First of all, I planned to post this next article last week, but my sister just had her first baby, so I've been out of town, and at the hospital for the last four days! YAY!
After scouring my Cooking Light and Fitness magazines, a couple of my favorite cookbooks, and the web, I come up with at least 14 dinner recipes for the month. I try to find fun recipes, or new tastes to be adventurous (the most recent adventure was Curried Beef -- we all loved it!). During this time of gathering recipes, I also make my grocery list so I don't miss an ingredient. (For organizational purposes, I tear out the recipes and/or print them and keep them in plastic sleeves inside a binder I keep in the kitchen.)
Then I check for any coupons, and usually, I head out to Wegman's. They have a great selection of organics for a very reasonable price. When I do most of my shopping in one place, I tend to spend much less. Note: I used to do "extreme couponing" at Giant. However, I've found that there aren't a lot of coupons for the items I buy nowadays, plus I buy a lot of fresh items. Shopping at a local farmers' market can save money on the fresh items, but Wegman's has really saved us a lot for everything else!
On my last trip I spent $300 (exactly!), and I got enough groceries (mostly raw fruits & veggies and organic) to make the following dinner meals, as well as some items for breakfast, lunch, and several snack recipes. If I double every recipe, I have enough meals for the entire month. If we eat out at all (we try to stick to a $200/mo budget for ALL restaurants/fast food), obviously those freezer meals keep and I have more than a month's worth of food.
FREEZER COOKING TIPS
I've found some amazing websites for healthy recipes. One of my favorite sites is Once A Month Mom. She has FREE monthly freezer meal menus, complete with shopping lists, recipes, printable labels, and directions! She is the one who really taught me how to do freezer cooking. She has several menu options that include diet menus. If you are new to freezer cooking, I recommend you try out one of her monthly menu plans just once. Once you go through the complete process, you see how easy it really is and how much money and time you save!
What works for me, now that I know how to do freezer cooking, is that I buy double the ingredients of all of my recipes for the month. (Buying ground beef or turkey in bulk saves you money.) The night I'm making a meal, I make two of the recipe and freeze one. Usually with soups and chilis, I make triple batches. I label the meal in a ziploc or other freezer-safe container and also write reheating directions. (If I'm unsure, or the recipe doesn't give reheating directions, I just google it.)
By planning ahead, I'm only cooking for half of the month, so we always have a yummy, healthy meal as a "back up plan" for the nights I don't feel like cooking. By not running out and getting McDonald's (YUCK! My kids and hubby won't give it up, though......), we save at least $15-20 each time! And, by only shopping one time per month, I'm much more likely to stay in budget and not overspend.
SAMPLE MONTHLY DINNER MENU:
- Veggie Sushi & Chinese Slaw or Miso Soup (I try to make this at least twice a month -- it's a VERY economical meal and my kids love it! I combine avocado, cucumber, carrots and cream cheese in my sushi; Chinese Slaw is just broccoli slaw and shredded carrots mixed with tahini, pressed garlic, ground ginger, lemon juice and water.)
- Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese (Cooking Light magazine recipe)
- Veggie & Brown Rice Quiche (see my blog post here)
- Turkey Chili (this is super easy & freezes well, plus you can add rice, noodles, an extra can of beans, etc. to make it last much longer; there are lots of recipes out there. I'll admit, I have a tendency to just throw a bunch of things in the pot with some cooked ground turkey and let it simmer for an hour...canned tomatoes and canned beans are my friend on these days.)
- Artichoke & Roasted Red Pepper Pizzas (Cooking Light magazine recipe)
- Salad (we usually have a very large, hearty salad once a week; includes romaine, avocados, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, celery, & feta + whatever else I have one hand! I don't buy salad dressing anymore because the combination of feta, avocados, and tomatoes makes the salad "wet" enough for us.)
- Turkey & Artichoke Pasta (Cooking Light magazine recipe)
- Curried Beef (Cooking Light magazine recipe)
- Fajitas (these are easy to throw together when you have fresh veggies on hand and either freezer chicken/beef or canned beans)
- Jillian's Ziti with Chicken (Jillian Michaels' website)
- Kathy Smith's Chicken and green beans with almonds (Thin Kitchen recipe book by Beachbody)
- Barbacoa Pork with rice & beans (SkinnyTaste website)
- Beef & Black Bean Chili (Thin Kitchen recipe book by Beachbody) & Sweet Potato cornbread muffins (recipe here on blog)
- Butternut Squash Soup (recipe on my blog here)
Good luck! Up next in this series.......monthly breakfast menus!