Family Meal Planning on a Budget

Beside the cost of housing, food, literally, eats up one of the largest percentages of the average family budget. If we’re not careful, we could easily end up spending way more than we can afford on dining out and groceries. Our family rarely eats out, although, we do budget a small sum each month “just in case” we need to eat on the go. Instead, we try to plan and shop smart, for meals at home.

I haven’t done a budget grocery post since 2015’s Pantry Staples on a Frugal Budget, when I was unmarried, and without a child; and I thought now would be a good time to do so. Back then, I wasn’t cooking or eating (as a nursing mom) nearly as much as now, and cooking for 1 is much different than cooking for 2 adults and a choosy toddler. Furthermore, since I’m a stay-at-home momma (SAHM), I’m making food and snacks for myself and Cookie Girl throughout the day. So, my $30 a week budget from 3 years ago, definitely wouldn’t fly today. Now, we have about a $100 weekly budget. Some weeks we spend a little more and others a little less, but since we create a monthly budget (using the Every Dollar app), as long as we stay within what we’ve budgeted for groceries for the month, we’re good to go.

I’m gonna be honest, I struggled with meal prep and budgeting, for a while after baby was born. The hubbs did a lot of the cooking and grocery shopping, and while he’s a great cook (thank you, Lord), he doesn’t care much for sticking to a budget. When I did begin cooking again, it was a challenge because our family needs had changed. When we both worked outside the home, I would batch cook on the weekends so we’d have frozen/leftover meals for lunch and make simple stuff for dinner during the week. However, I’m no longer working outside the home, and we now live 30 minutes away from town; so we need meals that require little time for preparation, or we’ll end up eating fast food. Now that I’m a home during the day (for the most part), I have a little more freedom to make a variety of delicious, but simple home-cooked meals.

So, how are we doing it? Well, we’re still following those simple tips from that 2015 post, but we’re also incorporating the following…

  1. Monday morning I plan my week. That way I know what’s happening during the week.20180910_120555.jpg
  2. Then I plan my meals around what we’ll be doing during the week. We usually have leftovers on the days I won’t have time to cook, use the slow cooker, or pull out a freezer meal. (We’ve been testing recipes from the “Seriously Good Freezer Meals” cookbook; so far, I love it.)
  3. I plan 4 meals for the next week, so I can go grocery shopping the week before. That means, I have all the groceries I need this week, because I picked them up last week.
  4. I do most of our shopping at Aldi. We buy practically everything at Aldi because you just can’t beat their prices. Yes, it’s further away for me–we have a grocery store much closer to home–but the prices are nowhere near the prices we can get at Aldi. If there’s something I can’t find there, then I’ll go to another grocery store. (Note: Target is not a grocery store! Grocery prices tend to be much higher there.)
  5. We only go to Costco twice a month. I’ve found that if I made weekly trips to Costco I would over-spend every time and always end up busting our budget. When I do go, we only pick up pantry items, or items we can freeze, like meat, fish, chicken nuggets, peanut butter, bread, or rice; items that won’t spoil before we can eat it all and that will last us for a long time. There’s no point in purchasing groceries at a good price only to have them spoil. Additionally, Costco’s prices aren’t always the best deals you can find; I hardly ever buy fresh produce there, because the prices are too high. Always compare the cost per unit/lb/oz before purchasing.

As you can see, that takes care of dinner. As far as breakfast and lunch go, there are always items we keep on hand.

  • Bread
  • Eggs
  • Milk (Almond milk in our house)
  • Rice
  • Lunch meat & sliced cheese
  • Peanut butter & jelly (The hubby’s go-to are PB & J sandwiches.)
  • Kodiak cakes (pancake mix)
  • Flour
  • Cornstarch
  • Sugar/Stevia
  • Pasta
  • Cheese (blocks)
  • Frozen fruit & vegetables
  • Cheerios
  • Oatmeal
  • Yogurt
  • Tomato Sauce & paste
  • Crushed Tomatoes
  • Canned beans
  • Coffee & creamer
  • Fruit & veggie pouches
  • Fresh fruit
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Garlic (fresh or minced)
  • Vegetable/olive oil
  • Butter
  • Chicken/Beef Bouillon, powder, or stock
  • Seasonings: salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, celery salt, cumin, cinnamon, parsley, chili powder, oregano, etc. (we have a pretty big collection)

Some of these we only keep on hand because we have a 13-month-old in the house, the fruit & veggie pouches, and Cheerios, for instance.

But these are pretty much staple items that we try to always keep on hand in our house. From here, we can fill in the gaps for specific recipes we put on the menu. Usually, that would include meat or fish, fresh herbs or veggies, or milk or heavy cream. Planning our weekly meals, grocery shopping with a written list, and on a full stomach are just some of the things that we do to prevent us from overspending on our groceries each month (which is very easy to do). What are some of the ways you save on groceries?

