Hi! I'm Sydney, a stay-at-home mom of three, and I make homemade meals for my Colorado family every week.
Each weekend — with that budget in mind — I plan all my family's meals for the upcoming week. This includes choosing the recipes I will make plus the actual shopping. I cook pretty much every meal every day due to a severe peanut allergy in my household. We don't rely on much takeout for this reason.
When planning each week, I start by looking at my local grocery store's weekly sales so I know what items will get me the most bang for my buck. This first step has become more important than ever to my planning and budgeting lately.
With meal planning, up-front preparation is key — but it's also the most challenging thing. Here are a few tips and tricks that I use each week:
1) I pick recipes with ingredients that can be used for multiple meals (and in multiple ways). This also includes getting creative with leftovers. Sometimes, eating leftovers all the time can get old, but I try to remember that I can always use different components of my leftovers to create new meals.
2) I prioritize what's on sale. For example, this week I was able to get BOGO free beef, shrimp, AND bagels! Not to mention other sales like ground beef, pineapple, cheese, and eggs.
Also, my kids are small! They do not have the same appetites as teenagers or fully grown adults. I'm aware that my grocery budget will need to increase as they get older.
Also, I'm not a chef. I'm a parent who cooks meals for her family. I learn things as I go and pick recipes that seem manageable for me to keep up with — as I also try and be present with my family.
After planning my recipes this past Sunday, I spent $119.13 for a week's worth of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks.
Following checkout, I noticed I was able to save $81.39 due to coupons and store sales. The BOGO meats were a majority of those savings, but my jaw still dropped a bit when I saw how much money I was able to shave off!
As you continue to build your pantry, it's easier to spend within budget because you'll utilize staples you have already acquired. But for the purpose of this post, several pantry staples (like flour, sugar, honey, etc.) were included in the $119 I spent. The only staples I did not include were oils and spices.
Here was this week's grocery haul! I get my groceries delivered because it keeps me from impulse purchases, saves me a lot of time, and if anyone has ever brought three young kids to a grocery store, well...you know it's a losing game.
Before I get into the thick of things, I want to address that I do grocery delivery, and this cost is NOT included in my food budget. I choose to do delivery (as opposed to free pickup) for two reasons:
1) I do not drive often: I can count on one hand the times I drive in a month, and it is not in the direction of the store.
2) Quality control: For my specific grocery store, pickup is done by the grocery store employees, and there is very little communication that happens with the person shopping your list. When I choose delivery, my order is fulfilled through Instacart. I prefer this option because if anything needs a substitution or an item is out of stock, the shopper immediately texts me with pictures and possible replacements for that item.
One last thing: My husband typically comes home for lunch every day, but he doesn't eat breakfast every day. (Listen, everyone has their faults.) As for me, I've never met a breakfast I didn't like.
Here's how the week went!
Monday was Halloween, and I wanted to do something special for breakfast. I saw this super simple recipe for Two-Ingredient Pumpkin Donuts and thought that sounded simple enough for an early morning before school!
I'm not sure what I expected out of this, but I can tell you a whisk was entirely not necessary. A spoon or spatula would have worked well and probably would have had less cake mix powder flung to the floor.
Preparing these took less time than it took to preheat my oven to 400°F. Fortunately, I recently acquired a silicone donut pan, but you could easily do this exact thing with a muffin tin (sans donut shape result). The donuts baked for 9 minutes. I decided to add a bit of pumpkin pie spice for a little oomph.
Due to me not wanting to use the piping bag, the donuts came out with a ~rustic~ appearance.
After the first round of sendoffs, the girls and I scrambled to get ready for the Halloween parade at my son's school.
Earlier in the morning, while the donuts were baking, I packed my son's lunch for school: a quesadilla, apples, cucumbers, and chips.
Once the girls and I got home for lunch after the preschool party, I made up the same lunch for them.
We spent the rest of the afternoon doing a few Halloween crafts.
Every Halloween, I try and make something fun for dinner. I always want my kids to eat a hearty meal before trick or treating, but I know I need to make it something festive to make them interested in real food before the candy rolls out. I thought spaghetti would be a great choice — it's filling, a fan favorite, and easy to put together.
I also boiled some frozen meatballs.
Now, for the spooky flair, I wanted to dye the noodles a fun color. I added just a couple of drops of coloring into the boiling water prior to adding the noodles — and it worked like a charm!
To finish off the meatball "eyeballs," I sliced a few pieces of mozzarella cheese and used a piping tip to cut out small circles for eyeballs. My youngest one was also feeling snack-ish, so she got all the scraps.
The kids loved how it turned out, and most importantly, they ate well!
While we waited for my husband to get home from work, the kids and I played a high stakes game of "pin the smile on the pumpkin."
And in no time, we were off. Happy Halloween!
On Tuesday morning, everyone was exhausted. I kept things simple with scrambled eggs and more pumpkin donuts.
Lunch time was leftovers from the previous night.
When I packed the kids' lunchboxes, I allowed them to pick out one or two special things from their trick or treat buckets as well!
In the afternoon, we continued on with some crafts we hadn't gotten around to yet.
For dinner, I really wanted to incorporate a meal with lots of vegetables. I was able to get tri-tip as a BOGO free deal, so I chose Grilled Tri-Tip and Vegetables with Chimichurri Sauce.
