QUARANTINE CUISINE – FRUGAL AND FILLING MEALS

frugal quarantine cuisine

FRUGAL QUARANTINE CUISINE YOU CAN COOK ON A DIME

These days most of us are staying at home as much as possible, in self-isolation or quarantine and venturing out only when absolutely necessary. Grocery trips, unfortunately, are rather necessary. I myself am currently only getting out of the house to take in the recycling at the self-service drop off and buy groceries. You best believe I am making sure to use up every last bite and avoid food waste even more so than usual. I will probably start stretching grocery trips out to every week and a half to two weeks before this whole mess is over. This is probably something most of you are considering as well. While the grocery stores struggle to keep the shelves stocked I am getting more flexible with my meal plan and adding some different options to the lunch and dinner rotation. I’m calling it my frugal quarantine cuisine and today I’m sharing some of these meal ideas with you.

These are all very frugal, most have longer shelf life than my usual meal choices, and seven come kid and husband approved (so far).

frugal quarantine cuisine ideas

TUNA

Tuna has a long shelf life, provides Omega-3 fatty acids, is a good source of protein and other nutrients. Canned tuna can be safely consumed once a week or so; this is not a daily food item due to the heavy metals that can be found in it, but it is still a good frugal option and very versatile.

TUNA SALAD – Drain two cans of tuna well, add a tablespoon or two of mayonnaise, season to taste, and you’ve got yourself a meal in minutes. This pairs well with a slice or two of homemade bread as a quick and satisfying lunch.

TUNA CASSEROLE – Pair with egg noodles and a cream sauce for an easy and frugal casserole. This is a great “use it up” dinner option when you’re down to some of your more random ingredients but not quite ready to make another trip to the store.

TUNA PATTIES – These make a great summer afternoon lunch or dinner. Even my picky kids have enjoyed tuna burger patties on occasion. And they’re so simple to make! I’ll link the recipe as soon as I get it posted.

cHICKEN

Chicken may not be the most frugal protein option (especially without any antibiotics or broth solution), but it can be more affordable and last longer if purchased frozen or canned. I’m not saying eat all your chicken from a can, but a couple of cans are handy to have around.

CHICKEN SALAD – The recipe here is much the same as with tuna salad. If you have some hard-boiled eggs to cube and throw-in that makes it even tastier. Slice up some grapes if you have them. There are lots of ways to switch it up while also using up what you have on hand.

SHRED LEFTOVER CHICKEN – If you cook some extra chicken or have some leftover you can shred it for later. It will work well in fajitas, enchiladas,  or just to toss on top of some lettuce for a more filling salad. Shredded chicken comes in very handy when throwing together simple meals. This is quarantine cuisine at its finest!

TORTILLA PIZZAS

My kids have really enjoyed this easy little treat at lunchtime. Simply toss some leftover taco meat or turkey pepperoni over a layer of shredded cheese (we use vegan mozzarella for our lactose intolerant kiddo) and microwave just long enough to melt the cheese. Roll it up for easy eating. The kids love it and it takes next to no time to get on the table.

5-7 CAN SLOW COOKER SOUP

This is a meal I haven’t made in a while but is so simple and cheap to make. I picked up this frugal recipe from a former coworker. This is one of those dishes the shredded chicken or leftover taco meat to toss in. You just need a can of corn, a can of carrots, a can of Rotel style tomatoes, your choice of canned beans, and broth. Drain the beans and tomatoes, but use the liquid from the corn and carrots if desired (I usually drain them all and omit the beans). Cover with the broth, season as desired, and slow cook for a couple of hours. This is a great one to throw together after lunch and then just stir every once in a while.

THE CLASSIC PB&J

Or other nut butter of your choice… Food allergies are an issue for some. This is a very frugal meal the kids will love to sink their teeth (and fingers) into for lunch. I for one plan to have more sandwiches around here provided we keep enough bread flour on hand.

IF POSSIBLE ORDER TAKEOUT AND SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL ECONOMY

We’ve been doing this once a week. We plan to continue as long as it works with our budget. This can make it easier to stretch what is in the pantry between meals and help keep some local businesses going during this time.

TURNS OUT OUR TYPICAL MEAL PLAN WORKS PRETTY WELL AS FRUGAL QUARANTINE CUISINE!

We stick to a pretty frugal, mostly healthy meal plan most of the time anyway. I have been lucky that most of what I typically buy has been available at the stores. There are a few items I like to keep on hand for lunches or backup options that aren’t currently available (like ramen, I love ramen with an egg in some broth for lunch once or twice a week), but for the most part, we haven’t had to make very many alterations.

If you need some help with dinner ideas be sure to sign up as a Frugal Friend of the blog and I’ll send you a newsletter with a weekly meal plan every Monday with seven frugal dinner ideas and a link to the recipe page adapted for frugal quarantine cuisine season of course!

Be sure to stay connected friends! I’m also active on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook! We’ll get through this together! If you have any favorite quarantine cuisine foods you’d like to share please do so! I love hearing from you. Until next time stay frugal, healthy, and stay home if you can my friends!

 

WINGING IT: MEAL PLANNING IN SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES

meal planning in special circumstances

HOW TO ADJUST AND ADAPT WHEN THE GROCERY STORE SHELVES ARE EMPTY AS WELL AS A LIST OF BASIC ESSENTIALS YOU SHOULD ALWAYS HAVE ON HAND

I don’t know about you, but I would say we find ourselves in special circumstances at the moment in more ways than one. From self quarantines to social distancing to empty grocery store shelves, it can be hard to stick to the meal plan when what you need isn’t available. So what do you do then? What does it look like when it comes to meal planning in special circumstances?

After winging it for a few days, we’ve adapted and adjusted our expectations as well as our usual meal plan. Here is how my family is handling the meal planning situation right now.

I come up with pretty simple weekly meal plans at the beginning of every month and what I send to frugal friends on Meal Plan Mondays is typically what I cook. I’m not buying many exotic ingredients or making complicated meals.

I make what my kids will eat and our budget will allow. This doesn’t mean we eat a lot of processed junk food either. We have a few less than healthy items on the snack menu, but an overall rather healthy diet.

I keep it simple, we spend less money, and the kids actually eat. Win, win right? Well, with the current grocery situation I find myself constantly adjusting. We are by no means desperate, but I am trying to ensure that doesn’t become the case.

MAKING ADJUSTMENTS WHERE NECESSARY WHEN MEAL PLANNING IN SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES

Okay, the first rule of thumb is to not waste food. This is always the goal, but in this situation, it is more imperative. We have groceries. We have lots of unopened goodies in the cabinets to munch on. But I’m holding out.

Last week I wasn’t able to buy everything on my grocery list. That’s not a big deal; we have a modest supply of toilet paper in the cabinets to get us by and I had bought a few more pantry items after our no-spend month to build our pantry back up anyway.

