So it's Fall here in the beautiful Ozarks. And it has been pretty nice. We've had rain (with a tornado here and there for some excitement). We've had perfectly gorgeous sunny crisp days. We've had a few cloudy miserable ones that encouraged plenty of hot cider drinking. And then we have today. I think it's around 80. That being said, all this variety in our weather pattern makes Beke a regular Snot Bag. I feel like I have it running out my ears.
Yesterday, Josiah and I went to a local produce market and picked up a few pumpkins. We got a nice sized pie pumpkin and a few little cute ones for an activity with the cousins we are hosting at the end of the week. I'm pretty cheap. That pie pumpkin is going to be our carving/science/eating pumpkin of the week. And speaking of cheap....
Ever have those weeks when the grocery budget is tighter than my last pair of spanx? (and I guarantee you that they're pretty stinkin' tight) Our grocery budget this week was slim. I am pretty good at making creative meals out of next to nothing, but making really healthy creative meals out of next to nothing is pretty tough. I've always promised myself that even if our grocery budget was of the Ramen Noodle/Hot Dog variety my family would never know it. So. Here is a few tips I have for you. We can't be the only family who struggles with this. And I want to help those of you who are trying to be as healthy as you can to succeed.
1. Use What You Have. Within reason, of course. If you have a pound of bacon in the freezer you don't need to waste it, but it doesn't need to be the center piece of every meal. My mamma blessed us with a HUGE pork roast this week. It isn't as diet friendly as a piece of salmon or organic chicken breasts, but pork can actually be quite lean. And I'm stretching it out as much as I can. Yesterday I roasted the whole thing with some apples I needed to use pretty quickly (they were almost past the point of no return), whole cranberries I found in my freezer (don't ask how old they were) and an onion. It was delish. I took of a portion of the meat. Chunked it up and made a lite sauce with the now cooked apples, cranberries and onions and served it over brown rice. Today I took another chunk of the pork and made a lite Hawaiian pizza with a whole wheat crust. I used a can of pineapple I found in my pantry and made my own sauce. Pizza is not something we eat all the time at the moment so my guys are going to enjoy it. Tomorrow I am going to shredded some of the pork for Green Chili & Pork Tacos. My guys will never complain. Josiah thought last night's pork was chicken anyway. And I might even have enough for a Posole (a brothy Latin soup). Try stretching a whole chicken. Or make a big pot of Pintos and you've got quite a few meals.
2. Reimagine Your Favorite Dishes. It's called substitution. This week I found some lite turkey breakfast sauce for 1.39. I can use this turkey sausage in any recipe that uses ground meat. It might give it a slightly different twist, but all I have to do is make the appropriate adjustments. For example, this week we have the cousins coming to spend the night on Friday. I plan on making my famous turkey meatballs with sauce. How easy will it be to make those meatballs out of the turkey sausage? I will make slightly smaller meatballs and not add as much spice to my sauce itself. The flavor the turkey sausage will do the trick. To add to the nutrition value of the dish (as well as make heartier) I will add a zucchini that I found extremely marked down at the produced store. My recipe doesn't necessarily call for zucchini, but I know that I can add almost any veggie for a great dish.
3. Learn to Cook. Ouch. So I know that for some of you this is painful. But you don't have to become a professional chef. Just learn a few basic techniques. Go on Youtube. Haunt the Food Network site. Buying prepared meals or meals is not only expensive, but often isn't as healthy for you either. Sparkpeople.com (the site I keep track of my calories) has a professional chef that posts videos of all kinds of recipes. Learning to cook with larger cuts of meat, fresh veggies and whole grains can really make a difference in your health and your wallet. One of my favorite site for light cooking is skinnytaste.com. Try and educate yourself concerning what you are putting in your mouth.
4. Plan your meals, but be flexible. This kind of goes hand in hand with reimagining your favorite dishes. This happens to me a lot. Say I want to fix Teryaki Chicken Breasts (one of our favorites). I usually serve it with brown rice and Roasted broccoli or maybe a light Asian slaw. But I find chicken legs on sale instead for .99 a pound. Dark chicken meat has kind of gotten a bad wrap. It has so many good things going for it. Simply remove the skin and now you can make Teryaki Chicken Legs. It might take a little more time, but you have probably saved $4 dollars or more.
5. Give a good portion of your budget to the Fruits and Veggies. Now if you feel you always wind up wasting said fruit and veggies because they don't get used by all means go a different direction. Start in the frozen veggie section. You have to make this healthy lifestyle a priority. Don't buy fancy yogurts and cheeses. Don't get sucked into all the hype of whatever we are all trying not to eat right now. If you focus on whole foods you can't go wrong. I have certain things I know I can use regardless. I love zucchini. I always cook with onions and garlic. Carrots have a long refrigerator life.I try and keep frozen broccoli is my freezer. Also, I use a lot of cabbage. Especially when the budget is tight and I can't afford my spinach or romaine. Maybe not as good for me, but it sure is filling. Right now I am blessed with a little Swiss chard in the freezer. And my family loves apples. If canned veggies are all you can manage this week don't feel guilty. Just simply rinse them and press on. Do "not" do something just because you feel you can't do it the way everyone tell you it has to be done.
6. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Portion control, my friends! I have a pretty big eater in my house. The Studly Muffin has a metabolism like a speeding bullet (though upon reflection I'm not so sure what kind of metabolism a speeding bullet would have). And I have a nephew who comes over once a week who could literally eat me out of house and home. So I have a stash. A basket of goodies that are fair game. Some granola bars, a few bags of popcorn...you get the idea. I try and use a little less of my more pricier ingredients. Not as much meat in the chili. More beans. A little more cabbage slaw for the pork carnitas. Not as much cheese. You get the picture. Also, I believe in repurposing. Recycling those leftovers for another day. Within reason. But I sure can get a lot of mileage out of a pan of oven baked brown rice. Add it to taco filling. Stir-Fry with veggies, an egg or two for a tasty meal.
7. KISS. Keep It Simple Sweetheart. I've talked about this before. And this is personally my hardest task. I am the Queen of the Overkill. If I plan a Taco Night suddenly I am making my own tortillas and refried beans from scratch. Now that is pretty frugal, but I seldom have time for all that. I pick one or two things in my meal to really give special attention to. My family feels they are getting a treat and it still keeps that creative, crazy side of me satisfied. Our breakfasts this week are basically oatmeal, scrambled eggs & toast. I eat oatmeal almost everyday. But I make it special by adding a few walnuts (I have a bag in the freezer I take a few out of every day) and my own special apple butter (homegrown, no sugar added, cooked by me). I made a loaf of rye bread over the weekend made with applesauce (made with the same homegrown apples). That bread slathered with some of the same applebutter with scrambled eggs has been a pretty hearty breakfast for The Studly Muffin and Josiah. I didn't have to reinvent the wheel or buy all sorts of pricey cereals. As I mentioned before we are having company at the end of the week. I budgeted out enough to make these yummy Pumpkin Cupcakes with Pumpkin Spiced Frosting to have for our dessert. Other than that we plan on making popcorn via stovetop with our WhirlyPop and I will set out my pretty teacups along with hot chocolate mix. Simple and memorable. I knew an older lady one time who talked about a particularly "tight" time in her married life. The best she could do for a few nights was some homemade tomato soup. She served that tomato soup in her prettiest bowls. She set the table with candles and cloth napkins. I doubt her family ever questioned the sparsity of her meal. Make it simple...but make is special.
I encourage you this week to go forth and eat healthy! Be creative! Learn! Have fun!