September Challenge 2015: Week 2 Summary

by Beth - Budget Bytes
Step by Step

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Wow, week two is finished already! I have to admit, I’m really enjoying the challenge this year. Because the rules for my September Challenge are a little more lax than the SNAP challenge, I’m really having fun with it. Instead of pretending I’m in someone else’s shoes, I’m simply trying to live my life with a smaller grocery budget, and it feels like a game. A game that requires a lot of creativity and problem solving—two things that I LOVE.

Week two started off great. My fridge was full and I had so many options that I really felt rich (I almost took a photo of my fridge because it was so full of delicious things). It was exciting. My food was satisfying and really filled me up. Life was great. I thought I had done a superb job planning my menu for week two. Until…

Something in my menu started causing me extreme stomach pain, like to the point that I wanted to curl up in a ball on my couch and not move. It took until Saturday for me to pinpoint the source of the pain, which ended up being a cucumber (there was a Salmonella outbreak linked to cucumbers last week, although I don’t think that’s what I was experiencing because the symptoms and timing of the pain were different). Anyway, that extreme pain kinda put a huge kink in my menu/eating habits for the week. I also had a house guest, which drastically changed my daily routine, including my eating and exercising habits. But that’s life. You gotta roll with the punches!

Groceries

So what did I buy? Not a whole lot! I didn’t need a lot for the recipes that I chose last week, so I had a little extra wiggle room in my weekly grocery budget.

Week 2 Groceries

Romaine lettuce was on sale this week, so I decided to make a simple salad (romaine and cucumber) for my “vegetables”. Other vegetables last week included tomatoes in the marinara and salsa in the burrito bowls. There weren’t really any good deals on fruit this week, so I snagged these oranges for $1.49/lb. Not the best deal, but I didn’t want more bananas. Towards the end of the week I definitely felt like my fruit and vegetable intake was lacking. I don’t think this was really due to budget restrictions, but rather poor planning. Just with any diet, it’s hard to work those fresh items into your plan and get the recommended amount.

Week 2 Meat

(Oops, forgot to put the garlic in the first photo.) I picked up some fresh Italian sausage for one of my recipes and a big pork roast as a “bonus” with my extra wiggle room cash. That’s way more meat than I could eat in a week, so about half of it was saved in the freezer for future weeks.

Also purchased, but not pictured: a jar of salsa. Despite having a grocery list (below), I forgot to grab it, so I picked up a jar a couple days later when I was at Target, for $2.27 (after tax).

Week 2 ReceiptWeek 2 Shopping List

And here’s a little peek at what my grocery list and receipt looked like. Such a short grocery list and I STILL forgot the salsa. Ha! #brainfart

I had to stock up on a few staples last week, like tortillas (I ALWAYS have tortillas in my fridge), eggs, garlic, and milk. The price of eggs shot up since the last time I purchased them, but since I had so much meat in my menu this week, I barely ate any.

What I Made

So what did I make with those groceries? Lots of yummy stuff!

Side view of a bowl full of pasta with meatballs and marinara

Skillet Meatballs and Marinara was my “anchor” meal, if you will. I ate all six servings of this and NEVER got tired of it. Looked forward to it each and every day! (I have a lot of random leftover pasta in my pantry, so I didn’t need to buy any for this recipe.)

Close up overhead shot of a poor man's burrito bowl with melted cheese

Poor Man’s Burrito Bowls were my second meal option for the week. I actually ended up eating this for breakfast a couple of times.These bowls were huge and extremely filling, but you can top them with an egg for more protein, or add a little of this…

Chili Rubbed Pulled Pork - BudgetBytes.com

Chili Rubbed Pulled Pork is what I made out of that “bonus” pork roast. I ate two half cup servings last week and saved the rest in the freezer for the future. OMG I love this stuff so much. I could have eaten the entire thing.

Simple Salad

I also made a VERY simple salad with just romaine lettuce and sliced cucumbers (until I realized that the cucumbers were waging war on my stomach). The lettuce was $1.50 and the cucumber was $0.89, so together, estimating about five salads, the salads were $0.49 a piece. Why five salads? Because I figured I could only keep the lettuce good for about five days. How did I keep it good that long?

Fresh Lettuce

After chopping, washing, and draining the lettuce, I popped it into a zip top bag with a layer of paper towels on the bottom. It worked pretty good. I prepared this lettuce on Tuesday, and on Saturday it looked like this:

Old Lettuce

It’s hard to see in this iPhone photo, but there was a little bit of browning on the edges. I ate one more salad on Sunday, and there was quite a bit more brown that day, so I tossed the rest.

What did I top my salad with? I made a very simple red wine vinaigrette…

Red Wine Vinaiagrette

To a small blender I added: 1/4 cup canola oil, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1 clove of garlic (crushed), 1/2 Tbsp dried oregano, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard, and some freshly cracked pepper. After blending for a couple seconds I had a delicious homemade salad dressing. The whole batch was about 3/4 cup (12 Tbsp) and about $1.28. So, each 2 Tbsp serving was about $0.22. That’s probably more expensive than a store bought jar of dressing, but I already had everything on hand, so why not use what I have instead of buying something new?

