Six More Ways I’m Going to Try to Save on My Grocery Budget (Plus a Quick $25 Giveaway!)

groceries2271

Matt and I have exactly one more year until we have two kids in college. At that point, assuming all of our kids choose to go to college after high school, we will have two in college until 2024. Thinking of the financial hit we will take because of this…

I pass out cold.

The good news is that having more than one kid in college offers additional grants for students. The other good news is that our kids have been working hard for years and saving money to help pay their own way through college. More good news is that my kids have worked hard to receive and maintain good scholarships to make their college bill lower.

I start to pick myself up off the floor…

But the bad news is that even a “lower priced” college costs around $25,000/year. I can pretty quickly do the math on that, because four kids times four years equals $400,000. And with that…

I fall down dead.

Praise God for scholarships and hard working kids that make that total much lower, but still. Matt and I have made plans to help each son with a specific dollar amount each year. To state the obvious, when we have two in college at one time, we will be forking out twice that dollar amount every year.

Someone please throw a glass of cold water on my face.

One would think my grocery bill would go down as the kids fly the coop, but so far, that hasn’t been the case. As our personal savings account has dwindled recently because of a business investment for my husband (allow me to introduce to you our town’s newest Radon Mitigation Specialist), and then our family van died suddenly, I have felt challenged to reconsider what I wrote a few weeks ago about my huge grocery budget.

In that post I said:

  • There are no other ways I can cut our grocery bill.
  • My teenagers eat an enormous amount of food.
  • I give up.

Or something like that.

It is true that my teens eat huge portions. This isn’t because they are excessive. It is because they are hungry. (A mom of one tiny baby recently suggested I simply cut them off and don’t let them eat as much. That is only a good idea on opposite day.)

But I am challenging myself to think even more frugally about groceries as we move toward our near future with buying a new vehicle and sending boy #2 to college in a year. (I shan’t skimp on Kleenex. The tears have already started about next year’s graduation. I can’t help it.)

Ways I already save on real food

  1. I make a lot of our food from scratch.
  2. I keep our meals simple, not elaborate.
  3. I price-match to get good deals on produce in my small town.
  4. I preserve food from our garden if there happens to be any excess.
  5. We only eat out when traveling, and then often we pack our food to take with us.
  6. I avoid expensive produce that is not “in season.”
  7. I buy our meat in bulk and our eggs and milk from local farmers, all for reasonable prices.
  8. I watch for mark-downs on any of our favorites at the grocery store.
  9. I stock up on anything we use often whenever it is on sale.
  10. I stock up at Aldi on staples whenever I make a trip to the city.
  11. I stopped buying everything organic even though it makes me cringe a little bit.

6 More Ways I'm Going to Try to Save on My Real Food Grocery Budget

Ways I think I can do better as we try to rebuild our savings

  1. Go to the store about every week and a half instead of every week. (Sounds like a good experiment, huh?)
  2. Don’t buy pre-packaged snacks for the boys to eat at games, even if they are “healthier” and even if they are a good deal.
  3. Serve more eggs and meatless meals. (I might have a revolt. To be continued…)
  4. Stop buying cereal. (I rarely buy this anyway, but what if I stopped altogether?)
  5. Eat some of the “random stuff” hanging out in the back of the pantry and freezer whether it’s exciting or not.
  6. Cut back on cheese, or let cheese replace meat sometimes. (Like in this recipe.)

30 Real Food Money Saving Tips

I plan to peruse this book again to trigger more ideas (get yours here – it’s free!). Knowing my family situation (four teenage sons, big eaters, focus on eating nourishing foods instead of fillers), do you have any more suggestions to share?

I’ll share an update in a few weeks once I see how some of these experiments go!

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Real Food Recipes That Are Easy AND Save You Money

I used to make everything from scratch. Everything. Ketchup, graham crackers, and even mozzarella cheese. It’s great to have the skills and knowledge to do this. But at a certain point I had to ask:

Am I getting enough bang for my buck, here? As in, is the time I’m taking and the energy I’m extending to make all of this food really saving me money and therefore, is it worth it?

mozzcheese2sm

For the record, homemade mozzarella costs more than store-bought.

Now, sometimes it’s worth putting forth the effort or spending more to make food from scratch because of the health benefit and great flavor. I mean, I don’t even care how much it saves or doesn’t save to make Homemade Ranch Dressing because this recipe tastes thousands of times better than the bottled stuff and it only includes healthy ingredients. I don’t want high fructose corn syrup on my salad.

ranchdressin2sm

But as my schedule has gotten busier and as the quantity of food we plow through every day has increased, I’ve had to be more choosy about what I make, what I buy pre-made, and what I skip altogether.

For instance, I used to make all of our Whole Wheat Tortillas, without fail. These taste amazing and we miss them, but it takes triple the amount of tortillas to get us through a meal now, compared to the days my kids were little. It’s a rare occasion that I “go to the trouble” to make tortillas now, because it takes over an hour to get the job done. (Though when I do, there is much rejoicing.) We either skip tortillas now (often subbing corn chips), or I’ll buy a case from Azure Standard to keep in the freezer.

