Creamy Chicken

It is important to me to stay within a budget. I’ve always been pretty frugal and good at saving. I want to make the cheapest cheap meals for my family to enjoy because I have a budget to follow. There is just one problem. I care about health. When I was young, I always thought all those moms who went on healthy food crazes were a little nuts. I thought, “What difference does a few calories really make?” “How do you know whole grains are better?” and the one that constantly crossed my mind, “What’s the point of making a dessert if you’re going to make it FAT FREE or SUGAR FREE???? It’s dessert, isn’t that the whole point?”

I promised myself I would never be one of those crazy moms. I promised I would serve delicious food that didn’t taste healthy. Well, I guess being a mom really does change every prejudgment you ever have. 🙂 I realize now why all those moms want to have healthier options in the home. I realize why they make everyone in the family eat all of their “healthy” food. Moms have a responsibility to take care of their family. I can’t expect my children (or husband, or me) to grow up healthy and strong without proper nutrition. It is my job to make sure they eat good wholesome food. Over the last week, this has been weighing on my mind heavily.

I have been thinking a lot about the purpose of this blog. So far, I’ve just been trying to post inexpensive meals. We recently made a necessary food budget cut in our family. We simply don’t have the money to spend on food that we used to have. I’ve been telling myself, “Yes, being healthy is important, but right now we just need things to be cheap. Right now I’ll just focus on staying within our budget. I’ll go back to healthier food when we have more money.” After a week or so of cooking like this I stand up to say, “No, being healthy is important. I will find a way to stay in our budget and be healthier!” Hmmmmm, maybe like this:

That’s motherhood. Sometimes you just commit yourself to the impossible. Still, it is important enough to me that I will try as hard as I can. From now on, at the end of each post (below the recipe) I will add a section titled: Tips to Make this Healthier. This section may or may not cost more than the original recipe, but I will post it anyway. It will make me feel better about myself and will hopefully help you make healthier meals. Cheap, healthy meals, here I come!

 

Creamy Chicken, $3.60

Ingredients:

1 can cream of chicken soup ($ .80)

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts ($2.25)

2 C cooked rice or 1/2 lb. pasta ($ .55)

Directions: Cook chicken breasts in skillet with cream of chicken soup. Serve over cooked rice or pasta.

Tips to Make This Healthier:

Serve this meal with a vegetable! Steam some asparagus, broccoli, carrots, squash, or whatever you have in your fridge. Another way to add vegetables that can be used with the steamed vegetables or alone is to add 1 C frozen mixed veggies (or a drained can of mixed veggies) to the chicken and soup when there is only about 5-8 minutes left. You could also use a homemade recipe of cream of chicken soup to get rid of the preservatives. Lastly, use brown rice or whole grain pasta. The vegetables would only add another $1 or so. Making homemade cream of chicken soup is probably the same price or cheaper than the can, but it is also more time consuming. The brown rice or whole wheat pasta is more expensive, but would probably add no more than $ .50. Still a pretty cheap dinner.

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Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

What is buying in bulk? This can have two meanings depending on the circumstances. The first kind of buying in bulk usually involves a warehouse like Sam’s Club or Costco. These warehouse stores buy a TON of one kind of thing and get it for a cheaper price because they are buying so much. There is usually also less packaging because each package has a larger quantity. The savings are then passed to the buyer (you) because you must also buy a large amount of each item. Buying things from Costco that you use a lot is a great idea.

Another meaning of buying in bulk involves a little more work. This is can also be called “capitalizing on sales!” Make a list of food items that you use frequently. My list would include the following:

Pasta

Spaghetti Sauce

Ground Beef

Chicken

Cheese (block or shredded)

And so on…

Now, write how much each of these items typically is. If you know how much it generally is on sale, that’s even better. Write that price. Here’s my list:

Pasta – $ .88/lb.

Spaghetti Sauce – $1/jar

Ground Beef – $1.99/lb.

Chicken – $1.89/lb.

Cheese – $2.50/lb.

Butter – $2/lb.

Etc.

Next, check the weekly ads for grocery stores in your area. If you have a Costco or Sam’s Club membership, check the prices whenever you are there. If you ever see any of your items for the same price or lower (you know it’s really good deal when it’s a lot lower than the price you wrote down) then buy a bunch. I typically like to buy enough for the next 2-6 months depending on how much space I have in my pantry/freezer. If you have a small house with very little food storage, don’t go overboard! You still need room for your other food. Just buy as much as you can fit.

If you have a huge pantry or a separate storage room, then feel free to buy more. Just make sure you are constantly rotating through all of your food. Whatever you put in first, should come out first. Even if you have a large storage room, still don’t go overboard. Never buy more than a 6 month supply. If you must have a 1 year supply, fine, but absolutely do not buy more than that. I don’t care how cheap it is. There is nothing worse than buying food at a great price, just to throw it out because it has gone bad.

