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Meal Plan Review September 15, 2015

Filed under: Cooking — Meghan Hamilton @ 7:28 pm
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My glorious freezer with about 3 weeks' worth of dinners.

My glorious freezer with about 3 weeks’ worth of dinners.

I’ve often read that meal planning saves a lot of money and headaches. I’ve made stabs at it before. When I try to start from scratch with my own ideas for meals, I get overwhelmed and give up before I even start. When I look into using published meal plans I run into costs I can’t justify or meals that are too complicated. We have allergies to wheat and dairy here, adding another level of cost and complication to following other people’s meal plans. So, I’ve been just making dinner plans at the last minute and not wanting to make it at all most nights.

Then about a month ago, I saw the link to 31 Days of Crockpot Freezer Meals floating around on social media. I was skeptical, but since I wasn’t making dinner, I had time to look it over. What was this??? Meals that didn’t rely on large quantities of bread and cheese! Recipes that fall in line with my family’s tastes! Recipes that have short lists of ingredients that are also readily available in my local grocery store! I must try this!!!

So on Sunday, I downloaded the recipes and convenient grocery list. I made note of the few substitutions that I would need to make and decided to omit one recipe altogether. That made 30 usable recipes. That means 30 dinners (and some lunches that I can get from leftovers) that I won’t have to worry about once I’ve assembled it all.

I spent over an hour at the store. I spent approximately $400. My total bill was $450 and change, but I needed things that were not on the dinner list. Assuming I do this again, I may spend a little less. I was out of a lot of seasonings and needed to restock. I won’t need to buy these again for several months. However, that savings may be offset by my desire to take some shortcuts. A lot of the recipes call for chopped carrots. When prepping 30 meals, peeling and chopping take a long time. If you can afford it, buy your carrots and onions already cut. My grocery store has them with the frozen vegetables. I did manage to buy onions this way as I knew that I wouldn’t survive chopping 7 pounds of onions. Next time I’ll do the frozen carrots too. Your grocery price could also be less as I live in an area known for high prices on everything. I could save a lot of money by driving an hour or so to another store, but I the potential savings is not worth the time for me.

That works out to 155 servings of dinner as most nutritionists would count a serving. I know that we often eat more than that. But as a family of three, each meal should be plenty as far as main dishes go. That works out to $2.58 per serving. Add in the cost of a few additional sides like rice, bread, salads, etc… The cost is quite reasonable. It’s well under $5 per person per meal. The cost goes up to $4.44 per person per meal if the three of us eat the entire thing each sitting. Some of these are meant to feed six people though, so in reality, our costs will be somewhere between those two numbers.

A few cautions when implementing this plan:

  1. Make sure you actually have the freezer space. I don’t. I’ll be putting both of my slow cookers to use to cook up what didn’t fit into my freezer so that it lasts longer in the fridge. As we don’t mind leftovers around here, this won’t be a problem. But next month, I’ll do this in two-week batches as opposed to one month all at once.
  2. Another thing is that this takes a large chunk of time up front. I spent about eight hours on meal prep. I broke it down over two days. So plan accordingly. (This is where shortcuts like pre-cut veggies may be worth a few extra dollars.) Again, two week’s worth will make more sense to my life. I will also see how long this lasts us. I anticipate that we will still want to eat out a few times or will have enough leftovers to last through the next day.
  3. Lastly, if you don’t like leftovers or have more than four people you are feeding, look over the recipes and make adjustments to the amounts/grocery list. Some of the dishes are meant to feed four people and some are meant for six or eight people. This works for us, but not for everyone.

To summarize:

  1. Time Savers: Buy pre-cut onions, carrots, peppers; Buy chicken in 1 pound packages rather than bulk packages.
  2. Money Savers: Buy veggies in bulk and chop them yourself; Buy chicken in bulk (depending on your store’s pricing policies – check the prices); Buy chicken thighs instead of breasts.
  3. Recipes are allergy friendly, low sodium, and low cholesterol.

***Edit*** I want to make sure everyone knows this is the link to the original site I found the meal plan:

https://newleafwellness.biz/2015/08/06/31-crockpot-freezer-meals-for-back-to-school/

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My Favorite Quick Bread Recipe June 1, 2015

Filed under: Cooking — Meghan Hamilton @ 5:49 pm
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I think this may be my first cooking blog entry. And it probably won’t be a regular thing, but I thought I’d post this one. My family has a growing list of food allergies and this is a snack that often disappears in less than twelve hours. I like it because it’s easy to make as is, and easy to alter for different flavors. They say variety is the spice of life. I’ll start with the base recipe, which is rather cake like. Then I’ll throw a few variations we’ve enjoyed and how to choose a gluten free flour if you need to.

Basic Quickbread

2 cups all purpose flour (Wheat based or Gluten Free)

Optional for Gluten Free version *1 1/2 teaspoons Xanthan Gum* (SEE NOTE about Gluten Free Cooking before adding this.)

1 cup sugar (brown or white)

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk (or dairy free substitute)

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

2 teaspoons flavor extract of choice (vanilla, almond, lemon, etc…)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease a loaf pan.  In a large mixing bowl, add dry ingredients (If using white sugar, add here. Brown sugar should go in with wet ingredients.). Mix well. Add in wet ingredients. Stir thoroughly.  If a few small lumps remain in your batter, it’s okay. Pour into loaf pan and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the loaf. Allow to cool then slice and serve.

*GLUTEN FREE cooking tip* 

  • Check your flour. If it has xanthan gum, guar gum or some other kind of gum in the ingredients, you do not need to add any more. More and more companies are putting it in.  If you make your own or it doesn’t have it in the mix that you bought, I recommend this one from Bob’s Red Mill.

Cinnamon Bread

  • Just add 1 tablespoon (more or less to taste) ground cinnamon to the dry ingredients. I like to use vanilla extract and brown sugar with this version.

Lemon Bread

  • Substitute 1/2 cup lemon juice for 1/2 cup of the milk (Use 1 cup total liquid).  Use 2 teaspoons of lemon extract and white sugar with this one.

Orange Bread

  • Substitute 1/2 cup orange juice for 1/2 cup of the milk (Use 1 cup total liquid).  Use 2 teaspoons of orange extract and white sugar.

The sky is the limit! I plan to try an almond version with almond extract and chopped/slivered almonds added in. I would also like to add chocolate chips. The basic recipe also lends itself to savory breads, but we have a craving for sweets around here, so I’ve yet to try it. What have you tried lately?