Saturday, February 27, 2010

The month of February

As you all know, I started this blog to document the lessons I'm learning in how to save money while still being healthy. My learning process has only just begun. This month I have learned a little bit on what has and has not worked in my endeavor. Let me share those things with you.

In January and February, I decided I was going to plan my meals and shop for an entire month. Obviously, I would still have to go to the store for my fresh produce, milk, things like that. The meal planning initially took me forever. However, after the first session of planning, I found that February's menu was much easier to figure out. I looked at the grocery store circulars and tried to plan according to what was on sale. I went to the farmer's markets and purchased some meat and produce. I also began incorporating more vegetarian meals into my repertoire.

I found out that meal planning for an entire month is not only time consuming, but it didn't end up saving me any money. As a matter of fact, I think I spent more money in those two months than I had in the previous months. My theory behind planning for a month was that I wouldn't have to go to the grocery store as often, so I would buy less (because of less impulse buying). Well, I am NOT an impulse buyer at all. I go to the store, with a meal plan, and I get what I need. That's it. For those who get tempted by all the sale signs and new products, this may be worthwhile. It was not for me. I'm glad I found this out though because now I know I don't have to go through the arduous process of planning for a whole month.

I also found that I was missing the really good sales on certain things. For instance, in the last few weeks, there have been sales on cereal at the local grocery stores. Well, for me to stock up, I had to go over budget. Also, I took a trip up to Whole Foods and was able to buy a case of rice milk, which is extremely cost effective. Not only is the rice milk cheaper at Whole Foods than the cheapest price I can find around here, but because I am able to buy it by the case, I save an additional 10%. I had already spent my $$ for the month, but it just made financial sense to purchase what I did while I was there.

All of that to say that I will be buying for a week or two at a time and looking at my month as a whole (as opposed to trying to stick to a weekly budget). This will break down to a certain dollar amount that I am aiming for per week, but will give me a little more flexibility to stock up with the really good sales.

So, I have told you what didn't work for me...those things that DID were perusing the circulars for the best deals and coupon clipping. I wasn't much of a coupon clipper until recently. I have saved SO much money in the last couple of weeks by getting online coupons at sites like,, and and clipping coupons in the Sunday newspaper. By matching up the coupons with the sales in the circulars, I am getting things for free or darn close to it! I am working on my "stockpile" right now to tide me over between sales, but I am having some pretty good success! This is my stockpile trip this week (spent $50, saved $, the candy is NOT "clean", but it was a treat for the hubs ;)):

Another thing that I have done is to make sure I'm not wasting food. Sounds simple, right? How much food do you throw away on garbage day? Kristen over at began chronicling her food waste by starting Food Waste Friday. Many bloggers have participated and while I have not participated formally, I have been more conscious of what is in my fridge. I use up leftover ingredients before they expire and am proud to say that in the last three weeks, I have had no food waste!! What a simple way to save money.

So, that's my month and education in summary. Hope this is helping someone besides certainly helps to keep me accountable!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Buy the whole stinkin' bird

I have been trying to find good ways to cut my grocery bill while still being able to eat healthy. I have found that buying and roasting a whole chicken is super economical. Yes, it's true...the thigh, drumstick, and wing meat of the chicken are not as healthy as the breast. However, if you compare the nutritional values of the dark meat to a very lean beef, the chicken usually still wins. Take a look at this, for example:

Type of Meat


Protein Cholesterol
Chicken Breast
120 1.5 g .5 g 24 g 70 mg
Chicken Breast
(with skin)
170 7 g 2 g 25 g 70 mg
Chicken Drumstick
130 4 g 1 g 23 g 70 mg
Chicken Drumstick
(with skin)
180 9 g 3 g 23 g 75 mg
Beef Tenderloin
(fat trimmed)
180 8.5 g 3.2 g 24 g 70 mg
Beef Sirloin
(fat trimmed)
170 6.1 g 2.4 g 26 g 75 mg

If you ate the drumstick without the skin, it would still be less fat and calories than beef tenderloin (a very lean meat). Now, we all know that we shouldn't eat red meat more than a couple of times a week, for a variety of health reasons. I am not saying that you should abandon eating red meat and switch to eating the dark meat of chicken all the time. However, when I roast a chicken, I usually can get 5 meals out of it between the chicken breast and the dark meat. We have the chicken breast for two meals and then the dark meat of the chicken I use for soup, chili, fajitas, mixed in with pasta sauce, or in a stir fry. Many time, I will freeze some for a later know, those nights where you forgot to take something out for dinner or need to eat quickly. We switch this up with vegetarian meals, fish (rarely because my husband hates it), or lean red meats.

