Friday, March 21, 2014

Grocery Planning on a Budget

I've spent a lot of time over the past month and a half sharing my meal plans, food budget and grocery store purchases with you. Today I decided to share the process of how I figure out what to buy at the store and which store to buy it at.

I've tried many different ways of shopping over the past few years. I've come to learn that a lot depends on what season of life you're in. When I had one child, I shopped differently than when I had two. When I had a baby in a carseat in the back of the cart and a young toddler riding up front, I shopped very differently than I do now. I've tried monthly shopping, weekly shopping, bi-weekly shopping, shopping the sales, meal planning based on the sales, etc. You name it and I've tried it.

Last year I put together a big spreadsheet of all the food that I like to keep on hand in the pantry, freezer, and refrigerator. I coded it based on the best place to buy (I pretty much buy the same things over and over so I know the prices.) This was a great useful tool to keep myself organized, and although I don't use it every week anymore, it's nice to have. We've also started moving toward a more natural and clean way of eating, so things have shifted a bit. But the general staples are still the same. I think making that master list was a great way to start getting myself organized.

***I've heard from several people that they are too busy to be organized in their food prep/shopping, they just don't have the time, it's a lot of work, etc. I do admit that when I started shopping and planning with a strict budget I had to put in some leg work. But now it's pretty seamless and happens rather quickly. I think it's worth it to take the time, and I consider it part of my job as the home manager of my family. I might not bring in any money, but part of my job as a stay-at-home mom is to save money wherever possible.

During the week, as food starts to run out or get low, I keep a running list on the refrigerator of what I need to buy the next time I shop. I jot down the item and a code for which store has it for the best price. (TJ for Trader Joe's, SS for Stop & Shop, etc.) On Sunday I sit down to meal plan. I have a handy magnetic note pad for my planning. After I fill out our meals, I make sure we have the ingredients we need. (We tend to eat the same 10 or so meals over and over again, so I just know off the top of my head what we need. If it's a new recipe, I have to take a little more time to cross check the recipe with the things I have on hand.) If I need to buy something for a recipe, I add it to the running grocery list on my notepad. Once this is done, I look at the ads for the stores I go to. If I have to change the store I'm purchasing an item from (because it's on sale cheaper than where I normally buy it) I make a note of that. Then I go through my coupon booklet and pull out any coupons that correlate to my list.

Finally, I rewrite my list. I do a separate column (on the same piece of paper) for each store. Sometimes, if it's the end of the month and money is really short, I will jot down the approximate price of everything and add it up. If it vastly exceeds our budget, I go through and figure out if there's anything I can put off buying.

Ideally I get all of my shopping done one day a week. If it's a week that I need to hit 4 stores though, I will split it up because that's a lot to do in one day.

As I re-read this post, I realize it sounds like a lot of work. But it's actually pretty quick and simple, and my Sunday planning/list making only really takes about 20 minutes to half an hour! If anyone has tips on how they plan and shop, I'd love to hear them. I'm always looking for ways to simplify the process and save money where possible.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

March Grocery Shopping.....and a BIG challenge

Well, it looks like I haven't been blogging about the groceries I've been buying. Oops! I do still however have the running list I've kept all month, so I figured I'd just compile all my grocery trips into one post for you! Here's the food that I've bought so far in March:

Natural Applesauce pouches (16 in a box)
48oz bag of craisins
Sweet Potatoes
5lb of organic apples
3lb grass fed ground beef
6lb boneless chicken
1 gallon of milk
2lb Strawberries
Organic yogurt squeezes (16)
1lb american cheese slices
string cheese
4 dozen eggs
(This was two different trips, one the first week and one this past weekend)

Dave's Market
4 boxes of Cascadian farm granola bars (As you'll see when you see the Stop and Shop list, I also bought 2 boxes there. I had completely forgotten about the 4 I bought at Dave's.)
1 cantaloupe
Almond Milk
Organic yogurt smoothies (kid size)
2lb ground beef
2lb strawberries

