So, since it's been so long, lets just jump right into our new series, shall we?
Gluten Free Once a Month Menu and Shopping Trip
Seriously ya'll, how exciting is this? I had this lovely inspiration because of Pinterest. I love LOVE love Pinterest! And there are all these great articles on there about saving money by cooking and shopping only once a month - Awesome! ... Except that all the recipes and advice is directed towards people who have no issues with Gluten.
Over the past three months I have been experimenting with a Gluten Free version and this is my first post in the series.
Since, we people who ride the Gluten Free/Celiac train know, eating Gluten Free often requires a few extra steps. This post is dedicated to the tips I've learned in making the entire process much easier and much simpler.
A few starting steps. Check your pantry, fridge and freezer to see what you currently have. Incorporate that into your monthly recipe roundup. (There is NO reason not to use up what you already have, attempting to go off a recipe line-up verbatim, it will just lead to wasted food and wasted money)
I highly recommend pulling everything out of your freezer. This does two things: it helps you to visualize how much space you have. (I have enough room for two months of meals and a little space left over.) And it helps you to know what you have in there (we all have that box of Popsicle's from last summer or that forgotten roast in there)
Take 4 sheets of paper and label them “breakfast” “lunch” “dinner” and “snacks”. (I don’t care how healthy you chose to eat, if you don’t budget for snacks you will over-spend in this area every. Single. Time.)
On the “lunch” and “dinner” papers write out 30 meals. I’ll give you a few examples of what I do. Bulk ground beef is cheaper where I live so 5lbs = 5 meals. I know I need at least 5 dishes using ground beef. I write out 5 numbers and fill that in. (Remember, this does not need to be in the order you will eat the meals. All you are doing is getting your meals down) Also some dishes will leave leftovers for other meals. Example: I make lasagna using 1lb of beef and I have 3 meals for myself and husband. I can put them all on the dinner page or two on the lunch page for take to work meals.
After you have your main entrée’s written out, add your sides next to them. For example: I serve at least 2 vegetables with every dinner, this serves two purposes: one, it helps get us eating more greens, two, the more sides, the less meat (which is usually the expensive part) in each meal. I try to serve the correct portions of meat (generally the size of your fist) this makes each purchase of meat go father. (remember men usually require more protein.)
Now onto your breakfast and snack pages. Everyone does breakfast differently so consider how your family eats. For my husband and myself, he has class at 7am. I don’t get home until after 11pm. He has a bowl of cereal before he goes to class and when he gets back around 930 or 10am I make a big breakfast. So we budget for cereal and “second breakfast”. I also don’t write out 30 separate meals for breakfast because I often make several batches of muffins and freeze them. Toss in a few dozen eggs and some bacon and our breakfasts don’t require 30 separate meal plans. Find out what works for you.
Now your snack plan. This is another page where I don’t write out 30 separate snacks. I make several different things, such as spinach chips, oat bars, a batch or two of something sweet, and maybe a new dessert recipe, I freeze whatever I bake since GF goods go bad so much quicker then non GF. I also have a “snack station” in the fridge with individually packaged things like baby carrots and cheese. This easy access helps cut down on the impulse to stop and get fries on the way home from work, or a soda an candy bar from the convenience store.
Some other points to consider:
- I don’t “pre-cook” most of my dinners. I have various marinades and sauces I pour over the raw meat and then freeze. The day before I pull out a meal and place it in the fridge to thaw overnight. This method still keeps my meal cooking time between 20 to 30 minutes before dinner is on the table. This includes my sides.
- I do pre-cook the ground beef and divide it up to be made into taco meat or put into a marinara sauce or chili or whatever before freezing into meal portions. I also add finely shedded carrots to my ground beef. It makes it go further and helps add more veggies to our meal.
- I do divide up the frozen vegetables I purchase into portions. This makes it easier for me at least, to serve several different veggies a night for two people.
- A lot of people suggest you use Ziploc bags (gallon sized) for your freezer meals and freeze them flat so that they are stack-able. I tried this, but I didn't like how much plastic I was throwing away. I invested in some Tupperware of different sizes for my needs and label them with masking tape. So far I am liking this a lot better. It keeps stuff from falling out if I need to dig around to find something, and it makes tossing the meals together on my "cooking day" much faster.
- I make and freeze burritos for us to take to work they are ready to be heated up and eaten. I wrap each one individually in Ceran wrap before placing them in a large Ziploc bag or container to prevent the tortillas from hardening when they are re-heated.
- I also buy 2 10lb bags of potatoes, after removing a few nice big ones for bake potatoes I chop one bag into slightly big bite sized pieces and slice the other bag with my mandolin. I then boil the potatoes, the chopped ones I boil until completely done, the sliced ones I keep slightly crisp. After they cool I freeze them in meal sized portions. I can use a portion of the chopped potatoes to have mashed potatoes in 6 minutes. Just re-heat them in the container they are in with the lid barely vented to keep the moisture in and they will taste like they had never been frozen.
- Another cheap but great “filler” is rice. I can get a LOT of rice from Sam’s for $18. I can add rice to our chicken burritos (its not weird, think Chipolte) and make Mexican rice and add to enchiladas’. Serve rice with your teriyaki beef/chicken whatever. Dried beans are another great filler to make meals go further, and they are a great source of protein minus the sodium if you make the beans yourself instead of using canned. Add them to your burritos, for example.
- If you chose to do the monthly cooking thing (I actually make enough for almost 2 full months) collect all your recipes you will be using into one place. Write a complete list of everything you need from the store, don’t forget to check and see if you already have it in your pantry. (make sure to keep your recipes in one place for the putting together of meals, it makes it go so much faster!)
- I usually go shopping the night before and keep any meat I buy in the fridge – never re-freeze thawed meat! The next day start putting your meals together.
- If you plan on doing any baking as well I recommend doing that either the day before or the day after
- Don’t forget to eat while you prep your meals!
- wear comfy shoes, if you have a rug in your kitchen move it wherever you will be standing.
- And take a few breaks.
- Make sure everything is labeled and dated.
Another way to help with the budgeting is by keeping 2 separate lists on the fridge one is for your monthly shopping as you eat your way through the month, the other is for any weekly shopping for perishables such as milk and eggs. Only buy what is on the list.
- Keep your eye out for sales on items like meat. Also it can help to keep a list in your purse of the prices you are willing to pay for the “big” items. Make sure the sale that looks so great at the grocery store is cheaper than what you can get at Sam’s or Costco and vice versa for example.
Also, for budgeting purposes: Make a commitment to packing your lunch every single day. It is why I recommend writing out the lunch page in such detail. You don’t have to stick to sandwiches. But if you eat out even twice in a work week that is 8 times in a month even at $5 dollars a meal that is 40 bucks!