So after anticipating school would be closed (it was) until at least the 30th (Spring break is next week anyway) I went into planning mode; if I can’t make it to the grocery store next week what do I need to do to ensure we make what we have lasts?

A few adjustments had to be made to the meal plan; I obviously can’t prepare meals for which ingredients were not available. I didn’t find veggie burgers our family likes at Aldi and as bad as it was at that store I knew Walmart would be even worse. So, that’s one dinner that has to be removed from the list – two weekends in a row.

I had also planned on shrimp fried rice one night, but since I wasn’t going to Walmart we just had chicken fried rice that night instead. Luckily I had already bought rice the previous week and didn’t need to wade down that aisle.

EAT THE FRESHEST AND OPENED FOODS FIRST

This may seem like a no-brainer, but try telling that to my kids! They know that there is unopened Chex mix and peanut butter cereal in the pantry. They also know they want it now. But I know we still have bagels and Cheerios from last week left. We’re eating those first.

We typically have some ramen around. Recently we’d added to our canned food stock to make an emergency kit. I do not want to open those up until the fresh vegetables and meat have been eaten. We’ve gone back to buying frozen meat and vegetables in the store in anticipation of shopping less frequently.

So yes, we technically have more options than we’re allowing ourselves, but we have fresh foods and leftovers that will spoil if we get into too many of those options too early. Does this make meals a little less boring than usual? Maybe. Do we waste less food this way? Definitely. Boring it is.

GET CREATIVE WITH RECIPES

It’s important to know what ingredients are crucial and which you can skip in a pinch if you don’t have everything the recipe calls for to fix what is on the meal plan. You can substitute lots of ingredients with just a quick Google search. No eggs? Try mayonnaise or applesauce. Most dinner dishes will be just fine if one spice or minor ingredient is missing.

Pastas are pretty interchangeable as well. It doesn’t have to be perfect when circumstances are extreme, it just has to be edible. As long as you’re putting as nutritious as possible of a meal on the table regularly try not to sweat it too much.

BUT STILL KEEP IT SIMPLE WHEN MEAL PLANNING IN SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES

Now is not the time to decide to learn elaborate new recipes that require special or hard to find ingredients you probably won’t finish. Keep it simple and basic so you are more likely to find what you need in the store or already have on hand what you need to make the dish.

It doesn’t take much to change up a meal and keep it from getting old. If you’re a creature of habit like my crew you might even take comfort in having a fairly set menu. Bonus points if most of the dishes on your menu require similar ingredients so you don’t have to add much to the list for each individual meal.

This saves not only frustration in the store when shopping during this current panic season, but money, and time as well.

meal planning in special circumstances

IF POSSIBLE SUPPORT A LOCAL SMALL BUSINESS BY ORDERING TAKEOUT

In most areas ordering takeout or delivery is still an option. If you are in a position to do so, give them some business when you can. We have made the decision to try to order takeout once a week from some of our favorite local joints, particularly the ones who have announced they’re feeding the kiddos who might not otherwise get a good meal while school is out.

We want to support these places so they can continue to do good in our area. This will also help alleviate the need to grocery shop quite as often and give me a night off from cooking. If you are financially in the place to do so and in good health I encourage you to consider doing the same.

It takes some of the stress off of you and puts money back into the local economy. It also makes meal planning in a pinch easy.

ITEMS YOU SHOULD ALWAYS HAVE ON HAND OR BUY WHEN IT’S UNCERTAIN WHEN YOU’LL BE BACK AT THE STORE

You may be wondering what items you need to keep stocked in your pantry at all times. I addressed what needs to be in your emergency kit in Panic vs Preparation: a Minimalist’s Take. It’s a lot smaller list than you would think based on pictures I’ve seen recently of the panic buying that’s been taking place.

Revisit that list and tweak it for your dietary needs. Keep that food separate so it is easy to access in true weather- related emergencies. But there are also several items you should keep on hand for everyday cooking that have relatively long shelf lives and can come in handy in a pinch.

Just keep in mind that two weeks of groceries on hand is a safer bet than a few days to a week. Let that be our new rule of thumb. It will definitely make meal planning in special circumstances easier in the future.

If you do not bake often do not worry about buying every type of sugar or cocoa. If you have dietary issues the grains or other items will also change as well. Items you should typically have on hand include:

DRY/SHELF STABLE GOODS

  • vinegar
  • extra virgin olive oil (or other vegetable oil of your choice)
  • all-purpose flour
  • baking soda
  • baking powder
  • cocoa powder
  • evaporated milk
  • cane sugar
  • brown sugar
  • maple syrup
  • honey
  • coffee
  • tea
  • rice (we keep brown and white)
  • pasta (we typically keep spaghetti or rotini, ramen, as well as egg noodles on hand)
  • breadcrumbs
  • crackers
  • tortillas
  • dried fruit
  • seeds (we keep flax and chia)
  • nut butter
  • old fashioned oats
  • cereal
  • broth

CANNED GOODS

  • canned beans (we don’t typically keep these)
  • canned vegetables
  • tomato paste
  • tomato sauce
  • tuna

REFRIGERATED GOODS

  • milk
  • eggs
  • yogurt
  • butter (I buy unsalted)
  • fresh fruits and vegetables
  • condiments of choice (mayonnaise, mustard, any sauces for your favorite recipes)

If you aren’t much for cooking and want to keep things simple and convenient, here is the list of items our church regularly asks for in our food pantry. It can make for a great in-a-pinch shopping list.

  • macaroni & cheese
  • spaghetti
  • spaghetti sauce – canned tomatoes, whole or diced, tomato sauce
  • canned meats – tuna, chicken, Spam, Vienna sausages, etc
  • canned pasta – ravioli, spaghetti & meatballs, etc
  • soups, chili, stews, chicken & dumplings
  • canned fruit or fruit cups
  • crackers
  • oatmeal
  • cereal

JUST DO THE BEST YOU CAN AND COUNT IT AS A LESSON LEARNED

I’m sure there are many of us, myself included, who aren’t quite as prepared as they assumed they would be in a situation like this. By the time we realized we might need to be it was happening and people panicked.

Nothing good comes from panic. It can be easy to resort to fear, but let’s avoid that. We’ll all benefit from taking a deep breath and calmly assessing the situation. Don’t buy more than you need. Don’t buy more than you can eat.

And in the future, should anything prevent us from going to the grocery store we will be much more prepared to handle meal planning in special circumstances.

When we come out on the other side of this I think the world is going to look a little different. I think our approach to preparation and savings and community will all be different. I’m hopeful that that turns out to be a good thing.

 

 

20 EASY TIPS TO SLASH YOUR GROCERY BILL

easy tips to slash your grocery bill

After housing costs, food is probably one of the higher cost budget categories. But there are lots of ways to save big on food costs and slash your grocery bill. It just takes a little planning. Here are twenty tips to help you lower your food bills each month.

