Project: Food Budget, Round 2, It’s a Wrap!

Project: Food Budget

When Emily Levenson first proposed revisiting Project: Food Budget, I was instantly on board.

My primary reason for being so eager was that, as I detailed in my opening post this round, so much had changed since the last time I did this project. It was a good way for me to get a handle on these changes — where I was shopping, how I was shopping, how I was cooking.

And it worked.

What I learned:
Giant Eagle is criminally expensive, and also takes too long to shop .
Aldi is the best place to shop, although it doesn’t always offer vegetarian options.
Target is a good back-up for Aldi, but still shouldn’t be my main grocery store (because I buy too many other things).
Buy as much produce at the farmers market as possible. Especially tomatoes.
I need to space Costco visits out for the sake of the budget.

Aside: When is Trader Joe’s coming to the Robinson area?

Menu planning is vital. Okay, I didn’t actually learn that on this go-round; it was something I was coming around to already. Doing the menu planning and sharing it on this round helped solidify the habit. I got the children involved, and they enjoy picking a meal a week. They also like that I write the menu for the week on our white board. My children like routine and like to know what’s going on. (They get that from me. Unless it involves presents, surprises are not our favorite thing.)

The new thing I learned about menu planning is: when you have a plan, it can be as flexible as you need it to be. Once the plan is in place, and you have shopped for the week or beyond, if things need to change, it’s not a struggle. If a soccer practice or school meeting pops up, you can switch meals on the fly. Plus, I often find after I’ve cooked for a week or so, it’s time to have leftovers for dinner. Which is my favorite.

What I would do differently:
I would track what we spend on alcohol purchases — don’t worry, Mom, it’s not an exorbitant amount. But I found myself popping into the state store for a bottle of wine or grabbing a six-pack at Giant Eagle for one reason or another. I’m sure that if I paid more attention, I could find a way to avoid last-minute runs to the state store.

6 Mile Cellars
Local wine for the win.

Of course, if Pennsylvania would change its laws about alcohol sales, and I could pick up a bottle of wine at Costco INSTEAD OF MAKING ANOTHER STOP, that would be awesome too.

I wish I had commented more on fellow participants’ sites, and I also wish I had looked at more recipes. One downside to menu planning is that it is easy to get into a rut. I have to work hard to find new recipes and integrate them, and we are busier than ever.

What did you learn?

McGinnis and Bean
Rainaldi.org
Erra Creations
Eryn Says…
Seeking White Space
facepalmmama
Gardening in High Heels
Melissa Firman
Copy & Post
Shea Lennon
Warm as Pie
Two Eggs Over Easy

Project: Food Budget: Week 12

Project: Food Budget

A day late, but at least I’m not a dollar short!

Aldi = $53.38
Aldi = $20.67
Costco = $225.00

Two Aldi trips this week because we had a picnic in the park on Friday night. I picked up pistachios, hummus, cheese and crackers, deli ham, and chips and salsa. We met @TwinMamaTeb and her children in the park. She was much better prepared with risotto salad and cucumber salad, plus utensils!

I even forgot drinks. Michael, Flora and I walked over to a nearby Walgreens to buy iced teas and water.

And then: Antney’s for ice cream.

I should probably put those extras in my budget, eh? (About $8 and $16, respectively.)

Anyhoo.

It’s the last week of Food Budget, round 2. I will have a wrap up post next week about what worked for me and what I need to do better.

This weekend, we made a Costco trip for staples, then filled in the gaps with a quick stop at Aldi. I have decided that I am going to limit where I need to shop each weekend. For example, if I put a meal plan together that needs a lot of vegetarian meat substitutes, the trip will be to Target instead of Aldi. We will only go to Costco once a month, if that, and try to stay around $200. And Giant Eagle we will avoid like crazy, unless we are stopping for a growler of beer and/or very specialty food products (i.e. Goya tomato sauce and pigeon peas for rice and beans.)

Although, the farmers market will always be a possibility. We missed it this week because I attended a few sessions at PodcampX Saturday morning.

