Monday: Sticky Chicken. One of my 10 year olds helped me prep several of these a few weeks back, which gave her bragging rights at school the next day. Apparently stuffing onions up chickens’ butts is a big deal in grade 5.
Tuesday: Vegetarian Sliders. this is a new one for us, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m subbing cooked brown rice for quinoa, because that’s what I have. Cooking brown rice ahead and freezing it in quart size bags is a huge time saver for us. My oldest doesn’t eat meat – and I like to incorporate everyone’s needs/preferences into what we’re buying and preparing each week. It only makes sense to me to provide Team Clark with good nutrition that works well for each of us (some weeks we do far better at this than others …).
Wednesday: Burritos. These work so well for everyone and the kids love making them. I just put a bag of frozen boneless skinless chicken thighs in the crock pot a little while ago, and will season it up in a few hours. We’ll probably put these together tomorrow night, doing some with beans, some with chicken, some without the tortilla (burrito bowls!) and then add cheese and Spanish rice. We’re making an extra big batch of these to go in the freezer.
Thursday: Pizza night. We usually get Little Caesar’s or take-and-bakes from the grocery store. This is, by far, our least nutritious meal of the week. But we are all tired and crabby by Thursday and just trying to make it to the weekend, you know? On a good day I’ll throw together a big green salad and hope that someone eats it.
Friday: Honey Bourbon Chicken. This is a little higher sugar than I like, but I use ketchup that doesn’t contain high fructose corn syrup (which is rare!) and try to add a little more chicken and onion to the recipe than it calls for.
Saturday: Crockpot Enchiladas. This is another new recipe we’re trying this week. I’m planning to use corn tortillas, and will probably throw in a little leftover chicken from Monday’s Sticky Chicken.
Sunday: LEFTOVERS. Nothing worse than trying to menu plan and grocery shop on a Monday when your fridge is full of containers of leftovers. Okay, there are plenty of things worse than that. Still – it’s a bummer when that happens.
Something I’ve been talking about lately with my friends is bone broth. I’ve made some variation of stock over the years, but lately have been more committed to doing so. If you poke around the web, you’ll find endless methods that folks use to make their bone broth. You’ll also find plenty of reasons to start making it and adding it to your diet! Bone broth is nutrient-dense, chock full of minerals and easily made with …. well, stuff you likely are tossing in the trash right now. Truly — what I love most about bone broth is that it’s nutritional gold that you make out of garbage!
I’ve varied how I make bone broth over time, and settled on to this method. Try it, change what you need to, to make it work well for you. Nutritional gold, people! Here’s how I make it:
Save bones from chicken or turkey (you could use other meats, but this is what we eat the most of). Also save (clean/well scrubbed) scraps from veggies – carrot peels, celery tops and ends, onion skins and scraps. Toss them all in a labeled freezer bag if you don’t have very many at a time so they’ll be ready to go when you make broth.
Put bones, veggie scraps, a few egg shells (yes, really! They will add to the calcium, glucosamine and chondroitin to your broth!) into a large crockpot. Fill with water, add a little cider vinegar (2 tablespoons to 1 gallon water, roughly), which will help pull the minerals out of the bones and egg shells. Simmer in crock pot overnight. Cool broth, strain through a tea-towel lined colander. Refrigerate broth for several hours, then remove solidified fat that has risen to the top of the broth. If you are going to freeze your broth, be sure to label and date it.
That’s it, folks! If you don’t want to make your broth in the crock pot, you can make it in a large stock pot in your stovetop instead and let it simmer away all day. Make it so that it fits into your lifestyle. We use bone broth in soup and casserole recipes. I also use substitute it for water when I cook brown rice. It’s an easy way to boost the nutritional value of just about anything!
A friend of mine recently told me that the only advice her mother ever gave her was this, “get comfortable with square one – you’re going to be visiting it often.”
This week has been all about square one for Team Clark. We spent more than we should have the previous week, bought groceries for a Super Bowl shindig (let’s be honest, the menu is always going to be the most important part of the event) and didn’t save a single receipt. Therefore …. no grocery shopping this past week.
