Wednesday, May 4, 2011

April Meal Planning.... BUDGET CRASH and BURN

Although I still planned all of my monthly meals for April I went way over budget in the grocery and dining out categories this month. Since I am accountable for keeping up these meal planning posts I have to confess that I didn’t follow the #1 rule that has helped me stick to a budget and that is to be AWARE of your budget. It is paramount that you do this or else you will fail. That coupled with the fact that I had completely depleted my stockpile in March having to restock everything this month made it especially difficult. Top it all off with the fact that I am now watching that Extreme Couponing Show (making me constantly feel like I am paying too much for groceries) and you have a frustrating month for budgeting.

I have been reading Stephanie Hillberry’s Blog and keeping up with Janell’s articles on budgeting about using an all cash system, and I totally see the reason for it. If I had an all cash system for groceries and dining out I would have looked in those two envelopes and noticed NO CASH to spend and that would been all I had to do to be AWARE of my budget. So needless to say I am going to try harder this month to stick with my budget. Through this “failure” I noticed a few positives.

First, my mindset has changed when it comes to budgeting. The fact that I even feel bad about going over budget is a big improvement from last year. I could always justify why it was necessary to go over budget, but now that I have stuck to a budget for the past three months (or pretty close to it), I know it can be done.

Second, any amount we go over budget is an amount that doesn't get saved. I have made a goal this year of a number that I would like to keep in savings at all times so having to use that savings actually pains me. Last year we were at a point were we really tight with our finances. Without getting into to much detail I will just say that it was mostly due to overspending. And not overspending on things like TVs, boats, or extravagant vacations, but on things like groceries, dining out, home supplies, and kids stuff. Those things can really sneak up on you and unlike buying a boat they don’t invoke the guilt reflex which makes it easy to justify them so you have to be extra vigilant. It is also true sometimes that if you make more money you tend to spend more and not keep track of it. So whether you are on a tight budget or have some extra laying around, if you want to get any of it into savings you have really have to pay attention to where its going.

Third, I now realize that I have a lot more to learn about budgeting. One being that in order to compensate for those times when my stockpile is totally depleted maybe I need to set a quarterly budget and allow for over spending and under spending to average out over a few months? Or maybe I need to try shopping for meat on sale at the grocery store instead of always buying in bulk, especially since the prices at SAM'S have seemed to go up in the meat department. Maybe I could try to cut coupons (not be crazy about it - Come on who needs 70 bottles of Mustard?) but every little bit helps. Or I could be willing to shop somewhere other than King Soopers when other store have better sales. My point is that in the game of budgeting you need to be flexible and aware in order to succeed.

So yes I failed. I went way over budget and I could rationalize and tell you how it happened but instead of beating myself up about it or making excuses I hope to learn from it. Sticking to a budget is not easy. Good intentions do nothing if you don’t follow through. Budgeting can be compared to dieting, you may really want to eat healthy and lose weight but if you are not willing to eat right and be disciplined in exercise you probably won’t see the results you want. The same is true with budgeting, if you want to stick to a budget but are not aware of how much you are spending you will not succeed in it.

Here are some of the recipes I enjoyed this month:

1. Greek Beef Pasta in a Pot
2. Slow Cooker Thai Chicken
3. Pork Chops with Mango Salsa
4. Homemade Pizza with Leeks and Chicken Sausage
5. *Nachos with Lean Ground Beef, Homemade Fajita Seasoning, Homemade Beans
6. Shrimp Pad Thai (Really Good)
7. *Stuffed Shells filled with Ground Turkey and spinach
8. Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup
9. * Indian Butter Chicken ( New Recipe - very good)
10.*Italian Pork Chops with Roasted Ginger and Honey Sweet Potatoes
11. Tacos Salad with Grilled Onions and Green Peppers
12. *Spicy Coconut Noodles, with Grilled Shrimp
13. Easy Baked Tilapia with Roasted Zucchini Chips
14. Thai Lettuce Wraps
15. Cabbage Pockets with Homemade Dough
16. *Red Pepper Cashew Chicken Stir-fry
17. Salad with Grilled Chicken Sausage

For the recipes that do not have links you can email me directly for the recipes, The recipes that have the asterisks are the ones that were new this month.

