You know how some people have an addiction to purchasing things when they’re on sale, whether they need them or not? Like, they see a wedding dress on sale for 70% off and can’t say no, despite the fact that they’re single? Yeah, I think I’m teetering on the edge of being like that with food sales. Not quite at that level yet, but it’s really hard for me to say no to a good sale.
Last week I stumbled upon a bunch of amazing sales on meat. Sales so good that they made me all giddy. The problem was that the meat didn’t meet my new higher quality standards. I literally went back and forth down the aisle trying to decide if I was going to purchase it, swinging back and forth from “Yes! Imagine all you can do with it!” to “No! Stand up for what you believe in!” In the end I gave in and bought the meat.
I’m not beating myself up about it, though, because I know new habits take time to form. Failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of the journey towards it. I’ve already shopped again for this coming week and I had the strength to say no to even better sales, and was able to make the higher quality meat fit in my budget.
And as a reminder, working on a tight food budget isn’t just about finding the cheapest food available. It’s about balancing cost, need, convenience, and priorities, which will be different for every person. As my priorities have shifted, so have my shopping habits and buying preferences, but my dedication to staying on a budget has stayed the same.
I didn’t have many staples that needed replenishing this week, which gave me a lot of leeway with my grocery budget. I only really needed to replenish my milk. Not bad!
I had been craving good old fashioned red beans and rice lately, so that was the first recipe to go on my menu for the week. I also knew that I had four chicken thighs saved in the freezer and a box of orzo in my pantry, so I thought up a quick tomato/olive/orzo chicken skillet dish. Lastly, since both of my options so far were a bit meat heavy, I decided to make a marinated vegetable kebab over seasoned rice for my last pick (which I later decided to make without the skewers, for convenience).
So, with my staples and ingredients for those recipes, my shopping list looked like this:
I wanted to get a loaf of French bread and make some garlic mozzarella toast to go along with the Skillet Chicken with Orzo and Olives, but I was really close to my budget, so I passed on it last minute.
After checking the sale circulars, there wasn’t much on sale at either store that was on my list. I did see an amazing sale on Atlantic Salmon at my local store, though, and thought I might as well check it out when I got there… It doesn’t hurt to look, right?
Here are my receipts:
Grand Total: $38.74
I ended up giving it and buying the salmon. I couldn’t resist. It was a huge 0.82lb. piece for just $3.68 ( $4.49/lb). The salmon ended up being our dinner that night and and I was like, “Sorry, not sorry. This is GOOD.” It was such a treat.
The other sale that got me was the Johnsonville sausage. They’re normally priced at $5.99 per pack and they were on sale for $3.99 each. It was really hard for me not to buy one of each (Italian sausage, chorizo, and brats). I love them all. But I ended up getting the hot Italian sausage because it’s just so versatile. That sausage went straight into the freezer to be saved for a rainy day.
And then I had to get some smoked Cajun sausage for my red beans and rice. *sigh*
I got another pineapple because they were still at a good price and I love me some pineapple! That never goes to waste.
As usual, I grabbed a handful of olives off the olive bar for my recipe, so I could avoid buying a whole $6 jar. I also happened upon a great little mini-pack of grape tomatoes for only $1.25, which was the perfect amount for my broiled vegetable mix. Normally they come in large pint-sized containers and run around $3-$5. So that was a great find!
And mushrooms were also on sale for an astonishing $1.59/8oz. Usually they’re $2-$2.49 for the same size. #win I couldn’t find the price tag for the zucchini, though, and they ended up being $2.99/lb., which is way higher than I like to pay. At least I only needed one small one this week.
What Did I Eat?
The salmon that I impulse bought turned into this lovely and quick dinner on the night that I did my grocery shopping (I don’t like to cook anything too complicated or time consuming on the day that I do my “shop”). I had a half used jar of teriyaki sauce in my fridge that I marinated the fish in, and a half bag of frozen broccoli that I used to make Oven Roasted Frozen Broccoli. I roasted the salmon in the oven at the same time as the broccoli and made some plain jasmine rice for filler. It was a simple, yet fantastic meal!
As I mentioned, I was craving red beans and rice, so I decided to give them a shot in my new Instant Pot. Well, I got the liquid ratio all wrong (oops!) and it didn’t quite work out well enough to post the recipe, but it was still super delicious and it made a huge batch, which kept us fed all week. If you want to try red beans and rice yourself, I have two recipes already posted to the blog: Louisiana Red Beans and Rice, and Vegan Red Beans and Rice. Check ’em out!
I used the olives from the olive bar to make this Skillet Chicken with Orzo and Olives. I love how easy these one skillet meals are. They’re not only easy to make, but they’re just as easy to photograph and blog about. Ha! That’s a win for both of us. ;)
And just to make sure I’m balancing my vegetable and meat intake, I made this mouth-watering Broiled Balsamic Vegetables with Lemon Parsley Rice. Seriously, though. Lemon Parsley Rice with everything from now on! It’s so good!
