Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Falling off the wagon

Needless to say after a week without updates, my husband and I have fallen off the wagon and out of the grocery challenge. We've started a search for our first house which has led to some busy days and not feeling like cooking or not being in a position to cook. I plan to continue this blog (although probably not on a daily basis), because I really enjoy coming up with cheap recipes and spending as little as possible on our groceries. But we do enjoy the occasional meal out, and it wasn't much fun feeling as if we couldn't do that when we wanted to.

Today is our 2nd anniversary, and I've made us a dinner almost entirely out of the Angel Food Ministries box we picked up Saturday. I cut a 6 oz New York Strip into two 3 oz servings, chopped up one of the baking potatoes, and added some of the frozen sliced carrots into the slow cooker. I seasoned the steak with some Grill Mates seasoning I got free after coupon from Kroger, and poured some beef broth in for the cooking liquid. I'm going to make some gravy from the cooking juices in a little while, just before my husband comes home.

We got a yummy (but sooo sweet!) cake from a local bakery to celebrate our anniversary. It kept both of us awake last night though so I don't think we'll be enjoying it again tonight. We'll have to break into the wine I bought back in the spring in Gatlinburg though. ;)

I've been having fun with the Angel Food box, and we've both been impressed with the food so far. The pork roast made some excellent pulled pork BBQ sandwiches, and the blueberry pie was just awesome. Maybe we'll have that for dessert tonight instead since it's not so painfully sweet. I already ordered next month's signature box from AFM, but I'm wishing I'd ordered the produce box too.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Day 10: Skyline at Home

Today was a yucky, rainy day, and neither of us really felt like doing much of anything. I did a little reading, a little knitting, and we watched a movie, but that's about all we've done. For lunch, I was planning to make hot dogs, then I remembered a can of Skyline chili I've had in the pantry for several months and decided to make cheese coneys instead. Since we had some leftover chili after lunch (and my pork chops weren't thawed out yet), I decided to make some more Skyline-at-home for dinner in the form of three-ways. Rest assured that I have eaten some fruit today so my diet wasn't all "bad" carbs. ;) It was a cheap day, and a good lazy day that didn't require a lot of cooking.

Oscar Mayer Beef Hot Dogs (Free after coupon)
Aunt Millie's Buns (55 cents for the whole pack after coupon; we used half of it)
Sargento cheese (from stockpile)
Skyline chili (from stockpile)

Spaghetti (from stockpile)
Skyline chili (from stockpile)
Sargento cheese (from stockpile)

$$ Spent Today: $0.00
$$ Remaining: $3.66

Days 8 & 9 Recap

I've missed blogging for a couple of days, so this is a "catch up" entry for the past couple of days. On Monday, my husband was working and I was at home for lunch, so I had some leftover vegetable barley soup. For dinner, we had the veggie supper I had planned originally for Sunday night. It was a lot of work, but boy was it yummy!

Yesterday, we drove around looking at houses. We drove a total of 90 miles looking at about 10 houses we were interested in, and are now down to 2 front-runners. We had lunch at one of our favorite pizza places, but we both had the lunch special for Tuesday: a small pepperoni pizza and a drink for $4.10. Our total bill was $8.77. Not too shabby for a lunch out! We had some ice cream at Zesto for a mid-afternoon snack since it was heating up outside and we still weren't quite done, for a total of $5.44. That's all we spent on food yesterday though.

When we came home, we got a head start on those "first time homeowners" dinners -- frozen fish fillets and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. The fish was in the stockpile (I think I paid $2.99 for the box of 10 at Aldi) and the Mac & Cheese was purchased on Monday at Meijer for 38 cents a box after coupon. Yesterday wasn't the healthiest day in the world, but it was at least cheap, even with a restaurant meal. :)

Our anniversary is coming up on July 28, and we'd like to go out for dinner. I stumbled onto an 80% off coupon code for Restaurant.com that enabled me to get a $25 certificate for a local Italian restaurant for only $2. We should be able to eat for almost nothing on that certificate, plus it's a restaurant I've been wanting to try. Score! :)

$$ Spent Yesterday: $14.21
$$ Remaining: $3.66

Monday, July 20, 2009

Week 2 Grocery Day

Today was my "grocery day" for week 2. I spent $32.13 on food. I was a couple of dollars over my $30 target, but that included a $2.62 6-pack of sugar free Kool-Aid mix so hubby won't have to suffer through drinking unflavored water with meals. :P I meant to pick up something at Aldi but I forgot, so Kool-Aid it is. At least they had grape! I snagged some great deals at Meijer today, including some non-food stuff. If you buy at least $10 worth of Scott, Kleenex, or Cottonelle products, you get $10 off instantly on 3 packs of Fruit of the Loom "basics" (i.e. underwear, socks, and T-shirts). The 24-pack of double rolls of Cottonelle is on sale for $12.99 and I had a 50 cent coupon that doubled to $1. The girls socks were on sale for $3.99 a pack and I needed socks (and I have small feet), so I really scored on my socks (67 cents a pack after the discount). I also got some boxers for hubby for $5.15 after the discount. I might see if I can scrounge up another Cottonelle coupon and get some more later tonight.

