Saving Money in the Kitchen

Leanne Ely is our resident expert in food, kitchens, and menus! She is helping us with our financial clutter by providing us with great tools in the kitchen. If you thought menu planning was not for you, think again — Leanne makes it easy. It is amazing how much money can be saved at the grocery store by spending just 15 minutes planning at home first! Check it out.

Food For Thought: A Few Tricks Up Her Sleeves!

Dear Friends,

If you’re going to FACE the music, so to speak, you need to know where to go to come up with the money to throw on to some of your debt. I can think of no finer place to do that than the grocery store.

I learned a few tricks and some great treats to make that didn’t take much time. I gave myself a few rules for groceries (like I’ll never pay over .10/ounce for dry cereal, for example) and I stuck with them. That helped me cut grocery store dollars way, way down and gave me the much needed boost I required to be able to put money into something else, other than food. It was amazing how drastically I cut my costs!

One of the places you can do that is with those packaged mixes. I am particularly fond of taco seasoning mix, although less fond of the cost and the MSG that is inevitably in there. I still use it on occasion, but I’ve also made this mix before, and it’s terrific and easy to make:

Taco Seasoning:
1 cup dried minced onion
1/3 cup chili powder
2 tablespoons cumin (I actually add an extra tablespoon — we love cumin)
4 teaspoons crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon oregano
4 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder

Combine all ingredients and store in a cool, dry place.

When you’re using for Mexican dishes, use about 1 tablespoon or so per 1 pound ground beef, chicken, or beans. Use more if you like the extra flavor.

There was a time when I actually fed my family of four for $100 a MONTH. I didn’t do it with coupons (I used some, but not many), and I didn’t do it going to grocery store outlets out in the boonies (although I’ve done that, too). The consistent way I was able to buy groceries so inexpensively was due to my PLAN: I had a menu for the week, I had the appropriate groceries, and I cooked. Just that simple! If making a menu and grocery list is just too overwhelming for you, go to my website for a sample menu with healthy recipes and an accompanying itemized grocery list.

Here are a few more homemade package mixes to help you have money.

Noodle Mix
1 cup instant nonfat dry milk
2 tablespoons grated romano cheese
1/4 cup dried minced onion
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Combine ingredients and store in a sealable container or zipper topped plastic bag. This will keep for two months in the pantry, however, I would personally store in the fridge because of the cheese; plus, it will last longer. Mark the date on the zipper-topped bag with a permanent marker. This recipe doubles and triples well.

To Use: combine 1/4 cup mix with 2 tablespoons melted butter and 1/4 cup milk. Toss with 8 ounces pasta (cooked).

Homemade Shake and Bake
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients and store in a sealable container or zipper-topped plastic bag. This will keep up to 4 months in the pantry, depending on the humidity (you may just want to keep it in the freezer). This recipe will also double or triple well.

To Use: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place one cup mix in a plastic bag.

In a bowl, mix an egg and a 1/2 cup of milk. Dip chicken pieces one at a time in the milk mixture, then shake one at a time in the plastic bag.

Place on a baking pan and bake for appropriate time (depending on the chicken you’re using, as a little as 20 minutes or up to an hour for bigger, bone-in pieces).

Homemade Flavored Rice Mixes
4 cups uncooked rice (I always use brown rice)
1 envelope dry onion soup mix
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Combine all ingredients together and store in a zipper-topped plastic bag or sealable container. This will keep up to 4 months if stored in a cool, dark, and dry place. With brown rice, you may want to keep it in the freezer.

To Use: Mix 1 cup mix with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, lower heat, place lid on rice, and simmer until liquid is completely absorbed, about 20 minutes or more. Check if you need to. (I would add an extra half cup liquid for the brown rice)

Variations: to make Vegetable Rice Mix, substitute an envelope of vegetable soup mix. To make Spanish Rice Mix, substitute 1/2 cup Taco Seasoning (see recipe above) for envelope of onion soup.

Love ya,
Leanne

Food For Thought: Grocery Shopping 101

Dear Friends,

One of the most miserable places on earth is the grocery store at 6 o’clock every night. Here you will see women standing in line with hungry, cranky kids buying overpriced, ready-to-eat food for their dinner. They might have a gallon of milk too, or maybe even some toilet paper, but one thing is for sure: they’re unprepared, stressed out, and all they want to do is get out of that long line, get home,  and get everyone fed.