You can also check out previous posts on Eating Healthy on a Budget and Tips to Save More Dough on Groceries. This post expands significantly on the original grocery savings post.

TIP #1: SHOP YOUR PANTRY FIRST

If you haven’t done so in a while, it is important to do a complete inventory of foodstuffs in the kitchen. Go through the cabinets, fridge, freezer, and pantry writing down each and every item. Toss out expired items and place a * next to any that need to be eaten in the next week.

This will not only help you save money by eliminating duplicate purchases, but also by avoiding food waste. Once you get in the habit of utilizing tip number two below this won’t need to be done as often. A simple sniff test in the fridge and double-checking dates on boxes and cans in the pantry should suffice each week.

TIP #2: MAKE A MEAL PLAN AROUND INGREDIENTS THAT NEED TO BE EATEN

Meal planning is a great way to slash your grocery bill and avoid food waste! Make your first meal plan around the food on your inventory list. Choose meals in which you already have the majority of ingredients needed. You can also check out my recipe page for more dinner ideas.

If you want more tips on meal planning I also have a YouTube video breaking down how to get started!

TIP #3: MAKE A LIST – AND CHECK IT TWICE!

Once you have your meal plan settled on, make a list of items still needed. Be sure to include breakfast and lunch options that don’t take a lot of time to prepare so that you’re not pressed for time in the mornings and tempted to rush through the drive-thru if you didn’t prepare anything the night before.

TIP #4: DON’T GO SHOPPING HUNGRY

This one is so simple and yet so effective! It really does help eliminate impulse purchases if you’ve already eaten prior to stepping foot in the grocery store.

Otherwise, you’re apt to end up walking out with a snack, a soda, and food from the deli or convenience section for dinner that evening if you’re not careful. No judgment, it’s happened to me too! Just make sure you go shopping on a full tummy. At least have a snack at home beforehand to avoid a weak moment.

TIP #5: AVOID CONVENIENCE FOODS TO SLASH YOUR GROCERY BILL

It’s true what they say; you really do pay more for convenience! The convenience of purchasing prepared produce can easily double the cost of what should be an inexpensive food item. By taking a few minutes when you get home from the grocery store to wash and prepare any fruits and veggies you like to have chopped or sliced will save you money at the store and time when preparing meals.

I also find the sooner I slice open that cantaloupe or wash that head of lettuce the more likely we are to eat it before it goes bad. So this little step can save you time and money in more ways than one!

TIP #6: GRAB NEXT WEEK’S SALE AD ON YOUR WAY OUT THE DOOR

Admittedly, a lot of items featured in the store’s weekly flyer aren’t exactly pantry staples, but there are good deals on meat and other essential categories from time to time.

Just skip over the special buys in housewares and home organization and you’ll be fine! It amazes me how many extra categories the grocery stores have! Do that many people really buy socks at the grocery store?

TIP #7: STOCK UP ON PANTRY STAPLES SO YOU CAN COOK FROM SCRATCH

We save a lot of money on groceries by cooking more from scratch; items such as bread, tomato sauce, soups, and meatballs are so unbelievably easy to cook from scratch. They also taste yummy and can be healthier for you because they do not contain the additives and preservatives store-bought items might.

It does take more time to prepare bread, but most of that time is just spent letting the dough rise. I can get lots of other things done in the meantime if I plan my baking time out in advance.

Simply keeping flour, bread flour, active yeast, olive oil, sugar, brown sugar, seasoned bread crumbs, broth, and tomato sauce opens up a lot of possibilities with little money spent. It can be really easy to make your own broth as well. I haven’t done it myself yet; our vegetable scraps typically end up in the compost pile.

It’s also a good idea to keep a stock of uncooked pasta on hand. I like to keep egg noodles, spaghetti, and penne or rotini stocked in our kitchen for easy meals. You can choose organic, gluten-free, and even vegetable pasta, so there is typically something available to work with a particular diet.

Personally I love the idea of hiding vegetables or new grains anywhere I can, so I am always up to try a red lentil rotini or vegetable-based spaghetti pasta. Anything to make a meal healthier without being obvious to the kids is a win in my book!

TIP #8: PLAN MORE MEATLESS MEALS TO SAVE BIG

Our kids prefer cereal or bagels for breakfast. I typically have a small breakfast or just stick to coffee till lunchtime. My husband typically doesn’t eat breakfast as he is out the door before 6 AM and doesn’t always have an appetite that early.

I’ve started opting out of adding a second protein and instead of scrambling with ground meat I like to cook it over easy and eat over a slice of homemade bread or on its own. Bacon and eggs is still a nice treat when the whole family is home for breakfast/

You don’t have to go completely meatless to save money; simply controlling portions better and getting creative can help cut costs and be better for your health. If you’re working with ground beef you can reduce the amount of beef and supplement with black beans.

Something as simple as cutting the meat and mixing it in with the pasta can also help reduce the amount eaten compared to eating a whole steak, pork chop, or chicken breast with a side of pasta. Adding more vegetables in soups can help stretch your dollar further as well.

A nice salad in a jar is a tasty and visually satisfying lunch option. Throw in sunflower seeds or chickpeas for a little added crunch.

Substituting beef with ground turkey is also a very effective way to save money. We cook mostly with ground turkey and I love the fact that it takes less time to cook and typically doesn’t need to be drained. It’s also less fattening.

Fish makes a great weekly substitute for meat as well. Our family enjoys tuna casserole or salmon patties from time to time. Occasionally I will fix fried rice with shrimp instead of chicken.

TIP #9: SHOP IN-SEASON PRODUCE TO SLASH YOUR GROCERY BILL

It saves to shop in-season. And while it may seem that everything is always in season consider how far that produce had to travel to get to the grocery store you bought it from. If it is out-of-season locally you can bet that you are paying for every mile it had to travel.

Save yourself the money, make your choice a more environmentally friendly one, and only buy in-season produce. It’ll probably taste better as well! I can’t wait for the spring gardening season to be here! We have our garden plot plowed up. While there is a lot of prep work to get ready, we will save quite a bit of money this summer by eating out of our own garden.

Local produce stands and farmer’s markets are also great places to buy fresh, in-season produce. Just be mindful of the cost. Sometimes they are pricier than the grocery store, but they’re usually better quality and you get to meet the person who planted it!

TIP #10: USE CASH IF YOU TEND TO GO OVER BUDGET

If you have a tendency to walk in a grocery store with a list and the best of intentions and walk out with a receipt that totals up much more than budgeted making this a cash envelope budget category might be the ticket.

You can’t spend cash you don’t have. Leave the debit card at home and go to the grocery store with your list and your cash envelope. ONLY have the budgeted amount for groceries that week in the envelope. Holding up the line once or twice asking the cashier to remove certain items until you’re back in the budget may be just the kick you need to get it under control.

