Meal Plan, Takeout Fatigue, etc.

>> Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Before I get into the meal plan for this week, I don’t check Facebook all that often anymore. However, someone added me to a group that I do find quite interesting. It’s called the Non-Consumer Advocate. It’s all about finding ways to do things without necessarily spending money or otherwise consuming. Or if you do spend money, how to be smart about it. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, I highly recommend joining!

So, you’ve seen our $98 Aldi haul for this week. Our meal plan this week is nothing shocking or particularly interesting. I am trying to use up the things we have left over from vacation. (PS: Want more meal planning? Here’s the last time I wrote about this subject. And here’s all my posts on it.)



I’ll just be giving you the dinners we’re eating. Breakfasts are usually eggs and toast for Stephen, a protein smoothie for me, cereal + fruit for Ada, and waffles for Eloise. Lunch has been quite random as well this summer. I’m still trying to eat raw once a day, by the way. Should I do an update on that? Let me know in the comments!

Also: I’m trying to get Ada into more diversified eating, so I’ll try to touch on this subject another day. Snacks are things like Greek yogurt mixed with peanut butter, popcorn, carrot sticks, homemade granola bars, etc.

DINNERS


The girls will eat the veggie burgers, quesadillas, pizza, hummus, omelets, and Mexican quinoa dish with us. Or at least try. We also have some staples on hand for them, like mac and cheese or pierogis, if we think they won’t enjoy a meal (or if we’re eating at different times).



Thoughts on Eating Out


We definitely have takeout fatigue. I loved sampling cuisine from our favorite restaurants while on vacation. That said, it was mega-expensive (regrettably so!). And you know what? I missed cooking. I think we may even make better meals than some we get out. While a good meal out can certainly be a nice indulgence -- even a regular one -- I think we’re going to skip for a while. Even with my birthday coming up, a home-cooked meal seems much more pleasurable than anything else right now.

You get a lot of facts and figures if you look up how much the average family spends going out to eat each year. I estimate that we probably spend around $50 a week on an average week getting a mix of takeout, dining out, etc. That’s figured into our “entertainment” budget category. So, if we stopped doing that . . . that’s $2,600 a year. I only took the time to figure this out just now.

And now I feel a bit sick to my stomach. Do you know how many places that money could go? Holy moly.

What’s your policy on going out to eat? I doubt we’ll stop doing it altogether. But I’d like to save it for only special occasions. Maybe once a month? That sounds like cutting to the bone, but I think it’s doable. 



Recipe Liberation


Here’s my parting idea for the day . . . and it’s something I’ve neglected to mention on the blog. I rarely follow recipes (even my own) exactly. Well, if I have everything on hand, yes. But if I’m missing ginger for a stir-fry, for example, I’ll skip it. Of course, it’d be nice to get the extra flavor, but usually there are other spices + things that will do enough of the heavy lifting. If the ingredient is non-essential, like peppers for veggie quesadillas, I’ll leave it out, too. (This rule doesn’t apply with baking usually. Especially with things like baking powder, baking soda, etc.)

Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to explain is that cooking can be flexible. I am sure many of you know that. But I think some others think we must follow recipes exactly. Not the case at all! You can make all sorts of substitutions, swaps, and omissions. Heck, you can add things, too. It takes time to get cooking right. You’ll make missteps along the way. But you may even make something particularly delicious -- accidentally.

I’ll be back soon with a recipe for Greek salad, homemade granola bars, and some notes on getting back to from-scratch cooking and baking. Feels good.

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Aldi Haul + $400 Monthly Food Budget

>> Monday, July 24, 2017

I am in super productive mode now that we’re home from vacation. I have tons of freelance work this week. Our house needs a good tidying and deep cleaning. And -- honestly -- our budget needs an overhaul. Whenever we find ourselves needing a reset, I look to what we’ve been eating. So much money goes to food. We got especially lazy despite meal planning while on vacation and ended up spending mega-bucks keeping our tummies full.

I’ve started going through our pantry to take stock of what we have. You know what? We’re eating entirely too much packaged and convenience food. This habit started slowly when I had morning sickness and didn’t feel as much like cooking. Then with the newborn days and Ada’s first year of packed lunches, well, it increased and took a strong hold.


Budget


I’d like to keep our food budget to around $400 a month. Heck, one month I got away with only spending $291! (We have a CSA share that works out to a bit more than $20 a week. Unfortunately, our pickup person fell through while we were on vacation, so this week we didn’t get the share. I had to spend more than I wanted -- but am hoping to stick closer to $80 in the next weeks.)

Game plan:

  • Meal planning
  • Shopping at Aldi exclusively*
  • Making more from scratch
  • Kicking packaged foods to the curb

* We cannot get tofu or Earth Balance butter spread at Aldi, but those -- I think -- are the only exceptions.

I’ll be writing more soon, but I thought I’d just start with our $98 Aldi shopping haul.


The Haul


Here’s what we bought, in no particular order:


Toasted sesame oil
Pierogies
Toaster waffles
Dried mango
Baby food x 5 squeeze packs
Jarred jalapeƱo peppers
Whole grain bread x 4 loaves
Organic mac and cheese
Organic grape tomatoes
Bananas 
Raisins
Package of kale
4 avocados
Carrots
Baby carrots
Cucumber
Spring mix
24 ounces blueberries
Organic BBQ sauce
Organic peanut butter x 2 
Veggie refried beans x 2
Tomato paste
Sliced gouda cheese
String cheese
Chili lime cashews
Yogurt tubes
Ricotta cheese
Canned beets
Canned carrots
Canned veggie mix
Whole milk
Organic soy milk
Sparkling water case x 2
24 eggs
Medjool dates

You may notice randomly that I bought like four loaves of bread and lots of refried beans, etc. I picked up a few things in bulk that I knew we’d use over time, but not all in the next week. Also: packaged foods. I wanted to get away from buying chips, cookies, granola bars, juices, individual sized anything, and junk food. I did a pretty good job during this shop, but I could definitely improve.

