There has never been a time, in my married life, when I have NOT used my slow-cooker, but I have never appreciated it more since the birth of Barney Kneeknuckles.
This simple appliance has kept my family fed and Mommy SANE.
I love it, love it, love it.
Not only is it a “time saver” for me, it’s helped me prepare much more frugal and healthy meals — a definite plus now that we have another one in diapers AND now that I have a wee bit of baby weight to lose.
(Sigh … baby weight. That’s a whole other post in and of itself. Sigh.)
Hubby and I are revisiting our budget so I am very conscious of grocery costs as I meal plan these days. I am trying to keep my weekly grocery budget between $50-70. I don’t coupon, so thrifty meal planning is a MUST for meeting my budget goal.
Why don’t I coupon?
Very rarely are there published coupons for the food items I buy; I purchase very little processed foods, focusing instead on whole foods (veggies, meats, dairy). Guess how often I find a newspaper coupon for a roast or a bunch of celery? Not. Very. Often.
It IS Possible To Be Thrifty Without Coupons
But, shopping without coupons doesn’t mean I spend a lot of money. For a family of five, our weekly budget is around $70 (that includes household cleaners, diapers, etc). Through careful meal planning, I can stay within my budget and steer clear from a lot of unhealthy, processed items.
- Set a Grocery Budget
I used to hate the word “budget” because I saw it as a pair of hand-cuffs, keeping me from enjoying life because I needed to “stick to the budget.” It’s taken a long time, but I’ve learned that “it just ain’t so.”
A budget is a release. Instead of living pay-check to pay-check or having to scrimp at the end of the month because our pennies were blown early on, a budget lets my husband and I KNOW where our money is going and how to use our funds wisely to meet our family’s needs.
With a grocery budget in place, I have a goal when planing and shopping … I know how much money I have to spend at the store (instead of hoping and praying the debit card will work when I check-out). With a set number in mind, I can utilize the sales at my grocery store, the staples in my pantry, and my freezer items to stick to our budget. It really becomes very easy once you start.
- I can’t say it enough: MEAL PLANNING SAVES MONEY (and time and your sanity)
In this post about Getting Started with Meal Planning, I wrote a few tips for stepping into the world of menu-planning. It doesn’t have to be a hard process. Set aside a few minutes this week and try planning a few meals. I promise it isn’t as scary as it may sound.
With a meal plan in place, you will be able to make a firm grocery list, avoiding impulse purchases at the grocery store and avoiding costly take-out/fast food meals.
- Use a Slow-Cooker (aka “Crock-Pot“)
I know I sound obsessed, but investing in a slow-cooker/crock-pot is an excellent way to shave dollars off your grocery expenses.
Slow cookers are magical machines — they can turn inexpensive vegetables and cheap cuts of meat into glorious meals: roast, stews, soups, chili, and even casseroles can be made in a slow cooker.
Don’t believe me? Check out A Year of Slow Cooking; this mama used her slow-cooker every day for a year and chronicalled every recipe. Stephanie O’Dea can turn any recipe into a slow cooker recipe — and the results are YUMMY. She has since gone on the Rachel Ray show and released two slow cooker cookbooks (I purchased her 2nd one this past week — LOVE it beacause in the second cookbook Stephanie has organized the recipes by cost, helping you choose meals that are economical!).
- Freeze Your Food
After discovering freezer meals this summer, I am hooked. I love the ease of having an entire meal ready to go in the freezer… especially since I try to only stick to “slow-cooker friendly” freezer meals. Those “dump it in and forget it” meals are the best!
But that’s not all you can freeze! I’ve gone crazy freezing stuff:
- Bread Crusts and Heels (for recipes that call for bread crumbs)
- Stale French Bread (I cube it and then freeze it to have on hand for my Baked French Toast)
- Left-over Vegetables (this is a new one for me; whenever we have just a little bit of leftevoer veggies at the end of a meal — like corn, grean beans, etc. — I dump them in a freezer-friendly plastic container. When the container is full, I have nearly everything ready for Vegetable Soup! Just heat up the veggies with some broth and soup’s on!)
- Heat-n-Serve Freezer Meals (instead of having a set Freezer Meal Cooking Day, as is popular with Once a Month Cooks, I have begun dividing some of our meals in half (after cooking) and freezing the second half. It gives me a “heat and serve” meal for days I need something even easier than a slow-cooker meal.)
What We’re Eating This Week
In case you are wondering, I AM using my slow-cooker for nearly every meal this week. I told ya — LOVE IT.
Breakfast Tacos, Baked Pumpkin Oatmeal
Corndog Muffins, Homemade Pizza “Uncrustables,” Puzzle Sandwiches, Peanut Butter Pocket Sandwiches, Salad (for Mommy)
Fruit and Whole Wheat Crackers, Veggies and Homemade Dip
Monday: Pumpkin Chili (I’m making it now, adapting my old recipe into a slow-cooker version – will be freezing half of the chile and freezing the half of the beans I cooked to make this recipe)
Tuesday: Pork Carnitas (freezing half)
Wednesday: Peanut Butter Chicken (from the More Make it Fast, Cook It Slow cookbook) , Jasmine Rice, Green Beans
Thursday: Kidlets are gone — Indian food night! Chicken Masala and Naan
Saturday: dinner with out of town guests
Sunday: dinner with our Church Life Group