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I Bought Real Food!

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Last week I talked about how I suck at cooking, and readers were cool enough to send me TONS of great information via email and comments. Seriously, I’m not sure if I’ll ever make it through all the links, recipes, and tips I got – you guys are amazing! Anyway, I swore I would start cooking when I got back from my trip to Georgia, so last night I went to the grocery store AND cooked a meal that didn’t (1) come from a box or (2) require the use of a fire extinguisher.

The bad news is that I spent a ton of money, BUT I knew that would happen since I lacked even the most basic things I needed to cook real food. Now that I have that stuff, I shouldn’t have to replace most of it for awhile. I also made a shopping list, which is rare for me, to make sure I bought real food instead of frozen dinners.

My Shopping Plan

  • Spicy chicken tortellini from the fabulous TeacHer Finance (I made this last night!)
  • Meatloaf, also from TeacHer Finance, with mashed potatoes
  • Shake & Bake chicken with pasta salad, which is one of the few things I already make regularly
  • Something else with ground beef, possibly tacos
  • Some quick and easy breakfast foods
  • Snack foods that are not potato chips
  • Backup foods in case Jayden won’t eat what I make

What I Bought

This is the sucky part. My grand total at Walmart was $195. When I look at what I got, though, I’m not too sad about it. I’ll be prepared to make all kinds of new foods now!

Staples and supplies ($90): I’m embarrassed to admit that I had to buy a measuring cup, measuring spoons, mixing bowl, cutting board, paring knife, food storage containers, and a cookie sheet because I seriously did not own any of those things. I also had to buy salt and pepper (obviously I had those – just had to replenish), basil, oregano, crushed red pepper, parsley, bread crumbs, rice, rotini (got the wheat kind thanks to reader Jay), frozen corn/green beans/peas, olive oil, nonstick cooking spray, Worcestershire sauce, and barbecue sauce.

Actual things to cook ($55): I bought ground beef, chicken, potatoes, onions, bell peppers, celery, carrots, eggs, milk, canned vegetables, pasta sauce, tortellini, and cheese. Definitely could have saved here by buying in bulk, but I don’t want to do that until I’m sure I’m going to stick with this whole cooking thing.

Snacks that aren’t potato chips ($15): I consider this a huge win. I got apples, fruit juice, dry-roasted almonds, and garlic parmesan pretzel crisps (my new favorite thing). No chips, cookies, candy, or any of the other crap I would normally buy, yet all of those are things I really like to eat.

Breakfast foods ($10): I usually don’t eat breakfast, so I’m starting slow. I bought Carnation Instant Breakfast and a few premade frozen smoothie concoctions just to get in the habit of eating (or in this case, drinking) something in the morning.

Junk for Jayden ($25): I’m trying to expand Jayden’s food horizons, but I’m realistic if nothing else. I picked up peanut butter, jelly, bread, Lunchables pizzas, those disgusting Lipton cheddar broccoli noodles that he loves, Pringles, Doritos, Goldfish crackers, Pop-Tarts, and frozen waffles.

The Verdict

As I said, last night I made spicy chicken tortellini. It was delicious, though I got a little carried away with the “spicy” part. The recipe wasn’t hard at all, but it was a little more time-consuming than I’d like – it isn’t something I’d make on a random weeknight when I’m in a hurry. That said, I froze the leftovers in my new storage containers (the recipe made about 5 billion servings) and I’ll be enjoying the spicy deliciousness for quite awhile!

Minus all the basics, I spent $110 on food that might last 2 weeks if I’m good about eating leftovers. I’m a little disgusted with that part, though it’s going to take time to incorporate things like shopping sales, buying in bulk, and converting Jayden to real food. Still, I feel better knowing that I’ll be eating less processed food, and since I didn’t buy any prepackaged junk for myself, I’m forced to either cook real meals or eat some of the stuff cluttering up my pantry.

What I learned: (1) It’s easier to cook when I already have an idea of what I’m going to make. (2) Shopping from a list is a good thing. (3) I’m really dumb when it comes to following recipes. (4) A good paring knife is kind of expensive. (5) From now on, when I want to know how to do something, I’ll just ask you guys!

