In part 2, I mentioned a cookbook that I use quite a bit....and then forgot to tell you what it is. The cookbook that I use for egg rolls and beefy mini pies is called : The $7 a meal cookbook by Linda Larsen (touted as a Pillsbury Bake-Off Recipe Tester). I got mine from BAM! (formerly known as Books-a-million) and it is well worth the price. The first chapter is all about cooking on a budget and addresses topics such as your spending habits, "The indispensable list" (this would be the inventory of your pantry/cabinets/freezer that I mentioned in previous posts), how to use coupons, etc. She then goes on to present recipes for appetizers and sauces, breads, breakfast on a budget, beef, chicken and turkey, pork, seafood, vegetarian, pasta, sandwiches, soup, chowder, and chili, pies and pizza, vegetables and side dishes, and desserts. All of which can be made for $7 or less!!! How awesome is that?? The last 2 chapters are devoted to an equivalent's chart and a food preparation glossary.
Trust me, I was doubtful about purchasing this cookbook because, in today's society, how likely is it to REALLY be able to feed your family for less than $7?? Well, I'm definitely convinced that it *IS* possible!! The 2 favorite meals for my family - egg rolls and beefy mini pies - are actually in the appetizer section and cost $6.56 and $5.64 respectively. Now, this is following the recipes exactly. My family doesn't have a huge need for shredded cabbage, however, so sometimes the cost of the egg rolls is a little higher due to buying packaged col slaw mix or even broccoli slaw (not as spicy as coleslaw mix, and my family actually ate more of these than of the original ones). We also skip the cream sauce for the beefy mini pies, which cuts the cost of making those (yes, the first time I made them I did the sauce, and hubby and I liked them, but the children didn't....they taste just fine without the sauce).
Ok, so I've given you 2 of the cookbooks that I use when working to cut the family budget, so let's take a look at cookbooks in general. Do *NOT* fall under the belief that you can never have too many cookbooks (even if you are a graduate of culinary school!!). Something that goes hand in hand with cost-cutting and such is clutter control...odd, but really, it does. I will admit, I seldom found a cookbook that I didn't like, and if I didn't get it for myself, it usually found it's way via a family member as a gift. Recently, I began what could very well be a 9 year odyssey of creating a cookbook of family favorites. Really, it isn't for me because *I* have the original cookbooks - well, some of them - but it will be for my children for when they move out on their own. It is part of my plan to raise children who can at least take care of the basics (house repair, clothing repair, car maintenance, at least 7 meals, preferably more), and I decided that since my oldest is in 4th grade, I should probably get started on it. While working on this project, I discovered that a LOT of my cookbooks only had a few recipes that I relied on. I decided it was time to clear out the underused cookbooks and free up some more space (space that can be better used to store cooking supplies bought in bulk!! See, told you they were related!!).
So, I have started the family cookbook and have gotten down to 8 cookbooks that I use regularly, They are: Betty Crocker cookbook: Betty Crocker Microwave cookbook:, The Joy of Cookin:, $7 meals, More With Less; Don't Worry, Dinner's in the Freezer; Eat for Life (I think that's the title - it's from the Body for Life program and has GREAT recipes in it); and Where's Mom Now That I Need Her? (sadly, I have found that this is no longer available....this gets the least amount of use because of the high fat and sodium content in the recipes, but it also addresses clothing repairs, home remedies, etc. and it had a companion book called Where's Dad Now That I Need Him?...also one thatIi haven't been able to find lately).
I will probably clear more of these out as I continue to add to the family cookbook (currently being saved on the computer for those times when I actually have an hour to sit and write). You may be more comfortable having tons of cookbooks, but once you start meal planning and actually keeping in mind the foods that your family likes, you will find that you have the recipes memorized and don't NEED the books to help you out.
I have found that it is best to always have back up meals - macaroni and cheese, tv dinners, etc. I know, you are probably gasping in shock right now, but let's be real here....there are going to be nights when the last thing you want to do is cook a meal that you then have to remind the children that YES, they HAVE had it before and YES they DID like it (sound familiar to anybody out there??). While not the healthiest, it is hard to beat tv dinners for $1 each, or pot pies for $0.69 each, and sometimes you need a little spontaneity in your meals and you KNOW the kids will love you for it...lol. Spontaneity....like tonight...we are supposed to be having balsamic chicken and really, after shoveling the driveway, clearing off the cars (ok, hubby did most of the driveway), and running errands, I really don't feel like dealing with it....so we are having beef stew....from a can....GASP!! with potato rolls and cookies that I baked (with DD) as dessert.
No, I'm not perfect, and sometimes the plans have to get tossed out the window because life throws a curveball (like this past week when my 6yo DD ended up with a broken nose due to a playground accident)....nope, didn't follow plan there....or maybe we did and it was just a quick and easy meal...see, I'm still a little foggy about everything from Thursday afternoon up until this morning. Anyway, the point is not to seek perfection and be a coupon maniac (like the people we hear about getting hundreds of dollars of groceries for $20 or thereabout), the point is to save YOUR family money while cooking mostly healthy foods for them. I don't subscribe to the idea of perfection because there was only ever one perfect person, and that is NOT me. We are all human, we all will have times of failure and success....don't beat yourself up if dinner consists of hungry man dinners and juice boxes...sometimes that's what you need because you get to spend more time with the family.
Take a look at what you have been spending on groceries....for us, it was $1000 every month. Decide how much you want to be able to save every month - it sometimes helps if you decide that you want to save a certain amount so that you have it to put towards paying off a bill (this is how I paid off my van, bought in 11/2004, by 2007...yep, 6 year loan paid off in 3 years). I decided I wanted to cut the groceries in half...down to $500 a month, so that we had more money to put towards my van and the credit card that we had outstanding at the time....so I did the work. Now, I average between $400-$500 a month, with birthday months being a little higher since the children get to choose their meals and desserts.
The one thing that will probably be your biggest block is your disbelief and doubt. You are probably reading and saying that there is no way I have the time to do this, or there is no way this is really worth it and no way it really works....um, yes, it does, yes yes yes....did I mention that the groceries I bought for this month were bought with NO coupons being used??? If I had taken more time, imagine how low the final cost would have been!!
So, the real question is this: is it worth $500 to take 4-6 hours (the first month only) to take inventory, shop the circulars, and hunt the coupons?? If not, enjoy overspending and wasting food. If yes, by all means, leave me a comment or ask me a question and I will keep posting the things that work for me and my family!!