In true "Sydney" fashion, as I was squeezing the air out of the Ziploc, my watch ripped a hole in the bag. We were off to a wonderful start.
After the meat marinated (the recipe says at least 4 hours. I did not have my act together enough for that, so I did closer to 2.5), I seared the sides and then placed it on my sheet pan.
I ended up roasting the meat and vegetables on two different sheet pans, following directions from this Tri-Tip in the Oven recipe.
For breakfast on Wednesday, we finished off the rest of the pumpkin donuts. My son was already asking if he could have leftover steak for his lunch, so I started packing everything up.
Lunch for the adults was just leftovers, but for the girls, I decided to change it up just a bit. I served them steak quesadillas.
I was going to be gone at an appointment for the rest of the afternoon and wasn't expecting to get home until after dinner. I wanted to prepare something in advance so my husband just had to reheat and serve later on. In these circumstances, I always feel like soup is a great option. I pulled everything out that I needed to make Stuffed Pepper Soup.
The bulk of the steps in this recipe consisted of dicing the vegetables and adding various canned items and spices. Simple enough!
I was thankful that this recipe allowed me to work in a homemade dinner even though I wouldn't be home around dinnertime to cook it.
I made it home in time to join in on the tail end of dinner. Before bed, we finished up our final Halloween Week activity and decorated some pre-made Halloween cookies and a chocolate cookie graveyard!
We really got good bang for our buck with the pumpkin donuts, but on Thursday morning, I needed to come up with something else. I got bagels as a BOGO free sale, and although I didn't have all the ingredients for Bagel Breakfast Sliders, I was able to use it as a good template for egg sandwiches.
On the tops of the bagels, I used a little bit of oil and added salt, garlic, and everything bagel seasoning for a little added pizzazz.
After school drop-offs, my youngest and I headed to music class for the remainder of the morning.
Most everyone ate the leftover stuffed pepper soup for lunch, but my husband was feeling a little upset he missed the bagel sandwiches, so he opted for one of those instead.
As I headed into dinner on Thursday night, making Honey Orange Shrimp, I thought things were still right on track. I knew I had some stormy waters coming up at the end of the week, but for now, I felt like it was smooth sailing.
As I started to sauté the shrimp, I quickly realized one bag would not be enough for the entire family. Thankfully, I had the additional bag of shrimp in the freezer, but that meant I was going to be down one entire meal I had planned.
We also were expecting our first snowfall Thursday evening. While I was cooking, my kids split their time between going outside checking for snowflakes and letting their creative juices flow.
By the time the crayons made it back in the box, it was already time to eat! The flavors of this dish were so prominent and fresh. The orange was accompanied so nicely by the subtle heat of the red pepper flakes.
Friday's breakfast was leftover bagel sandwiches...
...followed by playing outside in the snow that had fallen the previous night!
Lunch was leftover shrimp and rice.
Before I knew it, it was time for dinner. My original menu plan had a recipe using pork tenderloin (a mix and match option with the BOGO free tri-tip) for Cranberry Orange Pork Tenderloin. However, my shopper informed me they were out of stock. I was grateful they replaced the free item with another tri-tip, but I now had ingredients for a pork tenderloin with no pork. Thankfully, I came across a recipe for Cranberry Balsamic Beef.
The recipe called for cranberry sauce, which I didn't have. Instead, I put fresh cranberries into my food processor, added them into my marinade, and put in 1 additional tablespoon of brown sugar to help with the sweetness.
The beef came out wonderfully, and I pulled out the leftover roasted veggies to reheat.
The bagel sandwiches were a hit, so I knew I could make another batch to get us through the rest of the weekend.
We headed to a birthday party near lunchtime!
In the afternoon, we took our Halloween pumpkins to some farm friends. We live in an area that has no shortage of hungry animals!
Because I had originally planned on making shrimp tacos with the second bag of shrimp, I had a lot of tortillas with no purpose left for them.
My husband and I then set out for a date night where we took a cooking class!
Sunday was all about finishing what we had left! We finished the bagel sandwiches for breakfast.
Lunch was a repeat from the previous night's dinner.
We also divvied up the last apple.
In the afternoon, we headed to ice skating lessons. While my daughters have aspirations of joining the Ice Capades, my son is working toward his spot on the Colorado Avalanche.
By the time we left the rink, it was already getting dark! I had only a few things left from my shopping list, but knew I could put together something delicious: Pumpkin French Toast.
I may create some enemies here, but I'm of the opinion that French toast should be a little soggy. If you disagree, you can dry out your bread in the oven prior to soaking in the pumpkin mix.
In moments, we had dinner ready to go! I thought of boiling down some of the leftover fresh cranberry, but ended up keeping things basic. Because the pork tenderloin never came to fruition, we had orange juice to go with our dinner.
We finished off the weekend snuggled up on the couch watching Junior Bake Off.
And that was my week! Wow, did we deal with some curveballs. I wish we'd eaten a bit less red meat (less candy!) and more variety for the end of the week, but the most important part was that we rolled with the punches and never got discouraged.
One of the best things about cooking that I think oftentimes gets lost in the hustle and bustle of life, is that it can be a creative expression that has incredible adaptability. Sometimes, we need to step back and enjoy the challenge of flying by the seat of our pants.