Having said all of that, today I thought I’d share some recipes I’ve stuck with for all these years, even with a busier schedule and a higher volume of food consumption. These recipes are worth my time, because the time investment is tiny. And they are cheaper than store-bought so they are a win-win! Also, homemade always tastes better, so score one more for that!

Real Food Recipes that are Easy and Save Money

Seasoning Mixes

I make all of our Ranch Dressing Mix, Italian Dressing Mix, Onion Soup Mix, and Taco Seasoning Mix. These cost pennies to make, saving a significant amount. And since I make big batches, the time saved on these is great!

condiments

Vanilla Extract

The price of beans has gone up, but it still saves money to make Homemade Vanilla Extract. It’s ridiculously easy to make, and well worth the effort because homemade vanilla is amazing!

vanilla_four

Stir-and-Pour Whole Wheat Bread

We don’t eat as much bread as we used to at our house. I think it’s wholesome and filling and my family loves it, but I prefer to fill everyone with more nutrient-packed sides like fruits and veggies. So bread has taken a back seat at our house.

I do sometimes buy a loaf of 100% whole wheat sandwich bread for sandwiches when we need to pack them for a road trip. But for bread at home, when as do eat it with a meal, I make this Stir-and-Pour Whole Wheat Bread. It takes hardly any time or effort, and it doesn’t cost very much. And it tastes awesome!

stir and pour bread loaf 5

Homemade Granola

I discovered this 5-Minute Granola Method and haven’t looked back. I add in whatever we have (dried fruit or chocolate chips) and we’ve got ourselves a great cereal for much less than store bought!

Stove-Top Granola

All of these Simple Meal Recipes

Check out this Spanish Rice Bowl and the long list of other Simple Real Food Recipes it includes. I keep coming up with more of these recipes and am amazed at how much time and money they are saving! I’ve cut down my kitchen time with these Simple Recipes so much that I feel like a cheater. Almost. ;)

spanish rice bowl11

Cool Pineapple Cream Dessert

This is ridiculously easy and so super yummy! Throw three ingredients in the blender and you’re set!

pineapple dessert 3

Special Coffee Drinks

It’s a rare thing for us to spend $$ at a coffee shop since we can make fun coffee drinks at home for much less! This Chocolate Frappe is awesome. Sometimes we put this Chocolate Whipped Cream in our coffee. We freeze coffee into ice cubes like this to make easy Iced Coffees. This Coffee Milkshake is awesome in the summertime. Sometimes I make a big batch of Chocolate Iced Coffee to offer several people at once. While all of these take a little time, it doesn’t feel like a lot of effort because it’s FUN to make drinks like this!

What are some of the foods you make from scratch that are easy and save money?

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One of the Hardest Grocery Budget Questions I’m Ever Asked

A few months ago I shared about my family’s current grocery budget. Some of you felt a mighty relief that you weren’t the only one spending so much each month to feed your family . But others of you fell over with shock. (Sorry ’bout that.)

Before I get too far in to today’s post, allow me to catch you up on some grocery budget posts that will help you understand where I’m coming from here:

Long story short, we are a family of 6. We have four sons ages 19, 17, 15, and 12. Our oldest lives in the college dorm, but comes over from time to time (sometimes with friends). We almost never eat out, we don’t have cable, and we drive old vehicles. Our health care/insurance costs are amazingly low (praise the Lord!). But…we spend a boat load of money every month on groceries. Eeeeek!

groceries Lincoln

Almost every month, we fork out somewhere between $800-$1,100 dollars for food to feed our family. Yep, sounds a little scary to some of you. We used to get away with much less back when all four of our boys could share one apple for a snack and be fine until they ate their tiny little dinner.

Now it’s just not possible. Our four boys are teenagers now. They are tall. They are extremely active. We care about wholesome nutrition. Our grocery bill reflects all of this.

groceries725

One of the most difficult questions I’m asked by people is this one:

If you had to cut back on your grocery budget, what would you cut?

I open my mouth in an effort to answer, and nothing comes out. Of all our groceries, what would I not buy? What do I buy that’s a splurge that I could give up? How could I cut back?

Honestly, I’m not sure I have a good answer. I buy food. My family eats it. We waste almost nothing.

Okay, here’s one. Sometimes I splurge and buy juice. This is fun, but not a necessity. We could give that up, which would save, what? About $8 a month? I buy La Croix sparkling water, and this is a total splurge. It’s a fun drink that I could give up. Again, this offers a savings of just a few dollars every month.

Could I (tearfully) give up on buying a grass fed cow every year? Maybe. But even with that, would I really be saving money? Buying our meat in bulk like this really cuts the cost down.

And speaking of cows, I really can’t skimp on the meat at our house, as far as quantity. I feed my boys plenty of rice, potatoes, and pasta to help fill them. But they never feel satisfied without substantial protein.

groceries 411

How about produce? The thought of cutting back on fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables makes me feel sick inside. Our bodies need nourishment from these, and I would hate to cut back. Fruits and veggies are a big part of our meals, and I believe the variety of nutrients they provide helps to keep my boys feeling satisfied, especially when compared to cheap crackers or whatever else I’d offer to fill in the gaps.

