Budgets, Meal Planning & TWO Quick Dinner Recipes

2018 is going to be our year for BIG things – if I say it out loud then it helps me make it happen. We have set some big goals. We came up with a new budget for the year. We are working hard to pay some things off. We are working hard to rent/sell a house. We are going to work hard on some Farmhouse projects… and the list goes on. Most of the goals we have set rest on the idea of us sticking to our budget. Without the budget, the rest of the goals just fall flat. The main way we are going to make our budget work (and stick to it) is by gaining control of our grocery bill, our largest monthly expense. This is something I have worked really hard on for a while now and we are slowly making progress. I could do a whole post on budgeting (I most likely will) but for right now the biggest tip I have  is MEAL PLANNING. If you have a “number” you are trying to keep your monthly grocery expense under, I am not sure that can be done without meal planning. In addition to that, meal planning just keeps my life more organized and who would pass that up?

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March’s Menu planning… and some Cycle Routine writing thrown in there.

For as long as I can remember, I have planned seven dinners and gone grocery shopping once a week. New for 2018, I am planning our meals a month at a time and it has already made a huge difference. It takes me only 5 minutes, maybe 10 minutes if I’m on Pinterest awhile. Now that I have “monthly meal planned” for a few months (I just filled in March’s Menu yesterday) I have learned a few things. When I meal plan for the month, instead of the week, I can see the bigger picture. The menu flows, staggers and stays interesting. There are several meals we have in heavy rotation – tired and true recipes we all enjoy. I fill those meals in FIRST on my monthly menu, skipping about a week before filling that same meal in again. “Salmon & Veggies” is one of our most go-to meals. I make sure it’s on the calendar about every 5-7 days. I just keep filling in the days with our regular go-to meals: spaghetti, steak & veggies etc.

Wednesday is always our busy night. I teach a 6pm Cycle class on Wednesdays, my kids had basketball practice on Wednesdays, and as soon as basketball ended one of my kids started staying after school on Wednesdays for another activity. For whatever reasons, it  just seems to stay our crazy evening. We are often eating at 7pm on Wednesday nights. I like to rotate the same 2 easiest dinners on our busiest night. Those recipes are Easy Chicken Tacos and Grilled Cheese & Tomato Bisque. (Recipes at the bottom!!!)

Once I fill my Wednesdays in, I am usually left with a spot or two a week to fill in. I add some meatless meals because they tend to be cheaper meals, most people consume more animal protein than needed and it also helps mix things up. Blueberry pancakes, Quiche and homemade pizza are meatless meals our whole family enjoys.

I normally always end up with one random spot left so I fill it with a new recipe we have never tried (thank you Pinterest!). I normally seem to always have a recipe I have pinned that we have never actually tried so I use this as a chance to try those recipes. This helps keep things interesting and we might find a meal that becomes a new favorite. If you decide to try a new recipe, try to select once that has ingredients you either already have or already need to buy for another recipe. You can easily ruin a grocery budget trying new recipes with unusual ingredients that you may never need again.

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March Menu completed. I would have used neater handwriting if I had known I was going to end of taking a picture of it.

The meal calendar stays on the fridge for everyone to see and we try really hard to not make any substitutions on meals. There has been several times I have called home at dinner time and Matthew says “I started cooking fish for dinner, it’s what was on the calendar…” If you are on the way home late, hungry, tired and you hear your spouse say that… talk about an amen moment!!! The kids also enjoy glancing at the Monthly Menu and saying things like “3 more nights and it is Homemade Pizza night!” – which is just adorable! When you start changing your meals around mid-week, you are setting your self up for needing to go to the store for something you do not have in the pantry. Once the meals are planned and you have shopped, do not make changes. 

Once a week I go shopping (we occasionally have that break out mid-week shopping trip for a couple of things). I do my shopping once a week at Costco. Yes, I go to Costco once a week! We are a family of six… do you know how much fruit, granola bars, veggies & laundry detergent we go through!? I try to go straight to a smaller grocery store right after Costco (Kroger, Foodlion, etc.) to grab my list of things that Costco doesn’t have – my flour that Costco doesn’t carry, certain produce, etc.) I make my grocery list based on the Meal Calendar and I stick to it! I only need to buy the ingredients for the meals that week but I often grab a lot of stuff for the entire month my first week shopping. A Costco 3 pack of spaghetti sauce will be used for all the spaghetti dinners in a month. A salmon fillet big enough to cut into 4 pieces for the freezer will do for the month, etc. I find my “weekly grocery shopping/monthly meal planning” plan simple and something I easily make a weekly habit.

I photocopied all the sheets from a calendar before they had been written on and use them for my Monthly Menus but you can download a blank calendar here!

NOW for my two Easy Wednesday meals – both are Whole/Clean Meals. I know everyone has their own way of eating – Whole Food eating became our family’s way of eating 6 years ago (detailed post on that coming). The main idea behind our food lifestyle came from a blog I stumbled upon when trying to get healthier and lose some baby weight after our third child was born. 100 Days Of Real Food Blog has become very popular and I can not say enough good stuff about it! If you have never checked it out before, it is certainly worth a glance! The Tomato Bisque recipe I use comes from that blog. It is a family favorite paired with grilled cheeses for dunking. I can prepare the soup in 20 minutes (it simmers for up to 30 minutes) before I teach class and we can enjoy it when we get home with quick grilled cheese sandwiches (on whole wheat bread with white cheddar cheese). We just had this soup last night, I should have taken a picture. It sure was delicious!!!

100 Days of Real Food – Tomato Bisque Recipe

Our second go-to Wednesday Meal is Easy Chicken Tacos. I came up with this recipe last year and it has been a life saver! It is one of those great crockpot meals where you just dump everything in. 

Easy Crockpot Chicken Tacos 

Ingredients:

  • 2 large chicken breast
  • 1 can of drained black beans (I buy whatever brand has only beans, water & salt on the ingredients list)
  • 2-3 tablespoon of your favorite taco seasoning – I make my own using this recipe. Store bought taco seasoning is loaded with junk – read the list of ingredients next time you’re in the store. If you can not pronounce something in it, why would you want to eat it?
  • 8 ounces of your favorite salsa – I can my own

-Layer the ingredients in your crockpot (in the order they are listed) and cook on high for 4 hours (longer if set on low so if can cook while you are gone for the day). Once done, stir/chop everything together. When you stir it, the chicken will start to shred on its own but a few larger chunks may need to be chopped/shredded with a spoon or knife. 

We enjoy this on large lettuce leaves as a wrap (roman lettuce) or with corn chips. There is salsa in the recipe but you can top it with more salsa, sour cream, cheese, avocado and any other of your favorite taco toppings.

Enjoy!

 

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