Make-A-Mix Cookery Authors

Monthly Meal Planning: Making Mixes

Make-A-Mix Cookery Authors

Cookbook authors or . . . Stepford Wives? Actually, I would totally use a Stepford Wives cookbook. Image from the Make-A-Mix Cookery book: Nevada Harward, Madeline Westover, and Karine Eliason.

So I’ve been on a roll! I just made my third Monthly Meal Planning spreadsheet last weekend: you can download it here.

This month is different for two reasons: one, we’re going on a trip to visit my husband’s parents in Massachusetts for a week, and two, I pulled out my Mom’s 1978 copy of Make-A-Mix-Cookery.

What’s Make-A-Mix-Cookery? It’s a book dedicated to saving time and money–huge during the 1970s, when gas was expensive and more women were entering the workforce. There’s the Quick Mix (a Bisquick-type mix), which literally makes 32 different recipes in the book (from Super-Duper Doughnuts to Sunday Shortcake), a Hot Roll Mix (for breads and sweet rolls, etc.), a Cornmeal Mix, etc. However, there’s also meat mixes (Mexican Meat Mix, Chicken Mix), where you can cook up/spice up meat and then freeze it, as well as rice mixes, drink mixes (Hot Cocoa!), cookie and cake mixes, camping and gift mixes–the books goes on and on.

This month I aim to make the following:

  • Hot Roll Mix (to make Swedish Cinnamon Twists and Big Soft Pretzels)
  • Cornmeal Mix (I finally ran out of Jiffy Mixes)
  • Muffin Mix (to make Blueberry Muffins and Molasses-Bran Muffins)
  • Oatmeal Cookie Mix (to make . . . Oatmeal Cookies)
  • Dill-Lemon Rice Mix (it’s been years since I’ve bought Rice-A-Roni)

I was a little concerned, since most of the baking mixes either call for shortening or dry milk, because they’re shelf stable. But I’ve already tested out the cookie and muffin mixes, and they are actually pretty stellar!

Even though we’ll be on vacation, I’m still planning on cooking at my in-laws’ house: easy things like spaghetti sauce and tuna casserole. I’ll be blogging from the road (and posting pics of my 10-item wardrobe), so stay tuned!

Who else cooks on vacation? Have you ever made your own mixes? Who else has an original Make-A-Mix Cookery book? Post below!

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Monthly Meal Planning Update: How Much Did I Save?

FritoNachos

Yes, this is a combination Frito Pie/nachos plate. Jealous?!?

Whew! We finished our first Monthly Meal Planning experiment–yay! I wanted to give a brief overview and share my boundless wisdom. You know, things like, don’t go crazy in the bulk aisle (spoiler: it’s too late for me). But first, I’ll go through my original goals.

Feed my family a variety of meals: Survey says: yes! It helps that my Monthly Meal Planning spreadsheet has categories like Soup, Pasta, Tacos, etc. While I did scrupulously freeze our leftovers and serve them later in the month, it didn’t feel like too much of a repeat to eat the same thing twice in a month.

Choose recipes that have common ingredients: I did accomplish this to some degree. Most of the pasta dishes involved spaghetti, for example, and a couple dishes called for ginger and cilantro (two things that are notorious for going bad in my fridge).

Go only once a month to WinCo: I love WinCo, but it’s at least a 40-minute round trip in the car. Unfortunately, I did not go to WinCo once–I went a second time after deciding, at the last minute, to throw a Super Bowl party.

Save time (both cooking and doing dishes) by making large quantities of meals and freezing/rotating them: Making double recipes of muffins and freezing half of our spaghetti sauce and taco fixings did help to a degree. If I were willing to eat the same thing more often, this would have gone better.

Be as zero waste as possible by shopping from the bulk bins using my own containers, and by shopping wisely and selecting common ingredients (see above) so I use everything up: I did have much less food waste–both stuff going to the compost bin, and fuzzy surprises in the fridge. Yay! Plus, buying from the bulk bin and using my own cloth bags and other containers cut down on trash (mostly just related to dairy and meat).

But Did I Save Money?

In our last thrilling installment of Monthly Meal Planning, we were on track to save 35%–but then, the Super Bowl party. Since I entertain all the time, I thought this would actually be a good measure of how much I could actually save in a typical month. But I did go to WinCo (mama didn’t raise a fool).

The final numbers? We saved 25% over our typical grocery bill (the average of the past six months). Not too shabby!

Other Things I Learned

  • Um, I need more snacks. The chocolate almonds I bought the first week? Only lasted that week. And then I needed Totino’s.
  • We consume about six large cans of frozen OJ concentrate each month. We used to always run out of orange juice, but I forced myself to do the math and buy a whole bunch at once. Yay, vitamin C! No more scurvy!
  • If you want to eat tacos every week, you need to buy enough tortillas to last through the month. Damn you, math!
  • My son likes plain yogurt with jam. And he’ll eat it really fast.
  • A quart of bulk maple syrup costs $25. That is insane. Although it looks like it will last at least two months, so . . .
  • Most importantly: I think I used to be loathe to buy enough, say, OJ to last all month, because I was worried about spending too much money. But not needing to make emergency trips for one or two things actually saved us money–because I wasn’t tempted to make impulse purchases or buy more things to make the extra trip “worthwhile.”

So overall, this was a success, and I’ve already planning out the next month and done my big WinCo trip. Stay tuned . . .

Totino's Party Pizza

Monthly Meal Planning Update: Where’s the Totino’s?

Totino's Party Pizza

I love my lobster and caviar, but I must . . . have . . . Totino’s.

We’re on Week 4 of my Monthly Meal Planning experiment, and overall I’m pretty happy, except for one thing: I forgot the Totino’s.

Yes, I have a not-so-secret love of Totino’s Party Pizza (combination, thank you), but I have a couple rules for eating them: one, I have to eat the whole thing. I am not sharing. I will make you your own! Two, I never buy them when I’m grocery shopping! So I ended up asking Scott to pick some up after taking our babysitter home the other night.

Here’s my update on Week 3:

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 4.06.54 PM

Menu

Week 3 meals we did eat: grilled cheese and tomato soup, Sid’s chicken with pasta and veggies, salmon with veggies, tacos with ground beef and refried beans (freezer leftovers from Week 1, moved from Week 4), ham and cheese sandwiches with fruit and carrot sticks, blueberry muffins (freezer leftovers from Week 1), banana-spinach smoothie (moved from Week 2), pancakes with fruit and sausage, yogurt with honey and granola.

Week 3 meals we didn’t eat: Spaghetti with veggies (now I can save it for next month), pork and pineapple tacos with refried beans (ditto), kale smoothie with pineapple and banana (moved to Week 2), fruit with chocolate almonds (we ate all the almonds), Cowboy Cookies (ditto).

Week 4 shopping: There were a few additions to the list (toilet paper), but everything went according to plan.

Pros: Again, I never have to worry about what to make for meals–which makes it easier to resist any last-minute impulses to go out to dinner (sushi).

Cons: I’m happy about the time I saved by making double batches of muffins and alternating blueberry and bran week to week, but I’m fantasizing about what’s next–I’m bored! Hopefully this will help me plan next month.

Money

So, I did my official Week 4 shopping, and we officially saved 35% compared to our average monthly grocery bill. But! I have decided to host a Super Bowl party this Sunday, which falls within my 30-day timeline, so we’ll have to see where we really are next week. I would keep it separate, except I entertain all the time, so it must be included in the monthly average.

Going Forward: I’ll be putting together a full write-up of my experience with Monthly Meal planning, and updating our overall expenditure once the Super Bowl party is included (I’m going back to WinCo to hedge my bets).

Monthly Meal Planning Update: Hoisted on My Own Petard

Original Taco House

The Original Taco House: keeping Portland weird since the 1950s. I assume.

On Monday I started Week 3 of my Monthly Meal Planning experiment, and things were going pretty smooth. For once, we weren’t running out of fruit (estimating how many servings we typically eat resulted in a surplus), and while we had run out of dinner veggies on Monday, our Monday “easy” meal was grilled cheese and tomato soup. No sweat! I can grocery shop tomorrow!

Until I started opening cans of tomato soup and realized . . . DUN DUN DUNNNNN! We were out of milk. In fact, both of my Monday “easy meals” rely on milk. So I ran out to the corner store and picked up half a gallon (the full gallons there would expire too soon), the exact thing my whole plan was supposed to prevent. Humbling times, folks.

But here’s the update!

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 4.06.54 PM

Menu

Week 2 meals we did eat: spaghetti carbonara with veggies, braised coconut spinach with chickpeas and lemon (over sweet potatoes), liverwurst sandwiches, ham and cheese sandwiches, bran muffins with fruit and bacon, kale smoothie with pineapple and banana (actually borrowed from Week 3), waffles with bacon and fruit, yogurt with honey and granola, vanilla ice cream. Holdovers from Week 1: roast chicken with potatoes and veggies, hummus with carrots and pita.

Week 2 meals we didn’t eat: Sid’s soup with cornbread (since I didn’t make it in Week 1), shrimp tacos with black beans, chicken soup with rice and veggies (since I hadn’t made the roast chicken in Week 1), banana-spinach smoothie (switching to this week).

As you can see, changes in Week 1 made a big difference in Week 2. The other major curve ball is we had the opportunity to bring a friend and his family dinner on Tuesday in Weeks 2 and 3, so I ended up making chili and had some left over for us.

Week 3 shopping: I ended up adding some things to Week 3–partly because we ran out of things (like onions), but mostly because we brought dinner to our friend again this week, so I added on herb roasted pork tenderloin (I didn’t do the preserves) and kale pasta salad, which were both solid choices: portable crowd pleasers that hold up well as leftovers.

Pros: Even though I’m not sticking strictly to the menu, I’m never at a loss for what to make for any meal or snack, which is great. This has been especially helpful for breakfast, AKA my weak spot. Plus, the fridge is not stuffed crazy-full: everything has a purpose and is getting eaten!

Cons: My freezer is really at its limit, since I’ve been freezing leftovers for later in the month, plus I have a bunch of shrimp, salmon, and chicken in there. Well, and I’ll be honest: my freezer wasn’t pristine to begin with.

Money

This was the thing that shocked me the most: I checked our grocery expenses, and if next week proceeds as planned, we’ll have saved about 37% in groceries this month. This kind of blows my mind. Plus, I have freezer backup, as in meals that will be shifted to next month, so our savings might be increased in February.

I’m kind of happy and kind of sickened at the same time. We’re not really eating any differently–I haven’t put us on beans and rice (yet). I’m just more organized and wasting less food. I don’t want to think about how much food I’ve been throwing in the compost bin instead of ingesting.

However: I do think this is in part because we’ve been going out to dinner a little more often than usual. We had friends visit last weekend (I finally got to experience The Original Taco House), and I’m being taken out again tonight for my birthday. It’s birthday month.

Going Forward: I’m going to make some chicken broth and strip the carcass I have in the fridge (yummy), so next week will be all about making use of that deliciousness. And then I’m going to have to plan next month!

Monthly Meal Planning: Eat Better and Save Money & Time

 I’ve been in a rut after the holidays–feeling stressed, uninspired, and like I’m always playing catch-up with my grocery shopping. I love to cook, like, I love to cook, but it was getting to the point where I couldn’t even figure what to make for dinner. I felt like I was spending too much money, wasting food, and just generally working way too hard. So I decided to brush off my old Monthly Meal Planning spreadsheets (something I started working on last year) and use them this month.

Plus, I’m sharing them with you: one, because hopefully they might help someone else, but two, I would love feedback on their usability, etc. Help me make them better!

Download my Monthly Meal Planning spreadsheet now, and then I’ll break down my method. Note: This is an example, not a complete list of items you would need to make all of these meals. This is because I had some items on hand, so I didn’t need to buy them.

