Author Topic: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning  (Read 7394 times)

SpendyMcSpend

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I made a deal with myself to pay off $20,000 by January of 2018.  I make $125,000 a year and should be getting a bonus in late December of at least $4000-6000 (pre-tax).  I am stopping my 401k until then so that I can really focus on one thing at a time.  My main weakness is food spending.  I buy a lot of takeout, restaurant meals and drinks.  My rent will be $1000 a month during this period and utilities <$200. 

My salary take-home should be about $6200 a month if I don't contribute to my 401k.

I made the first step by buying actual groceries, so I don't order takeout.  I got a bunch of stuff for about $120 including spices.

Ingredients I have so far:
Rice
Black beans
Pastas
Egg whites
Big Greek yogurt
Tomatoes
Cucumbers
Potatoes
Frozen veggies
Frozen burritos
Chicken breasts
Other meat (currently being frozen) for dishes
Cheeses
Tortillas
Peanut Butter and Jelly
Tuna in cans
Tomato sauce
Turkey
Various spices
Nutella
Coffee to make at home
Kashi cereal
Bananas/oranges snacks are provided at work M-F so I just need to bring breakfast and lunch to work.

If I buy some canned tomato I can make some chilis.  I would like to make a soup and freeze it.

What other stuff am I missing to make this a bit healthier?  I need some meal recommendations and can add a few ingredients as I go (like buying fish for making dinner during the week).

I'd like to keep this meal planning going long-term and learn to cook new things.

Cranky

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #1 on: September 03, 2017, 01:15:41 PM »
Fresh broccoli and some carrots and mushrooms? You can add those to a lot of dishes.

My advice is that if you aren't used to cooking a lot, don't get too fancy at first.

katscratch

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #2 on: September 03, 2017, 01:35:11 PM »
This thread is one of my faves https://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/share-your-badassity/rice-and-beans-share-your-recipe/


I had to do a 180 on my mostly-veggie diet a few years ago after an illness, so even though I was used to making meals from scratch and not eating out, it was a huge adjustment. I still feel like a total novice.

The thing that worked best for me was to make a few batch recipes of REALLY EASY stuff on the weekend and portion out my lunches AND dinners so that I could just heat them up during the week. I used to cook something different every night for dinner - after switching, I read a ton of different meal plan websites for inspiration but discovered that keeping it super simple was the most doable right away. I actually made really really boring food at first and still do for weeks at a time if I'm feeling uninspired - and I've discovered that my body is just fine with that :)

My go to meals this time of year are sauteing veggies in oil, making a big batch of rice *or* potatoes/sweet potatoes, and a protein (for me this is meat but am slowly starting to reintroduce beans). Sometimes I add spices, a lot of times I find I don't need them now that I don't eat anything with cane/corn sugar. Salad with random veggies olive oil or dressing at lunch with a protein (tuna or chicken). Once it's cold out I switch to more potatoes and squash. Fruit/yogurt and hardboiled eggs for breakfast every workday.

It definitely was trial and error for a couple of months, even with a history of taking my lunches, but you can do it! The grocery list you posted is an excellent start.

If you're new to meals, period, and want to keep it REALLY simple, try looking at one of the heart health diets - they basically are a template for portions that you can later expand on (my brother recommended this to me) - DASH or Omni heart in the U.S.

Mostly, just go for it for 30-60 days, and even when it sucks and you really really want takeout, do it anyway-- it's one or two months out of your whole life if you hate it, but more than likely will lead to some new skills and newfound fave foods/dishes.

Free Spirit

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #3 on: September 03, 2017, 01:42:52 PM »
First, congrats on making the switch! You're health and wallet will thank you. :)

One thing I recommend is taking notes first 2 weeks, literally keep a journal. Check out the Joy of Cooking from the library - or buy it so you can write notes in it, this book is so amazing for every type of recipe and has a lot of great tips. Write down the food you enjoy the most, write down what you hate and why. Write down what you miss eating from restaurants and if you cave and grab something to go. Pick a few of your favorite restaurant meals and try cooking them at home. Once you settle into a routine, start buying your regularly consumed foods in bulk.

Looks like you're on the right track with your list. I think after the first week you'll start to find which foods you lean towards and will be able to fill any gaps. The base of a lot of my own meals consist of a mirepoix (onion, celery, and carrot) so I ALWAYS have those on hand. To a lesser extent I find having potatoes, bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, lemon, and garlic at the ready to be very handy when trying build a meal on the fly. I make a lot of soups, stews, and one pot meals - casseroles, stir frys, and the like. My common go to meals are: shepherd's pie or pot roast, chili, spaghetti or lasagna, jambalaya, chicken soup, ham and bean soup, veggie stir fry. Notice that all of these meals utilize those staple vegetables that I mentioned earlier.

Couple notes on your list -
Looks like you bought the ingredients to make burritos but also bought some premade. I do this without even realizing it. Maybe you did also?
Buy whole chickens and roast em. So much versatility, you can get multiple meals out of one bird and you get the bonus of broth if you're making your own soups.
+Frozen berries (Yay for smoothies (add in some spinach!)
I might switch the kashi cereal with oatmeal instead. Make your own cereal. :)
I would try to add some leafy greens to the list. I love a good cobb salad.
« Last Edit: September 03, 2017, 01:47:14 PM by Free Spirit »

SpendyMcSpend

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #4 on: September 03, 2017, 02:16:36 PM »
First thing into the journal is that when I have food in the house I eat nonstop!  Today so far... ate egg whites with a little cheese in a tortilla.  Then I ate most of the pickles i bought yesterday.  Then had some nutella from the jar.  Now I've brought out the pita chips with the hummus.  Oh boy!