Meal plan:
I cannot remember what we ate this weekend. So, nothing special.

I have Dan on a protein and vegetable diet this week because he’s going to be doing another Tough Mudder, and he wants to lose a couple more pounds from his belly. He is plenty strong enough (although he’s worried about his hand strength), but helping him get a little lighter will give him a boost. So he’s getting chicken, ham and cheese omelets, salad, and beef this week!

Monday: Tortellini, chicken or tofu, salad, cucumbers
Tuesday: Quesadillas and baby carrots
Wednesday: Pizza and salad (feeding five children)
Thursday: WFH lunch, tomato soup with grilled cheese; rice, Indian-spiced kidney beans and tomatoes, naan, tandoori-ish chicken
Friday: Leftovers
Saturday: Burgers, tater tots, salad

Last week to make the rounds.

Emily Levenson
McGinnis and Bean
Rainaldi.org
Erra Creations
Eryn Says…
Seeking White Space
facepalmmama
Gardening in High Heels
Melissa Firman
Copy & Post
Shea Lennon
Warm as Pie
Two Eggs Over Easy

Project: Food Budget, Week 11

Project: Food Budget

Farmers Market = $35
Target = $22.90

Way under budget this week due to the big trip two weeks ago, plus some splurging last week. Plus, my FIL bought me another flat of tomatoes and some corn on the cob, and that went toward filling out the menu for the week.

I’ve written about this before, but I love summer tomatoes — and only summer tomatoes. When I was at the farmers market, I bought a basket of “seconds” — that is, tomatoes that were a little dented, some with dirt still on them. I turn most tomatoes into sauce and freeze a bunch anyway, so buying tomatoes that aren’t pretty doesn’t bother me. I almost bought another small basket of them, but I’m glad I held off.

A few common tomato dishes at my house are caprese salad (I have to fight with the children over the buffalo mozzarella), scalloped tomatoes with croutons, and roasted tomato soup with broiled cheddar. Whenever I want an amazing tomato recipe, Smitten Kitchen is my go-to. That woman knows how to treat a tomato!

Let’s see how many more times I can say tomato in this post.

Menu:

Saturday: Vegetarian chili, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob
Sunday: Scalloped tomatoes with croutons, pasta with pesto, tilapia (and vegetarian nuggets for me and flora)
Monday: baked burritos (made with leftover rice and beans, cheese, and salsa), leftover chili, arugula salad
Tuesday: Sesame noodles, roasted chicken, and tofu
Wednesday: WFH lunch is going to be roasted tomato soup with broiled cheddar; dinner will be mac ‘n’ cheese and vegetarian hot dogs, green beans
Thursday: rice and stir fry vegetables
Friday: Tortellini with meat or marinara sauce

What is your favorite thing to do with summer tomatoes?

Hitting the home stretch with these fine people!

McGinnis and Bean
Rainaldi.org
Erra Creations
Eryn Says…
Seeking White Space
facepalmmama
Gardening in High Heels
Melissa Firman
Copy & Post
Shea Lennon
Warm as Pie
Two Eggs Over Easy

Project: Food Budget, Week 10

Project: Food Budget

Last week, our only food expenditure was dining out on Tuesday night at a restaurant in Donegal. If you are ever in that area, I highly recommend Out of the Fire Cafe. It is BYOB, the staff is very good, and the food is fresh and delicious. We’ve been going there for a few years now, and it is always a highlight of the family reunion.

Week 9, dining out, $100.

This week’s expenses:

Farmers market = $42
Costco = $48.85
Giant Eagle = $44.55

We did well primarily because the freezer is well stocked. The most expensive thing this week was the time I spent trying to get out of the Moon Giant Eagle. Honestly, I will do anything in my power to keep from going back.

We ended up in Costco because that’s where we get our prescriptions filled, and Kate needed antibiotic ear drops. Hence, Costco was pretty much our splurge for the week. I picked up Belvita biscuits, whole grain fig bars, and Whole Fruit frozen treats, plus desk snacks and cereal.

