out that can be quickly cooked.

  • Monday: Chicken soup- Made from scratch. I made bone broth in the crockpot over the weekend.
  • Tuesday: Pizza from scratch. The children have been begging for “big pizza”. I make it on a cookie sheet.
  • Wednesday: Pulled pork in the crockpot.
  • Thursday: Leftovers
  • Friday:  Dinner out- We’re going to see Endgame!!
  • Saturday: Cheese enchiladas. We have tons of cheese sticks that the kids don’t seem interested in eating.
  • Sunday: Chicken Chicken Schwarma, Rice, and steamed veggies.

 

Talk Back: What will you be cooking this week?

Weekly Meal Plan!

stemarie_1650skitchen

Mondays are crazy around here, between my college classes, and Big Kid’s weekly social skills class, we don’t get home until late. So publishing our weekly meal plan is not a high priority after a busy day. I did write it out yesterday while I was at the Y!

This week we are focusing a lot of eating up what we’ve got on hand. There are a lot of changes afoot in my household (there will be an upcoming post, I promise). I’m focusing a lot on the kids, and trying to return to my frugal roots.

For those of you that are new to meal planning, I’ve got an easy 101 style post here with super easy tips and steps. After you get that down, here is info about batch or freezer cooking.

You may notice a lot of plant based meals- We are not vegetarian, but I am trying to get more veggies into our diet. I do a lot of cooking from scratch- I find it easier to get veggies and fruit into recipes that I can have 100% control over.

I only post our dinner plans for the week, because our other meals are usually the same each day:

Breakfast: Coffee with heavy cream for me, and pancakes or something along those lines for the kids.  I also keep sandwich ziploc bags of  other frozen fruit on hand to make the kids smoothies when they request them (a few times per week). Berries, peaches, and mangos are pretty popular.

Lunches are leftovers, salads, or soups for me and the Little Bit, and The Big Kid has a specially packed lunch of whatever he’s into at the time (which changes frequently).

For dinner, when we’ve got busy days (like Mondays), I’ll try and put something in the crockpot in the morning, or pull something I’ve already prepped out that can be quickly cooked.

  • Monday: Ramen- I’ll post pics on Instagram today. Our local Grocery Outlet had bone broth, and I used Brown Rice and Millet Ramen noodles. poached eggs, and spinach
  • Tuesday: Breakfast for Dinner- Waffles made with Kodiak Flapjack Mix and Fruit Salad
  • Wednesday: I’m going to the grocery store, so I’ll probably pick up a rotisserie chicken and a salad
  • Thursday: Leftovers
  • Friday:  I’m going out with the girls, so the kids will have Pizza!
  • Saturday: Chicken enchiladas (made from the rotisserie chicken leftovers), beans, rice, and brocolli
  • Sunday: Chicken Soup (made from the carcass of the rotisserie chicken and the remaining meat).

 

Talk Back: What will you be cooking this week?

Weekly Meal Plan

stemarie_1650skitchen

Sooo, I wrote this post yesterday, and forgot to hit PUBLISH.. So a day late, but I’ve got all kinds of tasty stuff planned for this week, and some recipes will be added later this week as well.

I did a bunch of prep work on Sunday for a few hours- I made 3 batches of pizza dough, cooked a tri-tip, and I was going to start turkey chili, but instead, I made cookies (which are excellent, and I’ll post  the recipe tomorrow). You can see the pics on my Instagram feed.

For those of you that are new to meal planning, I’ve got an easy 101 style post here with super easy tips and steps. After you get that down, here is info about batch or freezer cooking.

You may notice a lot of plant based meals- We are not vegetarian, but I am trying to get more veggies into our diet. I do a lot of cooking from scratch- I find it easier to get veggies and fruit into recipes that I can have 100% control over.

I only post our dinner plans for the week, because our other meals are usually the same each day:

Breakfast: Protein shakes for grown ups, and pancakes or something along those lines for the kids. We have plenty of protein shake fixins’- I buy the over ripe bananas, peel and slice them pop them into ziploc bags, and freeze them for smoothies and protein shakes. I also keep sandwich ziploc bags of  other frozen fruit on hand to make the kids smoothies when they request them (a few times per week). Berries, peaches, and mangos are pretty popular.

Lunches are leftovers, salads, or a protein shake for me and the Mister, and The Big Kid has a specially packed lunch of whatever he’s into at the time (which changes frequently). Bitty Bird eats whatever I’ll feed her.

