Jan 27, 2012

Week 3: Cooking on a Budget

I'm not going to complain too much here because my parents' food budget is way more than my personal budget, but it is a little difficult to shop on someone else's budget. So, this week (besides the new recipe on Wednesday) was basically trying to make a menu on what we had since it was the week before payday. Fortunately, I'm amazing and was able to stay under budget even with all the stuff we had to get for this week's new recipe! The good thing is that I am used to making do with whatever I have/can afford (college taught me that at least!), so I didn't find it that difficult.

This is what I've learned about shopping on a budget (I rarely coupon, because that takes too much effort):

Shop the ads--I am still learning to do this better but plan your menu around what's on sale, keeping in mind that just because it's on sale doesn't mean you have to buy it. If you aren't going to eat it, you are wasting money for all it's on sale. Also, watch out for traps. I worked in a grocery for 4 years to pay my way through school and I can't tell you how many times we had a sale that was "3 for 5" and people thought you had to buy three to get the sale price. About 90% of the time, this is not true. It's a marketing ploy to get you to buy more.

Buy store brand, (or the cheaper brand)--Everyone has brand loyalties, I get this. I don't buy cheese unless it is Tillamook (I . . . don't buy cheese much). But when you are shopping on a budget, sometimes you should just buy the cheaper brand. I love Western Family because it's cheap and most things are pretty similar to brand name items, though there are some Western Family items I will never buy. And this week at the store I was buying enchilada sauce and put the brand we usually get in the cart before noticing that a different brand was much cheaper. Back went the usual brand! It's almost like a bonus when the brands you like are on sale, like how my favorite pasta brand was on sale this week.

One last thing . . . when I was in school, there were times when I would go over my food budget because there was an awesome sale going on. Usually pasta and chicken. But if you know that you use something a lot and it's on sale, don't be afraid to buy some. It's going to save you money in the long run.

For Sunday dinner we had grilled pork chops (grilled by Dad the Grill Master; and already in the freezer), steak cut fries (we had half a bag in the freezer), and the World's Best Applesauce (Mom's homemade and canned applesauce). No money spent on this meal!

Monday was Chinese New Year!! Go dragons! (I was born in the year of the dragon. They're cool.) We decided to celebrate with half a bag of frozen stir-fry veggies (already had), some dumplings that were in the freezer (unfortunately, they seemed a little old--they fell apart when I was boiling them), and ham fried rice (we had all the ingredients). Again, no money spent on this meal!

Ham Fried Rice
1/2 cup ham, cubed
1 stalk celery, cut diagonally (oops, I didn't do this! haha)
1 1/2 cup pre-cooked rice
1 green onion
1 beaten egg
soy sauce

Heat wok (or pan, we don't have a wok) to medium with 1 tablespoon oil. When heated, fry ham, celery, and onions. Saute until tender. Add scrambled egg. When cooked, stir in. Add rice and mix well. Let cook for a couple of minutes. Add soy sauce to taste.

Just because you're on a budget doesn't mean you can't have fancy food! For Tuesday's dinner we had salmon, rice, and peas. And all it cost was 33 cents! We already had the salmon in the freezer (they come in individual packets and we bought a bunch when they were on sale for 10 for 10), as well as the peas, and then we used Rice a Roni Chicken flavor (the only flavor we had, haha). I mixed dried rosemary, garlic, and olive oil to put on top of the fish as well as a slice of lemon (there was probably too much rosemary). It was the lemon that cost 33 cents (again, on sale).

New recipe tonight and oh my gosh, it's a keeper! Tonight was Chicken Enchilada Pasta and it was very yummy! I was recommended this recipe by a friend who I'm pretty sure found it on pinterest. It's super easy to make (I already had the chicken cooked and shredded from a recipe I made last week), smells great while it's cooking, and tastes just as good as it smells! Even though I had no idea what it tasted like I have been craving this for about two weeks and it was as good as I imagined it being. The only disappointment was that my avocado wasn't ripe. :( We ate orange slices to make it a meal. It was the most expensive meal, but almost everything we bought was on sale or store brand.

For our crock pot meal this week we had potato bar. Just poke the potatoes with a fork a couple of times, wrap in foil and stick in the crock pot on low for 8-10 hours. To shakes things up a little bit, after I poked the potatoes, I put them in a bag with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and coated them. Then just put your favorite toppings on. Potato bar is a full meal as itself, but we did have a clementine each. As for cheapness, we already had everything for this meal. The potatoes were small, so I cooked all five and we ate them all (like, they were really, really tiny).

For Friday's dinner I raided the freezer. Mom had made some taco soup before the Experiment started, so I got that out, heated it up, and made a salad. Just popped some cheese, sour cream (we ate a lot of sour cream this week--and it's not over yet), cheese, and tortilla chips on top!

For tomorrow I'm making one of the ultimate comfort foods (I haven't been feeling 100% the past three days, so I need it): Hamburger Stroganoff. This recipe is from Mom's home ec days. If 13 year olds can make, anyone can make it. We're going to have peas and a salad with it.

Hamburger Stroganoff
1 lb hamburger
dried onion
1 can cream of mushroom
1 can cream of chicken (to halve this recipe, just use cream of mushroom)
1 can evaporated milk
1 cup sour cream

Cook hamburger with onion. Add everything else and let thicken. Put on top of egg noodles (my personal favorite), rice, potatoes, toast, or biscuits.

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