The farmers market provided Saturday’s dinner (apple sausage and spinach and feta pies — OH MY!), plus green beans, two loaves of whole grain bread, and tomatoes, the last of which I plan to roast and freeze.

Weekly menu:

Saturday: We had guests in on Saturday, so for the grownups, I prepared Israeli cous cous, apple sausage, and a caprese salad, plus those aforementioned spinach and feta pies heated through.
Sunday: rice and beans, chicken, arugula salad
Monday: tortellini with marinara sauce, nuggets, broccoli
Tuesday: French toast, veggie sausage, and blueberries (brinner, in other words)
Wednesday: pizza and salad
Thursday: vegetarian chili and pierogies
Friday: I’m turning chili and rice and beans into baked burritos and quesadillas

Two more weeks to go! Let’s see how the gang is doing.

Emily Levenson
McGinnis and Bean
Rainaldi.org
Erra Creations
Eryn Says…
Seeking White Space
facepalmmama
Gardening in High Heels
Melissa Firman
Copy & Post
Shea Lennon
Warm as Pie
Two Eggs Over Easy

Project: Food Budget, Week 8

Project: Food Budget

Costco = $211
Farmers Market = $65
Aldi = $5

I know, I know. It looks like I blew the budget out of the water this week.

However, what I did was shop for two weeks.

We will be busy and out of town this weekend (through next Tuesday), so I effectively shopped for this week and next. That’s why I made another Costco trip so close to the Week 5 one. I hate coming home to an empty larder, so I am aiming to prevent that this time around.

I did splurge at the Farmers Market a little bit, buying a trio of cheeses for $22 to bring to a party I was going to Saturday. It was well worth it. I also bought another bottle of 6 Mile wine, just because I felt like it.

I bought tomatoes, which I turned into sauce, and peaches, which I peeled, sliced, and froze for later use. I can’t eat raw peaches. They smell heavenly, but that fuzz gets to my lips, and I can’t deal with the texture. My other farmers market purchases included coffee and a scone (what? I go first thing Saturday morning!), and arugula, which Dan keeps requesting.

It may seem silly to count $5 at Aldi, but I couldn’t find a reasonable amount of rice at Costco, and it is a staple, so I had to make the stop. I also picked up apple juice to make a beer cocktail — three amazing recipes here. Totally worth the extra stop.

I did go off list at Costco (plus bought ziploc bags and paper towels). I bought chicken, and I discovered a four-pack of tofu for $5.29. Plus, I bought three kinds of coffee: whole bean, to grind for the French press; already-ground for the drip coffee maker, which is what I use during the week; and VIA instant, which I keep at my desk.

I may have a coffee problem.

Aside from coffee and other non-perishable foodstuffs, I restocked our coconut oil, which has become a staple. I haven’t started using it as a moisturizer yet, only because it will make me constantly hungry. And, possibly, my children will cannabilize me.

Weekly meal plan:

Sunday: Dinner at friends’ house
Monday: Bella fed me and the children, although I cooked Dan some chicken (in coconut oil), and made him an arugula salad and a caprese salad since he was going to be home late
Tuesday: Tacos!
Wednesday: Tortellini, salmon (for Dan), tofu (for me), and salad
Thursday: Dinner with SIL someplace
Friday: Beans and rice
Saturday: Kennywood picnic day (and Potato Patch fries)

It looks like we are eating out often this week, which is something we hardly ever do. I’ll have to track that for next week’s post.

Anyone else shopping a week ahead?

Emily Levenson
McGinnis and Bean
Rainaldi.org
Erra Creations
Eryn Says…
Seeking White Space
facepalmmama
Gardening in High Heels
Melissa Firman
Copy & Post
Shea Lennon
Warm as Pie
Two Eggs Over Easy

Project: Food Budget, Week 7

Project: Food Budget

Giant Eagle Market District = $167.79
Aldi = $63.36

We were in budget at Aldi, but we didn’t get to Target or the farmers market, instead deciding to shop at the Market District, which put us about $100 over budget.

