Posts Tagged ‘Grocery Shopping’

A Few Words About Convenience Foods

Monday, November 19th, 2007

Convenience foods can ruin anyone’s grocery budget. When my husband and I were first married, I shudder to think how many of my own grocery dollars were wasted on foods like these. We would load our cart with tons of convenience foods… and these were for the nights that we were “saving money” by dining in.

Now you will find very few convenience foods in our home and as I become more familiar with the kitchen, I am beginning to discover all of the things that I am able to make myself.

But, let’s face it, convenience foods are called convenience foods for a reason. They are wonderful to have on hand for the times in your life where you don’t feel like cooking and they are great when mommy isn’t home.

There are things that I have been trying to do to keep convenient food in our house without going over our grocery budget. Here are a few of the things that we have tried in our house:

1. I try to individually wrap items for our family. Items like homemade granola bars, homemade fruit & cereal bars, muffins (any variety will do), and even slices of homemade breads can be wrapped in single-serving portions. These are great to throw into lunch boxes or for a quick snack as you are walking out the door. And if you have big eaters in your family, like I do in mine, then it also can help with portion control.

2. I try to take snacks for the kids in my purse, but just wrapping them in a small piece of foil or plastic wrap offers no protection from the destruction that can occur with my purse. It is easy to smash snacks when you are dragging one kid with one arm and have a little one slung on the same hip as your purse. In such cases, it is nice to have small containers that can fit inside your purse. Our dollar store has a set of four of five for $1 which fit perfectly for these kind of occasions. I like to put our snacks in these or make up a batch of trail mix for the kids for when they get hungry while we are out and about. These are helpful for when the grocery stores have not been so helpful and have put lots of goodies by the cash register for your children to throw tantrums over.

3. I try to make time to make snacks for our family. Since we have been going way over on our grocery budget, I am making even more of an effort to do this. My commitment to scheduling a baking day is working out well for us and it puts an emphasis on staying home with the family, spending time with my children in the kitchen, and staying out of the stores. You will probably find me baking on Black Friday- this will not only help our budget, but it will also help us to be home on one of the craziest days of the year.

4. Preparation is a necessity if you want to attempt making your own “convenient” food. For example, a well-stocked freezer or items that can be throw into a slow cooker can be awfully convenient when you don’t feel like cooking.

5. And then, there are just those times where having convenience foods around could still do your budget some justice. For example, we have all been down and out with colds and tonight would be a great night for some good ol’ Spaghetti-O’s (or equally convenient food). This convenient food would still be cheaper than grabbing some junk food at the drive thru. Giving myself permission to take a night off could come from grabbing one or two items for these kinds of nights.

Sound Off: Do you buy convenience foods? How do you make food “convenient” in your home?

October ’07 Menu Planner

Monday, November 5th, 2007

I just wanted to share our menu planner for the month of October. This was the first month (in quite some time) that I have menu planned and shopped for one month in one day. I decided to come up with 24 menu choices, which would leave nights available for leftovers and other dinner engagements, and plenty of snack choices.

We ended up making 22 out of the 24 meal choices so I felt like we did really well with staying on track. The two dishes that didn’t get made got carried over to our next month.

Let me know if you would like me to continue sharing these and I hope it gives you some ideas for meals around your own dinner table.

October Menu Choices

1. Cheeseburger Ring (We ate this Saturday evening and it was so delicious! It does taste just like a cheeseburger.)

2. Chicken Tacos & Tortilla Chips

3. Ranch Pork Chops (I used this recipe but subbed with Ranch Dressing), Chicken Rice, & Baby Peas

4. Roast Turkey Sandwiches (Scroll to Meal #7) & Oven Fries

5. Leftover Roast Turkey Sandwiches & Panera Bread Cheese & Broccoli Soup

6. Clam Chowder & Red Lobster Cheddar Biscuits

7. Oatmeal Waffles With Honey Butter

8. Herb Baked Tilapia, Chicken Rice, & Microwave Corn in Butter Sauce

9. Apple & Cinnamon Pancakes With Orange Juice

10. Chicken Italiano Over Pasta

11. Pizza Night

12. Meatball Subs (I use the meatball recipe and jarred sauce for the subs) & Oven Fries (see above for Oven Fries recipe)

