Frugal Food
 
Blogging about feeding my family of six without spending a fortune. You won't find fancy foods like beef wellington or chicken carbonara (most of the time), but you will find really good food eaten by an actual real family, with real activities and really picky children.
Monday, May 30, 2005
Happy Memorial Day from Frugal Food!
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posted by Heather @ 3:48 PM   0 comments
Friday, May 27, 2005
Staples in my pantry
As you can probably tell, my grocery list looks quite a bit different than a 'normal' grocery list would. I don't use up my pantry/fridge/freezer food every shopping cycle and start all over with each shopping trip. That would break me. I keep a stocked pantry. It's a little costly at first when you are starting with an empty pantry, but in the long run it more than pays for itself.

The staples I keep in my pantry are:
flour
yeast
dry milk
chicken broth
beef broth
cream of soups (mushroom, chicken, celery, etc)
canned veggies
various spices & seasonings (the basics: garlic powder, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, thyme, salt, pepper, etc)
various condiments (worcestershire, soy sauce, etc)
vinegar
rice
oatmeal
peanut butter
canned tuna
sugar
pancake mix

That's just the basics. In the freezer I keep bread, rolls, pureed pumpkin, fruits & veggies bought on sale and frozen before they can go bad. I stock up when there is a good sale, even if I don't "need it" right then. I work it into the next menu ;) Like the ribs on this bi-weekly menu. They were on sale a couple of weeks ago, I bought enough for 2 meals. We had one last month, and another this month. I also try to keep some ground beef or ground turkey in the freezer as well.

You might wonder, why keep all that food in your pantry/freezer if you aren't going to use it. Oh, but I do use it! Just not right away. I would much rather buy something on sale and put it away for another day, then to have to pay full price later on! Another reason, it keeps me from having to make multiple trips to the store. More trips to the store, even with a list, usually ends up with extra items not needed and adds up to extra money spent that wouldn't have been spent had the pantry been stocked. Lastly, it keeps us from eating out on the spur of the moment just because there's nothing 'on the menu' or we're too busy. In my pantry, I can make a super quick meal for less than even fast food would be.

When I first started to stock a pantry I started out very small. Each grocery trip, I would buy 2-3 small items that I had no plans in the menu for. A couple of cans of soup, an extra 2lb bag of rice. Just those three items add less than $3 to your grocery bill. Eventually I worked up to setting aside $10-20 per shopping trip to purchase 'loss leaders'. Loss leaders are the sales that stores take a loss on in order to get you into the store in hopes that you will buy other items as well. What is very important about loss leader shopping is to ONLY buy what is on your list. If the grocery store in town has a great sale on ground beef and flour, ONLY buy ground beef & flour.
Another trick that some people use is to shop around. Before the commissary was available to me, I would indeed shop around. There were certain foods that were cheapest at Aldi's, and others that I could only get at Price Chopper. Instead of making one huge long day of driving all over town shopping at various stores, I staggered those trips as well. Aldi's was a once a month trip. Because that's where I got my staples, flour, rice, sugar, spices, pasta, canned stuff I could limit my shopping there to once a month. Then I would stop at Price Chopper on the way home for the loss leaders one day. Then another day stop at P&C or Hannaford for there loss leaders. I would plan my menu around the loss leaders. Now I am able to plan our menu around recipes I want to try and fitting in the loss leaders I've stocked up on by modifying recipes.