I had everything on hand to make this “Oatmeal Cookie” Baked Oatmeal, so I thought, “Why not?” Gotta change up breakfast every now and then. Plus, it’s been all cold out and stuff, so this warm breakfast is perfect. Plus, it’s super easy to make so it didn’t feel like I was really adding to my work load for the week.
A couple of times I used that Lemon Parsley Rice as the base for a breakfast bowl, topped with a fried egg and a little sprinkle of mozzarella and sriracha. I just love savory breakfast bowls and that Lemon Parsley Rice really adds a new dimension to it. :)
And then on top of all that goodness, we ate out two times this week. Wow, that’s a week full of food! Oh, and I may or may not have (I DID) make Stove Top Popcorn a couple of times.
I’ve been working out again and I can definitely tell that my appetite has increased. Without a doubt.
AND I’m really glad that my flubbed red beans and rice was still edible (delicious, even) because that would have been a lot of food in the garbage.
I still feel a little guilty about my meat purchases this week, but again, working on a budget means balancing many factors. Sometimes price swings to the top of the list above other priorities. It’s okay to have a fluid and ever changing set of needs. Every little bit of effort counts and is not negated by slip ups or back slides.
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What??? You can make a Note with check off circles???? I mean your food is great, but you’ve just make this list-maker happier than a bowl of baked oatmeal can!
I’d love a recipe or two using the Chorizo. I have no idea what to do with it.
Nigella Lawson has a recipe for a simple stew with chorizo and chickpeas (served with bulgar or whatever grain you like) that is easy and super tasty!
I have a few already. :) Just type Chorizo into the search box up at the top of the page and it will bring them up.
I make a soup with chorizo, sweet potatoes, orrichete pasta and kale. The chorizo has so many spices that the only thing I needed to add was garlic. Pulled leftovers out of the freezer and am having for lunch today!
I’ve found that in my local grocery store, salmon goes on sale at least once a month. That’s made it much easier for me to resist buying it every time it’s on sale. Though I really like salmon, so eating it every month Isn’t so bad either!
I buy frozen marinated wild caught salmon at costco. $16.99 for six generous IQF 5 oz portions. They thaw quickly and are great on top of a salad, though I’m going to have to try that rice!
I love that you’re doing these weekly recaps. They are helping me as I try to slim down my food budget. Great ideas and fantastic recipes!
I have an Instant Pot as well and hope that you will post recipes for it in the future…I only know how to cook dried beans in it! Once they are cooked I finish them on the stove. I haven’t been very creative with it and look forward to reading recipes from you in the future. Love your blog, thank you so much for all of your recipes!
I refuse to buy most of my groceries unless they’re on sale. The problem is, I get too much when it’s on sale, and since there’s just two of us (I only need to make 2-3 recipes a week to keep us fed), I wind up stashing the rest into the freezer and the pantry. Which is normally okay, but now they’re about full to bursting.
What usually happens is I plan to make 2-3 recipes a week and get the ingredients, then we wind up going out, having leftovers because the dish made too much, or I need to change plans on the fly because I’ve got half a bunch of spinach, basil, and some scallions to use up. I also read WAY too many cookbooks and mark way too many recipes “to try”.
So I hear you on how hard it is to pass up those sales. I’m trying to “shop” my pantry and freezer for the next couple of months, only buying produce and perishables, until things get back down to a reasonable state. But it seems like everyone and their second cousin put chicken, turkey, ground beef, cheese, etc. on sale this month. I caved for a couple of things, ignored a few others, and for the most part, I’m trying to stick to my recipes (and not get new ones, which is REALLY HARD).
I feel like you have perfectly written what I’ve been thinking! We are buying a house and will be moving in the next few months (I don’t want to move a bunch of food!) so I’ve been trying to eat down the pantry and freezer since September (I found a note inside the pantry door that I wrote myself about a Sept. Pantry Challenge). Only 2 of us here too and our eating habits sound pretty much exactly the same.
Oh, I’m so glad it’s not just me.
