Blog

Freezer Meal Planning Part 3-Lowering Costs

After wasting time because I didn’t plan the shopping so well, I obtained all of the food necessary to begin preparing my meals. For 11 meals I came in under $100, a new low in cost. I also have lots of leftovers that I’ll be making even more meals.

I would love to provide you with a magic formula as to how I managed this, but honestly I just hit the sales at the right time. Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons bring about the lowest prices in groceries here in Iowa. The combination of Fareway, Hy Vee, and Aldi are how I keep my costs low. I also plan ahead and pick up items when they go on sale. The only thing I can’t buy ahead of time is the fresh produce, but if you time it right around the holidays most of the produce you will need goes on sale. I always buy meat on sale and then freeze it until I need it.

August is another great time to take advantage of great produce sales. Our local farmer’s markets have terrific prices. I can get three times the amount of kale that they sell in the store for the same price and it supports our local growers. I usually plan my summer freezer session to include lots of fresh produce. Sadly my winter session doesn’t have as much fresh produce as it isn’t as available, but I still fill up my meals with veggies. I try to stay away from canned vegetables unless I need tons of tomatoes. It’s easier just to buy those in cans so I don’t have to cut all of them 🙂

I love to cook so I also always have spices on hand. Aldi and Fareway have the best prices on spices with Wal Mart coming in at a close third depending on the spice. Remember when shopping to not only check price, but the quantity. Aldi’s spices run 20 cents higher, but there’s almost double the amount in the container.

My Freezer Meal Planning Part 2

It’s been a couple of months since I last posted about my process. I purposely did that so people can grasp exactly how far in advance I plan 🙂 I’ve been carrying my shopping list with me and hitting all of the sales so that I can save the most money when I go to make the meals. I’ve chosen 10 recipes and hope to come in right around $100 (one of the recipes makes two gallon bags and one recipe is individual pizzas).

Around the first of the year I hope to begin cooking and preparing them for the freezer. Currently I’m in the process of timing my last trip to the store for the fresh produce and calculating when I need to take all of the meat I bought on sale out of the freezer to thaw.

The day before I prep I usually sanitize my counters and set out all of my measuring cups, teaspoons, prep bowls, freezer bags, and ingredients. I typically go through each recipe and make sure that I didn’t forget anything and group nonperishable ingredients together so that everything is ready to go. If I feel extremely motivated I’ll even chop some veggies ahead of time.

I realize that this process isn’t a one size fits all approach, but hopefully it will give you some ideas on how to organize your own session. Remember to start small, doing more than 5 recipes in one day your first round will be overwhelming unless you have a lot of help!

Surviving the Holidays Through Organization

It’s that time of year where we tend to overspend, not organize enough, and get ourselves into a time and money crunch.  It doesn’t have to be that way. Setting a budget this time of year can be tough, especially when all of those extra expenses tend to creep up. However, a little organization can stretch that budget like you wouldn’t believe.  Here are some quick tips to get you started on making it through the rest of the year with a little less stress.

-Set a budget now. Stop reading this post immediately if you haven’t already set a budget, figure out your budget, and then come back and read the rest of the post. I’m saying this with a smile on my face.  Trust me, setting a budget now and sticking to it will save you stress when all of those expenses start adding up.  Food, gifts, extra heating expense, etc. should each have line items. Once the budget is set stick to it by determining if the extra expense is absolutely necessary at this time.

-Grocery shopping organization can save you quite a few dollars this time of year.  If you’re hosting a Thanksgiving meal consider having guests bring a side or dessert to split up the cost or plan your meal now and purchase items as the go on sale.  The same is true for holiday baking, purchase staples such as flour and sugar when they go on sale. Planning ahead of time and having a list handy will speed up your trip to the grocery store and help you save money by purchasing non-perishables early.

-Maximize your gift budget by checking out apps for your favorite stores and looking into rebate programs for online shopping. Having a gift list ahead of time can allow you to find the best deal.  It’s always useful to purchase one or two extra smaller dollar amount gifts to have on hand so you aren’t rushing out for a last minute gift for that coworker you forgot.

-Begin planning your holiday baking before Thanksgiving. This gives you time to host a baking party or even convince a friend to come over and help you bake. It will also help you to make a list of ingredients that you need so that you don’t need to make an extra trip to the grocery store and can have most of them on hand when you need them.

