Daily Dinner Dilemma | Menu Plan #2 and My Online Grocery Shopping Experience

LOATHE THAT LATE AFTERNOON QUESTION OF  “WHAT’S FOR DINNER?”

Want to feed your family healthier foods and less drive through but struggle with busy evenings and a complete lack of inspiration for dinner ideas? Need healthy and easy dinner options?

SO Do I.

FOR ME HEALTHY MEANS:

  • little to no processed foods
  • lots of veggies
  • more whole grains and less white starches
  • no drive thru!

FOR ME EASIER MEANS:

  • I can have a healthy, delicious meal on the table for my family every night
  • minimal nightly prep, aka less dirty dishes
  • less trips to the store for last minute ingredients
  • I don’t have to think about what’s for dinner

I have another installment of my Simplify the Daily Dinner Dilemma (DDD) Menu Plan but with a twist this time. And an exciting one at that!!

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For the first time ever I ordered my groceries online at Walmart and picked them up at the store. I purchased a weeks worth of groceries without setting foot inside a store. The process was super easy and you want to know a secret….It’s FREE! 

People, this is huge! I don’t know about you but I HATE (and yes, it is a strong word) going grocery shopping because like most of us I only have my evenings or weekends to do it. Evenings are way too busy for us so it’s usually Saturday morning or afternoon (so I have an excuse not to clean the house). But that’s the problem, everyone else is getting groceries at that same time!

I had thought about this option

owever has been sort of overshadowed by how much I loved my online grocery shopping experience at Walmart. Who wants to go wander through a dozen grocery aisles now? I just got back over an hour of my time!

Here is how the TRIP stacked up:

WALMART – $73.09 / Time – 45 mins

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You can even add in your receipt TC# into your Savings Catcher on the Walmart app and save even more!

From the time I left my house to the time I sat back down at my computer to type this up it was just under an hour. Granted if I had scheduled this to be picked up on the way back from running errands it probably would have been even quicker. That hour includes schlepping them inside (no kids around to help), unpacking and putting them away. If I had gone there to pick them up myself it would have added a good hour to an hour and a half to my time. And I got to avoid the craziness of the stores on a Saturday.

I honestly don’t think I will ever buy groceries again in a store. Ok, that may be a little dramatic but this was so easy! And there will always be the occasional gallon of milk or bag of cat food that we run out of here and there, but this is wonderful for those big shopping trips when you want to save time and money.

Grab your Meal Plan, Recipes and Grocery List by clicking the image below…

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I can now say I have my own personal grocery shopper! I just had to show up to pick them up. I saved 1 hour and 45 minutes!!! That is some hard core super savings of time in my book!

Part Four – The EX Factor

This is Part Four of my five-part, eight-week series on The Beginner’s Guide To Budgeting

Now that you’ve had a week to set up your envelopes we need to look at those, ahem,  other categories that we’ve been gleefully ignoring. You know those FLUFF (fun life expenses under false finances), misc and other ones expenses that you bury your head in the sand about.

PREPARING FOR CONTINGENCIES:

I call these EXpected and UnEXpected EXpense EXceptions ( EUEE’s, or better yet I like to call the EX’ Factor). You kind’a feel the same way about these as you do your EX. You hate it when you accidentally bump into them on a day you haven’t showered yet, decided to run to the store in your pajamas to pick up ice cream and brownies because you are spending the entire day watching a Meg Ryan movie marathon and you want to drown your sorrows about the 15 lbs you just gained….oh, geez, sorry! Yes, you hate it when those expected and unexpected expense exceptions just happen to come around.  Apparently I have issues.

This is also known as the less traumatic anticipatory budgeting (AB), or that well known “rainy day” fund. It’s putting money aside in anticipation and/or planning for those expenses you know (or don’t know) you will have every month/year that hit just like clockwork and no matter how far you put your head into the sand. We all have those little life emergencies that we know are in the foreseeable future (property taxes or Christmas presents) or take us completely unaware (car needs new suspension). Wether we like them or not they will happen. But we can set up budgets for those so they won’t hit us so hard and we can pay cash for it (or most all of it). You may already have some categories for those from Part One especially if you tracked your expenses in the month of December and that is when you buy all of your Christmas presents. Might be a hard number to swallow for some.