Red Wine Vinaigrette

After it’s blended the oil emulsifies and it looks like this. SO delish. If vinegar is a bit harsh for you, a pinch of sugar helps mellow the dressing out a bit.

Oh! I also made some Focaccia Rolls… which are totally addictive. I ate too many, probably.

Focaccia Rolls

After these were baked and cooled, I put them in a freezer bag and kept them in the freezer. Then I just took one out at a time and microwaved for 20-30 seconds to warm. That way I don’t have to worry about the whole batch going stale before I can eat them. I’ll be eating the leftovers over the next couple of weeks.

What I Ate

Okay, ready? Here’s the day by day breakdown.

9-8 Total $3.73

  • 1 cup coffee $0.16
  • 1/2 cup milk $0.16
  • 1/2 cup oats $0.13
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter $0.22
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar $0.04
  • 1 serving Skillet Meatballs & Marinara $1.33
  • 1 Tbsp grated Parmesan $0.10
  • 1 orange $0.88
  • 1 salad (romaine + cucumber) $0.49
  • 2 Tbsp homemade red wine vinaigrette $0.22

(Nothing was eaten after that salad because OUCH, stomach pain.)

9-9 Total $2.94

  • 1 cup coffee $0.16
  • 1/2 cup milk $0.16
  • 1/2 cup oats $0.13
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter $0.22
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar $0.04
  • 1 salad (romaine + cucumber) $0.49
  • 1 Tbsp homemade red wine vinaigrette $0.11
  • 1 serving Skillet Meatballs & Marinara $1.33
  • 2 Focaccia Rolls $0.20
  • 1 Tbsp butter $0.10

(This was the second day of stomach ache and therefore I didn’t eat much after lunch when the pain kicked in.)

9-10 Total $2.92

  • 1 cup coffee $0.16
  • 1/2 cup milk $0.16
  • 1/2 cup oats $0.13
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter $0.22
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar $0.04
  • 1 Poor Man’s Burrito Bowl $0.99
  • 1 salad (romaine + cucumber) $0.49
  • 2 Tbsp homemade red wine vinaigrette $0.22
  • 2 small tortillas $0.20
  • 1 oz. cheddar cheese $0.31
  • 1 ginger ale (left in my fridge by a friend over the weekend) $0.00

(Thank goodness that ginger ale was in my fridge because I was in PAIN and desperate. The only thing I could stomach was a couple tortillas and a little melted cheese.)

9-11 Total $4.34

(I was super hungry in the morning because I hadn’t eaten much the night before, so I had a huge burrito bowl with pulled pork for breakfast – late breakfast. Between that and the meatballs for dinner, I was full for the day!)

9-12 Total $3.99

  • 2 eggs $0.64
  • salt and pepper $0.05
  • 2 Focaccia Rolls $0.20
  • 1 Tbsp butter $0.10
  • 1 cup coffee $0.16
  • 1/4 cup milk $0.08
  • 1 salad (romaine, NO cucumber) $0.25
  • 2 Tbsp homemade red wine vinaigrette $0.22
  • 1 serving Skillet Meatballs & Marinara $1.33
  • 1 orange $0.88

(YAY! No pain! Later in the day I was kidnapped, taken on a date, and fed tapas. Challenge or no challenge, when a man buys you tapas, you EAT TAPAS. Lots of tapas.)

9-13 Total $3.91

(Again, the combo of the large burrito bowl + pork, then the meatball pasta was extremely filling and pretty much did me in for the day. I may have had leftover fullness from the tapas the night before, too.)

9-14 Total $3.44

Weekly Intake Total: $25.27

Weekly Receipt Total: $31.31 (Wow! A hair below the $31.50 goal!)

Leftovers

I ate pretty much everything I made this week, except one burrito bowl, which I froze for later consumption. I have a little salad dressing leftover and I might drizzle that over some pasta at some point. I only ate three of the four oranges (boo on me!), so that will carry over to next week. There are a few rolls left in my freezer, so I can use those as future snacks. I also have a couple leftover servings of both the Mexican Lentil Stew and Bowties and Broccoli from week one. The more leftovers I have in my freezer, the more my future menus will have variation! :D

Reflection

While I was very full and happy this week, I definitely didn’t get enough fruits or vegetables. I started to feel a bit weighed down by the end of the week after all those meatballs and pasta. I’ll definitely reconsider my fruit options next week, as well. While the price per pound was on the low side for the oranges (compared to the other fruit that week), each orange weighed a lot, so the money didn’t go far. Better planning ahead! Always learn from your errors. :)

