Monday, July 30, 2012

Creamy Cranberry Raisin Oatmeal

Awhile back, I tried McDonald's oatmeal for the first time. You know, the stuff with apples and raisins and brown sugar and the $1.99 price tag. I liked it so much that every time I got a sweet tooth, I wanted to get some oatmeal at McDonald's. As you can imagine, this started to add up and because I didn't want to kick my new oatmeal habit, I decided to find a way to make it less expensive. Here is my solution:

 One short trip to Aldi and I had my new sweet-tooth-satisfying snack. Total cost: $8.45 for enough stuff to make 10+ bowls of this yummy goodness (plus cost for optional apple).

To make it pour 2 packets of oatmeal in a bowl. Then add a small handful of golden raisins, a sprinkling of dried cranberries and about 1/4 of a chopped apple, if you like.

Heat about a cup of water in the microwave for 2 minutes or until hot. Pour over oatmeal and fruit, stir. Then comes the best part...

Pour the half and half on top (about 2 Tbsp. or as much as you like) and ENJOY!

Intro to Feeding a Family in a Balanced Way

This week I made 5 nutritious dinners for our family of 5 (see previous posts) and 17 individual lunches for a total cost of $39.55. For the remainder of our meals we don't usually eat together, so it's really snacks and lots of things that each person can fix for himself: cereal, oatmeal, PB&J's, fresh veggies and fruit, popcorn, chips & salsa, scrambled eggs w/crumbled bacon (with or without tortillas), tuna sandwiches, quesadillas, popcorn shrimp, etc.

Still, our costs are lower than they used to be. I do nearly all of my shopping at Aldi and Sam's Club. Here are some of what I try to keep on hand:

  • Cinnamon Toast Crunch from Sam's Club - 45 3/4 cup servings $6.48
  • Microwave popcorn - $1.49 per 6-pack at Aldi 
  • Tortilla Chips & Salsa - $1.19 for chips and $1.49 for jar of salsa at Aldi
  • Garden veggies - FREE
  • Peanut butter - 2 40oz jars of Jif at Sam's for about $9.00
  • Sunbeam Bread - $0.49 a loaf at our bakery outlet store
  • Tuna - $0.59 per can at Aldi
  • Spaghetti rings w/ meatballs - $0.69 per can at Aldi
  • Sliced American Cheese - $1.99 for 16 slices at Aldi
  • Baby cucumbers - about $4.00 for about 12 cucumbers at Sam's 
  • Strawberries - $3.98 for 2lb pkg at Sam's
  • Milk - $2.85 per gallon at Sam's
  • Veggies from the garden - FREE

So, you can see that between planning frugal dinners and providing plenty of healthy breakfast/lunch/snack options for my family, I can save time and money. On top of that, I don't have to worry whether I'm meeting my family's nutritional needs. It's the best way I've been able to achieve some balance in this area of my life.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Three-Way Frito Chili Pie

Yum! Next in our frugal meal week is Three-Way Frito Chili Pie. Three-way chili (well, technically four way bean chili, but I like to call it three way) is my favorite way to eat chili. I worked all night last night and then slept today. I got up at 4:00pm and we have church at 6:30, so I did what any good mom would do. I put chili in the crockpot. Chili is a great meal to fix when you need flexibility. It's quick and easy, the ingredients are nearly non-perishable and you can make it a variety of ways. When I have time, I like to make a more creative chili. Today wasn't that day.

In a 4 qt crockpot, I placed browned ground chuck (from the freezer), chili style diced tomatoes, chili beans, kidney beans (rinsed), dried minced onion, chopped red bell pepper from our garden, tomato sauce and Williams chili seasoning. I stirred it up, put the lid on and cooked on low until we got back home (about 2 1/2 hours). Then I cooked spaghetti, took a bag of fritos out of the pantry and the bag of shredded co-jack cheese out of the fridge. VOILA! Here's what it looked like:

Frugal breakdown:
  • 1 lb ground chuck from the freezer - $1.99 @ Food Pyramid
  • 1 can chili style tomatoes - $0.59 @ Aldi
  • 1 can kidney beans - $0.59 @ Aldi
  • 1 can chili beans - $0.49 @ Aldi
  • 1 can tomato sauce - $0.29 @ Aldi
  • dried minced onion from pantry
  • bell pepper from garden - FREE
  • 4 Tbsp chili seasoning from a big container @ Sam's Club - maybe $0.15?
  • 1/2 bag corn chips - $0.99 a bag @ Aldi - $0.50
  • 8 oz spaghetti - $1.49 for 2lb box @ Aldi - $0.38
  • 4 oz shredded cheese from 5lb bag @ Sam's Club ($10.88) - $0.54
Total: $5.52 for family of 5 dinner + 2 individual lunches.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Back to School Tax-Free Holiday coming up!

If you're brave enough to endure the crowds, be sure to do your back to school shopping during the tax-free holiday. Here in Oklahoma it's scheduled for August 3-5. Go here to find out your state's tax-free holiday dates and any restrictions that apply. Not all information on this chart is totally accurate, but you can click the links for each state to go to that state's website and get the full details.