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Only for a Season

These past few months have been a whirlwind of activity. We began searching for our first home in February, and after a couple weeks, we found one we could see ourselves growing into. Fast forward to April, and we’re unpacking boxes, cleaning, organizing, and moving furniture around the new house. The hubbs ( W ) has been putting up shelving in our pantry, and making sure the rest of the closet shelving is sturdy, since we noticed a lot of missing screws. He also spent an evening cleaning the carpets, because, although they are new, they got a lot of foot traffic when the previous owner had people paint, put down flooring, etc., and were very dusty.

W was finally able to take his belongings out of his storage unit and we’ll soon be using his king sized bed, as opposed to my queen sized (as soon as the bed pieces lost in a move, arrive in the mail). I can’t wait, because our baby girl has taken a liking to our bed, and it seems to be getting smaller and smaller, as she gets bigger and bigger.

Cookie girl just turned 9 months, and this move has been a little disruptive to her schedule. It took her about a week to get back to napping in her crib, in the new house. Which has been challenging for me, since it’s difficult to unpack boxes and clean, with her crawling around and getting into everything.

Moving without family around to help is very difficult, because you’re forced to ask friends–who have their own families and responsibilities–for help; but you don’t want to beg people, either. However, we’re extremely thankful to the few people who have been consistent blessings to our lives during big life events and transitions. Thus far, they have helped decorate and clean up before and after our wedding, and later, our baby shower; helped us move, twice; and even let us borrow a vehicle for a month or two, while we saved up to purchase one with cash. These aren’t just friends, they have shown themselves to be family.

Now, we’ve entered May and W is traveling for work, the house still isn’t anywhere near put-together, and I don’t think baby girl is feeling very well today. I’ve been feeling pretty isolated these last few weeks, and am in desperate need of a new routine to help me get the house together, get baby girl sleeping in her crib, and to simply get us out of the house (because we’ve been cooped up too long!).

Sometimes, life is tough, but God is so good. He’s blessed us with so much, and I know that it’s days (or weeks) like today that I have to focus on His goodness, rather than my feelings of isolation, loneliness, unproductiveness, or unfruitfulness. This season of life will pass. We will, eventually, get the house in order. Cookie girl will, eventually, sleep in her crib. We will get our routine back and have weekly library trips, grocery days, and outings. I will make time to write and share more often with my readers.

For now, I must remember that this is only a season of life, and things will change. What season of life are you currently living? And how are you handling it? Personally, I think I should be praying a little more…but, couldn’t we all?

Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God. And the peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [is yours]. ~ Philippians 4:6-7, AMP

Book Review – Expectant Parents: Preparing Together for the Journey of Parenthood

When my husband and I found out we were expecting, I was still working at a Christian Bookstore part-time, and came across this book for expectant parents. I only read two books during my pregnancy; this one by Suzanne Hadley Gosselin, and Pregnancy: The Best Time to Submerge Your Baby in Prayer, by Edna Rivera. (I discussed the other one with my husband, but decided not to review it here because it was originally written in Spanish and we think some of it was lost in translation. I’d give the English translation 3 out of 5 stars.)

20170911_195623I enjoyed Gosselin’s book because it wasn’t about how to take care of a baby; I grew up with four younger sisters, so that’s not the part of parenting that scared me. Instead, this book discusses not only some of the changes your body will face during pregnancy, but also things like your changing marriage/relationship; how your finances or career decisions may be affected; and social challenges you may face.

A few of my favorite chapters are those directed at dads, surviving the social sides of pregnancy, and the chapter on fitting in and finding community.

My husband isn’t much of a reader, but I convinced him to read the “Being a Dad” chapter. And I didn’t realize how beneficial the chapters on surviving the social aspects of pregnancy and finding community were, until we found ourselves planning our own baby shower and, later, bringing our precious bundle home. Our family doesn’t live nearby, so we don’t have the familial support like many of our friends. Now, 7 weeks in, I’m searching for a mommy group and/or women’s bible study.

In conclusion, if you’re an expectant parent I recommend adding this book to the list of parenting books you’ll want to read.

Babies, Budgets, & Faith

It’s currently around 2 a.m. and I’m beginning this post as I feed my 5-week-old baby girl, whom I affectionately call my Cookie Girl. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that we discovered last Thanksgiving that we were expecting, and since then it’s been a challenge to write because I’ve had baby on the brain, lol. It’s no joke; once you discover you’re pregnant, that baby is all you can think about for the next few months and it’s a real challenge to discuss anything else.

