Sunday, April 27, 2014

Just the basics

So, this blog has been a little bit dusty lately - chalk it up to full time job, kids (one a toddler), exhaustion, PTA duties, trying to lose those pesky last baby pounds.

Since it's been a LONG time since I've done a general frugal food post (and I've fallen off the wagon a bit), I wanted to share my basic frugal food philosophy and tips.

When you are looking to save money on your groceries, there are a few ways to go about it:
1. Don't waste food. This is a no-brainer.  If you opened it, finish it before it goes bad (or figure out how to "save it" - freeze it, repurpose it.)  Think: putting stale tortilla chips into soup, freeze leftover meats.  If you don't like leftovers, don't make so darned much.  If you DO like leftovers but get sick of them, immediately put them in your freezer and LABEL THEM (I'm bad at this).  I bought a bunch of these containers on Amazon which are great for seeing what's in there.  Also great for homemade chicken stock (you don't just throw away your chicken bones do you?)

2.  Figure out how to get what you DO eat regularly cheaper.  Drink a lot of milk?  See if there are stores that give you a discount for buying two gallons.  Like whole wheat pasta?  Track the sales and buy a bunch when it goes on sale for the minimum amount.  This is where a price book is very helpful.  A price book has a listing for each item you buy regularly - you list the cheapest price at each store INCLUDING SALES.  Eventually, if you are like me - you get it in your head and you can tell at a store if it's the best price.  A lot of sales are not advertised - meaning you cannot find it in the weekly flyer.  The idea here is to buy as many things as possible at their rock bottom prices.

Examples of items in my mental price book:
brown rice: 5 lb bags at Smart and Final
beans: 10 lb bags at Smart and Final
broccoli: $1/lb is the best price I've found
whole wheat pasta: $1 per box
cheese: basically Costco cannot be beat
carrots: Tri county produce (0.50/lb)
chicken: Trader Joe's frozen chicken strips are very reasonable, and it's hard to find chicken breasts for cheaper
cream cheese: Trader Joe's regular price is the best ($1.79), but grocery store sales come in at $1.

Do you prefer to eat local/organic?  Get to know your farmers! I love sugar snap peas.  They are in season right now.  At the farmer's market, they are $3/lb to $5/lb.  I've tried them from 4 different vendors.  One of the $3/lb vendors was not very good, but I did find a good one!  Buy grass fed meat from the farmer direct, in bulk.

3.  Figure out the price per serving of your regular meals - and increase the frequency of the cheap ones.
Breakfast - what do you eat?  Cold cereal? Oatmeal? Toast? Eggs?  What do they each cost?
Lunch - sandwiches, leftovers?
Dinner - meat, seafood, beans and rice?  We really like "burrito bowls" - spanish rice, cooked beans, cheese, toppings.  This is a pretty cheap meal (as long as you don't go crazy on the toppings).

Oatmeal, purchased in a bulk bin (on sale or not) is cheaper than cold cereal.  Homemade bread is pretty cheap too.  If you like oatmeal, eat it more often.

Leftovers, if made from cheaper foods, are generally cheaper than sandwiches.  Deli meat from the store, fresh sliced, is more expensive than cooking it yourself.  Peanut butter is cheaper than turkey.  Eggs are cheaper.  Cooked chicken is cheaper.

The same goes for snacks - what is cheaper where you live, apples or oranges?  Strawberries or blueberries?  Can you buy tubs of yogurt instead of the smaller ones?  Do you need crackers or can you eat homemade bread?  Do you have to have string cheese, or can you slice pieces off a big hunk of cheese?

4.  Substitute.  Say you really like grilled tri-tip and fresh vegetables.  Have you ever tried a meal of homemade bread and vegetable soup?  You love asparagus - what about carrots and cabbage?  Learn to try, and like, cheaper foods.  Nobody is telling you to give up asparagus, just stick to it in the spring when it's $2/lb.

Substituting includes saving money eating out.  Like smoothies?  I love Blenders smoothies, but I can make a banana-strawberry-blueberry-yogurt smoothie for about 1/2 the price of one at Blenders. (I still buy my husband Blenders gift cards for Christmas/ Birthday/ Father's day).

These are the basics of saving money on groceries.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Chicken in the Crockpot

Wow, more than a month since my last post?  Huh, well life is certainly getting away from me.  What's been up?

End of March: spring break - trip to Disneyland with the family, including my wonderful Mother in law, who was visiting for 1.5 weeks (we miss her).

Early April: tax day!  And my husband was put on a last minute project at work, which involved lots of late nights and weekends.

Last few weeks: back injury - probably from carrying around a 25 lb toddler on one hip.  I started physical therapy (boy my left side is just all messed up from the knee sprain and back issue - and my left leg is currently 3/4 inch longer than the right because of it).

Work: ack, stress!  Lots of rumors of layoffs in the last two months which have picked up in the last week.  Current rumor: layoffs this coming week.  On one hand, hey it would be nice to have the summer off with the boys.  On the other, I'm actually really enjoying my job these last few months.

Health: I've been really healthy since that last bout of stomach flu in January!  Aside from the injuries.  I've finished one session of 21-day fix, and have been modifying the second session due to my own food preferences and injuries.  So far I've lost 17 POUNDS since the end of December, and 7 of them have been on the Fix.  (Still have 15-20 to go).

Cooking: comes and goes.  This week I did NOT make enough on the weekend.  Not sure how that happened, but I essentially had to cook every night this week.  With the work schedule, I've been getting home at about 5:30 pm, and dinner is at 6.  I am also trying to get the toddler off the "baba" (bottle), so there are some fights.  Boy, after waking at 5 am each day, working a full day, sitting in traffic to pick up kids at two different places, cooking is a challenge!  I remember the days pre-kid when we ate out every Friday.  Very tempting, but man, it's just faster and easier and healthier and cheaper to eat at home.

Crockpot chicken: I didn't know what to make today, and frankly haven't been shopping yet.  So I googled crockpot salsa chicken, and this is the first recipe that came up, so a version of it is cooking right now.

Weekend plans: Walk to the farmer's market with the toddler and do grocery shopping.  Shower and go to work for an hour, then off to my quilting meeting where I am ACTUALLY working on the baby quilt for the toddler.  Little late on that one.

Gotta go now though!