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Monday, March 28, 2011
(Please note: I feel very unqualified to write this post. I am not a coupon-er or one of those people who shops a multiples stores to get the best deals offered each week. I also don't buy in bulk because you usually have to shell out a large amount of money to save money and we just don't have a lot of money to lay down for bulk products. However, I have changed a few of my shopping habits and eating habits in the past few months and have saved some money.)
I used to shop at Walmart for groceries. While they do have "low every day prices!" (sorry, it just worked here...), they don't offer deals like Kroger does each week like 10 for $10, or special lower prices on produce or meat, the two things I REALLY want deals on. So, that being said, I have become a loyal Kroger customer. PLUS, if you regularly shop at Kroger, they send you some sweet coupons for $$$ off the products you buy the most, even coupons for things like free eggs, lunchmeat, or milk. :D
Plan before shopping
I used to plan my menus and then go shopping. This was not the best strategy for getting the best deals--what I had planned to eat wasn't necessarily what was on sale. So, I started checking kroger.com before I go shopping. I even signed up to get an email of the specials that my store is advertising for the week. That way, I can see that pork chops are on sale and beef is not, etc. For example, this week broccoli was 2 heads for $3 dollars, so I planned two meals with broccoli as a side dish. By doing this, I have been able to plan my meals around what is on sale.
Like I said before, I am not a big coupon person. I wish I was. Unfortunately, I have found that most coupons are for name brand products, and I try to buy the store brand as much as possible. Also, I make a lot of our food from scratch, so I am not as likely to use a coupon for a frozen or boxed meal.
However, some name brand food are just better, like cereal (store brand? Ick! Seriously, name brand just tastes better). Thankfully, I can find coupons for Kellogg or GM cereal pretty frequently. Sometimes they are in the cereal box; other times I print them online (couponmom.com) or load them on my Kroger card at kroger.com.
Snacky foods are really easy to throw into the cart. I try not to go shopping when I am hungry, but seriously, who does not get tempted to buy snacks when surrounded by food for over an hour?? I try to plan our snacks out before I go. Aaron and I (ok, more me) have a sweet tooth in the evening. My go-to evening snack is cake (ok, that was a big confession...but I LOVE cake). A cake mix is less than $2 (usually a brand or two is on sale so I usually get one for $1!) and a sheet cake with frosting (I usually make homemade--just tastes better IMO) will last a week at our house. Last week I bought mini chocolate chips to make banana chocolate chip muffins, and I still have ingredients to make some more this week.
I also usually buy one salty snack a week--one box of cheez-its, goldfish, microwave popcorn or something like that. These snacks usually last longer than a week but planning one snack a week insures that we won't run out OR that I won't load up when we already have some at home. The big thing, I guess, is to PLAN rather than impulse buy.
Another strategy to lower our grocery bills has been to go meatless or meat-less (less meat) once or twice a week. A few of our meatless meals have been breakfast for dinner, potato soup (more of a meat-less, since I use some bacon), pasta with salad and bread, or homemade pizza or calzones (a little bit of meat goes a LONG way). I frequently utilize breakfast sausage or bacon into our meals, as these meats are often on sale or cheaper than other meats.
I have changed my thinking about buying meat. I used to think about variety--I had to have a chicken, beef, pork, seafood etc each week (no wonder I was spending so much! Why did I think this way? WHY?). Now, I try to buy meats that will last for more than one meal. My unstated goal is to spend $5 or less per dinner on meat. Now this past week, I bought a pack of pork chops for over $8, BUT this has stretched over two dinners. I also bought a bag of frozen chicken breasts for $7ish dollars, but this will service about 3 dinners. A 2 pound bag of frozen shrimp for $9.50 will be split for two meals. So, instead of thinking of how much meat is per pound, I now try to think of how much I am spending per meal.
Seven minus One
I have also cut out making dinner once a week--this was another one of my must-do's as a "good wife." (I am cringing at this confession too...yes, I cooked a full, three course dinner every single night of the week...please don't hate me.) Now, on Sundays, I schedule in soup, sandwiches, or leftovers into our menu. This saves a lot of money and gives me a break (as well as makes me release my obsession over being a "perfect wife").
So, here is the breakdown:
I shop at Kroger where I take advantage of their weekly deals
I plan my menu by what is on sale/special deals
I plan for "impulse" buys and snacks
I use coupons when I can for the brands I like
I plan meatless or meat-less meals into our menus
I cut out one formal dinner a week
All of this has helped to keep our grocery bills within our $125 budget, and even UNDER budget (by $15-25) for the past few weeks.
I hope these tips help you!! Please comment and share your own thoughts or tips with me!
