This Week’s Menu Plan: August 22 – 28

menu template

Well, wouldn’t you know it, but actually having a written down menu plan actually gets dinner on the table? My husband was quite pleased he had some decent meals with leftovers to take for lunch the next day! I think I went into survival/lazy mode after baby Adelyn was born. That worked for a bit because I had a whole bunch of freezer meals to go through. However, the supply ended and I just didn’t get back into menu planning. I’m feeling much more sane now that I know what we will be eating everyday.

One dinner from last week didn’t get made because my husband ended up having last minute plans and took Sienna with him so I made a smoothie for myself.

Here’s the plan for August 22 – 28 2016:

Breakfasts:

Lunches:

  • Leftovers
  • Chicken noodle soup (in the freezer)
  • Grilled Cheese
  • I’m doing the PowerBowl Challenge from Healthy Habits Happy Moms, Sienna will eat the above mentioned.

Dinner:

Monday: Cashew Chicken (from Good Cheap Eats Dinner in 30 Minutes), steamed veggies
Tuesday: Sausage and potato bake
Wednesday: Fettucinne Alfredo, Caesar salad
Thursday: Chicken Skewers with Peanut sauce, tossed salad, corn
Friday: Pizza (either this dough recipe or on Pita bread with pepperoni or ham)
Saturday: Out to Eat
Sunday: Dinner at my parents

I’d love to know, what’s on your menu this week?

The First Menu Plan in a Long Time!

You know when you go on and on about how good something is because it saves you money and makes things run smoother? Menu planning is one of those things that I think makes life a whole lot easier. And well, there hasn’t been much menu planning going on around these parts lately. I can blame the new baby and make all sorts of excuses, but really, meal time is a mess around here! Leftovers are being thrown away far too often, we’re eating out more often than we should be and there’s just a general “blah” feeling around dinner time.

Since so many of you mentioned in the recent Simply Frugal survey that you would like to see menu plans again, I thought I’d start doing them again. I used to post our weekly menu plans each Monday back in the “olden days” of Simply Frugal. Time to revive them!

It actually brings me to a happy place when I plan out our menus. I’m saving money because I’m telling our grocery money where to go instead of spending too much on a whole lot of “nothing”. Plus, there’s a lot less scrambling around 5pm because I’ve already got dinner under control.

I’m embarrassed to admit, but I’ve even put our menu planning on autopilot and I still can’t seem to get it together to have one of those meals prepared.

Enough I say! Time to get meal time under control again. Starting today and each following Monday you will see a weekly menu plan from me featuring easy, frugal meals.

This week's menu plan from SimplyFrugal.ca

Here’s the plan for August 15 – 21, 2016:

Breakfasts:

Lunches:

  • Leftovers
  • Egg sandwiches
  • Grilled Cheese

Dinner:

Monday: Pesto pasta with carrots
Tuesday: Chicken Skewers with Peanut sauce, tossed salad, corn
Wednesday: Hamburgers, watermelon/cantaloupe
Thursday: Tacos
Friday: Pizza (either this dough recipe or on Pita bread with pepperoni or ham)
Saturday: Out to Eat
Sunday: Snack Party Plate (fruit, crackers, cheese, veggies, back bacon)

I’d love to know, what’s on your menu this week?

10 Tips For How To Save Money On Food

There are some expenses that just aren’t going to go away, and food is one of them. This list of ideas will help make your grocery budget go further.

There are some expenses that just aren't going to go away, and food is one of them. Here are 10 tips for how to save money on food that you can use today!

10 Tips For How To Save Money On Food

Produce your own food. This can be growing a vegetable garden or even raising chickens in your back yard for eggs. Producing your own food sources is a great answer to how to save money on food. This usually takes a small up front investment and some time to make work, but is well worth it in the long run for a better grocery budget.

Shop with coupons and sales. This obvious answer has to be on the list because one of the best tips for how to save money on food is to clip coupons and shop sales at your market or grocery store.

Stockpile seasonal items. When you find a fruit or vegetable you love and know is only available during a specific time period, stocking up and freezing or canning for future use is a great way to save money in your food budget.

