Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Spending $0 at the Grocery Store

Last week I spent $0 at the grocery store. That's right--nada, zip, the big fat goose egg! How did I do it? Easy--I didn't go. I'll admit I did visit Target to stock up on cereal (as noted in my previous post) and I stopped by Weigels for 2 gallons of milk, but I didn't do any regular food shopping for 13 days. Why would I do such a thing? The main reason was to force me to deplete some of my freezer stash to make room for--are you ready for this--a cow!

If you're thinking, "Who is this crazy woman?!" hang with me 'til I explain. We're actually buying half a cow and splitting that with a neighbor. Each family will get about 150 pounds of meat, which will probably take up a third of our chest freezer. I'll write more about the cow in a later post, but the point is--I need freezer real estate.

So 2 weeks ago, I looked at our inventory and planned meals that would not require an extra trip to the store. We had some fresh vegetables and fruit from the previous week; that with some frozen peas and corn gave us enough veggies. I had plenty of pasta, rice, and potatoes in the pantry. But our "main food" came from the freezer.

If you recall that $700 trip to Sam's Club, I froze a variety of chicken, beef, pork, and fish. Looking at what meats we had, I found freezer meals that would use those ingredients. What are freezer meals or "once a month cooking"? It's a method that should save you time, effort, and money.

There are a slew of websites and books to guide you, but the basic idea is that you spend several hours one day prepping and bagging recipes. Throughout the month, you defrost and prepare these meals with minimal work (put it in a crockpot, throw on the grill, bake for 30 minutes, etc.).

I was skeptical at first because I value fresh vegetables. I didn't want to eat casseroles every night. But most of these recipes are not casseroles. They are usually an entree that you pair with freshly cooked pasta or steamed veggies. That way, you don't feel like you're eating from a freezer.

Personally, I like the recipes that don't require I defrost the meat until you're ready to eat it. I worked from this cookbook. Some that I tried were beef stew, Indonesian pork, pork roast with apples and mushrooms, pot roast, sweet mustard salmon, cranberries & porkchops, tilapia & tomatoes, peppered flank steak, and barbque chicken thighs. There are lots of recipes with cubed chicken breasts and browned ground beef, but they take more time initially.

What I like best is that it takes the guess work out of: "What's for dinner?" With three kids to chase and working part-time, I needed a short-cut. And I have a big enough variety that we're not always eating chicken. I'm happy to say that I have made some room but will probably have more meals that could take me into December.

But perhaps the most fun for me last week was knowing I saved about $150 by not going shopping. I can't do that every week, but it sure feels good on the pocket book every once in awhile.

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