Some people swear by coupons. Unless you live where they offer triple coupons, I don't see a whole lot of savings with coupons. I do use coupons. I cut them out religiously, but most of what I clip either gets given away or swapped for what I do need. Coupons have several downfalls. One, they are usually for convenience or prepacked foods loaded w/ junk that I wouldn't feed my dog. Seriously, how many coupons do you see for eggs versus sugary cereal geared towards kids? How many coupons do you see for meat (the largest portion of most families' grocery bill) vs. coupons for chips & soda? Have you ever seen a coupon for produce? Not me. How about milk? Almost as rare is a coupon for real juice, not a 'juice drink' made with 5% juice.
So my word on coupons, only use a coupon if:
1. it's something you normally buy anyway. If you only like Jif peanut butter, use a coupon to buy it. If you are like me, and have a family member who is allergic to cow's milk scout out some soy milk coupons. And don't be brand loyal! But don't use a coupon for 20 cents off a can of bamboo shoots just because you'll save a whopping 20 cents. I'm not even big on using a coupon to get something FREE if it's not something you are going to use. Of course, you could always donate the free item...
2. if with a coupon, the item (that you normally buy) is less than the cheapest brand. If you have a coupon for Campbell's soup for 40 cents off 4 cans (dont' laugh, that's what they usually are for Campbell's) and the store's price is 89cents per can. With the coupon, you can get the Campbell's soup for 79cents a can....if you buy four cans. But the off brand is only 69cents without a coupon. Go for it. try the off brand. Most times, the off brands come from the same place as the name brands. And a lot of off brands (Aldi's and most store brands) have a money back guarantee. So if you don't like the off brand you can get your money back.

Those are my only coupon rules :)

Other people talk about using a price book to keep track of who's prices are cheaper on what items, and to try to track when certain foods go on sale. I find this too complicated. But, then I only shop at 2 or 3 stores and don't find it difficult to remember who has my normal foodstuffs for cheaper. I don't know about you, but I just don't have the time to walk up & down 2-3 grocery stores noting the price, size, unit price, etc for all the stuff I normally buy! But if you are that kind of organized person, go for it! I applaud you :)

So next time you go shopping, pick up an extra box of pasta to stay in your pantry. It may be the only thing left at the end of the shopping cycle, but slowly you can watch your pantry grow and your grocery bill shrink :)
posted by Heather @ 5:46 PM   1 comments
Thursday, May 26, 2005
My grocery list
Just so to give you an idea.
I went to the commissary today, I spent $158. Not all of it was food, and some of it was for dh's retirement party next month.
Commissary
16 oz Pillsbury frozen waffles $1.29
(2)32oz Ore Ida frozen fries $1.83/each
8oz brick Monterey Jack cheese $1.29 after coupon
80z brick Medium Cheddar cheese $1.29 after coupon
3lbs ground beef $4.11
10ct hashbrown patties $1.09
8oz cream cheese 89c after coupon
8oz Velveeta Light $2.82
16oz ICBINB spread $1.25
32oz frozen corn 1.29
32oz frozen lasagna $2.79 after coupon
32oz frozen green beans $1.29
52ct frozen breakfast sausage links $3.39
40oz frozen boneless skinless chicken thighs $4.29
8oz shredded mozzerella $0.94 after coupon
8oz shredded cheddar $1.19
(2)24oz loaf 100% whole wheat bread $1.37/each
24oz loaf white bread $0.61
(2)8ct burrito sized flour tortillas $1.31/each
22oz bag Malt-o-Meal cereal $2.00
1lb honey roasted turkey breast (deli) $5.83
22oz Frosted Flakes $2.71 after coupon
3lb spaghetti $1.45
(2) 6ct cereal bars $1.00/each after coupon
2lbs brown sugar $0.88 after coupon
(2)16oz bag egg noodles $0.69
14oz bag pretzels $1.29
(3) 20oz cans chunk pineapple $0.66/each after coupon
1 gallon apple juice $2.39
(2)26oz cans spaghetti sauce $0.79/each
large can dry milk $4.89 (makes about 5 gallons)
5lb all purpose flour $1.39
6pk (24oz each) diet caffiene free pepsi $2.55 (including deposit)
16oz parmesan cheese $1.99
32oz cinnamon applesauce $1.19
16oz (?) Fluff $1.79
(2)10.5 oz cans condensed tomato soup $0.55/each
8oz (?) bottle Chili sauce $0.89
16oz bottle peppercorn ranch dressing $1.89
18oz Romaine hearts $2.27
16oz celery hearts $1.99
16oz (?) salt $0.55
(2) boxes microwave popcorn $0.99/each
16oz Corn Starch $0.69
1/2lb fresh broccoli crowns $0.60
3ct box dry onion soup mix $0.89
16oz bottle worcestershire sauce $0.89
5lbs carrots $1.88
4 tomatoes (tube) $1.59
(2)1lb bag baby carrots $0.98/each
10lb white potatoes $1.68
(2)Spam Lite lunchmeat $1.89/each