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Here is our menu for the week. Maybe this will jumpstart your own meal plans for this coming week.
Saturday: Homemade Calzones, Salad (I used the dough from this recipe and added regular pizza fillings. Delish!)
Sunday: Sandwiches, soup
Monday: Pork Chops (leftover), rice, broccoli
Tuesday: Chicken and dumplings, green beans
Wednesday: Chicken Lo Mein w/ broccoli and carrots
Thursday: Sloppy Joes, baked fries, fruit salad
Friday: Frozen Pizza, salad
Grocery bill was $106 this week! YEA!!!!! This final tab was after $16 Kroger card savings and $4 of coupons. This was including Pantene Shampoo and Conditioner AND watercolor paints for each of the boys. :D
I think I have FINALLY gotten my grocery bill under control. Maybe I will write a post soon about what has worked for me to lower my grocery bills each week.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Goldie was trying her darnest to get a taste of pancake while the boys were eating. She keeps getting closer and closer to the boys (her nose is right at their laps, where all the goodies are). I kept telling her to LAY DOWN--her cue to back up, and up, and again, until she is a good 4 feet away on the carpet.
Well, speaking of messes and the dog, apparently the two go together quite nicely in the boys' mind, but not in the way you might think.
Here is a little conversation we had near the end of breakfast:
SCENE: Micah is schmooling his pancake (for a definition of "schmoodle" see this post, except for this schmoodling WAS fit for the dog, apparently)
Me: Micah, please don't crumble your pancake up. That makes a big mess for mommy.
Micah: But, W-H-H-H-Y-Y-Y? (this has become a very common phrase in our house)
Me: Because I will have to clean it up. (then I thought better) Or you will have to clean it up.
Micah: But Mom, Goldie will just clean it with her tongue.
I laughed out loud. Yes, it's true. (the boy is already thinking up clever ways to get out of work)
Goldie, my little kitchen-maid, do your thing, girl.
Unlike the boys, she didn't need any encouragement from me to clean up after breakfast.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Menu March 19-25
Saturday—Steak, mashed potatoes, corn (a special treat for us)
Monday—spaghetti w/ meat sauce, salad
Tuesday—homemade pizza (supreme, baby!)
Wednesday—breakfast bake, fruit salad
Thursday—Baked potato soup, yeast rolls
Friday—grilled pork chops, garlic mashed potatoes, salad
Saturday, March 19, 2011
I am going to do a series of posts about children's books that I like, love and absolutely adore (Hey, maybe this will even extend into books in GENERAL that I like, love, and adore. But I don't know if there enough hours in my lifetime to record those books).
Anyways, I came across this gem tonight: Seven Hungry Babies by Candace Fleming. I picked it up from the library on Wednesday (our regular library day).
Here is how I pick books at the library. Let's just say that my MA in English is not being applied with this method.
1. I snatch up the ones displayed on the top of the shelves. Much easier than searching through the stacks, especially since I have to keep one eye (or two?) on my crazy twin boys.
2. I glance at the pictures on the front: Cute subject matter? it's a go!
3. I flip through the pages quickly. Too many words on a page? It's a NO GO! Yes, yes, I know. I am missing out on wonders like One Morning in Maine. But my boys have SHORT attention spans. I had to toss aside a book tonight because Micah was flailing on the bed, kicking me in the spleen instead of listening to the story.
Not this book though. This one was a winner. Cute subject matter and pictures? Check! A minimum amount of words on the page? Check!
Plus it is rhyming, which the boys really seem to be attracted to right now. And it was cute rhyming too that had a good jaunt to it (aka. not overly obnoxious).
Here is the jist of the story:
A nestful of baby birds hatches! Mommy bird must find food for them one by one. Poor mommy is SOO tired. Baby birds are SOO demanding! (Can I get an "Amen?" moms?) She FINALLY gets the last. baby. fed. and all the babies are asleep. She thinks, now I can finally take a bre-- and the babies are UP wanting to be fed once again (Heck, this Ms. Fleming has got it right!) I won't give away the clever ending but I will say that it had me laughing out loud.
In my humble opinion, a good children's book is one that is equally enjoyed by both kids and parents alike. I hope to share more of these gems in the weeks to come!
Go check out Seven Hungry Babies from your library!!
PS. I liked this book so much that I looked up Candace Fleming online and shot her an email via her website, telling her how much I enjoyed it.
Friday, March 18, 2011
When I tell people the I like to write fiction, the immediate next question they ask is, "What do you write?" where the expected response would be, "Oh, science fiction OR fantasy OR short stories for kids OR post-modern adult fiction with a wink-and-nod at the Romanic era" (ok, that last one is a bit out there).
