Meals that Work For Us

 
Eat until you pass out

I mentioned in my last post that planning out my meals is something that works really well for us right now.  To recap: I gathered twelve meals that my family enjoys well enough, and divided them up three per week.  So I have four weeks of meals planned out, and on the fifth week I start all over with week one’s meals again.

None of us are foodies or particularly picky, and so far the repetition has been more enjoyable than boring.  I like seeing my kids excited about dinner, and trotting out the same well-loved meals over and over means I get to hear a lot of “this is so good!”.  And less of “this is not my favorite” (that’s what we taught our kids to say when they don’t like their food).   

Without further ado, here are some of our favorites (or a close-enough version I found online):

    I regularly get a bag of frozen Sister Schubert wheat rolls to add to the meal, and roast veggies on the side.  Donesies.

    I don’t love to cook, but I don’t hate it either.  There are usually other things I would prefer to do with my time, so I try to minimize the time I need to be in the kitchen by maximizing the time that I am in there.  Does that make sense?

    For me this means doubling or tripling almost all of my recipes.  If I am going to get out the cutting board and chop onions and carrots for Chicken Pot Pie, I might as well double the recipe and only wash that cutting board once.  Next time the meal comes up in our meal rotation, it is waiting for me in the freezer.  

    The other thing I consider in thinking about meals is how to set us all up for success.  By 5:30, we all have lots of factors working against us in the endeavor to enjoy a meal together.  My husband has worked a lot of hours.  I have too.  And sometimes my kids are awesome at that hour and sometimes they are hyper/tired/grouchy/etc.  But the goal is to enjoy time together- remember?  So I pick meals that will set us up for that, as best as possible.  Easy food, that is enjoyed by the majority at the table.

    Hope this helps if you have hit a meal-planning wall.  It works for us.

    Does Using What You’ve Got Save You Money?

    Spoiler alert: Yes. Of course it does. No surprises there, right?

    (For those just tuning in, I tried eat up the food in our pantry and freezer for the month of September. We kept our grocery spending limited mainly to produce and dairy.)

    IMG_0993.JPGI hope if I scatter pictures throughout this lengthy post, I can drag your eye along until the bitter end.

    Settle in, folks, for something rare and unusual. I’m going to name actual dollar amounts regarding our grocery spending. I’m going to tell you how much we spent in the months leading up to Use What You’ve Got Month and then how much we spent in September, eating from the pantry and freezer.

    This is akin to a unicorn sighting- you’ll likely not see me name figures again- so lean in and really focus.

    First, a few details on our grocery spending and what these numbers entail. Because whenever I hear what someone else spends on groceries, I want to know how our shopping compares:

    1. Does this include toiletries? Wipes? Diapers? Or just straight-up food? Yes, these numbers include toiletries. We bought a massive amount of t.p. at Sam’s Club in August, and other little non-food items are toothpaste or baby shampoo. Wipes- nope. (We haven’t bought those in months). Diapers? One pack of overnight Huggies for maybe $20. Other than that, no need. So the vast majority of this money goes to food and food alone.

    2. Do you buy organic? Gluten-free? Vegan?
    Organic for maybe half of our diary, meat, and produce. Gluten-free/Vegan/Paleo/Grapefruit Diet/Anything else- nope.

    IMG_1488.JPGLook! A fast horse! Are you still reading?

    3. How much of your food is packaged/processed/convenience food?
    This is where I admit that I never really know what people mean when they say “packaged food”. We buy pretzels- those are in a package, right? But Hamburger Helper or that type of food where you just add water? Or frozen packs you dump in a skillet and heat? Not much. We buy boxed mac and cheese and pancake mix on a regular basis. Other than that- we buy pretty simple food that has to be combined with other foods to make a meal. Clear as mud? Goooood.

    4. Do you coupon or shop the sales?
    Couponing- no.
    If I see a food staple on sale I will buy a lot and stock up. But I don’t go from one store to another to get the best prices. Most of our grocery shopping is done at Trader Joes or at Kroger.

    5. Any other outliers in your grocery spending?
    We make or buy meals for friends who have babies, and we are in a reproduction-heavy time of life. So I would guess $50/mo goes toward meals for other people. I also helped throw a baby shower, and we traveled in there, so there are chunks of money going toward one-time events. Which- surprise!- seem to happen every month. So I kept them in the average.

    Enough clarifiers. Here are our numbers:

    From June, July, and August, our grocery spending averaged $825/mo.
    For September, our bill was $415.

    (Let me just swallow my shock that we spend as much as we do on food. Particularly given that we don’t have to buy for particular food allergies or insensitivities, which I know jacks a food bill up even higher. And we don’t buy all organic. Wow.)

