Quick and Easy Shortcuts to Save Time in the Kitchen

Beef Tacos with Cheese Salad and GuacamoleCooking every day can be one of the biggest drains of our time. At the same time, cooking meals at home is one of the biggest money savers we can find. Let’s face it, some expenses are fixed: rent or mortgages, car payments, cell phone plans, insurance payments. Our food budget is one area that we have some control over, so if we can make our time in the kitchen more efficient, we are well on our way to saving money:

1) Prepping Ground Beef

Ground beef is the basis of a myriad of recipes, but browning it is one of the most time consuming parts of the prep. If you buy ground beef in bulk, consider browning it when you get home. You’ll only have to spend that time once, instead of for each meal, PLUS you get the benefit of not having to use that gas or electricity over and over again. If you tend to use recipes that ask for onions or peppers to be cooked with your beef, make sure to have those on hand so you can do that as well. In a pinch, you can use dried, minced onion instead of fresh. Freeze the cooked ground beef in freezer bags in meal sized portions, and you will have the base of many recipes ready to go. Think how quickly you could throw together tacos or even simple Hamburger Helper on a busy weeknight when the meat is ready to go!

2) Chopping Veggies

Many recipes call for diced onion and/ or peppers. All that dicing takes some time! The good news? These two veggies freeze super well. If you find a deal on buying these items in bulk, make a plan to chop them all at once shortly after purchase. Freeze them in freezer bags in portions you use commonly for recipes, and you have a head start next time a recipe calls for either of these items. In many instances, you can dump the frozen veggies directly into the dish you are preparing. They break up fairly easily when frozen, and will cook right along with your other ingredients straight from frozen in the oven or on the stove. They are also perfect for throwing into omelets, sauces, and the like.

3) Prepping Chicken

As with ground beef, cooking chicken all at once for use in your recipes is a great time saver. I like to take bulk chicken and boil it, then shred or chop it. I put it in freezer safe bags, freeze it and then just pop it out of the freezer for use in dishes such as barbecue chicken sandwiches, chicken fettuccine, chicken salads, casseroles, and so on. Meals come together in minutes when the meat is ready to go!

4) Ham

I love ham and bean soup, ham salad, scalloped potatoes and ham, etc. When the grocery stores offer holiday deals on ham, I like to buy a couple, bake them and chop them into portions I can use for these meals later.

Photo Credit: iClipart

5 Meal Planning Tips for the Frugal Family

5 Frugal Meal Planning Tips

Meal planning can be a difficult task, especially for busy families. If you’re trying to lower your food budget, it may seem ideal to plan your weekly menu based on the items for sale at the grocery store—but it’s also not something you may be able to practice on a regular basis. Here are some great frugal meal-planning tips that can help you stay within budget:

1) Keep your pantry well stocked.

Your pantry may be overflowing with goods acquired from couponing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve got a well-stocked pantry. Make sure that you’ve got the basics on hand so you can throw together a meal at any given time. Have items such as onions, garlic, potatoes, canned tomatoes, pasta, rice and beans readily available. Also have fruits, vegetables, chicken and beef at all times.

2) Plan meals based on what’s in your kitchen.

At least once a week, carefully inspect the contents of your refrigerator, freezer and pantry. Practice a little creativity and resourcefulness to come up with dishes using the items already in your kitchen. Not only will you keep things from going to waste, but you may just also save yourself a trip to the grocery store.

3) Try making dishes you would eat elsewhere.

If your kids really love pizza, then why not make some homemade pizza instead of calling for delivery? There are plenty of scrumptious recipes on the Internet just waiting to be tried—so be adventurous and try the ones that sound good to you. Homemade dishes are not only cheaper, but much healthier, too!

4) Use your slow cooker.

Many households blow their budget on Chinese takeout or pizza delivery because there’s no time to put dinner together. A slow cooker is not only a time-saver, but a cost-saver, too. It may require some planning ahead of time, but it will definitely help you avoid that sense of panic that arises when dinnertime nears and you’ve got nothing cooking.

5) Overcook.

There’s nothing shameful about serving leftovers to your family. Overcook a few days in a row and you’ll likely have enough leftovers for at least one full meal. If you’re coming home late (or won’t be home to cook for your family), the family can simply reheat the leftovers instead of settling for fast food or ordering in.

I highly recommend Plan to Eat for a great place to store all your favorite recipes! Check it out with a free trial and see how easy it is to add recipes from the Internet, plan meals for your family and even print out a handy grocery list.

Photo Credit: iClipart

Menu Plan Monday ~ June 11th

We’ve had record setting levels of rain over the weekend along the gulf coast and we’re having problems getting out down our six mile long dirt road which is no fun at all!  I’m very happy to have a freezer full of home cooked meals so I don’t have to worry about running out for any ingredients 😉

Monday – Spaghetti & Meatballs

Tuesday – Lemon Pepper Chicken

WednesdayBeef Fajitas

ThursdayOven Fried Parmesan Chicken

FridayDate night – dinner out!

Saturday – Club Sandwiches & Baked Fries

SundayChicken Nuggets

My meal plan is listed at OrgJunkie.com!

