Friday, September 13, 2013

Feeding your family on a tight budget

Times are tough everywhere.  I don't believe for a second that the economy is getting better.  Until my husband gets a raise and more jobs become available in our area, I will remain in doubt.  Having a family of four and feeding them nutritious and budget friendly foods can be stressful at times.  I have a few shopping tips and meal recipes that will help stretch your pennies.

First off, meal planning.  Enough said.  I find I can save the most money by planning out our meals for at least a week, if not two, before our shopping trips.  I don't always have time, but time is money.  Either way, spending at least 30-45 min a month to sit down and meal plan is a valuable time and money saver.  Think about it, you can go to the store once, pick up everything you need, WITHOUT planning your weekly meals in your head, while your two year old is clearing shelves into your cart, the baby is wailing and the older siblings are racing down the aisles.  Save yourself.  Plan out your meals, figure out the ingredients and make shopping lists.

Secondly,  clip coupons and read store circulars (many are now viewable online).  I used to have my neighbors save the coupon sections from the Sunday Newspaper for me, alas they have since moved.  However, a weekly subscription to the Sunday News is pretty valuable.  I find clipping coupons for brands I wouldn't normally buy, but if the coupon beats the store sale for that week or the normal brand I buy, then the shoe fits!  I keep my eyes peeled for great deals in the circulars and try to match up my coupons, not always possible, but it does happen.  I devote about 30-45 min weekly or bi-weekly to go through the coupons, cut and organize and also flip through circulars.

Thirdly, where are you shopping??!!

I find that our local Aldis carrys a great selection of food at low prices.  I will tell you straight away, bring a quarter - you need this to rent the cart.  Don't worry, you will get it back once you return the cart to the cart corral.  Also, bring your own bags or buy some Aldis bags and remember to re-use them.  I think its about ten cents a bag.  Aldis offers the same foods as your favorite grocery store, except everything is an off brand.  They are European based and the food is A-okay.  We buy all our baking supplies, any junk food we might be craving, dairy (yogurt, cheeses, milk, eggs), canned goods and frozen foods.  I don't buy meats or loaves of bread (rolls are okay) and occasionally I do buy their produce, but not often.  I dare you to give them a try, I guarantee you will be going back.  I can fill a whole cart to the top and spend less than $200.  They also take Pennsylvania EBT.  Score!

Discount grocery stores, we have Amelia's, Sharp Shopper, BB's Outlet and more I am sure (I have a case of Mommy brain now).  I find great deals on coffee, breakfast items, canned goods, frozen foods and dairy.  It's hit or miss at discount grocery stores for me.  Sometimes I leave with a happy, full cart and other days a sad, empty hand.  We also have to travel 30 min out of our way, so we only hit up Amelia's when we are looking for specific items (like coffee) or are already in the area.  I think our Amelia's takes PA WIC.  Don't quote me on that one.

Local produce stands and Farmer's markets.  We are lucky to live 5 minutes away from a large farmers market that is open year round.  I still am amazed how much fresh produce I find for low low prices.  Beats the grocery store every time.  I also buy our meats here.  We are fortunate to have some Amish butchers Kings Fresh Meats, that are affordable with great tasting meats and FRIENDLY service.  I just won't go anywhere else.  As far as I know the beef is half grass-fed and half grain-fed.  No growth hormones or antibiotics and semi-local.  That gives me piece of mind.  (Someday I will post how I feel about factory farms....)

Lastly, your local chain supermarket.  It's our last stop.  We only buy here when we are forced by convenience,  certain cravings for foods only available here, things we find on sale and have coupons we slaved away clipping, clipping, clipping.

Now, for my next  Making your food stretch.

 Ground Beef recipes (hey, it's an inexpensive cut!)
  • Three Cheese Baked Pasta - So yummy, creamy and delicious.....I like to use Ziti, Penne or Elbow pasta, but Spaghetti works great too!  
  • Meatballs or Meatloaf - The only way I will eat either (unless I am at your house, then I eat whatever you make me)  To adapt the recipe for meatloaf, I cut the ketchup topping measurements in half and using a 9x13 glass dish, form a loaf in the middle of the dish (I promise you will never use a loaf pan again, prevents mushy or dry beef).  After baking, let the loaf sit for 10 minutes before check for doneness and serving.  Pairs well with just about any vegetable, rice, pasta.....
  • Hamburger Casserole - Good for a fast and cheap meal, however, it's full of processed ingredients.  When you buy a quarter cow butchered for the year, you are desperate to find new ways to use up the massive amounts of ground beef.
  • Sloppy Joes  - A staple at Pennsylvania birthdays, cookouts, picnics, parties, holidays, you name it - it's there.......Quick, easy and a favorite. 
  • Stuffed Green Peppers - I prefer chicken in mine, but my husband likes the beef.  I tweak this recipe to our tastes (hot sauce, Worcestershire, soy sauce, however I am feeling that day)
  • Salsa Mac N Beef  - Tasty alternative to boring Mac and cheese.  Also processed junk, but gives you something to do with that pound of ground beef you need to incorporate somewhere.....
  • Shepards Pie - A million different ways to make it, this is just one.  I don't use pasta.  I like quartered cooked potatoes and mashed potatoes layered in mine, lots of cheese and usually peas, carrots or no vegetables.

Chicken recipes
  • Chicken and Black Bean Chili - With or without beans and to your taste, it's great to feed to the masses.  I never make the same chili twice.....always to taste.  Taste, taste, taste.  (Chef Ramsey taught me that)

  • Chicken, Broccoli and Rice Casserole - Found originally on the back of a Campbells soup can, but you know, it works.  I like this one because it can also be tweaked to your families taste.  It is a great casserole to drop off for friends during new babies, potluck, hard times, whatever.
  • Cheddar Chicken Spirals - This is my "I have leftover chicken, veggies and don't feel like boiling pasta today" meal.  For real.  I am a hippie.....we are known to be lazy sometimes.  Great for "that" day.
  • Mandarin Orange Chicken - Heavenly.  My favorite to make.  A bit involved on a busy day, but oh so yummy.  I don't use the cashews and I make my own "hoisin sauce".  Someday I will find the recipe to post for you, for now use store bought.
Fish recipes
  • Fish Tacos - I am dyyyyying over here!  I love this recipe.  Great way to change up taco night when fish is on sale!!!!
  • Cheesy Tilapia Bake - My absolute favorite NEW way to eat fish and veggies!!  Simplest solution yet by far.  No kidding!  I serve mine over rice and sprinkle some soy sauce over top.  Delicious and EASY!.
  • Tuna Macaroni Casserole - This is my mom's recipe.  I can't afford expensive cheeses, mild chedder does the trick.


    Saute onions and butter
    add cheese and soup   stir frequently while cheese melts
    gradually blend in Milk
    add tuna and dash nutmeg

    Add mixture to macaroni
    Put all in buttered 10 x 13 baking dish
    Sprinkle top with bread crumbs  
    Sprinkle Parmesan on top last 5 mins


    cooked chicken

That should about do it for now.  I hope this helps somebody feed their family.  Let me know if I left anything out!

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