Anyway, on to the groceries. I separated my non-food items from my food and did two separate transactions at the self checkout for easy purchase tracking. Naturally, I picked the one that didn't like coupons, but the cashier who helped me was great and very patient. I saved $29.24 ($16.40 in coupons alone) and spent $25.30 at Meijer. I also did the General Mills deal where if you buy 10 select items for $20 ($2 each), you get a $5 custom coupon for your next order. It didn't print on its own, so customer service had to force it out, but I did get a surprise Catalina at the register from Kraft for $1 off my next order from buying 4 boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese. So now I have $6 free to spend at Meijer next week! (Or perhaps later tonight on more boxers and socks.) I posted the image of my Meijer receipt; just click on it to view it larger.

I also went to Aldi to pick up a few things I knew I wouldn't be able to get cheaper at Meijer (and that also didn't have to be refrigerated). I spent a total of $6.83 at Aldi, getting hubby some snacks to keep him out of the vending machines and the makings of Taco Soup to be made later this week.

Topping off my day was the free iced mocha from McDonald's, since it's Mocha Monday. It was small (7 oz) but it sure was tasty! That was the only thing I got, and the employees didn't bat an eyelash. I'll be back next Monday for another. (And I will probably buy at least a couple after the grocery challenge is over!) For right now, though, you can't beat free.

$$ Spent Today: $32.13
$$ Remaining: $17.87

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Meal Plan: 7/20-7/26

Our meal plan for this week is pretty simple, and mostly involves trying to clean out the freezer in preparation for receiving our Angel Food Ministries box on Saturday, which I'm sure will be mostly frozen. Our freezer typically stays stuffed (and is nearly stuffed right now), so eating out of it for this week to get some of the large boxes out is imperative. Lunches will be leftovers, hot dogs, or sandwiches. Right now I'm not sure what my work schedule is for the coming week -- I have to call tomorrow to find out whether I am working Tues/Wed or Fri/Sat, so that's the reason for the wide breadth of options when it comes to lunches. Right now it looks like I should spend about $22 at Meijer and $8 at Aldi, leaving us with $20 remaining. Hubby would like to go out to our favorite pizza place sometime this week, so we might have room for that at some point.

Monday, July 20

Lunch - Leftover Vegetable Barley Soup & Grilled Cheese
Dinner - Veggie Supper

Tuesday, July 21

Lunch - Hot Dogs or Sandwiches
Dinner - Fish Fillets with Mac & Cheese

Wednesday, July 22

Lunch - Hot Dogs or Sandwiches
Dinner - Skyline Three-Ways

Thursday, July 23

Lunch - Leftovers
Dinner - Taco Soup & Corn Muffins

Friday, July 24

Lunch - Leftover Taco Soup
Dinner - Pineapple Pork Chops & veggies

Saturday, July 25

Lunch - Hot Dogs or Sandwiches
Dinner - Fettuccine Carbonara Skillet Meal

Sunday, July 26

Lunch - Hot Dogs or Sandwiches
Dinner - Enchilada Chicken with Fajita Veggies

Day 7: Change of Plans

I had originally planned to fix what my mom calls a "veggie supper" tonight, but after having to wait in line for 30 minutes to pay for my new Crock Pot Smart Pot and a huge plastic container to hold all our camping stuff, I wasn't going to have time to fix the fresh green beans I bought at Meijer. So the veggie supper will have to wait until tomorrow. Tonight, I pulled a Birds Eye Steamfresh Meal for Two out of the freezer and made some garlic bread to go along with it. It was very tasty and easy. For lunch, hubby had leftovers, and I made myself a fish sandwich and some tater tots.

I did go to Meijer to buy some produce though, in preparation for the veggie supper that didn't happen. Meijer's sale on produce this week is just awesome. For $3.08, I got 3 bananas, 2 summer squash, 1 lb of green beans, a cucumber, and 2 ears of corn. Not too shabby!