Trader Joe's
1 gallon of organic milk
Flaxseed chips
Dark chocolate & almond bars (2 packages)
2 boxes of breakfast bars
Frozen organic corn
Shredded cheddar cheese
Bagged baby spinach
Cinnamon apple sticks
Bran flakes
2 boxes of coconut cranberry granola
Organic whole wheat pitas
Refrigerated biscuits
Refrigerated crescent rolls

Stop and Shop
Organic half & half (I NEVER used to drink this in my coffee. Then Dan bought a huge one for Stephanie's birthday party. I didn't want it to go to waste so I used it. Now when I brew plain coffee, I want this instead of milk. Sigh.)
4 loaves of Whole Wheat Bread
5 light tuna pouches
2 boxes of Cascadian farm organic granola bars
Russet potatoes

Sams Club
Baby carrots
6 pack of peppers (2 red, 2 yellow, 2 orange)
Fresh Broccoli
Snap Peas

So far I've spent a total of $214.47. This leaves me with $60.53 left. For the entire month. This is QUITE a challenge. We'll see how it goes...

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What I Ate: Photo Edition

I decided yesterday that I would document everything I ate all day with photos. I figured it would serve two purposes: show the things I put together based on the groceries I buy each week, and help me keep from overeating. Let me tell you, I didn't think I eat quite as much as I do! Something about seeing it all there in photos was so different for me than just seeing it written down in a food diary.

Old fashioned oats cooked in unsweetened vanilla almond milk with sliced strawberries, 1 tbsp flax seed meal, 1 tbsp walnut pieces, cinnamon, and a drizzle of honey. Coffee on the side of course.

Morning Snack:
1 pumpkin spelt muffin and raspberries

I was CRAVING a peanut butter and jelly! I normally try to eat salads but after making a sandwich for the kids, I couldn't resist making one for myself.
PB&J (Skippy natural peanut butter and smuckers natural strawberry jam) on Nature's Promie 100% Whole Wheat Bread. Orange and red peppers dipped in roasted garlic hummus.

Afternoon Snack:
Banana, Cheddar Egg Muffin

Leftover quinoa (that had been cooked in chicken stock), sugar snap peas, and turkey meatloaf with organic ketchup on top. Not Pictured: A handful of baby carrots and a few more snap peas

Evening Snack:
A bowl of flaxseed chips and a Trader Joe's dark chocolate and almond bar. I intended to break off a quarter of the bar and save the rest. Nope, ate the whole thing. Oops. It's a good thing I'm giving up eating after dinner for Lent. Those nighttime snacks are my downfall!

Full Disclosure: I had a handful of Trader Joe's chocolate cat cookies when I prepared the kids' afternoon snack. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Meal Plan Monday!

Happy Monday! We had a very low-key weekend around here, and a fairly slow week planned. Hopefully that means I won't get crazed and cranky and end up throwing my meal plan out the window. (This happens a lot.) Here's what we'll be eating for dinners this week:

Turkey Meatloaf, quinoa, steamed broccoli and steamed greenbeans

Quinoa Bites and steamed broccoli (me)
Annie's Mac & Cheese, peas and broccoli (kids)
(I don't like making two different meals, but quinoa bites aren't something the kids like at all, and I really do, so I make the exception.)

Dinner at my mom's house

Chili in the crock pot, steamed broccoli (yes, we're having broccoli almost every night. I bought a huge bag at Sam's Club and want to make sure we eat it before it goes bad.)

Birthday Party for one of the kids' friends

Tuscan Italian Chicken in the crock-pot, pilaf rice, quinoa (i'm trying to eat quinoa when I make rice for the kids and Dan) and a vegetable. We have corn, mixed vegetables, green beans and peas in the freezer. I'll let Dan choose whichever he's in the mood for.

DATE NIGHT! We haven't been out for dinner by ourselves since early December. I'm VERY excited to be going somewhere nice together without the kids in tow. They will be spending the night at Nana's house.

