Sunday, March 3, 2013

Meal Tip #2: Theme Nights

This is the second post in my Meal Tip Series. Many people asked how we do meals at our house, so I'm writing my way through some of the strategies we use to keep costs low while feeding a big family! If you missed the prior posts, click HERE to catch up!

Have you noticed that the price of groceries keeps climbing? About a year ago, I started keeping a spreadsheet on my computer of how much I spend on groceries, personal care items, household items, etc. That grocery category keeps ticking up. Yikes!

One of the biggest culprits of grocery budget sky-rocketing is the cost of meat. Before kids, I honestly didn't think twice about Sean and I devouring an entire pound of ground beef between the two of us in one meal. Not anymore! Now, I look for ways to cut our costs as much as possible without losing the benefits of having meat in our diet.
Meatless meals, pasta meals, breakfast for dinner, save money with theme nights
Since having the kids, we've adopted a version of a meal "theme night." Or, "theme nights," rather.

As I sit down every week and work through the sale ads, I keep in mind three types of meals that I want to include in my menu plan:
  • Breakfast for Dinner
  • Meatless Meal
  • Pasta Dish
By including each of these types of meals every week, we've been able to reduce our grocery budget. Let's break them down a bit so that you can get an idea of what I cook...keeping in mind that what we cook changes based on what's on sale.

1. Breakfast for Dinner: This is a personal favorite of mine, so it wasn't hard to incorporate. Sean, on the other hand, is not a huge fan of breakfast items. I think he is learning to adapt though. On breakfast night, I typically whip up pancakes, french toast, or waffles, and serve them with a side of my Bacon, Cheese, and Veggie Scramble. The majority of this meal is made from bread and eggs. That's cheap, folks. Really cheap.

What's more, I've figured out how to stretch one pound of bacon to feed all six of us for three different "Breakfast for Dinner" meals:

Meal 1: Cook the entire package of bacon on the stove or in the oven. The kids each get one piece, Sean gets 2-3, and I eat one. I like bacon but don't love it so I choose to stop after one and save it for another meal. Then I freeze the leftover cooked bacon.
Meal 2: Take 1/2 of the leftover frozen cooked bacon (which at this point is about 1/3 of a package) and cut it into small pieces. Mix into the Bacon, Cheese, and Veggie Scramble. A little bacon adds a huge flavor punch to the scramble!
Meal 3: Take the last of the leftover frozen cooked bacon and cut it into small pieces. Mix into the Bacon, Cheese, and Veggie Scramble. It honestly tastes like there is a lot more bacon in the eggs than what I throw in there.

At the same time, making sure that the family gets enough protein is really important to me. Because of that, I've started making pancakes and waffles with cottage cheese blended into them. Cottage cheese is almost always on sale (plus, you can't even taste it this way!) Between the high-protein pancakes/waffles and the eggs, the family is still getting a pretty good dose of protein!

2. Meatless Meal: I started making these last summer when we were in a Community Supported Agriculture Program (CSA). I'd end up with these bags of vegetables that I wasn't sure what to do with. To use them all up, I started putting the veggies in everything, often using them in place of the meat in a dish. I couldn't stand the thought of them going bad before we had a chance to eat them!

In the process, I discovered that meat really isn't a necessity for a great meal! Some of our favorite meals have become Baked Eggplant Parmesean, Summer Spaghetti, and Mediterranean Spaghetti Squash Skillet. We really don't even miss the meat because there is so much flavor from the veggies, spices, and herbs that lace each dish.

A lot of people think that veggies are expensive. The truth is that veggies on sale are cheaper per pound than meat when it is on sale. Don't believe me? Take a look at your sale ads this week. You'll save money by buying more fresh, frozen, and canned veggies!

3. Pasta Dish: Pasta is insanely cheap. If you watch for sales, you can easily pick up a pound of pasta for $1.00 or less. This week, a local grocery store had pasta for $0.88 per pound! That's the base for a whole meal! Even if you add in 1/2 pound of ground beef, or a couple chopped chicken breasts, you are still ahead of the game. If you are worried about the nutrition (or lack thereof) in white enriched pasta, spring for the whole wheat version (there are some really good, non-cardboard-y options out there these days!) and only add an extra $1 or so to your meal total.