Total food: $97.39


This is for my family of 6 for 2 weeks.
Now, I could have trimmed that a bit. There are a few 'luxuries' on there. The cereal bars are something my OD loves to have for her after school snack. The Fluff was also a special request from her, I only buy it probably once a year. The deli meat is mainly for the husband's lunches since he is unable to bring leftovers or heatable foods to work. There are also a few things on there that will last for longer than the three weeks. The onion soup mix, the flour, the salt, the condiments, the corn starch, the dry milk, etc.

Here is my menu for the next 2 plus weeks:
Corn Chowder, dinner rolls
Chili & corn bread
scalloped potatoes & ham
sweet & sour chicken, rice, veggies
beef & macaroni supper
ribs, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob
sweet & sour meatballs, egg noodles
lasagna, salad, garlic bread
spaghetti, salad (twice)
pot roast, potatoes, carrots
corned beef, potatoes, carrots
spam & veggie sandwiches on kaiser rolls & french fries
egg burritos (twice)
pancakes & sausage, applesauce
hot turkey sandwiches, veggies
macaroni & cheese w/ kielbasa, veggies


You will probably notice things on my menu that are not on the grocery list. That is because I don't empty my pantry/freezers (I have three) each time I go shopping. I always have a running supply of food in my house. Unless of course we are getting ready to move, and in that case I do a grocery shopping exile :P I didn't happen to get milk this time around, cow's milk or soy milk. I will have to go back for at least more soy milk before the 2 weeks are up. Bummer.

My nonfood stuffs:
17lb Purina (diet) dog food $4.97 after coupon
14lb box Fresh Step cat litter $4.76 after coupon
24 cans cat food $4.97 after coupon
12 bars Ivory soap $2.53 after coupon
(3)40ct Snuggle dryer sheet (on sale)$1.00
1 gallon Chlorox rain fresh bleach $1.61
Softsoap body wash $0.69 after coupon
8lb dry cat food $2.99
Total nonfood: $25.25

Like the food stuff, there are things on my bi-weekly nonfood list that will last waaaay longer than two wks. All but the cat litter will last at least a month (the wet cat food will last closer to 3 months). And the bar soap should last at least 6month, the boys are the only ones who use it.

There are also things that you might think are missing from my nonfoods list, toilet paper, toothpaste, etc. But these are things I stock up on. We currently have enough toilet paper & toothpaste to see us through the summer at least LOL.

Total for 2wks: 122.64

My total grocery bill was actually $158, but the extra $30+ was for foodstuff for the husband's retirement party next month :)
posted by Heather @ 7:11 PM   0 comments
Bean & Bacon Chowder
I love soups, stews, & chowder. I love making them & I love eating them. I am most fond of creamy broths. Not too fond of clear broth types, like chicken or beef soup. Not enough OOMPH! for me, I guess. This Bean & Bacon Chowder recipe was one that I modified from a recipe I found in The Complete Tightwad Gazette

1 (16oz) pkg Turkey Bacon (1.00 - sale at commissary) chopped into 1 inch pieces
3 medium potatoes, peeled & cubed (about 13c)
6 C milk (I use dry milk, I can get a can for less than $5 that makes just over 5 gallons) (50c)
1 onion, chopped (20c)
1/4 C flour (4c!)
1 lg can (26oz) baked beans (you could use leftover from homemade, I have yet to master the knack of making good homemade baked beans, mine come out crunchy lol - I use Bush's Maple Baked Beans) (75c - on sale)
pinch of thyme negligible
pinch of parsley negligible
salt & pepper negligible
Total cost: $2.62
Total per serving (12 servings): 23 cents!