For those yearly expenses, either expected or not, if you have a ballpark of what you might need for them you can take that amount and divide by 26 (or however many times you get paid a year) and that is your budget for that expense.

Let’s use Christmas as an example:

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Say you spent a total of $1,735.00 on Christmas this year. And probably the majority of that had to go on a credit card(!). If you create a Christmas envelope based on what you spent last year….Next Christmas will be paid for in cash!

SO LET’S DO IT: $1,735.00 / 26 = $66.73 ROUNDED UP IS $70

$70 per paycheck for an entire year and you will have $1,820 to spend Next Christmas without batting an eye.

This method can work for any EXpected or unEXpected EXpense in your life. The only catch – you have to have enough money in your pay period after paying your FMB (fixed monthly bills), FME (fixed monthly expenses) and funding the other envelopes. Let’s use the example below:

Sample Jan Budget Image

If this is a new envelope for Christmas, as you see, you will need to find somewhere to come up with the extra $70 a paycheck.

  • Maybe you trim back your out to eat for work and start taking leftovers more often. There is $40 right there.
  • Maybe you get your haircut every 10 weeks (easier for us longer haired girls) and you can trim your haircut envelope down another $15.
  • Maybe you pick up the dog sitting job your Mother’s neighbor has been asking you about.

With a little maneuvering and creativity you are on your way to a very Merry Christmas next year without the stress of bills to pay afterwards.

If you have items that really only fall under FLUFF and you just don’t have any wiggle room in your budget (it’s a real budget now!!) and it’s hard to justify, you’re going to have to make some cuts. On the other hand if you have your debt paid off and your savings is built up then by all means, FLUFF away!

The advantages for creating budgets for the EX-Factor are many:

  1. The money builds up in your account/envelope giving you a HUGE amount of comfort.
  2. You don’t have to rob Peter to pay Paul or use a credit card to supplement the expense every time.
  3. Virtually no risk of over drafting your checking account.

The disadvantages? Hmmm, not seeing any, are you?

Envelope budgeting can also be fun. With a little planning, a new expense can be paid for in cash – and let me tell you, that feels good! (i.e. why we have a Braces envelope) or saving up for something special like a vacation!

SO TAKE THOSE CREDIT CARDS AND FREEZE THEM IN A BLOCK OF ICE IF YOU HAVE TO, BUT DO NOT USE THEM AND DO NOT SPEND ANY MORE MONEY OUTSIDE OF YOUR BUDGETS.

In the next and last part,  Part Four, I will talk about paying off your debt and how to build a savings.

Slow Cooker Caramelized Onions

Because I like to grocery shop at warehouse stores to find the best deal on fresh foods I often end up having way too many onions left when I really only needed a few.

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One way to use them up before they start sprouting (oops!) is to slice them up and pop ’em in the crockpot overnight and you will have a wonderful crock full of caramelized goodness the next morning.

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Start by slicing up about 6-8 onions.

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place 4 tsp butter in bottom of crockpot and load in the onions. You can also add a few more pats of butter on top…I won’t tell anyone.

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Cover and cook on low for 8 hours. If you want thicker (jammier) onions, crack the lid a tiny bit. This will allow some of the steam to release. Otherwise leave it on tight.

After about an hour the house already started smelling good.

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Of course the smell gets stronger throughout the night and if you are a worry-wart like myself you will wake up in a panic, smell the onions and immediately think they are burning. But never fear. They are just fine for the entire 8 hours.

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You can portion up and freeze for use in other dishes and leave some in the fridge. They are perfect to have around to throw in to your soups, stews or maybe even blend up with some Dijon mustard for a heavenly spread.

Daily Dinner Dilemma | Costco Meal Plan

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I know I am not alone when I say I absolutely loathe that late afternoon question of  “What’s for dinner?”

I am also wanting to feed my family healthier foods and less drive through but struggle with busy evenings and a complete lack of inspiration for dinner ideas. I need healthy and easy dinner options.

For me healthy means:

  • little to no processed foods
  • lots of veggies
  • more whole grains and less white starches
  • no drive thru!

