Eating on a Budget – The Simplicity of a Menu

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This last year has been a time of great change in our family lifestyle – at least as far as eating goes.  In July we found out that Chris likely had Celiac Disease and in August we fully removed gluten from our diet for a trial run to see if it would actually make a difference.  Within three weeks the results were absolutely life changing and we committed to a gluten-free lifestyle at home.  We’ll never go back.

Since then I have become more aware of whole-food (or clean) eating and we have slowly worked our way there.  It’s been a fairly simple transition, considering that gluten is in almost everything that is processed.  We have had to work hard to get where we are at and we certainly are not completely there.

I am fully convinced that (nutritionally) the best thing I can do for my family is provide an organic (non-GMO), gluten-free, whole food diet.

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For those of us who desire to tarry down this road there are two major roadblocks: Time and money.

Preparing whole foods can take much of the precious time that we would rather use in other areas, such as with our children, accomplishing tasks or even resting.  There is something to say about the simplicity of pancake mix and canned cream soups.

Then there is the financial obligation.  We have had to increase our food budget over the past year to accommodate our changes.  Let me tell you, gluten-free flours and foods are spendy!  And I’m bound and determined to ENJOY our food, not just get by with it.  So we have to get creative sometimes.

Aside from some small indulgences, such as tortilla chips, we are exempt from processed foods – and we try to keep processed foods to five ingredients or less.  Organic is another story.  Our greatest desire is to maintain an organic lifestyle, however each time I try to attempt it we don’t have enough food after all of the money is spent.  It’s easy to feel defeated and frustrated.  I’ve decided a different approach, though.  I have decided that we will attempt to eat as organic and local as possible, within our budget, where it is feasible.  Beyond that I will simply be THANKFUL that the Lord has given us the means to purchase food for my family.  I would much rather carry an attitude of gratitude than to sulk over what I think I do not have.  There is much more peace and thankfulness when I choose this outlook.

I still have found, however, that I can easily waste food.  Oftentimes I lose my vegetables because I pick ones that I think we’ll likely use rather than being sure we can utilize them in the two weeks between paychecks.  Or I buy four cans of corn and discover that I should have used the extra $1.50 to put toward canned olives.  You know the story – I’m sure the plague follows us all.  We finish the two weeks left with choices of strange concoctions, such as eggs, cheese, salmon, butter, broccoli, and sunflower seeds.  Sometimes you can come up with a wonderful new dish that becomes a staple and other times you find yourself praying that the meals pass quickly until payday arrives (I remember a particularly terrible meal early in our marriage that I created where I couldn’t stomach more than three bites when I got a call inviting us over for dinner.  God IS gracious).

Well, I have pondered all of this and have successfully entered a new phase of life – Menu Planning.  I have put it off for months, okay years, and finally broke down last month when I realized I needed to be more proactive with our budget.  We assign $350 each month to our grocery budget ($175 every two weeks).  I would love to get good enough with our menu to subtract some money from this amount, but for right now I found this to be a very workable budget with our dietary needs (no gluten).  I am playing with a few ideas to cut our budget, such as going meatless for one or two meals each week.  I think we can make this work!  If you are not gluten-free, I am sure that for a family of three or four you could easily feed on less… by at least fifty dollars.

I create our menu for every meal about a month in advance and purchase our food according to our needs, not what I think I may want to make over the next few days.  I’m still honing it all, but it’s wonderful to know that I can provide healthy, satisfying meals for my family, along with some diversity.  AND, what’s even better is waking up in the morning and not having to struggle with the age-old question, “What in the world am I going to make today?…”  I simply look at my handy-dandy menu and do what it says.  I am not, however, completely legalistic.  If one day I can’t manage to get the time to create a more time-consuming meal I can simply exchange it with another one later in the week.  We have the groceries for both.  I try not to do this except when I really feel it’s important because I create the menus with a plan.

All of this to say, I am very happy with the outcome and thought I would share my menu with you for the next month.  We’re halfway through the first week, but hopefully just seeing it will help encourage and inspire you to get creative, budget-friendly juices running.