Monday, April 4, 2011

March Madness Meal Planning

I call this post March madness meal planning because when it came to my grocery budget I had to stretch it to the absolute max this month. Maybe because of the way the weeks fell? Anyway, at week four I looked at my budget of $6.00 and thought; how am I going to make this work? It was not even like I had much in my pantry to use up. I seemed to be out of everything i.e. cereal, meat, yeast, flour, eggs, milk, juice, snacks for the kids. Usually I can whip up something, but seriously, without eggs and milk there is not a whole lot you can make. One night we invited my parents over for dinner during the last week of the month and luckily I had some ground turkey in my freezer. I used it to make meatball sandwiches for which my parents had to provide the bread. I was telling my friends and family that I only had about $6.00 left in my budget to which they graciously said half kidding, “I can lend you some money? or give you some food.” Which of course I always said it is not that we don’t have the money to spend on more food it is just that I have a goal and I really want to stick to it! It has become such a game for me. I have a few smart tips to share that I learned during my March madness meal planning adventure.

If you like and use a lot of fresh basil - buy a basil plant from the grocery store! I sorely miss my garden this time of year and a lot of the recipes I use call for fresh basil. I know we will all be planting our gardens soon, for those of you who do, but I can’t wait till June to have fresh basil and am not willing to pay $3.00/per tiny package to add it to my recipes. I feel it can really make or break recipes if you do/do not use fresh basil. There is nothing like the smell or taste of fresh basil. I have used the dried stuff in a pinch and it just doesn’t compare. My husband and I have been lovingly watering our little basil plant and moving it around to the various sun spots in the house throughout the day so it has the best chance for survival. I remember the day I bought it the lady at the check out said “most people say these never make it!” Well so far we have proved her wrong and have been saving money by having a basil plant.

If you like salads and eat a lot of veggies buy the ones that last - huge money saver. You won’t use veggies if two days after you buy them they look and taste gross. The ones that tend to last the longest in my experience are: romaine lettuce, bell peppers, cucumbers, broccoli slaw and Roma tomatoes. I was buying a lot of the prepackaged lettuce, you know the kind that is washed and ready to eat. I bought it and two days later it was wilted and nasty. So now I buy the big packages of romaine lettuce at Sam’s, wash, chop and put it through the salad spinner as I need it. If I don’t use up all the lettuce, I store the remaining lettuce in the salad spinner in the refrigerator for use that week. It works like a charm to keep it fresh for longer.

Change it up in the meat department. If you are always eating ground beef and chicken why not try some fish or better yet chicken sausage? One of my favorite go-to meats is chicken sausage from Sam's. I find it is reasonably priced. I love the Members Mark Asiago Cheese and Spinach variety. Only 110 calories per link and it is fully cooked making it so easy to add to meals conveniently. I am usually not a huge sausage fan and am really picky about meat but these are really tasty and pretty healthy. My favorite thing to do with it lately is cut it up and fry it with a little olive oil and put it on top a bed of romaine lettuce - super easy and yummy!

So this month I did go over on my grocery budget by about $11.00, however I took this out of my dining out budget and in total we were only over in both categories by about $1.00. I had to get creative but we really had a lot of great meals this month. Even that last week I managed to make tacos with sauteed bell pepper and onions, hamburgers with homemade baked onion rings, turkey meatballs, and Dan even made some cooked sushi bites with some frozen tilapia we happened to have in the freezer! He also made sushi rice out of regular rice that we had. What a process that was but it was delicious! This monthly meal planning is really working. If you are trying to stick to a budget and haven't tried planning out your meals you should really give it a try. It can get crazy at times but in a weird way it is fun and challenging.