For me easier means:

  • I can have a healthy, delicious meal on the table for my family every night
  • minimal nightly prep, aka less dirty dishes
  • less trips to the store for last minute ingredients
  • I don’t have to think about what’s for dinner

So lately, I’ve been searching around on the internet and discovered a litany of crockpot freezer meals (I guess I am a little late to the party). I got sucked into the abyss that is Pinterest and an hour later came up with six meals I could make and freeze. I created a shopping list, braved Costco (on a Saturday, 2 weeks before Christmas), spent about 2 hours in the kitchen prepping and by the end of the afternoon I had 12 (I doubled each recipe) freezer meals chilling in my freezer. But here is the best part…I have TWELVE meals. Ready to go. In my freezer.

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With the craziness of the getting ready for the holidays over those following two weeks (and overindulgences) it was absolute heaven to be able to put a soup or meal in my crockpot in the morning as I went to work or ran errands and have a wonderfully healthy and delicious dinner waiting for us at the end of the day.

I spent less than $135 at Costco (including the gallon freezer bags) for these twelve meals (most of the pantry items I already had on hand) and that breaks down to almost $11.00 per meal…for a family of five that is not too shabby. Not to mention I have enough onions and tortillas now to last me a good awhile. The recipes I  found I used as inspiration and I ended up adapting them to suit my families preferences (and ingredients I already had on hand), as well I created a few recipes myself with the ingredients I had left to use. They absolutely loved every meal. So they are kid and husband tested and approved.

I know I am not the first person to do this but it has felt like an absolute revelation for me and I want to share my love of this newly found freedom from the daily delimma of “What’s for dinner?” So click here for the grocery list and recipes for six meals that you can easily double when you shop at Costco and buy in bulk. Obviously the prices may vary depending on your region/store and the total may vary also depending on your pantry items on hand.

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If you’ve never tried freezer meals before….I beg you, please.

I am now compiling several more recipes to try this again. I am thinking 15 this time, doubling that and having an entire month of stress free, no thinking, delicious and healthy dinners. I can’t wait.

How To Stretch Your Grocery Budget

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In an effort to get back on track budget-wise my first instinct is to reign in our food bill. It seems that besides our mortgage and car payments, the next largest amount of money we spend in our household is on food. We spend it on going out to eat, groceries, snacks at a gas fill-up stop, treats when we are out and about, grocery store run because we are out of milk but end up throwing another $20 worth of impulse items in the cart at 9pm at night. So after living in two different apartments in as many months, with our stuff in storage, while we waited for our house to be built, we really let our budget slip. It’s gotten WAY out of control.

Time to get back on track. Here are some tried and true methods I am going to re-implement in our grocery shopping to help us stay on budget that could work for you as well. For our family of 5 we have a $150/week budget. So first order of business is to just get back to that number.  (If you’re wondering how I came to that number or even what your grocery budget may be, stay tuned. I have a series coming up at the end of October that will help you figure that out.)

According to the USDA’s Cost of Food at Home, for a “liberal” spending family of 5 (4 adults – considers that my 12 & 14 yo eat like an adult – and one 10 yo) spends $387.70/week on food, while a thrifty family spends $197.30. Yikes, I guess you could call us thrifty.

1. Plan Ahead

First and foremost, the basis of any good strategy is a good plan. Then you have to stick to it. Planning out your meals means that there will be no brain-numbing, last minute panic attacks of what to have for dinner. It will already be decided and you will have all the ingredients you need. No need for a quick trip through the drive through.

I have been using GatheredTable.com and am in love. Their plans are versatile, they have great recipes to choose from, I can add my own if I want  to mix it up and once decided it compiles a grocery list for me that I can customize further depending on what is already in my cupboards! Can’t say enough about how much I love this site. And just heard a *rumor* that there will be an app coming very soon! GAH!

2. Shop the ads

This is a no brainer. When whole chickens are on sale for $0.99/lb, that is what we are having for dinner tonight, tomorrow night and maybe the next night too! And I’m hoarding then away in my freezer for a rainy day. You can plan your meals around what is on sale at the store or even swap out ingredients for what is on sale. Your favorite chicken enchiladas on the menu for tonight but ground beef is on sale, use ground beef instead. A recipe you were planning calls for salmon but talapia is on sale, swap it out, I guarantee you won’t notice the difference in taste but your wallet will in savings!

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3. Have a well stocked pantry

Stocking up on items when they are on sale allows you to purchase them for a lot less than buying one can of tomatoes as needed and you can build a nice supply at rock bottom prices and can save on the next weeks or even months grocery bill by already having them on hand. Hence the empty shelf in the photo above, I’m set for a good while on olive oil now. I bought them all!!

