One of the hardest parts of being a new vegan (or even an old seasoned vegan) is trying to keep up with all the new products out there. I must have spent over $50 looking for the "right" vegan cheese my first year being a vegan and I have over 50 vegan/vegetarian cookbooks in my arsenal but not all the recipes are the greatest. I’m the first born so I’m used to being a Guinea Pig and now I’m your Vegan Guinea Pig. So here are my recommendations and critiques. Let me know what you think!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Final Week of Feeding A Family For $50 A Week!

So here we are, week 5 of the $50 a week grocery experiment. The past 4 weeks have been an incredible learning experience for me. They have taught me discipline, helped me become a better and more creative cook and made me organize myself in a way that I had not really done before. Although this was intended to only be an experiment for the month of July I have decided that I will continue to eat, cook and shop this way until we add another member to the family (which will be no time soon I promise you!) My cabinets are still stocked with food, and I could still probably last for a month or so if the zombie Apocalypse were to happen but there are entire sections of my pantry that are now bare. In truth, did I need 6 types of gluten free flours on hand including xanthum gum? Did I really need every type of dried bean that nature ever produced? Really...every single kind? How many types of hot sauce does one person really need and how many types of nut butter does a person really need to keep around the house? Soy, Peanut, Almond, Sun, and White Chocolate Peanut Butter all seem a bit much to have loaded up in one pantry.

I feel like the way I eat, shop and cook now is in a way that makes sense, isn't wasteful and fully utilizes the resources I have available. I've begun to depend on my garden in a way that I did not before. I used to have so much extra crops that I would end up pickling and canning all summer and winter long. But this year, I've only pickled one jar of green beans and everything else has gone to immediate use. I plan on still doing a good bit of preserving, after all it is another great way of extending out the seasons bounty in a frugal way, but nothing to the amount I did last year.

This final week presented it's own unique challenges. This week my daughter is off of school which means instead of being responsible for cooking 2 meals a day and 1 snack for her I am now responsible for 3 meals a day and 3 snacks. On top of that one of her classmates is going to be staying with us for 2 days so we have an extra mouth to feed for 2 meals and 2-3 snacks. So for this week I'll be not only giving you what I'm making for breakfast, lunch and dinner but also what we're having for snacks.

  • Oatmeal and Fruit
  • English Muffin Breakfast Sandwiches (with vegan egg patty and daiya cheese that I found in the freezer) - for the kiddo I'll be nixing the Daiya and instead slathering both sides in EB, egg patty on the side with fruit
  • Banana waffles, white nectarines and Naked Tofu Scramble
  • I have all the ingredients I would need to make breakfast sausage but I'm not sure if I have the time so I'm not counting on this one

  • Macaroni and Cheese with Marinated Roasted Tofu and Steamed Carrots
  • Homemade Super Low-Sodium Ramen Noodles with Tofu and Braised Green Beans
  • Southern Style Meatballs with Steamed Veggies and Dinner Rolls (I froze some a couple weeks back and still have plenty to go around)

