Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Meal Planning and Budgeting Update Weeks 2 and 3

Well, it's been more than a week since my last meal planning/budgeting update but that's because the meals from the last week lasted us almost two weeks! I was actually a little worried when I went grocery shopping for week two because my total came out right at my budgeted amount (well, I had $2 left). Which meant if I needed anything else throughout the week, I wouldn't have the money budgeted for it. We made it through that week no problem though and with eating some leftovers and a couple of meals with Shawn's parents we made it through another 5 or 6 days without grocery shopping again. In fact, I just went grocery shopping today. So, since we made it almost 2 weeks on one weeks budget, I'm calling this week 2 and 3. I believe we did get fast food once, maybe twice during the rough days I talked about last week, and I got the reward of Jimmy John's after my 19 mile run Saturday. That money came from Shawn's Uber earning, so call that cheating the budget if you want. We also coasted through with some easy meals like PB&J and quesadillas more than once.

Wrinkles courtesy of Ben

Most of our planned meals over the last two weeks came from an insert in the latest issue of Everyday with Rachael Ray called "Healthy Weeknight Meal Kit." My favorite meal from that was "Spicy Shrimp & Brown Rice Bowl," I haven't been eating rice much for a while, but at least it was brown rice, right? (I thought I had taken a picture of this meal, but can't find it, so I've included some cute kid photos instead). I had never poached eggs before, but they came out really well; much easier than I had thought. There were two meals with shrimp in this booklet, so I had to skimp (skimp, shrimp, haha) on it a little and use half the amount. The full amount just wouldn't fit the budget. It worked out since we are feeding 2 adults and 3 littles and therefore don't need the 4 full-size portions the recipe is intended to make. I'll really have to skimp on food if Shawn doesn't get a raise by the time these kids start eating more. Ben already eats more than Will and Lorelai most of the time.

For the next week I'm doing a plan from the "3 Meals, One Bag" section of Rachael Ray's Week in a Day again, along with using some ingredients I have on hand to make up other meals. I used to have the problem with cook book (or magazine) recipes being to costly for our budget and would just use one occasionally, now I've figured out how to make them work though. Yes, more skimping. Let's talk about that. First, I try to pick recipes that I already have some of the ingredients for. Next, if a recipe wants two onions, I never use two onions. None of us like that much onion in something anyway. Also, if it wants some fancy onion, it gets the cheapest (or close to it) onion. If a recipe wants tri-color bell peppers, it gets frozen ones. Last week I did great because Publix had boneless skinless chicken breasts on BOGO. I normally buy frozen bags of chicken breasts because they're cheaper, but this deal let me get fresh and save $18. I try to only buy fresh fruits and vegetables when they are on sale. I do buy the Publix "Greenwise" ground chuck which is more expensive than "market" ground beef/chuck but I typically only buy one other beef product for a given week. This week I got two packs of ground chuck and one beef kielbasa. Sometimes I'll get a skirt steak and use it for two meals. If I do get good steaks, and I love a good steak, our whole family eats from two steaks. If a recipe calls for fresh herbs, I use dried 99% of the time. Of course, when I had my garden I could use fresh and will do that again sometime.

I save in other ways too. Like with the kids' snacks, I mostly stick to things that are BOGO or on sale. I also only buy things if we are going to need it that week, not just because we are out of it or because I want it. That has been the hardest new rule to stick to so far. Last week I really wanted sour cream, but none of the recipes called for it, so it was an unnecessary expense. This week I was having a bit of a struggle with it again, but saw one of my recipes called for it, so I was able to get it. Now, if it would have easily fit in the budget after the planned recipe ingredients were accounted for, it would have been okay, but remember, I only had $2 left last week. Today, I was tempted by jelly cause it was on sale, but we don't need jelly right now, so I convinced myself it was better to keep that money for something we do need this week. Jelly will go on sale again.

Like I mentioned with the sour cream, I make sure recipe ingredients are accounted for first. After that, I know how much money I have to work with to make up other meals. By other meals I'm mainly talking about lunches. I don't typically plan lunches per-say. I just make sure to have foods that should cover lunch. Lorelai loves these gluten free chicken nuggets from Target, so if the budget allows we get those. If not, I stick to cheaper lunches like PB&J more than once a week. They also love little pizzas made on tortillas and quesadillas, which are pretty cheap to make and I can often use leftover chicken or ground beef for the quesadillas. Occasionally, I'll have some of my own spending money that I can use to buy us Chick-fil-a too, but I've done that less often since starting the new budget.

So, there you have it, there's weeks 2 and 3. I don't know how long I should keep doing these updates, are people actually interested in them? Maybe sometime I'll actually share the numbers of our budget and blow you all away on how little we spend on food for a family of 5.

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