I was in desperate need of a pick me up, this afternoon, though, and I did hit the drive thru of a local ice cream joint called Zesto. I had a milkshake, which cost $2.93. I had the room for it in the budget though, so I didn't feel too bad. They didn't give me a receipt, so that's one more item for my "no receipt given" log.

$$ Spent Today: $6.01
$$ Left Over for Week 1: $1.56

Day 6: Vegetable Barley Soup

Yesterday was a good day for the grocery challenge, with no extra money spent aside from the groceries I bought at the beginning of the week. For lunch, we had leftover stir fry from Friday evening, and for dinner, I put a Vegetable Barley Soup in the Crock Pot to be ready when I got home from work. I made grilled cheese sandwiches to go with it, and it was a delectable (and easy!) dinner.

Vegetable Barley Soup
*=from stockpile

1 zucchini, chopped ($0.63)
1/2 cup chopped onion ($0.17)*
1 cup chopped celery ($0.20)*
3 1/2 cups water
8 oz tomato sauce, no-salt-added ($0.40)*
15 oz can petite cut no-salt-added diced tomatoes (free w/ coupon)*
10 oz frozen mixed vegetables ($0.50)*
1/2 cup pearled barley, rinsed & drained ($0.17)*
1 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning *
4 chicken bouillon cubes *

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker and cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for about 4 hours. Yields 4-5 servings.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Day 5: Two Hours in the Kitchen

I might be sick of cooking by the end of this challenge. ;) I spent two hours in the kitchen today, and I still have to make my sandwich to take to work. First, I blanched some summer squash that was given to me by a coworker. I think they might have overcooked a little even though I only boiled them for 2-3 minutes. They are in the freezer now, and hopefully they will be okay. I still have two sitting raw on the counter that I may fry sometime this weekend. I may change the Sunday meal plan from pizza to a veggie supper if I can find a good deal on some corn on the cob.

My second hour in the kitchen was spent thawing chicken and chopping veggies to make a Szechuan Chicken stir fry from a Kroger seasoning packet. A friend of ours introduced me to this, and it is very yummy. Aside from all of the chopping, it's pretty easy too. We had that for lunch over some rice, and we'll each do our own thing for dinner. I plan to make a turkey sandwich, and hubby will probably have some leftovers or Chef Boyardee from the stockpile.

Here is the recipe for the chicken stir fry, with prices in parentheses and items from the stockpile (i.e. not purchased this week) denoted with an asterisk:

Szechuan Chicken & Veggies

1 packet Kroger Szechwan seasoning mix ($0.55)*
3/4 lb chicken breast, cut into strips or cubes ($1.75)*
1 tsp sugar*
3 tbsp soy sauce*
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp oil*
1 medium onion, sliced ($0.33)*
2 carrots, sliced ($0.25)
1 bell pepper, sliced ($0.95)
3 cups prepared rice ($0.80)*

In a small bowl, combine seasoning mix, sugar, water, and soy sauce. Set aside.

Heat oil in large skillet; add meat and cook until browned. Add veggies and stir fry. When veggies are cooked to desired tenderness, add sauce and stir fry until thickened, about 1 minute. Serve over rice.

$$ Spent Today: $0.00
$$ Remaining: $7.57

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Day 4: Burgers & A Meal Out

Today was my lucky day, I think. I went walking at the mall with a friend and we decided to eat out afterward. Since I had a coupon for a free Chargrilled Chicken Sandwich from Chick-fil-a (which I received in February after running a 5K sponsored by Chick-fil-a and still hadn't used), we decided to go there. I got the free sandwich, an ice water, and a medium fruit cup to round out the meal. My total was $2.22, but she didn't give me a receipt and by the time I thought to ask she had already moved on, so I guess I will have to add this to my farmer's market log (maybe a "no receipt" log now). Right as we were finishing up our meal, an employee brought around a tray of samples of their new milkshakes -- the perfect dessert for the perfect price...free!