Let this be a lesson to you, kiddies. In addition to planning, saving money takes TIME. We could’ve saved more money if we had had the time to go to four different places. But due to other obligations, we did the bulk of our shopping on Sunday, and needed another trip to Aldi that I didn’t make until Monday evening after work.

Dan went shopping with an incomplete list, although he did have a copy of the meal plan. But, remember, he shops from the list, not the meal plan. I just never had the time to match up the list with the plan. We helped a relative move some furniture, we had a pool party to attend, and we were down to one car for a bit of the weekend. So he was out Sunday with the girls and, in the interest of time, he decided to do all the shopping at the Market District, where they also stopped for lunch.

And then the trip got more expensive when the car wouldn’t start, and he needed to call AAA to bring out a new battery. That was another $118 we hadn’t budgeted for!

Menu:

Sunday: Chicken (or tofu) and pesto pasta
MOnday: Raviolis in marinara, salad
Tuesday: Corn dogs and mac n cheese, green beans
Wednesday: Tortilla soup, salad, baby carrots
Thursday: Ramen, salmon, stir fry vegetables
Friday: Tacos, baby carrots
Saturday: Pizza and salad

I splurged a little this week on Oreos of all things, mostly because I wanted to give the children something to do. They and our nanny are going to make these yummy little things. And then I will have to hide them from my husband.

Check in with everyone and leave them some love!

Emily Levenson
McGinnis and Bean
Rainaldi.org
Erra Creations
Eryn Says…
Seeking White Space
facepalmmama
Gardening in High Heels
Melissa Firman
Copy & Post
Shea Lennon
Warm as Pie
Two Eggs Over Easy

Project: Food Budget, Week 6

Project: Food Budget

Aldi = $52.51
Giant Eagle = $14.95
Cash Market = $10.43

No farmers market because it was 4th of July. All-in-all we didn’t spend much this week. I am busy using stuff in the freezer and making sure leftovers get incorporated into meals. I am going to try to stock up this coming weekend, so look for spend to increase to what the original budget was.

Saturday: I picked up some devil’s food cake mix and baked red, white, and blue cupcakes (added nearly two cups of berries, straw- and blue-, subtracted an egg), then frosted them with red, white, and blue buttercream. Dinner was burgers, vegetarian baked beans, green beans, and baked potatoes. Could we have been more American??

Sunday: The big meal Sunday was brunch. Dan did most of the cooking, because brunch is his thing. He made pancakes, eggs to order, sausage and bacon; I made vegetarian sausage and coffee. We had fruit as well: cherries, blueberries, and watermelon. Dan’s family was over: his parents, and his uncle, aunt, and cousin. It was really nice! The rest of the day was leftovers.

The girls acted as servers at brunch. They made sure everyone had drinks, took orders for eggs, delivered food to the table, and were generally sweet and entertaining. Flora gave me a bill for $5.50; Kate gave Dan’s uncle a bill for $100 million.

Monday: gnocchi and salad; chicken for my omnivores
Tuesday: Indian (rice, naan, chana masala)
Wednesday: ramen noodles and tofu
Thursday: brinner (French toast, sausage, eggs)
Friday: pizza

Next Saturday we have a birthday party to go to, and Sunday I am out for girls’ night — Magic Mike XXL, here I come! I guess I should feed my family Sunday before I bail on them to look at abs.

Go see how everyone else did.

Emily Levenson
McGinnis and Bean
Seeking White Space
facepalmmama
Gardening in High Heels
Melissa Firman
Copy & Post
Rachel Olive Miller
Shea Lennon

Project: Food Budget, Week 5

Project: Food Budget

Costco = $154.44
Target = $24.00
Aldi = $29.89
Farmers market: $15 (short trip because: RAIN; lettuce, eggs, blueberries… something else that I’m forgetting)

The big trip, clearly, was to Costco this week. I didn’t even figure that into the original budget. We usually spend about $200 there, so I feel pretty good about $154.44. A trip like this will get us through the next six weeks to two months. Aside from lotion and Advil, the rest was stocking up on: canola oil, guacamole, shredded cheddar, naan, cereal for the children, bread, pizza, mac and cheese, Bisquick, and so on. I don’t even remember what all. Because of bulk shopping, we came in under budget every where else!

