Not quite Meal planning

So I haven’t meal planned for several weeks now.  There have been lots of reasons why, from the simple I can’t be bothered to not having the time and energy.  I also have lacked the motivation.  I’ve been struggling a little to cope since one of my twin boys broke his leg, so I made my life simpler by cancelling things, postponing others and not putting pressure on myself to do everything.  What I can tell you about this break from planning is that we have not starved, we actually haven’t completely blown the budget but we have been buying more than we should.  While this is ok once in a while it is not a long term solution.

Thankfully my prior meal planning and bulk cooking has more than paid off, allowing me to have this ‘time off,’ while still having meals available for hubby to take to work every night, and even a few things for me.  Our freezer was literally that full a couple of months ago that we plugged back in our mini bar freezer (so we essentially had three freezers full of stuff!).  It has meant that my husband has had loads to choose from, the boys have had a range of lunches, dinners and snacks (I make mini quiches, scrolls, as well as muffins in bulk and freeze them all) and I haven’t really had to worry about it.  I’ve probably had pasta Bolognese what feels like a week straight (in reality it was like 3 nights in a row and then every second night for a few more days) but it was easy, filling and satisfying.  I’ve also had a bit of take away, toasted cheese sandwiches for dinner and who knows what else!

So now that we’ve been on holiday and I’m feeling better I have to really get back to planning, cooking and restocking!  The boys have almost nothing left so they are definitely my first priority, hubby still has quite a lot left, and I’m in desperate need of more Bolognese sauce.  I have been using a lot from my pantry, but there is still quite a few odds and ends left and I still have a lot of meat (we did do a meat shop a couple of weeks ago) so I’m hoping to get through the next week without a trip to the supermarket.  I stocked up on bread and milk Thursday night so really there is no reason to go (it doesn’t mean I wont).  So although this week I don’t have an actual meal plan as I have no idea what I will make for myself, I do have a plan on the other bits and pieces I plan to make, which is as follows.

* Muffins – a savoury version or two, I’m thinking a corn one (tinned), a pumpkin one (still got some pumpkins we were given) and if I can find the time also a tomato one (tinned)

* Muffins – sweet version, probably an apple one (lots of tins of apple still) and maybe banana (got some going brown)

* Quiches – mini version for the boys (we have stacks of eggs and I will just add in whatever else I can find)

* Savoury scrolls – I’ve got a little salad that is looking sad which is perfect for these and I’ll add a little ham

Hopefully that will clear a little more space in my cupboard, so that when I head back to SPC in the next few weeks and come back with another car load full I will have a space to put it all!  And it will refill the boys very bare looking space in the freezer, as well as fulfilling my need to do some baking.  In another week or two I may get back into the swing of meal planning, but personally I am in no rush and might instead look at changing my strict planning to a more relaxed version of bulk cooking.

I also managed to make a pumpkin and ham frittata yesterday, which is pictured below.  Don’t ask me how it tastes (I don’t like pumpkin or eggs! lol), I’m waiting on hubby to have some for lunch for the verdict.

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Recipe – Beef Ragout

I got a version of this recipe off taste.com.au but it just didn’t work for me, so I adapted it so that I could put it in my slow cooker and just leave it. Its a hit in our house, served with some pasta.

 

Ingredients

* 1.8kg beef bolar blade, cut into chunks

* 250g short cut bacon, finely diced

* 4 carrots, peeled and finely chopped

* 4 celery sticks, finely chopped

* 2 brown onions, finely chopped

* 4 cloves of garlic, crushed

* 4 tins of diced tomatoes (410g cans)

* 1 and 1/2 cups red wine

* 3 dried bay leaves

* 2 large sprigs rosemary

 

Directions

* Heat a large pot (or your slow cooker if you have a searing pan) over a medium head with a small amount of olive oil

* Add bacon, carrot, celery, onion and garlic and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes

* Stir in the beef, tomato, wine, bay leaves and rosemary and bring to the boil

* Transfer to your slow cooker

* Cook on high for 3 hours or until the beef falls apart

* Using tongs take all the beef out of the pot

* Shred all the beef – I use two forks, one to hold it and one to shred the meat, but you can do it with your hands

* Place beef back in with the sauce and stir well

* Cook for another 30mins with the lid off to allow the sauce to thicken (all slow cookers vary so if it is very watery add in some tomato paste)

* Serve with pasta and parmesan cheese

 

Notes –

* This is a great pasta sauce to freeze, just allow to cool and freeze in meal size portions

* This should easily serve 8 people, but you can add in even more vegetables to both hide them from the kids and bulk it out

 

Recipe – Pumpkin and corn muffins

So when we had roast on the weekend my husband had pumpkin (I don’t like it), so I had half a pumpkin sitting in my fridge which I needed to use up.  I wasn’t sure what to do with it so I decided to give some muffins a try.  I couldn’t find a recipe that I had ingredients for sitting in my house so I decided I would just make my own!  The result was a hit with hubby and the kids.

