Saturday, May 29, 2010

Notebook photo$

Here are a couple of shots of the menu planning notebook
It is attractive enough to sit out with the other cookbooks. The content is only notebook paper. I used an old notebook the kids had abandoned. Practically Free!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Planning weekly Meal$

I love to eat! It is as simple as that. I have learned to cook delicious meals on a budget (of both time and money) and you can too! I budget $100 a week to feed a family of four. This money also covers household paper goods, cleaning and beauty supplies. If you'd like to reduce your stress when it comes to meal preparation, My Meal Planning Notebook may work for your household.

I am a compulsive list maker and have a notebook which I use for meal planning. This allows me to prepare delicious meals most nights of the week with 15 minutes or less of planning each week (not counting grocery shopping or preparation time).

The purpose of my meal planning notebook is 4 fold:
Home cooked meals save money.
It avoids food boredom by providing insight as to when we last had a specific meal.
It provides inspiration for what to prepare.
A few minutes of preparation reduces food costs,the time spent in the kitchen and my stress!

Home cooked meals save money and it is reported that families that eat at least 3 meals together a week are healthier, have stronger marriages, the school age children make better school grades and are less likely to engage in illicit drug use and underage drinking. What other reasons do you need?

To create your own notebook:

1) Use a small notebook (3ring or spiral) to collect your meal planning data. I use a 3 ring binder which I decorated with scrapbook paper, a set of tabbed dividers and a couple of manila file folders. Use whatever you have on hand and whatever system works for you!

2) Tabbed dividers are labeled by meal type (chicken, beef, pasta, fast and easy, grilled, crock pot, etc.) and placed in the front of the notebook. A final tab can be used for your monthly calendar or just list the days of the week and the date on a piece of notebook paper to record what meals you are going to prepare on what day.

3) For example, my PASTA page has Spaghetti and Meatballs, Pasta Carbonnera and Gib's Cajun Pasta and all other pasta recipes listed. I also record recipe page number if using a cookbook, when necessary.
Each general meal category has it's own list.
Some meals will be listed in several categories...this is OK.
These lists should be meals you will actually make.
If you have recipes that you want to experiment with, use a separate page to list those and add to your main page once they have passed your family's taste test and you are assured you can and want to prepare it!

4) Using a calendar page record the proposed meal on the corresponding day. Your family calendar could be substituted for this since it holds all your daily appointments and responsibilities, letting you know at a glance how much time you can devote to meal preparation and dining. If you will be eating out on a specific day, circle that date and pencil in where you will be dining (Dinner at Grandmas, Track banquet or Anniversary date, etc.) I cannot stress enough how important it is to coordinate your daily responsibilities with your meal plans. If you don't have time to cook a more elaborate meal one day, move it to a day when your schedule does permit it.

For example this week's calendar read
Monday: Chicken Pasta (takes about 40 minutes to prepare)
Tuesday: Hot dogs, Baseball game
Wednesday: Sloppy Joe's, CHOIR Concert
Thursday: Track Banquet
Friday: Outback style steaks
Saturday: Smoked Ribs and chicken

You could expand your list to include all side dishes if you feel that is necessary. Since I have a well stocked pantry, I do not feel the need to include that level of detail.

5) Now check the pantry and make a shopping list for any recipe items you do not have on hand. Purchase any needed items so you can easily prepare the meals you have planned. Nothing throws a monkey wrench into your meal preparation and forces you to order an expensive delivery pizza than being one critical ingredient short!

6) TO expand this idea I place clipped recipes by category in an accordion file (Chicken, pasta, crock pot,etc) which allows me to pull them out and place in my weekly file at the back of my notebook. It makes grocery list planning and recipe preparation a snap.

7) I also have a file of dishes that sound good. I like challenge myself to prepare a new meal at least once a month. They are not always "keepers" but it has been a successful way of expanding our recipe repertoire. I also keep a file labeled SUMMER and WINTER so when I have an abundance of squash, for example, I can go to that file for a new recipe.

