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Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Next Step in Planning to Keep Grocery Spending Within Budget

After making out my just-the-basics grocery list for March, along with a plan for sticking to it, I spent about 10 minutes brainstorming more of the details. In this brainstorm, I just listed a few suggestions for each category. Here are my categories for items to make ahead: breakfasts, casseroles, soups, treats, and breads.

And this is what I came up with in about 10 minutes.

brainstorming breakfasts that I can make ahead
**pancakes (double batch a couple of times in the month, for the freezer)
**boiled eggs
**trail mix (easier to make than granola, but it can have granola chunks in it, if I want to add grains)

brainstorming casseroles that I can make ahead
ham and pasta with creamy sauce and green veg (broccoli?)
**ham fried rice with carrots, onions, cabbage (do 2 for freezer)
ham and potato casserole
**ham, cheese and egg strata, with bread (do 2 for freezer)

brainstorming soups I can make ahead
**lentil soup, using ham bone
vegetable-noodle with either chicken or beef
**chili con carne

brainstorming treats that I can make ahead
magic bars
English toffee
**almond bark
**banana muffins
toffee schnecken
cookie dough for the freezer

homemade breads that I can keep in stock
**French bread
**whole wheat sandwich
**scones (dough for the freezer? or baked ahead?)
dinner rolls

Once I made my lists, I went through and double-starred two or three from each category. These starred items are the ones that I feel will be the most do-able for me, this month. From what I had planned, as was outlined in yesterday's post, combined with this more detailed plan, I now have some very concrete ideas to help me stick to a "basics" grocery list.

Avoiding Editing My Thoughts
Okay, so remember my rule yesterday, to include ideas that might not even work? That's all part of brainstorming. I probably will not make toast ahead of time.

I don't edit my thoughts while brainstorming; because if I did, the whole process would slow down and I might miss something valuable. Who knows, now that I've even thought about making toast ahead of time, I might also some day figure out a way to make that do-able and tasty.

Asking for Input
There's one last step to this planning -- asking for feedback. This is where you all get to tell me your suggestions!! My ears are open for suggestions in any of the areas of breakfasts, casseroles, soups, treats, and breads. If you were operating with a rather generic pantry, fridge and freezer, what would you add to my list? (It's usually my daughters who give me their input. Today I'm reaching out to you.)

*Wednesday afternoon I baked a ham; that's where the ham-theme in the casseroles and soup originated.


  1. Lili, some ideas: French toast, quiche (can be for bfst or dinner), tuna casserole, tettrazini, chicken divan, pasta with sauce, bean soup, bean burgers, pizza dough to freeze?

    1. I was going to mention French toast, too. It's easy to bake an extra loaf of bread and make up a whole batch at once. It reheats well.

    2. Hi Carol and Busy Bee,
      I had no idea that you could make ahead French toast, to freeze. I'm definitely going to do that, as it would be denser, nutrient-wise, with the added egg and milk, and it doesn't have to be sweet, so my non-sweet eating kid will eat this.
      Going on my list! Thank you, both!

      I need to get back to keeping pizza dough in the freezer. That is handy, as the pizza dough can sub for French bread dough, if we suddenly run out of bread.

      Thanks for the ideas!

    3. I also make double batches of waffles and freeze with wax paper in between. I store the "used" wax paper sheets in the bag with the remaining waffles, avoids washing.

    4. I occasionally make extra waffles, but I only have a 2-waffle electric iron. I also have a stove-top waffle iron, but I don't use that one very often.