Menu plan consistently. Nothing kills your grocery budget like take out or last minute ingredients for a fast meal. Take the time to menu plan consistently utilizing what you already have on hand and sales at the time to build a low-cost menu everyone will enjoy.

Make more vegetarian meals. For most meals, the meat is the highest priced item by far. Make more vegetarian meals and skip the meat in your menu plan at least 2-3 days each week.

Use low-cost staple items as a base. Don’t forget about things like dry beans, brown rice, potatoes and pasta as the base for many hearty and healthy meals that are full of nutrient-dense vegetables, healthy fats,and the occasional lean meat.

Make your own and avoid processed foods. Instead of buying cake mixes, ready-made bread or even cookies make your own. Avoid all of the nutritional bombs in processed foods and save money by making your own.

Barter with friends and neighbors. If you don’t have time for a garden but have a friend or neighbor that does, it’s time to barter. Offer cleaning, babysitting, mending or other services in exchange for fresh produce from their garden.

Plan for leftovers. Make your menu in a way that each meal always has enough leftovers for two meals or at least, a smaller lunch portion the next day for every family member.

Avoid food waste. If you have just a bit of vegetable or roast left that isn’t enough for a meal, toss it into a freezer bag and save for future stews or soups. Use the chicken bones from a roasted chicken to simmer and create your own chicken stock. Toss vegetable peels and bits of vegetables into a stockpot and simmer for a practically free vegetable stock.

These tips for how to save money on food are easy, practical things anyone can do on a regular basis to keep their food budget low.

How I Put Menu Planning on Autopilot

You know planning a menu is a good thing, but sometimes it only feels like another chore to cross off the to-do list. Well, end that once and for all by putting your menu planning on autopilot!

You know planning a menu is a good thing, but sometimes it only feels like another chore to cross off the to-do list. Well, end that once and for all by putting your menu planning on autopilot!

You guys, I have not been feeling the love for menu planning for quite some time now. That makes me sad because without a menu plan, our meal time is definitely not what it should be. I’ve been resorting to quick prep meals (think frozen pizza, pasta with a jar of sauce poured over top and grilled cheese & tomato soup…) Not good! Between picky palates and no desire to cook, menu planning took a real nosedive in the last year or so. On the other hand, the grocery stores were probably quite happy, because I was spending more since I had no plan. 🙂

That brings me to today. I’m pleased to say, I’ve found a system that works for me! Actually, I’v put menu planning on autopilot! It initially took a little bit of work upfront (still only 4 steps!), but now we’re smooth sailing.

Here’s how I put menu planning on autopilot:

Step 1: Brainstorm

This part took me the longest. I sat down one afternoon (interrupted by the 4 year old and baby, often) and wrote down all the meals we like to eat. Our family favourites. My goal was 60 meals, but I quickly realized that was a lofty goal. In the end, I came up with 40 meals. Enough for 8 weeks of eating when I allot 5 meals a week. I like to leave 2 days free for last minute events, trying out a new recipe and Sunday dinner at my parent’s house.

Here are the meals that made the rotation. Keep in mind that they must be simple, enjoyed by all family members and not require any weird ingredients:

  1. Slow Cooker BBQ Sauce Pork Chops
  2. Sausage and Potato Bake
  3. Waffles/Pancakes
  4. French Toast
  5. Chicken in basil sauce
  6. Balsamic Beef Roast
  7. Pesto pepperoni pizza
  8. Hashay
  9. Creamy chicken soup
  10. Spaghetti
  11. Meatballs
  12. Quiche
  13. Sweet & Sour chicken and rice
  14. Sloppy Joe calzones
  15. Peanut chicken pasta
  16. Pesto pasta
  17. Fettucine Alfredo
  18. Balsamic almond chicken
  19. Chicken Cacciatore
  20. Baked Beans
  21. Sesame chicken
  22. Pizza
  23. Perogies & Sausage
  24. Lasagna
  25. Melt in Your Mouth Chicken
  26. Hamburgers & pasta salad
  27. Sticky garlic chicken & broccoli
  28. Chicken pesto stuffed shells
  29. Maple pineapple ham
  30. Chicken satay with peanut noodles/rice
  31. Ramen Vegetable stirfry
  32. Soy sauce pork tenderloin
  33. Greek Chicken
  34. Shredded beef sandwiches
  35. Tacos
  36. Chicken Broccoli Alfredo
  37. Hamburger soup
  38. One pot pasta
  39. Chicken Fajitas
  40. Black Bean and Salsa Burritos