    IMG_1417.JPGA baby with a sno-cone! Keep reading!

    I am pretty shocked that our grocery spending was as high as it was in September. Here’s where that money went every week:
    milk
    yogurt
    cheese
    fruit
    vegetables
    and here and there (not every week): beer, ice cream, and lunch meat

    That’s just higher than I thought it would be. I think I pictured spending about half that amount for just the basic dairy and produce.

    Here’s my takeaway from last month: I liked using up our excess. I liked using our food conscientiously. We barely threw any food away. We cut our grocery bill in half for a month. All good things!

    And another takeaway from our grocery spending as a whole: Our overall grocery spending (the $800/mo part) is an example of “lifestyle creep” at work. Here’s what I mean. When we were first married, our finances were tiiiiiight. We allotted $100/mo for groceries. Then I graduated from school and started working and making the big bucks, so we upped our grocery budget. Then kids came along, and we upped it a little more. All fine, within our means, and for good reasons.

    But- BUT- this is where lifestyle creep comes in. We’ve had five in our family for the past few years now, yet our grocery spending has gone up by quite a bit in same time frame. $800/mo is waaaaaay past what we projected to spend on groceries per month. We’re no longer increasing our spending because there’s another mouth to feed; rather, we spend more just because…we want to? We deserve to? We don’t want to think about it?

    Here’s my disclaimer: spending money is fine, and I don’t think we should all think of money all the time, everywhere. That’s dumb. And some of this increased spending is a reflection of some good internal shifts in my thinking about money.

    A lot of it, though, is mindless. And I like seeing those totals to remind me to be thoughtful about our food, our money, and our excess. I’d rather not get used to- or entitled to- spending whatever I want, without much thought. Ick. I would like to be a bit more intentional than that, moving forward.

    *****For those of you who are still reading, I admire your fortitude. I cannot be brief, in spite of my best efforts. And who knew that a post on eating those six month old lentils will derail into money management 101. That is all I have to say…
    UNTIL I WRITE TOO MANY WORDS ON THE NEXT TOPIC, THAT IS!!!! BWAHAHAHAHA…..******

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    Smoothies and Stuff

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    It is smoothie weather around here. I make them just about every afternoon lately. The kids love them and so do I.

    I know I’ve written about smoothies before but, strangely, I’ve had two smoothie-related conversations this week and that seemed like enough to warrant writing about it again. For us, this is a great way to get greens in the kids in a way that they enjoy.

    For a long time I made our green smoothies with milk as a base. I liked the protein that milk provided, to balance out the sugar from the fruit. (Sometimes all that sugar makes me feel jittery. Protein brings it all down a notch). My boys liked them, but at some point Chicken did not. (And neither did my husband. But I’m not so concerned about him- he is a big boy and can manage to eat his greens other ways). But then I started making them with watered-down apple juice (so much sugar!) and Chicken is back on the smoothie bandwagon. (So is my husband). I am also using kale now, instead of spinach. Because- why not? It’s a superfood! If I serve kale at dinner the kids will eat their required two pieces, but in a smoothie they pound a lot of that stuff. Observe:

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    So. Apple juice, frozen fruit, kale, maybe that banana that is getting mushy anyway. Blend. Enjoy.

    In other news, we are a couple of months out from finishing Whole30 and for several weeks our eating had just reverted to the way it formerly was, but worse. It was like getting better after a stomach bug and realizing you are ravenous.

    *EAT EVERYTHING IN SIGHT*

    So that happened for a several weeks and my lovely hubby and I decided we felt ick about being so out of control. So we’ve been reining it in as a family and cutting back on the refined sugar. We have one occasion a week to just eat whatever we want, but other than that I’m back to reading labels and substituting molasses for sugar and all that hippie stuff. I’m also just grossed out by seeing how sugar is in every single thing out there. Why is sugar listed as an ingredient in Tyson chicken breasts? Why???

    Lastly, I finally put all of our winter stuff in the attic and- glory be- what a feeling that was. With that momentum going, I also filled up the back of the Mazda and took a run to Goodwill. I love getting rid of stuff when I feel bogged down. Nine times out of ten, when my house and its’ mess overwhelms me, I just need to get a bunch of stuff out of the house. Makes cleaning so much easier.

    Now that I’ve really painted a glorious picture of myself (I mean: green smoothies, no refined sugar, and clutter-free house), please note the background of this blurry phone picture. Crib mattress on the dining room floor, big-ass blue plastic ball machine that no one else in the entire Charlottesville universe wanted either (I tried to give it away on facebook and was greeted with a deafening silence), and a desk that is chronically overflowing.

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    Lest anyone get the wrong idea.

    Happy Friday!