-Have a couple of casseroles in the freezer. While it’s easy and convenient to just order pizza, it’s healthier and cheaper to make an extra casserole or two for the freezer so that you don’t have to worry about dinner on those busy nights. My personal fail safe is having ingredients for chili on hand and simply throwing it in the slow cooker in the morning when I know I’m going to be busy that day.

 

 

 

Hosting a Fall Party

Fall Party Ideas (2)

As Christians we often struggle with this time of the year.  Some celebrate the U.S. version of Halloween while others feel convicted to not partake in any form. However, no matter how you feel about Halloween there are still plenty of options available for getting together in October and even in November. Here are a few ideas that not only won’t break the bank, but are easy to organize.

Chili or Soup Night-have each person bring a variety of chili or a soup for sampling. If you have a few that don’t cook ask them to bring cheese, sour cream, corn chips, etc. This makes it easier on you and them. Make sure that you have plenty of counter space, bowls, and spoons for this. If doing samples small cups may be a better option. You can even come up with a fun prize for the best chili or provide the chili yourself and have others bring sides and desserts.

Pumpkin Carving/Decorating-invite people over that are wanting to carve or decorate a pumpkin or even make some sort of centerpiece. There are endless options for this, ask each person to bring a pumpkin and something to decorate with such as paint, decals, glitter, etc. While the decorating is going on roast pumpkin seeds for a snack after the clean up is over.

Show a Classic Movie-this could range from Charlie Brown to Vincent Price depending on who is invited. Have each person bring a snack or make up some of your own.  My favorite treat when I was a kid was a mixture of popcorn, candy corn, raisins, nuts, and M&M’s. Or purchase a variety of candy bars and have people chose what they want. No matter what, popcorn is a must!

Treat Exchange-who says that you can only do a cookie exchange in December? Grab a group of friends and invite them to bring some of their favorite fall treats and exchange them. You can even make a large batch of snack mix together. Make sure that everyone brings a container and you may want to have some extra on hand just in case. Set a theme for the treats for an extra unique experience such as pumpkin spice, spooky, apple, or fall fest.

These are just a few ideas to get you started on your way to celebrating during the fall season. Any of these would also be great for an invite opportunity.  Inviting someone to church is good, inviting someone into your life is great!

 

 

Baking with Apples

I’ll admit that I’m new at baking with apples. I haven’t had a lot of experience so right now the possibilities are endless on what I want to do with the 18 pounds of apples I bought the other day. I’m a fan of going to an orchard and buying apples and as luck would have it Gays Mills, WI is under three hours away from where I live. After a day filled with orchard hopping and eating way too many delicious apple sweets I thought about what I want to make with these.

I’m definitely going to want to make either apple pie filling or apple hand pies for the freezer.  There’s nothing like warm apple pie on a crisp fall day. I’m also thinking on making a couple of loaves of bread and testing out some dips. Luckily I have plenty of taste testers for my experiments!

If you’re looking for something new for Thanksgiving or even a new side dish give this one a try. It’s one of my favorite recipes that uses apples.

Slow Cooker Acorn Squash

1 whole Acorn Squash

2 T butter

1 tsp cinnamon

2 T brown sugar

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1 small apple, diced

One small package dried cranberries

2 T chopped walnuts

splash of apple juice or cider

Instructions:

Prepare Acorn squash by removing outer green skin. Cut in half and remove seeds so that the squash has a hollow in the middle.  Add apple juice or cider to the bottom of the slow cooker so that it just covers the bottom.  This will help keep the squash from drying out. Place squash in juice and place 1 T butter in each half of squash in the hollow. Combine brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and place in hollow. Top with apples, cranberries, and nuts.

Cook on low 6-8 hours until squash is tender.  Stir together just before serving.  I’ve served it straight out of the slow cooker and in a dish.

For a healthier version leave out the sugar and reduce butter and add in more juice or cider.

For a crowd: squash is filling and most people take a smaller amount. One squash in this recipe feeds 3-4 people.  The recipe works best if all of the squash is on the bottom of the slow cooker and has the ingredients baked in the hollow, but I’ve also cubed the squash and placed on the bottom and layered the ingredients over the top. If you cube the squash you’ll want to keep an eye on it and may need to add more juice or cider. I’ve placed 3 squash in a slow cooker with the squash cubed.