Stocking up on items when they are on sale will also allow you to substitute in a pinch. Don’t have taco seasoning – make your own. Don’t have a protein – use beans, lentils or quinoa. Don’t have the salsa you want – make your own. Extra company and need more pasta sauce – good thing you have jars of stewed and crushed tomatoes on hand!

4. “Shop” that Well Stocked pantry

Instead of instinctively running to the store when you think you have nothing to make a meal out of, look again. Use those pantry items and any produce or meat that needs to be used up to throw a meal together. You’ll be surprised what you can make.

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Making things from scratch is a great alternative to boxed mixes or frozen foods, remember how grandma used to do it? Biscuits that were hot out of the oven, piles of pancakes in the morning; it is cheaper and easier than you think to make these from scratch. Most of us have some sort of flour, baking powder, eggs and milk in our pantry or fridge. I like to make batches of pancakes or waffles and freeze them so the kids can pull out what they need (this also falls under #7 DIY-IT).

5. Beans – the other white meat

Substituting beans for meat in your dishes help stretch your dollar also. You could consider having a meatless meal once a week that allows you to further your meals while still saving money. This is something you’ll definitely have to talk to your significant other about because most everyone I know was raised with the thinking that you had to have some sort of meat as your main dish for dinner. Every dinner. My husband was no exception and still struggles with this but is slowly coming around.

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6. waste not

Now after all that work of planning, shopping and cooking why would you want to throw the efforts of your labor (not to mention money) away!

Here’s some ideas to put into use so nothing goes in the trash:

Veggies getting a little limp? Saute those greens up and freeze them (ice cube trays work wonderfully) and then you can just toss them into soups or stews as needed.

I also keep an airtight container in the freezer and when I have any leftover veggies like corn or  green beans from a meal that just is not enough to save I throw them in the container and after about 3 weeks you’ll have a nice mix. This makes for a wonderful Everything But The Kitchen Sink Soup I make. It’s basically a free meal!!

Another way to also stretch your food dollars even further, like into the next day farther, is leftovers. What you don’t finish for dinner package up in individual portions so that you or anyone for that matter can grab them quickly in the morning and you have lunch for the day. Bringing leftovers for lunch is in again people, I swear!

We also have a Clean Out The Fridge meal at our house. We pull out any and all leftovers and either reinvent them into a new meal or reheat and it makes for an easy way to make room for the next shopping trip all-the-while letting nothing go to waste.

7. DIY-it

For the love of all that is just and good for pity’s sake! Make your own salad dressings. It is so easy and tastes so much better than the bottled stuff. Granted those little bottles are tempting with all their sugar and preservatives and it may take your taste buds a few salads to get over that longing but once you do the freshness is incomparable. And the possibilities are endless. We can get pretty creative with what we have on hand – see #3 Have A Well Stocked Pantry.

While we are on the subject of making it yourself this also falls into that category. Those packaged seasoning mixes that contain all sorts of weird “ingredients”.

Not only does making your own dressings and seasonings save you money but I am not sure why you would want to season your chicken with Monocalcium Phosphate or Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate? We all have garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and cumin in our cupboards, don’t we?

8. Think outside the grocery store organics box

Ok, I know we all want to eat better but most of us can’t afford an all-organic diet. There are some guidelines and common sense that come into play – at least where my veggies and fruit are concerned.

The Environmental Working Group has studied pesticide residuals in veggies and fruits and compiled a list of the Clean 15, those that are ok to purchase the conventionally grown way. The Dirty Dozen however are ones you do want to spend your grocery dollars on to purchase organic if you are able.

While the Clean 15 list still contains foods that are still produced with some pesticides, my rule of thumb is that if you are worried about chemicals and consume the skin of the fruit or veggie (and can budget for it) buy organic.

Get your produce from the source! Buy from local farmers markets where you can ask the farmer what pesticides and chemicals might have been used. We all want to eat more fruits and veggies and who knows them better than the grower. You’re also supporting local farmers.

You can also stretch your organic dollars by signing up for a local CSA or Bountiful Baskets. I can’t wait to try out either one out here. With a year round growing season, fresh organic veggies should not be far away. For $20 – $30/week they both offer an affordable way to get organic fresh fruits & veggies to your table.