Most of these meals can be made with pantry staples, which are easy to stock up on when they’re on sale. Also, I whipped up a couple of printables for you to help you brainstorm. A “Our Favourite Meals” sheet and some recipe cards! (click on the images to get the free printables.)

favorite mealsrecipe card
Step 2: Write all recipes on index cards

Now, once I picked all 40 meals, I wrote each meal down on an index card. Sometimes I wrote the entire recipe (if it was not found online or in a cookbook). Other times I wrote the name of the meal and where the recipe could be found (Pinterest, page 3 in a cookbook…etc.) I also wrote down side suggestions and any adjustments I like to make to the recipe.

Step 3: Place them all in a recipe box/binder

Next, I placed all of the index cards in an empty recipe box that I had, in no particular order. You could place the index cards in a binder with protective sheets instead, but I liked the idea of a recipe box.

Step 4: Pull out a week’s worth of meals and place in front

Here’s where the autopilot comes into play. Since I’m only choosing 5 meals a week, I pulled out 5 random index cards and placed them in the front of the box. I put a divider card behind the five recipes so I know when I’m done for the week. Once all 5 meals are made, I rotate those index cards to the very back of the recipe box.

Step 5: Repeat Step 4 over and over!

On Sunday, when I pull out the 5 meals for the week, I also create my grocery list. I write down everything I don’t already have in the pantry/fridge/freezer.

Now, you could take this a step further and look at your store flyers first to determine which index cards you should pull out for the week according to what’s on sale. For example, I may not want to make the Balsamic Beef Roast this week because I don’t have one in the freezer and I don’t see a sale at any of my local stores. However, pork chops are on sale so I’ll make the slow cooker BBQ Sauce pork chops instead.

Does that all make sense?  This system has been life changing for me! I hope it might work for you as well if you’ve been struggling with menu planning.

Have you found a menu planning system that works for you?

Meal Prep Ideas for Quick Dinners all Week

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Check out these great meal prep ideas for quick dinners all week! I so need these ideas right now!

7 Budgeting Tips For Menu Planning

When it comes to menu planning, these budgeting tips are going to transform how you view your grocery budget. There are so many simple tricks to help you create amazing meals for your family on a budget, and this post has some of the best. With a few simple tricks up your sleeve, you can provide your family with delicious meals without breaking the bank.

Check out our Top 7 Budgeting Tips For Menu Planning to give your family amazing meals while easily saving money!

7 Budgeting Tips For Menu Planning

Ask your butcher for budget cuts of meat. Not only can you watch for the sales on meat at your market or grocery store, but you can talk directly to the butcher. Sometimes they will have meat that isn’t bad, but can be sold at a fraction of the regular price for some reason. End pieces of whole rib eyes can be found at low prices because they aren’t enough to be a “steak”. Ask for these bits and then cube for stews or braised beef dishes. Sometimes meat isn’t out of date, but close to it and the butcher has to mark it down. Grab those mark downs and cook in advance simply then freeze to add into other menu items later.

Use your slow cooker. Slow cooker recipes are one of the best ways to stick to your menu plan as well as stay in budget. One of the best budgeting tips is to utilize those budget cuts of meat and tenderize them for amazing meals in your slow cooker. A beef roast or whole chicken can feed your family several meals for half the price, but may not be as convenient or easy to cook fast. Put into a slow cooker and let it do the work for you.

Utilize your own garden if possible. If you have time and space to have your on garden, this is a huge savings for your menu plan each week. Learn to can or freezer excess produce for future use, and utilize this year round in your weekly menu plans.

Build around low cost staple items. For most this means picking up things like dry beans, brown rice and sweet potatoes that are low cost but can stretch a meal further. While many would find this unhealthy, if you combine this with nutrient-dense vegetables and limit your high-fat proteins you truly can eat healthy. Focus on whole grains when possible and limit the regular potatoes, corn and white rice.

Buy what is on sale and match with couponed pantry items. For sales at your market or grocery, take the time to check your coupons and shop using coupons on sale items to get twice as much value toward your menu plan.