Saute bacon & onion in a big stock pot until bacon is crispy and onion is translucent (see through). Stir in the flour, add in the milk stirring constantly. Turn the heat down to about medium, cover & simmer. WATCH the milk! As many times as I have made this chowder, I ALWAYS manage to get some stuck to the bottom of the pan :( Thank goodness for T-Fal lol.
Once the milk is simmering, add the potatoes, thyme, salt & pepper. Continue to simmer for about 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Add the parsley & serve :)
It makes a LOT! we have this for dinner one night & I eat it for lunch for a week!
I'd say at least 12-15 servings. BIG servings lol.

I like to make this with my 'famous' (infamous?) yeast rolls:

2 cups lukewarm water (free!)
2 Tbsp yeast (or 2 pkgs) (50c)
1/2 cup sugar (11c)

* Mix well. Let set for about 15mins or until bubbly. This will test if the yeast is good. Bad yeast won't bubble.
Add:
2 eggs (12c)
1 Tbsp salt (negligible)
1/2 cup oil (13c)
6-8cups flour (until not sticky) (1.00)
Mix until dough forms. Let set 45mins or more. Punch down & knead. Divide into loaves & place in greased loaf pans OR pull off dough and form into 2" balls to make hot rolls. Bake at 350F 45mins to 1hr for bread, 20-30mins for rolls. Makes 2 loaves or 30 rolls.
Total cost: $2.03
Cost per serving (1 roll): 7c/serving

When I'm feeling really decadent I like to smear melted butter over the tops as soon as they come out of the oven. mmmmmmmmmmmm!
So even w/ the rolls, the cost per serving is only 30 whopping cents!
posted by Heather @ 6:17 PM   2 comments
Friday, May 20, 2005
Free food
Tonight was leftovers. Nothing exciting to report, except that eating leftovers a couple of times a month is like eating at a buffet (not an all-you-can-eat, but do we really need those?) for free. And when I present it like a buffet or restaurant night, the kids tend to be more accepting. Buffet night includes laying out all the leftovers in a long line on the buffet in the dining room and letting them walk along w/ their plates, picking & choosing like they would at a real buffet. Restaurant night involves me telling them the 'specials' (aka leftovers) and taking their leftovers. They love it when I get out one of my old aprons and actually write down their orders.

See! Leftovers don't have to be boring!
posted by Heather @ 7:25 PM   1 comments
Bag lunches
I have been told by friends in various parts of the United States that our school lunch prices are extremely reasonable. And after looking at what they pay, anywhere from $2.50 to $1.50 for an elementary school lunch...I tend to agree.
Our kids do not qualify for free or reduced lunches. OD is in jr high school, her lunch costs $1.25/day. YD & OS are in two separate schools (one middle school, one elementary school) but get the same lunches every day and their cost is 90cents/day. YS goes to preschool twice a week, his lunches are included in his tuition ($86/month).
Even with this reasonable lunch price, our kids tend to bring a packed lunch from home more often than buying a school lunch. There are several reasons really. One, I can pack them a lunch for the same price or less than a school lunch costs. Two, there are only a couple of meals a month that they actually *like*. And three, no one needs to eat chicken nuggets, pizza, & tacos every single week! In other words, a home lunch is almost always healthier than what the school is providing.
So this morning, I sat down & calculated how much I spend packing my kids' lunches. I hadn't done this in a while, so it was an eye opener for me as well. Today they each took a turkey sandwich on white bread (I buy 3 loaves of bread at a time, 1 white, 2 whole wheat...just to keep them from rebelling...they prefer the white), a baggie of pretzels, a baggie of grapes, 2 sugar cookies, and a CapriSun drink box. Here's how it breaks down:
Pretzels 10c/serving
Bread 5c/serving
Turkey 16c/serving
grapes 50c/serving (ouch!)
cookies 7c/serving (store bought, reduced bakery section)
CapriSun 14c/each
Total per lunch: $1.02

