My ‘Big Cook’ Weekend

This past weekend my sister-in-law and I went to her aunt’s house for our first Big Cook. If you’re not familiar, Big Cooking is preparing multiple meals at once for your freezer so you just have to throw it in the oven or slow cooker and supper is done! Sounds pretty awesome to this momma who is always looking to invent a few hours every day!

Given that this was our first time doing a Big Cook, we decided on 10 recipes to try; preparing two meals of each recipe, giving each of us 20 total meals. Since both my sister-in-law and I have households of two adults and each recipe recommends a serving of 4-6 adults, we further reduced each meal (except one casserole) by two, giving us a meal total of 38 each, plus her aunt’s 20 meaning we prepped 96 meals in one day! Pretty awesome right?

We made:

  • Sweet and Sour Meatballs
  • Tatertot Casserole
  • Chicken Cacciatore
  • Amazing Chicken
  • Cranberry Chicken
  • Honey Sesame Tenderloin
  • BBQ Pork
  • Friendship Soup
  • Bruschetta Chicken
  • California Chicken

All this required a multitude of ingredients including:

  • 60lbs of boneless/skinless chicken
  • 20lbs of lean ground beef
  • 24lbs of pork (tenderloin/roast)
  • 24 cups of cheese
  • 24 cloves of garlic (minimum, because we all love a little extra garlic!)

When we started adding up everything we needed I began panicking at what we were going to have to spend, 60lbs of chicken?! It ended up working out pretty amazing though.

For all the ingredients needed, everything listed, plus probably close to 100 other items from soup stock to canned tomatoes to green peppers, we spent a grand total of $461.09

$461.09 total=

  • $153.70/per person or…
  • $15.37/ recipe or…
  • $7.68/meal (4-6ppl) or…
  • $1.53/serving (5 person average)

$1.53/serving for fresh veggies, lean meat and no ”cooking”!

Planning was key in saving money.

We planned for about a month. Decided on the recipes and shopped the sales for the 3-4 weeks leading up to it. Just as I would for any normal meal plan. Costco came though for items we needed a lot of (tomato paste, chicken broth for example) but wasn’t great for meat prices per kg price. We ended up buying the chicken and beef from a local butcher and it was a beautiful product. He sold it to us for his sale price given the volume of the order. We got the chicken for $3.77/lb and lean ground beef for $2.49/lb. Bulk Barn was also a huge resource for all spices/herbs/powdered stocks.

It was a LONG day (8hrs of prepping the meals) but so worth it. I have 38 yummy, healthy meals in my freezer that I can throw in either my crock-pot for 6-8hrs on low or cook in my oven for 1-2 hours if I’m home.

Tuesday being my birthday, I certainly wasn’t cooking, so took the opportunity to try one of the recipes. We ate the sweet and sour meatballs and they were delicious! Even with me halving the recipe, my sister, husband and I ate and were stuffed! This full recipe could easily serve 6-8 average adults (they were healthy sized portions).

It was a great experience and we’re already planning our next one for the new year!

Have you ever done a Big Cook? Will you try now that I’ve incited you with no ”cooking” and budget friendliness?

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How We Manage our Grocery Budget (No Coupons Involved!)

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For many families, the grocery store is an easy way to kill a budget in a matter of minutes. When we decided to get serious about our budget last month I was determined we could live of $75.00/week for groceries. I’m currently on maternity leave so other than tending to baby girl I have no commitments that should interfere with me preparing all our meals. I’ve always enjoyed cooking (although cooking under the stress of a crying baby who wakes mid meal is no fun) so for us it was more a matter of proper meal planning. Before last week, we were bad for deciding an hour before supper what to eat which more often than I’d like, ended up in ‘convenience cooking’ (ie ordering out, cooking an overpriced, pre-made, dinner from the grocery store etc).

Here are my tips for sticking to a grocery budget:

  1. Meal Plan. This is huge. If you meal plan appropriately (down to every last spice that you may need) it will prevent you from running to the store for that ”one item” you forgot and subsequently end up spending $20.00 in crap you didn’t need or intend to buy.
  2. Stick to your list. Don’t let your eyes wander away from it. This requires strength.
  3. Shop the sales. If chicken is on sale this week, look for a few creative ways to cook it.
  4. Shop weekly. We use to shop biweekly when we got paid but realistically planning two weeks worth of meals didn’t work for us (I personally found planning 14+meals difficult) and we would end up at the stores on our ”off week” anyway if there was a great sale, regardless if we had the money for the item in question. The other benefit is that produce is wasted less.
  5. Cook with what you already have. If you have a fresh sauce/meat/produce item that might need to get eaten soon try and plan a meal around that item.
  6. Don’t be a brand snob. I don’t know where I first heard the term brand snob but it makes sense. I mean honestly how many ways can you can tomatoes or make a bottle of ibuprofen, it’s all the same. There are a few exceptions to this rule and everyone will have their own list (I love my Heinz ketchup, Kraft peanut butter and hate cheap razor blades!). The other plus to trying store brand is that store stands behind their product offering money back guaranteed if you’re not satisfied with the product, no questions asked. Doesn’t hurt to try!
  7. Shop around. Unless the cost of gas outweighs the deal(s) it usually pays to go to more than one store for the sales.
  8. Check non-grocery stores for deals. A few ‘discount’ stores (Walmart, Target, Giant Tiger etc) that have grocery sections will often have good food sales.
  9. Use your Farmer’s Market. If applicable, not all cities/towns have one. If you do, chances are the produce selection will be better than your grocer and better prices. Bonus, you’re supporting local farmers.
  10. Grow your own food. I grew a few veggies this year and plan on expanding next summer when I have more time to dedicate to it.
  11. Buy Frozen. I bought a bag of frozen corn for less than $2.00, it can act as a side to more than 10 meals for hubby and I, super yummy and taste better (and cheaper) than canned. Canned is good too.
  12. Don’t buy (too much) bulk or items just because they’re on sale. I use to grocery shop sale items whether or not I needed them right now. Laundry soap might go on sale for a good price and I would buy it even though I had a months worth in my basement. I was tantalized by the sale price. I don’t do this anymore because I see it as tying up my money in items I don’t need right now. Sales always reoccur.
  13. Cook your own food. If something is pre-packaged (ie frozen lasagna/pizza) that means someone else made it. If someone else can make it, so can you. For a whole lot less and a whole lot healthier. Google will become your friend. Use YouTube if you have to. Following recipes is easy.
  14. Cook large batches in slow cooker. If you don’t have a slow cooker or have one and don’t use it. START. You can cook a huge amount of food, for cheap and the best part is no real cooking! I will share some of my favorite slow cooker/budget friendly recipes later as this is my favorite kitchen item (my Kitchenaid mixer is a close second though). Bonus is that most meals can be prepped and frozen ahead of time (you can even prep seasonal stuff for use later in the year) so all you have to do it pop it in when you wake and come home to cooked dinner! It’s a great tool.
  15. Finally, Don’t shop hungry. Goes without saying. You will inevitably buy crap you don’t really want or need.

What are things that help you stick to your budget?