Also? I’ve already stopped buying “only organic.” I gave that up several years ago when I realized the cost was keeping us from eating enough fruits and vegetables. I buy organic when the price is reasonable, but otherwise, I trust that God is bigger and we just wash and eat the nourishing conventional produce. (I save a lot of money price-matching our produce, so I’m so thankful our Wal-mart still offers this!)

We already skip the milk. We buy one gallon each week (to use for cooking) from a local farmer, so it is organic and grass fed. But one gallon. For $5.00. It’s more expensive than store-bought, but the $20 I spend on milk each month doesn’t make or break my budget.

So I guess that brings me back to:

My family eats a lot of food.

That, and we feed extra people quite frequently.

Our grocery budget allows for including extras around our table regularly, and for that, I’m extremely thankful. I wouldn’t want to ever give that up, and God continues to provide so I don’t have to.

But truly, if I had to cut back on my grocery budget, I think my kids would be hungry.

Either that or I think they might get sick more frequently. There’s no way to know that for sure, I guess, but after so many years of filling them with nourishing foods, including a lot of fruits and vegetables, I really think their bodies are thriving on the nutrients. To cut back and substitute them with “filler foods” could potentially hurt them and make our doctor bills increase. Worth it? Absolutely not.

This is where I land for my family right now. If our income decreased and we would need to cut budget in order to make it, food would be one of the last things I would/could adjust. And I know, without a doubt, that God would provide for my family’s needs. He is God and we never need to doubt him.

If I had to cut back on my grocery budget

What are your thoughts on this topic? If you had to cut back on grocery spending, what would you/could you cut out?

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Why I Don’t Make Broth in the Crock Pot

I’ll get right to the point.

I think it’s a fabulous idea to make homemade bone broth in the crock pot. But that doesn’t work for me and here’s why:

My crock pot only makes 3 quarts of broth at one time.

(It’s a 6-quart crock pot, but after the bones are strained out, the amount of broth only ends up being about 3 quarts.)

Instead of a crock pot, I make broth in my big stock pot, which makes almost 2 gallons at one time! (The same is true for applesauce. It absolutely doesn’t save me time to make a crock pot full of applesauce when I can make many quarts in my stock pot in much less time.)

broth in stock pot

My food prep mantra: Go big or go home.
Except that the food prep happens when I already am home. So…
Go big or go bigger.

Indeed, my stock pot makes almost three times the amount of broth (or applesauce) at one time compared to my crock pot. Since broth simmers slowly for several hours no matter what I cook it in, efficiency tells me to always use my stock pot.

In addition to this, I typically make two huge batches of broth in one day to make the most of my chicken or beef bones. I make one batch of broth when I’m cooking a couple of chickens. Then I strain the broth to put into jars, pull the chicken off the bones, and throw the bones back into the pot to make a second batch. In both batches, I throw several pounds of onions, carrots, and leeks. I get almost four gallons of broth in a day when I do this! (Read the following links for specifics on  how I make Chicken Broth and Beef Broth.)

This process gives us enough broth for soups and other recipes for about two weeks. It is awesome.

A Side Note: I Make Orange Chicken or Beef Broth

Let’s talk for a moment about all those veggies I cook into the broth. They get ridiculously mushy after cooking for so many hours, so I just blend them up and stir them back into the broth for added nourishment. You know what this means, don’t you? This means that my broth always turns a beautiful orange color.

How to Make Chicken Broth

A word to the wise:

If you follow this example of cooking and blending carrots/onions/leeks/celery/spinach into your broth, turning it a beautiful orange color – I suggest that you inform your family about the contents of the pretty orange liquid you’ve placed in jars in the fridge. Otherwise they might say, “Can I have some orange juice?” and you might absentmindedly say, “Sure” before you realize you don’t actually have any orange juice. And then your kid will take a big swig of chicken broth and almost puke.

Hypothetically.

It could happen I think.

I have no idea why my youngest won’t touch orange juice anymore.

Back to talking about the Stock Pot Broth Making Method

Now in a few years when all these strapping teenage sons of mine have left the nest (sniff) and I no longer need pounds and gallons and cases of food like I do now, might I go back to using my crock pot to make broth again?

I haven’t decided. I like efficiency. Broth freezes just fine, so I may always use the stock pot for broth-making to avoid having to make the mess as frequently.

And the truth is, I’m not even sure I remember how to make less than 16 quarts of something at once. We may enjoy a lot of leftovers (or company) until I can figure that out.

In the meantime,

This is why I don’t make broth in the crock pot.

Why I Don't Make Broth in my Crock Pot

How do you make your broth?

 

My February Grocery Spending Totals (Did I Come in Under Budget?!)

Remember how I promised to document all my grocery spending during the month of February to share with you?

I did it! I saved all my receipts. I took all the pictures. I realized how much work it was to take all the pictures and type out all of this information.

(I’m trying to decide if I’m going to keep documenting my purchases every month as some have requested. It is a serious amount of work. Leave a comment to weigh in with how much you want to see this regularly!)