While I still did the meal-planning, with some input from Flora, Dan did all the shopping. Dan shops strictly on-list; he doesn’t compare prices or deviate from the letter of the list. I feel a little bad; he went to Aldi — which I can get into and out of in under 30 minutes, but since he doesn’t know where everything is, it took him longer. And Costco on Sunday, was, according to his text message “INSANE”.

And he made choices differently. For example, I choose either Annie’s mac and cheese or Back to Nature, both brands sold at Costco. Dan came home with Kraft brand. Which, my children certainly won’t turn up their noses at that. Also, when he couldn’t find almond milk at Aldi, he got a half gallon at Target instead, whereas I would bought a case of soy milk at Costco.

We just do things differently. I’m pretty happy he shopped. It gave me a chance to go to the library with the children Saturday, and on Sunday to hang out with my fellow LTYM cast members (videos coming soon!).

I should either start baking bread from scratch and/or get a bread machine. We go through two loaves a week. It’s ridiculous.

Menu:

Sunday: Rice and bean salad (for potluck we were attending)
Monday: Sesame noodles with tofu or chicken stir fry
Tuesday: Pizza and salad
Wednesday: Brinner (by request; probably have pancakes and eggs)
Thursday: Quesadillas
Friday: lunch, mac and cheese, corn dogs; dinner, Indian channa masala, rice, and naan
Saturday: burgers, baked potatoes, baked beans, macaroni salad

Go see how everyone else did.

Emily Levenson
McGinnis and Bean
Seeking White Space
facepalmmama
Gardening in High Heels
Melissa Firman
Copy & Post
Rachel Olive Miller
Shea Lennon

Project: Food Budget, Week 2

Project: Food Budget

Farmers Market = $35
Target = $69.20
Cash Market = $18.09

Total = $122.29
Under budget by about $50

Cash Market is my Aldi’s stand-in this weekend, and as you can see I was way under budget there. I only picked up what I needed for Thursday night’s dinner.

At the farmers market, I bought strawberries, broccoli, spring mix lettuce, 2 pounds of gnocchi, meatballs, and breakfast pastries.

At Target, I didn’t just get my meatless stuff, I also did some shopping for staples. So while I was a touch over budget for my original goal, since I didn’t make a big Aldi’s trip, it more than comes in under budget.

Note: I waffled on buying eggs at the farmers market. They go for about $3 to $3.5 a dozen there, depending on which vendor you choose. Next time, I will buy them there, because they are a whole dollar to dollar fifty more at Target.

Since I’m posting on Tuesdays, my menu is going to run Wednesday to Wednesday. Here’s what I made/am making. (I’m already a week behind!)

Wednesday: brinner. Pancakes and eggs for the children, and a salsa/egg/cheese/guacamole burrito for me; Dan had pancakes and a ham/egg/cheese omelet.
Thursday: burgers and veggies burgers, salad, baby carrots, and tater tots.
Friday: Flora, M, and I ate at the end-of-the-year soccer party. Pizza, chips, cheese puff balls, watermelon.
Saturday: Another dinner “out”. We went to a graduation party, and ate there.
Sunday: sesame noodles with stir fry chicken and stir fry tofu.
Monday: gnocchi and meat- and “meat” balls. I recently discovered my children like gnocchi — nay, *love* gnocchi, and I have leapt at the chance to serve it. I made a salad as well.
Tuesday: Tacos!
Wednesday: Leftovers. We gotta clean out the refrigerator before we hit the road.

The strawberries have been doled out accordingly. Half were Sunday night’s dessert, and the other half were frozen for smoothies.

We are heading to Chicago on Thursday, next week’s P:FB post will talk more about meal plans. We will probably shop and picnic some of the time in Chicago, but we’ve also got some restaurants picked out to visit.

Let’s see how everyone else did!

