Okay friends, I know I have been promising this for awhile now and I am sorry it has taken me so long to get this posted! Better late than never though right?! If you have been following my grocery hauls on YouTube you know that our family does something we call FANCY FRIDAY.
Because we are a larger family it is not often that we all get to go out to dinner together but, just like anyone else, we love a special treat every now and then. Often our kids would ask us if we would take them to Olive Garden but, even when we tried to eat cheap it was just not affordable.
My solution was to figure out a way to give these kiddos the Olive Garden experience on Mama's thrifty budget. The solution was Fancy Friday. Every Friday we make this meal, we have a family night, and our kiddos think it is AWESOME! I have to admit, so does the big tall hubby and I . We pull out our "fancy" dishes and even drink out of wine glasses to get the full effect.
We have tried many recipes for Alfredo sauce and have enjoyed all of them but they weren't quite IT! After some digging I found this one in the most obvious place, Olive Garden's website. I know, who would've thought it? Anywho, we gave it a shot and y'all, it is legit!
Now you can't have the OG experience without the salad and breadsticks, so we have found a solution to that as well. We buy our breadsticks at Wal-Mart in the bread aisle. They are fresh, not frozen and they are delicious! They come plain so after cooking in the oven, I rub them down with some butter and give them a light sprinkle of garlic salt.
For the salad I just cut up some romaine lettuce, grate some fresh parmesan cheese on top, add some croutons and top it with the Olive Garden Italian dressing that I also purchase at Wal-Mart.
So there you have it! I hope you guys will give it a try and let me know what your tribe thinks!
Olive Garden Alfredo Sauce
3 oz wt butter
1 TBSP Garlic
2 TBSP All Purpose Flour
1 1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup imported Parmesan cheese, grated (I use 1 cup freshly shredded Parmesan total)
1/2 cup imported Romano cheese, grated
Salt and black pepper to taste (I personally add a little more salt then you would think necessary, but it really "wakes it up".)
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If you're anything like me, sometimes you just don't have time to make dinner; or maybe you just don't have it in you. I know after a long day of errands, or sports, or sickness, or just life I don't always feel like cooking. My budget however tells me that going out is not an option, So, now what? What do you do on these days? Freezer Meals! My make ahead freezer meals have saved us so much money and time over the years I can't even tell you. They can really be a life/money saver on busy or hard days.
Every time I am getting ready to have a baby I try to put away a months worth of freezer meals. That way when baby comes, I don't have to worry about what my family will eat while I recover. I also do this randomly throughout the year. If I am making a meal that is easy to double, I always do. We eat one for dinner that night and put the extra in the freezer. It only takes a few extra minutes to double a recipe and saves me hours in the long run.
If I really want to stock up I can make a months worth of freezer meals in one day and not cook again all month. I have done this many times and let me tell you, it is WONDERFUL! I especially enjoy Once A Month Cooking in the summer when our days are busy and the weather is hot. That's when I want to be outside enjoying my children and our homestead, and not be inside heating up the house!
If you are considering doing some freezer cooking, whether it be just a few meals or a whole months worth, I hope you will try out some of my go to recipes. They just might make a believer out of you!
Freezer Meal #1 - Chicken Pot Pie
It's delicious and can literally be thrown together in 5 minutes or less for a one dish wonder that will have the entire family feeling all the fuzzies.
Freezer Meal #2 - Tator Tot Casserole
If you haven't tried it, you haven't lived! It is a southern delicacy and rightfully so. The big tall hubby pretty much hates every casserole ever made and even he is a believer!
Freezer Meal #3 - Cheesy Chicken Crunch
This is my mother in laws specialty and it is good ya'll! The chicken stays so moist and delicious and it is cheesy and crunchy and everything you want in a dish.
Freezer Meal #4 - Homemade Chili
Who doesn't love a warm bowl of chili? We eat ours served over corn chips and topped with sharp cheddar but you can serve it any way you wish and it is YUM!
Freezer Meal #5 - Cheesy Beef Enchiladas
So easy and delicious and can be personalized in any way you want.
Freezer Meal #6 - Spaghetti Sauce
You can turn it into anything you want. Regular spaghetti, baked ravioli, meatball subs...
Freezer Meal #7 - Panko Breaded Chicken Breasts
Oh.My.Word. They are heavenly. My kids joke that you can roll anything in Panko and it would be good and so far I think they're right. I make up a lot of these at once and portion them out into baggies and freeze, We use them as the main course, slice them to top our salads, and even use in quesadillas and sandwiches.
Freezer Meal #8 - Cooked Ground Beef
Ok, so its not a meal all on its own but, having it ready means making many meals in minutes, I buy ground beef in bulk and cook it all up at once. I usually season half of it with taco seasoning and leave the other half plain. I then portion it in 1 lb. baggies and freeze. Anytime I am super short on time I can pull out a bag and have a meal in no time. The options are endless, Tacos, Spaghetti, Nachos, Sloppy Joe's, Enchiladas, Taco Salad, Chili, etc.
Freezer Meal #9 - Breakfast Burritos
An easy way to use up extra eggs on hand and you can stuff them any way you like. We make them several ways here but our favorite is with sausage, egg, cheese and salsa rolled into a tortilla and individually wrapped and frozen. Easy quick breakfast that will save you from the fast food line.
Freezer Meal #10 - Slow Cooker Teriyaki Chicken
You literally dump it all into a gallon size bag and freeze. Come cooking day you dump it into the slow cooker and hours later dinner is done. It doesn't get much easier.