It does not have to be that way, and there are very simple solutions (BabySteps!) to getting out of this awful rut and getting a grip on the food in your house. One of the first things to do is make a shopping list.

Yeah, you’ve heard it before, and yet somehow you think you don’t need to do this; you think you know what you need. But let me ask you this: how many trips do you make each week to the store? The answer should be ONE. Even an extra trip to pick up a gallon of milk is too much — it’s not going to go bad, so why not stock up? Now don’t go e-mailing me explaining your space limitations. Obviously, if that is truly the case (and you’ve eliminated the “science project” leftovers taking up valuable space in the fridge), you have my blessing. But for the rest of us SHEs, once is absolutely enough. I cannot emphasize how important this is. Staying out of the store will help us keep our finances in order, give us more time to do the things we want to do, and is a critical FLYing lesson.

The way to do this is to have a plan. It doesn’t need to be elaborate, just a simple grocery list that coincides with what your family eats (a menu for the week), what you’re running out of, and how much you need of everything. If you’re opening a can of tuna for lunch, put tuna on the grocery list — even if you have more in the pantry! And even if you don’t pick it up this grocery trip, you have at least made the connection that you’ll need it in the future; it’s written down, and it will be remembered when it is finally time for it to be bought. This is how you keep your pantry perpetually stocked.

At this point I have to address the warehouse store. This is NOT a good place for SHEs to spend their time or their money. I have yet to meet a SHE who can go into one of these places with a list and not come out with at least five other purchases because they were “good deals.” SHEs love a deal — believe me, I know! I have more than once called up a friend to gloat over the good deal I snagged. There are always exceptions to the rule (again — hold those e-mails!), but for the most part, it’s a slippery slope, and if you don’t want to fall down, you must avoid places like those like the plague.

Here are some signs you’ve got a problem with warehouse stores:

  • Your purchases are stuffed under beds in your home because you don’t have the space.
  • You’re lying to your spouse about what you spent.
  • You’re hiding your purchases.
  • You’re nervous when it’s time to check out, hoping you have the money to buy all the stuff.
  • You feel guilty about it.

Of course, this can all apply to any store. Warehouse stores are the places that I happen to know from personal experience that you can completely whack out your family’s household budget for months because of impulse purchases. And that’s what the whole economy of a warehouse store is based on. They’re counting on you to overspend and impulse buy and to thank you, they charge you a membership fee once a year for that privilege!

So get your menus together (need some help? I’ve got one for a week’s worth of healthy dinners with the grocery list all ready to roll on my website). Keep a running list (I have a cheap notepad with a magnet on my fridge and a pen in the knife drawer) and write it down as soon as you use it, and above all else,  spend a little extra time on the list before you leave the house. The time spent on the list will pay off big time, because you won’t be running out the door to grab a can of tomatoes for a recipe because your perpetual grocery list has you covered. As this becomes a habit, you will be FLYing in the grocery department of your life, too! It will become easier, you’ll spend less time and you’ll be confident that you have what you need when you need it.

Like FlyLady always says, You can do this! Baby steps!

Love,
Leanne

Food For Thought: The Perpetual Pantry

Dear Friends,

I’ve said many times that having a well-stocked pantry is a gal’s best friend. I have taken that principle a step further and now keep what I call a Perpetual Pantry. A pantry so well-stocked, I can go there and find the ingredients I need to make a number of quick pantry meals. And in this 21st century, we’d all be foolish not to acknowledge that our freezers are just an extension of that pantry. I include my freezer in my Perpetual Pantry.

Having cans of artichoke hearts that you bought on sale sitting in the back of your cupboard when no one in your house likes artichokes doesn’t work. Likewise, buying food on sale that you hope to somehow figure out a use for is ultimately wasteful. This is just clutter and it’s gotta go (there are food banks and charities that will happily take what you have if it’s worthy of consumption).