Angelica&Wilfredo(1of39)Pregnancy is one of the most faith-testing things I think a woman can face; at least it was for me. I’m someone who likes to plan and be in control, and pregnancy is so outside your control. Everything is completely in God’s hands. From the timing of conception, to the sex of the baby, the health of mom and baby, and to the circumstances and time of the delivery; He plans and knows every detail, leaving us with no choice but to trust Him.

I thank God for a healthy and smooth pregnancy and delivery. I know not everyone has a good experience during pregnancy. I had some nausea during the first trimester, but nothing too serious, and not until my last trimester did I have a ton of difficulty sleeping and swelling in my legs and feet. I gained a pretty healthy amount of weight by mostly sticking to foods high in protein throughout, not giving in to every craving, and drinking lots of water. And when my water broke at 5:30 a.m., in July, we were blessed to welcome a precious, healthy baby girl into our arms, just 12 hours later.

When we found out we were pregnant, we were just a payment or two shy of paying off my husband’s car. So we finished that, and then, just as Dave Ramsey suggests, we paused our baby step two–paying off debt–to save for baby.  However, while we were adding to our emergency fund, my car’s power-steering gave out on me one night, just as I was merging onto the highway. This pushed up our timeline to purchase another vehicle by a few months, and we were able to purchase a new used vehicle with cash, in May. Then we went back to putting money into our emergency fund for the rest of the pregnancy.

To be quite honest, I wasn’t as on my budget game as I should have been during this pregnancy. The biggest budget buster for us was food, since nothing ever sounded appealing to me, lol. But we did save in other ways. An area I recommend to save money on is maternity clothes. I suggest only purchasing a pair or two of maternity jeans; two pair of dress pants, if you work outside the home; two maternity shirts; two tank tops; two or three pairs of maternity leggings; and three or four maternity/nursing bras. I also picked up a few stretchy, flowy, dresses from Ross to wear as tunic tops with my leggings, and my sister sent me a few beautiful dresses she’d found on the clearance rack, as well. Dresses, leggings and tunic tops were my best friends towards the end, and I’m still wearing them post-pregnancy, since my pre-preggo pants aren’t fitting just yet.

Baby clothes are another area to save in. We realized early on that there are sooo many cute baby clothes out there that it would be very easy to go overboard. I had to remind myself, more than once, that our new baby wouldn’t need all that many clothes. Baby’s outgrow them really fast; and clothes tend to get laundered every few days anyways. Most importantly, God really instilled in me that our children are not toys or fashion accessories; Cookie Girl has been entrusted to my husband and I to raise and train for His glory, not to put on display. Besides, what would we be teaching her if we were overly concerned about her appearance? The Lord, Himself, says that it’s our hearts that matter (1 Samuel 16:7), not outside appearances, and we would do well to instill that in our children.

I thank God that He’s given us this opportunity to love, teach/train another human being about Himself. It’s quite a responsibility to raise a little person that will ultimately become a full-fledged adult. My husband and I find ourselves praying quite often for direction, and we’re only in the first few weeks! We may still be learning about this whole parenting thing, but I’d like this to be a shared experience, so intermittently I’ll bring up challenges and things we’ve learned along the way with y’all, just as I have regarding other areas of my life. I love y’all and pray that God continue to use me and this blog for His honor.

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2016 – A Midyear Review

It’s hard to believe that we’re already halfway through the year, but here we are in the middle of June! I know it’s been a while since I last wrote a post, however, if you’ve been following my blog, you already know that last month…I got married!

I do apologize for my absence, but I’ve been keeping pretty busy with wedding plans, and then trying to become accustomed to living with someone, which is a challenge in itself. I will say there will be plenty of new posts about marriage coming soon, but I won’t neglect my single readers, either. 😉

So much has happened within the first half of this year, in addition to our wedding. Four of my friends have had babies, my sister gave birth to my niece, and I recently found out that another friend has a baby on the way, as well. Needless to say, I haven’t had a lot of time to get to all those 2016 goals I raved about in my January post, although, I have started walking/running with the new hubby this week (i.e. exercise!) and I’ve started becoming slightly more involved in the worship ministry.

One of the things I’ve been struggling with this last month–one among many–is making sure I have time to read and think without interruption. I mean, how can I share things that I’ve been learning or that God has been revealing to me if I don’t have the quiet time that I need to reflect on such things? Lately, I’ve just barely had time to think and jot down a note here or there. Balancing home, work, church, and trying to take care of all those newly married details–such as changing your last name–have my head spinning. Nevertheless, you will not become my last priority, and I will learn to balance my time a little better.

So, married ladies, my question today is for those of you with full time jobs. How do you balance work, home and church (particularly if you’re an introvert, like me)?

Talk to you soon!