13. Chicken Lo Mein & Fortune Cookies

14. Parmesan Sage Pork Chops & Orzo

15. Baked Salmon, Mashed Potatoes & Baby Peas

16. Chicken BBQ Sandwiches With Oven Fries

17. Olive Garden Fettuccine Alfredo (served with chicken & broccoli for topping)

18. Honey BBQ Chicken Wings, Cheese Quesadillas & Tortilla Chips

19. Pumpkin Waffles & Scrambled Eggs

20. Calzones With Dipping Sauce

21.Roasted Chicken, Rice, & Buttery Bread Machine Rolls

22. Sarah’s Tilapia and Mashed Potatoes

23. Penne & Sausage Skillet Supper

24. Yeast Waffles & Orange Juice


1. Almost Nutra Grain Bars
2. Rice Krispie Treats
3. Apples With Dipping Sauce
4. Air Popped Popcorn
5. Brownies
6. Pumpkin Muffins

***Please visit I’m An Organizing Junkie for more great menu plans for the week***

Homemade NutraGrain Bars

Monday, October 29th, 2007

My kids love cereal bars and I have trouble keeping these in steady supply for our family. I happened upon this recipe to make my own and I thought I would give it a shot. I think the results were nothing short of phenomenal!

I used strawberry preserves that I purchased from Aldi. I did notice that Aldi is also carrying some sugar-free preserves that could easily be substituted if you were trying to be more careful about sweets.

A tray of these made about fifteen generous bars. I don’t think the cost-savings on these is that great, but the taste is much better and would be great if you were trying to make more things yourself or were in a pinch until grocery day. These can also be cut and frozen to be used later or tucked in your child’s lunch.

You can also substitute your granola bars with my homemade version!

I hope your children enjoy these as much as our family has!

Pretty Menu Plans

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

I thought I would take the plunge and do a big day of grocery shopping for our entire month. This took a couple days of planning and picking our menus for the month. I really thought it would be a great idea until I actually got to the store and realized that loading and unloading my groceries was a little like a complicated game of Tetris. Nothing fit in the cart and nothing fit in my car. The only thing motivating me was the knowledge that I would not have to do this again for another twenty-nine days. I used to only shop once a month, but had gotten into the habit of shopping every two weeks with my husband’s past pay schedule. The new payment schedule motivated me to just go ahead and get it done all in one trip. Am I crazy? Maybe a little bit!

Inspired by my dear friend Monica, I decided to pretty up my menu plan this month. I found a cute pumpkin to add to my planner and now my menu plan looks organized and cute too!

As we have been going through the meals, I have just been highlighting them to remind me what meals we have left to eat and I can see what we have already eaten. I incorporated lots of new dishes and several of our old favorites this month. I am hoping I will have lots more recipes to share and that I can keep us on budget with our dining out category.

Sound Off: How often do you grocery shop? Why did you choose this schedule for shopping?

Make Your Own Flavored Creamers: Mint Truffle Creamer

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

Flavored creamers are such a sweet treat to a great cup of coffee. I love to add a little cream to my cup of coffee in the morning, but the cost factor prevents me from indulging the way that I would really like to. Aldi carries a great fat free version of French Vanilla, which I have found is much more affordable than the creamers in the regular supermarket, but I would love to have a little more variation in my cup.

My new quest became figuring out how to make my own flavored creamers. I am not a big fan of powdered creamer so finding a recipe for a homemade version seemed almost impossible. Most recipes that I have found came in powdered form, but I wasn’t willing to give up on figuring out how to make my own liquid creamer.

I finally happened upon a recipe and adapted it to fit my taste. Once I finish my first bottle of this creamer, I will start testing some other recipes, but this was a great start towards achieving the yummy flavor I love.

Although you don’t get the same mouth-feel as you do with store-bought versions, you do achieve the great flavor that you are looking for from these (for a fraction of the price!)

I hope you can give this recipe a try! I can’t wait to share some more recipes and I hope that this inspires you to make your own flavors at home.

Mint Truffle Creamer
1 can sweetened condensed milk (or make your own sweetened condensed milk)
1 1/2 cups nonfat milk (I used prepared powdered milk)
3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
3 Tablespoons peppermint coffee syrup (or more, depending on your personal taste)

Blend all ingredients together in your blender. Pour into a mason jar or your old coffee creamer dispenser. This creamer will keep up to two weeks in your fridge.