Two weeks ago I posted what I’d bought and how much I’d spent through Feb. 8. (I was up to $524 at that point already!) See the breakdown of my early Feb. grocery trips here.

groceries feb171

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Now I’ll show you what I bought and spent throughout the rest of February…

Yay me, I got to go to Lincoln again (twice in one month is rare, but hooray for cool grocery stores in the big city!).

My first stop in Lincoln is always Fresh Thyme Market. I had the most fun this shopping trip as so many of our favorites were either BOGO items or deeply discounted! All their organic produce was 25% off, so I filled my cart.

While shopping, I decided to take each of my boys a “special treat.” Why? Because it’s fun and food is my love language. See the shopping lists below to see what I took home for each of them. (Come to think of it, I didn’t get anything for Asa, who is away at college, but any time he comes home to eat I go out of my way to make his favorites, so we’re good.)

NOTE: I’ve gotten lazy so instead of setting all the food out on the table at home to take a picture before we put it all away (which takes several extra steps and a lot of extra time), I’ve started taking pictures of my full carts. I know it’s harder to see all the food, but… :)

groceries feb178

Fresh Thyme Market (2-15-17)

2 packages orange cranberry buns (BOGO) $3.99
2 packages chocolate pretzels $5.00
4 packages coffee (BOGO) $15.98
Havarti jalapeno cheese (surprise for Justus) $3.99
8 pounds organic butter (BOGO) $23.96
2 packages wheat tortillas $4.98
4 Brown Cow yogurt (BOGO) $1.98
1 pound kiwi $2.99
.82 pounds asparagus $2.45
2.74 pounds bartlett pears $2.66
3.39 pounds gala apples $3.29
1 pint grape tomatoes $0.88
3.44 pounds mini sweet peppers $6.85
3.27 pounds organic bananas $1.86
3.44 pounds organic braeburn apples $2.55
2.19 pounds organic broccoli $2.45
1 organic cucumber $0.66
5 organic avocados $3.70
Organic rainbow carrots $2.24
2 red bell peppers $1.76
2.64 pounds red grapes $2.56
6 pounds strawberries $9.00
1.05 pounds nectarines $1.86

Total $101.65

Next, I went to Aldi. Since I’d been there just two weeks prior, I didn’t need as much. But of course I got another case of salsa since we go through it so much. (Total jars of salsa purchased in February: twenty-eight. #lifewithteenageboys)

groceries feb 179

Aldi (2-15-17)

3 pounds yellow onions $0.79
4 pints blueberries $6.76
Valentine Danimals Smoothies (marked down after Vday – surprise for Malachi) $0.99
Pecan/Vanilla Granola (surprise for Elias) $2.99
2 packages organic cheese slices $5.98
2 packages brown sugar $2.58
2 packages uncured hotdogs $3.98
3 boxes fruit squeezes (for Asa to have in the dorm) $5.68
12 jars organic salsa $22.68

Total: $52.43

Just a few days later, we were out of fresh greens and cheese (staples at our house!). Plus we’d already eaten all those strawberries. I made a list and ran to our local Walmart.

groceries feb179

Walmart (2-20-17)

1 pound organic mixed greens $5.98
1 pound organic spinach $5.98
8 pounds marble jack cheese $27.88
1/2 gallon half-and-half $3.98
2 quarts heavy whipping cream $8.28
52 ounces frozen corn $3.96
4 pounds strawberries (price-matched) $5.96
1 pound whole wheat spaghetti $1.00 (looking forward to trying this brand to see if we like it since it’s such a good price!)

Total $63.02

I ordered several staple items online from Vitacost. Many of you have taken advantage of the “Get $10 off your first order of $30 or more!” so I had referral credit (thank you!) and got most of this with very little money out of pocket.

groceries feb1710

Vitacost (2-22-17)

32-ounces organic lemon juice
3 cans organic pizza sauce
2 32-ounce jugs organic maple syrup
32-ounces organic lime juice
33.8 ounce bottle organic olive oil
6 15-ounce cans organic baked beans

Total after credit: $5.42

I hit Wal-mart one last time on February 26. There were some GREAT price-matching options (strawberries for $0.98!). Plus I needed to pick up a few items to take with us this weekend when we head out of town for our annual homeschool basketball tournament. (We’ll eat out with the team sometimes too; but three meals a day for three days would be a little hard on our stomachs and budget.)

groceries feb1711

Wal-Mart (2-26-17)

6 bags Great Value “Fritos” $11.04
2 quarts cream $8.28
Colby Jack individually wrapped cheese (for bball tournament weekend) $2.88
2 packages Hormel Naturals lunch meat (for bball tournament) $11.52
1 loaf 100% whole wheat bread (for bball tournament) $1.68
3 boxes of crackers (for bball tournament) $8.88
LaCroix sparkling water (Mom’s treat!) $3.18
Sour Cream $3.94
48-ounces cashews (to make individual bags for the bball players on our team) $28.02
3 pounds mandarins (price-match!) $2.49
1 pound asparagus (price-match!) $1.47
4 avocados (price-match!) $2.00
3 pints organic grape tomatoes (price-match!) $2.94
8 pounds strawberries (price-match!) $7.84

Total: $96.16

Last but not least, we bought 5 dozen eggs from a local friend with chickens (I feel like we got more eggs earlier in the month that I forgot to document??). We also got one gallon of milk each week from a local farm, a total of four gallons this month.