The Organized Cook Weekly Meal Plan & Twitter Party


Get Weekly Meal Plans sent to your email

When I started couponing I was amazed at how much money I could save on our grocery budget and I really thought I had it going on and had lowered expenses as much as possible.  Then I was introduced to meal planning and was shocked at how much more it saves us each month because there is so much less waste since we’re planning our meals around things we already have on hand and not buying ingredients we don’t need.  Honestly though, the best result that has come from planning our meals for the week in advance is the greatly reduced stress level.  We no longer have to start worrying about what’s for supper right before picking up the kids from school, and stress over what might thaw out in time.

Well now there’s help for those of us who would really like to benefit from a weekly meal plan but don’t really know where to start, or don’t have the time to set one up.  Or maybe you’re like me and just need some help adding variety to the menu!  Toni Spilsbury, author of The Organized Cook, can provide you with weekly meal plans that will help save you valuable time and money while providing your family with healthy meals and reducing your stress level.

Now you also have a chance to win a $100 Visa gift card to spend on groceries (or however you’d like), one of three copies of The Organized Cook Cookbook, or one of three year long subscriptions to the Weekly Meal Plan System from The Organized Cook – all you have to do is attend the Spooktacular Fall Favorites Twitter Party on October 20, 2011 at 10-11 PM EST, 9-10 PM CST, 8-9 PM MST, 7-8 PM PST.  Head on over to RSVP for the Twitter party and join hosts @OrganizedCook, @tonispilsbury, @chaotic_barb, & @Noelski33 and panelists @lovelalagirl, @sdenise (that’s me!), and @monkeytoesshoes for some fun, easy and creative ways to prepare fabulous fall meals!  I’m looking forward to seeing you there!

Disclosure – I am a compensated as a panelist for the Twitter party, however all thoughts and comments are completely my own.

It’s Freezer Cooking Day!

It’s been awhile since our last freezer cooking day because we had company from out of town for a couple weeks then I went out of town for a few days, so we bought $77 worth of meat at Sam’s Club yesterday and we’ve been going to town slicing and zesting today!  It does feel good to be doing something productive today after spinning my wheels all day yesterday 😉 Here’s what we’re making today:

Egg Rolls – I LOVE egg rolls but we’ve got some picky eaters in the house so the easiest thing to do is make our own in big batches then freeze them and just fry them up as needed.

Crock Pot Honey Ham – when you’re feeding a big family like ours it just doesn’t pay to buy slices of ham so we bought a whole cooked ham and cut it up into six meal sized portions.  Then we studd them with cloves and vacuum seal them for the freezer.  When you’re ready to make one just pop it in the crockpot in the morning, drizzle it with honey and heat it on low until supper time.

Chicken Fried Rice – we bought 24 chicken thighs at Sam’s yesterday for $9.79 and I’ve got 10 of them cooking in the crockpot right now.  I’ll pull the meat off the bones once it has cooled and mix it in with the 12 cups of cooked rice sitting on the stove and a bag of frozen peas and carrots.  We’ll have some of that for supper and divide up the rest into four more meals for the freezer.  When you’re ready to prepare them just scramble an egg in a skillet, add the chicken and rice mixture, two tablespoons of soy sauce and stir fry.  Yum!

Sweet & Tangy Flank Steak – we’ve divided up the flank steak into four meal sized portions and vacuum sealed them in a tangy soy sauce and brown sugar marinade.  I’ll get the recipe posted a little later on today 😉

Citrus Marinated Pork Chops – the only boneless pork chops they had at Sam’s were very thick so we cut them each into two slices and have vacuum sealed two meal sized bags in a marinade made from the juice and zest of limes, lemons, and oranges mixed with balsamic vinegar, honey and Dijon mustard.  It smells wonderful in here right now! 

Lime & Honey Chicken Thighs – the remaining 14 chicken thighs were divided up into two meal sized portions and have been vacuum sealed in a marinade of honey, lime, ginger and garlic.

Garlic Bread – I bought two huge loaves of French bread for $3 yesterday and have cut each in half.  Next I cut them in one inch slices almost all the way to the bottom and coated them with a mixture of melted butter and minced garlic.  The best way to store these is to first wrap them tightly in plastic wrap to keep the air out, then wrap again in aluminum foil.  When you’re ready to make some remove the plastic, re-wrap in the aluminum and heat the frozen bread in the oven at 375 degrees for 20-30 mins.

Introduction to Freezer Cooking

Freezer cooking is the process of preparing multiple meals in advance to be stored in the freezer until the future date when you plan to serve them, like this simple lemon chicken that my family devoured.  You can make one extra meal for the freezer or thirty, it’s up to you and your schedule, but the benefits of cooking in bulk are huge.  Making multiple meals will save you both time and money – and for my family of seven it’s become a real life (and sanity) saver!  It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to check the freezer inventory list and see a nice selection of prepared meals that can be ready with very little effort.