8) If you enjoy cooking I'd like to suggest the following sites for recipes. Restaurant websites offer recipes on some of their dishes-search for your favorites offers copy cat recipes of many of your favorites

If you employ a meal planning notebook I can assure you your family will enjoy better meals, at a lower cost and you will experience less stress. Bon appetite!

I'll post some photos of my notebook this weekend!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

OOP$ Wa$te not...

Get in the habit of assigning a dollar value to every food item you toss in the garbage. That half a loaf of bread equals $1, that leftover casserole you meant to eat for lunch -$2, that spoiled onion -$0.50. Seeing several dollars worth of wasted food going in the trash on a weekly basis is enough to get you to change your shopping, eating and storage habits. Try this for a week and you'll be amazed and disgusted at how much you actually throw away.

Have you gotten into the pantry and found that your potatoes have started to sprout eyes or an onion has gone soft, threatening the quality of the entire bag of produce? Is the celery going limp, the bananas brown or the pepper less than perky?

DON'T throw out that produce. Instead, "process it" for later use:
Dice or slice potatoes and freeze in a zip lock bag for hash browns or soups and casserole which calls for potatoes
Dice or mince peppers, garlic, celery, etc. and freeze in snack bags (or single recipe size containers) for use in casseroles, soups, quiches and sauces
Remove the skins from bananas and store in a snack bag for use in breads and muffins
Dice (or grate) stale bread and use as bread crumbs
Hard cheeses can be grated and frozen too
Store all these mini containers in a small plastic "shoebox" in your freezer. This box is easy to remove, keeps small containers from straying in the far recesses of your freezer and keeps these items available for use.

I also employ this when I only use half the FRESH VEGETABLE such as a head of cabbage, green pepper or other suitable vegetable.

Waste Not, Want Not!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mama'$ Meatball$

As promised, a fantastic meatball recipe
This makes about 48 meatballs

Part of saving money is also in saving time
I make these meatballs when I have a free afternoon and freeze them for future use.

Mama's Meatballs
5 lbs ground chuck
5 eggs
2 cups Romano cheese, grated
4 cups seasoned breadcrumbs
3 heaping tablespoons minced fresh garlic
5 heaping tablespoons oregano
5 heaping tablespoons basil
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients using your hands
Roll into balls a little larger than a golf ball
Cook in a skillet until lightly browned on all sides or freeze for future use.

Yummy! Bon Appetite!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A well $tocked Pantry

It seems like every time I go to the grocery store the prices have risen yet again on the items I use most frequently. It is quite discouraging! And just today I had to pay $0.72 for a can of beef broth which, I can usually purchase on sale for 2/$1.00. I had to restock at the full price because I had "cleaned out the pantry, refusing to purchase items until the "cupboard was bare". I won't be doing that again!

Having a well stocked pantry accomplishes a few basic tenets of frugal cooking by keeping me out of the grocery store more than once a week and it allows me to purchase items in "bulk" when they are on sale. I always purchase enough of an item to tide me over until the next time it comes on sale. If you don't have an actual pantry in your kitchen an empty cabinet or a few shelves in the basement work fine as a substitute.

Determine what staples you use to prepare your meals and add or eliminate from my list to create your well stocked pantry. I have listed my pantry for our family of four and listed the minimum of each item I keep on hand. Volumes may differ according to your family size and personal food preferences. And remember, at any one time I may actually have 6 or 8 of each of these if (space permits) they are on sale.