Please enjoy some of these recipes and meal ideas:

1. Sage Rubbed Pork Chops with Warm Apple Slaw
2. Crock pot Lasagna - added fresh spinach and diced tomatoes instead of spaghetti sauce
3. Lori’s Cabbage Pockets with salad
4. Thai Chicken Stir-fry
5. Spicy Tangerine Beef - served it over rice noodles!
6. Feta Stuffed Chicken with Salad - This recipe is fantastic!
7. Fish Tacos with Chipotle Lime Dressing SO GOOD!
8. Baked Ziti
9. Dan’s Beef Noodle Bowl
10. Spaghetti Squash with Grilled Chicken Sausage - spaghetti squash is an amazing vegetable!
11. Pork Chops with Veggie Fritters
12. Basil Chicken over Angel Hair Pasta
13. Turkey Chili
14. Dan’s Sushi Bites
15. Baked Macaroni and Cheese I only use one package of squash in this recipe
16. Burgers with Homemade Oven Baked Onion Rings
17. Meat Ball Subs This time I used ground turkey liked it even better than lean ground beef.
18. Crispy Chicken and Cheese Roll-ups

Thursday, March 3, 2011

February Meal Planning - Lessons Learned

Hi! This month my article is featured on my friend Stephanie Hillberry's website. To see my recipes and read the article please visit her site. Please click on the link below:
Her site is amazing and you won't want to miss all the marvelous posts she has in store for March! Please go check it out!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Monthly Meal Planning

My best friend Janell inspired me to start cooking more. Not only because of her fabulous blog What’s for Dinner but because she is really good at meal planning and budgeting. She may not always like it but she does it and is really quite good at it. During her visit I told her how I was frustrated not knowing what to make for dinner. Also how every month I would go way over my grocery budget.

Two common sense things she reminded me to do. First, PLAN MEALS!! Second, do not get things that are not on your grocery list!!! Super practical tips but I still found myself making excuses. For example, it is too hard to stick to a list. It is time consuming to plan meals especially for what I thought were picky eaters. I am not like those other moms who have it all together etc., etc, etc. The Lord really convicted me if I wanted to start eating healthier and I wanted my kids to actually eat the things I was making then I needed to take the time and plan my meals. A big batch of spicy pad thai on occasion was not going to do the job. I couldn’t expect my kids to eat that. I had to start small and build up. I wanted to sit down and eat together as a family every night. I can’t expect my kids to eat what we are having if we are not all eating the same things at least for dinner. Novel idea I know!

So I started the first week in January. My meal plan started Monday January 3rd, 2011. On Saturday, January 1st I spent a couple of hours after the kids went to bed and planned out a whole month’s worth of meals. I wanted to incorporate Mexican, Italian, American and Asian dishes. I searched the web and found some good recipes. I printed out a calendar for each month of the year and wrote the recipes in pencil (for January) on the days of the week that I had planned to make them. Then I printed out each recipe and put it in a plastic sleeve and put it all in a three ring binder. For our small family it is not feasible to make more than 4-5 meals per week as we wouldn't eat it all.

I remember we bundled the family up on Sunday and went for a big shopping trip to King Soopers and SAMS. We went to SAMS first. I stocked up on only the things I needed. Some of those things are, lean ground beef, ground turkey, chicken, pork chops, cheese, diced tomatoes, Rotel tomatoes, grapefruit and lettuce. Those are pretty much the staples at our house. Then we went to King Soopers. I stuck to my list and to my amazement I didn’t go over budget! For the first time in years!! I felt so proud and productive. As I was putting my groceries away I portioned out all the meat into freezer bags to pull out when I needed it.

As the month went on, I felt so much less stress when it came to meal time because I had a plan. For once I had a plan!! Dan was very impressed. I was impressed with myself. Not only were the meals really good but they incorporated veggies and we were trying new things. My kids were trying them and most of the time eating what was put in front of them. I think we only ended up going out to eat as a family maybe three times in January! We also hardly threw away any produce and used up everything I bought! Huge success!

I was about $12.00 over my grocery budget but I will take it. You would be horrified to see how much I normally go over. I almost killed Dan for buying a huge bag of cheese sticks at SAMS that we didn’t need making us go over budget!! It became a game for me to see if I could really accomplish my goal and it turned out to be kind of fun! You may be thinking come on Jess – good job in January but let’s see how you do the rest of the year? Well this is my plan and I am sticking to it. I plan to share with you my list of meals every month. See list below for January's recipes.

