Friday, February 12, 2016

Friday Five : Meal Prep + tips on cooking for one

Before we get started, I got my hands up (they're playing my song...) it's Friday. Wahoo!
I'm linking up with MarCynthia & Courtney for their Friday 5 & waving hello to everyone new visiting here through Kristy's Blog Hop. Hiiii!

ANDDDDD...if you missed it, I posted my final Africa recap post, my safari adventure yesterday (just in time to go on a new adventure) you can find it here.



I may not always have my adulting together, like how it's been way too long since my last oil change, and I threw the little sticker away, so I actually have no idea how long it's been...oops, or how I have a bunch of unopened important looking tax-ish mail that I plan to just put in a big envelope & send to my CPA a.k.a. Dad. Anyways, the one part of adulting that I've managed to get right pretty consistently is grocery shopping & meal prep.

I hate being hungry so that's definitely some good motivation. The second part is, everyone needs to eat. Whether you're terrible & meal planning // cooking, or you rock it on the regular, you still have to eat. You might as well take a few extra minutes to improve. Shopping & cooking sensibly is an easy way to save $, so you can put it towards other things like savings margaritas or new running shoes.

On average, my monthly groceries total about $120. This comes out to $30 a week. While I don't always hit it right on the nose, I'm come pretty close each month. This week I spent $17.41. Why so low? I already had chicken & ground beef in my freezer from prior weeks. Breakfast is "free" this week. I have all the ingredients I need to make my overnight oats. It'll be another week or two before I run out & need to stock up. And I have several things planned this week which will equate to meals out with friends.

I'll take you through my 5 steps for getting the most out of my money & time when it comes to meal prep. Feel free to leave a comment & let me know how you plan // prep!

{look at the store ads}
I live in Pittsburgh, our most popular grocery store is Giant Eagle. You'll have to sell your firstborn to buy groceries there though. And you'll still have to buy the off brands. They're unfortunately my  go-to for less common ingredients because there is one so darn close to my work. My go-to for 99% of my groceries, however, is Aldi. This is usually the only ad worth checking for me, because it's the only store I shop at most weeks.

So, first thing's first. Our ads usually come to houses Tuesday, new sale cycle starts Wednesday. I'll meal plan Wednesday // Thursday to shop first thing Saturday AM. My first step in all of this is to check and see what's on sale.

| side note | I get it, these prices are not everywhere, but this really is my Aldi store ad for the week of 2/3 - 2/9. The point of this post is how you may be able to streamline your meal planning & make it work, maybe even saving some $$$ in the process. NOT nitpicking about prices here vs there.


I usually know pretty quickly if these are things I want to add to my list or not. I start to think of meals that would utilize these items.

1. Onions, I was down to my last onion so perfect timing.
2. Avocados, these are a great add to salads or any Mexican meal.
3. Eggs, They keep for quite sometime & I love to eat them hardboiled


{decide what on hand needs to be used}
Once I know what produce deals I can score, I start to think about what items I may already have on hand. At the beginning of January I scored a fantastic deal on ground beef, so I have plenty of that sucking up freezer space. I decided that since I would have onions I could toss some of the beef into a pot of chili. The chili will freeze well, and can easily be repurposed in nachos (like I ate tonight) with some avocado, burritos, or over some whole wheat noodles with cheese.

| side note | I typically cook without recipes, or with only the base knowledge of a recipe I've seen online. This is how I learned to cook, from a mother who measures nothing & just throws things in the pot until it tastes good. This is good because I find myself able to meal plan quickly as I know what main ingredients each recipe requires. This is bad because if a recipe turns out really great I almost always have no idea what I did & it can never again be replicated. 

{shop}
I like to make either a paper list, or one on my phone, which I've recently learned I can add little check boxes to (GAME.CHANGER). I try to go early on Saturday mornings to ensure the best selection & smallest crowds.

                                                      {prep}
2/6/16 grocery list
I try to give myself some time on either Saturday or Sunday to prep. It just doesn't always happen that way, but knowing I've picked easy meals allows me to catch up come Monday if I really need to. Since I'm just feeding myself, and occasionally the BF I make 2-3 recipes each week. I focus on having something that can be made in the crockpot, some weeks it's just chicken breast cooked to use in other dishes // on salads, other times it's a soup. Recipe #2 is typically something I can make quickly on the stove. Like my curry recipe, found at the bottom of the post here. I'll usually start a pot of rice cooking & it will be done just about the time my curry finishes simmering.

{portion & preserve}
Cooking for one can be rough. Do you cook something different each night & wash a million dishes, never eating before 7PM? Or do you cook a few things & eat the same meal everyday? Or, do you aim for the first, end up too tired & eat Ramen every night? I've been through phases of all three.