Milk: $20
Eggs: $12.50 (plus whatever I forgot earlier this month)

Oh! I had a migraine last week and took advantage of a 50% off Pizza Hut coupon. I got four large pizzas for $30 with tax – a splurge, but not a bad price for 4 large pizzas!

Did we come in under budget?

Here’s a break-down of how much we’ve budgeted for our family of six (ages 43, 43, 19, 17, 15, and 12). Here’s a peek at the rest of the groceries I bought in February.

Grand total I spent for food in February: $905.59

That is a lot of money, but it is also a lot of good food! I am thankful.

How did your grocery budget hold up in February?

That Time I Stopped Buying Groceries to “Eat What We Had” In an Attempt to Save Money

If you look at my stash of food, you might decide, “This woman is crazy.”

groceries feb 172

You’d be right, of course. I mean, who buys 24 packs of cream cheese at once? Why do I need 36 pounds of pasta, seeing as I do not own an Italian restaurant? And what is up with the three cases of salsa? The 50 pound bag of oats? An entire shelf full of cocoa powder?

Dude. Never question a woman’s supply of chocolate. This is a necessity, much like water and air.

groceries april 221
Some might think I have a food hoarding problem. Some may be concerned that I have an unhealthy fear of running out of food. But the truth is:

My family eats a lot.

Also? Cooking is one of my very favorite things. It’s also a big part of my writing career – experimenting and coming up with recipes to share here. So basically, I like having my very own grocery store out in my storage room. When I get a new recipe idea, I almost always have the ingredients on hand that I need to work with. And I’ve almost always purchased them on sale in bulk. That’s how I roll. I find a good deal on an ingredient I use regularly, I stock up, I always have it on hand, and I have rarely paid full price.

groceries Lincoln

Which leads me to the time recently I decided, “Hey. I spend a lot of money on food every month. I have a lot of food already (ridiculous understatement). I wonder how long I can go without buying groceries. I bet I’d save a few bucks if I stayed away from the store. I should try it.”

This resolution lasted for two entire weeks. That’s how long I stayed out of the store. Then I couldn’t put it off any longer. I had to go shopping.

groceries feb178

What happened when I stopped buying groceries

Had we run out of food? Goodness, no. But suddenly I found we were down to frozen meat, several jars of homemade applesauce, and a pitiful can of olives, the brand of which I will never buy again.

I exaggerate. You can be sure we still had bags of rice and wheat and oats. I most definitely had a decent stash of butter in my freezer. But as nice of an idea it was that I use up what I have before I shop again, I learned very quickly that this doesn’t work for me at this season in my life.

Why I can’t avoid grocery shopping longer than two weeks

1. In only two weeks, my stock pile shrunk rapidly.

No, of course we didn’t go through 24 packages of cream cheese in two weeks. But I was amazed at how quickly my supply of food started to vanish and I began to feel uneasy about running out of essentials. Part of this is because we eat a lot. Actually, all of this is because we eat a lot. What can I say?

2. I stock up when the price is right.

If I use up what I’ve bought on sale, then I’ll have to pay full price when I need it again. Wham, bam, no thank you, ma’am. It works much better and saves us a significant amount money if I continue to stock up on needed items when the price is right – before I wait until my stock pile has run out.

3. The fresh produce only lasts so long.

Buying fresh fruits and vegetables in season is one of the main reasons I need to go to the store every week. After I’d avoided going to the store for longer than normal, we were down to two carrots and a few pears in the crisper drawer. I still had some frozen veggies too, but man shall not live on green beans alone.

4. I don’t have time to run to the store every time I run out of something important.

Having a nice supply of all the basics on hand not only saves me money, it saves me time. Running to the store for one or two items here and there is really a time waster for me. I can’t even tell you how nice it is to simply “shop” in my pantry and freezers when I need to make something at the last minute.

—————————————————————-

There truly is something to be said about eating up the odds and ends that get shoved to the back of the freezer before they gets wasted. That’s the best part of committing to staying out of the store for as long as possible – it really challenges a person to make do with what she has.

But as for me and my household, I’m going to need to shop regularly and keep a good stockpile of the basics at all times. It helps keep my grocery budget under control and I think we all know I need as much help with that as I can get.

How about you? Have you found that it works well to take some time to avoid the store and instead work on eating up what you have on hand? What saves you the most money?

The Time I Got Attacked About Mashed Potatoes

It’s funny what people will say on social media. I find it especially humorous when I say a brief statement, link to a post, then people react to my words without clicking over to actually read the post.

Here’s what I shared on Facebook a few weeks ago:

facebook-mashed-potatoes

My intent with this Facebook post was to share some ways to cut back on our time in the kitchen. To share some easy recipes to make kitchen life easier for busy families. Everyone wants to hear about this, right?

But before I knew it, people were commenting, “What’s so hard about making mashed potatoes?!” and “Sounds like someone is too lazy to do their dishes!”

