Category Archives: Save Money

What’s for Dinner?

For a few years now I have been doing a weekly menu. I print it out along with any recipes and I post it on my refrigerator. This, of course, does not keep the teenagers from asking multiple times each day the age old question. Mom, what’s for dinner?

002Before I started this practice that question could send me into a panic. In those pre-menu days I didn’t really think about dinner until around 4 pm and the answer was usually something like Hamburger Helper. Not that there is anything wrong with Hamburger Helper. It has saved the sanity of many a working mom but my Zesty Ravioli Skillet or Beefy Pasta Skillet are almost as easy, don’t take much longer to make and are miles ahead flavor-wise.

The worst part about deciding about dinner a mere hour before you want to eat is that you usually don’t have what you need on hand to make what you want so you end up settling or going to the grocery store far too often and making impulse purchases that put an unneeded dent in your wallet.

I will admit that creating the menu takes me longer than one might think but that is because I am a recipe hound. I collect recipes like politicians collect money (I mean campaign funding). So, when deciding what is for dinner I usually spend about an hour on Pinterest before I put a single thing down on my menu. Each recipe needs to be reviewed for ingredients that everyone likes, time to prepare and ease of preparation, especially if I am not the one who is going to be doing the cooking.

Then I have to consider thinks like I don’t want to do two pasta dishes in a row, even though T3 would eat pasta every day because “pasta is life.” Yes that is an actual phrase that he said.

Now making a menu doesn’t have to be this complicated. All you really have to do is decide on your protein and search your mental database for something that fits. Monday – ground beef – let’s make tacos; Tuesday – chicken – how about grilled buffalo chicken sandwiches with roasted vegetables; etc.

Once the menu is finished go right to the grocery list. Start with the first day and figure out all the ingredients and amounts that you need and list them all, even the things you are pretty sure you have because unless you live alone someone else might have finished it. Move through the days and don’t forget to add things like a bread or salad to go with the meal. If an ingredient is repeated then find it on the list and add it to the one that is already there. So like milk, you may need quarter cup for one recipe and a half cup for another. So change your list to reflect 3/4 cup milk (this is why I do it on the computer, changes like this are easy.)

Then print the list and check the pantry and fridge for ingredients checking off what you already have as you go. Then it is back to the computer to modify the list with only what you need. I make sure to put the list in the order that it appears at the grocery store so that I am not backtracking.

After shopping you know you have everything you need and when the kids ask what’s for dinner you can direct them to the fridge door where the menu resides.

 

Tuesday Tips – Saving on Meat

When I was growing up in Las Vegas, my mother was so organized. I often wish she would come to my house and get my uncontrolled clutter into some sort of order. My mother’s freezer looks quite a bit like this.

freezerwith30entreescropped

 

Trust me when I say that you don’t want to see my freezer. Mine isn’t even this good.

freezerbefore

However, one thing that I did retain from my mother’s organization skills was the way she would buy ground beef in bulk and then separate it into one pound packages for freezing. Can someone tell me why it is so hard to package ground beef in anything but round numbers? I mean really, what recipe has ever called for 1.28 lbs of ground beef? Shouldn’t the butcher be trying to get each package as close to the nearest pound or even half pound as possible?  — Okay rant over.

We recently purchased our second vacuum sealer and it is worth every penny we spent. Of course, the picture I took was of zipper top freezer bags but that is because I knew I would be using this meat this week so it wouldn’t be in long enough to freezer burn. Sometimes I don’t want to lug out the sealer for a small amount of meat.

IMG_1002The meat comes out almost as good as if it was fresh and since I am buying in bulk I get a discount per pound. For example, one pound of 80% ground chuck costs $4.38 at Walmart near me but I go to Fred the Butcher and purchase $25 of other meat (which unfortunately is not hard to buy) and I get a 10 lb bag of 85% ground chuck or 93% ground sirloin for $3.49 per pound or $3.89 per pound respectively. So better quality meat (less fat) at about $5 less for a 10 lb bag. If you do this just once a month you save $60 over the course of a year and you always have meat on hand.

The best parts are 1) since we package the meat in flat packages it stores nicely in the freezer and 2) it takes no time at all to defrost the meat, just in case you forgot to plan something for dinner.

What tricks do you use to save money in the kitchen?