My favorite solution has been two-fold. 
One : Scale recipes that do not freeze. If I know a recipe won't freeze well, I only make a few portions. This goes for new recipes I'm trying as well. Usually halving everything will yield me two servings instead of four. Perfect for dinner & one lunch of leftovers in a day or two.

Two : Freeze meals & rotate stock. If I am making a recipe I know will freeze well. Like my curry mentioned above, or a big pot of chili, I'll make the full recipe. After it all cools down I immediately portion out what I plan to eat that week. This week, I'll planning to have chili in some form for lunch 3 times. One day I'll have a salad with bits & pieces of whatever is in the fridge & one day I'll have a portion of something I've frozen previously. 

At this point, I'll portion any remaining chili into labeled // dated freezer bags & store flat in the freezer. Next week or the week after, I'll be able to pull out a bag of chili & have it thaw by lunch time. These mini freezer meals are a lifesaver for weeks when I just don't want to cook or I planned poorly & ended up short on food Friday night before shopping Saturday.

Ground beef, laid flat, labeled & dated, ready for the freezer
These portions keep me from calling for Chinese down the street from the place that's barely average. & it keeps me from eating the same thing 5 or 6 days in a row.

We can't all adult well all of the time, but it truly can pay to spend some time learning how to shop, plan & prep best for your lifestyle. My 5 steps may not work for you, but that's not to say they can't be used as a jumping off point for a solution that will help you simplify.

In need of some new recipes? Feel lost when it comes to cooking things that aren't toast? BudgetBytes is a great resource. Not only does she include photos of the step by step directions, but she includes cost per recipe // serving & uses common ingredients. Many of her recipes also freeze well.

Do you meal plan // prep?
How many people are you cooking for?
What do you struggle with when it comes to adulting? 
Oil changes are so hard for me to remember.

38 comments:

  1. I'm so jealous of your closeness to Aldi. Ours is a 45 minute drive away, so not worth going to. And I'm cooking for 4 (two of whom are growing boys), so I can't even fathom $120 a MONTH. I spend more than that a week LOL.

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    1. Oh man, that is a bummer. I have about 5 within a 15 minutes drive, so it's a no brainer. $120 is definitely only possible when feeding 1, I can't imagine FOUR of me!

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  2. What a great post! I really like Aldi for its produce but I don't get there nearly enough.

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    1. That's usually what draws me in each week, they always have some great prices & even their standard prices are good.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. i agree, shopping the ads and food prep are huge time and money savers! We dont have aldi, but my family raves about the deals the find!

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    1. Yes Erin, definitely apply the tips that work for you & ignore the ones that don't. Though it is sad to not have an Aldi near you.

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  4. I live right next to Aldi and I never go there. I am very lucky in that I have some of the best place to shop (Aldi, Trader Joes, Whole Foods) within a mile of me yet I almost always grocery shop at Target because it is fast and easy. I will have to follow your steps because I know I could do so much more to save time and money!

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    1. Yes,let me know how it goes Missy. I'm trying to do more with posting my meal plans each week too if that would help you!

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  5. I wish I had an Aldi close by! Cooking for one is so tough. I work from home so meal prep has fallen by the wayside for me. Instead my post today is on quick meals because I like to spend the least amount of time in the kitchen as possible!

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    1. I checked those out, even though I meal prep I love having quick meal ideas handy for the nights that I just can't. Or if nothing I've made ahead of time sounds good!

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  6. Very adult of you. Congrats. Meal planning and good grocery shopping are two of the most important actions for a healthy diet. Sadly, I don't always get to it but I definitely know the benefits.

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    1. If I do nothing else adult each week I try to make sure it's meal planning // prepping. I notice SUCH a big difference in how smoothly my week runs when I am able to plan meals ahead.

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  7. I love meal planning! These are great tips to follow. For me, I sit down on Sundays with my planner and write down the things I want to make for dinner throughout the week. Also, I make all the lunches for my fiancee and myself on Sunday afternoon so we don't have to think about them during our busy work weeks. Stopping by from the blog hop!

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    1. That's great, Lisa. I love how easy it is on a week day morning to just grab a pre-prepped lunch from my stash in the fridge. Makes my mornings so much smoother.

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  8. I prep my lunches for the week but it is easy because I usually eat the same thing all week. Chicken + broccoli + potatoes. I throw it all in one tupperware container and just stick it in the fridge at work to eat out of for the week.

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    1. Hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it! I think I would go crazy if I ate the same thing every day, but I do stick to a pretty small list of recipes I rotate because I know they work so well!

