Feasting & Saving: Meal Planning on a Budget (Free Printable & Recipe!)

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I had to learn how to be a thrifty person pretty early on in our marriage. Once I hurt my back and lost Glory, we went from two okay incomes to one meager non-profit income that paid all our necessary bills. Except our groceries.

There were some miraculous ways in which God provided for us in that season from friends dropping off bags of groceries to people paying for our groceries. And it was in this time where I knew I had to become a good steward of the funds we were given.

Before I had to quit working, I would simply go to the store and throw whatever looked good in the cart. And by the end of the week, I'd be throwing out SO much produce that had rotted in our fridge or on our counter due to the fact that we couldn't eat it fast enough. Not only that, I was spending SO MUCH MONEY that was just getting thrown in the garbage.

Once I became intent on being a good steward, I went full steam ahead. I found a great little free prinatble for the menu and shopping list (which you can conveniently find and print off here from The Project Girl) and laminated it so I could reuse it every week with dry erase markers. 

Then I turned to Pinterest. I made boards for chicken & turkey (ironically named 'For the Birds'), pork & beef, noodles, vegetable sides, etc. I already had a plentiful recipe board started that I organized into the newly created boards and was good to go! 

I used the Pinterest method for planning meals for almost 2 years. But then I realized that on the evenings I would use a Pinterest recipe, cooking dinner would take me twice as long. So I sat down and came up with a list of dishes I can cook without recipes. Once I started writing that list, I was surprised at my repertoire of recipes. 

So now, every week I sit down with my freshly cleared meal planner/shopping list and look at the list on my phone. I choose some meals that I haven't cooked in a while and then write the items down I know I'll need to make said meals. I try to be as thorough as I can and sometimes I fail, and have to either run back to Aldi or improvise by substituting another ingredient for the meal. 

I honestly love cooking without recipes SO MUCH. Doing so inspires so much creativity and caters the food to your own liking instead of someone else's palate. And not using recipes has spawned new dishes and recipes of my own that we have come to love!

Nowadays, we are paying for our own groceries, but our budget is still pretty tight. I try to spend less than $100/week. Honestly, I find great joy in buying a whole week's worth of groceries including fresh produce, special treats and lunches for $100. So while our meals are rarely steaks or salmon, they are still wholesome and healthy and filling. 

I want to share one of these recipes with you. It was one that I loved when my mom made it, but she used a boxed version (no judgement!). For a few years, my gut was intolerant to garlic, so I had to find ways to make meals without garlic. DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD THAT IS?! Pro tip? Onion powder & minced onion are okay substitutes. You're welcome. 

Anywho, I loved and craved this dish but knew it was packed full of stuff I couldn't tolerate, so I made my own. To make it even better now, I CAN EAT ALL THE GARLIC I WANT! So, here goes:

Caitlin's Red Beans & Rice with Cornbread

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Shopping List/Ingredients:
Turkey kielbasa (or pork, but turkey is healthier and tastes the same!)
1 green pepper
1 can of kidney beans
1/2 diced onion
1 cup white rice
2 cups of chicken stock
Olive Oil
Some minced garlic
Salt
Pepper
Paprika (LOTS of it!)
Garlic powder
Onion powder
Red pepper flakes
Oregano (THIS IS ESSENTIAL!)
One box of cornbread mix
     -egg
     -milk (we use almond milk)

Meal Prep:
Heat oven to the temp on the cornbread box.
Combine the cornbread mix with the milk & eggs. Pour into a pan (I use a medium-sized cast iron skillet) and pop into the oven to bake while you cook the rest of the meal.

Pour some olive oil into a large pan. I use a deep cast iron skillet. Heat the skillet and oil to sautee the veggies & meat.

Dice up the 1/2 onion finely. 
Rinse and remove seeds of green pepper. Dice and set aside.
Rinse can of kidney beans.
Dice up the kielbasa.

Put the onion and garlic into the hot skillet and sautee until the onion is translucent. Add the green pepper and cook until soft. Add the diced kielbasa and cover to cook. Stir every few minutes. Kielbasa usually comes pre-cooked, so you're really just warming it through. I like to get a nice crust on the kielbasa. Once the kielbasa has been browned, add the cup of rice and stir around until the rice is translucent. Once everything has been combined, add the 2 cups of chicken stock and add your desired amounts of the spices above. Paprika is good for the color of the dish, but it can also be super spicy, so be sure to test it before you add too much. And oregano is the star of the dish. Don't be afraid to add more than you think you need. 

Once the stock has been added and all the spices mixed in, stir in the kidney beans and then bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat so that the dish simmers. Cover and leave it be until all the liquid has been absorbed. 

As soon as the cornbread is done, pull it out of the oven and plop a piece or two on a plate. Put a few dabs of butter (or Earth Balance for our dairy-free folks) and top it all off with a scoop or two of the red beans and rice and enjoy!

I have yet to tabulate the cost of this meal, but I would hazard a guess that it cost less that $5 to make (shopping at Aldi!!!!) and it usually makes enough for dinner AND lunch the next day. How can you beat that?!

Do you meal plan? If so, what are some of your tips? Feel free to share in the comments below or on the Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter!

AND! And if you make the meal, share pics of the deliciousness with us and let us know how it turned out (good or bad!). I've shared this recipe with a few friends and they've added their own twists to the meal like adding some diced tomatoes. I've yet to try that but it sounds delicious!

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