Work Lunches: a new strategy

Some times you have to spend money to save money. It’s a hard, cruel fact. One that I’ve ignored for far too long. Today I broke the bank with pyrex, but it should save us a bunch of money in the long run!

Now that we’re doing Your Money or Your Life step 2 (part 2)–which involves tracking every cent that comes into and goes out of our lives–I’ve realized just how much money is being spent on food outside the home. Lots! One area where we have fallen down is in organizing my partner’s lunches at work. When he doesn’t bring something from home, his lunches out can easily cost around $10 per day. And that doesn’t count the $5 afternoon Starbucks run. Fifteen bucks a day adds up quick, and my partner is the first to admit that the food is crappy and not worth it.

Now that the baby is eight and a half months, things are beginning to stabilize a bit in our household, and we can start building some systems again, start re-organizing. So we had a chat about the lunches, and came up with a strategy for reducing his food costs at work.

Basically, the plan is to have five lunches ready and waiting in the fridge or freezer at the beginning of each week so that there will always be something to grab each day and he won’t end up needing to buy lunches any more. The specific strategy points are as follows:

1. Try to do better with leftovers. I always “intend” to make sure there are leftovers to take, but too often I forget to actually allow for them in my cooking. Leftovers will be priority #1.

Spaghetti lunches, ready for the freezer

2. Make big-batch home-made “frozen” lunches. This is where the pyrex comes in. I finally broke down and bought five glass freezer containers suitable for a decent portion of food for my partner’s lunch. My idea is to do just like the frozen dinners do and have a bed of noodles or rice dumped over with a good helping of sauce. Only this version will be home made, and it will be super duper cheap!

So, today I did a big batch of spaghetti. We ate a good helping for dinner, and then I made more noodles and packed up five yummy portions for frozen lunches. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. I’m planning to make big meaty saucy stewy meals every Sunday from now on to stock up the frozen lunches for the week. These home-made frozen dinners will be priority #2.

3. Buy enough frozen meals to last a week. My partner doesn’t mind the President’s Choice frozen Indian dishes, so I will try to make sure there are at least five in our freezer at the start of the week. That way, if we fall down on #1 and #2, at least he has those.

4. Make cookies. What can I say? My man likes my cookies. I figure for the cost of maybe two cookies at Starbucks, I could make a full batch of cookies at home. If I make them, he’ll eat them. And we all save money.

So there you have it: the new plan. It involves a lot of Sunday cooking and shopping, but I think we’re ready for it. There is a lot to be said for getting ready for the week on the weekend, instead of playing catch-up the rest of the days.

I also wanted to add that today I shopped at the Isabella Loblaws and found some great sales. First off, the PC frozen meals were on sale for $3 each, so I bought enough for two weeks. There were also all these bread products, reduced to 50% off. Due date: June 15! I don’t know who is getting fired over this, but I got a loaf of bread, a bag of english  muffins, and two bags of bagels, each for between $1 and $1.50.

So we are really really really well stocked at the moment. It feels good. But MAN my freezer is full!

Freezing our Assets (off)

Yep, it’s damn cold here in Ottawa, leading to a lot of staying indoors and cooking. Which is leading, somewhat ironically, to some good use of my freezer. My hubby is out, and the kids are miraculously both asleep, so I thought I’d write a little post about how things have been going with that particular new appliance.

First of all, I will reiterate just how happy I am that I bought it back in August. I probably haven’t put it to ideal use, but it has been a wonderful tool for organizing meals. With the freezer, I can cook when I have the time, and put stuff away for when I have less time. It’s been a wonderful way to save money and time, not to mention the brainwork involved in planning meals.

Over these past few months, I’ve learned some things about what freezes well and what doesn’t. I’ve discovered it’s true: potatoes don’t freeze well. They turn sortof mealy and mushy and unappentizing. Beans also go a bit weird in the freezer, acquiring a strange spongy texture. I’ve also discovered that anything dry in chunks tends to get drier and freezer burnt.

But there are many things that have been great in the freezer, especially meaty saucy things like spaghetti and chili. Chicken broth is great because I usually make big quantities and then freeze in 2-3 cup packs. When I need some for soup or a sauce, I just defrost what I need. For all of these liquidy things I’ve fallen in love with Zip-Lock baggies. Just fill up and squeeze all the air out, then lay flat on top of one another and they take up so little space. Not very eco-friendly but you can re-use the baggies.

I was surprised to find out that my pizza packages worked really well. I made pizza dough and sauce the other day and decided to make one and put 2 in the freezer. So I portioned out the dough and slipped the 2 extras into baggies with a little oil in them. I then put 1/2 cup of sauce in a baggie for each pizza. For the cheese, I shredded a whole 500 g block of mozzarella and divided it into 3 portions. For the 2 extra pizza packages, I put the 3 smaller baggies-dough, sauce and cheese-together into a larger zip-lock. The other night I tried one of the pizza packs, which I had placed in the fridge overnight to defrost, and was thrilled with the result! Tasty crust, fresh-tasting sauce and melty yummy cheese, just like day 1.

Another good find was regarding the tomatoes I froze in the summer. Late in the summer I got a big bunch of heirloom tomatoes from the farmer’s market. I used some and froze some whole in zip-lock bags. I had read somewhere that all you do to skin them is dunk the frozen tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds and the skins peel right off. Tonight I realized I had no canned tomatoes for my veggie chili, so I grabbed a bag of frozen ones. Luckily it worked like a charm!

Some other slightly stranger things I’ve got stowed away in there include crabapple juice and pulp which I intend to make into jelly and butter respectively; spinach and blueberry puree, sweet potato puree and acorn squash puree, waiting to sneak their way into some food  some day soon; baggies of wine which I will use for cooking . . .

But the strangest item of all requires a word of warning: If you come over to my house, don’t get tempted by that ice cream container sitting in the freezer. It’s not ice cream. It’s a placenta.