Week of 03.21.11

Alright, so this is something that’s been on my “to do” list for some time now. A couple of years ago Nathan and I started the Dave Ramsey program to work ourself out of the student loans we had remaining from school. As a result, we realized how much we were spending (read wasting) on food each month. The numbers were sickening, really. As was throwing away the leftover or spoiled food each week. So we started working on a way to reduce the amount of food we wasted and money we spent each month.

At first we totally failed. We thought, this will be easy, we’ll just have a set amount for each month and that will be that. Easy. No plan. No reason. Just one total amount. Which was an awful idea. We were out of money before the middle of the month and after eating ramen and rice those last two weeks we were pretty ready to try a new approach. Week by week. We took our total budget, split it into four, and worked with that. Still no plan on what we were going to buy with the money. And as a result, still no success. Blew through the budget in the first few days, back to ramen.

What we finally realized worked was planning each meal out before the week even started – every item for the week, what recipes it would go into, and what days it would be used. And we learned to love left overs. That’s a huge part of this. So if you’re one of those people that can’t eat left overs, or have to have something new for every meal, this probably won’t work for you.

With that said, each week I’ll post our weekly grocery list, meal plan, and budget up here. We buy our groceries at Kroger (and sometimes Target because they’re cheaper) so the pricing is obviously likely to change depending on where you live and where you shop. Although I can say that if you’re one of our friends down in Corpus Christi your HEB will be very similar.

A couple of final things. I do not claim to be healthy. So don’t send me your “grilled cheese is not a healthy meal” hate mail. This is what we eat. If you don’t like it, don’t eat it. The goal is that you’ll be able to substitute in and out the things that you and your family do like. Also, we’re vegetarian. But most of these things can easily handle having meat added to them. Although I promise it wouldn’t hurt you to eat a couple of vegetarian meals throughout the week. And lastly, there are two of us. So the portions that we’re making last the two of us this long. If you have a couple of little ones you’ll probably want to make bigger portions.

So, here’s what we’re eating this week for around $40:

Breakfasts: Everybody does breakfast differently. We typically have orange juice, some fruit, a piece of toast, a smoothie, or some oatmeal with fruit, honey, or preserves in it. We get most of our fruit for the day during breakfast. Or as snacks throughout the day. This week we’ll also have some left over eggs that could easily be an omelet, scrambled with cheese, or what’s that thing called where they cut a hole in the bread and put cook the egg in there? Anyways…you get the idea. I don’t plan breakfasts. Want cereal and milk? Add a few dollars to the budget and get yourself some! Generic is cheaper though, and just as good, trust me.

Day 1
Lunch: Grilled cheese and tomato sandwich. Side of fruit.
Dinner: Veggie fajita tacos

Day 2
Lunch: Black bean burgers with cheese
Dinner: Black bean tacos/gyros

Day 3
Lunch: Ethiopian veggies and remaining black bean burgers.
Dinner: Veggie soup with toast and a side of fruit

Day 4
Lunch: Veggie soup with toast and a side of fruit
Dinner: Cabbage rolls

Day 5
Lunch: Veggie soup with a grilled cheese and a side of fruit
Dinner: Cabbage rolls

Day 6
Lunch: Fried rice with veggies, egg and cabbage
Dinner: Veggie and bean fajitas

Day 7
Lunch: Pasta
Dinner: Veggie and bean fajitas


And here is the grocery list with approx. pricing. If you’re like us you may already have some of these things (like the oats for instance) in your pantry. Good news! You don’t have to buy those this week!
Bread $1.50 (we get ours from a local bakery)
two bags of shredded cheese $4
tomatoes: $2
tortillas $1
a small bag of onions: $2
3 bell peppers: $2.50 (Our colored happened to be on super sale this week, yay! *Tip* cut off the top and bottom for your “fajita” meals. It’s a surprising amount of pepper, and you can use the rest for the other recipes.)
garlic: $.5
sour cream: $1
1 can black beans: $1 (Don’t mind buying dry? Even better. Get ’em in bulk!)
one container of plain oats: $2 (Use them for breakfast too!)
one medium potato, about a pound: $1
a head of cabbage $1.50
carrot: $1 (Our 1lb bag of organic is $1. You’ll definitely have left overs for a healthy snack! Or to make your veggie broth with.)
1 can of diced tomatoes: $1
1 can of whole tomatoes: $1
a half a dozen eggs: $1 (You’ll have leftovers here too. Use them for breakfast!)
tomato juice: $2
rice: $1
fried rice seasoning packet: $1
bananas: $1
fruit of choice: $5 (Whatever is in season, you like, and is reasonable. Frozen is great for smoothies, in oatmeal, and doesn’t go bad!)
orange juice/juice of choice: $3 (This will be on here every week. I gotta have my OJ in the morning.)
pasta: $1 (Yes, I buy the cheap white stuff. I can’t choke down the whole grain ickiness, sorry.)
1 jar of pasta sauce: $2
1 can of pinto beans: $1

