Grocery Habits: Changing it Up for May

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I’ve been reflecting on the terrible, horrible month of April as far as the grocery budget goes and have decided to implement a few changes for May. I’m not really all that fussed about breaking the budget, but I am annoyed that most of my shopping this month felt like it used to, when I didn’t give much thought to what I had on hand and bought mainly what looked good but also to stock-up because I’m pretty sure that genetically I’m part squirrel. At least when it comes to putting away food! Over the last few months I’ve really managed to stock up on all sorts of foods, and we have quite a healthy pantry (even after my challenges). So for May, I will NOT be stocking up on anything. I’m tempted to give myself the “once in a lifetime deal” caveat, but I know that if I go down that road, I’ll never stop seeing “once in a lifetime deals.” And really they come around pretty regularly, so I can just cool it on the stocking up for a bit. Within reason — I may purchase ground beef at BJs, but I won’t plan on filling my freezer. I have a few other ideas for ways to shake it up a bit, too.

I’m not going to be doing an official pantry challenge or grocery fast or anything like that. But I am going to pull together a box of pantry items that really need to be used up and set it out on the kitchen table. My goal will be to use all of those items up in the month of May.

I’ll also be implementing “official” meal planning. Or, well, as official as it gets for me. I’m not going to do anything crazy like assigning specific meals to specific days or anything like that! Also, we don’t need for me to cook a new meal every night, but we do eat much more healthfully if I spend some time prepping breakfast/lunch/snack items that we can eat all through the week. My thought is that I probably need to plan for three meals during the week and one over the weekend, plus a soup and salad or sandwich for lunches, a breakfast food and a snack food. Possibly multiple snack foods. I’d like to maximize some of that prep time to be items that can be kept in the freezer — but am not going to beat myself up if that doesn’t happen.

I’m going to continue trying out at least one new recipe each week; I got a little off-track with being ill, but I have mostly stuck to this so far in 2017 and I have enjoyed this challenge. Previously I mostly tried new recipes focusing on ingredients I already had on hand, but I’m going to be a bit more intentional about allowing myself to buy items specifically for the recipe. To some extent — if you’ve read my spice cabinet organization post, you’ll know that I don’t really need to bring in more ingredients that will just linger there for perpetuity.

I’m also really going to be focusing on fresh, fun foods. I feel like I’ve been in a bit of a rut with heavier meals and snacks, although this could just be the change of seasons that is calling out to me. Whatever it is, I want to get back in the habit of eating a wide variety of fruits and veggies. I am really craving them, lately!

I also want to try out some semi-convenience foods over the next several months. My schedule is going to get even busier in the fall when I have an internship in addition to school and work. It’s not realistic that I will make every meal totally from scratch, so I’d like to have some things on hand or that I know and trust to grab in the grocery store each week. But I’m a little out of the loop on that kind of thing so want to spend some time while I have time and mental energy evaluating those items. I’m thinking mostly of salad mixes and maybe some freezer entrees, although if anyone has suggestions please let me know!

Finally, I’m going to use all cash. This is not generally my tactic and is really the only goal that is related to the actual budget. Since I track my spending (less well in April, but I still do it), I do know how much I’ve spent, but I’ve found that cash only is a good way to reset my spending if I go off track.

To summarize:

  • No stocking up — buy only what we need.
  • Pantry box — use up some odd items on hand.
  • Intentional meal planning — my style, which is still pretty loose.
  • Continue trying new recipes — don’t be afraid to buy specific ingredients.
  • Fresh fruits and veggies — lots of variety, lots of flavor.
  • Convenience food taste test — preparing for an intense 17/18 school year.
  • Cash budget — reset my spending habits after a free-fall month.

What I Spent, What We Ate

What I Spent

This week I spent $34.95 on groceries. I need to sit down and tally everything, but I am pretty sure that I am over $300 this month, which is $100 over budget and a consequence of allowing busy-ness and illness to get the better of me. And spending a whole lot at BJs in the beginning of the month. I’ll share all those gory details, though, in my grocery journal at the end of the month. For now, let’s talk about this week. I visited two stores, Publix and a discount grocer. I only needed fruit and didn’t feel like making the trip to Aldi, even if it would have been cheaper. I spent $14. Then I met up with my friend who is willing to explore discount and salvage groceries with me; like the previous month I had intended to only spend about $10, BUT they had my coffee at a great price, so that skewed the total a bit. I spent $20.95 there.