Before I actually share the menu, I thought I would let you in on the “rules” with which I write my menu.  These are my lifesavers:

  • Everything is gluten-free
  • If you can make it from scratch, do so
  • We don’t do low-fat, fat-free, or items which alter the good nutrition that God created for our bodies to use as energy (this allows you to actually get full and avoid overeating.  Foods that have been altered mess with the way your body works and you end up eating more in the end.  (There are great articles on this at www.weedemandreap.com – love this blog!)
  • Plan according to the weather.  If it’s summer and hot, I will try to stick to as little baking as possible.  More grilling.  As winter comes, I foresee more casseroles in our dinners.
  • Eat according to the season.  Fresh, local produce is fabulous.  Especially if you happen to live in Spokane, Greenbluff is only a drive away.  Many farms (High Country Orchard is one of my favorites) carry extra veggies and fruits during the summer from local Washington farms that you may not be able to u-pick.  Better yet, grow it yourself and it’s even more cost-effective.  I’m looking forward to trying some squash/gourd-based meals this fall.  I recently found a great one for gnocchi that I can’t wait to try.
  • Use leftovers for lunch.  Simple as that.
  • You don’t have to have a full spread to have a satisfied body.  It’s okay to eat cheese, nuts and fruit for a meal.  I promise you’ll live.
  • We eat a lot of popcorn, as you will see.  I pop it fresh on the stove and store it in gallon-size baggies for snacks and dessert.  We don’t “dress it up” either.  Naked fresh popcorn is delicious!  No sodium (important to me while prego), only 20 calories per cup, and unprocessed.  Plus, it’s a whole grain.  Oh, and did I mention it’s super cheap?  A $2 bag lasts us two weeks.  Five stars!
  • Make a big meal ahead of time (usually on Sundays) to use throughout the week.  I will make a ham or turkey (we did a turkey two weeks ago) and freeze the meat to use throughout the week or month for meals.  Meal prep becomes much simpler this way.  Also, the special big meal makes it fun for family to enjoy together.
  • Never underestimate the potential of a full cut of meat.  Such as a whole turkey, chicken or ham.  Once you pull the meat off of that baby you can make stock.  I use chicken broth a ton for making creams and such and almost never purchase it anymore.  (I got seven quart-sized bags of turkey broth from the turkey – after using a bunch of it for a huge pot of it for turkey enchilada soup).  When we have bones, we make broth.
  • If there’s a busy day, plan for it.  We eat cereal on Thursday mornings because my mom keeps Noah for me on these days and I don’t want to worry about dishes.  Grilled pizza on Friday nights to celebrate the weekend (I’ll share the recipe later – you literally grill it outside for five minutes.  My favorite way to eat pizza).
  • Snack whole.  Fresh fruits and veggies are satisfying.  Nuts, seeds and raisins (which don’t have sugar or preservatives added like most other dried fruits) make great trail mix.  Add popcorn (see, there it is again), homemade granola, or other yummies to add variety.  Homemade popsicles made with fresh fruit, yogurt, and juices are delicious.  You get the idea.

That’s the main gist of it all.  I hope this is helpful for you.  If you want a recipe, let me know!  I’ll post it.  I don’t make anything I don’t love to eat, so it’s all good.

I am thankful for the opportunity to share this with you.  I have found myself more able to enjoy my family, stay within our budget, and having a more grateful heart to God for what He gives us through this process.  I hope you find the same.

6/23/13

Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Breakfast

PB Toast, Fruit, Milk

Yogurt, Granola, Strawberries

LO Sour Cream Choc. Muffins, Fruit

Eggs, fruit, LO Muffins

Cereal

Eggs, Turkey Bacon, Fruit

Pancakes

Lunch

Cheese, Apples, Nuts

Leftover Roast

Leftover Chicken

Fruit, Nuts, Raisins

Cheese, Fruit, Nuts

Leftover Beef Bulgogi

Leftover Grilled Pizza

Dinner

Roast Beef, Mashed  Potatoes, Salad, Sour Cream and Chive Rolls

Rotisserie Chicken, Green Beans, LO Mashed Potatoes

Hot Roast Beef Sandwiches, Sweet Potato Fries

Beef Bulgogi, Rice, Lettuce

Salmon Patties, Quinoa, Green Beans

Grilled Pizza, Fruit

BBQ Chicken

Snacks

Raisins, Cheese Slices, Veggies and Dip, Popcorn, Nuts, Chex Cereal

Desserts

Stovetop-Popped Popcorn, Organic Ice Cream

6/30/13

Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Breakfast

Sour Cream and Berry Muffins

Eggs, Turkey Bacon, Fruit

Yogurt, Granola, Fruit

Pancakes, Fruit (4th of July Theme)

