Helpful Tip Tuesday: Make these meal plans work for any size family

When I started monthly meal planning, I didn’t have a blog in mind. But eventually I had so many people asking me to share my meal plans that I thought the easiest way to do that would be in blog form. Now this blog has been up for almost a year! Wow!! Thank you to all my wonderful readers!!

But as I said, I started doing these for just my family of 4 (including my baby who now thinks he can eat more than me)so most of the recipes serve 4-6 people.  I know many of you have larger families and teenagers. Seriously how do you keep your kitchen stocked with teenage boys?? My little boys already try to eat me out of house and home! 

So! How do you make these meal plans work for you?

One brilliant reader said she has a large family but she still follows The Monthly Lineup of meal plans. She simply doubles the shopping list and doubles each recipe. She is able to feed her family each night plus have enough leftovers for lunches and the leftover nights listed on the calendar! Fantastic right?!

Think about it, following the meal plans and including breakfast and lunch foods, I only spend $100 a month on food. If you doubled that, you’d only be spending $200 (maybe $250) for a family of 6-8! That’s incredible!!

 

See! I told you. You can save so much money by monthly meal planning!!

Helpful Tip Tuesday: Utilize your Freezer!

When you buy a month’s worth of dinners at once, you end up with a ton of food. The only way to really make it work is to utilize your freezer. You don’t have to have a chest freezer just organize the one you have.  Here are a few pictures and links to give you ideas of how to do it! They all look WAAAAY better than my freezer. But just in case you really, REALLY want to see what my freezer looks like, there’s a picture of it at the bottom 🙂

Here’s my favorite one that uses matching baskets and labels. Seriously, it puts my freezer to shame.

 

What a great idea!  - Use the baskets to organize packages by type (frozen pizzas in one, bags of vegetables in another, etc.) and nothing will get lost in the back of your freezer.

Freezer Organization

Freezer Organization with Plastic Bins and Painter's Tape

My husband is going to die when he finds out I’ve posted these pictures. But I think he is a genius for thinking of this solution! We needed a way to organize our freezer so it wasn’t risking our lives every time we opened it. We had these free flat rate boxes lying around and Voila! Both of the mail boxes are completely full of meat. I had about 43 chicken breast halves here. Then there’s fruit, deli meat, lots and lots of cheese (behind the ice cream) among other things.

Freezer Main

In the door, we keep my smoothie packs  and other random
items. Freezer Door So there you have it! It’s totally possible do have a month’s worth of food in just one normal sized fridge and freezer. You just have to be a little creative 🙂

Helpful Tip Tuesday: Green Smoothie Packs

Remember last week I hinted that you can even freeze fresh spinach? You can! Just put it in a ziploc bag and get as much air out of it as possible to minimize frost bite. You won’t be able to use it in anything like salads but it is perfect to use in any dish you cook (or that you wilt the leaves) and for green smoothies!

A little more than a year ago, I started making green smoothies for lunch each day for me and my son. A perfect, delicious way to get in your vegetables! I’d buy the fruit for cheap at Superstition Ranch Market, chop and freeze them and then use it for smoothies. BUT each day, I’d pull out the bag of bananas, the bag of strawberries, the bag of blue berries, the fresh spinach, etc. It took a lot of time when you have  a starving toddler pulling at your clothes saying, “Mom I’m hungry!!”

“Light bulb!” (please go back and say it like Gru in “Despicable Me” 😉 )
Why don’t I just freeze everything together in individual packs?!?!

I’ve made up several smoothie packs and they work GREAT!

Green Smoothies Freezer Packs

A couple of tips:

  • Cut up all of your fruit in small pieces so it’s easier on your blender
  • Add more liquid than normal so it blends easier
  • Get as much air out of the bag as possible before you freeze it to reduce frost bite

I just use the sandwich sized bags and it’s perfect for me and my son.

It isn’t exact science! I put in 2 handfuls of spinach, 1.5 ripe bananas, and then about 1 cup of other fruit chopped up.

Here are some of my favorite combinations:

  • Spinach, banana, strawberry and blue berries
  • Spinach, banana, strawberry, and pineapple
  • Spinach, banana, strawberry, blue berries and pineapple
  • Spinach, banana, strawberry with orange juice (added when you blend it)
  •  Spinach, banana, and mixed berries

When it’s time for lunch, I pull out a pack from the freezer. Put vanilla yogurt and your other choice of liquid (milk, water, juice) in the blender first. Break apart the frozen pack into the blender. Pulse the blender a few times and then let it blend up! If it’s too thick just add more liquid.

It is a quick and easy meal plus a delicious way to eat spinach that even a 2 year old will love!

 

 

Helpful Tip Tuesday: Using your produce in order

Many of you have asked about buying produce once a month and how it’s possible. Well, to be honest, most of the time I buy produce and milk twice a month and I just make sure I have enough money left in my food budget to do so. But it is possible to buy your produce in one whack! You just have to know which produce needs to be used right away and which will stay good throughout the month!

Making Produce Last

Here’s a good reference for what order you should use your produce:

  1. Produce such as berries, bananas, leafy greens, avocado, cucumbers, and grapes  need to be used up first.
  2. Tomatoes, broccoli, zucchini, peaches, pears, melons are next.
  3. Followed by pineapple, bell peppers,  and pomegranates.
  4. Produce like apples, oranges, celery, carrots and potatoes will all last until the end of the month. So you can buy these at the beginning of the month and not eat them until the last part of the month.

