Week #6

This was another week where my actual goal was lower than the general weekly goal of $60, by about $20. By celebrating our anniversary at the ballpark, our budget had to adjust to accommodate it; we probably spent 3x the cost of admission on food. That’s okay though, because budgets are meant for breaking (… in moderation).

By focusing on stuff we have at home, I built the shopping list around things we already had and would require minimal produce (and Fritos…) to purchase. While I don’t have anything against meat, it bumps up the tally by $10, even when buying in bulk, so I abstained from chicken this week. With the strategy, our grand total was $36.66. The menu for the week is:

  • Broccoli Bulgar Stir Fry
  • Frito Pie
  • Pesto Pasta
  • Feta-Kalamata Skillet
  • Flatbread Pizza

Even with the budget crunch, we treated ourselves to two splurges, if you can even call them that; avocados for him and a $2 heirloom tomato for me. The amount for yogurt we get is creeping up because of the pizzas, but I think it’s worth it. As the seasons change, I look forward to soups, stews, and slow cooker meals, but I’m worried about having less produce available and relying on meats, raising the costs. Time will tell, but I’m going to look into vegetarian slow cooker recipes that aren’t “semi-homade”.


Week #5

I feel like I’ve been doing this forever, but here we are at Week 5. In a moment where I embraced my Type A tendencies, I decided to try to keep the budget within $30, and I was surprisingly close, at $42.13. My sous-chef in crime wants to use chicken at every turn, but by jumping into food prep early, I can steer the meals away from chicken and rely on plant-based produce or good old bulgar to provide meat so it can be an option for multiple weeks without devoting 1/6th of the budget to one ingredient. Here’s this week’s dinner menu:

  • Chicken Burritos (using tortillas from July…)
  • Chicken/Tomato/Kalamata Olive/Pasta Skillet (I need come up with a more convenient name for that)
  • Frito Pie
  • Flatbread Margherita Pizza (we found the caterpillar feeding off the basil, so hopefully we won’t have to buy it anymore)
  • Pesto with Rotini and Fresh Tomatoes

The burritos were only added because I wanted to use the tortillas, but the ingredients are inexpensive (depending on what you use; I got Roma tomatoes, black beans, limes @ 60¢ each, avocados @ $1.25 each, plus chicken and lime we already had) and it’s a favorite take out order here.

The Chicken/Tomato/Kalamata Olive/Pasta Skillet was so amazing last week, I had to add it again. We had to run out to get tomatoes (because someone juiced the ones we had the night before) and pasta (I had no idea we were finally out), but it was nearly effortless and so rewarding and meets my benchmark of minimal dishes to clean up. It also helps get greens in, though I think heat cooks out a lot of the nutrients.

Frito pie is another crowd(/budget) pleaser, calling for Fritos/corn chips and chili. Last fall or the fall before, I saved a bit of my killer slow cooker chili thinking it would elevate this dish, but I was disappointed. This dish doesn’t need to be dressed up because it’s perfect the way it is, for what it is. If anything, I would try to find a way to deep fry this dish if I ever tried to modify it again.

The flatbread pizza is relatively quick and easy. Given our pest problem, I was hesitant to include it, but we can stretch out the basil by chopping it before adding it to the pizza. Mozzarella is expensive and doesn’t go a long way, but every now and then it’s worth it (but I won’t be doing Eggplant Parm and Flatbread Pizza in the same week again).

We still have some Pesto leftover from last week (or the week before?), so I included this as an easy out – we have pasta and we have pesto. I expect this or the Frito Pie to be a throwaway because this week is our anniversary and we probably won’t feel like cooking after we celebrate.

Week #4

This week, I increased my budget to $90, because we needed to stock up on staples at BJ’s. Between Wegman’s and BJ’s, the total came out to $86.46, which is within budget, but I’d like to even out the spending so I’m averaging $60/week, even with bulk purchases. That said, I’m still satisfied with this week overall — I was way under budget when I filled up for gas ($2.19/gallon?!), and I think we’re finally getting to the place where we can just get produce and figure out the menu as we go.

That said, I’m bored with the food we’ve been cooking; it’s usually bulgar or chicken with vegetables or pasta. As much as I love pesto, it feels like I’m eating it twice a week. I’m kind of excited about how this week has been turning out. I made a dinner meal plan that includes two recipes that I’ve been trying, and at mid-week I can’t quite remember what was on the meal plan because we winged it (which means all of recipes are the same and/or we’re getting to know what to do with ingredients). With no further ado, here’s our meal plan.

Week #3

This week, I was WAY over budget, but it’s not as bad is I initially thought. We spent $83.73 at the grocery, but $9 went to kitty litter, which is not a food item, $16 went to berries to step up our lemonade and $5 went to San Pellegrino — so $21 on impulsive purchasing. If we had better impulse control, or maybe tallied the bill as we shopped, we would have spent just over $50, which is in right in my sweet spot.

Part of the reason we got so carried away with the shopping was that I frugalized a recipe from Bon Appetit last week and it was delicious, so we ate a coffee and donut breakfast over the same magazine and built our menu. That, coupled with quality produce and large selection with low prices (read: local corn at 25¢ an ear and a 6 pack of San Pellegrino for less than $5).

