Monday, November 5, 2012

Changing things up - New grocery habits

First of all, Shane got home way earlier than expected. When I talked to him Thursday he said he'd be home by Tuesday evening. By Friday, he was saying he'd be home Saturday evening. And then he was home by about 3:00 on Saturday. It's lovely to have him home and know that he's going to stay home for a while. Our dog still thinks he's leaving soon so she's alternately all over him for affection and pouting. The cat, well, he's still just pissed that he's not allowed total freedom yet. (Five more days!)
So, I once again have access to a vehicle for shopping. Kinda. I got used to looking around the house first for ingredients, and then as a last resort going to the grocery store. So I wanted to continue that. Shane seconded that because the truck hasn't been running well for a while and the problems seem to be getting a bit worse. If it's idling, there's a strong possibility that it will idle too low and stall. Sometimes it has a hard time starting up after that, which sucks when you're at an intersection and people behind you are honking. Just as bad, there's a knocking in the engine, though only really when we use one of the gas tanks. ?? I know nothing about cars, so I'm not sure what any of this could mean, other than we should try to drive as little as possible. I'm cool with that.
So, I'd planned things so that we would just make it until Shane came home. That was planning for only two people, however, and not three. So almost as soon as Shane got home, while he was still unpacking, we all started brainstorming recipes we wanted to eat soon. The guys focused mostly on "what sounds good" whereas I focused a lot on "what do we already have that should be used?" type foods. (Don't worry, they're yummy too. I'm just not going to depend on craving a particular food on any given day.) Then I made a shopping list for everything we need. It was huge, since we came up with approximately three weeks' worth of dinners/lunches, and I also wanted to stock up on a month's worth of dry goods.
I don't want food to spoil, however, so I've prioritized eating the fresher foods in the first week and moving on from there. Anything involving lettuce is getting eaten this week, with the things involving bell peppers following close behind. (A loose meal plan is: sandwiches, taco casserole, pasta primavera, fajitas.) Meals involving root vegetables and frozen veggies are next. (Fried rice, salmon chowder, "Lazy Sunday Casserole", squash and spinach stuffed manicotti, because I couldn't for the life of me find giant pasta shells.) Lastly are the things which utilize dry goods, frozen goods, and (home) canned goods. (Chili and cornbread, spaghetti, salmon patties.) We might finish it all with pizza, if we have ingredients for it. But we'll see. After all, Thanksgiving is coming up, and our trip to see my in-laws!
A lot of these things utilize the dry goods I got. I found a recipe for refried beans which I'll use in the taco casserole. I'm also planning to cook up (in the slow cooker) a big batch of the black beans I got. Most of them will be used in the chili, but some can be frozen for future use. Maybe in this "Southwestern 2-bean chicken" recipe? (Don't ask me why Tex-Mex is so popular in our house right now, I don't know.)
Also, many of these things are using goods we already have around the house. I didn't buy much meat because most of it is stuff we already have in the freezer: ground moose, salmon, a few sausages, and a little bit of chicken.
Of course, I don't just plan dinners. The Boy buys his own breakfast stuff, and Shane doesn't really eat breakfast, but I do. And as good as it's been for me to eat oatmeal so much recently, it's nice to get some variety. I've found a recipe for overnight oatmeal, I got some good things to add into smoothies (like flax seeds), and over the weekend I made these breakfast cookies. (Delicious, and I'm impressed that I found a banana in our freezer.) If I run out of all that and still don't want to eat just oatmeal, I have the ingredients to make knock-off Lara Bars and peanut butter granola.
These aren't even all of the meals I could make this month using what we have on hand. After all, there are only two salmon meals on the docket. We could do a moose roast. I had a vegetarian red curry I was planning on making before Shane got home. (He's not a fan of curry, or of vegetarian cooking.) We have moose steaks which could be cooked up with some potato or sweet potato fries and a veggie on the side. I have three pumpkins but am only planning to use one of them this month (in the manicotti), so I could come up with something else for those. In the past, I wouldn't have thought about these things because I would have been far more concerned with questions of what we want to eat rather than what we have to eat. Shopping htis way will force me to be far more creative.
We're definitely still going to need to get some groceries between now and the end of the month. I wish we didn't have to, but we will. The way we've been eating apples I'm sure we'll need more of them, as well as some dairy (we've been milk-drinking fiends) and probably some more chicken. However, I think this is a far more efficient way of meal planning than the "week-by-week" method I had going before. We'd either plan not enough, or too much, we'd run out of ingredients and thus have to go to the store, or we'd have too much and some of it would go bad. This way I can be assured of very little waste.
Less food waste also means less money wasted. I'll have to wait until we get to the end of the month, but I'm almost certain that shopping this way will save us some money. The big trip cost a little under $175, and unfortunately we already had to go to the grocery store again. (Hey, I'm new to this!) I forgot the bell peppers and didn't realize that we were out of booze. I'm not much of a drinker so that didn't occur to me. Shane's happy that he can drink something again (camp was dry--he'd have been fired if he was caught with alcohol) so he wanted something to sip on in the evening.
I've budgeted $400 for the month for groceries. I know, to frugal livers in other places this will seem extravagant, especially considering how much food we routinely keep in the house. However, this is Alaska and I'm feeding 3 adults, a small dog, and a large housecat on this budget. (Yep, pet food is included in that amount I spent--about a month's worth of canned pet food.) This will also be the first month I've tried it this way, and the first month we'll all be home. So we'll see how tight the budget ends up being.
If you're curious, I've started using a budgeting app called EEBA on my iPod. It's free and it's supposed to be like the envelope budgeting system. That is, you "give" yourself a certain amount of money and when it's gone you're not supposed to spend anymore for the time frame you've set. I just find it handy for keeping track of things. You can set the categories you're budgeting for (I find a "rent" category stupid to do because it's the same amount every month and I know I'm going to pay it, but an "entertainment" budget to keep track of what we spend out with friends or on our hobbies is quite handy) so it's really customizable. I wanted to try the Mint app (also free) but you have to attach at least your bank account to that and Shane didn't like the idea. (For those who are interested, I researched it and there haven't been any security concerns. I even talked to my dad, who works in a security field, and he thought it seemed no more dangerous than online banking.) I think Mint is better for a comprehensive look at your personal finances (check out the Mr. Money Mustache review) and EEBA is decent enough for an actual dollar amount to strive for. You have to type it in every time, and it gives annoying little hints (I've set the time frame for one month but it calculates things as if I'm going to spend a certain amount every day; according to it, I'm behind by half a month in my spending and it's giving me a little frowny face) but it's nice to have it set in my head when I go shopping, something I can look at to help me stick to the amount I want to spend.

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