This week I am going to buy some boneless skinless chicken breasts for $1.39/lb. I’m pretty excited about it. Since we don’t have a lot of food storage room right now, I’m only going to get 10 lbs. If we had more room, I would buy more because the price is fantastic, but I know not to go overboard.

I feel a little silly even writing a recipe for today’s meal. It’s a classic that probably everyone knows how to make, but here it is anyway.

Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, $3.05

Ingredients:

1 can tomato soup ($1)

I can-full of water

8 slices of bread ($ .85)

4 slices of cheese ($1)

2 Tbsp butter ($ .20)

Directions:

Make tomato soup according to directions on the can. (I always make tomato soup on the stove and use a wire whisk to mix it. This prevents icky lumps). Put 1 Tbsp. in a skillet. Use other Tbsp. of butter to butter each bread slice. Put two slices of cheese in between each two slices of bread. Grill sandwiches in skillet with melted butter. May cut each sandwich in half before serving with soup, if desired.

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Loose Beef Hamburgers

You know, sometimes I wish that people’s brains all worked the same way. Okay, not really, but it sure would make meal planning easier. I’ve looked at all sorts of ways to organize meal planning. I’ve created a bridal shower game centered on how to meal plan. I’ve personally created and used several different meal planning systems. What have a learned from all of this? Every meal plan is different.

Admit it, you think it would be easier if someone created an extremely organized system for planning meals that worked for every person’s brain and situation in life. That would be great! I’ve seen simple meal plans and ridiculously complicated meal plans. I’ve seen free ones and grossly expensive ones. I’ve seen everything in between. All I really know from all my research is that none of these systems work well for me.

I have only had one system that worked really well and that I loved. Unfortunately, it’s not one I can use now. Why? Because my husband I and were both in college and we didn’t have any kids (at least not one that was old enough to eat our same food). I made a meal plan for a semester at a time. I made shopping lists a week at a time based on the recipes for that week. I made enough for four and we had the same thing for lunch the next day. It was easy. We only bought what we needed for those week’s meals, plus breakfast (usually cereal), and some snacks (usually baby carrots, pretzels, and something sugary). Oh the simplicity of only feeding two. 🙂

In some ways it is easier now and I definitely don’t waste as much food, but having children really throws a wrench into my meal planning system. Mostly because I have to be more flexible now. I like things that are organized and set in stone. I liked knowing that every meal for a whole semester was already planned. With children, things don’t always go as planned. I’ve tried planning a month in advance and my beautiful, clean-looking calendar has millions of meals crossed out and re-written. Maybe I’m a teensy bit OCD, but I CAN’T handle the cross outs. They drive me nuts.

Sigh, I will conquer meal planning someday. Maybe a brand new set of cheap recipes that are five bucks a meal will help with that. I’ll keep you posted on my meal planning status. For now, enjoy a delicious dinner that is under five dollars.

 

Loose Beef Hamburgers, ($4.85)

Ingredients:

1 lb. ground beef ($2)

1 can chicken broth ($ .90)

1 package hamburger buns ($1.15)

Condiments – ketchup, mustard, pickles, tomatoes, etc. ($ .80)

 

Directions:

Brown ground beef with the chicken broth. Do not over cook. Drain well and serve on buns with condiments. Serve with a salad or other vegetable. Note: the beef should be loose, not shaped into a patty like most hamburgers.

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Chef Salad

What is a food coop? The first time I saw that written down I was seriously confused. A food coop? Of course, I pronounced it coop like a chicken coop. Logical right?

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Well, it’s actually called a food co-op, or a food co-operation. It took me awhile to finally join one because I had to go pick up the food on a Saturday morning! I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of my Saturday morning, especially some lousy produce. I finally caved, though, and I am so glad that I did.

So, what is a food co-op? Here’s how I like to explain it: A whole bunch of people get together and buy a bunch of fruits and vegetables in bulk straight from where it grows. This makes it cheaper in two ways, 1- there is no middle man, and 2- buying in bulk is almost always cheaper. Now, the people that “get together” usually don’t physically get together. Usually you can sign up for a food co-op online. Many food co-ops get local produce, but not all of them do. Sometimes, most of the food is local, but not all of it. Check with your food co-op to find out more about where the food comes from.

If you are dedicated to buying only local produce, another great option is a CSA. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Basically, you give money to a farm in your area at the beginning of the growing season (this gives them the money they need at the beginning to buy seeds, equipment, etc.). Later, when the fruits and vegetables are harvested, you get to take home a specified amount every week, every other week, or every month. This option is typically more expensive than a food co-op, but you can guarantee that the produce is local and/or organic.