Self-control...

slappy

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #5 on: September 03, 2017, 03:58:03 PM »
First thing into the journal is that when I have food in the house I eat nonstop!  Today so far... ate egg whites with a little cheese in a tortilla.  Then I ate most of the pickles i bought yesterday.  Then had some nutella from the jar.  Now I've brought out the pita chips with the hummus.  Oh boy!

Self-control...

That is so me! And Nutella is just dangerous! Lol

GizmoTX

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #6 on: September 03, 2017, 04:37:05 PM »
With $125K/year, paying off $20K should NOT be a problem unless you refuse to plan for it.

Use YNAB (You Need A Budget) for your financial planning. There's a 30-day free trial. Or, Every Dollar Counts.

For meals, try the browser based Plan To Eat app. It too has a 30 day free trial.

Both have lots of videos & tips.

wordnerd

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #7 on: September 03, 2017, 04:41:01 PM »
You got this! And, your grocery list is making me hungry :)

Goldielocks

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #8 on: September 03, 2017, 04:41:29 PM »
Is your $20k debt at exceptionally high rates?  Otherwise, I recommend that you keep 401k contribution to the limit of any employer match.  It comes  off your paycheck, so it should not be noticeable or impact your motivation whatsoever.

Next,  $125k income is approx $84k/yr and  take home, with <$500 per month in expenses?  You should be able to save at least $28k for the next 4 months, so no way do you need to cut the 401k with your higher tax rate below a match.   

The whole point of 401k is to put money in at today's higher tax rate, and withdraw it in retirement at a lower rate. AT $125k, you are at a higher tax rate now than in retirement..... !

BlueHouse

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #9 on: September 03, 2017, 05:31:45 PM »
You sound like me too.  Here's what works for me:

1.  Buy an Instant Pot or Large Crockpot
2.  Make a big batch of this shredded Chicken on Sundays or prep it to cook on Mondays.
https://www.budgetbytes.com/2011/07/taco-chicken-bowls/
3.  Eat this shredded chicken on rice, or on tacos, or on salad to change things up and for variety.
4.  Portion your meals into these corning mugs with microwave lids. 
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MXLIEZD/ref=asc_df_B01MXLIEZD5152769/?tag=hyprod-20&creative=395033&creativeASIN=B01MXLIEZD&linkCode=df0&hvadid=198095118144&hvpos=1o2&hvnetw=g&hvrand=5803008781757612184&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9007527&hvtargid=pla-320757402943
5.  That can be your lunch for the whole week, or your lunch/dinner for 2 or 3 days. 

For special treat, sprinkle shredded cheese on top before reheating and then drop a dollop of plain greek yogurt on top (you cannot tell the difference between this and sour cream!)

As you get more adventurous and start liking this routine, substitute other materials and spices for pre-made salsa (use diced tomatoes, jalapeņos, etc to make it more to your taste).  I use a LOT of beans in mine and it's wonderful.

As soon as you skip a meal of one of these, throw the rest in the freezer so they don't go bad.  Try not to waste food! 

Oh, I almost forgot -- take all the cash out of your wallet and all your credit cards  except one.  For the last one, put it in a baggie or wrap it in paper or tape or laminate it.  Do something so that the first few days on your way home from work you are not in your routine and so you don't stop and pick up food.  After 3 days, you'll have broken the habit and you'll be looking forward to getting home and eating that yummy food. 




EmFrugal

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #10 on: September 03, 2017, 06:32:38 PM »
You are off to a great start with meal planning.

Thoughts that we have recently adopted for quick, budget friendly home cooked meals:
1) Ingredients for smoothies/smoothie bowls (we top the bowls with things like granola, berries/banana, shredded unsweet coconut and cocoa nibs - my luxury item)
2) Trail Mix - maybe consider replacing the nutella with a bag of trail mix that has sweetened cranberries, raisins, or even some chocolate. I love Trader Joe's varieties or you can make your own.
3) The tortillas are awesome for wraps too - we throw in lettuce, tomatoes, a protein, and a bit of balsamic vinaigrette; of course they are great for Mexican inspired meals
4) Tacos - lean ground beef seasoned with mexican style spices, pico de gallo, avocado, shredded cheese and lettuce
5) Homemade pizzas - I buy the fresh dough from Trader Joes and roll it out. Then I go to town with a variety of veggies, proteins, and cheeses depending on mood. Lately we've been on a fresh tomato, mozzerella, and basil kick
6) Chicken broth or similar for homemade stews. I love taco stew with sauteed veggies, canned tomatoes, broth, and chicken breast. Flavored with taco seasoning mix or similar style spices. Then top with avocado and shredded cheese. You can do variations with other spices/proteins with this basic recipe.... Chicken soup, ground turkey and chick pea, etc. I just adjust spices to more thyme, oregano, bay leaf style.
7) Try cutting back on drinks and drink H20... that's the fitness coach coming out in me ;)
8) Oh, and whole eggs are nothing to be afraid of. The yolk is choc full of amazing nutrients. Read up on the latest nutrition research if your skeptical. Sorry, again the fitness coach in me!

Check out the blog Skinny Taste. She has really healthy recipes that I've found to be super delicious. They gave me inspiration starting out and now I've tailored them to meet my budget.

As far as paying off debt, we set a weekly budget number that cannot be exceeded. It requires some advanced planning for things like gifts and larger expenses, but it means we have to be more frugal certain weeks to save excess for those upcoming items. The weekly budget number works the best for me because I know how much I have to spend and then quickly jot my expenses down each day.  Just a thought that might help!

SpendyMcSpend

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #11 on: September 03, 2017, 07:46:00 PM »
Is your $20k debt at exceptionally high rates?  Otherwise, I recommend that you keep 401k contribution to the limit of any employer match.  It comes  off your paycheck, so it should not be noticeable or impact your motivation whatsoever.

Next,  $125k income is approx $84k/yr and  take home, with <$500 per month in expenses?  You should be able to save at least $28k for the next 4 months, so no way do you need to cut the 401k with your higher tax rate below a match.   