Our saving grace may have been that Rob spent the weekend with teenagers from church, on a youth group retreat, and brought home the leftover groceries – sandwich fixings, bread and milk. All things considered, we’ve managed to get creative and eat pretty well!
Some things that we’ve eaten lately:
Turkey Wild Rice Casserole (when I cook wild rice I do a lot at a time, freezing the extra)
Pasta with Bolognese sauce
We’ve also been eating a lot of homemade Greek yogurt (recipe to come, soon) with granola. My 13 year old has become the granola making expert in the family!
This week we will be back in business again, planning carefully and sticking to the list. Bad (and expensive!) things happen when we don’t plan our menus and grocery lists!
Recently I shared about our $50 grocery budget that worked so well over the summer, and how we are working hard to get back that same budget, or as close as possible. One caveat: reduce the budget but not reduce the quality of food that we eat. I’m all for cutting corners where possible and yes, once in awhile there’s more “cheap food” in my kitchen than I prefer, but I’d like for that to be the exception around here, not the norm.
Last week I tracked things pretty carefully. We did not purchase meat, because we have quite a bit in the freezer. We eat pizza once a week – last week it was a few take-and-bakes from Walmart, which cost $17.00. There was a small trip to Cub Foods where we spent $8.65 (but I lost the receipt), $37.45 of the Aldi trip was on groceries, as was $21.05 at Walmart. So — just under $80 for groceries last week. One other note – school lunch is not included in the grocery budget.
Focusing on eating up what we already had in the pantry, fridge and freezer, so nothing went to waste, I think we did pretty well! Everyone grabs their own breakfast here — Rob has a protein bar, I have a protein shake, and the kids have whatever sounds good to them that particular morning. We had a few cereals in the cupboard, homemade granola and Greek yogurt ready to go, and a big batch of whole wheat waffles that I made at the beginning of the week for easy reheating. Lunch for the kids is eaten at school, and Rob and I generally have leftovers for lunch (when I’m at work, though, I eat for next-to-nothing, so I eat Macy’s food )
Here’s a rundown of what we made last week:
Monday – Roast turkey breast with mashed potatoes, salad, roasted brussel sprouts
Tuesday – Pioneer Woman’s braised short ribs (I actually used country style ribs that I’d found hiding in my freezer) with polenta, assorted veggies
Wednesday – Baked mac and cheese (I use the store brand of Barilla plus pasta if I’m not going to be eating it, otherwise I use Tinkyada gluten free pasta and sub cornstarch for the flour in my sauce) and cut up fresh veggies
Thursday – pizza
Friday – leftovers
Saturday – nachos with taco meat from the freezer
Some things I made ahead and froze:
Whole wheat/whey waffles (using whey that was leftover from the Greek yogurt I made the previous week!)
Bone broth (from Monday’s turkey bones)
I heard from quite a few people last week that they were inspired to start eating down what is in their freezer, and minimizing the food waste and getting a better handle on their food budget. Good for you! Good for us! How is your week going so far?
I’m always looking for new ways to make the meal prep and planning easier. Lately, my big thing has been to cook just once a week. Try to cook just once a week, really. It never seems to work out perfectly. In theory, though – if I cook 7x the amount on a recipe – one for supper that night and six for the freezer, I should eventually be cooking just once a week. Right?
Taco meat is just about the easiest thing to cook in bulk and freeze for future use. The last time I did it, I tried a few new tricks and it worked like a dream. If you’re going to start tweaking your budget and meal planning, this is where I would suggest you start.
I would recommend making a single pound of meat first, to make sure you and your family like it, and adjust the recipe accordingly before you tackle 10 or more pounds of meat. It’s a huge bummer to fill your freezer with food that no one likes!
Here’s the recipe for a single batch:
1 pound ground meat (I get frozen ground turkey at Aldi for $1.39/pound)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
However, for 10 pounds of ground meat, use:
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons chili powder
2-1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
2-1/2 teaspoons onion powder
2-1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
2-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon black pepper
Put thawed ground meat in crock pot. Add ½ – 1 cup of water, to help steam the meat. Cook on high for a few hours, and then break it apart with a potato masher or fork. Add the taco seasoning, mix, and cook a few more hours until done (this really only takes a few hours! If you cook it on high all day long, I think it will be too overdone. This is a good one to have going in the crock pot when you’re not going to be gone all day).