Best Homemade Nonstick Spray In the World

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

I hate the gunk that is left behind from nonstick sprays. I tried using one of those pump misters that you can fill with your own olive oil, but I didn’t find it performed very well.

The Oatmeal Waffles that I made last week were so yummy, but had to be practically scraped from the waffle iron. Shredded waffles don’t look too appetizing, but I was still trying to figure out a good solution.

I ran across this recipe for Better Than Pam Spray. It sounded strange, but the reviews looked like people were pleased with the results. I made a double batch of this before I made my sticky Oatmeal Waffles and hoped for the best.

This is an answer to any cook’s prayers! The waffles practically fell out of the waffle iron and there was no icky residue on my appliance, like those aerosol sprays seem to leave.

According to the poster, you can leave this solution on your counter top or in your cupboards. In the comments, she also offers a recipe to be used for chocolate dishes (no white residue!)

This stuff is the next best thing to sliced bread and a little goes a long way. Baste your griddles and cake pans with a basting brush and watch your dishes leap out of the pan with ease.

This recipe is so inexpensive so you will save some money at the grocery store too! I hope you can try it- you really won’t believe how great the results are. I won’t ever use anything else again!

Dunkin Donuts Coffee at Sam’s Club

Monday, September 24th, 2007

I have been missing my Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in the morning. When we lived in Massachusetts, you couldn’t go half a block without seeing one of their locations. In Indiana, I would have to drive an hour just to get a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.

What a nice surprise to see that Sam’s Club is now carrying the Dunkin’ Donuts Original Blend coffee in bulk. While a tad more expensive than my usual coffee ($15.88 for 2.5 pounds) it is still cheaper than traveling all that way for a cup of this delicious goodness.

It brings back fond memories of going to work and splurging daily on a cup of coffee. I even had a cup that I kept at work to refill regularly. They would see me coming and start adding the skim milk and sugar- just how I like it! Now I am making my own coffee amidst crying children who might die if they don’t eat breakfast right this second and my morning coffee is a bit more rushed than it once was. Maybe there were a few perks of being in the working world, but I wouldn’t trade sharing a bowl of cereal with my kids any day!

Sound Off: Is there a particular brand of coffee that you are loyal to? Any good deals on coffee that you have found?

A His & Hers Gift to Remember

Monday, September 10th, 2007
We went to a beautiful wedding this weekend for a dear family friend. I wanted to give her something special, but funds are tight this month.

One of my favorite gifts to give is a small wine rack, filled with a couple of bottles of wine for their honeymoon. I found some cute gift tags at Wal-Mart and labeled them “His & “Hers” tied to each bottle with a strand of raffia. The wine rack was purchased for $1 at our local thrift store.

To make this gift more special though, I tucked a note from my husband and then a note from myself on each side of the wine rack. My husband came up with a list of “HIS advice” and I came up with a list of “HER advice.”

We had a great time coming up with tips for marriage and it was a fun way to pass the time on the trip to the wedding. My husband’s list included buying your wife flowers and never cutting your spouse down in public, but always bragging on them, particularly at your work! My list included never going to bed angry and always remembering to date your spouse, even after you have children.

I hope that they will enjoy the gift as much as we enjoyed creating it for them!

The wine chosen was a new favorite of ours called Banrock Station and it is an excellent wine for the price. It has been featured in the Wine Spectator for years now as a great buy for your money. They sell a crate of this wine, with six bottles in it, for a little over $21 at our wholesale club. Unfortunately, they only carry the wine in bulk (at least at our Sam’s Club) in the Chardonnay. I have bought the reds on sale though, at our local supermarket, in a case of six bottles to get our ten percent off of the purchase. I can usually get the bottles for under $4 each, which is a great buy for good wine.

Sound Off: Do you have any great advice for a newlywed couple? What advice would you include?

Day 24: Become a Coupon Queen (or Not)

Saturday, September 1st, 2007

Should a frugal gal use coupons or should she not? Do coupons really save money or do you just end up spending money that you would have not spent?

I go back and forth on this topic and it really depends on where I am doing my shopping. When I shop exclusively at Aldi, I can’t use my coupons. When I shop at other stores, it is usually a toss up on whether the generic is the better deal versus the brand-name with a coupon.

You will talk to some people and they are nuts for coupons and their receipts really prove it. Others of us, don’t believe all of the hype and say it is a waste of time and effort.