Pasta sauce (I prefer Marinara-2 and Alfredo-2)
Canned tomatoes (homegrown, canned if possible)or 28 oz cans-2
Petite diced tomatoes-14 oz can-2
Canned tomato sauce, 28 oz-2 and 14 oz-2, 8 oz-2
Broth: Chicken 2, Beef, 2, Vegetable 1
Canned cream soups: Cream of Mushroom-2, Cream of Chicken-2
Canned Mushrooms-4
Soups your family enjoys for a quick lunch-6
Great Northern Beans-2
Home canned green beans-4
tuna-1, salmon-1
Brown rice -1, dried bean-1, white rice-1
assorted boxed rice mixes-6 (I only purchase these when they are on sale for $1.00, when they retail for $2.19), grits
Dried onion soup mix-4, ranch dressing mix-1, taco seasoning-2
flour-1, sugar-1
assorted cereal
cake mix-2 (flavors of your choice), brownie mix or dessert mix-1
muffin mix-4
chocolate chips-2
peanut butter (no one but me likes jelly)
assorted nuts for baking
vegetable oil-1, olive oil-1
assorted spices, as needed, baking soda, baking powder, salt, pepper, garlic powder
potatoes, onions and Sweet potatoes
pretzels, popcorn and crackers (I hate buying potato chips but my family holds me hostage),

I also stock my freezer when items come on sale
Whole chickens and chicken breasts
ground beef
shrimp and fish
meatballs and meatloaves I have prepared (I'll post a recipe in the future)
frozen vegetables (tomatoes, Lima beans, berries, diced potatoes, peppers, squash, etc.)
frozen pizzas-2, frozen dinners (Michelina's or Lean Cuisine for a a kids' lunch)-10
and a frozen pie crust or two

The fridge is stocked with condiments (ketchup, mayo, mustard, horseradish and assorted salad dressings, etc.) as well as milk,eggs, heavy cream, butter, sour cream and cheese. Lunch meat, fresh produce is purchased according to the weekly menu but we always have some apples on hand(they last a long time) and a large container of minced garlic in oil

We love to eat and I am always experimenting with new recipes. With a bit of planning, you can enjoy a delicious home-made meal, avoid a hefty pizza delivery fee and pocket the savings!

With a well stocked pantry you'll soon be eating better meals, enjoying them more and saving money! Bon Appetite!

Weekly Challenge-1

Here's a little challenge to get you motivated to begin a life of living within your means:

This week I challenge you to FINISH SOMETHING without making an additional purchase.

It could be a craft project, a meal or menu item, a scrapbook page, cleaning out the iktchen junk drawer/basement/garage, weeding a flower bed. Let me know what you choose, what motivated you and how it turned out.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Vacation to the "Mo$t Expen$ive Place on Earth"

We are once again planning to visit the "Most Expensive Place on earth". Disney World in June of 2011 and plan on staying on the property in the Beach Club. Now, I know that this is NOT a frugal vacation...but since we take so few vacations we choose to splurge with nice accommodations and a stay of 7 days.

We'll pay CASH for the entire thing including airfare (unless we choose to drive) so planning is paramount.

First things first:
I purchase both the Disney Pass-porter and the Unofficial Guide to Disney's well as use various websites (I love as each offer varied, detailed information, touring plans and "insider info". All accumulated info is kept in a multi-page spreadsheet, which is easy to update, color code and update for future visits.

We have stayed at both the Wilderness Lodge and the Swan on previous visits. Our DDs are age 19 and 13 for the 2011 trip so staying at an Epcot resort on the Boardwalk OR the Polynesian were my initial choices. Searching the Disney website made it a quick decision because the Polynesian was so much more expensive than the Beach Club Resort(lowest priced rooms since we spend so few hours actually in the room). I have 12 months to save the money so the total estimated amount needed is roughly calculated (I used the Resort fee, Dinsey Dining plan with one sit down meal daily, park hopper option plus $350/airfare per person to get a rough total)and I will transfer that amount to our savings account immediately on paydays and earmark it for DISNEY.

Next part of the plan will be to begin to consign un-used clothing and toys, e-bay items sitting in the basement, sell used books, albums and CDs and stockpile the extra money. I may even get my ETSY store up and running! I'll post other creative ways I sequester money for the vacation.

$pare Change

I am a firm believer that anyone can change anything about themselves if they only believe they can.
Change requires 3 things
1) Hard work
2) Stick-to-it-ness
3) Commonsense

Ready to get started down the yellow (gold) brick road to living the good life within your means?