I think I have to face the fact that I’m like this too. This week, I bought a bottle of gin (which is expensive!), a whole bunch of Life cereal (but they were only $1.40!), and two bags of Tostitos scoops (for $2 each!), just because they were on sale. I’ll use them eventually, but I do feel sheepish when I look at my kitchen shelves. I just keep reminding myself of how grateful Future Jenny will be for this next time she makes guacamole and doesn’t have to buy chips. :p
Beth, I was wondering if you would explain your new higher quality standards for certain products you’re buying (it seems to be related to meat, seafood, eggs, and milk). I’m slightly confused, as the products don’t seem sourced that differently than what you were previously buying. So, I guess I’m wondering what differences you find in the products you’re now buying. When people change the types of foods they buy, it’s usually to support companies that are sourcing their product a certain way and/or to buy products they feel are grown/made with a more nutrient-rich final product. For example, buying pastured eggs in order to support humane chicken farming and/or eat more nutrient-rich eggs,, buying organic milk so it doesn’t have growth hormones, buying seafood off the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch to support sustainable fisheries, buying meat not raised in a concentrated animal feeding operation. I have loved your blog for years and use your cookbook all the time. I guess I’m more curious than anything else, and I know you’re way more an advocate of people buying real food within their own budgets than you are a food activist. However, you have an audience that may really pay attention if you make a compelling argument for “upgrading” ingredients.
It’s definitely a very personal decision and I’m a big advocate of people making those decisions on their own, rather than me influencing other people to do so, which is why I don’t want it to become a big topic here. :) I used to work at Whole Foods and I know they have really high standards about how the meat and seafood they sell is farmed and manufactured. So, I’m trying to buy more of that there (and their organic produce when it’s competitively priced). In an ideal world, I’d like to buy all my food with such high standards, but I don’t think that’s realistic for me at this time. :) I do believe in the power of small changes, though, so I’m working there bit by bit!
(The only reason I’ve even mentioned this decision on the blog is because people are freaking out thinking that shopping at Whole Foods is some how the antithesis to shopping on a budget. I want to show that you can shop on a budget regardless of what your food ethics are.)
I am a recent Instant Pot owner … missed the Black Friday sale, though! Combo rice and beans is a bit tricky.
I make a LOT of beans (Rancho Gordo varieties) because I like them AND because I buy only humanely/sustainably raised meat and fish so although I do not live on a strict budget as you do, I still exercise some degree of $$-consciousness.
As you wrote at the end of the post, buying decisions must balance many factors. I have been able to keep to my humanely/sustainable raised priority with careful purchases, but in my case sometimes I spend 4-5x your budget in a week and sometimes 1/4 or less, i.e. almost nothing.
In addition to my chosen priorities, I live rurally – 50 mile round trip to the grocery in northwest Montana. I work from a home office and all my meals are at home. Given my rural address and with a home office meaning I’m not going by a grocery daily, my personal preference is to keep a full pantry and freezer so that I do NOT have to make the 50 mile trip except by plan.
I am close to retiring so have been paying closer attention to how I might do things when I am living on a more limited and fixed budget.
I’m commenting because as you wrote, there are ” a fluid and ever changing set of needs” – for all of us. Challenging, interesting and even fun!
Thank you for sharing that! It’s so important to me for people to know that everyone’s situation (needs, priorities, ethics) are different and you demonstrated that beautifully. :)
Too bad the rice and beans recipe wasn’t nice enough to post, but it looks very good! What did you flavour it with?
It looks like the main special ingredient is sliced dried tomatoes (Or is it sausage?)
I look forward to making it, and not even in the pressure cooker :)
Those are sausage slices. :) I pretty much used the same ingredients that are in my Louisiana Red Beans and Rice (linked under the photo), but then I changed the water ratio and messed it up. :P Hahha
I know what you mean about surprise items on sale. Sometimes you see something and it’s like how can I not get it at this point, I -will- use it. Thankfully you settled on a reasonable compromise. I won’t tell you some of the stuff hiding in my freezer. Although I will say I am getting better at going through it! I try to stick to staples, like ground beef and chicken. My list usually depends on what I’m craving, and what’s on sale.
I still wish food as as cheaply priced here as it is for you. Boo Canadian dollar.
These weekly recaps have completely changed how we do grocery shopping, budgeting, and meal planning. I thought for years we were meal planning and doing an okay job budgeting. But I saw your weekly breakdowns and thought we should give it a try. We’re starting with $50 and are usually able to stay below. When we go every week (as opposed to trying to do two big trips per month), we do a better job planning out our meals and sticking with it. There’s less waste and we’re saving money! So thank you!
Wow! That’s awesome!! I never would have guessed they would be so helpful. :D
Really enjoy your weekly recaps and your thoughts on how you meal plan for the week and decide which foods to buy.
Ha, at least you went small on the salmon, I bought the whole slab that was $3.99/lb! I cut it into portions, cooked a couple of pieces and vacuum packed and froze the rest of it.
Oh, I really, really, really, wanted to buy the big slab! Hahaha :)
For me, nutritional value is of extreme importance. I learned this from my mom who was a great shopper budget wise. She never, ever bought anything that wasn’t on sale. If she had been shopping and spotted that salmon she would have either revised her shopping list on the spot or gone over budget to purchase it because of the nutritional value.