Once you have a habit of walking out with a little cash left (starting with a practical amount of course) you can try swiping the debit card again.

slash your grocery bill

TIP #11: UTILIZE GROCERY PICKUP WHERE POSSIBLE

If getting to the grocery store in the first place is a chore it may be beneficial to try grocery pickup. Most stores that offer this service do not charge. Simply sign in online or an app, add the items needed to the cart, and see a running total. This can help slash your grocery bill and keep you from having to get out of the car!

If you are headed over budget simply go back to your cart and make adjustments necessary. This can be especially handy when you have small children that make grocery shopping trips more of a… challenge.

No need to worry about little ones whining about not getting that sugary cereal or any of a number of items at the checkout; just pull into the designated parking spot at your appointed time and they’ll bring your groceries to your car!

TIP #12: ONLY BUY FOODS YOU KNOW YOU CAN/WILL PREPARE

Most of us have been there at one time or another; you go to the grocery store and buy lots of healthy items for new and exciting dishes to prepare at home. Then reality hits.

You’re tired when you get home from work and don’t want to take the time to figure out a new recipe. You need to pull out the dictionary to even understand the instructions. Takeout or pizza delivery just sounds so much easier at this point, doesn’t it?

So the week goes by and those fancy grocery items are still in your fridge. The next week goes by as well, and the next, until you guessed it – into the trash can or compost heap goes all that wasted food… and money.

Why do we do that to ourselves? I’ve found that picking tried and true recipes and only trying one or two new ones every month or so makes things so much easier. It also increases the chances my kids will eat whatever I’ve prepared for them. Lesson learned there.

TIP #13: SHOP THE PERIMETER OF THE STORE TO TRIM YOUR WAISTLINE TOO!

Typically you walk through a grocery store and find that the fresh items are found along the perimeter. You can get produce, dairy and meats here. This should be where you spend the majority of your time. Just avoid the corner where the convenience foods are stored! They’re sneaky.

There is an exception to this; we shop at a store that conveniently places snacks on the perimeter. Of the main aisle when you walk in. As I said, they’re sneaky, right? We’ve learned what we like to get on a regular basis and where it is. I grab what I need and keep the cart rolling through this section!

The middle aisles of the store contain boxed foods, snacks, toiletries, and paper products, as well as special buys. Just stick to the list and get out of these aisles as quickly as you can! This is sure to help slash the grocery bill when you get to the register.

TIP #14: LOOK AWAY FROM THE ITEMS BY THE REGISTER SO SLASH YOUR GROCERY BILL!

Chances are you don’t need any of the items stocked at the register! Read that again. You probably don’t need any of them. The store knows that too. They’re trying to entice you to buy more at literally the last second possible.

Who doesn’t need batteries? Hand sanitizer? A snack? Shopping made you hungry, didn’t it? Here, have some granola. A chocolate bar? Cold coffee or soda? No, no, and no! You ate before you started, remember? It is crucial to your budget that you only put items already in your cart on that conveyor belt! You’re almost done! Stay strong! Now is not the time to lose focus.

TIP #15: BRING YOUR OWN SHOPPING BAGS

This isn’t true everywhere, but some stores offer you a little cash back for each bag you bring in. It isn’t a lot, but it does add up and makes for a good incentive to remember to return the bags to your car each week.

I prefer using my own bags anyway; I’d rather reuse my own bags than have to toss or store and then drag them off to recycle every single week.

TIP #16: BATCH COOK FAVORITE MEALS BY BUYING COMMONLY USED INGREDIENTS IN BULK

This is one I need to do more often! Buying bigger containers can save you some money. I find it cheaper to buy three-pound packages of ground turkey. It also makes it convenient to prep two batches of dishes we eat often like meatloaf and toss one in the freezer. This saves me time and money.

The key to buying in bulk is to make sure you will use it. Don’t buy just anything in bulk because it is cheaper. It’s not saving any money if it goes bad before you get around to it.

It also isn’t very convenient if you buy things in bulk and then have nowhere to store them. Do you really need to buy 100 rolls of toilet paper at once? I’d rather buy a smaller package that fits under the bathroom sink every other week.

TIP #17: SAVE MONEY AND AVOID FOOD WASTE BY EATING YOUR LEFTOVERS

I build in one or two leftover nights into the weekly meal plan depending on the menu. If there’s something we love to eat I might make a little more to ensure we have it a second time later in the week.

During the winter months, soups and other hot dishes like chicken and dumplings are great to reheat the next day. Stick them in a thermos for a warming lunch at work or school. This cuts down on waste and makes a nice change from the usual packed lunch.

TIP #18: SHOP DISCOUNT GROCERS SUCH AS ALDI TO SLASH YOUR GROCERY BILL

I shop almost entirely at Aldi and it saves our family a lot of money every month. We’ve trimmed our grocery bill down at least $100 a month by changing grocery stores. Yes, you read that right. How’s that for slashing the grocery bill?

I used to spend considerably more money on groceries when we shopped at the larger supercenter. There are also so many more opportunities for impulse purchases to wind up in the cart at a supercenter.

Once a smaller neighborhood market opened in our town we started shopping there. The selection went down compared to the supercenter, but the prices went up! We decided to give Aldi another chance.

I still make one or two trips to the smaller neighborhood market a month for items we can’t or won’t buy at Aldi (phone card for hubby, bread flour, and shrimp come to mind), but the majority of our shopping is done at the discount grocery store.

TIP #19: SKIP THE ONE-TIME-USE PRODUCTS

I’ve already talked about this before, but stop buying one-time-use paper products! They seem cheap, but they’re really just a waste of money and they end up in the landfill.

Use cloth napkins or tea towels at mealtime and beeswax food wraps to cover leftovers. There are all sorts of frugal and sustainable alternatives to one-time-use products. 

TIP #20: USE CASHBACK AND REBATE APPS TO SLASH YOUR GROCERY BILL

Technically you’ll spend the money and then get some back, but a little money back on planned purchases is better than nothing, right? I like to scan my receipts into Fetch Rewards and check Ibotta for deals after I’ve completed my shopping.

I do this after I go shopping so I don’t end up spending more money just to get a little cashback. That is counterproductive in the long run.

Couponing is another way to save money at the grocery store. I don’t personally do this since I don’t use a lot of name brand items. Again, it seems counterproductive to my current methods.

USE THESE TIPS THE NEXT TIME YOU GROCERY SHOP AND YOU WILL SAVE MONEY

These are pretty simple, but very effective tips when it comes to saving money on food costs. Using these in combination with the no-spend challenge will help maximize your savings and progress on your financial goals! Continuing to use them will only help increase those savings!