The whole point of 401k is to put money in at today's higher tax rate, and withdraw it in retirement at a lower rate. AT $125k, you are at a higher tax rate now than in retirement..... !

How do you figure 28k for the next 4 months?  If I do a 401k contribution of 5% then I will be taking home about $2500 a paycheck which is only $5000 a month - $1500 in expenses excluding food.  that's only $3500 a month to save = $13,000 ish after 4 months.
« Last Edit: September 04, 2017, 12:26:10 PM by SpendyMcSpend »

SpendyMcSpend

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #12 on: September 03, 2017, 07:49:31 PM »
I have read through in detail and some amazing tips from you all here.   It sounds like I need to invest in a crockpot, blender and some to-go mugs?  I have tupperware but not much in the way of cooking stuff, except the usual pans and pots. 

Goldielocks

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #13 on: September 03, 2017, 08:12:22 PM »
I have read through in detail and some amazing tips from you all here.   It sounds like I need to invest in a crockpot, blender and some to-go mugs?  I have tupperware but not much in the way of cooking stuff, except the usual pans and pots.

Not sure that you can buy your way out of debt...   Think this through...  What cheap meals can you make now, that you like?  Can you portion them out for use during the week in your tupperware?

Maybe look for a crockpot at the thrift store if you have a busy work week and literally no time to cook in batch on weekends.   I used a large heavy pot for my crockpot for the first 10 years of my marriage.... but you have to watch and stir every 30-45 minutes unlike the low temp independent appliance..

SpendyMcSpend

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #14 on: September 03, 2017, 08:39:22 PM »
A lot of the responses mentioned crock pots etc. and I am kinda new to this so am wondering if it makes it doable while working?  I don't know either way...

Goldielocks

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #15 on: September 03, 2017, 09:00:35 PM »
A lot of the responses mentioned crock pots etc. and I am kinda new to this so am wondering if it makes it doable while working?  I don't know either way...

Yes, that is the number one reason for it-- you set it up in the morning, and walk away for 8 hours and have dinner for 6 meals (or more) when you return.  It can also be used to cook basics like broth for soup, make your own yogurt, etc.

The big caveat is -- you have to enjoy eating things with a "stew" or "steamed" or "braised" or another  "wet" characteristic.  (Chili, pot roast, stewed chicken, casserole, etc).  To get the browned meat flavour, you need to brown your meat and veg before starting the cooking, which adds 15 minutes including clean up, etc.   

I discovered after 10 years that DH does not care for this most cooking, but was too polite to say so.  Suffice to say I don't use the crock pot to make more than baked beans or an occasional dish.

Small cuts and amounts of meat, with rice, pasta, starch, and beans and vegetables is typically the lowest cost meals.... so also look into stir fries, casserole cooking (lasagne, pasta bake), and recipes in "Budget Bytes" for ideas that you can make with your own pots and pans.  See if the moist cooking recipes appeal to you before you buy a new appliance.

EconDiva

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #16 on: September 04, 2017, 07:52:41 AM »
You are off to a great start with meal planning.

Thoughts that we have recently adopted for quick, budget friendly home cooked meals:
1) Ingredients for smoothies/smoothie bowls (we top the bowls with things like granola, berries/banana, shredded unsweet coconut and cocoa nibs - my luxury item)
2) Trail Mix - maybe consider replacing the nutella with a bag of trail mix that has sweetened cranberries, raisins, or even some chocolate. I love Trader Joe's varieties or you can make your own.
3) The tortillas are awesome for wraps too - we throw in lettuce, tomatoes, a protein, and a bit of balsamic vinaigrette; of course they are great for Mexican inspired meals
4) Tacos - lean ground beef seasoned with mexican style spices, pico de gallo, avocado, shredded cheese and lettuce
5) Homemade pizzas - I buy the fresh dough from Trader Joes and roll it out. Then I go to town with a variety of veggies, proteins, and cheeses depending on mood. Lately we've been on a fresh tomato, mozzerella, and basil kick
6) Chicken broth or similar for homemade stews. I love taco stew with sauteed veggies, canned tomatoes, broth, and chicken breast. Flavored with taco seasoning mix or similar style spices. Then top with avocado and shredded cheese. You can do variations with other spices/proteins with this basic recipe.... Chicken soup, ground turkey and chick pea, etc. I just adjust spices to more thyme, oregano, bay leaf style.
7) Try cutting back on drinks and drink H20... that's the fitness coach coming out in me ;)
8) Oh, and whole eggs are nothing to be afraid of. The yolk is choc full of amazing nutrients. Read up on the latest nutrition research if your skeptical. Sorry, again the fitness coach in me!

Check out the blog Skinny Taste. She has really healthy recipes that I've found to be super delicious. They gave me inspiration starting out and now I've tailored them to meet my budget.

As far as paying off debt, we set a weekly budget number that cannot be exceeded. It requires some advanced planning for things like gifts and larger expenses, but it means we have to be more frugal certain weeks to save excess for those upcoming items. The weekly budget number works the best for me because I know how much I have to spend and then quickly jot my expenses down each day.  Just a thought that might help!

I wanted to second the Skinny Taste blog!!  Her meals are amazing and made me actually want to cook! :)

EconDiva

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #17 on: September 04, 2017, 07:57:40 AM »
First thing into the journal is that when I have food in the house I eat nonstop!  Today so far... ate egg whites with a little cheese in a tortilla.  Then I ate most of the pickles i bought yesterday.  Then had some nutella from the jar.  Now I've brought out the pita chips with the hummus.  Oh boy!

Self-control...

Based on what you ate on this day perhaps you weren't eating things that were filling enough?