  2. I think the problem I have with advanced planning is I don't know what my pantry, garden, and shopping options are too far in advance. I prioritize use of our supplies to avoid waste and everything is bought at the lowest possible cost or we don't eat it. The exception are a few items that I buy regularly at warehouse clubs and local ethnic stores because we like to have them on hand and I am confident the prices are lowest. But other than these few staple items, everything else in our pantry or freezer is dependent on clearance type deals and what is growing and ready to harvest. That's almost necessary to keep our food cost down. Also, it is just husband and me so we can be extremely flexible. As long as we have our daily nutritious side dishes (which include quinoa, natto, bean patty cakes, seasoned homegrown sprouts and garden greens like kale and swiss chard, and kim chee, which is a probiotic) for insurance, we can eat according to whatever else we find that is a bargain. So we're still working our way through about a dozen salmon pouches leftover from our trip over a year ago, two cases of garlic pickles bought at .45/24oz jar, and assorted teas FAR that are expiring soon. I need to think of how to use these, rather than what we like to eat. Also there are frozen squashes and other veggies from last year that should be eaten soon.

    I don't think I've been much help to your planning process, as my mind is only thinking...use what is cheapest, available and going bad first.

    Have a good day!!


    1. Hi YHF,
      well, I never know what I'll have a month in advance, either. What I do know is that I can make certain types of dishes, like enchiladas or pasta, with a wide variety of ingredients. enchiladas don't have to have the traditional chicken, beef or cheese, but can be filled with whatever leafy green I have in the garden, mixed with brown rice and seasonings. And pasta can be cooked noodles with whatever meat or veggie I have, plus garlic. So, in that sense, I could plan a year ahead, if I wanted to, since I always have pasta in the house, and I often buy corn tortillas, because they're cheaper than flour.

      That's a lot of garlic pickles!! Your husband likes pickles, though, right? Does the salmon have an expiration date on it? Or do you have it in the freezer? Is this smoked salmon? I've kept smoked salmon in the freezer for over a year, and it's tasted just as good as when it was new. Just an FYI, in case you are nearing expiry on those.

      It sounds like you could practically forgo grocery shopping for a month or more, if you had to. Your pantry and freezer are an insurance policy, of sorts.

      Have a great day, YHF!

    2. The salmon foil pouches expire in September and November this year, and the spicy garlic pickles expire in July 2018, so I'm not in a real hurry, but these were bought on clearance in a larger quantity than I would normally like to have on hand. My husband is very picky about pickles, lol about the pun, but this got his thumbs up. We bought one of the two pack jars for .91 and tasted it at our car before returning to buy the cases. I liked the wide mouth jars for my dehydration project, so having so many same sized jars was another reason. Lately, Sams Club and Costco has been offering some good clearances, like .91 for 30 oz of Ghiradelli dark chocolate melts. We have more time than money as they say so bargain hunting is how we stock up. If I need a particular ingredient to make a recipe, I don't make it until the item is on sale or better. I'm still waiting for a deal on raisins and coriander to make a particular recipe.


    3. Oops it is probably unclear writing. I meant the teas are expiring soon. Five boxes have already expired in January and February, plus eight more boxes expiring in a few months. These are herbal chai teas, unopened, so I am thinking perhaps these are still ok. My husband didn't care for the herbal aroma and the minute we bought green tea, he stopped drinking the herbal ones. I don't care for hot tea, maybe I'll try making gelatin with them, but for some reason I haven't yet. Maybe today.


  3. When I read make-ahead-toast, I wondered how you did that. I had to read to the end to see that your thoughts were along the same line as mine. :)

    1. Hi live and learn,
      wouldn't that be the funniest thing -- if they sold ready-made toast in the freezer section, in individual pouches (to increase all of the waste), and to reheat in your, of all things, toaster?!

  4. I think I'm a lot like YHF in that we utilize a lot of clearance type foods so options are limited. I also don't want too much pre-made food around for just the two of us. When the kids were home and bread didn't rise properly and baked into a hard mass, I would make baked french toast and they gobbled that down. I also like making waffles to freeze and then put into the toaster. I've made breakfast burritos for the freezer but we just don't eat them fast enough. I also don't make a lot of soup to freeze. I find that thawing it takes a lot of time so putting together a fresh pot is easier for me.

    Breakfast's can't be simpler--a bowl of cereal, an egg on toast, or oatmeal in the microwave. We rarely need other options. Lunches are carried for the most part and those are easy too--sandwiches, leftovers, salads. My preference is that we don't need a "hot" lunch all the time but we do need a "hot" supper.