Also, utilize your freezer!! When you do your monthly trip, come home and chop your bell peppers, onions, and other things like that, put them in little ziploc baggies and throw them in the freezer. This makes sure they don’t go bad AND it saves you time when you’re trying to make dinner.

If you have produce that is on the verge of going bad and you can’t use it immediately, freeze it!
Frozen fruit is perfect for snacks (frozen grapes and blueberries are a favorite snack of my son!) and smoothies. Frozen veggies can easily be added to soups or casseroles.

Did you know you can even freeze fresh spinach? Ya I just discovered this little beauty but that will be for next week 🙂

PS  if you want to look up how long a particular item will last, check out Eat By Date.

Helpful Tip Tuesday: Portion Control

Several people have asked me about the leftovers night and how we can possibly have enough food leftover for another meal and how we can possibly squeeze everything into our tight budget. Here’s the secret: Portion Control.

Now when you hear “portion control” you probably think about dieting or losing weight. When I think about portion control I think about saving money! (Although losing weight is an added bonus!*).

How? Well most of the meals in the monthly meal plan say they make 6-8 servings. For my little family of 3 eaters (I don’t include my baby in this) we should not be eating that entire dish in one sitting. We should have at least half of that dish leftover which then easily feeds us for another meal. I know a lot of you have bigger families than me so you might not have 3-4 servings leftover. BUT who says you have to eat the same thing at dinner time? Growing up, about once a week my mom would put all of the leftovers on the counter and we’d make up our own plates and heat them in the microwave. Say you had 2 or 3 servings left from 2 meals, that gives you 4-6 servings of leftovers (wait another night if you need more!).  That’s one night’s worth of dinner that you didn’t have to make or pay any additional money for.

If you are a small family and have lots of leftovers, use them for dinners and lunch. My husband gets leftovers for lunch at work probably 3 times a week (the other 2 days he gets sandwiches).

So! Have a little self control. Don’t take huge portions right off the bat. Don’t stuff yourself at meals–only eat until you’re satisfied. Divide the meals you make so they will last another meal. Add a less expensive side dish to make the meal go further.

You’ll find that your wallet and your waistline will thank you!

*When my husband and I first got married we were terrible at this (especially him!).If it tasted good, we would eat more! We spent a lot more in groceries and we we a lot heavier. Since we’ve started meal planning, eating healthier, and watching our portions, we both weigh 15-20 lbs less than when we were first married.

Helpful Tip Tuesday: Brown Sugar Substitute

Have you ever been in the middle of baking something when you realized you were out of brown sugar?

Brown Sugar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That happened to me just the other night!  I was trying to make a new granola recipe and I went to get the brown sugar out of the cupboard when I had a sad, sad realization: We were completely out of brown sugar! GASP!! Whatever should I do? I did the same thing I always do when I’m in that type of situation. I googled it 🙂 Here’s what I found:

Homemade Brown Sugar

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 TBS molasses (or 1.5 TBS for a lighter brown sugar)

Put molasses and sugar in a bowl and stir until completely combined.

Voila! Brown sugar! Crisis solved 🙂

I was able to make granola after all and believe me this new recipe is AMAZING! I will share it with all of you on Friday. Because it really is fabulous.

Helpful Tip Tuesday: Inexpensive Breakfast Ideas

Several of you have asked about breakfast so this is for you guys 🙂

Breakfast ideas

I knew about sticker shock in buying large items like cars but I didn’t know it existed in buying cereal too! Last time I looked, a box of cereal not on sale was about $5. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!? Ya no thank you. That would certainly ruin our food budget. We’ve come up with some healthier, low cost breakfast alternatives to the usual bowl of cold cereal.

 

Eggs

 

 

 

 

 

When you can buy a dozen eggs for $1 or less that makes for the perfect breakfast. Scrambled, omlets, fried, make them however you like. We usually scramble them and add in a little bit of turkey ham and some cheese.

Whole Wheat Toast with Peanut Butter

 

 

 

 

 

You can eat this by itself of you have a small appetite or add this to another meal. Find a bread outlet or make your own to much cheaper bread. I love Alpine Valley Bread outlet here in AZ. Bread is usually $0.50 – $1. I’ll get 4-5 loaves each time I go and keep them in the fridge to stay good until we use them.

OR use some of that bread and make french toast!

Oatmeal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not talking about the pre-made little packets you buy at the store.  Homemade is the way to go! It doesn’t really take that long at all. Here’s a simple recipe:

  • 2 cups of water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar

Bring water, salt, and cinnamon to boil in a pot on the stove.

Add in oats and sugar. Turn down the heat to low or medium low. Let it boil until it’s reached the consistency you like best. Add in nuts, raisins, craisins, fresh fruit, milk or whatever else you like!

Homemade Granola

If you’d like a bowl of cereal for breakfast, try making your own granola! Here’s a delicious recipe for a vanilla almond granola.  Homemade granola is so much cheaper than the store bought stuff and you can chose what goes in it!

Homemade Yogurt Parfaits

 

 

 

 

 

Making your own yogurt is better for you and a whole lot cheaper. Here are the directions! If you live in the Mesa area, you have access to Superstition Ranch Market, which is a great way to buy low cost produce. Click here for more money saving ideas on produce. Simply layer some cut up fruit, yogurt, and granola in a cup or bowl. Then repeat! It is a fantastic breakfast and seriously, “Everybody loves parfait!”

French toast, waffles, pancakes, muffins, the list goes on and on! Breakfast doesn’t have to be expensive or boring. What are some of your favorite, low cost breakfasts?
Share in the comments below!