To make your own Perpetual Pantry, it must reflect what is consumed in your home. Our family doesn’t eat canned soups — consequently, there is no canned soup in my pantry. You may eat canned soups (and that’s fine!), so you need to include what you eat in your pantry. I know that is a big “duh,” but I’ve had so many e-mails from people asking me what they need in their pantries.

Following a few simple guidelines (BabySteps!) will help you customize and design your own Perpetual Pantry. To start off, you need to be able to find what you need when you need it, so putting like items together with other like items (put all the tomato products together in one area, for example) will get you going in the right direction.

You’ll want to keep the shelves divided into categories of food, too. Put the cereals and grains (rice, pasta, oatmeal, etc.) together on one shelf or area. Place baking stuff together on another shelf. The object is to organize it so it makes sense to you. Think grocery store layout on a small scale. Same goes for the freezer: put all the meats together, juices together in the door, veggies, ice cream, etc., and next thing you’ll know, you’ll be able to FIND stuff!

That doesn’t mean you need to be a perfectionist and start lining stuff up in alphabetical order! It does mean that you’ll need to spend a little time in your cupboard and in your freezer — but do it in 15 minute bites. Set your timer and have fun with it! You want to be able to smile every time you open your pantry doors knowing what you have in there works for your family. Your Perpetual Pantry is the key to you being able to put breakfast on the table, make dinner every night and pack your child’s lunch.

You’ve seen the bumper sticker, “He that dies with the most toys wins.” Well for SHEs it could be, “SHE that dies with the most stashed food wins.” This is not the goal at all: the goal is get the food you need in there so it will SERVE you and your family. Your well-stocked pantry doesn’t mean crammed to the gills so that you need to post a sign that says “Beware of falling objects.”

Learning how to grocery shop is the first step to having a Perpetual Pantry. The second part of that equation is keeping the food easy to find (as mentioned above) and also rotating your food so your older stuff is getting used first.

FlyLady challenged us one week to eat out of pantries and freezers for a week. Maybe you will want to do that again as you get your pantries in order and establish your Perpetual Pantry.

I have included a pantry meal that has bailed me out more than once when I’ve needed it. See if you have this stuff in your pantry and enjoy the freedom that a well-stocked pantry (and freezer) offers.

Remember — your pantry doesn’t have to be the equivalent of a scavenger hunt! You can do this! :-)

Love,
Leanne

Food For Thought: 11 Kitchen FLY Sense

Dear Friends,

Getting yourself out of financial hot water requires that the spending be curbed. One of the best places to really get your budget in line is with food. With the exception of the mortgage, it’s probably your biggest expense. And unlike your mortgage, you have control over the food money going out every month. Having a good financial mindset (to be money-conscience; not a tightwad) gives you the freedom to put your money toward your debt and obtain freedom from financial bondage.

Here are 11 Kitchen FLY Sense that will help you with that goal. These are all tried and true money slashing ideas tried by me personally, and I promise, these tips were instrumental in helping me get to the place of being debt-free.