Since I started doing more of the drugstore rewards, in conjunction with my Aldi trip, I have found that it is possible to get items for free or really inexpensively. You could say that I am becoming a believer again in all of the coupon hype.

Here are some of the tips that I have used to help me follow the path towards coupon savings:

- Organize your coupons in a way that works for you. I have heard everything from shoe boxes to baseball card collection holders can be great ways to organize your coupons. Each person has a different system of organizing, just do what works for you. For me, I like to categorize them and then arrange by dates. I have also been known to lump everything together and then arrange by dates, to insure that I use the coupons before they expire. Right now I am finding categories works a little better for me so that is what I am doing at this point. My arrangements do change, depending on my mood.

- Make sure you put your coupons in a place that you will always have them when you need them. There is nothing worse than having all of your coupons cut and organized, only to discover that they are not with you when you need to do your shopping. Try storing them in your purse or in your car so that you will have them when you decide to make a quick stop at the store.

- There are only savings to be had if you are buying something because you normally use it and would have put it on your grocery list anyway. If you are using a coupon to just get a quarter off and this still leaves you footing a $4 tab, then using the coupon is actually doing a disservice to your budget instead of benefiting it.

- When I first started learning about coupons, I actually was pretty confused. What is the difference between the manufacturer coupons versus the store coupons? Well, the manufacturer coupons are the kind that you find in your newspaper, that come from the companies themselves. The store coupons, however, are the ones that you find in your store specific flier. The great thing about store and manufacturer coupons is that they can be used in conjunction with one another. If Dole, for example, has a coupon for $.50 off of a can of pineapple and Walgreens has a coupon for $.25 off of a can of Dole pineapple, you can use the two coupons together. Your total savings would be $.75 off of the can, and that equals a really great deal for your family. You might hear coupon queens refer to this as the “double whammy.” You can also achieve a “triple whammy” if you use the store coupon, manufacturer coupon, and you pick an item that is on sale.

- If you love certain products, call the 1-800 number and rave about the product. Share your experience with them and ask if they have any coupons or if they can add you to a mailing list. Customer service representatives get a lot of disgruntled customer calls, so not only will you brighten their day, you might also be able to pocket some savings on your next trip to the store.

- Look for coupons in unexpected places. Always check your receipt, at the end of your shopping trip, to see if any printable coupons were printed. Other unusual places for coupons are inside of your magazines, hidden inside of your piles of junk mail, and inside/outside of the packaging on what you are using. I am often surprised how many coupons I can find in these unusual places.

- Visit the websites for companies and sign up for their mailing lists. They will usually have printable coupons you can use on your groceries, or will add you to future mailings on special sales they are running.

- Shop at stores that double or triple your coupons. You will maximize your savings much more if you can go to one of these stores.

- Try using the Coupon Mom website, to figure out how to maximize your savings with your coupons. This website is free and can tell you exactly what you need to buy and when. There are also services that you can pay for, such as The Grocery Game. I have never paid for the service so I have no personal experience with it, but there are many people who swear by it.

- If your friends or family do not cut coupons, ask if they will save the coupon fliers for you.

Potential Monthly Savings: $10 or more

Sound Off: Do you have any coupon tips to share? Are you a believer in the coupon hype?

New Article: Milking the Milk Budget

Monday, July 30th, 2007

As you all know, grocery savings is a huge topic on our site, so I was excited to talk this week about how to save some money in the milk category. With milk prices rising, my grocery dollars have been screaming for mercy. I did some research on ways that you can keep your costs down and still have tons of milk in your house to drink.

Adding the powdered milk was not a new addition in our house, but freezing our milk has been something new we have been trying. I hope you will have some time to read my article, “Milking the Milk Budget.”

For the locals, this will be our topic focus tomorrow (Tuesday) on Moms First on WSBT-TV morning news. I will be on sometime between 6:30-7:00 AM. I hope that you can catch it and I can share more about this topic with our local moms out there!

Related Readings:

Grocery Shopping Tips
Hillbilly Housewife’s Guide to Powdered Milk
Pumpkin Spice Lattes
Orange Julius
Magic Milkshakes & Slushies
Iced Peppermint Mochas
Powdered Milk & Christmas Drink Mixes

Sound Off: How much is milk going for in your area? How much milk does your family go through each week?