Just something to keep in mind as you go forward.  One go-to staple that keeps me full for a long time is oatmeal for breakfast.  Also, avocados go a very long way with me as well (I often make blt sandwiches with an avocado on it, or avocado toast for breakfast which is super fast and yummy).  I read once long ago that soups are filling because the liquid in the soup helps make you feel fuller as you're eating the other solid foods in it.  It may be true as I've been living off of the same batch of soup for dinner for over a week now and I find it's pretty satisfying.

I make mental notes of things I get fuller off of so I know which foods help me to curb nonstop eating and mindless snacking.  That means less food purchases and more money saved in the end which is a win-win.  Maybe this is something you want to mentally make note of in your journal. 

Snow

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #18 on: September 04, 2017, 08:23:57 AM »
We've had to do a somewhat more forced frugality version of this for the past few weeks. It can be really easy with the right attitude!

With two people and a normal-sized fridge, we shop once a week. If it is running out or the household needs it - it goes on the list. If you forget to put it on the list, or you get the mean cravings on a Thursday afternoon, too bad (or see if you can make something similar with what is already in the house).

To make this work, we write a flexible meal plan once a week, making sure we eat any easily perishables first, such as leafy greens, early in the week.

The staples that have filled us up again and again:
  • Fried rice. Just boil a big pot of rice (add beans if you like), pop in a tupperware and store in the fridge for 2-3 days. Scoop out a portion of your choosing and fry in a pan with frozen veg and soy sauce/spices when hungry. Super easy during the week (this costs us less than $1 for one dinner for the both of us).
  • Lentil loaf (serves 2 for about 4+ meals). In a largeish pot (I think mine is 3 liters), add ~4 dl of any lentils you like and one can of chopped tomatoes. Rinse the can 3 times and add it all to the pot. Bring to a simmer. Add any veg you might have lying around/wilting. Chopped onions and pretty much any grated root veg are fab. Spice it any way you prefer, but be generous. Have leftover rice? Add that too. Fill the pot. Let simmer until lentils are tender and cooked through.
    Once cooked, take it off the heat and add rolled oats until the mixture is more like a patty than a stew. Scoop into an oven proof dish and bake at 200 C until brown and firm to the touch. Serve with your choice of starch, steamed vegetables and sauce. We make huge batches on Sundays and bring these as lunches for most of the week. It really fills you up.

pbkmaine

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #19 on: September 04, 2017, 08:31:20 AM »
This is my go-to resource for tasty, low-cost meals. The rest of her site is excellent, too.

http://theprudenthomemaker.com/cooking/recipes/recipe-index

Another tip: buy your dried herbs at the dollar store. Bottles of dried herbs in the grocery store are insanely expensive.


ElleFiji

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #20 on: September 04, 2017, 08:35:51 AM »
I made a deal with myself to pay off $20,000 by January of 2018.  I make $125,000 a year and should be getting a bonus in late December of at least $4000-6000 (pre-tax).  I am stopping my 401k until then so that I can really focus on one thing at a time.  My main weakness is food spending.  I buy a lot of takeout, restaurant meals and drinks.  My rent will be $1000 a month during this period and utilities <$200. 

My salary take-home should be about $6200 a month if I don't contribute to my 401k.

I made the first step by buying actual groceries, so I don't order takeout.  I got a bunch of stuff for about $120 including spices.

Ingredients I have so far:
Rice
Black beans
Pastas
Egg whites
Big Greek yogurt
Tomatoes
Cucumbers
Potatoes
Frozen veggies
Frozen burritos
Chicken breasts
Other meat (currently being frozen) for dishes
Cheeses
Tortillas
Peanut Butter and Jelly
Tuna in cans
Tomato sauce
Turkey
Various spices
Nutella
Coffee to make at home
Kashi cereal
Bananas/oranges snacks are provided at work M-F so I just need to bring breakfast and lunch to work.

If I buy some canned tomato I can make some chilis.  I would like to make a soup and freeze it.

What other stuff am I missing to make this a bit healthier?  I need some meal recommendations and can add a few ingredients as I go (like buying fish for making dinner during the week).

I'd like to keep this meal planning going long-term and learn to cook new things.
You don't need to buy more stuff. You need a meal plan.

You don't need snacks, so this is what you do, you take an old receipt, and lay it upside down in landscape format. At the top, you write: Monday, Tuesday, Wed, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday
Along the left side, you write
Breakfast
Lunch
Dinner

Then you fill in these 21 spots with food that is in your house.

Then you stick it on your fridge and cook today's meals and make tomorrow's lunch.

Laura33

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #21 on: September 04, 2017, 09:02:12 AM »
Is there a reason you can't buy regular eggs instead of egg whites?  The whites are a lot more expensive, and the regular eggs will fill you up more.  Nutella is also comparatively expensive, and can be crave-inducing; may be better to buy regular PB and a chocolate bar if you want a treat.

Bigger-picture, I would keep a collection of spices/condiments that go with any specific ethnic food profile that you like - one of my failure points is when I just want Indian or Chinese or some other flavor that I can't get at home, so having the go-to flavor-makers to whip something out can really save me.  Also consider some potted herbs for the fresh components. For ex:

Lettuce wraps:  tube of lemongrass paste, limes, fish sauce (garden:  cilantro, mint)
Chili, enchiladas:  cumin, chipotle, dried red chiles or frozen green chiles (garden:  cilantro)
Chinese:  soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil
Greek:  tzatziki spice, marjoram, oregano, nutmeg (garden: thyme, dill)
Italian:  cubed pancetta in freezer, canned tomatoes in pantry (garden:basil)

Etc. -- obviously adjust to whatever your favorites are.  The key is to think and plan in advance about what you're likely to crave and have that on-hand and ready to go.

MBot

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #22 on: September 04, 2017, 09:35:23 AM »
Is there a reason you can't buy regular eggs instead of egg whites?  The whites are a lot more expensive, and the regular eggs will fill you up more.  Nutella is also comparatively expensive, and can be crave-inducing; may be better to buy regular PB and a chocolate bar if you want a treat.