    We often go to the store on Sat. mornings and look for red tags which are discounted foods. Those are the things that need to be used quickly or frozen. From that we make our menus. Some stores don't discount anymore but a few do and those are the ones we hit. They discount other days but Saturdays are my day off.


    1. Hi Alice,
      Breakfasts are to-go meals for most in our house. If my stores have a dedicated mark-down day, I haven't picked up on it. It seems to be hit or miss for us. And although I really like Fred Meyer for a lot of items, their marked down meat is more expensive than Cash & Carry. The best places for meat markdowns seems to be the most expensive grocery store in my area. That's where I find bacon marked down. But as it's the most expensive grocery store in my area, I only go there a couple of times per year. They do have a great deal on ham every year at Christmas and Easter.

      I try for hot dinners every night, except in summer, when we do a lot of main dish salads.
      Have a great day, Alice!

  5. Egg salad, fruit salad, banana pancakes, baked potato night, potato salad, hash brown casserole or potatoes augratin or scalloped, cole slaw, stirfry, vegetable lasagna, vegetable chili, vegetable fried rice, are just some of the things I thought of. :)

    1. Thank you, Belinda!
      Fried rice is one of my favorite, easy to make dishes. It always tastes great, and dirties just one pan, assuming I already have cooked rice on hand. And I love vegetable lasagna in early spring, when my garden produces kale. I use the kale in place of broccoli or spinach, as are called for in so many veggie lasagna recipes.
      I love the list -- lots of inspiration to draw from it!
      Have a great day, Belinda!

  6. We keep breakfast simple on weekdays--my list is similar to Alice's. One thing I'd like to try, but haven't yet, is overnight oatmeal (in the fridge--here's a link although I'm sure there are other ways to make it: I also do crockpot oatmeal--it's easy to set up but cleanup is a bit of a bear, and I'm not a fan of those plastic crockpot liners. Lunches are sandwiches plus fruit/veg and a snack, or leftovers. I think it says something about me (not in a good way ... ) that I am always planning our next fun treat. Ha. In our house, we have the non-scientific opinion that many soups taste better when made ahead (even if they are frozen), in particular, pea soup with ham. I'm not sure everyone's suggestions inspire me to cook--mostly I want to stop in at everyone's homes and mooch dinner! ;)

    1. Hi Kris,
      One daughter really likes oatmeal. She makes her lunch the evening before. I'll check out that recipe and see if she would like this, as that would provide an oatmeal breakfast that she could do ahead. I make steel cut oats in the crockpot on weekends, and always have leftovers to use during the week. My crockpot doesn't get to bad. Do you use extra water in your crockpot oatmeal? My oats are slightly "wetter" than if I'd made them on the stove-top. The crock doesn't get too bad. I use a scrubby to clean it out, and the cleaning is a breeze.

      I hope your day is a good one, Kris!

    2. My steel cut oats crockpot recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups oats to 6 cups of liquid, so it is wetter than stovetop. I find it gets sticky on the crock after I cook it, but my kids (especially my daughter) think it's a treat (I try to have a variety of toppings--fruits, maybe nuts ...).

      I think there are overnight fridge oatmeal recipes all over the internet and she could tweak her oatmeal to her personal tastes. To me, it sounds most appealing on a hot summer day.

  7. Oh, OK, Kris. Let's do that. I be there shortly. What's on the menu tonight? Nothings on my menu so nobody come over!


    1. I think you live close enough to me that we could pull that off! But we need to be out the door by 5:30 to get to my son's high school orientation. We are having red beans and rice (with sausage) and we always have a lot. Aldi had asparagus on sale this week so that will be my veggie. :)

    2. How much was the asparagus per pound at Aldi? I know that you're prices would be different from ours, but I kind of judge lowest possible price based on prices in other places of the US. Asparagus has such a short season for optimal pricing, here. I try to use as much as I can in that brief window.