  • Smothered Pork Chops with Green Bean Casserole and Dinner Rolls
  • Baked Beans, Corn Muffins, and Steamed Veggies
  • Soft Tacos made with Adzuki Beans (I randomly have a bunch laying around) with Salsa and Sour Cream, steamed corn and some type of green veggie
  • Homemade Graham Crackers
  • Hummus with Pita Chips (I bought a ton of pita chips a couple months ago and they still haven't expired so there's no better time than the present to use them!)
  • Fruit (grapes, strawberries, watermelon)
  • Blueberry Smoothies (I got a bunch of blueberries on sale in June and froze half)
  • Beanfield's Bean and Rice Chips (Pico De Gallo flavor) - I bought a 6 pack of these last month and we're still working our way through them. I'll be blogging about these soon.
And that's it! I didn't make the crab cakes from last week until Sunday so we'll be munching on those throughout the week as well. For 5 weeks of shopping my goal was to spend $50 a week or $250 in total for the month. This week I ended up spending $43.57 at Whole Foods and $17.68 at Publix. Which means I spent $61.25 this week. I really took for granted how much money we save every month when my daughter is eating at school 5 days a week! We are very fortunate that her school provides great vegan meals and we only have to bring a back-up snack in case the class is having goldish crackers or something with dairy in it as a morning snack. I've decided, in an effort to save even more money, I'm going to start making her snacks from scratch and sending those to school with her. Now that I've taken my IBCLC exam I have more time on my hands so this shouldn't be too difficult and if I would have done that this month I would have saved about $15 in the budget. Overall for 5 weeks I spent $273.63. So I went a little over $23 over budget. For a first timer to this new budget I think that is pretty darn fantastic. I'm tempted to change my budget to $60 a week but I really want to continue to commit myself to making the most out of each ingredient, even while working on new books and recipes, so I'm going to stick to $50 a week for now. I hope this has been helpful to you! Next week I'll be going step-by-step through exactly how you can make the changes necessary in your own life to get your grocery budget in check so stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Week 4: Feeding the Family for $50 A Week!

Week 4 is here!!!! I have to admit, the level of planning and preparation it takes to go to the grocery store these days is starting to wear on me. I always thought I planned out my meals ahead of time and stuck to my list but in reality I made a very rough plan of the meals I wanted to eat, never based on what was actually already in my pantry and I never stuck to my list. Now I find myself scrambling to put together a weekly menu on Saturday nights in preparation for Sunday grocery shopping. As I eluded to last week this week I'm starting to work out recipes for a new project I'm working on so I can't just rely on what is in the pantry and growing in the garden to help get me by and keep me under budget. But, that doesn't mean that all plans go out the door. I just have to be smart about the ingredients I use and make sure I make the most out of every dollar I spend. So here goes nothing.

I ended up having to make a couple more purchases than I planned on, I accidentally bought my daughter crackers that had been made in the same facility as peanuts. She doesn't have a peanut allergy but they are her snacks for school and we can't take the chance so I had to re-buy her snacks plus we seem to be doing through almond milk at a frantic pace around here so I had to double up. Out of the blue my daughter who hates all other types of milk besides breastmilk suddenly decided that she likes coconut milk after watching me make a smoothie with it last week so I ended up buying So Delicious Coconut Milk as well, which was not originally on my list. We also ended up picking up this beet/green juice that my daughter loves. Can you see a pattern in why I ended up spending more money than I anticipated this week?!

This weeks' menu:
Homemade Bacon
Buttermilk Biscuits
Smoothies - just throwing together whatever is in the fridge and freezer
Fresh Fruit - watermelon, grapes, apples, blueberries from the garden

A lot of leftovers. I have a lot of different types of lettuce growing in the garden so I'm making wraps quite a bit these days. I made some beer battered tofu Sunday night that will probably make it's way into the wraps. Caesar dressing is my favorite in wraps I'll be using the recipe from Quick & Easy Vegan Comfort Food.

BBQ Seitan with Dirty Rice and steamed cauliflower
Fried "Pork" Chops with Au Gratin Potatoes and steamed Brussels Sprouts
"Crab" Cakes with fresh baked dinner rolls or farro and Green beans from the garden

All in all I ended up spending $72.13 this week. After going 3 weeks of being under-budget I have managed to go over-budget by $12.38. But there is still one week left to redeem myself and bring myself back within the constraints of my budget for the month. So just in case you're keeping track July has 5 weeks so my monthly budget is $250 ($50/week) I'm currently at $212.38 so next week I'm going to be pulling every cheap trick I have out of my hat to get back on track! We'll see how it goes!!!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Week 3: Feeding The Family for $50 A Week!