About Andrea Whitmer

Andrea is a freelance web designer and single mom trying to maintain a sense of humor in an otherwise chaotic world. She blogs in hopes of helping others avoid the same mistakes she made in the past. Join in the discussion here on So Over This, or connect on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Plus. You can also subscribe to new posts via RSS so you never miss out!

Comments

  1. That's great! I really think it's getting started that's the hardest with cooking. My grocery bill used to be way higher as well, as I also had to buy spices and other random kitchen things… But these days I spend less than $100 per month on groceries.

    Also, I think it's important to not buy too much fresh produce at once (except onions and potatoes). My rule of thumb is to keep the kitchen stocked with canned stuff/dried pasta, but to only buy enough veggies for 1~2 recipes. I find that if I get overambitious with veggies, they end up spoiling before I get to them.

    Good luck!

    • Yeah, I think it'll take awhile to get everything I need. But I truly believe I can cut my grocery spending at least in half once I get the hang of things.

      I bought the veggies I knew I would need for the recipes I had planned, and so far it's worked out pretty well. I have half a green pepper left, but at 68 cents each, I can live with that. :)

  2. Congrats on eating real food! That's one area of living that I really don't like to scrimp on, I feel like it'll just come back to bite me when I'm older.

    • Agreed! I'm not even 30 yet and I already feel old. Better to cut out the crappy food now in hopes that my aging process will slow down a little!

  3. mysti1031 says:

    You can do it! It just takes practice. Shepard's pie is another easy meal and not too time consuming.

    • Do you have a good recipe? I know I could look it up, but I'm never sure which of the million recipes I should use!

  4. melissaawilson says:

    Yay! Well done, Andrea. I'm so proud!

    I know the grocery bill seems grim now, but once you get in the hang of it, and become more efficient with planning, I'm sure you'll see it go down. (For instance, consider making your own smoothies? They take about half a second with an immersion blender.)

    Good luck!

    Also, for breakfast, you might like this recipe I posted a while back: http://www.broketo.ca/2012/03/recipe-mini-breakfa

    Mini freezable breakfast quiches. Take no time to make at all and then once they're frozen, you just microwave them for a minute, and then you've got basically an omelette for breakfast!

    • I would probably enjoy that, if not for the fact that I HATE eggs. When I was pregnant with Jayden, they made me sick, and ever since I can only eat them if they're in something and I can't tell they're there. I do crave omelets every now and then, though, so maybe something like that recipe would make it doable!

  5. socarr says:

    Great job!! It looks like you have all the tools to get yourself cooking at home more often. Like everyone else said, you will get the grocery bill down it just takes a few tries to catch the deals. On the plus side, you bought some long-tern items that do not need replacing as often so that should def. help cut your bill down!

    I know what you mean about recipes that take too long or call for far too much prep time. During the week, my meals take about 30 mins (or less) to throw together and they are either ready then or they need to bake for 45 min. When I look for new recipes I always make sure they aren't time consuming. Even though I love to cook, I don't love following instructions for 4 hours. When I use the allrecipes.com app on my Kindle Fire I almost always choose the "ready in 20" option :)

    Great start to cooking at home! Keep up the good work!

    • I really need to start using the AllRecipes app. I have it; I just don't use it (unless I have random ingredients and want to see if there's anything I can make with them!)

  6. I find it very funny that you confessed to needing to buy those basic items. But don't feel bad. When I moved into the room I am now renting, I had to buy a potato peeler, rolling pin and measuring spoons. The landlords had none of these. Oh, and a cutting board. They were using the glass protectors as cutting boards… and their knives were dangerously dull. Figures! Best of luck with cooking. I'll have to agree, the hardest part is getting started. Planning ahead of time makes the whole process so much better (lets you take better advantage of sales and what you have in stock, helps you save money, and stops that 6pm feeling of not having any idea what to make for dinner!). Have you looked into muffins (both savory, breakfast and sweet)? They freeze wonderfully and can be reused in any number of ways.

    • Well, I thought about just saying I bought supplies and leaving it at that, but I'm a huge fan of keeping it real. And I have totally failed in the kitchen until this past week, so I figured at least everyone reading would feel better about themselves! :D

  7. You definitely got all the staples and you have the trifecta for most French cooking-onions, carrots and celery. I agree with Jay about not going crazy on veggies-I try to buy only a few at a time, and even though I don't love grocery shopping, I go to the store once a week to replenish bananas, oranges, a couple other fruits and 1-2 veggies (usually lettuce and asparagus/broccoli/spinach). I only cook about twice a week, but am trying to do it more often. I really want to make some Ming Tsai recipes http://ming.com/foodandwine/recipes.htm but each recipe is like a capstone project in cooking!

