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 Eat On $300.00 a Month: My Meal Planning Guide

I’m surprised by how many comments and e-mails I’ve received about how, and what, I eat for $300.00 a month. I’ve always loved cooking and finding recipes that can make inexpensive foods taste great so I will start posting some budget friendly recipes for anyone who is interested.  For now I will give an example of our meal plan/grocery trip.

I don’t worry about breakfast or lunch too much. We eat basic cereal or toast/bacon for breakfast and usually a sandwich/yogurt/fruit for lunch, I only worry about dinners.

Organization

I use a list very similar to this meal planner made by Life in Yellow (which you can download for free! so head on over to her site!)

I make my plans up on Sunday and shop Tuesday bringing my trusty planner along with me.

If I have meat in the freezer I will usually try and cook around that first. I had some pork loin chops left this week so one meal will include pork. Once I look through the freezer, I go to the weekly sales and see what meat is on sale. This week boneless/skinless chicken was on sale, as was oven roast so this will act as our starting point for meals. I always have ‘side staples’ on hand and buy as we run out  (long grain rice, potatoes, salad ingredients and frozen corn or broccoli). I only buy what I need for the week so if I’m out of rice but don’t include rice as a side for any of my dinners I won’t waste the $4.00 buying it this week if I’m not eating it until next. I don’t like to have money tied up in food.

In terms of chicken specifically, hubby and I share a chicken breast when cooking. I don’t know about where you live, but the size of the chicken breasts(and almost all meat for that matter) at our grocer are more than twice the recommended portion size for meat so 90% of the time I cut it it half. The exception being if we BBQ the breast then we tend to have our ‘own’ although we never finish them and the meat usually ends up in a salad for a lunch next day.

I plan meals and after looking through the cupboards and my recipe book, I only write down what we need (down to every tiny spice), if it’s not on my list I have it at home.

Meal 1: Sweet and Sour Pork Chops (with rice)

Need: 1 can of pineapple tidbits, cornstarch, 1 can of chicken stock 

Meal 2: Spicy Grilled Chicken Sandwiches (with fries)

Need: 1 Chicken breast, 2 buns, fries 

Meal 3: Grilled chicken salad (with garlic bread)

Need: 1 Chicken breast, salad kit, loaf of french bread

Meal 4: Dinner out with family-separate budget from grocery funds.

Meal 5: Greek Chicken Wraps (with my roasted potato)

Need: 1 Chicken breast, tortilla wraps, garlic/sea salt spice grinder

Meal 6: Chicken Divan (with rice)

Need: 2 Chicken breasts, broccoli 

Meal 7: Slow Cooker Roast  (with corn and mashed potato)

Need: Roast, 1 can cream of mushroom soup, bag of frozen corn.

Next I make my list adding the other necessities I need like milk. I also try and estimate the prices so I have a general idea before I go what I expect to spend at each store (I shop multiple stores chasing sales), so my grocery list will look like this:

Store #1:

-1 package B/S chicken (~$10.00)

-Milk ($3.50)

-Cereal ($2.50)

-Bread ($2.50)

-Salad Kit ($2.00)

-Tortilla Wraps ($2.00)

-Buns ($2.00)

-1 box of Kraft Dinner (Canadian staple, I love it!) (.65)

Total: appox $23.00

Store #2:

-3lb Oven Roast ($6.00)

-2 cans of soup ($2.50)

-pineapple ($1.50)

-Box of cornstarch ($3.00)

-French Bread ($1.50)

- Bag of frozen broccoli and corn ($2.00/each)

-Spice grinder($4.00)

-Fries ($3.00)

-Nutella (my weakness so only buy on sale) ($3.00)

-Chips ($2.50)

Total: approx $31.00

Store #3:

-Diet pop ($5.00+bottle depo $1.20)

-5lb bag of apple ($4.00)

-Bananas ($2.00)

-2x Granola bars ($2.00/box)

-Yogurt {This week a local grocer had a huge overstock of yogurt and was selling it for 0.25cents/4pack, Score!}

-Eggos ($2.00)

-Eggs ($2.00)

-Bacon ($4.00)

-Ketchup ($3.00)

Total: approx $22.00

Weekly Total: $83.00

Not included in my grocery money is cat food and cleaning supplies/toilet paper. We budget for the cat food separately and I started setting aside a few dollars each week for toilet paper and cleaning supplies since they’re so sporadic.

So there ya have it, an example of my weekly spending on food. Some weeks are more expensive when I run out of all ”basic” cooking stuff (always at the same time) but that’s usually only once every few weeks for stock ups. I try and keep my weekly spending between $65.00-$85.00.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with Canadian Budget Binder but if you’re not, check out his weekly grocery store challenge to see how other bloggers stick to their budgets!