I just like to write. I have stories in my head; they come to me at random times...while I'm lying in bed, at the grocery store, driving in the car, reading a novel, or doing laundry. And, as a whole, my stories don't fit into one nice neat genre (Children's OR Adult OR Young Adult OR whatever); they are simply stories that bang around inside my head, or press at my conscience, or tickle my funny-bone until I simply stop resisting and bring them to life.
I have written stories for kids that deal with uncovering the mystery of who is eating apples out of the garage. I have written a story for adults that explores the haunting reality (and redemption) of a woman who was the victim of childhood sexual abuse. I have written fantasy for young adults by giving voices and personality to classic nursery rhyme characters.
Someday I am going to write a story about socks--you know, why are there never enough mates for every sock in the laundry? Seriously, what happens to those socks? It is mystery that I am determined "solve."
Ok, back the the purpose of this post: Publishing Firsts. I am sending out a short story to real, live BOOK publishers (as opposed to magazine, the only medium I have tried--and failed--to publish in so far. Don't ask my why a book publisher may be better success. My ego is probably too big for my own good). I am also sending the same story out to multiple publishers, what they call "simultaneous submissions" in publishing lingo. (Don't worry, I did my research and every publisher I sent to accepts manuscripts that are simultaneously submitted).
This story is for kids (and in my mind, boys in particular, though girls will love this story too. Boys are my particular inspiration these days, though. Hmm, I wonder why?) This story was one of those came-to-me-as-I-was-trying-to-go-to-sleep stories.
Here is a taste of what I wrote in my cover letter for "Isaac and the Itty Bitty Itch":
"An itch is a funny thing—especially those itches that attack you in bed at night, flitting furiously from shoulder to shin, elbow to earlobe, and everywhere in between.
Isaac has such an itch—an Itty Bitty Itch, as Grandpa tells him. It’s not a bug or a monster, but “a tiny creature, so small that no one can see it . . . the Itch loves to play tag! That’s why it moves to a new spot the moment you scratch the old one—the Itch wants you to chase it! And it has so much fun that it never wants to leave.”
Grandpa gives Isaac advice about how to get the Itch to leave, but Isaac decides to take matters into his own hands. Try as he might though, Isaac cannot stop chasing the Itch. But will Grandpa’s advice work? Will the Itty Bitty Itch ever go away and let Isaac sleep?
My 1072 word manuscript, intended to be a picture book, will uniquely capture the imaginations of children 4-8 years old, and perhaps “solve” the mystery of the nighttime Itch. (Beware: phantom itching may occur while reading this story…or perhaps you may have caught the Itty Bitty Itch yourself?)"
Monday, March 14, 2011
Saturday: Leftover Shepherd’s Pie
Sunday: Grilled Cheese, tomato soup
Monday: Pan-Fried Grouper (fish), pasta dish, steamed broccoli
Tuesday: Fried Shrimp, hashbrowns, steamed veggies
Wednesday: Chicken fajitas, refried beans
Thursday: Baked Potato Soup, yeast rolls
Friday: Hot dogs, baked fries, jello salad
SCENE: Bathroom. MOMMY is picking up a plethora of toys from the bottom of the tub. MICAH comes into the bathroom.
MICAH: Mommy, I wanna take a bath!
ME: No, honey, we're not going to take a bath right now. I want you go to watch TV.
MICAH: But I don't wanna watch TV.
ME: Ok, do you want me to turn it off?
MICAH: Mommy, what are you doing?
ME: I am going to take a shower.
MICAH: Mommy! What are you do-o-o-o-ing??
ME: Micah. Listen. I am going to take. a. shower.
MICAH: But I don't want to take a shower!
ME: No! I am going to take a shower!
MICAH exits to go watch TV.
GAH! Seriously, no wonder women talk their husbands ears off when they come home from work!
Monday, March 7, 2011
I hope you enjoy!!
B.A.M. Shepherds Pie
1 lb lean hamburger
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2-2 cups beef (or chicken) stock
2 tbs. soy sauce (or to taste)
2 tbs. worchershire sauce (or to taste)
salt (to taste if needed)
pepper (to taste)
hot sauce (to taste)
2-3 cups leftover mashed potatoes
3-5 carrots, chopped, boiled for 20-25 minutes and mashed (or pureed in blender) I usually cook in the microwave
1 cup frozen super-sweet corn
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (or favorite cheese, colby works well too)
In large skillet, saute onion in a dash of olive oil until tender. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add hamburger and cook until browned. Do not drain. Add flour and stir in. Add beef stock, soy sauce, worshershire, salt, pepper and hot sauce. Heat and stir until bubbling and thickened, like gravy. Taste and adjust flavor as necessary. Add corn and remove from heat. In 2 quart casserole, layer meat/corn mixture, carrot puree, mashed potatoes, and top with cheese. Bake at 375 for 25-40 minutes, depending on if your potatoes are cold or hot at the time of layering. ENJOY!