That said, some people are nervous about roasting a whole chicken (have you seen the Perdue commercial about roaster-phobia? That used to be me.) or they think it takes too much time. I promise, it doesn't. It takes 10 minutes to prep and an hour and a half in the oven (for an average 4 pound bird). During that hour and a half, you can do whatever else you need to do in the's a cinch! I usually sprinkle it with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and parsley inside and out. Spray the chicken all over with cooking spray, put a medium onion (cut into wedges) inside the cavity and on the top of the bird. Cover with aluminum foil and a half an hour before it's done remove the aluminum foil to brown the skin (if you don't eat the skin, this step doesn't matter...I just leave the aluminum foil on the whole time). That's it!

Once you've picked the meat off the bones, you can easily make your own stock with the bones, some water and veggies. Low sodium and all you know what's in it and can pronounce all the ingredients. ;)

This may not be a new concept for any of you, but I have just begun to realize how much I can save by just buying the whole stinkin' bird. Happy cooking!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bagel lovers inquire within

Do you love bagels like I do? I have a bagel for breakfast every morning. I know, I know, in order to get the nutrients you need daily it's important for a person to vary their diet. However, when I was nursing Jana, I couldn't eat much besides bread and meat. I began to look forward to my bagel every morning because it was one of the few things I could still have that I truly enjoyed. So, I'm now stuck in a rut.

Since I was on maternity leave for the first few months of Jana's life, I became very aware of every penny we spent. When I first returned home from the hospital I, like most new mommies, did not have the time or energy to cook. I began purchasing my bagels. Besides not being able to find bagels with a short ingredients list that tasted good (I was looking for a list that said "whole wheat flour, water, salt, yeast" and that was about it), it was expensive!!! I usually went for the fresh, store made bagels because they tasted better, but they were around $8 per dozen. I thought that was crazy, not to mention the ingredients list was anything but short.

As soon as I could, I switched to making my own bagels again. I could make these for around $2/dozen. That's quite a savings, especially with the way we eat bagels in my house! I can hear what you're thinking..."who has the time to make bagels?" Honestly, it is time consuming, but there is only about 15 minutes active prep time. The rest is rising, mixing, and baking. I use my bread machine, so it makes the job much easier. I don't have to do the kneading, punching down the dough, etc. My bread maker is worth it's weight in gold! :)

So, I adapted this recipe from to my own tastes:
  • 1 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 3 quarts boiling water
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal
  • 1 egg white
  • 3 tablespoons poppy seeds
  1. Place water, salt, sugar, flour and yeast in the bread machine pan in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select Dough setting.
  2. When cycle is complete, let dough rest on a lightly floured surface. Meanwhile, in a large pot bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Stir in 3 tablespoons of sugar.
  3. Cut dough into 9 equal pieces, and roll each piece into a small ball. Flatten balls. Poke a hole in the middle of each with your thumb. Twirl the dough on your finger or thumb to enlarge the hole, and to even out the dough around the hole. Cover bagels with a clean cloth, and let rest for 10 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle an ungreased baking sheet with cornmeal. Carefully transfer bagels to boiling water. Boil for 1 minute, turning half way through. Drain briefly on clean towel. Arrange boiled bagels on baking sheet. Glaze tops with egg white, and sprinkle with your choice of toppings.
  5. Bake in a preheated 375 degree F (190 degrees C) oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until well browned.
And here is the finished product!

I make the bagels all whole wheat, get rid of the refined sugar that it calls for, and add some cinnamon. Also, you'll need slightly more water than the recipe calls for. It is probably around 1 1/8- 1 1/4 cups. I don't add sugar to the boiling water and I just spray the bagels with olive oil spray before putting in the oven (instead of using an egg wash). The possibilities are can make whatever your favorite bagel is. Add some kosher salt, minced onion, poppyseeds, sesame seeds, raisins...whatever you please! Those of you who love blueberry bagels: I haven't found a great way to add the blueberries without your bagels turning purple, but they still taste good! Of course, if you prepared the dough by hand, you probably could do it a lot easier.

Have a blast with this. The finished product will be better than any store bought bagel you have ever had!

For more recipes using flour, head over to Life As Mom.