One of the things I've been asked since starting this grocery budget blog project is what else do we eat during the day. I wrote a post about breakfast (you can read it here) and I list our dinners in my weekly meal planning posts. But there are lunches and snacks in between, and changes to the meal plan. So today i'm taking a picture of everything I eat and I'll post it tomorrow. I admit I'm doing this for selfish reasons as well. Not only am I trying to save money with this grocery challenge, but I'm on a quest to clean up our diets. I'm trying to make the switch to mostly whole, minimally processed, healthy foods. Taking a picture of everything I eat is a good way to make sure I stay away from junk and hold myself accountable! Stay tuned :)

***If you missed it, I recapped our February Challenge in this post:

Saturday, March 1, 2014

February Grocery Challenge Re-Cap

As most of you know, I spent February challenging myself to actually stay within my $275 grocery budget. And I made it by the skin of my teeth!

Last week I went to Trader Joe's and Dave's (our local market.) I had $18.99 left. I spent $13.90. Which means I finished off the month with $5.04 left. Not bad!

Here is what I bought:

Trader Joe's
Kid organic yogurt squeezers
32 oz plain organic yogurt
5 bananas
1.5 lb bag of baby carrots

1 4 pack of Tuna

Originally I was only going to document the challenge here on the blog for the month of February. BUT it helped me stay accountable and really stick to my budget, so I plan to do it for March as well. If you're sick of these grocery posts, I'll do my best to sprinkle in some other posts as well. 

Full Disclosure***
I went to 4 stores today. I've already spent about 2/3 of my March budget. That's what happens when you spend the last week of a month scraping bottom and using up your stock-ups. This month is definitely going to be challenging! Stay tuned tomorrow for a round-up of where I went and what I bought today. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Meal Plan Changes and Grocery Re-Cap

As usual, my meal plan changed this past week. I actually managed to keep it all the same until Saturday. I ended up making meatloaf instead of chili. I've been making the same meatloaf, using the same recipe, for years. But for some reason it didn't come out well this time. I bought meat from BJs instead of the local market where I usually get it from, so maybe that had something to do with it? I don't know. Either way I wasn't pleased. But we ate it and it made enough for leftovers. Tonight I made a chicken tostada recipe that I'd been meaning to try for awhile. It was delicious! I'll post the recipe later this week.

Here are the groceries I purchased last week:

Trader Joe's:
Almond milk


Corned Beef


Stop & Shop:
2 Loaves of Whole Wheat Bread
2 peppers
4 boxes of barilla whole wheat pasta
2 bags of New England hazelnut ground coffee
Organic cereal
(This was the only shopping trip that I remembered to take a picture of. Oops!)


Honey Bunches of Oats (Dan's cereal of choice. He eats it at home and in his apartment)
Fig Bars
Stonyfield Farm yogurt squeezes
3lbs of Chicken breasts


I went to so many stores this past week. Yikes. I spent a total of $85.42

I started the month with $275. I am left with $18.99 for this entire week. I'm actually looking forward to the challenge of eating out of the cupboards and freezer as much as possible! And i'm determined NOT to spend more than that $18.99. I'll let you know how it goes. :)

If you're curious, here are my previous shopping trip posts from this month:

Week One
Week 2

Monday, February 17, 2014

Meal Plan Monday & Recipes

Here is my meal plan for the week:

Monday: Quinoa Pizza bites & steamed broccoli (me) and English Muffin pizzas with leftover sweet peas (the kids)

Tuesday: We are supposed to go to a friend's house for dinner. If the snow ruins that plan, I'll have a tuna sandwich with spinach on a flat-out wrap, and the rest of my steamed broccoli from Monday. The kids will have fish sticks and finish up their leftover peas.

Wednesday: We'll eat at my mom's house

Thursday: Chicken (new recipe), pilaf rice, and green beans

Friday: Eating at the dining hall (maybe. My husband might have to work. If he does, I honestly have no idea what we'll have. Possibly soup and rolls.)

Saturday: Chili and chips

Sunday: Leftover chili for whoever wants it; Whole Wheat Banana pancakes with fruit and yogurt for anyone who doesn't want the chili (I have the pancakes in my freezer leftover from Valentine's day breakfast.)