What are you waiting for? Take inventory, start meal planning, and start saving money on your groceries this week! If you want a free meal plan delivered to your inbox every week subscribe to the blog and I’ll send you seven dinner ideas each Meal Plan Monday. To make it even easier print out the meal plan and write your shopping list in the space provided! I’ll even provide some of the recipes!

Stay tuned for more tips to help save money and make the no-spend challenge a little easier.

 

COMFORT FOODS FOR CHILLY NIGHTS: MEAL PLAN MONDAY

comfort foods for chilly nights

It’s hard to believe October is almost over! Where did the month go? Where has the year gone! It’s another Meal Plan Monday here at a Life on a Dime and I love this time of year. I love comfort foods for chilly nights! Here is the meal plan for the final installment of Meal Plan Monday on the blog. October is winding down and with it Blogtober.

Be sure to subscribe via email if you want to continue getting the meal plan printables. This will ensure a new budget-friendly, health-conscious meal plan delivered to your inbox as well as other exclusive content every Monday going forward!

**This page contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase after clicking my links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.**

Comfort Foods for Chilly Nights

MondayTurkey meatloaf with roasted vegetables. I have potatoes, peppers, and squash. Meatloaf is definitely comfort food, but the ground turkey makes it a little easier on the stomach than red meat. If you have bell peppers you can also hollow them out and make stuffed peppers.

Tuesday – It’s probably no surprise by now, but it’s Taco Tuesday around here. It’s not forecast to be really cold Tuesday night, but I may make taco soup. If I opt for taco soup I will probably slow cook ground turkey in chicken broth with rotel tomatoes and chili peppers, corn, and seasoning. I may throw in a packet of ranch to keep the flavor mild.

Wednesday – We will be eating chicken and rice. There are several different ways to prepare this. I was unable to pick up a few items at Aldi Friday that were on the list, so I may have to pick up the few needed ingredients to make this soup. This is my husband’s specialty, so it will be made this week if he has time/inspiration to cook. If not I may go casserole-style with this dish.

Thursday – Mummified turkey dogs/brats. I found this adorable idea courtesy of blogtober! I can’t find where I bookmarked or pinned the blog I originally saw this on, but they’re everywhere on Google search. Basically it’s pigs (or birds) in a blanket only the wrap is spread out thinner to look like a mummy. I will probably add a salad and a veggie to the menu for mom and dad.

Friday – We’re having homemade pizza. I have turkey pepperoni and 1/4 of the pizza will be covered with vegan “cheese” for the kids. I like to mix minced garlic into the sauce.

Saturday – We will be having turkey chili. This time I’ll stick to the recipe.

Sunday – I’m pulling out the sandwich maker again and fixing hot sandwiches and homemade soup. I’m thinking of trying this roasted red pepper soup again. Last time I made it I was working with someone else’s blender and didn’t get good results, but it looked so promising.

Don’t Forget the Chilly Mornings!

As I write this I’m in a bit of a baking mood, so in addition to baking up a loaf of bread, I plan to bake up some spinach frittatas for easy breakfasts. Once I’ve played with it some more I’ll post the recipe. I may have to bite the bullet and order these silicone baking cups once and for all! I also have oatmeal on and to increase the chances of heading off to school with something more warm and filling than cereal to start the day.

And here are the printables to make life a little easier!

Happy eating! I will be back tomorrow with more new content. Only three days left of Blogtober! Be sure to subscribe if you want to continue receiving the weekly meal plan!

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3 FRUGAL HOLIDAY DINNER IDEAS THAT WON’T BREAK THE BANK

frugal holiday dinner ideas

Try these frugal holiday dinner ideas and shake things up a bit while saving money!

Holidays can be expensive. Hosting big family dinners can also be expensive. But they don’t have to be! Save yourself some time, money, and stress; try these frugal holiday dinner ideas this Thanksgiving and Christmas and have a great day with your family and friends, instead of stressing in the kitchen or over your budget.

*This page contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase after clicking my links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualified purchases.*

1. Have a themed holiday meal

Don’t think you have to eat the traditional turkey or ham dinner when the holidays roll around. Eat what you want! If you like spending all day cooking and look forward to it every year then, by all means, cook the bird and have the traditional meal, but you don’t have to. Why not have a different theme? You could do a taco bar, your own version of never-ending pasta, appetizers… Think outside the frozen poultry aisle and have some fun planning a frugal holiday dinner.

One fun thing to do would be to celebrate your heritage and try sampling dishes. Have Italian roots? Plan a taste of Italy! Irish? Whip up a stew, roast some potatoes… try a bread pudding. Irish Christmas meals aren’t that different from American turns out… Unless you’re in the mood for goose instead of turkey or ham. German? Try your hand at some apple and sausage stuffing (sounds interesting) or some Christmas Stollen. I’m really curious about that one now.

If you have French ancestors be sure to bring your appetite. You definitely have lots of menu options to choose from if you’re going the traditional holiday dinner route. Whether you go all out with the theme or keep it simple the point is to have fun with it!

2. Make it potluck for a truly frugal holiday dinner

I’m from the south and it’s just pretty standard to ask what you need to bring when you’re invited over to eat. If your guests offer to bring sides/salads/desserts, let them! Better yet coordinate it and say, sticking with this theme I will provide the main dish of (insert dish of choice). Heck, come up with a suggested menu for people and suggest/ ask them to bring something specific. It’s fun, frugal and a little different for Thanksgiving dinner.

You can create an event on Facebook, set up a meal on SignUpGenius, send out an evite… There are lots of different ways to organize a potluck. Just try to be sure it’s somewhat organized and everybody doesn’t show up with salad and rolls. Again, refer back to my first tip and keep the potluck meal more cohesive by establishing a theme ahead of time.

3. Make it a progressive dinner

Have a large group of people to get to and not a lot of space? It’ll take some coordination for sure, but make it a progressive dinner. Start a little early, and show up to one house for appetizers and conversation. Another house can host the next course. You may choose to have a soup course, salad course, main course, and final stop dessert and coffee (to stay awake after all that yummy food).

Just match the number of houses participating with the number of courses (or throw in a house you just play games and drink another coffee). End the night with a bonfire and smores. Make it fun and memorable by totally changing things up.

If you have small kids I would advise keeping the number of stops to a manageable number of stops to avoid some overwhelm. Or maybe have the kids stay at one house after say the main course while adults go on to the next for coffee and dessert. The kids can have a dessert and unwind without being drug off to another few stops. If they’re old enough maybe make it a slumber party.

frugal holiday dinner ideas

Make the Holiday Yours with a New Tradition

Not only can starting a new tradition liven things up a little, if you use these frugal holiday dinner ideas it can also make it easier on everyone’s wallets, which is sure to be appreciated. Holidays should be about spending time with the ones you love creating memories. So switch it up and make some great ones!

