Lower Your Grocery Bill & Monthly Meals (Part 2)


I hope you enjoyed Lowering Your Grocery Bill Part 1 of tips to lowering your grocery bill and preparing monthly meals. Today I am going to show you a sample meal plan with various recipes.

I mentioned in our first post that you should prepare your meals on a different day than your shopping day. We shop on Friday evenings when people are out painting the town red, this allows us to come home, put away groceries, soak beans, relax and then start fresh on Saturday morning. Prior to preparing your meals look at all of your recipes to consolidate prep time. If more than one recipe requires onions, then by all means, chop all of the onions at the same time. Trust me, this will save you oodles of time. Also, look for alternate cooking methods–if you have two items that can be baked at the same temp, prepare them first, put them in together, and move on to the next meal while they cook. You can also throw lots and lots of meals in a crockpot (chili!) while others are cooking in the oven.

Month #1

Dinners:
Roasted Red Potatoes, sauteed onions & salad
Chili over rice (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it)
Curried Carrot Soup
Grilled Eggplant Tomato Aioli Sandwiches
Grilled Chicken Salad
Chicken and Rice (with a variety of marinades & seasonings)
Burgers
Jerk Chicken Sandwiches
Frittatas

Sides:
Salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, pine nuts
Grilled Zucchini or zucchini salad
Red potatoes (smaller portion than the dinner potatoes)
dinner rolls
corn on the cob

Lunches:
PB&J
Tuna Sandwiches
Our favorite Rice and Beans with salad
yogurt
granola

Breakfast:
Toast
Eggs
Homemade granola

Here are some of the recipes I used and the ways I’ve adapted them to keep costs low. Although the recipes are simple you can mix them up quite a bit with different seasonings and by mixing up the paired sides. Also, most of my seasoning is done by taste and I am not shy at all with adding seasonings especially when it comes to garlic and curry so be generous, I’ll try to keep track of my amounts when these items come back into our rotation.

Dinners:

carrot soupCurried Carrot Soup:
Adapted to save money From Rachael Ray
12 servings/6 meals
(6 ziplocks filled with 2 c. each)

I used Rachael Ray’s recipe as a guideline for making a cheaper version of the soup. Since I was making a lot of soup (ended up being 12 individual meals), I used 1 whole bag of the giant carrots instead of the baby carrots, 1/2 stick of butter, 2 tbsp. olive oil, 1-1/2 onions (chopped), salt to taste, cayenne pepper to taste, curry to taste (lots and lots of curry–don’t be shy). I also added 3 tbsps of honey to sweeten it a bit and break up the heavy carrot taste, you can probably just use a 2 tbsp or so of regular sugar for this. Last change was cutting out the sour cream to keep it healthier. Also, these soups always seem a bit thicker after thawing them so Jack and I will add water, milk or cream to them to make it more soupy and give us a bit more per serving.

Roasted Red Potatoes:
Makes about 7 meals for 2, 1-5lb bag)
2-3 potatoes/person x 7

Jack and I wing this recipe every time. We ended up cutting 2-3 red potatoes into smaller cubes drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with garlic, rosemary, pepper and a dash of salt. Toss potatoes to make sure they are thoroughly coated. Place in skillet, we use our cast-iron, place in oven at 350 degrees until they brown. Turn potatoes every 10 minutes to heat evenly and prevent burning. Pair with a larger portion of salad and veggies.

Also, did you know that according to food regulations, the bagged produce (like potatoes and onions) must weight at least what it says on the bag? Apparently this means that may times, distributors will throw in extra potatoes just to make sure they exceed the listed poundage. How does this help lower your grocery costs? If you weigh your bagged veggies, like onions and potatoes, you can end up with more bulk for your buck since the bags are a set price. Pretty neat, right?

Chili:
20 serv./10 meals
(10 ziplocks filled with 2 c. each)

My chili recipe changes each month depending on spices and what not but typically it takes 1 bag of beans (kidney, black or pinto–we like kidney best). Yes, I said bag, meaning you must soak them overnight or attempt the quick-soak method which requires bringing the beans to a boil then letting them sit in the water for 1 hour before cooking. I quick soak when we get back from the store and then throw them in the crockpot, cover with water and let cook overnight. In the morning, I brown 1 lb of ground beef and toss it into the crockpot along with lots of onions, chili powder, garlic, a little cumin, some tomato sauce (small can), 2 small tomatoes, Worcestershire and my favorite part of our chili recipe–cocoa powder! Seriously, this is the best discovery of my cooking life thus far. The cocoa gives the chili such an incredible savory taste. If your chili tastes too tomato-y, add brown sugar and Worcestershire to balance it out. I’ll be making a fresh batch next month and will write down my steps to share with you all. For now, don’t be afraid to use your favorite chili recipe. The main money saver is buying bagged beans, purcasing your produce from a produce stand or farmer’s market, making do with what you have on hand and limiting fancy ingredients.