***Tomorrow I'll post my weekly grocery round-up. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that my mother-in-law was in town this weekend, and when we took a BJ's trip, she bought our weekly groceries. This was so generous and so helpful for us. However, because i'm trying to prove that we can live on a $275 a month grocery budget, i'm going to deduct the price of the groceries from our budget as if we spent it. Also, i'll post what we spent on food for Stephanie's party, because we ended up having the leftovers for several other meals. This of course keeps the budget down for the rest of the month. I'm probably going to end up challenging myself on the blog again during March when there aren't so many special occasions! That will be the real test as to whether I can spend only $275 for the month.***

Several people have asked for some of my recipes!

My Pumpkin Spelt Muffin recipe came from 100 Days of Real Food, and you can find it here:

The Cheddar Egg Muffin came from my friend Melissa over at Marching to a Different Beat. I'm not 100% sure, but I think she got it from the book Wheat Belly by William Davis.

2 C. fresh broccoli, chopped
1 C. Cheddar cheese (shredded. I've used mozzarella if that's the only thing I have on hand.)
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp salt
8 eggs

*Combine everything but eggs. Whisk eggs in separate bowl, then mix with everything else. Divide into muffin tin. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Enjoy the deliciousness! 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Grocery Recap: Week 2

I've completely finished food shopping for this week, and went to four different stores. I did BJs, Trader Joe's and Target this weekend, and Dave's this morning. (I went to Dave's first thing today, leaving the kids with my husband. Such a rare privilege to go alone! I appreciated every second.)

What I bought:

3 lbs of ground beef
Pirates Booty
3 dozen eggs
Fruit squeeze pouches (I was frustrated to learn that they switched from Motts all natural applesauce pouches to the ones with high fructose corn syrup. I refuse to buy them, so we switched brands.)
1 gallon of milk

Total: $37.96

Trader Joe's
Organic whole wheat pitas
Whole Wheat Pasta (1lb)
White Whole Wheat Flour
sour cream
granola (this wasn't on my list. It was the sample and Stephanie begged me to buy it. I caved.)

Total: $28.59

Red Sprinkles (for Valentine cookies and Stephanie's birthday cake)
Strawberry Jam (Stephanie asked to try this, and since I found some with all natural ingredients, I agreed. Just a note...buying things because your kids ask for them is not the way to shop on a budget. I was feeling generous for some reason this week. And she asked for granola and strawberry jam, not cookies and chips. So I guess there's that.)

Total: $8.79

Annies Mac & Cheese (2 boxes)
Chunk Light Tuna (2 pouches)
Kid's yogurt smoothies
Shredded Cheese (2 bags)
Cored Pineapple

Total: $19.50

Weekly Total: $94.84

I now have $104.41 left for the rest of the month. I'm done this week, so that leaves 2 full weeks. This is where it will start to get tight as I try my hardest to stay in budget this month! By the final week we may be digging through and scraping bottom with whatever food we have left in the house.

*I've been asked for a few recipes that I've written about. I'll post them soon!

**We have another meal plan change this week. With more snow on the horizon, we cancelled our dinner playdate tomorrow. I'll serve the kids Annie's mac & cheese with a steamed frozen veggie on the side. I'll have leftover meat pie that my mom sent home with me tonight, and whatever veggies I make for the kids.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Weekly Meal Plan and Recap

So i'm officially one week into my February meal planning/grocery budget project. I'm happy to say I still have grocery money. (It would be pretty bad to have used it all already, but hey i'm all about finding victories wherever I can.)

I did not, however, stick to my meal plan last week. The weather definitely changed things, and showed me that it's a good idea to make sure you always have some things on hand for unexpected meal changes. (That way you don't end up calling for take out!)

On Monday we had a bigger snowstorm than anticipated, so it took longer than I thought it would to shovel snow. By the time I got inside at 4:30pm, it was too late to make and cook the turkey meatloaf. Since I already had a pound of ground turkey defrosted in the fridge, I took Thursday's plan of turkey tacos and switched it to Monday. We had a lot of leftovers, so we had the same meal on Tuesday. Wednesday we were supposed to eat at my mom's house, but got another snowstorm. I decided to make a quinoa/broccoli/chicken sausage stir-fry, and it was delicious. (The kids didn't like the quinoa, but ate the broccoli and sausage.) Thursday I was visiting a friend in Massachusetts, and got home around 4. I didn't feel like cooking, so I just heated up some soup. (Trader Joe's Creamy Tomato for Joseph and I; Progresso Chicken Rotini for Stephanie.) Friday we were supposed to go to the dining hall, but since we hadn't seen Dan since Sunday, he decided we should go out to dinner at The Mews. I of course didn't protest this suggestion. Saturday we were at a party, and Sunday I made turkey meatballs to take to Dan's apartment, where we also had pasta (whole wheat for me, regular for everyone else) and jarred sauce. I usually make my own, but I was busy grocery shopping and cleaning during the day and didn't have time.