    • I should not have clicked that link. Because now I feel like I need tutoring or something to even comprehend most of the ingredients! That's insanity – way above my level. I need a cooking for toddlers book and an Easy Bake oven!

  8. Veronica says:

    Congratulations! See, you can do this. And it gets cheaper over time as you learn to reuse things. One idea: Take that leftover spicy chicken tortelini, add broth, canellini beans, and some spinach and you have a nice soup worthy of a meal. This is especially useful if you had thawed out one container for dinner and suddenly need to feed a second person.

    Also – don't be too sad if, on occasion, a dinner turns out AWFUL. Sometimes recipe sounds great on paper but something goes horribly wrong (could be anything from an ingredient to a cooking method.) I keep a spare frozen dinner for exactly this reason.

    • Yep, that happened! Made meatloaf the other night and something went very wrong. It wasn't terrible, but it did NOT come out like I expected. Next time I'll make more of an effort to check myself as I go – I have a feeling I forgot something the first time around.

  9. Congrats on cooking food! It's awesome that you didn't have any cooking utensils….LOL. You'll be happy in the end and it will definitely start saving you some money!

    $110 for two weeks really isn't that terrible. Depending on how much you eat out I think that's pretty good. If you want an awesome (terribly unhealthy) dessert recipe you should check out my post from today!

    • I feel lucky that I've gotten my restaurant spending under control – I have been spending less than $75 a month since September or so. So while $110 isn't horrible, I feel like I could do better for 2 people. It'll take time, though!

  10. shopping2saving says:

    You'll find sooner or later that you won't even need to follow recipes or measurements! I like to follow measurements for baking because I suck at baking, but when it comes to cooking – just throw in whatever veggies and meat you have and spices…and ta da you have a great meal!!!! Congrats :)

    Btw, junk for jayden sounds really appealing.. sounds like a lot of things I throw into my cart!

    Oh and also the $90 you spent on cooking stuff will be so worth it. It's funny when I debate on buying kitchen utensils, I'll be pacing up and down the aisle thinking about how $15 is too expensive for this type of pan, etc etc and then I end up using it all the time!

    • The thought of cooking without measuring terrifies me. Both because I don't know what I'm doing and because my OCD can't allow it! I don't know if that will ever happen for me, but I'm okay following a recipe. :)

  11. Hi! I've been lurking for a while ;-) Love your blog! Can you please create a new page just for recipes that you're trying? I cook, but 99% Nigerian food, and I've been in the US for almost a decade! Would love to try new stuff!

    • That's a good idea, Yumi! I'm keeping a list for now and trying to decide where to put a page. I'll figure it out soon and let you know when it's up!

  12. It's great that you're starting to cook! Like everything in life it takes a bit of patience and practice to perfect it so don't get frustrated if things don't always turn out great the first time. I would also recommend going easy on sauces as they can be heavy on calories and salt and if you read the label the serving size is fairly small. One of my favorite quick meals is to just boil boxed pasta and add some frozen veggies to the water a few minutes before they're done.

    • Thanks for the tip – I never really thought about how sauces would contribute to the calorie count. It makes me sad because I LOVE pasta sauce. I'll have to look for some healthier sauces and/or recipes to make my own.

  13. I'm terrible when left alone… my wife went to Florida for a little over 3 weeks in January because her family is down there and I had to work a ton. I lived off of pasta… I spent next to nothing on food, but quickly realized how pathetic I was… :)

    • Hey, there's nothing wrong with pasta! I would eat it every day if I wouldn't weigh 300 lbs. There are just so many things you can do with it.

  14. HOORAY!! That's a huge first step. Be proud of yourself.

    Do you know what you spent over the past couple of months on pre-packaged or prepared foods (stuff you didn't have to do real cooking for)? How does it compare to $110?

    • I've probably spent close to $400 a month for the last few months. So it's not a huge difference when I realize I'll be back at the grocery for more meat and veggies in a few days, but any amount of savings is a good thing!

  15. What a huge savings that $110 for two weeks is compared to take out or frozen foods. A quick and healthy tortellini recipe I use is made with just veggies, some garlic, and parmesan cheese… easy, healthy, quick, and delicious!

    • I'm going to add parmesan to my list for next time – that sounds really good since parmesan and garlic are two of my favorite things in the universe! Thanks for the idea.

  16. Good for you!!! And you'll just get better with time. Plus as you found your food bill will go down in time without having to invest again in all the "basics" you needed to get started. Keep up the good work!

  17. Congrats on getting started with cooking real food. :-) I still need to put a little more effort into learning myself.

    -Jen

  18. That was a good haul, so don't sweat the cost. The paring knife should last forever, too. You stocked up on a lot of sauces, so that is a pretty good shopping trip for the money.

  19. Congrats! You'll find leftovers aren't so bad, and you'll be so proud of yourself for getting several meals out of one cooking session.

  20. Yay! You're a big girl. That is all.

  21. Good for you! As you get the hang of all this "real food" stuff, it will become easier. Since my husband and I started making lists and careful food budgets, we spend sooo much less on food and eat way more healthy meals. Reading budgetbytes.blogspot.com has been extremey helpful in making us see just how inexpensive a healthy, home-cooked meal can be. Last night I realllly wanted some ice cream, but I reminded myself that $2.99 could pay for a whole dinner for the two of us. Thinking about the food budget that way definitely helps us make healthier choices.

    • I've noticed that I eat a lot less since I've been doing this. Probably because I didn't buy as much junk food to snack on, but also because real food is so much more filling. I really think this will be one of the best decisions I've made in a long time.

  22. You'll save so much money in the long run and be so much healthier — kudos to you for making the transition! I think the key is getting to like leftovers. Making a ton in advance makes it easy to heat up some kind of leftover dinner rather than spend 30 minutes on a meal every night. Good luck!

    • I froze a ton of the chicken tortellini I made the first night… It honestly never occurred to me to freeze individual servings. Instead, I always stuck ALL the leftovers in the fridge, and since I didn't want to eat the same thing over and over, I would end up throwing most of it away. Freezing is my new BFF!

  23. 100wordson says:

    You're making the right steps. Make sure you make a note of recipes you like and which ones you don't. Also, try to find things you do like that are really simple. One of our favorites is rice with cream of mushroom soop. Both are cooking staples, so we always have them on hand. On a night when we're tired, throw rice in the rice cooker, and when it beeps, put some cream of mushroom with half a soup can of milk on the stove, and 5 minutes later, dinner. We can add chicken or tuna to that if we want, but we don't have to. We also keep pasta and tomato paste on hand for quick, easy dinners.
    And if you have a favorite meal at a restaurant, look online for recipes. You'll find ones that are certainly healthier than what they serve at the restaurant, and you'll likely discover it's not difficutl to make. One of our favorite things- mango curry, actually turned out to be relatively simple, so now it's one of our staple foods, too.

  24. It's always tough handling those upfront costs to get started. Almost enough to make you wonder why you are doing it. Sounds like you had fun and that this could become a habit!

  25. You did great for your first try. And a lot of those costs are one time expenses, so your costs will start going down from here. Keep trying simple meals, and you'll find a few favourites that make it into heavy rotation (we eat spaghetti once a week around here, because it's fast, cheap, and EASY!). Next thing you know, no more frozen pizza. :)

    • You have no idea how bad I wanted pizza the other night. I almost ordered one, but then I decided to get the stuff to make one at home the next time I go to the store. It makes a big difference since I decided I actually want to do this – gotta love a blog's ability to hold oneself accountable!

  26. I'm sure someone has already mentioned this, but a slow-cooker could be your new best friend! I actually enjoy cooking, but there are plenty of days where I just want to come home and be done already… just a tiny bit of forethought to throw something in the slow-cooker in the morning can make that happen! So easy and your meats will always be falling apart delicious!

    • Yep, several people suggested that in the other comment thread, and I'm planning to get another one. Had one for a long time and actually used it, but I never replaced it when I had to throw it out.

  27. I agree with the slow cooker. You can make a stew or soup in it all day. Have some yummy bread and stew!!! WOOT

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