Yesterday I shared with you a recent goal that we set to pay off all of our debt in a relatively short time and how it affected our grocery shopping, but not our cooking or eating. I promised to share with you some tips and recipes this month that have helped us maintain our goals of eating good, homemade meals while sticking to a lean budget with a large family.
The first thing I’ll share with you today is this: when we were pregnant with our third daughter, my husband was working full time and in school for his masters degree full time, and I was working my home-based business with a toddler and a preschooler at home with me. I had this feeling of panic before the baby came (some might call it nesting, I call it panic, like a tornado was coming,) and I decided that I needed to prepare ahead as much food as I could for those crazy, early weeks after the baby came. That led me to creating a list of everything I could think of that we ate for our dinner meals so that I could also make sure I had the necessary staples on hand that I needed, since I knew I’d have my hands full and Don would still be working days and in school nights. No matter what our situation, I knew we’d still need to eat three meals a day.
I share this with you because even though I’m no longer expecting a baby, that period of panic/nesting actually turned out to be very helpful. When I made my list of all our meals, it lasted me for seven weeks before I had to start back at the beginning of the list again. That didn’t include leftovers, breakfast for dinner, or eating at someone’s house, for example, so really the list lasted us for about eight weeks of meal ideas. But, more importantly, what I noticed when I studied my list was that if I had some very important staples on hand at all times, I could make almost anything for dinner.
For example, I always make sure my pantry has white rice (bought in bulk) and brown rice as well as boxes of rice pilaf, couscous, rice-a-roni (all generic brand) and my potato bin has red potatoes, mashing potatoes and baking potatoes. I keep several boxes of pasta on hand, as well as wide egg noodles. This way, no matter what meal I make, I have a starch to go with it. You can use white or brown rice as a “bed of rice” under a main dish, or on the side. I keep a taco kit on hand as well as soft tacos (which allows us to have tacos, spaghetti tacos and/or quesadillas as meal options.) I also make sure I always have packets of brown gravy mix and boxes of chicken broth as well as both chicken boullion and beef boullion.
When I shop I always buy a large amount of ground beef, a pack of stew meat, a large bag of flash frozen chicken tenders, a bag of frozen shrimp, a bag of frozen white fish like flounder or tilapia, pork chops, pork tenderloins, and ribs for bbq.
I buy a few blocks of cheddar cheese, salsa and food for salads as well as fresh fruits and veggies and frozen bags of veggies (2 each of frozen corn, broccoli, and green beans. One bag of corn or green beans lasts us two meals, the broccoli lasts one meal.)
And yes, all of this and more still only costs $225 every two weeks.
One of my favorite make-ahead meals using several of the above listed items is Shepherd’s Pie. To make a Shepherd’s Pie is kind of a lot of work but it’s a one dish meal and my entire family likes it and I can make two–one to eat and one to freeze.
From the list above I need mashing potatoes, cheddar cheese, approximately 3 pounds of ground beef, and a bag of frozen corn as well as butter and half & half. (Additionally, I want to note that if I’m using our bulk amount of ground beef all up on Shepherd’s Pie this pay period, then the next pay period I might use it to make one and freeze one of meatloaf or a lasagna instead.) I must also note that this meal is NOT incredibly health conscious, but it IS incredibly delicious.
Here’s the cooking process the way that I do it, and I apologize in advance for not having a “recipe” to share.
1) Dice a pot of potatoes for mashing, approximately 10 depending on the size. Usually they’re about the size of my fist. If they’re bigger, use less. My Shepherd’s Pies are made in two 9×13 glass baking dishes. Set them on to boil. Once they come to a boil, simmer for 20 minutes.
2) While cooking the potatoes, put the 3 pounds of ground beef into a large frying pan and cook it all the way through. Drain the meat when it’s done.
3) In a second frying pan, throw in one bag of frozen corn, a half cup of half and half, salt, pepper and about a half stick of butter. Cook that all together until the corn is no longer frozen. Mix it together with the ground beef and pour into the bottom of the two 9×12 baking dishes. If your frying pans are not big enough to hold all of the meat PLUS all of the corn, split it up between the corn frying pan and the meat frying pan so that you have two frying pans of meat with corn.
4) In the meantime employ a child to grate a block of cheddar cheese onto wax paper or into a separate bowl. If your child is too young to grate cheese, you’re on. You’ll need this cheese to go into your potatoes as well as on top of the Shepherd’s Pie that you’re cooking for that night’s meal. When you freeze the second one, do NOT put cheese on top. You’ll need to do so when it bakes in the future instead.
5) Once the potatoes are done, mash them with butter, half and half and some of the cheddar cheese, remembering to save enough for the top of the pie.
6) Layer the potatoes over the tops of both Shepherd’s Pies.
7) Set one pie aside to cool and be frozen. Put the other in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Everything is already cooked through but this baking time sets it all together.
8) Change the oven setting to broil and take the pie out, sprinkle the remaining cheddar on top of the pie and put it back into the oven.
9) Out of your pantry grab a packet of brown gravy. Add one cup of water and mix until it boils. By then your cheddar cheese will be appropriately crisp and your pie will be ready to come out of the oven.
10) You’re ready to eat. If’ you’d like an additional vegetable, add a green one or a salad or both.