Here is this week's plan:

Monday: Leftovers for me (I still have some of the quinoa/sausage/broccoli in the fridge) and frozen pizza for the kids. Raw baby carrots and a spinach salad on the side.

Tuesday: It's Stephanie's 4th birthday so we're going out to eat.

Wednesday: We'll eat at my mom's house.

Thursday: I think we're going to a friend's house for dinner.

Friday: Valentine's Day dinner at my mom's house (i'm making meatballs)

Saturday: Stephanie's family dinner. We're having sandwiches and a veggie platter with homemade dill dip, a pickle/olive tray, and some chips. (Doritos, per the birthday girl's request.)

Sunday: A new chicken recipe, steamed greenbeans or peas (whichever i'm in the mood for) and a side of quinoa and pilaf rice. (I am not a fan of making two meals, but I prefer quinoa and the kids prefer pilaf, so I figure this is one area that I will make two. And I'll request that the kids take at least one bite of quinoa.)

Wow I didn't realize how little I had to cook this week until I saw it written out like this!

I've already done 2/3 of my grocery shopping for the week, so stay tuned for my recap later this week!

In case you want to catch up on this project here are the links for the previous posts:

An explanation of the project and my first week's plan

The first week's grocery shopping

What we eat for breakfast

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What We Eat For Breakfast

To go along with my series on grocery budgeting and meal planning, I thought I would share with you the things that we eat at other times of day, not just dinner.

 At our house, breakfast is typically very predictable. In fact, our whole morning routine is pretty predictable.

I start my day with three (yes, three) cups of coffee. I make a half pot, and since i'm the only one who drinks it, I get it all. I don't put any sugar or cream in my coffee, and this week I've been experimenting with using almond milk instead of my usual 1%. It's definitely different, but I want to give it a full week before I decide whether I actually like it or not.

When the kids get up, they watch a show and drink half a sippy cup of 1% milk. They often request a snack while they watch, so they get little bowls with Trader Joe's cheerios, craisins, or bran flakes in them. (I serve it to order, whichever combination of the three that they ask for on any particular day.)

When we sit down at the table for breakfast, the kids eat yogurt, fruit and some kind of grain. (A pumpkin spelt muffin, a Trader Joe's breakfast bar, a piece of toast with peanut butter.) The type of fruit and yogurt depends on what we have in the house at the time. Occasionally they will request cereal with milk, in which case they get either cheerios or bran flakes.

I have two breakfasts that I alternate between. I either have plain organic yogurt with a tablespoon of flax seed and a cheddar egg or pumpkin spelt muffin on the side, or oatmeal made with milk, cinnamon, walnuts (or sunflower seeds) and a little maple syrup or honey. Sometimes I'll add fruit or a cheddar egg muffin if i'm still hungry. Like the kids, I occasionally switch it up by having fruit and a bowl of cheerios or bran flakes.

Breakfast is a nice meal for me because it's predictable, so I always know which ingredients I need to keep in stock. If I notice i'm running low on something, I just add it to my ongoing shopping list and pick it up the next week. I've never run out of everything all at once before, so we always have at least one of our optionsa available to eat.

I'd love to hear what all of you eat for breakfast! It's the most important meal of the day, after all. :)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Weekly Grocery Shopping

This week I went to 3 different stores. I didn't need anything for the dinners I had planned, so I just needed to pick up some things for breakfasts, lunches and snacks. Because there weren't many things I needed, I was able to shop the sales for things to stock up on.