**** I should have mentioned that if you use all whole wheat flour, you should add some gluten to the mix. If you add 1 teaspoon of gluten per cup of flour, your dough will be much more pliable and the finished product much softer. Sorry, Kate! :-/

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The wonderful world of lentils

So, this is the way my kitchen looked today:

In the front left pot, there was lentil soup; in the front right, rice to make J some rice milk (another post for another day); back left were sweet potatoes for J's lunch, and in the oven I was roasting a chicken. All in a day's work. ;) I'll just focus on the soup for this post.

In order to cut down my grocery bill for the month, I have decided (much to my husband's dismay) that we will have at least one vegetarian dish each week. I don't know about the rest of your significant others, but my husband is all about meat at every meal, preferably red. He doesn't realize that there can be too much of a good thing. Anyway, I digress...

In came the lentils. I had never tried lentils before. I bought a 16 oz bag of Goya lentils that were in my local Stop & Shop for about $1. I searched for a recipe using lentils because, as many of us do, I originally bought these for another recipe that I never made. I found a recipe for lentil soup...this time of year is great for soup, right? I found a good one on (if you haven't been to this website, you need to check it out). With the ingredients listed, it would cost between $.80 and $1 per serving (best I could figure). Not bad!

Here's the original recipe:
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 pinch fenugreek seeds
  • 1 cup dry red lentils
  • 1 cup butternut squash - peeled, seeded, and cubed
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 (14 ounce) can coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 pinch ground nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat, and cook the onion, ginger, garlic, and fenugreek until onion is tender.
2. Mix the lentils, squash, and cilantro into the pot. Stir in the water, coconut milk, and tomato paste. Season with curry powder, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer 30 minutes, or until lentils and squash are tender.

I used sweet potato instead of squash, powdered ginger, extra garlic, no fenugreek, no cilantro (didn't have any and knew it would go bad before I used the rest), chicken broth in place of the water and probably used more like 3 cups, 3/4 can of lite coconut milk, extra curry powder and cayenne, and added probably 10 shredded baby carrots (I only use recipes as guidelines. ;)). I simmered it for more like an hour because I kept messing with the spices and the liquid until it tasted just right. Once it was done, it was delicious!!!!

Okay, it may not look delicious, but it really was. I still feel like it might be missing a little something. One of the reviews on allrecipes recommended adding portabella mushrooms. That might help, but the flavor was great. I definitely recommend this recipe...I'll let you know if my husband would. :)

Do you have a favorite lentil recipe? Please share! :)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Joining the masses

So, lately I have read many blogs on how women are saving money grocery shopping. They use coupons and store sales galore. I look on in awe as I see their calculations of how much they save. I see percentages of all numbers...all the way up to 95%! How is this possible? I want to join these women in spending a ridiculously small amount of money for a large amount of groceries. There's only one problem: When I look to see what these women are buying to make their meals, I wouldn't purchase about 85% of it.

I have adopted a lifestyle called clean eating. All this means is eating food in its purest form: minimally processed, whole foods. The smaller the ingredients list, the better. It also means lean proteins, whole grains, and not consuming anything refined (flour, sugar, etc). This results in many foods being made from scratch (at least in my household), so I know that it's made from whole-grain, healthy ingredients and there are no fillers added.

In addition to this, I am committed to buying all natural, preferably all organic, products. I have a 15 month old daughter who was colicky for four months of her life. She still has a VERY sensitive tummy. I am able to have her eat about 10 items safely without upsetting her very delicate stomach. If we deviate from these 10 things, usually it results in us being up much of the night with a very uncomfortable child. I have found that by switching to all natural or organic products we are able to avoid much of the tummy issues.

Unfortunately, I found that the more organic products I bought, the higher my grocery bill climbed. I went from spending about $70/week for two adults and one 15 month old to spending over $100/week on average. While it's well worth the extra money to have a happier daughter and for all of us to be healthier at the same time, I cringe every time I see my grocery receipt. I have heard it time and time again: It's more expensive to eat healthy. It's true, but I'm on a mission to find ways to make it more affordable.

This blog is to track my progress. I wasn't an English major and I'm sure I'll have grammatical errors here and there. I just wanted a place to write about my adventures in trying to juggle it all: be healthier, be a good mommy and wife, and save money while doing it all. I appreciate any feedback or comments and I want everyone who follows this blog to keep me accountable in my journey.

Happy blogging everyone and, as of today, I join the blogging community! :)