Factor in the cost of the baggies (1c each) and it's probably closer to $1.05 (I wrap the sandwiches in saran wrap, they stay together better that way). I could have gotten it lower by sending them each with an apple from the reduced produce at 13c each, saving 37c/lunch instead of the grapes. But they like grapes, and like the white bread, I buy them even when they are not on sale to keep them happy. I try to get a lot of grapes when they go on sale for 99c/lb. But even $1.99/lb for red grapes is a good price here. And I probably could cut the cost of the cookies in half by making them at home, I just haven't been feeling that froggy lately lol. I could cut out the CapriSun completely & send them with water, but we drink water at dinner and again, the rebellion thing lol. I can only push them so far. And the CapriSun is cheaper than milk (25c) or juice (30c) at school. They get milk at breakfast, plus plenty of dairy & fruits as snacks so I don't worry about them drinking enough of milk or juice.
Then, because I was feeling froggy, I decided to figure out dh's lunches. Most of the time, I pack him a sandwich. Sometimes leftovers, if it's something he can eat cold. But the way his job is right now, he has no access to a fridge or a microwave, so it's almost always sandwiches. He takes a meat or some kind of salad (tuna, egg, chicken) sandwich & a diet caffeine free pepsi. I know he occassionally gets a bag of chips to eat w/ them throughout the week. But after seeing how little his lunch costs, I'm not going to fuss over chips!!
Today's lunch:
Kaiser roll - 21c/each
turkey (2 servings) - 32c
diet pepsi (bought in 6packs) - 33c each
Total per lunch: 86cents!

Even if you factor in a 99c bag of chips that lasts him 5 days that's just over a dollar a day for lunch. Not even the Dollar Menu at fast food places can compete with that :)
posted by Heather @ 6:51 AM   2 comments
Thursday, May 19, 2005
Italian Noodle Bake - times two
Tonight we had Italian Noodle Bake, italian bread, & caesar salad. It was delish! I actually made two casseroles. One to eat tonight, and one to freeze for later. Not only did I save time on a future meal, but I save gas (stove is natural gas) by cooking two meals in one pot and baking both in the oven at the same time. And I probably will save us some future meal of fast food because we are in a hurry or rarer still, I don't feel like cooking. The sausage was actually sausage patties that we had bought on sale for $1.99/lb but they turned out to be very gristly. So I chopped them up and removed as much of the gristle as I could (and did pretty good) and used half of it (1lb total) for these casseroles and froze the rest for another meal. So I actually made 2 1/2 meals!
also threw in some ricotta cheese (to OD's dismay) that I had experimented freezing. You CAN freeze ricotta cheese! It tastes & smells fine, although the texture is a bit odd. I had bought a big 32 oz container of ricotta (for $2.00) and only ended up using half of it, I figured if it's going go to waste, I may as well try freezing it first. It worked! The green pepper was a score as well. I snagged them from the regular grocery store's (not the commissary) reduced produce. I got 5 large green peppers for $1.50 (so 30c each) brought them home & immediately chopped some, sliced some, and froze them all for future meals. I have also found red, orange, yellow, and purple peppers the same way! They are all in my freezer.

Italian Noodle Bake (times 2)
2 (16oz) wide egg noodles - 69c each = $1.38
1 (26oz) can Hunts Spaghetti sauce - 79c
1/2 lb italian sausage - 99c
16oz leftover, frozen ricotta (1.00)
1/2 c frozen chopped green pepper (15cents, about 1/2 of a green pepper)
Spices - red pepper flakes, oregano, garlic, salt, & pepper (negligble cost)
1/2 C mozzerella cheese (33cents - a 2C pkg is $1.30 at the commissary)

Serving per casserole: 8

Total cost of food:
$2.32 per casserole


Cost per serving:
29c/serving

I also added a caesar salad. Romaine hearts were on sale for $1.99/3. Half of a package will feed us for one meal. Another $1 added to our meal cost. Plus a loaf of store baked italian bread, from the reduced bakery section. One loaf 70c, we used half a loaf. Added 35c to our meal cost.