Cereal

Eggs and Potatoes, Fruit

PB Toast, Fruit, Milk

Lunch

Cheese, Apples, Nuts

LO Pulled Pork

LO Taco Salad

LO Tostadas

LO Pasta Salad

LO Stuffed Bell Peppers

LO Grilled Pizza

Dinner

Pulled Pork, Buns, Salad

Taco Salad

Chicken Tostadas, Sweet Potato Fries

Pasta Salad

Stuffed Bell Peppers

Grilled Pizza, Fruit

Hamburgers, Sweet Potato Fries

Snacks

Raisins, Veggies and Dip, Popcorn, HM Applesauce, Chex Cereal, Nuts, HM Fruit Popcicles

Desserts

Stovetop-Popped Popcorn, Dipped Strawberries OR Strawberr-Meringue Shortcakes (TOH June/July) (for the 4th), HM Applesauce

7/7/13

Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Breakfast

HM GF Donuts, Fruit

Eggs, Fruit

LO Donuts, Fruit

Yogurt, Granola, Fruit

Cereal

Pancakes, Fruit

Banana Bread

Lunch

Fruit, Nuts

LO Salmon

LO Grilled Veggie Salad

LO Sesame Salad

Ham and Cheese slices, Fruit

LO Peppers

LO Pizza

Dinner

Fresh, Wild Salmon, Corn, Rice

Grilled Vegetable Quinoa Salad (TOH April/May)

Sesame Noodle Salad (TOH June/July)

BBQ Chicken, Fruit, Corn

Chicken Salad Stuffed Peppers (w/ LO Grilled Chx) (TOH June/July)

Grilled Pizza, Fruit

Nachos (Tortilla Chips, Meat, Sour Cream, Cheese, Avocado, etc)

Snacks

HM Applesauce, Raisins, Veggies and Dip, Nuts, Popcorn, HM GF Graham Crackers

Desserts

Stovetop-Popped Popcorn, Lemon Bars OR Lemon-Berry Ice Cream Pie (w/ Organic Ice Cream and HM Graham Crackers) (TOH June/July)

7/14/13

Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Breakfast

Quiche

Yogurt, Granola, Fruit

LO Banana Bread

LO Quiche

Cereal

Pancakes and Grapes

Oatmeal

Lunch

Fruit, Nuts

LO Ribs

LO Mac and Cheese

LO Ribs

LO Spaghetti

LO Sandwiches

LO Pizza

Dinner

Ribs, Coleslaw, Fruit

GF Mac and Cheese, Grilled Veggies

BBQ Chicken, Salad, Fruit

Spaghetti Squash Spaghetti

Tuna Salad Sandwiches

Grilled Pizza, Fruit, Grilled Veggies

Steaks, Sweet Potato Fries, Grilled Veggies

Snacks

Raisins, Veggies and Dip, Fresh-picked Cherries and Raspberries

Desserts

Stovetop-Popped Popcorn, Cherry Pie, Raspberry Sorbet (TOH June/July)

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2 responses »

    • Sam! That’s a great question! I meant to put it in the post and forgot… I’ll blame it on baby brain. They’re all personal notes (this literally is my menu for the next month), but they may be helpful. GF is Gluten-free, LO is Leftover, and HM is Homemade. TOH is Taste of Home – I get the magazine and like to try a few new recipes if there is anything that looks tasty! I reference the month next to the magazine shorthand so I know where to look (I adjust the recipes to fit our diet when necessary). You could look any of those up online on their website, I bet!

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