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At the discount grocer, I picked up mostly snacks and 2 pounds of coffee beans. The coffee beans were a great deal — $4.99/lb; even at BJs I pay $8/lb for these beans. Tortilla chips, crisp bread, tea, chewing gum, and chocolate covered almonds. These aren’t exactly needs, but we will eat and enjoy them. I was very tempted to buy a case of Ghirardhelli chocolate caramel candy bars, but even I couldn’t justify that much chocolate, no matter how good the price.

Publix__April 2017

At Publix the fruit was my primary objective, but also wanted something snacky and salty. The fruit wasn’t the cheapest, but it’s all very good and I’ve decided that the time factor may be important enough for my filler trips to just go to Publix or Winn-Dixie. I’m not tempted to buy things that aren’t on my list, and both stores are so close to home that I pass them no matter where I am heading.

What We Ate

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Sunday — Easter Dinner: Ham, Whipped Sweet Potatoes, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Deviled Eggs, Rolls, Raspberry Almond Cream Puffs

Creamy ham and veggie soup 2

Tuesday — Creamy Ham & Veggie Soup, Rolls

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Wednesday — Fajita Bowls w/brown rice and black beans

Monday, Thursday and Friday we had leftovers. I had also made ham and cheese egg cups, which factored into different meals throughout the week.

The upcoming week is my last of this semester, for which I am profoundly grateful. I am hopeful that the summer semester is less intense and that I can get a grasp once more on a work/school/life balance.

What I Spent, What We Ate

What I Spent

Since my last post I spent $18.82 on groceries. This brings me $1.67 over my goal of spending $100 on groceries for the month of March. There is almost a full week left in the month, but I am closing my grocery budget out a bit early this month because I want to take advantage of some coupons for items at BJs that expire before the end of the month (and that we need to stock up on). I have lots of thoughts about my pantry challenge for the month AND for this exercise in maintaining a $200 grocery budget (on average) throughout the year. The short story is that I really am at the point where I’m annoyed about several things. I do keep reminding myself that this is 50% less than I allocated for groceries last year and the reason I cut so sharply was because I was concerned about food waste. It might have been too much of a cut — but I can always revisit that and make changes if necessary. I want to go six months on this budget as much as possible, just to get an idea. Anyway. I’ll go on (and on) about that in another post, probably. Here is what I actually bought!

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At Aldi I spent $7.94 on peppers (a really good price and I love them), cottage cheese, garlic and oyster crackers. I thought I would make seasoned oyster crackers but I’ve just been snacking on them plain out of the bag. I also picked up a pizza and chips, but that is in the take-out/eating out budget. Which took a beating this month. More on that another day. I was annoyed that they didn’t have a few advertised items, especially Pink Lady apples as we were totally out of fruit for my husband (still plenty of grapefruit for me).

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At Save-A-Lot I picked up a small bag of halos and bananas. We promptly polished these off during our trip to Cumberland Island, so we’re out of fruit again. I spent $4.10 there. And finally, another bag of coffee — this time the brand and roast we prefer (we’re drinking the Aldi coffee and it’s not bad, but we really prefer a dark roast and they did not have any dark roasted beans). I’m not sure if we’ll need to open it before I get to BJs later this week, but it will be a close thing. I also grabbed an avocado as they were $.79 and nice on top of our oven fajitas!

What We Ate

Honestly at this point I don’t remember too much what we ate each day. We did treat the week a bit like a staycation and used the travel budget to underwrite some take-out purchases. Here are some highlights of what I cooked at home.

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Beef Stew and Herbed Popovers 

So good. It was a bit thin in the this photo; for some reason this batch took a long time to really cook down and thicken up, but once it did it was amazing. The recipe I (loosely) follow calls for a box of Knox gelatin to help make a really silky, unctuous broth and it definitely works. Its not a cheap meal, but it’s also not that expensive and it’s SO WORTH IT.

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Cinnamon Streusel Pancakes

This was an experiment using the leftover streusel from making the banana pecan muffins the other week and it worked out so well! I’ll definitely do this again when I have leftover streusel.

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Lentil Sloppy Joes over Roasted Cabbage Steaks

This was my new recipe dish for the week. Another success; I’d been a bit skeptical about the lentil sloppy joes (I’ve tried lentil tacos before and…I was seriously underwhelmed) but this was amazing. Really tasty over the cabbage steaks, too.