For dinner, when we’ve got busy days (like Mondays), I’ll try and put something in the crockpot in the morning, or pull something I’ve already prepped out that can be quickly cooked.

  • Monday: We Chinese food. Mr. Husband stopped on the way home and picked it up!
  • Tuesday: Breakfast for Dinner: Hash browns with cheese, bacon or leftover tri-tip, and guacamole, topped with a poached egg.
  • Wednesday: Pizza Night!
  • Thursday: Turkey Chili and cornbread
  • Friday:  Date Night (dinner out, but I’m not sure where)
  • Saturday: Chicken Divan (it’s a one pan meal)
  • Sunday:  Leftovers

 

Talk Back: What will you be cooking this week?

Recipe: Homemade Chicken Soup!

IMG_4093
Yummy soup made with my favorite Seasoning Blend from Penzey’s

I love making chicken soup from scratch. The cook time is lengthy, but, you don’t have to pay a lot of attention to the soup for most of the cook time.

You can use whatever kind of spices/herbs you fancy. I love Penzey’s Arizona Dreaming, it’s a great smoky, rich compliment to the veggies in the soup.

Speaking of veggies, I use carrots, onions, celery, Italian squash/zucchini, but you can use whatever is in your fridge. Good additions would also be diced bell peppers, diced fresh tomatoes (or canned diced tomatoes).

You can omit the noodles/macaroni is you don’t care for them or are GF/low carb.

Ingredients:

  • 5 lbs of chicken parts, bone-in or a rotisserie chicken with some of the meat removed and set aside
  • 2 cups of carrots chopped, divided
  • 2 cups of celery chopped, divided
  • 3 cups sweet onion diced, divided
  • 2 cloves garlic diced, divided
  • 1 large shallot diced, divided
  • 1T. cooking oil, your choice. I’ve been using grapeseed oil lately
  • 12 cups of water
  • bay leaf
  • salt & pepper
  • 2 cups Italian squash/zucchini, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 14-ish ounce can of diced tomatoes with juice, or 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes (optional)
  • other herbs/spices as desired
  • 1 cup uncooked pasta/noodles/rice (your choice)
57127848826__F14B15DD-0F2B-4BE4-9B3A-9E0F7008AA1E
After cooking all day! Yummy Chicken Stock!

Directions:

  1. If starting with 5 lbs of raw chicken, place 1/2 of the carrots, onions, and celery into a large stock pot with the cooking oil.
  2. Cook on medium until veggies are soft, and onions are clear.
  3. Add 1/2 of the garlic and shallots, and cook until fragrant.
  4. Add raw chicken, and cook for about 10 minutes, until chicken browns.
  5. Turn stove down to low, add 12 coups of water, bay leaf, salt & pepper, and cover. Cook stock on low for about 4-6 hours- you can cook it for up to 12 hours in your crockpot if you wish instead).  Pull out a few pieces of chicken, pull off the cooked meat and set aside (you want about 2 cups of chopped cooked meat). Put bones back into the pot. Cook for another 20-30 minutes.
  6. Take the stock off the heat, and once cool, strain off the solids, and discard. The remaining liquid is your chicken stock. While you start with 12 cups of water, after cooking the stock down, you may end up with 6-8 cups of rich, velvety stock.
  7. Place chicken stock on the stove in a large pot, add in chopped chicken, remaining veggies, and any herbs/spices.
  8. Once veggies have started to soften/cook, add noodles/macaroni/rice if desired. Salt and pepper to taste.
IMG_3470
Mire Poix- Aka carrots, celery, and onions with a bayleaf, garlic and shallots. The perfect start to any soup!

As soon as noodles/macaroni/rice is cooked, remove soup from heat. Serve with hot bread (and butter).

*If you are starting with a rotisserie chicken, pull off 2 cups of meat, and add the carcass after the veggies are cooked and fragrant. proceed with remainder of recipe.

1/21/19 Weekly Meal Plan

stemarie_1650skitchen

Mr.husband is doing a cleanse with a few friends this week and next, so the menu this week is extra healthy. The kids and I will will be eating some similar foods, it’s hard to convince the kids to eat kale and steamed salmon night after night.

For those of you that are new to meal planning, I’ve got an easy 101 style post here with super easy tips and steps. After you get that down, here is info about batch or freezer cooking.

