In my previous post, I talked about How I Save Big at the Grocery Store Without Coupons. I maximize those savings at home by using my supplies efficiently, and “stretching” the meats I buy into multiple recipes. One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that meat doesn’t have to be the main feature for every meal.
I was a little wary about doing this at first because my husband is a big meat-and-potatoes guy. I still make hearty, manly meals so we are all satisfied with enough for leftovers, and he has yet to complain.
I started doing this when I was working full time with a 45 minute commute each way, so it’s doable. I found time early in the morning, or after the kids went to bed, or on weekends when my husband could watch the kids while I did meal preps.
And I’m only talking about the time it takes to cook rice, noodles, and pre-cook meats. I cheat with frozen biscuits and frozen meatballs all the time. It’s not about being Betty Crocker! It’s about being practical and planning ahead so you can put meals together quickly later.
When I use ground beef, I brown it with chopped onion, salt and pepper and divide it into half pound portions. I know the catch phrase is “One Pound, One Pan, One Happy Family”, but if I eat large quantities of meat it doesn’t always sit well with my stomach. So I typically use just one half of a pound of beef at a time. Browning it with onion is great for flavoring and also helps “beef it up” if you will. Anything not used within a few days goes to the freezer for later use. I do the same thing with ground chicken or ground turkey.
I use one half of a pound of ground beef in:
- Beef Stroganoff
- mixed with refried beans for Tacos or Burritos
- mixed with Spaghetti to make a meat sauce
- Shepherd’s Pie
- Tater Tot Casserole
- Mixed with a white sauce to make Hamburger Gravy
- Mixed with diced potatoes/veg in Skillet Hash
One of my favorite meals to make is Roasted Chicken. I used to think that only sweet little old ladies at church knew how to make a roasted chicken and that it took all day, but it’s so easy! And you can buy a whole chicken at the store for about 5 or 6 bucks and get at least two meals out of it. My 6 year old is a picky eater and he asks for seconds and thirds when I make this. It cooks quickly, 1 or 2 hours depending on its size, and there are so many leftover possibilities!
- Chicken and Noodles (using leftover bones to make your own broth)
- Chicken Tetrazzini
- Chicken Alfredo
- Chicken, Rice and Broccoli Casserole
- Chicken Quesadillas
Your meals don’t have to be fancy. These are basic recipes in an old cookbook I have at home. I skip right over fancy spices and expensive items that I don’t have, if I have enough substitutes or remaining ingredients to still sensibly make something. And I always use generic products. My dinners are still awesome.
I typically just make two meals out of a roasted chicken because we like a meaty chicken and noodles, but you can easily make three or more depending on the other ingredients you have on hand. You can use frozen chicken breasts for all of the above recipe ideas.
I came across this wonderful recipe for a Slow Cooked Roast from the Living On A Dime website. It takes an inexpensive pot roast, one can of cream mushroom soup, and a sliced onion. That’s it, and it’s fabulous! You cook it on a low heat for 10-15 hours, so you can stick it in the oven overnight or put it in before you go to work. It is the best roast I’ve ever had. After we have the roast, we will eat BBQ beef sandwiches a night or two later, by just adding BBQ sauce.
And if you are on a tight budget, a big bag of potatoes is your best friend. They can be the main course or a side and they are cheap and easy to prepare a lot of different ways. With a bag of potatoes you can make:
- Mashed Potatoes
- Potato Salad
- Potato Soup
- Hash Brown (casserole)
- Oven Fries
- Fried Potatoes and Onions
- Baked Potatoes
- Scalloped Potatoes w/ham
A good rule of thumb is one potato per person, or two if you want leftovers to use later.
I also keep canned meats on hand for times that I run out of fresh meats or want something different. Canned tuna and canned chicken breast keep forever, and are quick and easy to throw into a casserole when needed. I also use them to make chicken or tuna salad for sandwiches.
I keep rice and noodles in stock (spaghetti, fetuccine, penne) because they are fast and easy and versatile as well.
I keep a just-add-water type of pancake or waffle mix ready as well. My boys love Brinner (breakfast for dinner) so if dinner is a rush, I can whip those up and cook some eggs to go with it. If I don’t have sausage or bacon, I just throw lunch meat in the pan as a substitute breakfast meat. Done. And if I make pancakes or waffles, I make a double or triple batch if I have time and freeze the rest to use as a quick morning breakfast.
And speaking of potatoes, you can replace meat altogether by having a baked potato night. You can chop up leftover chicken and serve it as a topping. Other toppings you’ll already likely have are butter, sour cream, salsa, shredded cheese, salt, pepper, or one of my favorites, cottage cheese. It’s a lean protein that I initially tried as a healthier substitute for sour cream and I loved it. Don’t knock it ’til you try it!
And give yourself a break once in a while. Have a leftover night, or a soup-and-sandwich night. There are usually enough leftovers to use up, and I never hear grumbles when I make grilled cheese.
Another helpful hint, the dollar stores are a great place to find spices and seasonings. I don’t use enough fresh basil or parsley to justify buying them fresh. You will get a bigger-than-average container of spices for a dollar each. They cost a lot more at the grocery store, and you don’t get near as much product. Dollar stores usually carry a wide variety of seasonings. Here are just a few of mine:
I have saved a ton of money by cooking at home after learning how to shop for good deals. We used to spend so much money eating out. It’s certainly easier. But it costs a fortune! It doesn’t mean that we never get to have any fun, we just plan for it.
To me, it doesn’t do a lot of good to work so hard to save money at the grocery store, and then eat out most of the time. By shopping wisely at the store and getting the most out of our groceries at home, I know we are getting more bang for our buck, and right now for me, that’s the name of the game. It’s one of the ways I’m able to ensure staying at home with the kids.
If you have any tips for getting more bang for your grocery buck, please share them!