30 Cold Weather Meals

In order to stay in budget with our grocery bill, I’ve found it essential to shop with a list.  In order for my list to have everything I need on it, I’ve found it necessary to have a menu planned for the week.  The thing is, I had a big problem with writers block whenever I sat down to plan the menu.  It felt like we were repeating the same meals over and over and I’d draw a blank whenever I tried to think of something different.

So, a few months ago, I solved this problem and created two lists of meals that our family actually eats.  I made a list of Spring/Summer meals and a list of Fall/Winter Meals.  At first I just got my nerdball on and listed these in a spreadsheet, but now I’ve created a Pinterest board so I can have a visual reminder of the Fall/Winter meals we like (click the see the meals).  You’ll also find my list below with links to the various sites.  While the recipes are all close to how I make them, they all belong to someone else.  I’m your researcher/curator friend, not your Pioneer Woman friend (but at least she and I both love Lucille Ball and basset hounds!) so I hope me gathering recipes in one place is as helpful to you as it is to me.  (Note: many of these recipes will work for those on special diets like gluten free and dairy free)

30 Cold Weather Meals

Here are the 30 Budget-Friendly Cold Weather Meals that our family REALLY eats:

  1. Chicken Pozole (My shortcuts are that I use frozen chicken bone broth which cuts down cooking time.  For garnishes, we just use radish, cabbage, onion, cilantro, lime and oregano.  We serve this with corn tostadas or tortilla chips.)
  2. Split Pea Soup with Crusty Bread (Whenever we have ham on the bone, I freeze the bone and use in Split Pea Soup.  If you don’t have the time or desire to make your bread, one from the store will be just fine.) 
  3. Beef and Barley Soup (If mushrooms go over as badly in your home as they do in mine, just throw in a cup or two of crushed tomatoes from your pantry or freezer.)
  4. Pot Roast and Veggies (I haven’t landed on one way to make pot roast yet, so I really am going to try this Pioneer Woman recipe!)
  5. Ropa Vieja (shredded beef) with Rice (Instead of the seasonings, I use a packet of Dry Onion Soup Mix.  I also add 1 c. red wine.)
  6. Slow-cooker Baked Potatoes (I love to rub butter into the potato skin and then salt before cooking. We serve ours loaded with whatever toppings we have on hand….  cheese, sour cream, bacon, salsa, jalapenos, lime, salt and pepper, etc)
  7. Black Bean Tostadas (There are endless combinations to the toppings you can put on tostadas.  Work with what you have on hand and what’s on sale.)
  8. French Toast (We love breakfast for dinner.  Check the day old bread section of your store – then freeze it until you’re making french toast!  Serve with fresh fruit.)
  9. Breakfast Casserole (My family won’t eat the heels of the bread, so I collect them in a bag in the freezer and use it for this casserole – and for other recipes that call for bread crumbs, etc.)
  10. Chicken Noodle Soup (In my world, I use frozen bone broth which removes a lot of the cooking time in the linked recipe.  I like to use drumsticks for the meat – and after I’ve removed the meat from the bones, I throw them in a freezer bag to save for my next bone broth brewing session.  I also add one bag of frozen peas to my chicken noodle soup because the extra green makes me happy.)
  11. Ham with Au Gratin Potatoes (I actually follow this recipe for Au Gratin potatoes, are you impressed?  Haha.  This is one of our “celebration” meals, but I’ll sometimes make it on a regular weeknight with leftover ham or with a package of spiral ham ends and pieces.)
  12. Grilled Cheese and Soup (This is a sanity meal.  Perfect for nights when I don’t have the time or energy to cook.)
  13. Chilaquiles (Here is another breakfast-for-dinner idea that we use.  My husband is usually the one to whip this up.  We don’t mix avocado into the eggs, but add as a side if we have it.  This is a great way to use up corn tortillas that are getting a bit dry.)
  14. Spaghetti and Garlic Bread (No link to a recipe, we all have our own way of making it.  In our family, we make a meat sauce using ground beef which I stretch by adding Textured Vegetable Protein which makes it even more budget friendly and lower in fat.)
  15. Breakfast Sandwiches (I have never attempted to make my own english muffins, but buy those instead.  Try adding sauteed onions or jalepenos for extra flavor.)
  16. Homemade Pizza (If you don’t want to make your own dough, many pizza places will sell it to you for a few dollars.)  When we buy a simple one-topping take-and-bake pizza, we load it up with extra toppings at home depending on what we have on hand – onions, olives, red pepper, jalepenos, garlic, sundried tomatoes, basil, capers, whatever!
  17. Chorizo Breakfast Burritos (Extra credit if you buy your tortillas fresh from a tortilleria!  The tortilla can make or break your burrito. Yes, I’m a tortilla snob.)
  18. Meatballs in Chipotle Sauce with Rice (Instead of breadcrumbs, I add Masa Harina to the meat mixture, which makes this recipe gluten-free!  I freeze leftover chipotle peppers in a small container since this will not use the entire can.)
  19. All American Taco (Although I usually buy our shells, I do season the meat mixture with my own blend of spices instead of using a taco seasoning packet.)
  20. Boiled Dinner (I think we can all agree that someone really phoned it in when they were naming this one, but this is yummy!  I use chicken bone broth and water instead of bullion and I add cabbage or green beans to this as well.)
  21.  Classic French Onion Soup (for parents) and Mac and Cheese (for kids)  (I skip the expensive cheese on the French Onion and use swiss and Parmesan instead.  I also skip the wine.)
  22. Salmon and Couscous (I buy couscous in bulk at the natural foods store and use whatever I have on hand for the seasonings.  The kids usually eat mac and cheese or sandwiches or anything but fish when we have this.)
  23. Turkey Pot Pie (Buying extra turkeys around the holidays makes meals like these super frugal!  I make my own crust in order to control the ingredients.  If you don’t have all the ingredients for the filling on hand, just substitute with what you have.)
  24. Ham and Spinach Quiche (I just use shredded Swiss cheese and regular milk instead of the half-and-half.)
  25. Chicken and Dumplings (You can use turkey instead if you stocked up around the holidays!  I also throw in a bag of frozen peas and carrots.)
  26. Lasagna (This isn’t necessarily a thrifty meal, but it is a yummy treat from time to time.   My mom always uses small curd cottage cheese as an alternative to ricotta.  This blogger used whipped cream cheese instead. )
  27. Manicotti  (Prices on shells vary widely – also watch for sales on cheese or this one can get pricey very fast!)
  28. Roast Chicken Dinner (Or roast one of the extra turkeys you bought around the holidays!  We make some of our favorite sides to go with it based on what we have on hand – mashed potatoes, corn, stuffing, sweet potatoes, glazed carrots, rice, whatever!)
  29. Chili and Cornbread (Everyone has their favorite version of chili – make it the way you like it best!)
  30. Shepherds Pie (If I had to choose a meal to eat every single day, this would be it.  I love shepherds pie.  I like to make it using leftover mashed potatoes and I use a bag of frozen vegetables to make it even more simple.  Lentils can be substituted entirely for the ground beef to make this meatless or use lentils or Textured Vegetable Protein to stretch the meat and make it lower in fat.)

What are your go-to Cold Weather recipes?

One Mundane Way to Save

This tip is a bit of a yawn, but I promise, it will rock your financial world.  Well, maybe not fireworks-and-a-live-band kind of rock your world, it’s really more of an our-ship-isn’t-sinking-now level of awesome.  And not being on a sinking ship is pretty sweet.

Are you ready for it? Here it is:

Pay attention and ask questions.

Yes, it’s okay to yawn.  A blog post about drinking enough water each day might induce a yawn too, but I think we can all agree that it is essential to our well-being.  So, boring as it may be, paying attention and asking questions are essential to financial health.

I was reminded of the importance of this just today when I followed up on a $45 medical bill we received. Our family physician was out for all of August, so we had taken one of our daughters to an affiliated walk-in clinic for her sports physical.  Considering how laser-focused I am on frugality, it may surprise you to learn that my call wasn’t prompted by being billed for the visit, but rather because the description field said “urgent care”.  In the conversation with customer service, I learned that they hadn’t even invoiced our insurance yet – and the full amount is most likely covered under our health plan.  Had I simply popped a check in the mail, they would have posted our payment and we would have been out the $45.  The error would never have been caught.

This is just an example of a little leak that got fixed by simple phone call.  There are absolutely no areas of your spending that won’t benefit from you paying attention and asking questions.  It’s worth your time and will save you money.

How has a question you asked saved you money?

Gifts That Say I Love You

Two months from today, my husband, kids and I will snuggle up in the living room with cinnamon rolls and steamy drinks and will enjoy opening stockings and gifts together. Across the far-too-many miles, our loved ones will do the same.  As a child when UPS delivered packages from grandparents, aunts and uncles, I knew they weren’t delivering a brown box of stuff, but a message of “I love you, I see you, I thank God that we’re part of each other’s story.”  Honoring this tradition has been important to me as an adult because I want the gifts we send our parents, siblings and (thirty-two!) nieces and nephews to convey the same message.

Grandma cultivated this rose bush from a single stem my grandfather gave her in 1949.
Grandma cultivated this rose bush from a single stem my grandfather gave her in 1949.