In Oklahoma you can purchase most footwear and clothing tax-free from 12:01 am Friday through Sunday, August 5th. This is limited to purchases under $100.

Easy Peasy Taco Salad

OK. No time for family to sit down together and eat tonight. Mom had an appointment at 6, two oldest boys had to be at a friend's house across town by 5, Dad doesn't get home until 4:16. So, it was the old standby, Taco Salad. Whip up some taco meat (from the freezer), chop some lettuce and tomatoes from the garden (the tomatoes not the lettuce), add tortilla chips, shredded cheese and sour cream and we're off. The kids and I were able to snarf it down before we left and it was easy to put away in individual packages so Dad could fix his own when he got home. This works much better than Dad ordering himself pizza, which is NOT a frugal dinner.

Frugal breakdown:

Tortilla chips - about 1/2 of a bag @ $1.19 from Aldi = $0.60
Ground chuck - 2 lb @ $1.99/lb on sale from Food Pyramid, already browned and seasoned in the freezer = $3.98
Tomatoes from the garden = FREE
1/2 head iceburg letuce @ $0.99/head from Sam's Club = $0.50
1 cup shredded colby jack cheese from 5lb bag @ $10.58 from Sam's Club = $0.55
8 oz sour cream @ $1.29/16 oz from Aldi = $0.65

Total for dinner for 5 + 3 lunches =  $6.28

Kinda Homemade Spaghetti & Meatballs

As far as frugal meals go, it's hard to beat spaghetti. When time AND money are in short supply, you still can't go wrong with spaghetti. I like to take some already made stuff and add my own stuff to it to make it better.

Here's what you need:

1 jar cheap spaghetti sauce
1 lb pkg frozen meatballs
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
1 1/2 Tbsp italian seasoning
1 tsp dried basil
1/4 c. parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp dried minced onion
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 lb. spaghetti

Dump all the ingredients together, except spaghetti, and simmer in a covered saucepan over medium low heat for 20 minutes or so. The longer you cook it the better it tastes, but you should stir it occasionally to keep it from sticking to the bottom. You can add a little water or cooking wine, if needed.

If you want, you could put everything in your crockpot and cook on low all day til dinnertime. That works, too.

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Spoon that red delicousness over the pasta and voila!

Frugal breakdown:

  •  1 jar cheap spaghetti sauce @ $1.29 from Aldi
  • 1 lb pkg frozen meatballs @ $1.99 from Aldi

  • 1 can diced tomatoes @ $0.59 from Aldi
  • 1 can tomato sauce @ $0.39 from Aldi
  • 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese @ $0.40 from Aldi
  • 1 lb spaghetti @ $0.80 from Aldi
  •  italian seasoning, garlic powder, minced onion, & basil from pantry
Total for family dinner for 5 + 2 lunches = $5.46 + 3 leftover hoagie rolls from sausage hoagie night made into garlic bread + $1.09 for bag of frozen broccoli

Beef Stroganoff (the easy way)

This meal isn't traditional beef stroganoff, I know, but my family loves it and it's quick & easy, just like I like 'em. You need about 1 1/2 lbs of some kind of cheap steak, 2 cans cream of mushroom soup, 2 pkg brown gravy mix, dried minced onions, sour cream and egg noodles.

I cut the steak across the grain into thin slices, ending with pieces that are about 1/4" by about 2" long.  I put a small amount of oil in the bottom of a skillet, dump the meat in there and sprinkle seasoned salt and some fresh cracked pepper all over it. Stir it around and cook over medium heat until it's no longer pink (about 3 or 4 minutes).

Then add the soup, gravy mix, a tablespoon or two of dried minced onion, and 3/4 cup or so of water. Stir around real good and put a lid on it. Turn the heat down to low and simmer, covered, for 10-15 minutes, stirring often.

Meanwhile, cook the egg noodles according to package directions. I use a whole 16 oz package. I like to drain the noodles, dump them back in the pan, throw in a half stick of butter and some parsley flakes and stir it up real good. Of course, I could just eat the buttered noodles and skip the rest of it, but my family would be upset, being the carnivores that they are.

Anyhoo, when the noodles are ready, I take the meat stuff off the burner and add in about 16 oz of sour cream and stir around real good. Let it set for a couple minutes and it will thicken up a bit. Then spoon this yummy goodness over the noodles and you're good to go.

Here's the frugal breakdown:
  • 1 1/2 lb cheap steak on sale @ $4.09
  • 1 pkg egg noodles @ $0.99
  • 2 cans cream of mushroom soup @ $0.59 ea.
  • 2 pkg brown gravy mix @ $0.39 ea.
  • 2 cups sour cream @ $1.29
  • minced onion, seasoned salt, butter and cracked pepper from pantry
Total for family dinner for 6 (had a friend over) and 2 individual lunches:  $8.33
 + $1.49 for bag of frozen veggies.