Emily Levenson
McGinnis and Bean
Rainaldi.org
Erra Creations
Eryn Says…
Seeking White Space
facepalmmama
Gardening in High Heels
Melissa Firman
Copy & Post
Rachel Olive Miller

Project: Food Budget: Getting Started (Again)

Project: Food Budget

Wow!
A lot has changed since the first time I did this project, which comes again courtesy of Emily Levenson.

First of all, of course, all the children are older! Flora is now a lanky 10-year-old who likes nothing more than drawing and reading. Kate is an energetic 8-year-old who wants to play Minecraft all day, narrating every move. And little M isn’t so little anymore; he’s an active, curious chatty 4-year-old, who wants to be outside pretty much all the time.

Dan is still my loving man, but even he’s made some major changes in the past four years that effect the food budget.

Secondly, the way we shop has changed radically. Market District/Giant Eagle is no longer my grocery store(s) of choice. We only head to Costco once every two months or so — I think this is due to the fact that I don’t have a baby in diapers any longer, thank heavens.

Thirdly, and sadly, we no longer belong to a CSA. This was the most difficult decision to make, and it does not reflect my feelings for Kretschmann’s Farm (whose quality organic produce remains most excellent) or my feelings about CSAs in general (they are a fantastic idea). But our food budget has changed considerably, and, frankly, we were not using all the produce we were getting. Despite my best intentions, a lot of produce was still going to waste.

Flora is still mostly vegetarian, but Kate and Michael are definitely omnivores. Dan, of course, is still an omnivore as well; but since the last time I did this project, he has joined a gym, started drinking protein shakes and smoothies, and has lost 40 pounds — and he’s still working to lose more fat and gain more muscle. I’m so proud of him, and I’m working hard to make sure he stays fit and motivated.

My own eating habits haven’t changed very much, but my shopping and cooking habits have changed.

Let’s start with *where*. I no longer shop primarily at the Big Bird. I discovered Aldi not too long ago, and that is where I shop for most of our staples. The quality is good; the prices are low; and it’s a fast trip. My only criticism is that they don’t stock much in the way of vegetarian goods — I would even be happy with tofu! — so I often have to make another stop.

I round out my Aldi’s trip by grocery shopping at Target. They carry a lot of vegetarian options; their prices are still lower than GE’s; I also pick up toiletries and the like; and I have a Target debit card, which gets me 5% off the total bill. I’ve also been trying to use the Target app Cartwheel to save more as well — it’s akin to clipping coupons, without the actual clipping.

I plan to make the Sewickley farmers market part of my monthly shopping as well. This is where I will get most of my produce while I can. By only buying what I know we will use over the course of a week, I will waste a lot less. Plus, I won’t end up with stuff like fennel, which I don’t like and don’t use, or tons of herbs that I usually manage to dry but never store.

My estimated budget on a weekly basis will be:

Aldi trip: $80-$100
Target: $50
Farmers Market: $25-$40

I cook at home A LOT. Through doing Project: Food Budget in 2011 I learned the value of menu planning. I have a go-to list of meals that come together very quickly during the week. The girls are starting to help me meal plan, which is fantastic. We almost never eat out anymore. And I don’t use as many meat substitutes as I used to. With Kate and Michael eating beef, chicken, and fish, I usually prepare beans or tofu for Flora and me. We still have the occasional meal with Morning Star nuggets or Boca burgers, but not nearly as often as we used to.

Oh, another improvement (IMO, anyway): I am baking a whole lot more. Like, almost weekly, if not twice a week. My family is very happy with this improvement, although Dan wants me to find a hiding place for the baked goods. He has terrible discipline when it comes to sweets. 🙂

Here are the other bloggers participating on this round. Can’t wait to see how everyone does!

Emily Levenson
McGinnis and Bean
Rainaldi.org
Erra Creations
Eryn Says…
Seeking White Space
facepalmmama
Gardening in High Heels
Melissa Firman
Copy & Post
Rachel Olive Miller

How has your food budget changed in the past four years?