Total meal cost:
$3.67/meal

Cost per serving:
46 cents per serving
posted by Heather @ 5:39 PM   3 comments
Intro
My first post in my food blog.
I've decided to share my attempts to feed my family healthy food on a lot less money. We are a family of 6, myself, The Husband (TH), Oldest Daughter (OD) almost 13yrs old, Youngest Daughter (YD) 10 1/2yrs old, Oldest Son (OS) 7yrs old, and Youngest Son (YS) age 3 1/2. TH is not very picky, he'll eat most anything I put in front of him. I've gotten him over his aversion to any food that has cream cheese or sour cream in it. OD is slightly picky. She does not like eggs much, or ricotta cheese unless it's in lasagna. YD only hates beans, kidney beans, navy beans, although she will tolerate black beans as well as the usual green beans. OS is like TH, he'll eat most anything I put in front of him. YS is super picky, but he's still in that age. He's gotten to where he will at least taste things before snubbing them. But I've never been one to cook around their pickiness. They eat what I make, or they get their own. Usually they eat what I make ;)

We eat a lot of casseroles. Those just seem to be the winning recipes, not to mention they are super easy on me :) I'd say at least 85% of our meals are one-dish wonders. I don't do a lot of OAMC (once a month cooking) although it is a great way to ensure a quick healthy meal on those days when you're rushed and tempted to do fast food. I enjoy cooking every day too much to do a whole months worth of meals in one or two days. I don't do marathon well.
Now, I do save leftovers for either lunches the next day or sometimes, like tonight, I'll make two casseroles & freeze one. It takes just as much time, energy, and not to mention gas for the stove to cook two casseroles at once as it does to just do one. Now I have an extra casserole in the freezer for another time when life is hectic :)

I do a lot of from scratch cooking. I love making my own breads, muffins, cakes, cookies. You won't find many convenience foods for dinner here. No instant potatoes unless they are to coat chicken or thicken soup. No potatoes from a box of any kind. Not only does from scratch taste better, it costs less and it's better for you :)

I am a menu queen. But it's what I call a Flexible Menu. I'll make a list of 20-30 meals for the month based on what I have on hand, recipes we 've tried & loved, recipes I want to try, & sales. Then from that list I can choose whatever we want to eat that day first thing in the morning & get it started or thawed. I can't stand to have a menu like:
Monday - Spaghetti
Tuesday - Chicken
Wednesday - leftovers
What if I don't feel like chicken on Tuesday? What if life is too busy on Monday for Spaghetti? It just doesn't work for me. I end up moving things around and feeling like I'm failing at menu-ing. But hey, if it works for you :)

I do use coupons to stretch my food dollar. Not outrageously. I don't have tons of time to be clipping & cutting & sorting. I buy one Sunday paper per week, and if I need any coupons from it, I clip them. When I see a good sale, I try to see if I have a coupon to make it even better. I'm not all into 'buying' coupons for a handling fee so I can get 60 pkgs of toothpaste for 3cents each. Not my cup of tea.

I do shop at the commissary (a grocery store on a military base for members of the military and their dependents that sells food almost at cost) for the most part. But if you have an Aldi store, there prices are almost as good as the commissary, only with less variety & almost no name brands. Usually any price I mention that seems absurdly low is probably either from the commissary or Aldi.

We also have two dogs & two cats, so my grocery bills usually include pet items, as well as all cleaning & paper products. I'm not entirely frugal about paper products. I do like the occassional paper plate to save on time (I have no dishwasher...GASP) and I would much rather use paper napkins than to have extra laundry from cloth napkins. With four kids I don't exactly need more laundry ;)

So that's us in a nutshell. More to come in a bit :)
posted by Heather @ 5:13 PM   2 comments
About Me

Name: Heather
Home: New York, United States
About Me: Mom to four kiddos. Love to cook, knit, crochet, read, and playing on the computer.
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