Ingredients –

* 1/2 kent pumpkin (ours weight approx. 500g before peeling and seeding)

* 1 can corn

* 2 cups self raising flour

* 3 eggs

* 1/2 cup milk

* 1 cup shredded cheese

Directions –

* Preheat oven to 160 degrees

* Peel, deseed and grate the pumpkin

* Put flour into bowl, adding pumpkin and corn, tossing them to coat

* In a separate bowl whisk eggs and milk

* Add eggs and milk to flour mixture, stirring well

* Add cheese and stir again

* Spoon into muffin trays

* Cook for 15-20 mins in the oven

Notes –

* This made 48 mini muffins, but would make roughly 24 regular muffins

* As an alternative swap the pumpkin for sweet potato

* Add salt and pepper before baking

Recipe – Spinach, Broccoli and Pear Puree

So when my boys are teething they tend to go off their food and will only eat purees.  Now these can be really expensive but they need to eat so in the past I have purchased them.  Lately though I just cant justify the cost.  So when I was at the supermarket last week and my boys were being a bit cranky I decided that I would make my own.  When the boys first started eating I made all their purees myself – it was super easy and it gave me something cooking wise to do and since I hadn’t cooked in such a long time it was a nice way to ease myself back in.

Ingredients –

* 1 kg pears (try not to use ones too firm)

* 120g spinach

* 500g broccoli (frozen or fresh)

Directions –

* Boil (or steam) your broccoli for the standard cooking time, strain but save some of the water.

* Optional – Steam or just pour boiling water over the spinach (I choose not to but I would recommend doing this for babies under 1)

* Peel, and take the core out of the pears, chopping into quarters.

* Place all ingredients in food processor (I had to do mine in two batches as it wouldn’t all fit)

* Blend, adding a few tablespoons of water at a time, until it becomes a smooth consistency

* Serve warm, or place in a bowl to cook down and serve at room temperature

I’m sure this recipe would be great for babies as well as toddlers.  For my toddlers I put this into my reusable food pouches, but if you were making it for babies I recommend freezing it into icecube trays or the small avent food containers so you can defrost in small portions.

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There are also so many alternatives to this simple recipe – swap the ingredients around and use what you have or better yet what’s on special peas, beans, apples would be easy to swap in, or go for something completely different – sweet potato, pumpkin and carrot.  I like to add fruit (pear or apple) as it makes it sweeter but still healthy and it means my boys will definitely eat it.

If your on a budget I highly recommend making your own baby food – I worked out that this bulk recipe cost me $9 and would have made me 10 pouches that are each filled with just under 150ml.  The average pouch is 120g and retails for between $1.80 and $2.20.  Definitely a cost saver!!!

Recipe – Carrot Soup

Yes I admit it, I am currently soup obsessed! It’s been freezing cold here lately and soup is one of those lovely warm you up meals that you can make in bulk and everyone can enjoy at any time of day. I make a big batch and freeze in a meal size portions so that we can grab some whenever we feel like it.

We had a bag and a half of carrots sitting in the bottom of the fridge staring at me and after jumping onto the taste website and putting carrots in the search field I got lots and lots of recipes. I considered making carrot cake which I personally love but having made muffins for the boys and pikelets last week my freezer is pretty well stocked with treats. Then I came across a carrot soup recipe. I was intriguied, I have actually never heard of carrot soup, but why not. So I endeavoured to make it and of course it didn’t quite work for me so I changed it and this is what I came up with.

Ingredients –

* 1.5kg of carrots

* 2 leeks (you could use onions)

* 3 litres of vegetable stock

* 2 tablespoons of ginger (I have a jar I keep in the fridge but you could use approx. 2cm of fresh ginger grated)

Directions –

* Preheat oven to 180 degrees

* Peel and chop carrots and leek into finger sized pieces

* Put leek and carrots into a large roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil

* Roast for approx. 30-40mins turning once (you want to get that lovely roast flavour)

* Transfer to a large saucepan with vegetable stock and ginger

* Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer, cooking for approx. 20 mins

* Blend to a smooth consistency with a stick mixer or blender

Notes – If you want a bit of a kick, add more ginger; if you want it creamier add some cream but only to the portion you are eating (it will not freeze well for some reason); and of course add salt and pepper to taste.

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Busy week

So I have had a flat out week.  I have been out everyday this week which is not like us and I am tired!  I have got alot done errands wise, caught up with a number of friends and am finally starting to feel better.