Create your menu with what you have on hand first. One of the best budgeting tips for menu planning is to start not with what you want to buy, but what you already have on hand. Look at your pantry, freezer and refrigerator for great starts to a meal. Utilize your on-hand items and limit your week to week expenses as much as possible focusing on fresh fruits and vegetables.

Utilize one item multiple ways. One of my favorite ways to save money is to cook dry beans in my slow cooker. Dry beans can be seasoned and eaten by themselves, added to soups or chili, refried to make dips or put into burritos. This simple item can be used multiple ways for very cheap.

Take advantage of our favorite budgeting tips for menu planning that will stretch your budget even further.

From Freezer to Table: Tips for Great Freezer Dinners

When it comes to tricks to help you save time, money and stress, freezer cooking is at the top of my list. Freezer cooking can fully change the way your family does things day to day. By planning ahead you can have have delicious, healthy meals for your family from the freezer instead of taking a spin through the drive through… again.

When it comes to tricks to help you save time, money and stress, freezer cooking is at the top of my list. Freezer cooking can fully change the way your family does things day to day. By planning ahead you can have have delicious, healthy meals for your family from the freezer instead of taking a spin through the drive through... again.

This time of year kids activities start back up and you may find yourself a little overwhelmed. But you can help tame the dinner time madness with these tips.

Make a menu.

You hear it all the time because it works. A menu means you can shop once and do prep work as you put the food away. You’ll probably find that you don’t have to look inside the fridge multiple times a day only to decide that thinking about what will be for dinner is just too much again. While I like to plan a week’s worth of meals, you may want to just plan enough meals to get you until your next shopping day. I recommend planning 2-3 days extra for the freezer because life happens and you may not be able to shop when you want to.

Prep before putting food away.

The fastest way to create many meals for the freezer at once is to go shopping in the morning and spend the afternoon completing the prep work. This is great for working mothers or moms with a lot of activities during the week. Chop all of the ingredients for one meal and load right into freezer bags for a complete recipe. Leave out any liquids, you can add that later. Now you can pull out a bag and toss right into the slow cooker, Instant Pot, or oven. Add any liquids needed and you’re good to go.

Cook double.

When you are cooking and baking, double your recipes and cook once but eat twice! This is a great way to reduce your workload because you can cook once and clean once. That means that on busy days you do not have to worry about cooking a meal or cleaning up from cooking. This works really well for casseroles, cookies and muffins, and soups. This is the least stressful way to build a large stash for your freezer with very little stress on you. No all day cooking or menu planning but you will be building a stash of meals for busy nights.

Protect from freezer burn.

While this freezer cooking is amazing for saving you time and money you will find that things can get freezer burnt causing unnecessary waste. To prevent freezer burn, remove air from packaging and use multiple layers around your food to keep it fresh longer. Never let air get into your packaging. Label your meals well so you do not need to open anything to find the meal you want.

Want more great meal time tips? Check out The Ultimate Homemaking Bundle! This fantastic resource includes three ebooks about freezer cooking and so much more! Only available through May 2, 2016.

5 Easy and Healthy Breakfasts for Hectic Mornings

On hectic, busy mornings, breakfast doesn’t have to be unhealthy. Here are five quick, easy and healthy alternatives to cereal or toast.

Mornings can be such a crazy, hectic time.

Especially if you’ve got kids that go to school, you have to be at work or any of you have an early morning appointment or activity.  It can be a real struggle to get everyone dressed, fed, packed and out the door to your event/school/work in a timely fashion.

Even on days when we don’t have to be out early, I know it can be SO tempting to pull out the cereal, or make a piece of toast and call it good. Plus, who has time to get creative in the kitchen for breakfast? We want quick, easy AND healthy, but usually compromise on the healthy end of things…

But it’s honestly easier than you think to make healthy breakfasts that are delicious and nutrient rich, keeping tummies fuller, longer.

On hectic, busy mornings, breakfast doesn't have to be unhealthy. Here are five quick, easy and healthy alternatives to cereal or toast.