I enjoyed a couple more “freebies” this week, just like last week, and it’s amazing how one free meal or one free ginger ale can change how you feel for a whole day or even a couple days after! That one ginger ale was 190 calories, which truly can be the difference between hungry and not hungry. That one free meal I had on Saturday night gave me enough variety and extra calories to keep me from feeling like I was “wanting” for the rest of the week. So, if you’re just taking the first steps towards refining your grocery budget, cutting back to one meal out per week can still go a long way to keeping yourself satisfied mentally and physically. OR, if you want to do something nice for someone, treating them to lunch or dinner can sometimes do much more than you realize. :)

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  1. Beth, thank you so much for the salad dressing recipe. My kid is eating spinach salad and every kind of fancy lettuce you can throw at her, thanks to your recipe. I threw it in a sticky note on my phone, but could you, would you please please please make a post for it? It’s the most amazing dressing!!! <3

  2. Thank you for the lettuce tip! I have trouble getting my lettuce to last the week (and slimy lettuce is soooo gross), and I also slack off on making salads because sometimes washing, drying, and chopping the lettuce is just too much work. I really look forward to trying this & hopefully getting a daily salad in.

  3. I wish you had taken a picture of your fridge; I would have loved to see it :) Or of your freezer! Would you ever do a freezer post? Like about what you have in your freezer, what and how you freeze ingredients or portions, etc?

    1. I occasionally do posts about how to freeze individual ingredients (like tomato paste and cooked rice) and you can find those in the How To category on my page. :)

  4. Beth, it could have been the rice from the burrito bowls. Rice older than a day, even if stored properly, often gives me “food poisoning.” There’s a bacteria very commonly found in rice that is not killed by cooking and it can rapidly multiply once the rice has been in contact w/ water (after cooking). I noticed the pattern w/ me and rice and did some internet research. There’s lots of web pages/sites that explain it. Here’s one:
    http://www.abc.net.au/health/talkinghealth/factbuster/stories/2009/01/27/2475255.htm
    Worth looking into anyway.

    1. Nope, it was definitely the cucumbers. I isolated the problem by testing each day without one ingredient. :)

  5. I recently discovered your site, and I love it. I live in downtown Chicago where grocery prices can be pretty insane, plus I’m carless, so going beyond my neighborhood just to find cheaper groceries is challenging and not very efficient. Every little bit I can do to save money helps, and your recipes help a lot. Thank you so much for sharing your creativity!

    That said, here’s a question. The cornerstone of inexpensive cooking at home is the ability to make large batches and freeze servings for later. I cannot do this because both my fridge and freezer are tiny (and most of my freezer is taken up with cat food and the meats I buy on sale and store until I need them). Are there any tips for getting the most out of your budget when you can’t depend on freezing or leftovers?

    1. That IS a very tough situation. Freezing leftovers is definitely a large part of my strategy. I think if I didn’t have room to freeze or hold much in my freezer, I’d gravitate towards using dry goods a lot (dry pasta, rice, other dried grains, and probably canned beans instead of dry since it’s hard to make small batches of beans). I’d cook smaller batches of these dried goods (enough to keep a for a week in the fridge) and supplement them with small amounts of fresh items (like cilantro, parsley, fresh vegetables) to make a variety of meals. It would definitely take practice to get it down, but I think it could work!

    2. Another thought and something that has worked for me. I have a side-by-side frig/freezer and I live rurally (45 mile round trip to grocery) so I like to keep the freezer full.

      This past July, Turkey was on sale and I WANTED Turkey but my freezer was full. So… I do have a fairly large “cooler”. I moved some of my freezer “meal” packets to the cooler so that I had room for a turkey in my freezer …. cooked 1 turkey, but wanted to have a 2nd in the freezer.

      I used the cooler to rotate things from the freezer.

      Now – my freezer has an icemaker so I was able to keep the cooler with ice, i.e. this idea is somewhat dependent on your having a cooler or being willing to obtain one and also on your having a supply of ice at a reasonable cost (time/$$).

      Bottom line, there are potential options depending on your budget, location, etc.

  6. Love seeing what you come up with! Great ideas and you are doing awesome.
    I tend to add some extra veggies to my meals, especially if my husband cooks. Things like frozen chopped spinach, frozen peppers or peas go well with a lot of different things. I really like the frozen greens or peppers in my pasta dishes. They’d add in well to your cheese tortillas or eggs as well.

  7. Maybe after your current challenge is over (and you’ve had time to buy and eat with fewer restrictions!) you should challenge yourself to eating a vegetarian diet for a little while (like two weeks?) just to help you come up with fruit and veggie consumption strategies. And I only say this because of your comments, not for any other reason! I think you probably do a lot better than most people at getting them in.

    1. I would love to see this, Beth. Your vegetarian recipes are great and I’d be happy to see more.

      1. I agree with the previous posts. I am a fan of every single one of your vegetarian recipes – we especially like your Dragon Noodles, Cashew Rice Pilaf, and Baked Ziti. I would love to see a vegetarian challenge.