Unfortunately hubby has not really worked this week which is bad for our finances but the boys have really enjoyed having him around.  Today we are having a much needed day at home, the boys are napping, hubby is at work and I am enjoying a time out on the couch after cooking up a storm earlier.

This afternoon I hope to cook a couple more dishes and freeze them for the next week.  With low finances I believe its about using what you have and cooking in bulk.  When I see things on special I do buy extra but that requires being able to adapt receipes, trying new things and cooking sometimes when you don’t really feel like it.  There is no point in buying ingredients on special if you can’t use them all up.

Last weekend we were given about 10-12 capsicums so my plan today was to use them up, along with some other bits and pieces sitting in the bottom of my fridge.  I put a message out to some friends asking what I could do with green ones, as all the receipes I could find used red capsicum and it is far too cold for salads and salsas which are my usual uses for green capsicum.  My friends are wonderful and gave me some great suggestions.  Receipes will go up over the next couple of days.

Tips for buying in bulk

So yesterday we made our trip to SPC Ardmona and came home with a full car load.  So I thought I should share some tips on how to shop in bulk.  These tips work for places like SPC and Costco, where you buy things by the case (eg. 12 cans of the same product).

  • So to start with you need to know what you have at home.  I generally have a fair idea of what we have but I always ask hubby to double check just in case there is something hidden in a back room that I’ve forgotten about!!
  • Have a budget – we actually have a seperate budget for trips to SPC, and this is not part of our weekly shopping budget (or our meat budget), for us it is much easier to have these seperate budgets because I then know where I am at on a weekly basis.
  • Know what products you use a lot of and what you only use a little of – there is no point buying something that is on super special if you only use it rarely or you’ve never used it before.  It will sit in the back of your cupboard using precious space and collecting dust for a year or more, trust me.
  • Have an idea of product prices.  Things may seem cheap but honestly they aren’t always so know your prices!!  If you don’t know your prices I recommend giving yourself some extra time and taking your phone, jumping onto coles or safeway online and look up to see whether you really are getting a good deal
  • Go with an empty car!!  We don’t even take the pram these days, we could and it would fit, its just not worth the hassle when you have to try and fit it all in the car at the end of the shop
  • Go with two adults if you can, particularly if you have children.  We put one boy in each trolley, grab a couple of boxes from the front to pack small things as we go around, so the big things go into one trolley and the small things into the other.  This also makes it easier to pack as the check out ladies speed through the mountain of purchases – its like Aldi, you have to pack quick!!
  • Take your time.  I cannot stress this enough.  These places can be very big and it can be overwhelming, particularly on your first time.  Don’t try to rush this kind of shop, you will buy too much and spend more than you should.
  • Compare products and prices with each other.  These places have several different brands of items – for example we saw different brands of toothpaste, don’t just look at the price, you need to compare the sizes – the companies are very good at putting things in similar size packaging but I always check how many grams I’m getting.  I then work out which is the better deal.  I often see people just going well thats cheaper so we’ll take that – you need to make sure your comparing the same thing.
  • Be aware that stock changes regularly.  Just because you got something there last time does not mean it will be there this time.  If you see something and you want it and you will actually use it, seriously you should just get it.  There is no point regretting not getting the kids those fruit sticks you saw and having to pay twice as much for a third of the amount at the supermarket the following week.  And don’t get disappointed when they don’t have something you wanted.  We walk in having a basic shopping list, anything else is a bonus and anything they don’t have this time I know I can still get at the supermarket.
  • Last but not least have a bit of fun.  It should not be a stressful experience.  If your taking the kids (which we do) take some snacks for them, let them hold a bag of something, let them pick something off the shelves.  If you walk in with your plan of what you do not need, what would be great if they had that you do need and a budget it will make it much easier.

Hope that helps someone out on their first trip or their next trip to one of these stores.  They are fantastic if you shop smart.  And below is the boys at the end of our SPC shop.  Their trolleys are both full and they were still fairly happy.

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And this is my car all packed up.  Yes it is full!  There are several boxes at the back filled with fruit that we picked up elsewhere, so I didn’t buy it all!!  And yes the boys each got a Bitty Bin which are just slightly shorter than them – just happened to be at SPC and I thought they were super cute and great to put the boys mega bloks in.  I actually filled the bins full of stuff to save space for the way home and my intention was to empty them this morning but my rugrats are actually to busy pulling and pushing them around the house, lifting the lid, checking whats inside, putting some of their bowls in, toddling off, coming back, taking their bowls out and moving the bin to somewhere else.  Its rather cute!!  I think I will empty them when the boys go to bed tonight and fill them with their toys so they get a surprise tomorrow!  🙂

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