Yesterday I ran to Trader Joe's in the morning to do a quick shop before our snow storm started. I bought:

32oz tub of plain lowfat organic yogurt
1 loaf of multi grain sprouted bread (I'd never bought this before but heard good things and wanted to try it.)
Bagged salad (baby spring mix)
Organic squeeze yogurts
Box of 100 calorie dark chocolate
Corn tortillas
Chicken sausage
A Smoothie  drink

I spent $25.18

Then today I went to Dave's, our local market. I had gone through the ads, and again, since I didn't necessarily need much, I bought things that were on good sales.

Strawberries (2lbs)
Chicken stock
Chicken tenderloins (2lb)
Ground Turkey (2lb)
A dozen eggs
1lb of american cheese

I spent $22.60

Later in the day I met a friend at Whole Foods (NOT the place to go when you're on a budget. But it was a special treat, and I have been wanting to go and price compare some things.) First we had a very expensive lunch of pizza and salad. (My friend brought things from home and supplemented with a slice of pizza from WF and a cookie from the bakery as a treat. She's a genius. I'll do that next time.) Then I attempted to walk around the store but it was nap/rest time and the kids were not enjoying being there. I did manage to grab some things that were really well priced like:

Bagged organic popcorn
2 cartons of organic soup (1 tomato and 1 sweet potato)
1 carton of  organic chicken broth (Which was a really good price)
Almond milk
32oz tub of organic plain yogurt. Yes I had just bought this at Trader Joe's. But it was the same price and I go through it fast. I usually buy two of them at TJs, but had forgotten.
Feta Cheese

I spent $19.97

I've spent a total of $67.75 on groceries in February, so based on my monthly food budget of $275, I have $207.25  left. And i'm completely done with this week's shopping. Pretty good so far!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

I'm Still Here! (And Still Meal Planning)

Happy New Year!

Wait. It's February. Well, better late than never, right?

As usual, I started the year out with a bunch of resolutions. One of which was blogging. I had decided to start a new blog, where I recorded a few simple sentences each day about things my kids had said and done. I thought it seemed so doable, and that it would be something I would stick with. I didn't.

I had kind of then decided that I was just done with blogging. I couldn't seem to get the motivation to keep up with it, and even though I missed writing I figured it just wasn't in the cards for me anymore.

Then last week three different people asked me why I haven't blogged in awhile. Then I got an email from Highlights saying they linked back to my blog. And I was embarrassed because if anyone clicked on the link, they would see that I hadn't blogged since October. Oops. THEN one of my friends, who I was talking about blogging with, got me talking about food budgeting. Something I've been spending a lot of time on lately. And I thought, ok, I think I need to blog about this, and what better time than the start of a new month!

Since buying our house last year, we've really tightened our belts on a lot of things, one being our grocery budget. I set a monthly budget of $275 for us for food. This is strictly food prepared and eaten at home. It doesn't include eating out (something we can only afford to do very sparingly) and it doesn't include household products like paper towels, tissues, toilet paper, etc. It's still a tight budget though, and I tend to go over almost every month. I'm hoping that, with February being a short month I'll be able to stick with it. And what better way than to share with the world all that i'm buying!

I'm going to use the blog to be accountable for all my grocery shopping. I'll also include my meal plans, and a wrap up of what we ended up eating.

There's a lot that goes into my planning and shopping days, and i'll detail it out bit by bit this month. But to start i'll share with you our dinner plans for the week:

Monday: Glazed Turkey Meatloaf with a side of baked sweet potato chunks, steamed broccoli and steamed green beans.

Tuesday: Sweet Potato pancakes with yogurt and fruit.

Wednesday: We will eat at my mom's house

Thursday: Turkey Tacos

Friday: We'll eat at the dining hall. (What's the dining hall? My husband works at a college. Since he has to live there most of the time, he's given a meal plan as a job perk. He's allotted a specific amount of meals to use at the dining hall each semester. He uses some each week to take us out for dinner. The kids think it's awesome to dine with the college kids and I love that I don't have to cook. Or pay for a meal!)

Saturday: We have a party to attend

Sunday: Meatballs, Pasta and sauce with steamed veggies on the side

I *hopehopehope* I will keep up blogging about our food budget this month because I really think it will help keep me on track! Stay tuned tomorrow to hear about my first grocery trip of the month.
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