Also, spices and herbs are your best friends when it comes to taking an "okay" dish to a "great" dish. Don't be afraid to throw some in the skillet!

The truth of the matter is this: Our eating habits DID change when kids entered the picture. And yes, we DO miss some of the splurge items and getting to eat out (goodness, I totally miss the eating out part!), but that doesn't mean that we aren't eating well.

Your budget doesn't have to influence the taste of your food.

Feel free to adopt that as your mantra as well!

I realized while writing this that maybe I should post some of the quick, easy, and cheap meals that our family eats for dinner. Would that be of interest to anyone?

Don't forget to pin this post for reference! 
This post may contain affiliate links. For more info, please see my disclaimer page.

19 comments:

  1. Do you have a set recipe for the Bacon, Cheese, and Veggie scramble, or do you just mix and match what you have on hand? It sounds tasty; I would be interested in some tips. (Best veggies?)

    I agree, great post! (Though now I feel like I need to go track my grocery spending better...)

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    1. I have a semi-set recipe for the scramble but it changes a bit based on season. I'll put this recipe on my list of recipes that I need to take pictures of and post. If it's helpful, right now I tend to use mushrooms, green onions, and tomatoes since they are on sale pretty often. Summer finds me using a lot of zucchini and yellow squash.

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  2. The Raytown Aldi recently stocked a bunch of whole wheat and multigrain pasta for $1/lb., including spaghetti, linguine, rotini, and a couple others... I took advantage of it since I'm working on slowly morphing or pantry toward a healthier end (fresh or frozen veggies vs. canned, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, etc.). Whole wheat pasta is more filling, too, so there's another plus in using less!

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    1. Definitely! Whole wheat is the way to go! I'm also working on using up our white pasta and switching to the whole wheat. Thanks for the Aldi tip! I didn't realize they started stalking it! I've noticed that they are starting to include more healthy and organic options in their stores.

      Also, this is just an FYI, I've read that the nutritional value of the canned veggies vs fresh or frozen really doesn't change much. In fact, you can often get more nutrients from out-of-season canned veggies because they were packed at the peak of ripeness. I think a lot of it has to do with whether or not you are buying in season. I will say that I think fresh or frozen taste better though!

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  3. Yes, menu ideas! I so enjoy reading your blog.

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    1. Aw, thanks for the sweet words! The next recipe is coming up on Tuesday, and I'll definitely be posting more!

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  4. This is so true. I started saving about $20-$25/week just by shopping the sales and using coupons. We also have a great grocery store that issues its own in-store coupons. These save me a lot of money. I also like meatless meals. I've found some great meatless recipes on skinnytaste.com. She has "meatless Mondays." Thanks for the tips, Rebecca.

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    1. Awesome! I'm so glad that you've discovered some ways to cut down on your grocery budget! I'm definitely going to have to check out skinny taste's meatless mondays recipes!

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  5. This is a great way to meal plan. When our crew starts eating with us, I think I will take meal planning to a new level like this. You should pin this on the multiples board, it's a great post.

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    1. Thanks for the prompt! I pinned it after seeing your reminder!

      I tell you what, adding four additional mouths to feed is a great motivator to get smarter about meal planning. You'll do great! :)

      Here's another tip for you since I know you have quadruplets. Our family eats the equivalent of four adult-size meal portions in a meal. I find it easier to think of it as cooking for four adults instead of cooking for 2 adults and 4 kids.

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  6. Yes, definitely share some of your favorite recipes! I'm always looking for new, cheap, yummy things to make!

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    1. Awesome! Make sure you stop by on Tuesday for a great recipe that we all really enjoy! :)

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  7. I like that you include a meatless meal option. :)

    I'm visiting today from the Harvest of Friends Hop.

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  8. Great post! We feed our football team pasta every week for less than $60.00 a week for the whole team. Occasionally, we would switch off and feed them pancakes and sausages. The boys loved they meals and they got all the wanted to eat. I was amazed at how cheaply we managed to feed them for.

    Dropped by from Harvest of Friends Blog Hop.

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    1. Whoa, that's an awesome deal! You guys must be shopping some sales to help out with that as well. I'm sure the football team appreciates it!

      Thank you for visiting! :)

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  9. When you add cottage cheese to pancakes is it a substitute to something or just added? I'm curious on how these are made. Do you mash up the cottage cheese?

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