This is a six-page Excel workbook that I’ve found very helpful. But first, as with any project, you should establish your goals. Here’s what I’m trying to accomplish:

  • Feed my family a variety of meals, but:
  • Choose recipes that have common ingredients
  • Go only once a month to WinCo (an amazing, large, cheap grocery store we have with dozens and dozens of bulk bins that is a 20+ minute drive for me, hence the once-a-month schedule)
  • Save time (both cooking and doing dishes) by making large quantities of meals and freezing/rotating them
  • Be as zero waste as possible by shopping from the bulk bins using my own containers, and by shopping wisely and selecting common ingredients (see above) so I use everything up

Here we go!

Menu

Monthly Meal Planning

As you can see, I plotted this out via several categories, beginning with dinner (which is my top priority). To help jog my creativity and make meal planning easier, I try to choose a pasta or rice dish each week, a taco (Taco Tuesday!), a soup, a meat or other entree, and seafood. Monday is devoted to either Kraft Macaroni & Cheese with a vegetable or grilled cheese and tomato soup (or something else I have in the freezer that is virtually instant). I like Mondays to be easy. As a rule, I only plot five or so dinners per week, because we may go out to dinner or eat leftovers.

Lunches are basic–I pack a bag for my husband and feed myself and Sarah sandwiches or leftovers.

Breakfast is my crucible, so planning really helps me. Categories include muffin or cake, smoothie, griddle, or yogurt. I used to have eggs in here, but I’m not a huge fan and our son Sid’s been saying he hates eggs, so we’re taking a break.

Snacks are pretty self-explanatory–for me and Scott to munch on, and for Sid after school. Desserts are also standard.

You’ll notice that some things repeat every couple of weeks this month: spaghetti, salmon, muffins, sandwiches, cookies. I’ll be making large batches and freezing them (and freezing half our fish and lunch meat) for simplicity’s sake.

Master Shopping List

I can only show you a small portion in the screenshot–this ended up being a list of 83 items! In addition to food, I went through and figured out what items we needed for cleaning, personal care, etc. I then added categories for stores (I’ll be shopping at four places: WinCo, the People’s Co-Op–I can get oils and such in bulk there–Fred Meyer, and Flying Fish, our local fish market), department, how much I need, and what week I need to buy it. Then I sort by week, store, and department.

I try to buy as much as I can in Week 1: non-perishables and freezables, weekly dairy and produce, etc. Then in Weeks 2-4, in a perfect world, I’d only need to pick up the weekly dairy and produce at the store. It never works out that way, but I can dream . . .

Week 1 Shopping

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 4.08.31 PM.png

I then copy and paste each week’s items in their own spreadsheet. Again, I can only show a small portion of Week 1–it contains a whopping 59 items. The only thing I would do to improve this is to move the departments around to mirror how the store is actually laid out–produce, then deli, then meat–but I’ll continue to refine this until it’s just the way I want it–then I can save it and pull it out every couple of months and save myself some work. In an ideal world, I would have four or five perfect months planned out that I could rotate and update, depending on what I have on hand.

Week 2 Shopping

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 4.08.43 PM

I won’t bore you with screenshots of the rest, I just wanted to show you the difference in the rest of the month–11 items in Week 2, baby! I’m living the dream! I’m only buying cavatappi pasta at Fred Meyer’s because they don’t sell it at WinCo and it’s my son’s favorite.

Sunday I went out to WinCo and did Week 1’s shopping. While I bought tons of food, including a whole chicken, four pounds of chicken breasts, two pounds of shrimp, ground beef, Italian sausage, bacon, breakfast, four pounds of dried beans, 25 servings of fruit–and on, and on–it totaled about a quarter of what I usually spend on groceries in a month, so I’m hopeful!

So what do you think? What changes would you make? I’ll continue to blog weekly and let you know how it goes. In the meantime, I’ll link to a bunch of the recipes I chose, in case you’re interested!

Banana-Spinach Smoothie
Chicken Soup With Rice
Chicken Hash
Coconut Braised Spinach With Chickpeas and Lemon
Cowboy Cookies
Coconut Curry Spaghetti Squash With Shrimp
Free French Vegetable Soup
Kale Smoothie with Pineapple and Banana
Pumpkin Smoothie
Refried Beans
Roast Chicken and Potatoes
Sid’s Chicken
Spaghetti
Strawberry-Flaxseed Smoothie