Here are five easy and healthy breakfasts that are perfect for hectic mornings:

OATMEAL

I used to despise oatmeal. But as I’ve grown older and found recipes I like, oatmeal is one of my favourite things to make for breakfast. I’ve got two recipes that I like to switch up.

homemade instant oatmeal packets

The first being Homemade Instant Oatmeal packets. I love the fact that I can whip up a whole bunch of packets (just like buying them from the store!) in no time and have breakfast on hand for quite a few weeks. My second favourite oatmeal is this Overnight Refrigerator oatmeal.

Both of these oatmeal recipes are very versatile when it comes to adding toppings that you like. I’m a big fan of adding raspberries or strawberries. Nut butters, nuts and seeds would also be great additions.

SMOOTHIES

Smoothies are delicious and so satisfying! Not to mention a breeze to put together. Currently our favourite combination is frozen strawberries, banana, yogurt, protein powder, and either juice or water. Sometims I like to add spinach or kale, or frozen berries, or frozen peaches.

This Tropical Pineapple Peach Slushie might also be a great dairy-free option:

Pineapple and Peach Slushie

What’s your favourite smoothie combination?

EGG TOAST

My husband’s most common breakfast request is egg toast. It’s a notch up from plain scrambled eggs or plain toast. 🙂 To make it, I simply scramble up some eggs with some milk and a touch of salt and pepper. Then I divide the eggs between some whole grain toast, then top it all with some shredded cheese.

On hectic, busy mornings, breakfast doesn't have to be unhealthy. Here are five quick, easy and healthy alternatives to cereal or toast.

FRENCH TOAST

Not the quickest breakfast on the list, but it’s still quite easy to put together! Plus, this french toast is perfect for freezing leftovers, then popping in the toaster. We like to top ours with butter, real maple syrup and sometimes fruit and whipping cream. French toast is also a hit with me because of the egg mixture it’s coated in, giving it more protein than pancakes or waffles.

Easy French Toast

FRUIT SALAD WITH GREEK YOGURT

If I could just eat fruit for breakfast, I would! I love, love a big bowl of fruit salad. But to give it more protein, thus making us fuller for longer, I serve it with some Greek yogurt. I can’t quite do plain Greek yogurt yet, so I usually buy vanilla flavoured yogurt.  As for the fruit salad, I just cut up what fruit we have on hand. Which is usually apples, strawberries, bananas, oranges and sometimes berries or mango.

What are your quick and easy healthy breakfast ideas?

Peanut Chicken Pasta

This Peanut Chicken Pasta is a favourite of ours for a quick and tasty weeknight dinner. It’s a hit with everyone!

Peanut Chicken Pasta

I realized the other day that I haven’t made one of our favourite dinners in a while so I thought I’d do it up, then give you the recipe! It’s perfect for my peanut butter loving husband and daughter. I happen to love it too because it’s tasty and I feel like it’s fairly healthy. Plus, it’s easy, that’s my motto in life I think. Especially when it comes to cooking. 😉

I hope you enjoy one of our family’s favourite dinners, Peanut Chicken Pasta:

Peanut Chicken Pasta
 
Ingredients
  • 2 Chicken Breasts, diced
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 Cup chicken bouillon or broth
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • ¼ cup peanut butter
  • 1Tbsp cornstarch
  • ½ tsp ginger powder
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp hot pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 green or red pepper
  • Pasta of your choice (or rice)
Instructions
  1. Prepare pasta or rice.
  2. Cook chicken in a skillet.
  3. In a bowl, whisk together the chicken broth, honey, soy sauce, peanut butter, cornstarch, ginger, garlic and optional hot pepper flakes.
  4. Pour mixture into skillet with chicken, stirring constantly until thickened.
  5. Add green pepper until heated.
  6. Serve over hot pasta or rice.

 

I’m Wondering: What Are Your Menu Planning Challenges?

Having a planned menu each week is a lifesaver for me. I find that on the weeks I fail to plan, we eat out more often or I’m grabbing something super simple from the freezer (Pizza? Premade appies?). This results in higher than normal spending and not so healthy eating. (Though, I’m all about giving myself grace and being mostly okay with weeks like that when it’s not our normal.) So, this week:

I’m Wondering:  What are your menu planning challenges?  What keeps you from implementing or succeeding at menu planning in your home?