What are your favorite non-traditional holiday dinner plans? Frugal doesn’t have to be any less fun. It can even mean having fewer dishes to wash! Who doesn’t love that?!

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WHAT’S FOR DINNER? MEAL PLAN MONDAY WEEK 3 IS HERE

what's for dinner?

Do You Know What’s for Dinner This Week?

I know what my family is having for dinner this week! Does it feel like you are flying by the seat of your pants when this whole dinner thing comes around? Does it catch you by surprise that it happens every night? It used to be a struggle for me to figure out what was for dinner after work.

Thankfully I have a husband who likes to cook and got off before me when I worked full-time. Now that I’m home full-time I like to keep a plan so I know what’s for dinner every day. It is so much easier having a meal plan. Not only do I save time in the kitchen we save money on groceries. We literally spend about $150 a month less on groceries than we did prior to meal planning! It works!

Just in case you’re running low on ideas, recipes, or time to meal plan I have you covered! It’s Meal Plan Monday and I’ve got a week’s worth of dinner ideas ready to print!

Here’s What’s on the Menu:

Monday – We’re keeping it simple this week with tomato soup and hot sandwiches. I love a good soup and sandwich combo. I need to get back in the habit of baking bread regularly and this is a tasty way to enjoy fresh- baked bread! I’ll be breaking out the old sandwich maker for tonight’s dinner. I will loosely follow this recipe for tomato soup, but largely wing it like usual.

Tuesday – It’s Taco Tuesday! I considered making taco soup, but since it’s not forecast to be that cold this week I think we’ll stick with our traditional tacos with lime oil. My six-year-old will be relieved; while she liked taco casserole for the most part last week she was not a fan of the corn and tomatoes. She also felt like we didn’t quite have taco night. Fair enough kid. I’ll give you a break. Next week though…

Wednesday – We still have some beef in the freezer that needs to be eaten, so I will be slow cooking beef and potatoes. I plan to keep this meal pretty simple.

Thursday – We’re having spaghetti night. It’s been a bit since we had spaghetti night on a regular basis and everybody eats it, so it’s back in rotation for a while! I will make homemade turkey meatballs. Hopefully, I’ll have my tweaked recipe up in time.

Friday – TGIF! Its pizza night! This has become a staple at our house.

Saturday – This is a planned leftover night. If we don’t have enough leftovers we will have breakfast for dinner. Can’t go wrong with a good brinner!

Sunday – I’m making chicken and dumplings. We had chicken noodle soup last week and we started talking about dumplings. I’m still thinking about dumplings, so it made the menu this week!

what's for dinner?

Click below to print this week’s menu with space for the shopping list.

Or, if you prefer, here is the blank meal plan.

A SIMPLE DINNER MENU: MEAL PLAN MONDAY WEEK 2

simple dinner menu

It’s Meal Plan Monday again! I hope you enjoyed last week’s menu! For week two I have seven more frugal dinner ideas on the menu. Remember, every Monday in the month of October the #blogtober post will be on our family’s weekly meal plan. If this is helpful to enough of you I will keep posting Meal Plan Mondays after #blogtober is over. Let me know! This week I have a simple dinner menu suited for cooler weather.

*This page contains affiliate links. At no cost to you I earn a commission if you make a purchase after clicking my links.*

What’s on the Simple Dinner Menu?

Like last week, this week’s meals are simple, frugal, and mostly healthy.

Monday – On Monday I will cook up my Monday night meatloaf recipe with roasted vegetables and a simple salad (for me and the hubs). I have made this meatloaf countless times over about a decade. This was the first recipe I truly made my own. I really don’t even use the recipe anymore. I just wing it.

Tuesday – Usually Tuesday night is taco night, but in honor of the cooler weather, we’re having taco casserole. I use quite a bit less cheese than most recipes call for in an effort not to make our daughter her own separate casserole and add the vegan stuff. She’s old enough she knows it doesn’t taste like cheese and doesn’t like it anymore. Can’t say I blame her! So we just use less cheese in most recipes then watch what she eats the next day more closely.

Wednesday – Spaghetti with Meatballs – I make both from scratch. I will use the second half of the ground turkey package I opened for the taco casserole. You can find the meatball recipe here.

Here is how I make my sauce: Simply open a can of diced tomatoes, a can of tomato paste (for a less watery sauce – if you like it thinner use tomato sauce), and season with parsley, oregano, basil, salt, pepper, and brown sugar to taste and cook on low heat while the pasta cooks. That’s it.

On Thursday – We will have leftovers if there are enough or I will cook up some chicken noodle soup. This has to be one of the easiest, most frugal meals out there. You just need some shredded or chopped chicken (cooked first), egg noodles, broth, spices to taste, and veggie or two of your choice (carrots and peas are common).

Finally Friday – Friday is pizza night.My kids would probably fire me if I didn’t stick to it. The pizza dough and pizza sauce can be found on my recipe page.

Weekend Plans

Saturday – While we have a family dinner is planned, I do have a backup of leftover soup and hot sandwiches. This time of year we use our sandwich maker a lot.

Sunday – Sunday night I will be fixing homemade tomato soup and salmon potato patties.

Keep the Menu Simple and Easy

Over time I’ve found the less complicated a meal is, the more likely my kids are to eat it. An added benefit of a simple dinner menu is having fewer dishes to wash after eating dinner! Click to download the customized meal plan and add ingredients needed to the shopping list for added convenience!

And if you have leftovers building up, just skip one night on the meal plan and eat everything down! Not only does it give you a night off from cooking, it also reduces food waste!

Need Meal Planning Tips?

Be sure to check out my latest YouTube video! I outline how I come up with my weekly meal plan to save money and reduce food waste! And make sure to like and subscribe for more tips on meal planning, budgeting, DIYs, and… you’ll just have to watch and see! New videos posted weekly.

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MEAL PLAN MONDAY: WHAT’S ON THE WEEKLY MEAL PLAN?

weekly meal plan

It’s Meal Plan Monday!

Welcome to the first edition of Meal Plan Monday! Every Monday in the month of October the #blogtober post will be on our family’s weekly meal plan. I will link to or post recipes used for the week.

*This page contains affiliate links. At no cost to you I earn a commission if you make a purchase after clicking my links.*

What’s on the Menu?

This week’s menu is simple, easy, and frugal. I do tend to try to make dishes as healthy as possible. It’s not perfect, but it gets better with time.

MondaySheet pan chicken and veggies. This is on fairly regular rotation in our house. It is a very versatile dish. This week I will likely use potatoes and bell pepper.

TuesdayTacos. Most Tuesdays in our house we have Taco Tuesday. It’s quick, healthy, easy to get on the table, and everybody eats it! This week I have scoop tortilla chips so I will likely whip up a little batch of salsa to go with tacos and give the option of taco bowls or traditional soft tacos.

