Eating Healthy on a Budget: It Can Be Done!

f40fab9210aee93a83df63133f5de09bSunday Night I went to the grocery store to pick up milk, bread, and a few other things.

I spent $42 and it was not all that much stuff. While I was waiting in line, the lady behind me in line was going through her coupons, and her grocery list. We got to talking, I showed her the store app, where she was able to find a few more coupons. We started talking about how expensive it was to eat healthy, and I confessed to her that this was not my weekly shopping trip, I was just picking up stuff that I only buy at Food4Less:

  • Milk (it’s cheapest at FFL),
  • A specific kind of higher protein bread (it’s the cheapest place to buy this type of bread and has no High Fructose Syrup),
  • A specific kind of popscicles
  • 5 lb bag of bananas (cheapest place to buy that many bananas)
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This doesn’t have to cost a fortune!

And I picked up a few other misc. things that we needed and were on sale (cheese, oranges, and a 5 lb. bag of Gala apples), and a 2 liter of diet Cherry Pepsi and a jar of maraschino cherries (Mama needs a cocktail sometimes, OK?).

She asked about my grocery budget and where I shop the rest of the time. I told her my shopping strategy, after I make my grocery list:

My Top Ten Deals at 99 Cents Only– Start there for fresh produce. Salad, carrots, celery, berries, pineapples, zucchini, squash (all kinds), onions, potatoes are all types of produce that are regularly stocked. They usually have other interesting seasonally available produce too. They also have great sauces, condiments, herbs and spice blends.

Keep a Price Book- I know the best place to buy Milk, cheese, bread, and butter. I keep my price book in my phone now, but I used to use a little spiral bound notebook that lived in my purse.

Stock up on food that you will eat frequently when it does on sale. I’m not talking about fresh produce that can’t be kept (like lettuce), but if you find a good deal on strawberries, for example, chop and freeze some for smoothies or baking, make fruit leather, or dry some (they are really tasty dehydrated). Bread can be frozen, so can butter! Canned goods, shelf stable foods are perfect for stocking up. I also like stocking up on chicken when it’s on sale. I can butcher a whole chicken in a few minutes, and I frequently will break up large packages of chicken breasts into meal sized portions, season them, and put them into the freezer. Learn more about meal prep here.

For our family, meal prep and meal planning saves us a lot of time and money. There are always multiple choices for each meal at our finger tips, so the allure of getting food from take-away is gone. I always have a batch of pizza dough in the freezer too! I make two batches once a week- one for the freezer, and one to go in the fridge that gets used within 1-2 days of making.

Use Cashback/Couponing Apps. Here is the list I use frequently.

Here is an article I wrote a few years ago that has more tips on how to get “Extreme” savings without being an “Extreme Couponer” (which by the way isn’t even possible anymore thanks to that stupid TLC show and coupon abuse).

It doesn’t matter what your food budget is, you can still eat well! It may take a little prep work each week, but the health of your family is worth it, right?

If you are on a very tight budget or are facing food insecurity, here is a list of San Diego based food resources that offer healthy food.

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? 

Meal Planning 110: Batch Cooking

file6951293850756.jpgOk, so I’ve discussed Meal Planning here, and I try to post our weekly meal plans on Mondays, but I’m sure you’ve wondered if/how I actually do it.

One of my secrets is that I try and do meal prep and batch cooking once every few weeks. For us that means:

  • Setting aside an hour or so after grocery shopping to clean the produce, and prep it in single serving containers (they are reusable, don’t worry) if they are for lunches or snacks. Little bags of carrots, or grapes are both popular in our house.
  • I make my own smoothie kits too- cut up over ripe bananas and other fruits and put them into single servings ziploc bags.
  • Make frozen veggie bags too: I cut up onions, carrots, and celery for mire poix bags. They are the perfect base for most dishes, especially soups.  I also cut up fresh brocolli, cauliflower, bell pepper strips. Whatever I bought that we’ll be using in recipes.
  •  Depending on what is on the menu for the next week or two, I’ll prep some of the proteins.  I try to buy large packages of proteins, and re-package them with herbs and seasonings perfect for meals. Mostly chicken, because we don’t really eat all that much meat. Sometimes I’ll even prep ground beef into hamburger patties. This afternoon, I made chicken meatballs. I’ve included the recipe below.
  • Once the veggies are prepped and bagged, and the proteins are prepped and bagged, I get a bigger zip top bag and place everything needed for one meal into it, write on a sticky what it is, put the sticky on the bag and pop it into the freezer. Then we are all set to get cooking!
  • I try and prep a few crockpot meals as well. Salsa Chicken, Moosie’s Pot Roast are two great options. Crockpot freezer meals are perfect  for those mornings when you know you’ll want a hot meal after work, but won’t be in the mood to cook.
  • I also like to break up large packages of cheese, like I did here. Less waste, and we’re less likely to eat all of the cheese quickly.
  • Making baked goods. I prefer to make muffins, brownies, and cookies at home, that way I can control the amount of sugar that the family consumes.  I also add little healthy things: milled flax seeds, pumpkin, bananas. I try to do healthy swaps that aren’t really noticeable. This is a favorite cake in our house. It’s also great as muffins too. This time of year I also like to make Pumpkin Donuts too. YUM.

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 10.12.05 PM.pngAll of these things make meal planning a lot easier. Having ingredients already chopped, proteins mixed with seasoning, even snacks pre-packaged and set in a specific area of the kitchen.

I use a plastic Sterilite Basket to pack most of our shelf stable snacks that go into our lunches. I frequently skip buying large containers of pre-packaged snacks unless they are a better deal. If you notice, the goldfish are in Ziploc bags. The kids bring them home and I reuse them. But I only reuse them for more snacks.

I have a second shelf that stores all of our crackers (saltine, Ritz, graham, etc.) and puffed rice rolls, we eat those at other times besides lunch, but I grab them and pack them into individual containers or plastic bags for lunch as well.

Not shown are the lunch drinks which I have to keep hidden from the kids so they don’t drink them all after school/on weekends. I have a cache of goodies in the fridge and free to have in our lunches: fresh fruit, yogurt, cheese sticks, milk boxes, and bottles of water to choose from.

This “hack” aka pantry shortcut keeps my time making lunches a lot shorter, and I can spend more time with my kids!

Recipe: Ground Chicken Meatballs

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 of a white onion, minced
  • 1 /2 Teaspoon of each: Salt, garlic powder, pepper
  • 2 T

Directions:

  1. Mix all ingredients (except oil) in a large bowl until well combined.
  2. Divide mixture into 12-20 balls and roll between your palms until uniform in size.
  3. Place meatballs on a cookie sheet or plate and stash in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.
  4. Heat oil in large pan, fry meatballs in batches, and drain on a paper towel to blot out any excess oil.
  5. Once meatballs are cool to the touch, place them in a freezer safe container with a lid or zipper top bag. Store in the freezer.

I like to make several bags of meatballs, and I put as many in a bag as we need for one meal. For us, that 6-8 large meatballs- about the size of a cutie tangerine.

These meatballs are great because they work with a variety of sauces and cuisines.

 

Talk Back: I’d love to hear about some of the ways that you use batch cooking and food prep to make your life easier! What is your favorite time saving kitchen “Hack”.