  1. Be a Bounty Hunter. If your grocery store has a sale on ground beef (for example) and it’s a great big package, buy it any way and cut it up into sizes you’ll use. Use the freezer quality zipper-top plastic bags. You’re going to go to all this trouble, you might as well have something quality to eat when it’s time to thaw!
  2. Bigger isn’t Better. Not necessarily anyway. Don’t automatically reach for the biggest package at the grocery store thinking you’re getting the better deal. Compare prices and watch for the price per ounce or unit, on the price tag.
  3. Make Mine a Markdown. Check the back of the store for a markdown shelf. Not all stores have these, but some do. My market deep discounts dented cereal boxes and I save a small fortune that way. Watch the dented cans though–I’d pay retail just to avoid any problems.
  4. Count your losses. Loss leaders (the cheap stuff they advertise on the front of the flyers they send out every week) are designed to get you into the door. That’s fine, buy those things, but watch for the end cap displays in the store. They’re usually NOT the loss leaders! Just regular merchandise. Don’t be duped into buying it.
  5. Grocery store smarts. Give yourself this quick test before leaving the house. Do I have my list? Is this a bad time to shop? (avoid rush hour and prime time at the grocery store) Can someone watch the kids? (no explanation necessary) Am I hungry? (you know what happens when you’re hungry and you’re shopping for food!). If you’ve passed the test, go to the bathroom, tuck your list into your pocketbook, and GO!
  6. Spice it up. I use a LOT of spices when I cook — if you ever used any of my recipes you know that. But I DON’T buy them at the regular grocery store, or I’d go broke. Instead, I get them at a discount store, like Wal-Mart for $1.00 each.
  7. Take Stock. You’ll read about stocking your Perpetual Pantry later this week. But you must watch it when you’re in that “stocking up” mood. Will you really use it or will it go bad? I bought spaghetti on sale once at Big Lots for 10 cents a package, and by about the 20th package, there were little bugs in them! Eeewww! Stock up, but don’t hoard.
  8. Go Bananas. If your bananas get a little too ripe, freeze them with the skins on. Later, peel them with a knife and throw them in a blender with a little milk, some other fruit, and some protein powder,  and you have a quick power breakfast. Or, just let the kids eat them as is for a delicious snack — especially in the summer.
  9. Menus aren’t just for restaurants. You MUST plan your meals. No plan spells disaster — you know that. If you need some help, go to my website for a week’s worth of dinner recipes complete with a grocery list.
  10. My Freezer, My Friend. In this day and age, the freezer is an extension of the pantry. Use it wisely! Get rid of the freezer-burned garbage and feed it regularly with stuff you’ll use. For example, does your family love your world famous meatloaf but you don’t make it often because it’s time-extensive to make? Make TWO or even three next time, cook them off, and freeze them (again — freezer worthy bags only). And here’s another nifty tip: use a permanent marker to mark the date and contents (you must do this — you WILL forget) on the freezer bag.
  11. Drop the Drive-Thru Mentality. Yeah, it is easier just to grab something to go and you might not want to cook. But it’s costing you your family’s financial freedom, not to mention health. It’s the little things that add up and rob you blind. And don’t fall for the $.99 menu either — it’s all fat, cholesterol and those 99 pennies could be going toward a bill that needs paying off. You deserve better than that. To FLY means you have to let go. This is the stuff that holds us down, that keeps us from being airborne. I used to be in huge debt, had next to nothing income-wise and an IRS problem that almost made me wish I had the mafia after me instead! But getting my house in order (this was CRITICAL) gave me room to chip away at the financial problems, one baby step at a time, using the brain God gave me. Today, I am debt-free.So go for it! You can do this!!Love,
    Leanne

Food For Thought: Filled Pantry = Security and Peace

Dear Friends,

If you are living in tight quarters and feel you can’t afford a pantry, start a massive decluttering plan and start looking. If you’re smart and creative, you can always pull a rabbit out of your hat. During the Y2K madness, I had cases of canned goods under my bed, the kids beds, and dressers (this was before FlyLady — I know better than to have stuff under my beds now). I pulled stuff out and rotated with stuff from the cupboards. It wasn’t the most convenient, but it worked.

Even if you have no pantry space, you can easily make pantry space out of almost anything — like the linen closet. What do you do with the linens? Here’s where you need to declutter. First, only two sets of sheets per bed. Why should we store several sets of sheets anyway? That’s crazy. They never all get used. You will have one set obviously on the beds, put the other set (folded very spare and flat) and store it between the mattress and box spring. The case of too many sheets solved!

The next issue to deal with is towels. At my house, we have 8 towels. Two per person. I use big hooks in the bathroom, and everyone has their own hook with their own towel. The second towel is hung on the back of everyone’s door. Towels are dealt with. Beach towels go in plastic storage containers and go into the attic — this is a seasonal item. Keep kitchen linens in a drawer in the kitchen (clean out and declutter to make room!) Dining room linens — tablecloths, napkins, runners, etc. — can all be stored in a sideboard or buffet in your dining room. If not, find a drawer for them in a dresser somewhere. If you have too many for a drawer, it’s time to declutter!

As you can see, there is obviously no need for a linen closet anymore, and a pantry is born. And in my old farmhouse, there isn’t one so that’s a moot point, but in your house if you have a linen closet and no pantry, and you really want one, you can now have one. Plus, you get extra FlyLady points for all the decluttering! ;-)

Leanne Ely, C.N.C.

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