Wednesday – Pasta salad with turkey sausage. This is an easy dish my husband and oldest love. Cook the sausage, cook the rotini pasta, chop up some tomatoes or saute some peppers, and combine with zesty Italian dressing.

Thursday – Beef stew. I have a soup kit I picked up at Aldi and some beef from my cattle raising dad to eat up. I plan to slow cook this all day in the pressure cooker. This would also be simple to do without the kit – just buy some beef and vegetable broth, dice up some tomatoes, and use your favorite spices. Add in some meat and let it simmer for at least 4 hours.

Friday – Pizza Night! Almost every Friday night is pizza night at our house. I make my own dough and sauce.

Saturday – Leftovers or baked pork chops and roasted vegetables.

Sunday – Chicken pot pie. I will loosely follow this recipe from All-Recipes. I have not made any pot pie since last winter so I do not have my own version… yet.

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weekly meal plan

Meal Plan: Breakfasts and Lunches:

For breakfasts, I have eggs, waffles, oatmeal, and cereal on hand. My kids prefer Cheerios most days but when as the weather gets cooler I like to try to start the day off with something warm in their bellies. The hubby and I typically have a liquid breakfast of coffee.

For lunches, my husband is happy with a sandwich, apple, yogurt, and chips every day of the world. My daughter gets one of several dairy-free school lunches. I keep most of these foods on hand. I also keep some crackers, pretzels, pistachios, peanuts, granola, and trail mixes on hand for morning snack time at school.

My two-year-old enjoys brunch with me (he’s big on second breakfast) typically a second bowl of Cheerios, or he steals some of my scrambled eggs or breakfast sandwich. I love melting a slice of Colby jack on a slice of homebaked bread and topping with a fried egg. Sometimes he’ll eat some gluten-free chicken nuggets.

How to Make Your Own Weekly Meal Plan

The first step in making a meal plan is to do a full inventory of what it is in your fridge, freezer, and pantry. Throw out any expired or moldy food. Try to think of meals you can make to use up what you have while buying as little as possible. This will help reduce food waste and save money in your budget.

If you want some inspiration for dinner be sure to check out my recipe page. I anticipate it to grow quite a bit during blogtober! Write out your meal plan and make a shopping list with the ingredients needed. When it comes to breakfasts and lunch be realistic about what you have time to prepare and what your family will eat. Add some simple breakfast and lunch options to the shopping list. Once you get to the store stick to the list. It also helps to bring the list!

You can download and print this week’s meal plan and add items needed to the shopping list on this free printable! The blank weekly meal plan printable is also available for download if you’d like to come up with your own meal plan. I like to keep my meal plan and shopping list out where I can see them in the kitchen. Now you can keep them both in the same place! Save yourself some paper and if you like this week’s plan keep it and reuse it. Have a rotating list of meal plans (and corresponding shopping lists) to make life a little easier.

 

 

5 TIPS TO SAVE MORE DOUGH ON GROCERIES

save more dough

Save More Dough by Using These Simple Tips

It feels so good to be on a budget and know that your money is now going to work for you! But what if you’re spending more money than you realized on food? Even after slashing the takeout budget you’re spending more than anticipated. I know at one point I just thought, “food is just so expensive,” and that we’d always have a problem with this area of the budget. That doesn’t have to be true! Here are five simple hacks that can save you dough at the grocery store! Pun intended.

*This page contains affiliate links. At no cost to you I earn a commission if you make a purchase after clicking my links.*

1. Shop Your Cabinets and Make a Meal Plan

Before you even think about what to buy at the grocery store you need a solid meal plan for the week. Make a meal plan for the full length of time between grocery trips. Check your cabinets, fridge, and freezer for older food that needs to be eaten. Plan meals around these items first.

Opt for simple, inexpensive dishes if cooking isn’t your forte yet or you are typically pressed for time when preparing dinner. Examples of inexpensive meals include spaghetti night, taco night, turkey meatloaf, pasta salad, baked chicken and veggies…

Consult the Meal Planning and Recipe pages if you need some frugal ideas that are still pretty healthy. It may even be a good idea to invest in one or two good cookbooks. I am to a point where I have several recipes I use on rotation and love to keep a recipe file book on hand. It helps a lot to have a selection of tried and true recipes at hand to make meal planning and prep easier. This can either be a file box or tin with index cards or be kept in binder/book form.

If you shop once a week you need a plan for 7 breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. I actually prefer to sit down with the wall calendar and plan out dinners for the majority if not the entire month in one sitting. It saves time and a lot of hassle. It also prevents the endless “what’s for dinner?” question from anyone who can read! Leftovers can take care of at least one night a week with careful planning and portion control. See, budgeting can good for your waistline as well!

2. Make a List

Now that you’ve shopped your cabinets and come up with a meal plan it is time to make your list! Go through each meal on your weekly meal plan and write out all ingredients needed not currently in your cabinet. Need more than just a few items for that ambitious meal you’ve never made before? Is a particularly expensive cut of meat called for but no special occasion to celebrate? You might want to save that dish for later.

Be sure to include any snack items or the ingredients needed for snacks you plan to make yourself in the list. This is one area I need to improve on. I probably spend enough money on snack items a month that if I buckled down I could afford that food dehydrator I’ve been eying after just a few months.

You can even save yourself some time by buying double what you need for one meal and prepping two batches at once. Take that turkey meatloaf for example; from time to time when I bake this tried and true recipe at our house I mix up a double batch and freeze one for later. It takes the guesswork out of things on a more hectic day the following week. Just thaw the day before and put in the oven when you need to set the timer and forget it while you tackle something else on your to-do list.

One last thing on that list – it will take some practice, but organize your list in order of how you plan to move around the store. For example, I shop at Aldi, so I start my list with produce, then snacks, fresh meats, deli, dressings, canned goods, cereal, pasta, spices, and tortillas, dairy, eggs, then frozen foods. It saves a lot of time knowing I can get in, get what’s on my list, and get out without doubling back multiple times to the same aisle.

3. Save More Dough by Cooking from Scratch

Save your dough by rolling your own! I make my own bread and love it. The kids are a harder sell on fresh homemade bread; in fact, they both prefer store-bought. Hence the different school lunches I pack my daughter. See my article on 25 Frugal and Dairy-Free School Lunch Ideas or my Instagram story highlight on School Lunches to see what I feed her instead.

I do however bake bread for my husband’s lunches at work and occasionally enjoy an open-faced breakfast sandwich on one myself. The bread I bake every week can be found in my recipes!

I also save a few bucks here and there making all my sauces from scratch. The pizza sauce I make is really easy and can be found in my recipes as well.

4. Shop the Perimeter of the Store

I’m sure you’ve heard this one before. That’s because it works! Stay out of the seasonal and prepackaged food aisles! Avoid the convenience food section, the candy aisle, insert your weakness here aisle. I myself can be a sucker for the seasonal aisle at Aldi because heaven forbid that item I don’t even need isn’t there next time!