You may notice a lot of plant based meals- We are not vegetarian, but I am trying to get more veggies into our diet. I do a lot of cooking from scratch- I find it easier to get veggies and fruit into recipes that I can have 100% control over.

I only post our dinner plans for the week, because our other meals are usually the same each day:

Breakfast: Protein shakes for grown ups, and pancakes or something along those lines for the kids. We have plenty of protein shake fixins’- I buy the over ripe bananas, peel and slice them pop them into ziploc bags, and freeze them for smoothies and protein shakes. I also keep sandwich ziploc bags of  other frozen fruit on hand to make the kids smoothies when they request them (a few times per week). Berries, peaches, and mangos are pretty popular.

Lunches are leftovers, salads, or a protein shake for me and the Mister, and The Big Kid has a specially packed lunch of whatever he’s into at the time (which changes frequently). Bitty Bird eats whatever I’ll feed her.

For dinner, when we’ve got busy days (like Mondays), I’ll try and put something in the crockpot in the morning, or pull something I’ve already prepped out that can be quickly cooked.

This week is going to be a little different tan usual. With Mr. on the cleanse, we’ll be eating a lot of whole foods/vegetables raw, and an old family friend steel cut oats will be coming to breakfast.

  • Monday: Pot roast, steamed broccoli, applesauce
  • Tuesday: pan seared herbed chicken (or salmon), quinoa/wild rice blend, roasted carrots
  • Wednesday: Breakfast for dinner- pancakes (Kodiak flap jacks), fruit salad.
  • Thursday:Stir fry veggies and cauliflower “rice”
  • Friday:  Homemade pizza night (Mr. will be having salmon and veggies)
  • Saturday: Salad bar night: mixed greens, kale, and whatever types of veggie bits I pull out, various nuts, and dressings. The kids love cheese on their salads too.
  • Sunday: Leftoverpalooza

 

Talk Back: What will you be cooking this week?

It’s Back! Weekly Meal Plan!

stemarie_1650skitchen

I cleaned out the pantry last week. There was a lot of weird/unusual stuff- Thanks to my food blogging/cooking endeavors. I also went through the fridge and tossed a bunch of condiments that were of various “vintages”.

For those of you that are new to meal planning, I’ve got an easy 101 style post here with super easy tips and steps. After you get that down, here is info about batch or freezer cooking.

You may notice a lot of plant based meals- We are not vegetarian, but I am trying to get more veggies into our diet. I do a lot of cooking from scratch- I find it easier to get veggies and fruit into recipes that I can have 100% control over.

I only post our dinner plans for the week, because our other meals are usually the same each day:

Breakfast: Protein shakes for grown ups, and pancakes or something along those lines for the kids. We have plenty of protein shake fixins’- I buy the over ripe bananas, peel and slice them pop them into ziploc bags, and freeze them for smoothies and protein shakes. I also keep sandwich ziploc bags of  other frozen fruit on hand to make the kids smoothies when they request them (a few times per week). Berries, peaches, and mangos are pretty popular.

Lunches are leftovers, salads, or a protein shake for me and the Mister, and The Big Kid has a specially packed lunch of whatever he’s into at the time (which changes frequently). Bitty Bird eats whatever I’ll feed her.

For dinner, when we’ve got busy days (like Mondays), I’ll try and put something in the crockpot in the morning, or pull something I’ve already prepped out that can be quickly cooked.

This week is going to be a little different. There is going to be some traveling this week, so I’ll be relying more on my freezer stash.

  • Monday: Table5 Pizza and Fruit Salad
  • Tuesday: Chicken Tetrazzini with brocolli (Hooray for 1 pot meals)
  • Wednesday: Pesto Pasta bake (it’s a new recipe I’m working on- if it turns out well I’ll post it later this week).
  • Thursday: Grilled Cheese sandwiches made with Chef Shamy Garlic Butter and sharp cheddar cheese, Homemade Tomato Soup.
  • Friday:  Stir fry veggies and cauliflower “rice”.
  • Saturday: Spanish Rice casserole- Sausage, Spanish rice, and veggies.
  • Sunday: Leftoverpalooza, or breakfast for dinner.

And I’ll be making some cookies with Kodiak Flapjack mix (Protein Chocolate Chip Cookies), and at least one batch of Chocolate Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins.

Talk Back: What will you be cooking this week?