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  9. ook - so I spend basically on average $120 a WEEK... for 2 people...
    I am hanging my head in shame right now

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    1. Challenge yourself to do a little better this week if it's somewhere you're interested in saving $! But no hanging your head in shame! There are so many factors that play a role in grocery costs. It is very different to compare apples to apples.

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  10. I a seriously impressed with your grocery shopping skills, I spend more than that for myself alone, even if I don't go eat out. I need to work on that, LOL
    Speaking of oil changes, yesterday I was traveling up to my sisters and my oil light came on that I was down to 5%, I am usually better at it, but let it go. I had to quickly make a call to my brother in law (he works at a car dealership) and score a free oil change, so as of yesterday evening I am finally good to go, LOL

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    1. Oh man. I need to get myself that kind of oil change deal. I always forget, call the dealership & then they have no good appt times for MONTHS! The BF can do it, I just feel bad asking in the dead of winter.

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  11. You bring grocery shopping to a whole other level, and I love it! When I have time to sit and look at the ads and meal prep, I always do so much better. Unfortunately...it doesn't happen every week. It really should, though. Like you said...sometimes being an adult is hard!

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    1. Agreed! I think part of the reason it comes so easy to me is because I grew up in a household where this was done weekly. I always saw my mom looking at the ads & planning around them, so it seems natural.

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  12. Love the tips! I tried meal planning once but didn't do so well with the prep and ended up with wasted foods! I've been trying to lessen the variety (sounds sad!) in my meals but I feel that doing this enables me to use the same ingredients in different recipes and keeps from waste and over spending!

    I've never used freezer meals, do you usually just put them in the microwave to eat when you are ready after thawing? I've been trying to get my bf to meal prep with me, but he says he doesn't like reheated microwaved foods and enjoys them fresh -_- although he has been microwaving some chicken breasts and veggies for lunches! :D I guess that is a win/step!

    https://curlycaroline.wordpress.com/

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    1. No, I know exactly what you mean about less variety.

      I sent you an email so I could go into more detail // share some tips that were helpful when I first started meal planning.

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  13. I do meal plan. The Aldi is DC does not have great produce so I typically only go there for paper products, but honestly, we even get most of that from Costco nowadays!

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    1. That's a bummer, half the reason I go to Aldi is for their produce so I think I would skip out if the quality was low.

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  14. We have an Aldi not too far from here and I'm embarrassed to say I've never been in! I LOVE hearing about your meal prep and planning - I love reading about other's systems and figuring out what I can incorporate into my own! So thrilled to meet you through the blog hop and can't wait to visit again soon!!

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    1. Nice to "meet" you too Rachel!

      Aldi is worth a stop in my opinion. At least compared to other alternatives in my area, it's much lower priced which is a WIN in my book.

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  15. You have some fabulous meal prep tips! Wow I need your grocery bills! I do well prepping breakfasts and lunches but I struggle with dinners!

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    1. When it comes to prepping dinner I just try to remember how grateful my future self will be after work on a Monday evening when I don't have to do anything but heat up dinner to get it on the table. That usually kicks my but into gear!

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  16. I started meal prepping more the past few months. It is almost relaxing because I know my mornings aren't going to be stressful trying to find something to make up on the go. I have a few recipes that I rotate and ready enjoy. I practically cook for 1.5 - myself, the hubs (is more picky and would only like to eat the same meal once a week and not 3 times like me), and a little man (eats whatever I put on the plate). I also do quite a bit of "snack" prepping - chopping veggies, dividing yogurt, hard boil eggs, overnight oatmeal, etc :)

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    1. That's fantastic Lindsey! Love me some overnight oats & HB eggs too. Sounds like you've found a system that works for you!

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  17. You put my meal prepping to shame! Nice job. This is a great post and resource. You clearly have you stuff together and know what works for you. I'm super impressed and might need to pick up on some of your habits here. Thank you for sharing!!!

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    1. Thank you! I grew up in a household where this was done on the regular, so I definitely did quite a bit of learning from my Momma!

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  18. These are such great tips! I used to be much better about sticking to a lower budget, but once I added in the hubby and the little one, I had to boost it considerably. But meal planning is still SO essential for me to stick to our family budget!

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    1. Yes! I am sure if I was planning // shopping for more than 1 of me that my budget would have to go way up!

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  19. I'm a meal planner too! I can't live without cozi - I have all my recipes in there, and use it to drag and drop meals into a specific day - that then shows up on my calendar.

    It's fantasttttic!!

    httpe://www.kyleecooks.com

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    1. I've never heard of Cozi but it sounds like something I would LOVE. I'll have to check it out!

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