For example:

  • I could just start giving the kids regular yogurt sweetened with honey or jam versus the yogurt tubes. I can make toaster waffles and freeze them in bulk.
  • We could buy a new CO2 canister for our Soda Stream and make sparkling water at home.
  • I could buy some reusable squeeze pouches for Eloise. She doesn’t do a lot of baby food, but it’s nice to have them on the go.
  • As an aside, my favorite reusable grocery bags are these ones that are mesh. They are so compact, yet they stretch to accommodate so much. I am always so pleased when I’m packing up at the store. And my market basket does some massively impressive heavy lifting.
  • I think I may write a post about the swaps I’m going to map for packaged foods. It’s actually something I want to research and write so I have the information to use myself!

There are times when I want to turn this blog into one entirely about shopping for groceries and saving. Tips and tricks on making food cheap. I don’t know. I feel very motivated, so I think I may just blog through my own thought process as it rolls.  A lot of my Aldi posts are from like 2014. I think I need to update them because as I look through the photos, it becomes clear to me just how much the store has changed (for the better!).

Related Posts


In the meantime, I have some good posts up from when I am doing things the optimal way, so if you’re looking for some ready tips -- check ‘em out.

18 Vegetarian Staples at Aldi
What’s Great + NOT About Aldi
What $77 Looks like at Aldi
Monthly Groceries for Less than $300 at Aldi
Grocery Budget -- Dollars and Cents

Monthly Shopping?


What about shopping for groceries monthly? I did it for four months in a row, and it was pretty awesome. It required some advanced planning, though. And the summer hasn’t been working well for that. That said, I may try to revisit this approach again when the school year starts. I found that shopping monthly did contribute to buying more packaged foods, though. Let’s explore this another day.

I’ll be back soon with our meal plan for the week and a recipe for some granola bars I’m making with Ada.

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Cape May

>> Friday, July 14, 2017

Greetings from the Jersey shore! 

We’ve been down here since last Saturday, after a long journey down, and we’ve been soaking in all the sun, sand, and surf we can hold. Cape May is definitely our favorite place to relax as a family, despite beach vacations with babies being less than relaxing at times. I think we’re finally getting into a good groove before we head over the bridge to spend next week with Stephen’s family in Wildwood Crest.


I don’t think I’ve ever done a post on the stuff I like to check out while I’m down here. So, I’ll include a quick list of my top picks for you here. One thing I have yet to do, but I’m hoping to next week, is get a loaf from Enfin Farm’s “bread lady” in West Cape May. You have to arrive early and wait in line . . . but apparently her loaves are unique (sage + polenta, anyone?) and absolutely delicious. Here’s a well-written article I found about her.

Food + Drinks

Kohr’s Brothers Frozen Custard

Shopping

Cheeks (FLAX! I found a pair of flax pants for $10 on a super sale)

Beaches

Cove Beach is my favorite
Poverty Beach is Stephen’s favorite
Sunset Beach is Ada’s favorite
Higbee Beach is also fun for walking around

Entertainment 

Climbing the lighthouse
Listening to live music in the Washington Street Mall
Playing games at Congress Hall’s family carnival
Heading out to Cold Spring Village to steep in Colonial times
Listening to ghost stories about the different haunts 
Trekking to DE on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry
Walking the streets and looking at all the victorian houses

On our last day here, we started out by heading to the beach for a swim. Ada is currently relaxing with the iPad while Eloise naps and Stephen does a few loads of laundry. We’re planning to head back out to the Cape May Brewery this afternoon and to grab lunch at the taco joint next door. We also have some free tickets to the aviation museum, so we may check that out, too.

Hmmm, what else? Oh, this year we became better acquainted with Cape May Point. It’s a quiet residential community at the very tip of New Jersey. We went to the beach there a few mornings. It’s a bit steep, but nice and quiet. There’s a sweet church near the beach where you can park for free. Very quiet and off the beaten path.

Some of you may wonder why we don’t vacation anywhere else. I mean, we come here year after year after year. I grew up going all over the place with my family because my dad had lots of business trips. I don’t know. There’s something about Cape May that pulls us back year after year. I like having a familiarity, not having to learn the lay of the land. Each year, we dig a bit deeper into the community and learn about new places and things we’d like to try . . . but we still fall back on all the old favorites.

My highlight this year was taking a trolley ghost tour out to the lighthouse at night. The tour itself was actually not that great. The stories were too brief and not well timed. But when we climbed the lighthouse in the dark of night and reached the top -- I loved feeling the cool breeze and hearing the waves beneath me while everything was black. Well, except for the beam from the lighthouse. It’s still working, after all.

I’m hoping to jump on here next week to write a bit more. We’ll have some family help, so downtime may happen more than it did this week. Here we are in the middle of July. I turn 34 late this month. I can’t really believe it. But things are good. This is our big trip of the year, so I’m going to sign off and go enjoy. See you soon! And wish you were here!

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