It will save you more dough and more time if you just stick to the list and don’t even go down the aisles that have nothing on your list. I repeat – just stay away from an aisle if its contents are not on your list. And put your blinders on when you’re in line at the register! Those items are there for a reason. So much psychology goes into the placement of items at stores. Be aware of this and pay attention so you don’t fall for their efforts to put more in your cart right before you check out.

5. Time Your Grocery Trips Right

If your favorite grocery store has a deal day (when they set out the weekly deals) go then. If your grocery store has a double coupon day for sure do your shopping then if you have any coupons for items you already plan to buy. Please don’t use a coupon for an item you wouldn’t buy otherwise; that’s not saving any money.

If you’re not worried about timing the sales then save money by timing your trip on a day you are out anyway; for example, my son’s therapy clinic (just graduated physical and is now in speech) is right behind our closest Aldi. Right now he has speech on Wednesdays and Fridays so we go grocery shopping on Wednesdays. Some weeks we’ll stretch it out and go on Friday if we have eaten with family more than planned or just want to wait till payday.

We plan our trips to avoid unplanned purchases and save gas. It really does add up; I’ve been more mindful of what time and how often I go grocery shopping this last month and I go two to three days longer per tank of gas between fill-ups!

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Bonus Tip – Scan Those Receipts to Save More Dough With Cash Back Apps!

Who doesn’t love free money? That’s what apps such as Ibotta and Fetch Rewards give you! Browse the Ibotta app for cashback on items you already plan to buy and then redeem those points. There are any brand deals on certain items (say chocolate milk for instance) and any item deals that offer 10-50 cents back on literally anything. Just scan the receipt and cash out once you have earned enough rewards. Need a referral code to get started? Click here to get started with Ibotta and enter referral code itxrhcs. For Fetch Rewards download the app through Google Play or the Apple App Store and use referral code 8H9Y1.

For the full list of referral codes and links to cashback and survey apps that I use as well as hosting information check out my Recommendations page.

What are your tried and true ways to save more dough at the grocery store? Let me know! And be sure to follow a Life on a Dime on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to see more of mine!

25 FRUGAL AND DAIRY-FREE SCHOOL LUNCH IDEAS

frugal and dairy free

I’m Not That Mom…

I love all those fancy photos of elaborate school lunches lovingly packed by moms and nannies and posted to Instagram accounts dedicated entirely to said lunches. They’re so fun. And not particulary frugal and dairy-free. They’re also so not me. The ones I think I could pull off rather easily (a caterpillar with veggies and grape tomatoes is an adorable idea!) my child probably wouldn’t eat. And that is okay. To each mom her own.

While I may dream of being that mom who packs inventive and unique meals on the daily in reality I am the mom throwing something together at 7 am frantically while my daughter asks why she only gets four things. Don’t I know that’s not enough?Guess what? I’ve been to school at lunch and while the cafeteria does serve more the kids aren’t eating most of the food. I pack what I am convinced she will eat. 

I’m also the mom who gets sidetracked while fixing said four things because her little brother had a poopsplosion at an inopportune time. That usually gets a laugh from the school secretary when you check your child in late. Been there, twice actually. But that’s a story for a different type of blog post!

Over the summer I decided to save money in the budget and be nicer to the planet by eliminating most one-time use products in our house. I stopped buying paper towels, paper napkins, paper plates… the logical next step is using fewer plastic baggies. Yes, I said fewer. I tapering off slowly. My wallet and my lifelong habits need a little easing into some things.

I made a list of some frugal and dairy-free lunches I plan to pack for my lactose intolerant child this school year. This is five weeks’ worth of lunch ideas to try!

Frugal and Dairy Free – the List

  1. Pretzels, hummus, and turkey pepperoni with a fruit
  2. Pinwheels and banana
  3. Mixed veggies and veggie dip on toast with rolled lunch meat on the side
  4. Cookie-cutter almond butter and jelly sandwiches with berries
  5. Birds in a blanket (sliced turkey dog in a crescent roll)
  6. Turkey pepperoni, tortilla strips, and pizza sauce
  7. Hard-boiled eggs, baby carrots, and a home-baked cookie
  8. Chicken quesadilla cut into strips
  9. Pasta salad
  10. Sweet potato fries and a slider
  11. Flatbread with pesto, bruschetta, or other topping and cherry tomatoes
  12. Mini bagel sandwich and baked chips
  13. Rolled lunch meat, crackers, baby carrots, and veggie dip or hummus
  14. Ham muffins and apple slices
  15. Sandwiches on a stick (for older kids – cube sandwich and slide onto kabob sticks)
  16. Chips and salsa or guacamole and grilled chicken
  17. Chicken nuggets with dipping sauce and baby carrots
  18. Chicken salad and toast
  19. Waffles and fruit
  20. Apple and almond butter “stacked” sandwiches
  21. Turkey dog and baked chips
  22. Wrap with fresh fruit and sliced bell pepper
  23. Salad with grilled chicken and berries
  24. Fruit salad and sliced turkey dog
  25. Taco bowls – scoop tortilla chips with leftover taco meat and a few toppings in each with sliced bell pepper

A few hacks I’ve learned to be frugal and dairy-free

Although I find the vegan ranch to be a poor substitute for the original, my daughter likes it. For simplicity’s sake, I will probably use it for a veggie dip. Hummus makes a great addition to sandwiches and wraps. Plain popcorn is also a great filler in lunches. It’s been a bit of a sanity saver at our house this summer. It’s worth noting I also buy all-natural uncured meats where possible.

If it’s inexpensive, dairy-free, and my kid won’t eat it there is nothing frugal about food that ends up in the trash can at the end of lunch. And nothing fun for a teacher dealing with a kid all afternoon after she hasn’t eaten much for lunch. Can we say hangry? We get hangry in this family. Easily.

I’d rather compromise on some things I know she’ll eat that won’t upset her tummy than waste money and food trying to get her to change her eating habits. They don’t do afternoon snacks past kindergarten. Plan accordingly.

My daughter doesn’t actually eat sliced bell pepper – yet. I may or may not sneak some in there. It can be a challenge being frugal and dairy-free since meat and cheese seem like lunch staples, but I’m going to try to be a little more creative this year than I was in Kindergarten.

This year to avoid taking up space in her bag with an ice pack to keep certain foods cool I plan to keep frozen berries in the fridge overnight and let them finish thawing in her bag. This way they keep the rest of her food cool enough as well. I know frozen applesauce pouches work well, but she can’t eat it. If we weren’t dairy-free I would probably also use frozen yogurt pouches.

What are Your Frugal Lunch Ideas?

How do you manage to stay frugal and be creative with your kids’ school lunches? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks!