Food budget and menu.

When we first got married I became a menu planner. It lasted about six months before I stopped. It took a lot of time and planning. I may have made it harder than it should have been and I just burnt out. Realizing that when I get pregnant and want to cut back on how much I work, for at least the first six months, I know that I need to become more organized and frugal now so when, and if, it happens it won’t be so much of a shock. I’m not going to create a massive stockpile, but I am going to work on a rotating menu and keeping ingredients on hand for quick dinners when what’s on the menu isn’t able to get made. I would like to entertain thoughts of being a stay at home mom, but we’ve already cut everything we can already. There are just no extras to cut anymore. Not that we really had anything to cut anyway, but we found places to do it. He’s not willing to cut our cell phone plan since we drive 100 miles a day for work, and pay for his mother; and I’m not cutting Amazon Prime because it’s a very good investment for us.

I know that when I did plan and make a menu the grocery budget just fell into place. Imagine that. When people ask me what to do to keep their budget from getting out of hand I tell them three things:
1. Keep your weekly money in an envelope and when that runs out, you’re done for the week. Chances are you’ll run out once or twice before you figure things out.
2. Plan a menu. It can just be dinner or it can be all three meals and snacks. It’s entirely up to you.
3. Make a list of what you need. And stick to it. Eat before you go and keep snacks on hand if need be. We do toss impulse items into the cart, but if we eat before we go it’s much less likely to happen.

On the menu for tonight is a recipe I found on Iowa Girl Eats. We’ve recently switched to brown rice and prefer it. The problem I have with it is that it takes so long to make. If it calls for cooked brown rice like this one does, you have to add an hour to your time. And Alton Brown has the perfect recipe for baking it. So easy. I usually make up a large batch to have on hand so I don’t have to make it every time.

Cheesy chicken rice and broccoli casserole, using Alton Brown’s brown rice recipe
(Adapted from Iowa Girl Eats)
This is a three part recipe, but none actually take much time.

Brown rice
(Adapted from Alton Brown)
2 cups brown rice
3 cups liquid (I prefer chicken broth, but you can use whatever)
2 tablespoon real butter
1 ½ teaspoons salt
3 cups broccoli

1. Bring liquid, butter, and salt to a boil then pour over rice, mixing slightly to stir.
2. Cover with foil (or use a Dutch oven like I do after my glass pan exploded in the oven) and bake for 1 hour.
3. Add broccoli at the one hour mark and bake for 5-7 minutes more.

4-5 chicken breasts cut into bite-size chunks
Garlic powder
Olive oil

1. While pan heats up on stove, cut the chicken into bite-size pieces and season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
2. Add oil to the pan and fry up chicken. Make sure the pan isn’t crowded and do in batches if you need to.
3. When chicken is fried add it to your rice and broccoli.
4. You need to wipe out the pan for the third step.

Cheese sauce
5 tablespoons flour (I use white whole wheat for everything.)
5 tablespoons real butter
2 cups milk
⅓ cup sour cream
1½ cups shredded cheddar
Garlic powder

1. Combine flour and butter in the pan. Stir for three minutes to cook out the floury taste.
2. Add garlic powder, salt, and pepper to taste.
3. Whisk in milk and sour cream until smooth.
4. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup of cheese until it melts.
5. Combine all ingredients back in the Dutch oven. Or if you want to make even more dishes stir in a large bowl and pour it into a greased 9×13 baking dish. Cover.
6. Put it in the oven at 350F and bake for 30 minutes.
7. Take off cover and bake another fifteen minutes or until cheese begins to brown.
8. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

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