Hubby and I both had the day off today, so I cooked for lunch. We had a simple meal of hamburgers made on the George Foreman grill and baked tater tots. I can get 4 good-sized hamburger patties at Aldi for about $3 and a pack of buns for 89 cents...much cheaper than getting comparably sized burgers at a fast food place. And it only takes 7 minutes to cook them, so you can't beat that either. Hubby still hasn't eaten dinner, but there is plenty of leftovers and I can always make him the spaghetti that I had planned. ;)

Lunch totals:
Hamburger patties (2) - $1.70
Hamburger buns (2) - $0.22
Cheddar cheese slices (2) - $0.25
Condiments from stockpile
Tater tots from stockpile

I'll actually be cooking again tomorrow...making Szechuan Chicken for lunch from a seasoning packet from Kroger. We tried this once at a friend's house but it was made without vegetables, and we want to try it with the green peppers and onions to add a little nutritional boost. I'm working tomorrow evening, so I'll also be packing a dinner and hubby will be on his own again.

$$ Spent Today: $2.22
$$ Remaining: $7.57

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Day 3: Leftovers Day

Since hubby and I will both be working today, I've tossed the meal plan out the window and declared it leftovers/fend-for-yourself day. ;) Not much point in cooking for just me when I could easily make a sandwich and enjoy some sweet potato chips. Plus we have leftover White Bean & Ham Soup and Round Steak with Garden Vegetables, so I don't think we'll go hungry.

I did end up buying some food at the movies last night (well, early this morning), but they had a $6.50 "kids pack" type thing that included a small popcorn, small drink, and your choice of candy or another small snack. It was the same small popcorn and drink from the menu that sold for $4.50 and $4 each, so that was an awesome deal, plus it came with a grocery store sized bag of M&Ms. I was really wanting some popcorn, so I jumped all over that. The drink was only a 16 oz so I got it with no ice so it would last longer.

$$ Spent Today: $6.50
$$ Remaining: $9.79

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Day 2: Dinner & A Movie

...but not in the traditional sense. ;) Dinner is simmering away in the Crock Pot right now -- Round Steak with Garden Vegetables. I am going to see Harry Potter with a friend at midnight tonight, and I'm trying my best to plan ahead so I can hopefully resist the call of popcorn. I will buy my drink at the theatre, but in the interest of my healthy eating plan and to conserve the rest of our grocery money, I will take my own snack.

I had another tuna sandwich for lunch, with some sweet potato chips. It was very filling and healthy, and I'm hoping to not be jonesing too bad for a snack when I do a little shopping this afternoon.

Without further adieu, here is the recipe for dinner:

Round Steak with Garden Vegetables
from Better Homes & Gardens Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker cookbook

Prices are included in parentheses; items from stockpile denoted with a *.

1.33 lbs boneless beef round steaks ($4.58)
salt & pepper to taste*
2 cups baby carrots ($0.70)
1 large onion, cut into wedges*
4 oz can mushrooms, drained ($0.55)
15 oz can diced tomatoes (no salt added) w/ basil, garlic & oregano*
3 tbsp tomato paste*
1 tsp Italian seasoning*
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce*
1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced ($0.63)

Cut steaks into 4 serving size pieces, season with salt and pepper, and place in bottom of slow cooker. Add carrots, onion, and drained mushrooms on top of steaks. In a medium bowl, combine diced tomatoes, tomato paste, Italian seasoning, and Worcestershire sauce. Pour tomato mixture over vegetables in slow cooker. Cook on low 8-9 hours or high for about 4 hours. Add zucchini for last 30 minutes of cooking time.

$$ Spent Today: $2.07
$$ Remaining: $16.29

Monday, July 13, 2009

Day One: White Bean & Ham Soup

Since I am working the evening shift tonight, I made what I had originally planned for dinner at lunchtime instead. (I also adjusted my meal plan I posted earlier.) I got the recipe for White Bean & Ham Soup from $5 Dinners, and made a couple of modifications. The original recipe used dry beans, soaked over night and cooked for 1.5 hours on the stovetop. To save time, I used 2 cans of beans, rinsed & drained, instead of 1 cup of dry beans. I also used no-salt-added diced tomatoes with basil, garlic & oregano to add a little extra flavor. Here is the recipe as I made it this morning, using my slow cooker:

White Bean & Ham Soup

2 15 oz cans Great Northern beans, rinsed & drained
10 oz diced ham
15 oz can diced tomatoes, no salt added w/ basil, garlic & oregano (undrained)
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning
3 tsp jarred minced garlic
5-6 cups water

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker and cook on high for at least 2 hours, or on low for at least 4.

The original recipe was made on the stovetop, but with the substitution of the canned beans, I would only be cooking it for 15 minutes and didn't feel this would be enough time for the flavors to mingle, so I decided to throw it in the slow cooker this morning. This also saved time. You could use dry beans in the slow cooker as well; just soak them overnight, add an extra cup or so of water to the slow cooker, and cook for 8-9 hours, adding the tomatoes during the last 30 minutes or so of cooking. (The tomatoes can keep the beans from cooking if they are added sooner.)