Lazy. Yes, that’s definitely it.

For the record, I didn’t actually feel attacked about my mashed potatoes. The comments were barely negative and most people shared nice comments. People like to share their opinions, and sure, sometimes their words can seem to come out a little harshly. I’ve grown a thicker skin through the years. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but mashed potatoes? Naw.

One thing I learned is this: Some people truly don’t find it difficult to make mashed potatoes regularly. I think this is fantastic. Bring on the gravy.

As for me? The thought of making mashed potatoes often, during this season in my life, truly does cause me stress.

Through the years, I’ve pared back and pared back and pared back on my kitchen duties. My family eats more food than ever, and at the same time, I have less time than ever to devote to cooking and cleaning.

Making mashed potatoes truly is easy – I get that. But for me, right now, they are hard. They create more dirty dishes than I’m willing to add to my already overflowing sink. They make extra steps in putting together a meal – and seeing as we are stepping all over ourselves trying to keep up with life – they are steps I’m not able to take right now. I guess we could say that with everything else I’m juggling right now, I’m not able to also juggle a pot full of potatoes. (Go ahead though. Try and picture it.)

I can do a simple main dish along with salad and steamed veggies. That’s it, and I love it. This is easy, doable, and nourishing and doesn’t require the boiling and the mashing nor any effort on my part to keep the mixer from spraying potatoes all over my cabinets and floor. (Clean cooking is not my gift.)

Someday maybe I’ll get back on the mashed potato train. Or not. I kind of like this new “keep the meals simple and good” lifestyle. This is what Simple Meals is made of. This is why so many of us love it. (Here’s a shameless plug to say, “You should totally join Simple Meals if you haven’t already. Do that here. I’ll give you $10 off.)

I’ll save the mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving. I’ll stick with baking potatoes because they are easier and less messy and more versatile.

7 Ways to Use Baked Potatoes

 

How about you? Have you given up on mashed potatoes like I have, or are you a mashed potato champion?

How I Killed Two Birds With… a Chicken?

Remember how my 3-year old used to call the “kitchen” a “chicken?” What in the world – that kid turned 17 this week. He doesn’t get his words mixed up much anymore, though at times he makes up his own words (I have no idea where he gets that). I find him to be more endearing than ever. Rest assured, he’s got the kitchen-chicken thing figured out by now.

justus31

As you all know, I enjoy the occasional opportunity to focus on chicken. (See also: God is Bigger Than a Free Range Chicken and How to Fend Off Mean Roosters.) So here I am finally with a new post about poultry.

I didn’t actually kill the two birds I’m writing about today, as the dearly beloved had already found themselves beheaded and plucked and stashed safely in the back of my freezer. The point of this post is actually to share how cooking a couple chickens to make broth ended up saving me a significant amount of time and made about six full meals for my family. Thus, I feel like I killed two birds with one stone; but what I actually did was knock out a lot of pending work with the effort I put into cooking two birds.

You see now where I got the title for this article. It’s easy to see that being clever is what I do second best after securing my family’s need for sustenance. So back to the chickens…

chicken week 1

I had two smallish birds in the freezer, so I pulled them both out and put them directly into a large pot of hot water with a bunch of vegetables. (Note: I’ve found that there is no need to thaw the chickens before making the broth. It’s all part of keeping life simple, being efficient, and killing two birds with one…well. You get it.)

The chickens and veggies and water all worked their magic for several hours on my stove until they turned into the liquid gold I’d been hoping to create. At this point I pulled all the chicken off the bones. Then I blended the mushy vegetables until they were smooth, and stirred them right back into the broth that had been created. I then tossed all the chicken bones right back into the pot with a fresh batch of water and vegetables to make another round of broth. (We call this getting the most out of your chicken bones, or rather, killing more, or perhaps fewer, birds with two birds. Try to keep up.)

When all was said and done, I had three gallons of rich chicken broth, which, if I do it right, will make 5-6 meals for my family or to share with others as the needs arise. In addition, I had a 9×13 dish full of cooked chicken to use in those meals or in others.

chicken week 3

I guess we could say I killed more than 2 birds with my birds, seeing as I had more than 2 meal options available to me after my broth making efforts.

A couple days later I cooked rice directly in some of the broth (to give it great nourishment and flavor!) and stirred together a big dish of Cheesy Chicken and Rice. I used the remaining cooked chicken to make a pot of Shredded BBQ Chicken (which is seriously as easy as dumping bbq sauce into the cooked chicken and stirring it – let’s not make life hard).

potato_soup

With the rest of the broth, I will make batches of Potato Soup, Chicken Soup with a Kick, and 20-Minute Taco Soup.

So cook yourself a couple of chickens to make broth, then use the broth and chicken to make a handful of other great dishes for your family. You, too, can kill a lot of work with a couple of birds and have a whole lot of meals to enjoy with your family.

At this point I’m wondering why I don’t have an entire category on my site dedicated entirely to Chicken. (See also: On Thursday I Killed the Chicken and Chickens and Cowboys.)

cowboys

This was taken six years ago when Malachi was only six
and I was still in my 30’s. What in the world?

