Times are tight. They're improving, but many families are still looking for ways to stretch their incomes. Our family is - by no means - different in this respect.
We are a military family of five - including two teens (ie bottomless pits) - living on one paycheck. Over the years, we've learned to be frugal. We've had to. But, it is a skill that will serve us well in the future.
In less than two years, Dh will retired from the military. It is our plan, then, to move to a little piece of land we've purchased and homestead. In order to carry out this plan - because we're hoping to live primarily on his retirement check and any extra income that I can bring in - we'll need to become as self sufficient as we possibly can be. It's for that reason that we're working on the skills and habits now - while it's not as much of a necessity - that will be necessary for our family then, which means getting as "cheap" and frugal as we possibly can.
Now, admittedly, we are not always saints where our spending is concerned. We have gotten better over the years, though. One of the best ways I've found to pinch pennies is by sitting down each payday to make a menu. I've realized that when we don't have a firm plan for meals, we end up going to the grocery store multiple times in a week. This leaves entirely too much room for impulse shopping - buying those things that really aren't necessary, but nice to have... for a little while, at least. It's for that reason that when I make up the menu, I also make a grocery list of the things that we'll need to make those meals. I also try to anticipate the needs of my family at the same time. You know... toiletries, pet food(s), etc. Yes, there are times when everything that needs to be picked up doesn't make it to the list. I do try to keep this from happening too often, though. A good idea is to hang a piece of paper on the refrigerator where everyone in the house can write down things as they begin to run out of them. That way, when the grocery list gets written, you know what it is that everyone needs.
Source:© Alicia Dearmin | Dreamstime.com
Back to the menu... What do we usually put on ours?
Well... first... a word about that. One of my friends mentioned once that she couldn't do the whole menu thing. After all, she never knew - on any given day - what she or her family would feel like eating. I could really understand what she was saying. When I make my list, I'll list the days and just place a proposed meal in each spot. That way, I know that each is covered. That doesn't necessarily mean, though, that we'll actually have that meal on that particular day. There has to be some room left for spontaneity, right?
As for the meals themselves, we generally plan meals that use common ingredients and LOTS of vegetables. Not only are they healthy for you, but they're still - more times than not - cheaper than meat, especially if you've grown them yourself. As for the meat... we've really become good at getting multiple meals out of a single source.
For instance, Dh recently purchased a pork tenderloin. At our commissary, I think he ended up paying around $8 for it. But we ended up having schnitzel one night, pork stew, and we still have a roast in the freezer just waiting to be some mealtime goodness for the family.
OH! And a whole chicken! I've learned how to get the most out of one of those...
I can get a whole chicken at Aldi for $3-5 (depending on the size). Often, I will cook it in the crock pot and strip as much of the meat from it as I possibly can. Then, I'll make chicken enchiladas, chicken and rice, and I'll use the carcass to make chicken broth from, which is a key ingredient in many of our dishes. No need to purchase it from the store, and I know what is in it because I've made it myself.
A turkey ham, which can also be purchased for a few dollars, generally gets used for: ham and beans, risotto, Blue Plate Mac and Cheese, as a topping for homemade pizza, and an omelet or two on the side.
We've found, when we do our meals like this, not only do we get variety, but it is a good deal less expensive and better for the health of our family than buying some of the overly processed foods that are available at our local store.
"But, I work... I don't have time."
I can understand! Despite the fact that I'm at home most of the day, my days can get quite busy too. Many of the meals we make are surprising easy and don't take a lot of time. As I already mentioned, I'll cook the chicken in the crock pot. (I LOVE my crock pot!) My reason for doing this is, not only do I not have to babysit the meal, but the juices are conveniently contained. Once the chicken is done, I'll pull it out to strip off the meat. What is left in there is the beginning of my chicken and rice...
Now, I'll share how I make mine, but there is no recipe for it, per se. A great deal of what we make around here is made off the top of our heads...
Chicken and Rice ala Dawna
Leave the chicken juices in the crockpot.
Fill the remaining space up with water.
Add rice. (1 cup of rice to 2 cups of liquid) I just eyeball it.
Add some of the chicken stripped from the carcass.
Add some vegetables. (I find frozen veggies are good. Sometimes I add peas. Other times, I'll add a "California Mix". Just whatever I have on hand.)
Add spices to taste.
Let cook. (On low or high, depending on when you're planning to serve it.)
It really is that simple!
Cooking good and healthy meals for your family doesn't have to be expensive, difficult or time consuming. With some preplanning, it can be virtually painless, both to you and your pocketbook.
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