1. Anita Slow Cooker Chili I use ground turkey instead of beef. I make homemade rolls to go with this instead of putting chili in bread bowls. I also add canned or frozen corn and rotel tomatoes
2. Baked Ziti I added fresh garlic and chopped spinach. I also used whole wheat penne and added lean ground beef. I also used half ricotta and half cottage cheese.
3. Tomato Mozzarella Quesidilla’s I didn't love this recipe because I used fresh mozzarella I think shredded would have worked better
4. Chicken Curry with Zucchini So good!
5. Homemade Pepperoni Pizza
6. Healthy Mac and Cheese we love this recipe!
7. Janell’s Chicken Enchilada Recipe email me if you want the recipe ( it is delicious).
8. Grilled Pork Chops with Mashed Potatoes and Faux Mashed Potatoes
9. Slow Cooker Thai Chicken Added one package of steam fresh Asian veggies after the chicken was cooked. Used Annie's toasted sesame dressing and only half of what recipe called for. It was so easy and fantastic.
10. Greek Beef Pasta in a Pot Great left over!
11. Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup Family favorite
12. Garlicky Hoisin Beef So good!
13. Pork Chops with Mango Salsa
14. EasyBaked Tilapia Dan hates fish and loved this recipe
15. Steak Burritos with bell pepper and onions
16. Hamburger Cheesy Rice Casserole This was very good and I don't love casseroles
17. Dan’s Ground Turkey Thai Lettuce Wraps
18. Beef Stir Fry (Wasn't fantastic as it was the end of the month and I had to use what I had around the house!

Please enjoy and let me know if you try any of the recipes or if you have any good recipes to share!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Reflections on 2010 – Moving into 2011

Wow- I feel like I accomplished a lot this past year! First, I had my second baby boy. As most of you know we welcomed Ryan James Frank into the world 3 weeks early on December 19, 2009. Before I had Ryan a year ago, I thought I would just hole up at home for a year. The reason I thought this was because I wasn’t sure what life with two kids would be like. I didn’t know how I would transport them, if I would have energy to do anything, frankly if I could even handle being a mother of two. Well let me tell you, although tiring at first I really adjusted quite well. I had a ton of support from my friends and family. I also had people that encouraged me to get out and do things. We are now regulars at MOPS, Windsor Open Gym and Story Time. One friend challenged me to join her in walking the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer last summer. After much debate, I signed up, trained, helped raise thousands of dollars for the cause, and walked 40 miles over the course of two days. It was definitely a huge time commitment to train and raise money especially after having just had a baby. Picture me pumping in my car at dairy queen in the midst of a 20 mile training walk. Okay maybe you don’t want to picture that but it is true – whatever it took to get the job done.

My friend Lyndsey challenged me to do a program called the Couch-to-5K ® Running Plan. It is a simple program that you do over the course of nine weeks to prepare to run a 5k. So we would get together every other night after the kids went to bed and ran or jogged whatever you want to call it. We did it and completed the training. We ran our first 5k to benefit Spirit Crossing and then a few weeks later participated in the Fort Collins Spooktacular 5k which I ran in approximately 32 minutes! I was so proud of a 10 minute mile. I am also pleased to say that I have kept up with some hobbies and picked up a few new ones. Ryan’s scrapbook and baby book are almost complete. I also completed my first baby blanket and actually now know how to use my sewing machine. With having my two kids I have relied on the huge support of my best friend and husband. Without him none of what I accomplished this past year would have been remotely possible. God has also given me the ability and provision to do these things. I am a stay at home mom, who loves(not all the time) her 24-7 job and I feel privileged to be able to have all of these wonderful opportunities. I do my best to cherish every day and heavily rely on God’s grace.

As for 2011 some of my goals are to become more fit, eat less, cook more, stick to my grocery budget and be more faithful and mindful of God in my everyday life. Not necessarily in the order listed. Stay tuned for my post on monthly meal planning and for a list of all the recipes I tried in January. Also, update on my morning spin classes and yoga at Become Fit. I am so excited about the year to come and hope you will find this site to be not only a resource but one of encouragement. My desire is to share an open honest journey through life and faith in Christ.