What are your favorite dishes to make with broth and chicken?

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How I Much I’ve Spent on Groceries So Far in February (and What I Bought)

I promised I’d share all my grocery purchases with you in February, so here goes! Now you can see everything I buy that fills up my great big grocery budget. Don’t forget who I’m feeding though. We sure do love us a lot of good food.

family-sillysm

The month started off with a big (expensive) bang because I had appointments in Lincoln on Feb. 1. So I hit my favorite city stores and stocked up since I don’t go there very often.

I went to Aldi and Fresh Thyme Market, both of which are such fun places to shop! (My hometown only has one kind-of-pricey-in-my-opinion local store and a Super Walmart.)

Two things about my Aldi trip this time around:

  1. There are four items I love buying there, so I always get at least an entire case of each every time I’m there since I don’t get to go to Aldi very often. You’ll see in the pic below that I bought a case of organic salsa, a case of organic black beans, a case of organic spaghetti sauce…and you can’t see it but I also bought a case of cream cheese.
  2. Our church was hosting a big youth rally that weekend, and we had signed up to house 13 teenage boys Friday and Saturday nights. I know from experience to have a LOT of food on hand for snacks (even though they eat their main meals at the church building on Saturday). I bought six take-and-bake pizzas for the weekend (for only $5 each!), a case of juice (a fun splurge), a few boxes of granola bars, plus some tortillas and shredded cheese so I could make a big breakfast burrito bar for all the teens Sunday morning before church. Sooooo, if you see items in the picture that shock you (junkie pizzas and store-bought white tortillas?? what??) that’s why. :)

groceries feb 172

As you can see from the pictures, I combined my Aldi purchases with my Fresh Thyme Market purchases. I bought a lot of produce at Fresh Thyme Market, and their coffee was on sale, so I stocked up. (Jamaican Blue Mountain – my favorite from FTM).)

groceries feb171

Here’s the itemized breakdown of my shopping trip:

Aldi, Feb. 1

12 cans organic black beans $9.48
24 packages cream cheese $30.96
12 jars organic pasta sauce $23.88
Snacks for youth rally (granola bars/crackers) $5.36
Juice bottles for youth rally $9.99
2 packages tortillas for youth rally $3.38
6 pizzas for youth rally $30.94
16 jars organic salsa $30.24
2 jars banana peppers $2.98
3 boxes applesauce pouches (for Asa to keep in the dorm for a quick snack) $5.67

Total: 152.88

Fresh Thyme Market, Feb. 1

6 packages coffee $29.94
1 package pepper jack cheese (to surprise Justus) $3.33
6 packages shredded cheese for youth rally breakfast burritos (BOGO deal) $8.97
8 pounds butter $20.00
Case of sparkling water (my fizzy treat!) $3.99
2 pounds strawberries $5.00
5 pounds carrots $2.99
1 pound baby carrots for youth rally $1.50
1.64 pounds Broccoli $1.62
5 pounds Gala Apples for our family and for the youth rally $5.26
4 avocados $2.00
2 pints organic grape tomatoes $3.00
2 red peppers $1.98
2.49 pound red grapes for our family and for the youth rally $2.47
5.82 pounds bananas for our family and for the youth rally $3.43

Total: $95.48

A note on why I spend extra and compromise on nutrition by buying processed food when we host a houseful of teenage boys during the youth rally:

  • Last year during youth rally weekend, I got eight hours of sleep – total – during the entire weekend. I know I have to be very careful about what I take on so I don’t overdo and wear myself out.
  • We go through a high volume of food, and I don’t have time/energy to make everything homemade. (Roll out and cook enough tortillas to feed 13 teenage boys breakfast burritos on a Sunday morning? I don’t think so.)
  • They don’t care if it’s homemade. They eat it as fast as we can crank it out.
  • We have relationships with most of these boys because of our time spent with them at church camp each summer. If I’m distracted with intense cooking, I miss out on more important relationship-building time with them.

Moving on beyond the weekend (in which I got a total of 12 hours of sleep – a big improvement over last year!)…

A few days later, Matt had to run to Wal-Mart so while he was there he picked up containers of organic spinach and organic mixed greens. We try to keep these on hand at all times so we can eat salads every day.

groceries feb 173

Walmart, Feb. 6

16-ounces Organic mixed greens $5.98
5-ounces Organic baby spinach $3.46

Total: $9.44

Once each month, we order from Azure Standard, a great food co-op based out of Oregon. Pick-up day was Tuesday, and here’s what we got:

azure order feb17

Azure, Feb. 7

5 pounds organic carrots $4.00
3 pounds organic onions $3.25
10 pounds organic frozen green beans $21.90
10 pounds organic frozen peas $22.25
50 pounds organic golden potatoes $45.00
5 pounds dry roasted peanuts $13.15

$109.55 + $9.31 shipping -$25 credit

Total: $93.86

Wednesday we were almost out of fresh fruit, so I made a list of items I could price-match, and headed to Walmart.