Now, I must admit, we have a bit of a leg-up in the meat department. We buy local grass-fed beef once a year, and I work on the farm that we buy it from in the summer so that is extra money I don’t have to factor into my monthly totals (not that it would increase it too much). Just be aware this will raise your monthly amount a bit more than ours. However, if you are able to find some, I highly recommend buying grass-fed beef locally–it’s delicious! We buy about 30lbs and it lasts us the entire year, so we don’t actually eat very much beef.

Burgers:
Makes 10 burger patties

Since we have ground beef on hand it seems a shame to not make a round of tasty burgers. I hate preparing burgers for just one night, it’s a lot dirty work for just the two of us. I decided to see how well I could freeze these guys. I broke out 2 lbs of beef and added 1 chopped onion, about 1 cup of bread crumbs (depends on how juicy your meat is), garlic powder, pepper, 3 tbsp Worcestershire, basil and a touch of salt.

Perfect Burger PattiesNext, I made perfectly round patties by placing a large round cookie cutter onto wax paper and pressing the meat mixture into the cookie cutter as a mold which when lifted up, reveals a perfectly round patty. Yes, I like consistency that much. I experimented and wrapped some of the patties in foil then in saran wrap and some just in a healthy layer of saran wrap. Both seemed to keep well in the freezer. The 2 lbs made 10 burgers that we then paired with $.20 corn cobs from the produce stand down the road.

Egg, tomato, eggplant sandwichEggplant, Tomato, Aioli Sandwiches:
2 sandwiches/eggplant

I have already written an entire post on these bad boys. They are SO SO SO delicious. My favorite nights of the month are our hot sandwiches. Once again, be creative! There are so many different ways to combine your simple foods that turn them into favorite family recipes.

Chicken:
1 large package yields roughly 10 baggies for 2 people

We eat quite a bit of chicken but we have learned how to combine well with other sides to make it stretch. First of all, we almost always buy our chicken at Walmart, the large 5 breast packages, and usually when it is $.99/lb. We buy boneless, skinless breasts but there are other things like drumsticks and what not that you can buy cheaper if that is more your style. The reason we stick to breasts is because of their versatility.

chicken portionsThe only other prep task you might see us doing the same night of our grocery run is cutting up our chicken and placing it into smaller baggies. We slice the breast in half thickness-wise (so it’s half as thick making it a quick thaw) then cut into strips and place 2 serving sizes (3-4 oz–it’s a small handful) in one ziplock baggie. To give you an idea, Jack and I usually get about 10-12 baggies of cut-up chicken out of 1 large package of chicken.

Now you have chicken in meal bags ready to freeze. We typically pull out one bag of chicken/meal, thaw and cook to go on a salad or with rice. We also give variety to our chicken meals by adding marinades to the chicken prior to cooking or experimenting with the seasoning. One of my favorite ways to cook chicken is to sprinkle it with Salad Supreme, pepper and garlic, saute onions and serve with rice. Our first month we also ate Jerk Chicken sandwiches, where we simply pulled the chicken out, poured caribbean jerk sauce into the bag while it thawed, cooked the chicken and served on a burger bun kind of like a sloppy joe but with lettuce, tomato and onion. Delicious!

Since the chicken makes many loose bags in the freezer we store it in what used to be our ice bin. The bin seems to be the perfect size for a full month of chicken baggies.

Frittatas:
4-5 eggs/1 large frittata

Eggs are pretty stinking cheap around here. We buy ours at the little produce stand down the road for $.99/dz and since it’s at the produce stand we allow ourselves to buy it more than once a month. Jack eats one egg pretty much every morning but we have also incorporated eggs into our evening meals (the open-faced sandwiches and frittatas). The frittata ends up being about $2/meal for two people so it is great on the wallet. This is basically like scrambling eggs with veggies but here’s how we make it: Cut up some veggies (onion, green pepper, tomatoes) and sautee in olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan, season with garlic, curry, pepper and a little bit of salt. Whisk together 4-5 eggs in a separate bowl with about 1 tbsp of milk. Once the veggies are ready, spread them evenly around the bottom of the pan and pour the egg mixture over the top. Your eggs should fill all the space around the veggies and just barely reach the top of the veggies (so basically, you want to still see your veggies sticking out in various places, don’t cover them like a soup). Sprinkle the eggs with a bit more seasoning and place a lid over the pan and let cook for about 20 minutes. The eggs should fluff up nicely and create a little egg pie–kind of a quiche-like consistency without the crust. Cut into the middle to make sure your eggs are cooked all the way through. Pull out of the oven, allow to cool and serve with toast.