Whether you’re doubling a recipe with a plan to freeze the leftovers, or you intend to cook ahead for the next month, planning is the key to a successful freezer cooking day.  You’ll need to make a list of all the recipes that want to prepare, plus another list of all the ingredients that you’ll need.  Your next step is to compare the list with the items in your pantry or stockpile, and mark off the things that you already have.  If you’re new to freezer cooking, try starting out small so you don’t get overwhelmed.  For example, with five children under six running around our house, we rarely get many productive hours in a row so we like to plan half days where we make 12-15 meals at a time. 

To get ready for our freezer cooking days, I typically select seven entrée recipes, adjust the ingredients to feed our large family, then double each one so that we end up with fourteen meals.  I choose similar recipes, like all beef or all chicken meals, which really helps to speed up the process.  Visit these freezer cooking recipe sites for some inspiration on meals your family will enjoy, and start bookmarking or printing them so you’ll be ready for my next freezer cooking post on how to prep for the big day!

Friendly Freezer – bulk cooking Yahoo group.

Frozen Assets – cook for a day, eat for a month Yahoo group.

Make Ahead Meals – Yahoo group for make ahead, freezer and mega meals.

Organized Home Freezer Cookbook – freezer cooking recipes.

RecipeZaar – cooking on a budget, make ahead, and freezer cooking forum.

PlanToEat.com Giveaway Winner

Plan To Eat!

We have a winner in our PlanToEat.com annual membership giveaway, but remember you can still try it for free for a month even if you didn’t win 🙂  I’m still amazed at how much MORE money we’re saving a month with meal planning so I’d highly recommend trying it out.  In the meanwhile, our lucky winner is . . .

Jessica, who said “I like you on facebook” and her “favorite recipe right now is for General Tso’s Chicken and Chicken Fried Rice. My family goes crazy for it every time I make it. It has a lot of steps and ingredients but so worth it and cheaper than take out.”

That sounds wonderful Jessica – are you willing to share the recipe? 😉

PlanToEat.com Review and Giveaway

A little over a month ago I signed up for a few different recipe websites in an effort to have better organized and less stressful meals.  I really wanted to like SpringPad because it’s free and you can keep track of practically anything and everything there, but it didn’t really suit my meal planning needs.  You can upload recipes and print grocery lists, but it’s more of a place to keep track of bookmarks than a serious recipe or meal planning website. 

On the other hand, I really fell in love with PlanToEat!  Their service is free for the first month then is $4.95 a month, or $39 a year after that.  I figured I’d give it a try for the free 30 days and see if it was really worth the money when there are other free services out there and I was very pleasantly surprised.  In fact, I’ve come to depend on PlanToEat because it’s made mealtime much easier around here!  There are a few sample recipes already in your account when you signup, and it’s super easy to add new recipes of your own or from other websites.  You can also search for recipes from lots of major sites like MyRecipes.com, Epicurious.com and FoodNetwork.com and just click ‘import’ to add them to your recipe book.

My FAVORITE feature at PlanToEat is the menu planner – all you have to do is drag and drop your recipes onto the calendar, plus you can type in any notes like those fabulous nights the kids spend at mamaw’s 😉 .  I print the calendar and post a copy on the frig and keep a copy at my desk so I can always see at a glance what’s for supper.  I started out just keeping a copy for myself but my husband suggested posting a copy as well and he’s really been getting into it, I think he’s gotten addicted too 😉  Another benefit is being able to check the menu from elsewhere if I’m out and about and need to know what time I’ve got to start dinner.  Plus you can share your recipes with others – check out this yummy Lemon Chicken recipe that we made last week for the freezer!

The shopping list feature is also pretty cool.  Once you’ve planned your menu you can click on the shopping list and see all of the ingredients you need, then you can check off the items you already have in your pantry or stockpile and print a list of the rest to take to the store with you.

The PlanToEat service has really saved me time and energy and I’ve enjoyed it so much that I went ahead and paid for a year subscription PLUS I asked them if they’d hook one of you up with a year’s subscription too and they have graciously agreed!  Feel free to sign up for your own free month so you can check it out for yourself, and be sure to enter our giveaway for a free annual subscription.

One lucky reader is going to win an annual subscription to PlanToEat valued at $39!

How to enter – 7 different ways!

  • Leave a comment on this post telling us the name of your favorite recipe.   This entry is mandatory but you may also do any or all of the following for additional entries.  Leave a comment on this post for each entry so that all of your entries count.  The winner will be chosen at random at midnight CST on Friday July 16th.
  • Subscribe to Shopper Strategy by Email or RSS feed, or leave a comment that you already subscribe.
  • Follow me on Twitter @sdenise.
  • Tweet about this giveaway and include me @sdenise so that I can see it.
  • Like me on Facebook, or just say if you already do.
  • Like PlanToEat on Facebook, or just say if you already do.
  • Download our free coupon toolbar for TWO EXTRA ENTRIES.  Be sure to leave two comments!

Disclaimer:  I signed up for a free account at PlanToEat and made the decision to upgrade on my own.  PlanToEat graciously offered to provide the prize at my request.  All thoughts and comments are my own and I received no compensation for this post.