Week 3 - the week that almost broke me! As I looked my shopping list up and down this week I could tell this was going to be a tough one. Before I even started shopping for the stuff we needed to make this week's meals I had to replenish my stock of some big ticket items like Vegan Worcestershire sauce, soy flour, earth balance margarine and extra virgin olive oil . Even though I hadn't planned my menu out yet I knew these were things that I needed to keep in the pantry just in case as they go in quite a few things I cook. Sure, I could go weeks without using them but the food hoarder in me just can't stand the thought of going to make a recipe I love and being one important item short. So the food hoarder won and these items stayed on the list. My daughter also fell in love with farro last week (it wasn't one the menu but I had some in the house so I used it as a side instead of brown rice for our stir-fry and it was a huge hit!) So farro was added to the list as well. And on top of that my daughter was also out of snacks at school so I had to buy extra snacks for her. Needless to say the list was looking rather expensive and most of the things I needed on it were from Whole Foods.

On Sunday, our grocery shopping day, I marched off to Whole Foods with my little one in tow ready to tackle this grocery list and brace myself for the financial impact. After 2 weeks of doing this I've realized one thing for sure. I mostly follow the menu's I've set out but the days I do things and when I cook things tends to be all over the place based on how much time I have that day and how much prep time I get without a toddler crawling on my head. So this week, instead of listing what we're going to eat day by day I'm going to list in general what the menu plan is for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the week. I should also add that we do snack a lot as well, with a toddler snacks are a way of life. So I always buy at least 2 types of fresh fruit every week and usually make some type of muffins based on what is in the fridge or the garden. 

Breakfast Sausage from Quick and Easy Vegan Comfort Food
Fresh Fruit
Breakfast Sandwich (I never ended up making these last week so hopefully I'll get around to them this week)
Tofu Scramble

Usually left overs and a hodge podge of things that are in the freezer
I'll likely also be making some wraps and having leftover black bean soup a lot

Square Pan Pizza with Yellow Heirloom tomatoes, broccoli, bell pepper and basil - everything 100% homemade from scratch, basil comes from the garden
Pigeon Peas and Rice with Steamed spinach
Pinto Bean Burgers with chickpea fries and veggies
Indian Spiced Chickpeas with farro and veggies

The vegetables for the week are variable and depend on what the garden yields this week I bought frozen spinach and kale this week as well as fresh broccoli to put on the pizza which we had tonight so there is plenty of broccoli left over to munch on for another day or so. Green beans are still the main crop high yielding crop in the backyard garden with carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and corn soon coming up on the horizon. I also bought some red potatoes this week. They were on my list but for the life of me I can't remember why. Maybe I'll make some cheese sauce out of them of just roast them up and have them as a side with dinner one night. I do have an abundance of fresh rosemary that is just begging to be roasted with potaotes.

Somehow, even with only shopping at Whole Foods and my list of big ticket items by grand total for the $56.77. A little over budget for the week but still under budget for the past 3 weeks. I'm so happy I started off this experiment way under budget it has given me lots of wiggle room to play around with as the weeks go on. Three weeks down, two more to go! Geesh, why did I have to pick the month with 5 weeks in it to experiment!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Week 2: Feeding the Family for $50 a week

So here we are at week 2! Week 1 was a success, I spent less than $26 on groceries and every meal was a slam dunk with the family. In order to keep the budget in check my goal was to make as much "from scratch" and homemade as possible so preparing meals definitely took more time than usual but the evidence of my hard work was in the flavors. I was originally stumped on what I would be making for Independence Day but by day 3 there were smatterings of leftovers from each meal still hanging out in the fridge and between that and what was in the pantry I was able to get a really good celebratory meal together for lunch and dinner. For lunch I made ball park hot dogs (from scratch, recipe is in Quick and Easy Low-Cal Vegan Comfort Food), with baked beans, steamed broccoli, leftover skillet fried corn and sliced cantaloupe. For dinner we had BBQ Tofu (using the Hickory Maple BBQ Sauce recipe from Quick & Easy Vegan Celebrations ) that I paired with steamed green beans from the garden, brown rice and left over gravy from the chik'n fried steak I made earlier in the week. Then I capped it all off with some homemade strawberry ice cream made of cashews, frozen strawberries and agave nectar (so simple!)