Even though we got carried away with our beverages (we usually just drink water, cheap wine and cheap beer), I’m happy with our list and I think our quality of culinary life will be improved this week. Outside of our dinner meal plan, we’ve already had a blueberry corncake brunch, and I expect some leftover magic, too.

Here’s our meal plan for the week:

  • Tomato and Mozzarella on Yogurt Flatbread (tonight’s dinner)
  • Broccoli Bulgar Stir Fry
  • Southwest Skillet (we never got around to making it last week)
  • Chicken with tomato and mozzarella
  • Chicken, Beans and Rice (I cook the rice with Sazón and add Adobo to the chicken, but I might try it with the veggie stock I have left over)
  • Pesto Chicken and Pasta (our last basil plant flowered and our new basil plants are ready for harvest, so we bought a plant from the store)

Bulgur Stir Fry

When we were out of rice for the stir fry, the babe sprung into action and let intuition lead the way, and it turned out pretty tasty. The flavors meld together well and it uses hoisin, one of my favorites. I asked for a recipe and I received… and here it is!

Note: I initially thought this was vegan, but oyster sauce is not vegan – or even vegetarian. Apparently, there’s a vegan oyster sauce that’s made of mushrooms, so I’d guess you could substitute that ingredient, and this is a vegan dish!

  • 2-3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 2-3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 Tbsp hoisin
  • 1 Tbsp THAI Chili Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp rice wine or sherry
  • 1 medium onion (white or yellow), diced
  • 1-2 bell peppers (any color), sliced into strips
  • 1 or 2 carrots, sliced on a diagonal
  • 1/2 lb green beans, ends removed, cut into 1 inch lengths
  • 1 cup (red) bulgur – not that I know the difference yet
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  1. Heat 2 Tbsp Olive oil in pan or wok. Add onion and garlic. Saute for 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add rice wine or sherry to onion and garlic. Saute for 2 minutes and add 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  3. Add vegetables and 1 Tbsp Olive Oil and ground pepper. Saute for 2 minutes, or until softened. Add sauces, saute until tender.
  4. Add bulgur and vegetable stock, bring to a boil, turn heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

Week #2

This week, my goal was to be WAYYYY below even my stretch goal; ideally $30 for the week. Between a birthday, a going away happy hour, a poorly planned/last minute trip to the beach and being on a three week pay period with reimbursements coming in the next paycheck, I was really feeling the pressure. I was able to get produce

On the babe’s week shopping, I found produce to be better and cheaper at Wegman’s. In fact, the Family Pack chicken cost half as much as regular chicken by the pound, so we obviously got the family pack chicken. Additionally, we crossed wires on a few recipes, so we wound up with some extra produce.

With all this in mind, I created the following for our meal plan:

  • Laundry Pizza (delicious pizza across the street from our laundromat; $5 medium cheese if you pick it up)
  • Chicken Nuggets (homemade)
  • Stir Fry with Leftover Produce
  • Pesto and Pasta
  • Beans and Rice

So this week’s meal plan is quite a cheat — I’m taking leftover vegetables that in a perfect meal planned world, we wouldn’t have, canned and dry goods that wouldn’t usually be around, and I’m including take out in the meal. We had leftover Parmesan cheese to make more pesto and leftover pasta. In a way, this is a higher level version of what I want, to have a pantry with food that I can use and add to as needed. One day this will happen intentionally.

I could also legitimately cut cost on yogurt; I accidentally got plain instead of vanilla and by attempting to eat it, I’ve slowed down my consumption of yogurt, so I didn’t have to buy another one this week. On a dietary note, the granola I mix in is actually sweet enough to tone down the tang of plain vanilla. Not everyone has this problem of mine, but I can’t be the only one.

Edit 1: When I assumed we had rice, I was wrong. We have bulgur. We’re cooking the bulgur like the Southwest Skillet, but using the sauces and seasonings of the stir fry (e.g. rice wine, soy sauce and sesame seed oil). We have diced tomatoes and black beans, so we’ll probably do a pared down southwest skillet later in the week.

Week #1

My receipt from this week has my under $60 budget by $.66, thanks to $2.58 in savings from my membership rewards card. One of the meals on the menu for this week would have put me way over my budget, but since I splurged for the ingredients before, I had some leftover to contribute this week.

This Week’s Menu:

I came across a Men’s Health “Shop Once, Eat for a Week” meal planning guide that had two recipes I stole and modified (read: I can’t handle hot food, so I abstained from jalepeños). The guide fits what I generally would like to acheive — a meal plan for the week that uses the same ingredients without just being leftovers. The grocery total for their plan is right in stride with my ultimate goal, but I don’t want to by frozen meals if I can avoid it.

I love the Summer Vegetable Paella because it’s delicious hot out of the oven or cold out of the refrigerator and it makes MUCH more than 4 servings, so we can eat from it for a while. It’s the first paella recipe I’ve ever tried, and since I was getting shrimp anyway, I decided to try adding shrimp to the equation.

On my partner human’s week to shop/cook, we made an amazing stir fry that I want to eat all the time. I used the marinade from the recipe I linked to and threw in a bunch of left over produce to keep the dish from being to heavy (and avoid wasting food…)

If I hadn’t gotten the shrimp, I would have been about $5 under my stretch goal of $50, but it was an integral part of two dishes. I also think I might have a better source of seafood on my radar.