Tuesday, January 22, 2013

{Food on a Budget}

I am often asked about how I feed our growing family of 8 without breaking the bank. Of course, my number one response is couponing, but along with using coupons, the types of meals we eat also contributes. I was just asked this question again this past weekend, so I thought I would take a few moments to share some of our regular menu items and, time permitting, some recipes!
  • I serve a salad with supper every night. All my kids love salad so lettuce (Red leaf, Green leaf, Romaine, or Mixed Greens) is a staple purchase item. I purchase the head lettuce and wash/prepare it myself (cost-cutter). We usually go through 2 heads each week. Salads are not only healthy, but we eat our salads AFTER our meal (an Italian tradition, at least among those I know) so they help fill up stomachs.  =)
  • I buy my meats on sale, and when it's on sale, I try to buy as much as I can afford. We have an extra freezer so this makes it possible. We are, however, considering purchasing a half of a cow so if anyone has ideas/suggestions/experiences with that, I would appreciate your input. =)
  • I also buy my beans dry. I soak them overnight and cook according to the recipe (or package directions, depending on what I'm making). Dry beans are cheaper than canned, and I get twice as much.
  • I try to minimize my time at the stove so I tend to use my crock pot or oven as much as I can. I prepare what I can ahead of time (cutting meats, veggies, assembling casseroles, etc.) so that when I am in the kitchen, I can both cook and keep an eye on the children at the same time. If I need cooked meat for a casserole, I will cook it a day in advance if I don't have some already frozen. In the summer, when we grill chicken, I often grill more than we'll need so that I can freeze it for later use in other meals. 
  • The key is to plan, plan, plan!! I plan our meals a week in advance, making note of what items I'll need from the store (if any). I write our meals on my calendar so that, during times of being in a "meal rut", I can look back to weeks, months, or even years before for meal ideas. 
Now, for the food part....
We usually only eat red meat (whether it be ground beef, cubed steak, roast, etc.) one time per week due to cost.
  • Examples include tacos, meatball sandwiches (homemade meatballs with sausage), meatloaf (only if I have 2+ lbs. of beef), beef and noodles (cook with sliced onion and a bit of beef broth) or stroganoff.
We eat chicken once per week, sometimes twice depending on how it's prepared. I buy my chicken whole and roast it myself or I buy the split chicken breast and boil those with onions, carrots, and spices. We will eat the roasted chicken as a meal and save the leftover chicken for use in a casserole, enchiladas, soups, etc. When I boil the chicken, I use the meat as described above and save the broth for a soup or stew.
  • Examples of chicken meals include baked, homemade pot pie (I created my own super-easy recipe that even my kids LOVE!), cooked chicken mixed with rice, broccoli, & Cream of (chicken, mushroom, celery, cheese, whatever you have) Soup, sprinkled with shredded cheese & baked until heated through, enchiladas, stroganoff (just add egg noodles and sour cream or Cream of Mushroom soup until heated). Sometimes if I have boneless, skinless breasts I will make homemade popcorn chicken bites (cut into pieces, dip in egg wash, coat with Italian bread crumbs mixed with grated parmesan cheese, and bake for 20 mins at 400* until outside is crispy and inside is cooked- the problem is that everyone loves them so we never have leftovers).
We eat an Italian dish at least once per week, and those are typically meatless.
  • Examples include spaghetti, baked ziti, lasagna rolls, etc. A family favorite (passed down from my grandmother) is Pasta and broccoli- a cheap, yummy meal that reminds me of her every time I make it!
  • I sometimes serve a bread of some sort (garlic, crusty, rolls, etc.) but sometimes not...just depends on how much bread I have in the freezer as we easily consume a loaf of crusty Italian bread at one meal. Again, I serve salad along with the meal.
In the winter, we have soup at least once per week. Those are typically meatless, although there are a few that include meat.
  • Meatless: Minestrone soup, Split Pea soup, Italian Vegetable soup, and Black Bean soup are the usual.All the soups are homemade (clarifying that because I know you can buy canned soups in those varieties but we would need at least 4 small or 2 large cans to feed our family, and homemade just tastes better!)  I will often serve the meatless soups with a grilled cheese sandwich or other bread of some type. 
  • Meat: Chili (I add in brown rice to supplement the ground beef because I only use 1 lb. of meat), White Chicken Chili (chili using cannelloni beans or navy beans and cooked, shredded chicken), Stuffed Pepper Soup (again, I add brown rice to supplement the 1 lb. of sausage), Chicken tortilla soup (I make my own tortilla strips by thinly slicing tortillas, spraying them with cooking spray, and baking for 10 mins or until desired crispness).
We also have a "breakfast for dinner" night and I make whatever I have on hand.
  • Examples include eggs (we eat 18 at a time), pancakes, French toast, hash browns (or tater tots), bacon, sausage, etc.
  • I will change up the way we eat our eggs by having scrambled, breakfast burritos (served with sour cream, salsa, cheese and include crumbled sausage in the burrito), omelets, etc.
  • I pick a theme (i.e. pancakes) and serve homemade syrup (depending on the season-blueberry & strawberry are the family favorites) along with whip cream. I don't make pancakes and eggs, or French toast and pancakes, only one main breakfast food at a time (just to keep it simple and to reduce fighting). I also don't serve both sausage links/patties and bacon, only one meat (cheaper and again keeps it simple).
Some other meals that I make are:
  • Baked potato bar (serve with cheese, sour cream, salsa, chili if you have it). This is a HUGE family favorite, very filling, and so cheap!!!
  • Salad bar- hardboiled eggs, tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, cheese, diced lunchmeat or cooked chicken (optional), craisins, croutons, etc. Serve with a crusty bread or grilled cheese. =)
  • Bean burritos- add rice and cheese to pinto or refried beans, fill a tortilla, and serve with salsa & sour cream.
Finally, we also have a designated "Leftover" night. It is usually Sunday as by then our fridge is full enough for us to have leftovers.

I hope this helps and if you'd like, feel free to leave some of your favorite "budget friendly" meals. =)