Now, it's time to turn our attention to this week's menu. You guys have been rockstars on Facebook and I love following everyone's journey to try to eat on a budget. For Independence Day one of my Facebook friends, Kim, suggested I make a sesame peanut noodle salad. I got all inspired and ready to make it and then I suddenly realized I had a full menu so that little nugget is getting added to this week's menu.

This week I did half my shopping at Whole Foods and half at Publix. Whole Foods is my weakness. I can walk down those aisles for hours just looking at all the great food and, undoubtedly, 1/2 of it will end up in my shopping cart. But this time I stuck to my list, aside from the Green Lemonade my daughter loves (how can you resist a toddler asking for green juice?!) For the first time ever my Whole Foods grocery bill was only $21.24 (I used about $5 worth of coupons). A few items from my pantry were destroyed when a glass bottle filled with fermenting kombucha exploded so I had to buy a few more items than I originally planned. But all in all my Publix grocery bill was $36.69. So my total for this week is $57.93. Which means, for my 2 week running total I have spent $83.49 which still puts me about $16 under budget and that is with a couple splurge items added to the list like fresh pressed vegetable juice. Oh! And I bought more organic items this week as well since I saw I had more room in the budget.

So here goes nothing, my menu for the week

Monday July 8th
Breakfast: Whole Wheat Pancakes, Breakfast Sausage, Green Pina Colada (fresh pineapple, So Delicious Coconut Milk, baby collard greens and salad greens from the garden all blended together)
Lunch: Whatever leftovers are in the fridge
Dinner: Sesame Peanut Salad with Agave Roasted Carrots (from the garden) and Roasted Tofu

Tuesday July 9th (My 7 Year Vegan-anniversary!)
Breakfast: Breakfast Biscuit - biscuit, vegan egg patty (I'm trying out a new recipe, if all goes well I'll post it), cheese sauce (not sure which one I'm using but I think the queso sauce from Low-Cal Vegan Comfort Food)
Lunch: A wrap made out of whatever I have leftover in the fridge/freezer and likely some Caesar dressing (recipe from Quick and Easy Vegan Comfort Food)
Dinner: Black Bean Soup from Quick and Easy Low-Cal Vegan Comfort Food with steamed veggies tossed in flax oil and homemade dinner rolls

Wednesday July 10th
Breakfast: Breakfast Biscuit and Kombucha
Lunch: Leftover Black Bean Soup and Salad (same southwest salad I made last week)
Dinner: Homemade Whole Wheat Pasta with Alfredo Sauce (recipe from Quick and Easy Low-Cal Vegan Comfort Food topped with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Basil (from the garden)

Thursday July 11th
Breakfast: Breakfast Biscuit and Kombucha
Lunch: Leftovers from Monday - Wednesday (probably something rolled up into a wrap)
Dinner: Leftovers from Monday - Wednesday

Friday, July 12th
Breakfast: Vegetable & Cheese Omelette (I have some daiya cheese hanging around in the freezer somewhere, and I'm using the recipe from Vegan Richa for the omelette - all the greens and veggies will come from the garden)
Lunch: More wraps made out of a hodge podge of leftovers
Dinner: Gumbo with Andouille Sausage over brown rice (using the recipe from Quick and Easy Low-Cal Vegan Comfort Food but adding okra since I have some frozen okra that's been sitting in the freezer for months)

Saturday, July 13th
Breakfast: Whole Wheat Pancakes, Fruit and Naked Tofu Scramble
Lunch and Dinner: Leftovers and whatever I can scrounge up in the freezer and pantry

Sunday, July 14th
Breakfast: Oatmeal & Quinoa (I mix the two together usually with a little cinnamon, brown sugar and hemp seeds), fruit
Lunch and Dinner: Leftovers

Whew! That's it. I like to experiment with recipes so I usually only cook out of my own cookbooks once or twice a week but experimenting means that something might not come out just right and with this new budget I can't afford to waste any food or time on a cooking experiment gone wrong so I'm using tried and true recipes. I'm probably going to start working on a new project sometime this month so we'll see how that affects the budget when I'm working on new recipes. I guess it is more incentive to make it perfect the first time!
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