    3. It was $1.39/pound--usually I try to stick with produce in-season, but this is the time of year when sometimes I break out of that to give my menus a little "sunshine". We get 2 meals out of that amount of asparagus. I'm not sure what my husband pays for it when it's in season at the farm market, but we live near where it is commercially grown (and shipped to the rest of the country) so I'm sure he gets it for a much better price than what I just paid. :)

  8. The overnight oats are good :) We have not done those in awhile. We do french toast sticks AKA french toast in slices really portable. I also have not made in a while
    but egg pockets using bread dough stuffed with eggs,cheese, hot dogs also good stuffed with fruit.Also can use pie dough. Grilled peanut butter and jelly sammy yum. Ham and egg sammy dipped in egg and grilled, can add cheese. Love your ideas and thinking process I have not been online as much the last couple of days my eyes have really been bothering me(dry and itchy0 I have an appt next week finally with the thyroid doc maybe that or I started taking Vit. D maybe that? I have stopped the D. Anyway great post. Less screen time for me is better right now.
    Have a blessed night.

    1. Hi Patti,
      I hope whatever is bothering your eyes improves soon. I do know that when I spend too much time looking at the computer screen, my eyes begin to bother me. I hope your doctor can sort this out quickly.

      I have never tried a grilled PBJ. It sounds interesting. It might improve the texture of day old homemade whole wheat bread, too. Thanks for the ideas, Patti!
      Have a lovely weekend!

  9. Lots of good suggestions here. I love having a ham bone available. I saw that Kris mentioned split pea soup using one. I've never made that before, but like the 10 bean soup or ham bone soup. Ham bone soup is basically ham and vegetable soup. In addition to the usual veggies (corn, onion, celery, tomatoes, beans, peas) I like to include those that often are served with ham-sweet potatoes, cabbage and black eyed peas. Yum. So good in that ham broth and-yes Kris-it's even better the next day.

    1. Hi Lynn,
      Ham bone soup sounds delicious, especially with cabbage and black eyed peas. Yum! I may make a ham broth and vegetable soup, too.
      Thank you for the suggestion!

      Have a wonderful weekend, Lynn!

    2. You too Lili! We like our sweet potatoes and black eyed peas down here in the South:)

  10. So many great ideas! I saw rice and beans mentioned already, I second that and suggest Caribbean-style. The coconut milk in it isn't overly strong and is a nice change of pace. I also like to keep plain yogurt on hand. It's great for breakfast topped with a little fruit or nuts/seeds, or mixed with cereal or granola, and it's handy to thicken up a creamy sauce or add to soup as a garnish.

    For breakfast, I often like to have baked oatmeal. My favorite is pumpkin pie baked oatmeal. It's quite healthy but really does taste like pumpkin pie. Different texture, of course! You can make it ahead and eat it out of hand if you're in a hurry, or heat it up and add milk/yogurt/cream and any toppings. I've found individual portions freeze well and are handy for snacks.


    1. Hi Ushuaia,
      I've never heard o a Caribbean-style rice and beans. I'll have to google that, as it sounds interesting. I do have unsweetened coconut for making coconut milk, so it's a possibility.

      I have read about baked oatmeal a few times, but have never made it. That's great to know that it is freezable. Another thing to be made ahead! Thanks, Ushuaia.
      Have a lovely weekend!

  11. In the Caribbean it's called rice and peas for some reason. A friend from Trinidad told me just to use red kidney beans rather than try to find the red beans they traditionally use. She didn't give me a recipe, just told me how to make it. This link is very close to what she described, except rather than add chopped onion, she takes a couple of green onions and smashes the bulbs a bit before adding to the pot (removing before serving.) The scotch bonnet is meant to add flavor and not heat, so don't cut it. And be sure not to boil the pot after adding the bonnet because you don't want it to burst (unless you really like heat!)
    If you decide to try it, I hope you enjoy it!

    There are lots of baked oatmeal recipes around, but I can definitely vouch for the pumpkin pie one over on the Budget Bytes website.



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