This end-of-the-school-year craziness has been even more busy this year than last, since our second son is now into scheduled activities. We have some nights where we are together for just an hour before popping off in separate directions, one of us with each kid. This is where leftovers are the lifesavers of our day, the key to saving money, eating well even when we're busy, and staying on budget.
I've mentioned a few times in recipes and posts that I cook extra to keep leftovers. Those freezer bags labeled with contents and date have made up more than a few meals for us this month. From roasted chicken with a quick vegetable stir fry to roasted pork and cheddar sandwiches (with fresh vegetables on the side, of course!) to a chicken fried rice for dinner tomorrow night, these leftovers have kept us from ordering in, eating out, and consuming an unhealthy amount of sodium and fat. Not only that, but because the leftovers were part of our original grocery budget, we're not spending any extra money.
The only downside? Now we're out of leftovers in our freezer, so we'll need to cook extra and cook ahead for a couple of months to build up our stockpile again. But that's ok, because in a couple of months when fall starts up again, we're going to be wanting to cook cozy roasts and hearty stews for dinner.
What are some of your favorite uses for leftovers?
As mentioned earlier, I've got a giveaway coming up- a Cut n' Seal tool from Pampered Chef, featured in my Pizza Pockets recipe.
Because we're so crazy busy with end-of-(school)year wrap-up and events, I've decided to host this when things have setttled down a bit- after the July long weekend. So check back on July 2 for more details- I hope to see you then!
The beauty of meal planning, and grocery shopping off of your plan, is the ability to move your meals around if you're "not in the mood" for something. As long as the food is in your pantry, fridge, and freezer- you can hop around all you like.
The only thing I make sure of, personally, is that I'm not wasting food by forgetting to use it until it's gone too bad to be used. Make sure your incorporate those fresh foods that won't keep- for example, instead of a stirfry, how about a vege plate on the side? Wasted food is wasted money, and one of the benefits of meal planning is saving money!
I'm not feeling great today. My meal plan suggested Thai pork wraps. I opted for a thicker pork and potato soup, instead. It's warm outside, but I'm tired, so I'm cold. And soup is always comforting. The wraps will be good for another few days. I used up our last 3 potatoes before they got too old. There's more pork in the freezer, and the leftover carrots from the other night got used too.
We can always have pork wraps Friday night, instead.
How do you improvise your meals?
You can google that question and get many marvelous ideas, but I thought I'd share what works in our family.
1. Stop buying processed snack foods. I cringe when I think of how many boxes of crackers, granola bars, cereal bars, fruit snacks, puddings, and cookies we used to buy each month. I remember spending a pretty good portion of our grocery budget on snacks and wondering why we didn't have enough money for groceries.
2. Start slowly. First I quit buying snack crackers (we still buy soda crackers, because 2 of our family will only eat soup with crackers), then granola bars, then puddings, etc. I replaced the sweet snacks with my own baking- banana bread or muffins, zucchini pineapple loaf, etc. When they wanted a sweet treat, at least it was made with real food with my own hands in my own kitchen.
3. Replace lost foods with whole fresh foods. I started buying more fruit and vegetables, including some great "treat" fruits that are only available seasonally. Because I started this process in the summer I was able to fill their bellies with fresh berries, watermelon, etc, and gradually change taste buds around without them knowing it. If you plan the timing appropriately you'll have more success- if I had started in the middle of the school year it would have been much harder.
4. Keep fresh fruits and vegetables available and ready-to-eat. When someone in the house says to me "I'm hungry, what can I eat", the first thing I suggest is fruit or veges. And I'm not generic about it either. I will suggest specifically what they can eat- baby carrots, sliced cucumbers, orange, apple, strawberries, etc.
5. Identify why you're personally not eating more fruits and veges. We lead by example. If we say "eat an apple" while we're skarfing down a bag of chips, they're not going to be sold on eating better. My realization came about when I was deciding what to do with a beautiful crystal bowl that I wasn't using. I realized that I love fresh fruit- but I hate it cold. For me to love it, room temperature is the way to go. So now we always have a well-stocked bowl on our table. I'm refilling it like crazy. But that's ok!
6. Teach your family to cook. It's such a useful life-skill, and watching real food become amazing meals can change a family for the better. Plus, you can teach about a balanced meal by asking questions as you cook- here's the carb, here's the protein, what are we going for eat to fill the fruit and vegetable portion? Get your family in the habit of thinking about balanced meals.
In summary, if you fill your tastebuds with healthy, real food, your taste for high-calorie/high sodium processed/fast foods will become a thing of the past. It does take time, and we still eat out from time to time, but given the choice- if we're home, I'm going to cook. I like real food so much more than fast food.
You've been meal planning like a maven, happily skipping along from meal to meal, when something external effects your life, and everything spirals out of control...you or someone in your family gets sick, an unexpected pregnancy, an out-of-the-blue job loss, the death of someone close to you, car accident...it's hard to imagine looking at your calendar, much less creating a meal plan.
Been there, done that. Following are a few ideas to help you jump the hurdles. If you've been there, done that, too, please share what you did/are doing to keep on moving on.
1. Consider cooking extra meals when times are easy. If you have a deep freezer or somewhere to store ready-to-go meals, plan ahead to make a double batch of whatever you're making. Some meals that freeze well include lasagne, chili, and meat sauce.
2. Cook more than one. When we cook whole chickens we usually cook 3 at a time. This gives us lots of leftover cooked chicken that freezes very well and can be used for quick dinner options, like wraps, soups, stir-fries, fried rice, or sandwiches.
3. Give yourself permission to order out. Sometimes the only thing you can do is pick up the phone and call for pizza. That's ok. If your budget allows for it, let it happen.
4. Ask for help. Sometimes it's hard to admit you can't do it all, but believe me, no one can do it all, all the time. Everyone needs help sometime. People looking in from the outside often want to help, but don't know what they can do. Give them a list, or ask them for something specific- buy groceries, make a meal, pick up diapers/toilet paper, etc.
I hope this helps. What can you add to the list?
Here in Alberta, we have another full month of school left before we're done for the summer break. I've started thinking ahead to summer holidays, and how what we're going to be doing is going to impact what we'll be eating.
Do you depend on bbq's or takeout? Or do you eat a lot of cold salads, or have wiener roasts down at a campground somewhere?
No matter what you eat when you're celebrating summer- and believe, me, summer is way too short in Alberta to not celebrate it- I encourage you to remember to bring fresh fruit and vegetables with you. An apple packs very well, as do carrot sticks. Stop at farmers markets or U-Pick produce farms to let the kids try out something new while you're out adventuring. Don't just stop to smell the roses- stop and eat the fruit that grows right there in your own backyard.
I'm so looking forward to the end of the school year and the start of summer break. What are you looking forward to?