Allow taco meat to cool, then put in freezer safe containers, squeeze out the extra air and seal, and then label and date (you might thing that you will remember what this is and when you put it in the freezer? Trust me, you will not. Label and date it. Please). I am constantly trying to use less plastic in our house, but I do still use quart size freezer bags for freezing taco meat, putting a pound in each bag. Freeze them flat in the freezer, and they stack up nicely, saving space.
Voila! That’s it! Make a big batch of this, and freeze it in individual pounds portions. Pull some out once a week (or every night, if you have big taco fans in your house?) for a nearly-done meal. I promise you, your budget (and chedule!) will thank you!
Out of necessity this past summer, I began to pare down our family grocery budget. In the past, we’d shopped primarily at our local chain grocery store, coupons on hand, after scouring the sales sheet for the best bargains (this is on a good week. Let’s face it, there are plenty of weeks where there is no planning involved, whatsoever). What had worked for our family of seven for a while, it seemed, just wasn’t working anymore. My kitchen is pretty small, yet the limited cupboard space I had still had plenty of boxes and cans of food from … goodness knows when. And I was constantly pitching spoiled or freezer burned leftovers from the refrigerator and freezer. Nope. Not working anymore.
The changes I made didn’t seem terribly significant at the time – they really boil down to better menu planning, buying less (yes! Less!) and changing where I shop.
First we went through the cupboards and threw away anything that was really old or had no chance of being eaten. I rearranged my cupboards according to what was useful and what we could use in meals. The remaining items I left on the counter with a note for the kids: eat these. Now when I say that I threw out old food, I mean REALLY old. The food that was (sealed in packages) that was just a little old – the kids ate. I am very okay with ignoring ‘best by’ dates on packages, generally speaking. Sure, the popover mixes that had been in the back of the cupboard forever didn’t turn out great (could have been because 10 year old children baked them …) but they were good enough for them to get eaten for lunch with peanut butter and jelly on. All the cereals that weren’t getting eaten? Yes, “add some sugar if you want, but that’s what’s for breakfast (or lunch).” Really, my kids are okay with a few weird meals! Truly – do what works best for you and is within your comfort level. But pay attention to what you’re pitching. It’s pretty sobering, the waste!
The next step we took was to look at what we had remaining, and plan a week’s worth of meals around it, possibly doubling some of the meals (and freezing the extra). But truly – no more shopping ahead and buying in bulk! I took my grocery bags and my quarter and headed to Aldi with my list. The great thing about Aldi (okay there are many great things about Aldi) is that it’s small. You can cover the store in less than 30 minutes. Instead of having 15 different brands and varieties of mustard to choose from, there’s one or two. Problem solved. Put it in your cart and move on. And there’s no need to stock up (specials on meat/bread aside, as they get discounted when they are close to the sell date) because the price will be the same next week.
Fewer groceries in the cupboards and fridge have meant that everything gets eaten. Less waste means less money going in the garbage, literally!
Now this summer, when we began, we were 1. Eating down the stock pile and 2. Eating out of the garden. So I haven’t stuck to $50 every week. But that was, and remains, my goal.
With company this fall, and then the holidays, it’s been really hard to stay on track. This week I am regrouping and committing to follow these same strategies again.
How’s your grocery budget working for you? Anyone want to join me?
Let’s get this out of the way from the get-go:
Dirt Balls are not terribly photogenic.
But they’re tasty! And nutritious! And super easy to make. Until my kids knew what was in Dirt Balls, they just thought I was being extra generous with the treats.
1 cup almonds (or other nuts. As with many things, I use what I have on hand)
1 cup pitted dates (avoid getting sugared dates, though!)
1/3 cup raisins
3 tablespoons cocoa or carob powder
1 tablespoon vanilla
Grind nuts in a food processor. Add remaining ingredients and pulse until mixed. Form into balls (sometimes this is easier to do if you chill the mixture in the fridge for a little while, first).
And that, my loves, is how you make Dirt Balls. Just think it over carefully before you tell your kids what exactly is in them!