Bigger-picture, I would keep a collection of spices/condiments that go with any specific ethnic food profile that you like - one of my failure points is when I just want Indian or Chinese or some other flavor that I can't get at home, so having the go-to flavor-makers to whip something out can really save me.  Also consider some potted herbs for the fresh components. For ex:

Lettuce wraps:  tube of lemongrass paste, limes, fish sauce (garden:  cilantro, mint)
Chili, enchiladas:  cumin, chipotle, dried red chiles or frozen green chiles (garden:  cilantro)
Chinese:  soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil
Greek:  tzatziki spice, marjoram, oregano, nutmeg (garden: thyme, dill)
Italian:  cubed pancetta in freezer, canned tomatoes in pantry (garden:basil)

Etc. -- obviously adjust to whatever your favorites are.  The key is to think and plan in advance about what you're likely to crave and have that on-hand and ready to go.

Chiming in that
(a) absolutely, yes, full eggs will fill you up more! Go ahead and eat them. Theyre a lot healthier than takeout or restaurant food.

(b) Try heading to the bulk food store or bulk food section to get a LITTLE bit of most spices instead of buying a big thing of each.

If you don't have access to a bulk store, just buy a few spices. To start cooking, you can probably get by with trying four things:

- soy sauce
- chili powder (the kind thats a mix of cumin and paprika and sometimes a couple other things - its flavorful, not hot)
- garlic powder (real garlic is nice, but its easier at first to just shake in a teaspoon or two of this)
- "italian seasoning" blend.

With that you can do a ton:
Chili and garlic powder can spice chili, taco meat, Mexican rice, beans, etc.
Garlic and Italian seasoning can spice pasta sauce, chicken, pork, etc..
Soy, garlic and sugar can flavour any stir fry or Chinese/Japanese style chicken dish.
Garlic and brown sugar (maybe with a little Italian seasoning) makes a nice sauce for chicken

SpendyMcSpend

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #23 on: September 04, 2017, 12:30:11 PM »
For the few people who have asked about eggs, it's just me in the house and the eggs at my local store are like $4.50 for a dozen and I end up throwing them out bc I actually don't eat eggs all that much but I like to have egg whites bc they last longer and can quickly cook.

SpendyMcSpend

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #24 on: September 04, 2017, 12:31:11 PM »

You don't need to buy more stuff. You need a meal plan.

You don't need snacks, so this is what you do, you take an old receipt, and lay it upside down in landscape format. At the top, you write: Monday, Tuesday, Wed, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday
Along the left side, you write
Breakfast
Lunch
Dinner

Then you fill in these 21 spots with food that is in your house.

Then you stick it on your fridge and cook today's meals and make tomorrow's lunch.

Exactly!  I need ideas for a meal plan with the above ingredients!

SpendyMcSpend

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #25 on: September 04, 2017, 12:35:41 PM »
Thanks all, good ideas here, I am taking notes.  Lentils I would have to buy also and I don't have dried beans or anything like that available. 

I want to make meals with the ingredients listed save for a couple of other ingredients I can pick up.  Any ideas of what I can make with what I listed and no crockpot?  I'm willing to buy a few veggies also just not sure if fresh or frozen or canned is better, given the costs around here (NYC) for groceries and no bulk stores around here and no parking spot, 3rd floor walkup.

I could buy lentils though. How do you cook lentils if they are in the bag?

I have tried to have potted herbs but have only a tiny window space and my basil pot died immediately.  Think my apt is too dry.






MBot

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #26 on: September 04, 2017, 01:09:20 PM »
Frozen veggies are usually cheaper than canned and better quality.

For lentils, try these.  Amazingly delicious. You can omit the parsley and use dried thyme or Italian seasoning. It's good with the wine but just add more water if you don't not have it. Same with the cream - it's a nice addition but don't worry if you don't have it.
http://pinchofyum.com/one-pot-creamy-spinach-lentils

This is a good recipe if you're  starting to learn how to cook because it includes two ways of "building flavour" will really help to take you from bland and flavourless stuff to tasty. .

One is to add flavour or salt to bland stuff, eg

Aromatics (like onion or herbs)) and dried chicken boulliion cubes (or a jar of Better Than Boullion) in the fridge will hugely help make rice, lentils, beans and pretty much anything else taste good. You can always buy beef and veggie boullion too, that stuff is cheap. (If you're short on space you can always add chicken or veggie boullion to beef dishes, but beef doesn't always work with other flavours)

If your onions start to go bad, just chop them up and toss em in the freezer in a Tupperware or ziploc. Same with carrots and celery - they add nice flavour and you can easily chop and freeze if you don't use them all.

Two is to learn how browning helps with flavour.

So usually it helps to use a little oil or butter and cook up some onion or diced veggies or ground meat before you make a soup or sauce for wear the skin on chicken etc. This is the diff between delicious soup and stuff that tastes like boiled onion. This is called the Maillard reaction and Serious Eats has a great article or ten on it.

GizmoTX

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #27 on: September 04, 2017, 01:17:32 PM »
Get an Instant Pot electric pressure cooker. It also functions as a slow cooker, rice cooker, steamer, & you can saute in it. Small footprint & you can set it & forget it until the timer beeps done. We sent our son off to his college apartment with one 5 years ago & it has gotten a lot of use. See Amazon. Good websites for videos, tips, & recipes: dadcooksdinner.com, hippressurecooking.com.

farfromfire

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #28 on: September 04, 2017, 01:40:13 PM »
You are 20k$ in debt and seem to be at the very beginning of your culinary training. Please do not buy any more appliances, thousands of dishes can be made with the tools you already own.

ElleFiji

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #29 on: September 04, 2017, 01:57:02 PM »
Hand=held

...