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To find a food co-op in your area, just google “food co-op + your state”. There are 3 main food co-ops in my state, with a few smaller ones. The 3 main food co-ops have locations all over the state. One of them guarantees local produce. From my food co-op, I buy one share of produce every 2 weeks. It costs $32 and is plenty for my family of four for a whole month. If you are looking for a CSA, just google “CSA + your state.”

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Now that I’ve gone on and on about yummy produce, let me give you the recipe for the day. This one is over $5, but it’s still “about” $5, especially if you get your produce cheaper because you have a food co-op!

Chef Salad, $5.50

½ head of chopped iceberg or romaine lettuce ($1.25)

½ lb. cubed deli ham, chicken, or turkey ($2)

2 sliced hard boiled eggs ($.20)

2 sliced carrots ($. 30)

1 sliced cucumber ($ .50)

1 sliced tomato ($ .75)

½ C of your favorite salad dressing. ($ .50)

Toss all ingredients except the dressing together. Pour salad dressing over and serve. Feel free to add some extra cheese if you have some, but the cheese does put it over my “about” $5 limit.

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Simple Goulash

Sometimes I just want to be a super mom. That’s not too much to ask, right? I know super heroes don’t really exist, but we all like to pretend they do. Why can’t I pretend that someday I’ll be a super mom? I just want my house to be sparkling clean, all laundry to be impeccably washed and neatly folded, my children to be smiling and playing nicely, dinners to be gourmet extraordinaire, etc., etc.

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Maybe it sounds silly, but that dream is what keeps me going on days where nothing seems to be going right. I just think, “Today is imperfect, but tomorrow I can put on a smile and try to be a super mom again.” I get such a sense of accomplishment when things do go right. “Yes! I got all the laundry done and I mopped the kitchen floors. Yes! My children have been playing happily for 2 hours and my bathroom is sparkling clean and I even made the beds before breakfast.”

My dream doesn’t make me feel horrible that I can never do it all (because sometimes I have done it all, and those days feel great). My dream gives me something to aspire to. It gives me purpose when I’m feeling down. I want to be the best that I can be and each day I am given a chance to be a little better.

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Cooking dinners every night has made me feel more like a super mom. It makes me feel one step closer to my ultimate goal. Saving more money on food is just the icing on the cake. Each night as I put the dinner on the table I feel so darn accomplished. I love that feeling. Is it normal for it to be so rewarding to make dinner? I mean, it’s not like it’s actually that hard (okay, some days it is). No matter how difficult or time consuming or frustrating it is, I feel so great by the end. I can always put food on the table and think, “I made that. I’m kind of a super mom.”

Surprisingly, I don’t feel this way about the dishes. That’s the one household task that I just can’t seem to make myself feel good about. I guess that’ll be my last step to becoming a super mom. 🙂

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Today’s dinner is a very simple goulash. There is another goulash coming up, but this one is as easy as it gets.

Simple Goulash, $5

Ingredients:

1 lb. ground beef ($2)

1/2 bag elbow macaroni, cooked and drained ($1.25)

1/2 – 1 Jar spaghetti sauce ($1)

5-6 Sliced mushrooms ($ .65)

a pinch of brown sugar ($ .10)

Directions: Brown ground beef. Add cooked elbow macaroni, spaghetti sauce, mushrooms, and a pinch of brown sugar.

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Easy Chicken Teriyaki

I am the mom of a beautiful family of four. Recently my baby just turned one and has started eating the same foods as the rest of us. Is it normal for there to be a noticeable difference in the money we spend now that my ONE year old is eating???? Granted I have been making dinner every night recently and this is something I’ve never been great at, so maybe that’s the reason for the rise in spending. 🙂

Either way, there have been some pretty big job changes in our family recently. Ones that make it super important for me to cook every night AND stay within a pretty tight food budget. Do you think I can do it? My goal is $200 a month for a family of 4 (2 adults and 2 children). I plan to use that money for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I will try to save as much as I can by buying things that we use a lot (like chicken, ground beef, pasta, rice, etc.) when they are on sale. I also plan to buy produce from a food co-op. Enough produce for our family for the whole month is only $32!! Lastly, I plan to make some cheap-o dinners that are also easy.

On that note, this blog is born. I will post a bunch of meals that are around $5 or less for at least 4 people. I’ll post pictures, too as I start making these things. Here is recipe #1 including the cost breakdown to keep it under $5. You’ll want to add a vegetable and/or fruit to make this meal balanced, but if you’re like me, you already have a bunch of produce you can supplement the meal with from your food co-op.

Easy Teriyaki Chicken, ($5.25)
Ingredients:
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts ($3)
2 C teriyaki sauce ($1.50)
Cooked Rice ($.75)

Directions: Marinate chicken in teriyaki sauce for at least 30 min. Grill or bake chicken. Serve with cooked rice.

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Hello world!

This is my very first post ever on wordpress! I can’t wait to get started.

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