#1 Thawing before baking usually produces the best results
#2 Potatoes should always be cooked before being frozen
#3 Use foil baking pans. Then you wont have to worry that your favorite dish is tucked away in the freezer. Also, clean up is a breeze after.
#4 Freeze individual ingredients. So many things can be frozen including ground meat, raw hamburger patties, marinated and grilled chicken, many fruits and vegetables, cooked beans, rice, and more. By freezing individual ingredients, you can add them to many recipes quickly and easily.
#5 The best way to avoid freezer burn is to get all the air out of the bag or container before freezing. Air is not your friend! So press all the air of the bags, or double wrap using plastic wrap and foil for the freshest tasting meals possible.
#6 Make several meals at once by doubling or tripling a recipe. You will save time in the long run by making a bunch of meals in advance. I have made as many as 60 recipes in one day!
#7 Label EVERYTHING! You might think you will remember but I promise, you wont! You don't want to pull out chili thinking you have spaghetti sauce. Also give instructions on how to cook once thawed, Use permanent markers so it wont rub off.
#8 Don't freeze in plastic or glass containers. They will break and/or cause freezer burn and all of your hard work will be for not.
#9 Always cool pre-cooked meals before freezing.
#10 Have Fun! Be creative and cook what your family loves while saving time and money!
Yes, you read that right. I feed my family of 9, 3 meals and 2 snacks a day for $600 per month, including diapers for 3 kiddos, wipes, toiletries, and household items. That breaks down to $2.22 /person/day or $66.66/person/month. Currently in the U.S., food stamps allow for $125/person/month. That means we are eating for well below the average cost of most families.
So how do we do it? No we don't eat junk. We don't eat all organic either; although I would love to. We eat balanced, nutritious meals. We cook from scratch when time allows and shop smart. For me, that means I do as much of my shopping as I can at Aldi. If you have an Aldi near you and you're not using it, try it out! I guarantee you will save a ton of money! If I cannot get something at Aldi then I will go to Walmart. I also try to watch the sales ad at Kroger for any hot deals. Thankfully where I live we have an Aldi, Kroger, and Walmart all within a few minutes of each other and though it means more stops it can be worth it to help stretch the budget.
The big tall hubby is a carnivore for sure and he doesn't feel hes had a meal if it doesn't include meat, so meat is always included in our dinners and his lunches. We try to have fresh fruit every day as part of a meal or as a snack, and fresh vegetables with most dinners. We have chickens here on the homestead, so for much of the year we have plenty of fresh eggs.
TIP #1 KEEP A STOCKED PANTRY & KNOW YOUR PRICES
I keep a well stocked pantry at all times. When something goes on sale for a great deal, I stock up on it. It is important to familiarize yourself with what things cost so that when they go on sale you will know its a good time to stock up. For instance, Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts can be purchased regularly here for about $2 lb, so when I see it go on sale for $1.39 lb I might buy 50 lbs or more and portion it up and freeze it. Then I might not have to buy chicken for several months. Make sense? Once, I saw canned vegetables go on sale for 4/$1 and I bought 300 cans, Did I go over budget that week? Sure! But I haven't bought canned vegetables since and that was over a year ago. I do this with as many items as I can. We have 2 deep freezers, and 2 refrigerators, which allow me to stock up when things are cheap.
TIP #2 MAKE A MEAL PLAN (and include ALL meals)
Another MUST to save money and stretch the dollar is to meal plan. Don't forget to include ALL MEALS, like breakfast, lunches and snacks. Taking the time to see what you have and writing a meal plan for each day is so important! If you don't know what you already have on hand, or what you are going to eat you will most definitely over spend at the store. Before I started meal planning I would often buy things only to find out I already had 3 of them hidden in my pantry. Now when I sit down to write out my meal plan, I check the pantry, fridge and freezers to see what I already have. That way when I head to the store with my list, I know I am only buying what we need. I do not plan snacks for certain days, but I do buy certain foods to be used for snacks only. To see my meal plan for the next 2 weeks click here.
TIP #3 COOK FROM SCRATCH WHEN YOU CAN
Something I try not to do is purchase pre-made snacks and meals. However, I am a busy Mama of 7, with kids in sports, and other activities. Sometimes life gets crazy and its nice to have convenience foods. I buy them on occasion when I need a hand or we are in a particularly busy season (i.e. new baby, sports season, etc). For the most part we try hard to eat healthy and stay away from processed foods, which in turn saves us ALOT of money. That stuff is expensive! I have learned to make almost everything we love right here at home. I can make fresh bagels, cinnamon rolls, homemade vanilla wafers, pizza crusts, fruit roll ups and even pretzels. Even if you don't think of yourself as a great cook, you'd be surprised what you can learn to make when money is tight. There are so many wonderful resources out there to help you get started.
TIP #4 EAT AT HOME
Eating out can single-handedly destroy your food budget! Notice my meal plan includes 3 meals a day for all 14 days? That's because we eat every meal at home when possible. We do budget a small amount of money each month for eating out but, I plan to eat every meal at home. If we do decide to eat a meal out that wasn't planned, we have that food leftover for another time. If we plan to eat out and don't for whatever reason, I know we still have a meal planned and all the ingredients we need to make it.
There you have it! These are the tips I use to save our family money and I hope they will help you too! If you would like to see more meal plans and how we stick to our budget, leave a comment below.