As a single person I don't really have this much variety in my life. But it looks better this way

Playing with Fire UK

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #30 on: September 04, 2017, 02:03:32 PM »
What cooking tools do you have? Microwave? Hob? Pans? Kettle?

What produce is in season and cheap now (ask around if you don't know)?

What meals can you cook? Like can you cook pasta? Make tea? An omelette? Toast? We all start somewhere, but there is no point in us suggesting cuisine if it is way beyond your current skills.

What kind of food do you like to eat?

You can cook lentils on the hob or in a microwave. Soak them if the bag says to, rinse them and pick out any that look discoloured, heat the water until it boils, add the lentils, simmer until they go soft (read the bag for estimated timing).

They will expand, so if you don't want leftovers, cook around two thirds the dry amount that you need. If you are cooking for several meals, make sure you have a big pan.

SpendyMcSpend

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #31 on: September 04, 2017, 02:06:41 PM »
Hand=held

...

As a single person I don't really have this much variety in my life. But it looks better this way

This is great!!!

former player

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #32 on: September 04, 2017, 02:34:40 PM »
If you are taking lunch to work, the easiest (and friendliest to your neighbours if you are in open plan, for instance) is a salad.  From the list of ingredients you've already got I would suggest -

1.  Mix together a can of beans (or cook the beans if you've been properly mustachian and bought dried - I'm already FIREd and have decided I can't be faffed), a can of tuna, some chopped tomatoes and cucumber.  Add some ground black pepper and any other spices you like and mix.  Spoon out what seems like a suitable portion each day and add a dollop of yogurt on top.

2.   You can bulk this out by adding some cooked pasta or cooked rice.  Personally I find plain rice dispiriting: if you buy some stock cubes/bouillon cubes and add one to the proceedings I find it helps a lot - a veggie stock or bouillon should work with just about anything.

3.   The big things I would miss from your shopping, apart from the stock cubes, are onion, garlic and chilli peppers.  One or more of these really do make a big difference as a background ingredient to almost anything.  Garlic you should be able to buy in a bulb and peel off individual cloves as you need them: the bulb will live perfectly happily in your fruit bowl on the kitchen counter.

Now, for dinner, based on your shopping I'm going to suggest you learn to cook two things -

Tomato sauce for pasta:  chop some onion and garlic.  Add a little cooking oil to a saucepan, once it is hot gently cook the onion and garlic, stirring to make sure it doesn't stick.  Once the onion is cooked (ie the stage at which it begins to look edible) add some chopped tomatoes and tomato sauce, and a bit of chilli if that appeals.  Let it simmer for a while, and it's done.  You can add almost anything to this basic sauce: a can of tuna, or some chopped up chicken breast, or some of your frozen veggies, or some mince (Bolognese!) - pretty much anything in the larder or fridge that takes your fancy.

Risotto: again, start with cooking the onion/garlic, this time in a deep frying pan ideally, but a saucepan will do.  Add dried rice to the pan so that it coated in the oil.  Gradually add a pint of stock which you have made with a stock cube and boiling water, cook it all gently until the rice is edible.   Now, even with the stock cube that is pretty boring by itself.  Depending on what they are you can either add your extra ingredients at the frying stage (chopped up chicken breast, for instance, or mushrooms) or towards the end (frozen veggies, left-over previously cooked meats or fish).  A bit of hard cheese grated and stirred in will make your risotto lovely and creamy.

Have fun.

SpendyMcSpend

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #33 on: September 04, 2017, 03:42:16 PM »
Thanks all great suggestions.  I'm not terrible, I can make burritos, and a tomato sauce with the onion/garlic method.  I just have trouble figuring out meals and when to cook what.  Like should I cook the rice and pasta both now and then add the veggies as I go during the week?   I am trying to avoid cooking more than 10-15 minutes every night and chopping and stuff.

So far, I have chopped up all the tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms, green pepper, white onion, and stored in little tupperware to use as needed.  I cooked some black beans with cumin, mushrooms, onions and pepper.  I think I can use this if I boil a bag of rice (I think storing cooked rice in the fridge makes it hard right so would want to do it when I'm about to eat it?)  I put the chicken breast in the fridge to defrost.  I have turkey slices and cheese slices and a loaf of bread.  I cooked rigatoni and added tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, olive oil and salt/pepper for a basic pasta salad but obi would need to put some sort of protein in there to take for lunch.  I guess I'm not sure how hungry I will be at different points from 9am-6pm during the day, the snacks at work will help.

At this point, I forgot the arugula/lettuce/spinach and the lentils but should be trying that this coming weekend on my next shopping run.  I don't have a microwave (was asked this).  I have pots/pans, tupperware, not sure what hobs are. 

SpendyMcSpend

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #34 on: September 04, 2017, 04:00:45 PM »
What do I use to store soup?

ElleFiji

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #35 on: September 04, 2017, 05:43:28 PM »
In your home fridge any of: a jar, a Tupperware/Rubbermaid, a sealed ziploc, a bottle, a pot, a bowl covered with a plate

To pack for work : the screw top reusable containers or a jar or bottle (even a reused juice or water bottle), if you bring it in a ziploc, rest it in the bowl you'll bring to microwave it.

Cranky

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #36 on: September 05, 2017, 05:24:30 AM »
If you are in NYC, make an occasional run to Chinatown for fresh produce. It's much cheaper there than in the stores. It's actually a pretty good place to grocery shop!

Rice (cooked) that is stored in the fridge does get hard, but if you sprinkle it with a tiny bit of water and microwave it in a covered bowl, it is magically restored.

Here is a treasured family recipe ;-) known in my family as "Little Meatballs" but probably more like "Chili Mac":

Brown in a good sized skillet with a lid:

1 lb ground beef/chuck
1 chopped onion
1 minced clove of garlic

Add:

1 16 oz can of chopped tomatoes
3/4 can of water
1 bouillion cube
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 tsp. chili powder (which is not powdered chili, btw)
1 tsp oregano
2 cups (uncooked) macaroni

Bring to a boil then lower temp and cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring well after 10 minutes. We like to sprinkle a little parmesan on this.