Perhaps some day we’ll be at a place where we can shower each one with extravagance, but right now we are propelled to creativity by the reality of our budget.  Can you relate? Have you been combing the internet for gift ideas too? I’m more of a researcher/curator than artist, but I’d love to have you see the 100+ fantastic gift ideas I’ve gathered on Pinterest.  Maybe you need inspiration for clutter free gifts instead.  If that’s you, check out the Creative and Clutter Free Gifts series by Andrea Dekker.  As I gather ideas, craft my plan (and some gifts), my mind replays Grandma Atha’s drawl, “You’re my treasure and my pleasure, honey.”  And that’s the truth.  Let’s remember that the gifts given – be they large or small – are wonderfully sweet reminders of the love we share, but the true treasures are those whose names are on the tag.

Think Outside the Box: Which 25 Packaged Foods You Shouldn’t Buy

Every grocery store has a danger zone.  To be precise, it awaits in the packaged, non-perishable food section.  The good news is, one simple rule will protect our grocery dollars (and will likely improve our health).

Here is the simple rule:  Don’t buy cute packages.

Food in cute packages is not crafted by adorable chefs or Keebler elves.  It is made in big factories by people who move the ingredients around on fork lifts, dump it into huge vats, mix it together and dispense it into the darling, little packages.  Truly, the package is the only cute thing about this process.  If the guys in hair nets and hard hats can learn to dump things together to make something tasty, so can you and I.  We don’t need a culinary degree.  We don’t even have to like cooking.

Let me give you an example, last night I made fish and chips, but had no tartar sauce.  A trip to the grocery store would have taken me 10-15 minutes and the tartar sauce would have cost $3.00.  Instead, in those 10 minutes, I found a recipe online, measured and mixed 6 ingredients and had my homemade sauce ready at a cost of $.40.  I saved both time and money by skipping the cute package.

Coin in the Cushions

Here are 25 packaged foods to stop buying:

    1. Salad Dressing – do a little research on DIY versions of favorite dressings and wow  friends and family instead.
    2. Seasoning Mixes – Keep the spice cabinet stocked with the basics and make homemade seasoning mixes and rubs. (Pinterest is full of ideas)
    3. Tartar Sauce – here is the recipe I used to make my own.
    4. Pesto – use seasonal ingredients to make a large quantity and freeze.
    5. Macaroni and Cheese – skip the chemicals and improve the taste by making it from scratch.
    6. Seasoned Starches (Potatoes/Rice/Quinoa/Couscous/Pasta) – if you’re stumped at how to season these, look at the descriptions on the cute packages for inspiration.  Rosemary Parmesan Couscous, anyone?
    7. Canned Beansmake a large batch and freeze.  They will taste a billion times better than canned, I promise.
    8. Canned vegetables – if you can’t buy fresh, buy frozen.  Frozen vegetables are closer to their natural state and won’t have chemicals leached from the cans.
    9. Canned soup – from condensed soup to beef stew, the internet is has loads of recipes that are far superior to canned.
    10. Broth – homemade broth tastes better, is better for our health and is made with ingredients we’d otherwise throw away.
    11. Gravy – like broth, homemade gravy is practically free.
    12. Salsa – Salsa usually only contains 5 or 6 ingredients and the internet is littered with recipes.  By making your own, you fine tune it to the amount of spice you enjoy.
    13. Guacamole Mix – While you have the cutting board out for the avocado, chop up some tomato, onion, cilantro and jalapeño. Stir together with lime and salt and you’ll have the best guacamole around.
    14. Packaged Spices – instead, buy spices in bulk at the natural food store and refill the jars yourself.  As an example, a new jar of bay leaf would cost me $2.19, but by refilling my own jar, I spent a mere $.25.
    15. Jams and Jelly – This one might be intimidating, but jam is basically fruit, sugar and maybe some pectin cooked low and slow.  It can be frozen or canned and is very easy to make.
    16. Single-serve Oatmeal – Make homemade oatmeal packets for a fraction of the cost.
    17. Muffin/Waffle/Pancake Mix – these are in the quick bread category because they’re quick.  They’re cheap too. 
    18. Cereal – skip it.  It is expensive and you have to buy the milk for it too.
    19. Hot Cocoa Mix – mix together a large batch and have full control of the ingredients! 
    20. Tea Bags – buy a small tea infuser ball and use loose leaf tea from the spice section of natural foods store.
    21. Juice – drink water, homemade iced tea or make agua fresca made with fresh fruit.
    22. Cranberry Sauce – buy fresh berries and make your own.
    23. Canned fruit – eat fresh, seasonal fruit instead.
    24. Popcorn – pop your own on the stove or in an air popper.
    25. Cookies – measure and mix your own ingredients and save money, plus, you’ll have more cookies!

What packaged foods have you stopped buying?