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Butternut Squash Soup

This made use of the roasted squash I had in the freezer and some sorrowful looking apples lingering in the fruit bowl. Always one of my favorite soups.

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Pork Chili w/Red Sauce and Kidney Beans

This is my new recipe for this week. And holy cow. Two weeks in a row the recipes have really been great. I didn’t know exactly what to do with the sirloin pork chops I’ve had in the freezer because they had a deeper, gamier flavor that the leaner cuts I’m accustomed to, and that’s why I’d let them hang out in the freezer for so long. This was a fantastic use of that cut, and it was so good that now I’m wishing I had more pork in the freezer!!

What I Spent, What We Ate

What I Spent

I went to the grocery store twice this week, once was more of a random trip to check out the grocery outlet/salvage type of store in town and the other was my regular trip to Aldi. I spent a total of $51.75 — WAY more than what I spent the previous two weeks. This brings my total to $82.85 and leaves me just $17 for the rest of the month. While I hadn’t planned, exactly, on this scenario, I AM glad that I went to the grocery outlet. I did purchase a few things that were unnecessary and fall outside of the dairy and produce categories. But…I don’t plan on hitting this store up more than once a month at most and wanted to take advantage of what I found. And the Aldi trip just reflected our need for produce. We’ll see how I do!

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At the grocery outlet I picked up a case of organic plain yogurt, two containers of organic cottage cheese, a jar of organic peanut butter, a bottle of chocolate sauce, two boxes of chocolate Moravian cookies (to use for a pie crust although Michael found them…) and a bag of cinnamon imperials which I can NEVER find here during Valentine’s day and they are one of my favorite candies. Obviously not everything was required, but for $10 I am okay with the splurges.

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At Aldi, I bought a bit more than I expected because of some sale prices and I picked up corned beef and coffee beans. Eggs were $.69/dozen, so I grabbed the limit of six dozen. I also picked up two bags of carrots ($.69/2lb bag), onions, a cabbage, bananas, strawberries, 2 pounds of asparagus, romaine lettuce, a large container of organic mixed salad greens, frozen raspberries, half & half, 2% milk, fake club crackers and tortilla chips. I also grabbed a pack of hamburger buns, which aren’t pictured. I  spent $41.75. Usually I get coffee beans at BJs, but the bag is expensive because it’s huge and I knew I would probably be tempted to purchase more than I needed. So we’re trying Aldi whole coffee beans, which are also organic and fair trade. We’ll see. You know I’m picky about coffee. 🙂 The raspberries were not strictly necessary, but I wanted to make smoothies using that yogurt and I don’t like blueberry only smoothies (cry me a river, right?). The corned beef was also not a necessary purchase, but Michael really likes it and it’s not easy to find at other times of the year, so…I indulged. And then the prices on carrots, eggs, onions, and asparagus had me stocking up. I noticed that quite a few items have reduced prices through 4/11, so I’ll be back next month to take advantage of those (cream cheese is $.85/pack). Anyway, without the coffee, raspberries and corned beef I would have been closer to just $20 for the week.

What We Ate

This week was not one for culinary wonders. We ate out quite a bit — a combination of birthday treats for Michael and then me just being totally off-kilter with my school schedule. It was mid-term and projects and exams took up most of my time. Our eating and my cooking was definitely kind of sad. As an FYI, our eating out budget is NOT the same as the grocery budget, although I do look at those numbers together.

Saturday: Vietnamese (out)

Sunday: Pizza (take out)

Monday: Tacos (take out)

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Tuesday: Cabbage Fried Rice

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Wednesday: Spaghetti with Sausage & Peppers Sauce, Green Salad, Garlic Bread

Thursday: Leftovers (Laura at class)

Friday: Bookclub (Laura), Soup & Salad (Michael)

One thing I realized this week was that prepping just a bit on the weekend really saves me during the week. This coming week is spring break and while it won’t be as busy as a normal school week, I’m really looking forward to getting some projects around here taken care of. That means that prepping over the weekend is going to be just as important as it would be during a regular school week. Also, you’ll also notice that my posted meal plan and the actual meals cooked bear little to no resemblance to each other. Ah, well. It was mostly an exercise to spark my interest and motivation. There’s a reason I usually post what we’ve eaten after the fact, not what we’re going to eat.