This is a cheap, filling meal which feeds 4 and reheats well for lunch.

katscratch

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #37 on: September 05, 2017, 07:03:29 AM »
ElleFiji your suggestions are amazing!  Super helpful to break it down like that when starting from scratch!

Laura33

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #38 on: September 05, 2017, 07:53:50 AM »
One lunch option is "salad in a jar" -- get some tupperware containers or mason jars with the screw-top lid, and layer in the various salad ingredients (you can do a standard salad with grilled chicken and black beans, or a nicoise with tuna/boiled egg/blanched green beans).  Put a small tupperware of dressing on top, and pop on the lid.  When you are ready to eat, pour the dressing on, put the lid back on the container, and shake until it is mixed. 

One of my favorite snacks/lighter meals is tzatziki,* especially if you have a source of Greek-style pita (softer and thicker).  My general proportions are one quart of Greek-style yogurt** to three cucumbers.  Grate the cucumbers, add a little salt, and drain them for a few hours in a colander lined with a paper towel.***  Mix cucumbers with yogurt, a little olive oil, and either tzatziki spice mix or garlic, dill, and salt to taste (some folks also add lemon).  Cut pita into triangles to dip; if you really want to be fancy, put the pita on a really hot griddle for a minute or two to warm it up, then brush a little olive oil on one side before cutting.

*I literally survived on this (and the occasional fruit or vegetable) when I was a broke student in Greece many moons ago -- it was the one dish all the cafes had that was wicked cheap.  Though not so much here, given the price of yogurt.
**You can also buy plain regular yogurt and put it in a colander lined with paper towels and let it drain for a few hours to thicken up.
*** You can skip the draining, but realize the cucumbers will give off water as the dip sits in the fridge, so you'll have to pour off/blot up a bit before serving.

Cranky

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #39 on: September 05, 2017, 11:16:54 AM »
If what you are really looking for is how to plan meals, I find it helpful to have a set of categories that we rotate through - ours are:

Soup
Pasta
Chicken
Vegetarian/bean
pizza (homemade, but frozen might work, too)
breakfast for dinner
Something Meaty (a roast, something grilled, pulled pork, meatloaf)

Sometimes I have lots of new recipes I want to try, and sometimes I just need to get something on the table. I usually split up the leftovers into lunch sized portions, and some for the freezer, so that if we've got a lot going on, I have some frozen reserves.

SpendyMcSpend

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #40 on: September 05, 2017, 06:36:29 PM »
Thanks all.  So far it's going really well!  I have not bought anything yet except a bunch of spinach and one of arugula at the organic market, and some crushed tomatoes in a can and tomato paste for sauce. 

I have been eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at home and snacks are tiding me over in between at work (today they had popcorn, oranges, bananas, pretzels, and all sodas and seltzers for free.  It's working! 

I like the meal ideas and meal planning ideas.  I now have options.  But it's a bit tough as a single because you can make a lot but don't want to make too much and get tired of the same thing.  Tonight I made the chicken breast with spicy moroccan spices, spinach and rice.  I packed rice and beans for lunch with half the rice.  Tomorrow is cereal for breakfast, rice and beans for lunch, and probably the pasta i made yesterday for dinner since i Have so much left.  I could use it to make mac & cheese too hmmm. 

rdaneel0

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #41 on: September 05, 2017, 07:07:13 PM »
Hey, you should check out budgetbytes. She has excellent recipes for beginner cooks and prices out meals by serving. Plus, for most of the blog she was also single (cooking for one) and now she's cooking for just two, so the serving sizes are really doable.

I recommend cooking at least a couple things on Sunday, so you have something to eat. In my opinion, if you don't do this, you'll get pretty tired of just basic stuff like tortillas and PB& J sandwiches, and you'll crave that takeout. Some good recipes to start with:

https://www.budgetbytes.com/2016/07/sticky-ginger-soy-glazed-chicken/

https://www.budgetbytes.com/2016/04/bbq-chicken-burrito-bowls/

https://www.budgetbytes.com/2017/07/easy-taco-rice/

https://www.budgetbytes.com/2017/03/one-pot-sausage-sun-dried-tomato-pasta/

The first 1-2 months of cooking every meal from scratch you'll spend a bit more than someone with a fully stocked pantry. But, spending just a little up front on spices, oils, etc, will go a long way towards building a sustainable home cooking regimen.

Playing with Fire UK

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #42 on: September 06, 2017, 12:17:13 AM »
... It's working! 

I like the meal ideas and meal planning ideas.  I now have options.  But it's a bit tough as a single because you can make a lot but don't want to make too much and get tired of the same thing.  Tonight I made the chicken breast with spicy moroccan spices, spinach and rice.  I packed rice and beans for lunch with half the rice.  Tomorrow is cereal for breakfast, rice and beans for lunch, and probably the pasta i made yesterday for dinner since i Have so much left.  I could use it to make mac & cheese too hmmm.

If you have a freezer you can freeze individual portions and get some variety that way.

I promise that you won't die because you eat the same meal several times in a week. You can add variety with different sauces or you can deal with it because it is saving you money and you are in debt.

lentil

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #43 on: September 06, 2017, 08:00:15 AM »
Sounds like you're off to a great start! Transitioning to preparing & eating most of your meals at home is a big change, and it takes awhile to really start to feel easy or natural. But figuring out how to space out your meals so you're neither bored or overwhelmed is just another skill to practice, and something you can definitely figure out.