Sides:

I’m not sure I need much explanation on our sides. But here’s a quick overview:

saladSalads–just like any salad, we make do with what veggies we have on hand. Sometimes that can include many ingredients (cheese, cucumber, tomatoes, oriental noodles, onions, pine nuts, hard-boiled eggs) and other times we just use the last bits of produce in the house which may just be onion and tomato. Sometimes we buy salad dressing if it is on sale but often we make individual portions of dressing to go on our salad. This dressing is a mixture of balsamic vinegar(2 tbsp), olive oil(2tbsp), lemon juice (1/2-1tbsp), garlic powder and pepper. We just combine these until we’ve reached the right amount of zing.

The red potatoes we cook just like the dinner version but we usually just need 1/person, so it’s a smaller batch.

Grilled zucchini–cook however you normally would. We drizzle in olive oil with garlic and pepper sprinkled on top and place on the grill. We also grill it on skewers with peppers and onions.

Zucchini Ribbon SaladZucchini Ribbon Salad–Using a potato peeler, peel the zucchini in long ribbons and place in a bowl. Chop 1/2 of an onion and add to the bowl along with pepper and garlic (can you tell I like these two seasonings?). Prepare the balsamic/olive oil dressing listed above under “salads” and pour on top. I also usually have a package of pine nuts on hand for when I make pesto so I sprinkle those on top of this salad for a little added crunch. A small package of pine nuts costs about $2.38.

Corn and other veggies– just grill as you normally would. This veggie item varies according to which produce is the best price and better quality.

homemade dinner rolls Homemade Dinner Rolls– these are incredibly easy to make and cost nearly nothing if you typically have flour and yeast on hand.

Lunch:

Obviously sandwiches need little explanation but Jack’s favorite lunch meal, seasoned rice and beans, is so stinkin’ simple, I wonder sometimes why he loves it so.

On Sunday evenings I usually cook a small batch of brown rice (1-2 cups), pull out some extra beans that I’ve already cooked and put in the freezer and put about 1/2 cup of each into a lunch container. I also add a little pepper, salt and garlic along with a little chopped onion and tomato. In the other half of his lunch I chop up some lettuce and veggies and voila! A warm and healthy lunch for him to enjoy and it took me all of 10 minutes to throw together three for the week. Sometimes I’ll shred some cheese to go on the rice and beans, other times, if we’ve found tortillas on sale that month, I’ll give him a tortilla to wrap the mixture into, just to give a little bit of variety. Of course, he likes his staples and still swears the simple rice and beans mixture is his favorite lunch item.

Jack also makes homemade granola to eat with yogurt for snacks or lunches.

Here is a link to my grocery list from month #1. Keep in mind, I chose my menu recipes based on some of the ingredients already in my home. This is very important to keeping your grocery bill low. It takes a few extra minutes to take inventory of your fridge, freezer and cupboards but it lowers the cost tremendously. Google Recipes can come in handy here if you don’t yet have staple meals for various recipes. You can go to Google and type in “chili recipes” then over on the left column click the items you already have and see what links appear that use those items. From there figure out what else you would need from the store to make that recipe. This was very helpful when I wanted to find a carrot soup recipe.

Anyways, I say all that to inform you that if the item is not on my grocery list but I listed it above in my recipe instructions, I already had that item at the house. In month #1 this mostly pertains to seasonings. Also, although throughout the month we buy our produce at various farmer’s markets and the local produce stand, our first trip of the month we tend to buy the bulk produce and maybe a few other items if needed at the store.

Ok, I think that is plenty of information for you all to process. Keep in mind this was my very first month of monthly meal planning so, now looking back, the meals are terribly exciting but they tasted good and worked well throughout the entire month. We even had leftovers of some of these items to use in month #2 which helped break up the meal routine.

As always, let me know if you have any questions at all or if anything is unclear. Good luck!