Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Menu planning

May 2, 2017

As I pull up the page for my blog, I must say.... I've missed this. Life got busy and I had to step away from blogging for awhile. Since my last post, the military moved us across the country. We have been in Louisiana for over 2 1/2 years; however, the military said it's time for us to pack up once again and head back to New York. Time is counting down and I need to get serious about using up cupboard staples, condiments/sauces, and freezer food.

For those of you unfamiliar with my blog, I'll give you a quick rundown. I started a 30 day challenge to save money on food (groceries and restaurants). I was spending an average of $175/week on groceries and $80/week going out to restaurants at the time I started the challenge.

Each week, I would try to get creative to repurpose leftovers, because let's face it, nobody likes leftovers. At least they don't in my house! My hubby takes the award for his genius leftover repurpose. He took my leftover cream of potato/leek/fennel soup and used it as a pizza sauce. The pizza was then topped with caramelized onion, sautéed mushrooms, and a trio of cheese (provolone, mozzarella, and parmesan). I was skeptical until I took a bite. It was awesome!

I tried to cut down on impulse buys at the grocery store. I tried to cut back on how often we went out to eat and to make less expensive choices when we did go out. The challenge was like it was made for me. I made lists. Oh, I LOVE lists. I "hid" food in recipes. Like when I made "double yellow cupcakes" (yellow cake mix with yellow squash hidden in them) and my kids loved them!

Each week, I would total up what we had spent on food. If I spent less than my average, I saved the difference. I would transfer that money to a separate account so I could actually see the balance grow. That was big motivation to stick with the challenge. If I spent more than my average, I just counted that week as a zero. Once I saw how much money we were wasting and how much fun it was to save money, I couldn't stop the challenge. I am now in my 4th YEAR. The first year, I was really working hard at the challenge. I saved $5,036.79. The second year, I loosened up a bit but still saved $4,096.29. The third year took a little nose dive. I saved $1,518. Hey, it's still savings. I am six months into our 4th year and I have saved $1,422.59.

Give the challenge a try for yourself. "Shop" your cupboards, your freezer, and your leftover stash first. Try to plan your menu around the items that you need to use up and also by buying one ingredient for two separate dishes (like shredded coconut for cookies and for coconut shrimp).

I'm down to a month before we move. Prior to our move, I want to use up my home canned items. I have tomatoes, taco sauce, salsa, relish, and beans left. I am also trying to use up our extra condiments/sauces, etc that the movers won't pack up. Here is the menu that I came up with for this week.

Marsala Chicken
Tilapia Tacos
Chicken Gumbo

The enchiladas will use up a jar of taco sauce and of tomatoes (my kids think it is too spicy so they like theirs thinned with tomatoes). Seeing as I had to buy tortillas for the enchiladas, I also planned to make tilapia tacos. I looked in the freezer and saw that there is a pound of sausage that I have been avoiding. I will make meatballs with beef/sausage. There is also a half batch of lasagna in the freezer so I'll thaw that for an easy meal on soccer night. I looked through the condiments and saw that I have a partial bottle of marsala cooking wine. I don't want to have to haul partial bottles during our move but I know I don't want to just dump them out! So, chicken marsala made the menu. I was craving chicken gumbo (which will use up another jar of home canned tomatoes). I LOVE okra in gumbo. However, my kids do not. Hubby isn't around for gumbo so I only planned on using half the package. I also bought a turnip so one night I can make roasted veggies to use up the rest of the okra. I have several bags of chickpeas in the freezer. I cook them and freeze them in two cup portions. My son loves cookie dough hummus so I will use up some chickpeas and make his favorite hummus for a snack. Tonight we had the chicken gumbo.

I didn't plan a meal for each night this week. I left one night for leftovers. This is just my starting point. Throughout the week, I find other things to whip up. If you make it, they will eat it. Ha! I will probably get around to a pasta salad to use up some of my homemade relish. There are a ton of bananas in my freezer.... Anyone have ideas other than banana bread/muffins, or smoothies?

Today was grocery shopping day. I calculated my weekly challenge totals once I got home. I saved $56.04 from restaurants. I was over $8.54 with groceries. Once I deducted that overage, my weekly savings was $47.50. I was a little disappointed. I thought I was going to get away with spending less at the grocery store today but man, my kiddos like to snack. Ha! Even though I didn't need to buy meat other than the rotisserie chicken, I still ended up going over. This is why I like to do both grocery shopping and restaurants for this challenge. Some weeks, I spend less at the store, but we go out more. Some weeks it is the opposite. As long as I keep a balance between the two, my savings pile up. Now, who doesn't like a pile of savings?!

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