One thing I find helps me is to keep a file with all the meals I've mastered. If it's based off an online recipe, I might just include the link, but I often make some notes as well (like any changes/substitutions, or even "leftovers would be great on salad," or whatever). Then, when I'm figuring out my weekly shopping, I can look through the list and think about what I'd like to make this week, what haven't I had in awhile, what would help me use up anything still left in the fridge, that sort of thing.

It sounds like your goal is to eventually cook all your own food from scratch, which is terrific from a health & frugality perspective. But it also takes time & energy to learn how to do this...in the meantime, keep in mind that buying a can of soup (or a frozen pizza, or whatever) is still cheaper than getting take-out. If turning every Friday night into frozen pizza night for awhile helps give you the variety you crave, and a break from the constant effort of learning new food habits, then it might be worth throwing that into your meal rotation for now too. YMMV, of course.

Good luck!

SpendyMcSpend

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #44 on: September 09, 2017, 07:30:13 AM »
I made it guys!  I didn't buy one lunch or dinner working this week!  I did go to an event and bought drinks there but that's it! 

Laura33

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #45 on: September 09, 2017, 08:28:25 AM »
I made it guys!  I didn't buy one lunch or dinner working this week!  I did go to an event and bought drinks there but that's it!

AWESOME!!!  Congrats!!

horsepoor

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #46 on: September 09, 2017, 09:07:26 AM »
Hey, I would like to recommend that you check out the book An Everlasting Meal.  It's an enjoyable read, and gives some great inspiration for trying things, and making meals out of small quantities of leftovers.  I'm an experienced cook, but still got a lot out of it, and it's cut down on our food waste.  Meal planning is great, but I'd discovered that it can also be problematic because some weeks dinners yield enough leftovers for my work lunches, or end up being dinner for two nights, and other times, I expect leftovers, and then don't have them.  It takes some practice to have the flexibility to still find something to eat and not waste extras when the meal plan doesn't match reality.

Moonwaves

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #47 on: September 09, 2017, 11:10:18 AM »
You might find it useful to also read through this thread: Your best solutions against ordering in. Sometimes, for me anyway, just having food in the house is not enough to stop me from getting a takeaway or stopping on the way home to eat somewhere. One thing that helps me in that regard is to have already started preparing something before I leave for work. So, for example, if I take something out of the freezer to defrost, I'm aware it's waiting for me to just get home and heat it up/add it to whatever I'm cooking so I'm more likely to just go straight home and cook. Leaving beans or rice to soak in the morning has a similar effect.

I'd suggest also keeping your meal plans when you've finished with them. At least for the first couple of months. You can annotate them with what worked and what didn't work and why, if you like. But even if you don't do that, you may have a time when you're particularly busy or just don't want to come up with a meal plan for the next week and you can just grab one of the old ones and re-use it.

Lentil loaf (serves 2 for about 4+ meals). In a largeish pot (I think mine is 3 liters), add ~4 dl of any lentils you like and one can of chopped tomatoes. Rinse the can 3 times and add it all to the pot. Bring to a simmer. Add any veg you might have lying around/wilting. Chopped onions and pretty much any grated root veg are fab. Spice it any way you prefer, but be generous. Have leftover rice? Add that too. Fill the pot. Let simmer until lentils are tender and cooked through.
Once cooked, take it off the heat and add rolled oats until the mixture is more like a patty than a stew. Scoop into an oven proof dish and bake at 200 C until brown and firm to the touch. Serve with your choice of starch, steamed vegetables and sauce. We make huge batches on Sundays and bring these as lunches for most of the week. It really fills you up.
Thank you for this recipe. It sounds amazing and I may be making it very soon. I love lentils so much.


Edited to fix link!
« Last Edit: September 10, 2017, 01:44:01 PM by Moonwaves »

Playing with Fire UK

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #48 on: September 10, 2017, 12:02:02 AM »
I made it guys!  I didn't buy one lunch or dinner working this week!  I did go to an event and bought drinks there but that's it!

Good work! How much have you saved this week?

jane8

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Re: I need encouragement/support paying off debt and help meal planning
« Reply #49 on: September 10, 2017, 01:23:12 PM »
I am a still reforming almost-former-eater-outer so none of my discoveries may apply but FYI as I'm about a solid year in reform and I'm almost in a good place but my recommendation is to look at this holistically. Why do you eat out so much? Socialization, too many hours at work, convenience, etc.? Do you eat all the food you are buying? Are you wasting a lot?

What I found was that many times I'd look at what I spent on groceries and takeout/eat out after a month and then say "gah, you can do better" and then beat myself up. Rewiring my self-mental beating was step 1a.

In my all-encompassing analysis of WTF was I eating out so much, I realized that I HATED cooking on weekdays after work.

WIth that, biggest shift has been weekend prep. Its not always perfect but on weeks where my job is off the chain, my homemade frozen meals having saved me from the eat out beast. One thing that helped me bridge the gap too, was frozen pre-cooked mass-produced dinners. Please don't face punch me --- it was just a crutch while I crossed the bridge from one end to the other.

I found that I was just eating too much.


I found that I have a difficult time repeating meals more than three days in a row. God bless you people who can eat beans and rice day in and day out. My solution was to food prep and freeze anything beyond three meals.

I also tend to eat a late breakfast, lunch around noon'ish and if I didn't eat an afternoon snack (I tend to leave work around 5:30-6 pm) I would be extra hungry and my cravings would get the best of me and i'd stop some place along the way home from work. I now try to have a back up afternoon snack.

It takes time. I never thought it would take me this long to get to where I want to be and I still have more room to improve.

Also, and this is not true mustachianism, but I will never not eat out. Or eat out only once every six months. I think I'm down to maybe two lunches out a month and maybe a few times a month for dinner. Saying to myself "no eating out" was almost an instant trigger to think nothing about anything but eating out (this is an issue in many aspects of my behavior so ---- I have to find a balance b/w all or nothing for more things that just groceries).

Hope that helps.