All of the ingredients for this recipe were already in my pantry or refrigerator, so it took absolutely nothing from this week's grocery budget.

For dinner, we'll be having the tuna sandwiches I'd originally planned for lunch. I've got mine all packed and ready to go to work. The recipe for the tuna sandwiches came from the Biggest Loser Family Cookbook, and is called Today's Tuna Sandwiches. It's essentially tuna with the bare minimum of mayonnaise, mixed with finely diced celery and red onion, put on a sandwich with thinly sliced cucumbers and tomatoes. It looks tasty; hopefully it will taste as good as it looks! I had to buy some tomatoes today at the farmer's market; I got 2 large homegrown ones for $1.71. They didn't give me a receipt, so I guess I will be logging my farmer's market purchases separately from the grocery receipts.

$$ Spent Today: $1.71
$$ Remaining: $18.36

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Grocery Shopping Day: Week 1

We went to Aldi today, and I met my goal of spending under $30. They were out of a couple of items I wanted to get, so a few substitutions were made, and we picked up 3 extra items -- honey buns to (hopefully) replace hubby's vending machine purchases at work, and marshmallows and fruity rice cereal to make Rice Krispies Treats for the week's dessert. Our total was $29.93.

Looking at the receipt, however, it's definitely a strange smattering of ingredients and doesn't look like much to make 7 meals out of. Thanks to our stockpile, we usually only have to buy 2 or 3 things to make any given recipe in my ever-growing library of cookbooks. I'm interested to see if the shopping gets more difficult as the challenge goes on, since I won't be able to stockpile as much as I might ordinarily. (This week, I have $20 to stockpile with at Meijer and/or Kroger.) I haven't been adding much to the stockpile in the last couple of months anyhow, since we have plenty because I stockpiled a lot in February and March. Hopefully it won't start to dwindle too badly before the end of the month.

$$ Spent Today: $29.93
$$ Remaining: $20.07

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Meal Plan: 7/13-7/19

As I compiled my grocery shopping list for tomorrow, I also put together a menu for the week outlining lunches and dinners for July 13 through July 19, the first week of the challenge. I plan to do the grocery shopping at Aldi tomorrow, and if my calculations are correct, I should spend no more than $30. That leaves $20 for stockpiling at Meijer or Kroger when The Grocery Game lists come out on Tuesday.

For breakfast, my husband and I usually do our own thing. Most of the time we eat cereal, fruit, or toast. I have a lot of cereal stockpiled so I don't have to buy any, and fruit and bread are pretty much staples. I am working the evening shift on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, which is why the lunches and dinners might seem reversed.

Here is our lunch & dinner meal plan for the week:

Monday, July 13

Lunch - White Bean & Ham Soup with Corn Muffins
Dinner - Tuna Sandwiches & Vegetable Chips

Tuesday, July 14

Lunch - Leftover White Bean & Ham Soup with Corn Muffins
Dinner - Round Steak with Garden Vegetables

Wednesday, July 15

Lunch - Enchilada Chicken & Fajita-style Vegetables
Dinner - Leftover Round Steak with Garden Vegetables

Thursday, July 16

Lunch - Hamburgers & Tater Tots
Dinner - Spaghetti & Garlic Bread

Friday, July 17

Lunch - Szechuan Chicken & Rice
Dinner - Turkey Sandwiches & Chips

Saturday, July 18

Lunch - Leftover Szechuan Chicken & Rice
Dinner - Vegetable Barley Soup & Grilled Cheese

Sunday, July 19

Lunch - Leftover Soup or Salad
Dinner - Homemade Veggie Pizza

T minus 2 days...

Monday is the day when the All You grocery challenge officially begins. Although I already spend $50 or less most weeks at the grocery store (unless I am really stockpiling), I decided to join this contest so we could really challenge ourselves to limit how much we spend on extras and meals away from home, including lunches at work and dinners out.

My goal is to make something that will have some leftovers most every day, so we will always have plenty of food for lunch, and to use as many fresh vegetables as possible. I already have a nicely sized stockpile, thanks to The Grocery Game. (They are now offering a free trial if you'd like to try it yourself; it truly makes couponing easy. Let me know if you decide to give it a go!)

I plan to post the recipes I make on the blog so others can benefit from them. I love budget friendly recipes and there are several websites I frequent for good meal ideas, and I hope you will be able to glean some good ideas of your own from here. I love my slow cooker, so don't be surprised if you see a lot of recipes that use it!

I've taken out our grocery money for this week in cash and we will do our shopping tomorrow -- I can't wait to get started.