TOTAL: $40 (add a couple of dollars if you need to buy soy sauce or don’t want to make your own veggie broth)

And the recipes. Some of these are pretty self explanatory…if you don’t know how to make a grilled cheese I probably can’t help you…but here’s how we make some of the others:

Veggie Fajita Tacos: Sauté green pepper, onion, garlic, a little cabbage, and ground pepper. Throw that in a tortilla with some cheese, sour cream, and tomato if you like. Easy peasy. And ready in about 7 minutes. Add beans or meat if you’d like. We prefer black or refried pinto beans the best.

Black Bean Burgers: This is a staple in our home. Super delicious, super easy. In a bowl mash up a can of drained and rinsed black beans. In a food processor combine a couple of cloves of garlic, a small onion or half of a large one, and a bell pepper. Process that sucker! in another food processor grind up a bunch of oats until they’re nice and small. Start with a cup or so, but you may need to do more in a bit. If you’ve got bread crumbs lying around those work too. Mix the oats and the green pepper/onion mixture into the bowl with the black beans. Add more oats as needed until it’s a sticky paste of a mixture almost like ground beef, just enough so that you can form little patties of it. Place them on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 10 minutes on each side. Thin patties will work better. This usually makes about 12 patties for us. Yep, that’s why it’s on there for so many meals. And if you’ve got spices and such you’d like to thrown in the mix go for it. Nate loves to add chili paste to them. And dress them up with whatever you want. We typically have ketchup, relish and mayo around.

Ethiopian Veggies: Don’t worry, these aren’t weird at all. And if you grew up in the south or midwest you’ll love them. Cut up your potato, a little bit of cabbage, a few carrots, and half of an onion into small cubes. Peel and mash the garlic. Heat 1/4 cup of vegetable oil in a large pan and add the vegetables. Cover and saute 2-3 minutes. Or longer if you’re like us and like the potatoes a little brown. Add pepper and salt and mix well. Add 4 cups of water, stir and cook over very low flame for 30-40 minutes. So yummy. Like really really good almost mashed potatoes. You can also add tumeric or ginger if you have them, but we like them best like this.

Veggie Soup: *NOTE, this is a new one for us this week, don’t hate me if it’s yuck* In a slow cooker combine: 2 minced garlic cloves, 1/2 chopped medium onion, 3 diced carrots,  1 undrained can of diced tomatoes, 1 drained and rinsed can of red kidney beans, 3 cups vegetable broth (to make veggie broth throw a bunch of left over veggie pieces in a stock pot with about 6 cups of water, salt, pepper, and garlic, and boil down til it has flavor), 4 cups tomato juice, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add any other spices or veggies you like. Cook on low for 10 hours.

Cabbage Rolls: *NOTE, this is a new one for us this week, don’t hate me if it’s yuck* Cook 1/3 cup of uncooked rice. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place your cabbage (about a half a head or so) in a pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and cook 15 minutes, until leaves are easily removed. Drain, cool, and separate leaves. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in 1 chopped onion, 1 carrot finely chopped, half of a bell pepper, and 3 minced cloves of garlic. Cook until tender and almost all liquid has evaporated. Stir in the rice, the juice from your can of whole tomatoes (just the juice!), and 1 lightly beaten egg. Season with pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, basil, hot pepper sauce, whatever you want. Cook and stir until heated through.

On 1 cabbage leaf, place about 2 tablespoons skillet mixture and 1 canned tomato. Roll tightly, and seal with a toothpick. Repeat with remaining filling. Arrange in a casserole dish. Pour 20 ounces of tomato juice over  the cabbage rolls. Season with salt and pepper.

Cover, and bake 35 minutes in the preheated oven, basting occasionally with the tomato sauce. Remove cover, and continue baking 10 minutes.

Fried Rice: We use the fried rice seasoning that’s in the yellow packet…totally can’t remember the name right now…but it’s pretty simple. You just follow the instructions on the packet and it’s delicious. We throw in onion, bell pepper, cabbage, and an egg.

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