Recipe courtesy Martha Nesbit via Food Network.com
4 cups water
Salt and pepper
1 cup stone-ground grits
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 slices bacon, chopped
4 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 cup thinly sliced scallions
1 large clove garlic, minced
Bring water to a boil. Add salt and pepper. Add grits and cook until water is absorbed, about 20 to 25 minutes (I always use the 5 minute grits). Remove from heat and stir in butter and cheese.
Rinse shrimp and pat dry. Fry the bacon in a large skillet until browned; drain well. In grease, add shrimp. Cook until shrimp turn pink.
Add lemon juice, chopped bacon, parsley, scallions and garlic. Saute for 3 minutes.
Spoon grits into a serving bowl. Add shrimp mixture and mix well. Serve immediately.
Note: This is the original recipe but I usually tweak it a bit to make it a little healthier. We like a mixture of 2% velveeda and cheddar cheese for the grits and only add 1 TBS of butter; I usually only use 4-5 piece of bacon (but knock yourself out if you are a bacon fanatic!); I also drain out most of the grease before I put the shrimp in. I cut the lemon juice to 1 TBS; and one CUP of scallions (green onions)? Seriously? I use about 1/2 cup. Oh and I use 2 cloves of garlic because I. love. garlic. period. :D
Jen wrote: Thought I should comment on creative ways to instill a love for Scripture too -- we try to read a few verses from the Bible at the end of each meal if we're home, and we read a chapter of the Big Picture Storybook Bible as part of the kids' bedtime routine. We LOVE the Seeds Family Worship CDs. They're all Scripture too! So.. that's it for 1 year olds so far. :)
Jen, I will email you about sending your new CD! I hope you enjoy it and your kiddos enjoy singing as much as you and Josh!
Thanks for playing! Maybe we will have another giveaway sometime in the future.
Sunday, March 6, 2011
NOTE: this is NOT an exact measurement recipes...::confession:: I rarely measure anything when I cook. So, use your cooking preferences if you would like to try this recipe.
2 medium chicken breasts, cut into small bites (I did smallish rectangle like pieces)
Green Pepper, large dice
Red Pepper, large dice
Onion, large dice
1 can refried beans
Mexican blend cheese (or other fav cheese!)
Flour Tortillas, taco size (I actually used burrito size; I cut them in 4th and layered them in so they fit in my round casserole dish)
The Spices! (You could always use a packet of Fajita seasoning. I make my own seasoning mix because the packaged kind doesn't agree with Aaron's stomach)
Salt (generous amount = 6-10 shakes)
Onion Powder (generous amount)
Garlic Powder (generous amount)
Chili Powder (generous amount)
Cumin (medium amount)
Oregano (smidge--I little goes a long way in this recipe...but don't leave it out!)
Cayenne Pepper (as much as your taste buds like!)
Corn Starch (ok, not a spice but still needed)
Preheat large skillet over medium-high with 1-2 tbs of olive oil. Add chicken. Enjoy the loud sizzle. Add spices (minus corn starch) and stir chicken. Cook for 3-4 minutes (I like to undercook the chicken here because it will cook some more in the oven). Remove chicken from skillet.
Add 1 more tbs of olive oil. Add peppers and onions. Season with salt, pepper, and a little bit of chili powder. Saute until tender-crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic in the last minute of cooking.
Stir 1 tsp corn starch to 1/2 cup of water. Add chicken back into skillet and add cornstarch mixture. Stir and cook until bubbly and thickened. Remove from heat.
Empty refried beans into large bowl. Add 1/4-1/2 cup water to loosen them up (I actually microwaved them for 1-2 minutes to make them easier to spread). Add chili powder, cayenne, garlic powder and onion powder to taste.
Spread a small scoop of beans around the bottom of a 2- 2 1/2 quart round casserole dish. Add a tortilla. Layer beans, chicken/peppers, and cheese. Add another tortilla and repeat. I think I did 3 tortilla layers. I ended with a cheese layer on the top.
I made my casserole early in the day and refrigerated it at this point. At dinner time, pop it in a 375 degree oven and bake for 30-35 minutes until hot and cheese is bubbly and slightly brown.
Serve with sour cream.
Whew! that was a long recipe! This is a little labor-intensive (even for me...and I love to cook!) but it is really yummy! It is even better leftover (if your family leaves any that is!)
Friday, March 4, 2011
Be sure to leave your email address so I can contact the lucky (blessed?) winner!