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