Note: I also needed a few ingredients to complete meals I was making to take to a family who just had a new baby and to take to our local rescue mission.

groceries feb 174

Walmart, Feb 8

3 jars pizza sauce (for the mission meal) $3.42
1/2 gallon half-n-half $3.98
1.91 pounds bananas $1.05
1.65 pounds broccoli (for the mission meal) $2.87
14 ounces Hormel Naturals smoked turkey (to pack sandwiches for our basketball games over the weekend) $5.76
2 cans natural olives $4.52
Sour cream $3.94
2 pounds hamburger meat (to make burritos for the new parents) $4.16
16 pack tortillas (to make burritos for the new parents) $4.58
7.65 pounds of red grapes (pricematched at $0.97/pound – some for the mission, some for our family) $7.43
3 pounds strawberries (pricematched at $1.79 each) $5.37
2 pints blueberries (pricematched at $2.00 each) $4.00
6 ounces raspberries (pricematched) $2.00
Grape tomatoes (pricematched) $0.97
6 pounds clementines (pricematched at $2.49/package) $4.98
2.97 pounds gala apples (pricematched at $0.88/pound) $2.61
3 pounds bartlett pears (pricematched at $0.97/pound) $2.91

Total: $64.55

If I’ve done my math correctly (don’t hold your breath), so far this month we’ve spent $416.21 + $108 average for our bulk meat we buy once per year = $524.21.

Price-matching saves us a great deal of money since locally my best option is to shop Walmart. (I’d heard a rumor that price-matching was going away, but a friend who works at Wal-mart told me that nope, it’s still alive and kicking!) Do you price, or do you live close to stores with good sale prices?

I have to go back to Lincoln for another appointment this week, so I’ll get to go to Fresh Thyme Market and Aldi again. It’s rare for me to make it there twice in one month!

One would think after looking at the pictures of all the food I bought during the first 8 days of the month that we’d have enough to last us a while. Yep, one would think. :)

Watch for another post later in February sharing an update of our spending. Can I stay within budget? Maybe even come under budget a little? This all remains to be seen. :)

How’s your grocery budget coming along so far this month?

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The Truth About How Cooking Healthier Foods Has Saved Me Time (and dirty dishes)

Raise your hands, wives, if you can recall a day you spent extra time on your hair, makeup, and outfit so you could impress your husband – only to have him not even notice. Now leave your hands raised if you can recall another day you pulled your hair into a 5-second messy bun, never changed out of your mis-matched sweats from yesterday, and forgot makeup existed – only to have your husband give you a second appreciative glance, grin, and say, “Well hey there, Cutie.”

Rest assured, he appreciated the nice hair, great outfit, and perfect makeup day too. Perhaps he was just too distracted or busy at the time to say so. Let us all be thankful he loves us on our “prettiest” days and even (especially) on the days we’re singing “oh where is my hairbrush?”

What does all this have to do with saving time while cooking healthy food? Everything. It very much relates in every way.

The Surprising Truth About How Cooking Healthier Foods Has Saved Me Time (and dirty dishes)

See, one day recently, I was having an “I can’t keep up, what even is a kitchen, I don’t feel very well, we have got to get this assignment done” kind of a day. I don’t even have to tell you what my hair looked like (and I recommend you save yourself the embarrassment of trying to conjure up an image). More importantly, dinner prep kept getting pushed farther down the to-do list.

I finally found two minutes (and a bit of energy) at lunchtime to put some frozen chicken into the crockpot, dump on some bbq sauce, and crank it to the “hi” setting. At least we’d have some meat ready before the boys left for drum lessons and basketball practice, thought I.

The chicken cooked itself all afternoon. Just before dinnertime later that night, I stir-fried some carrots and broccoli with a bit of olive oil, garlic, and salt. I grabbed a jar of applesauce from the pantry and declared it a meal, such as it was. My hair though. There was nothing that could be done.

Would you believe? My husband walked into the kitchen after putting in a 10-hour work day, saw the food I had “prepared” and not having any idea of the ridiculously short amount of time I’d spent cooking said, “Wow! This looks fantastic! What a great meal! Thank you!!”

saucy chicken3

Not that he isn’t equally appreciative when I have taken the time to roll out homemade noodles or have produced a fresh loaf of bread. But his gratitude reminded me of this:

  • A meal doesn’t have to be complicated to be delicious.
  • Sometimes the healthiest meals are the very simplest.

The busier I have become through the years, the simpler our meals have needed to be. I’ve noticed that the simpler our meals have become, the healthier they are.

Isn’t that unexpected?

And here people still think cooking healthy food takes all kinds of extra time.

Take it from the girl who took five minutes to cram frozen chicken into a crock pot, and then threw out a few veggies just before meal time. Learn from the mom who has learned to make a complete meal of Parmesan Broiled Fish with veggies in record time (10 minutes, start to finish, thanks for asking).

I believe the simpler we keep our meals, the healthier they can be. Stop making healthy food complicated. Focus on the basics (meat, veggies, fruit). Save the special, longer-to-make meals, for special occasions.

Just think. We might even find more time in our day to change into a cute sweater before dinner.

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Psst! If you join Simple Meals, you’ll have more time to change out of your mis-matched sweats. We promise.

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