Budgeting Tips, Healthy Eating, Healthy Lifestyle

7 Tips for Cooking on a Budget PLUS 2 Black Bean Recipes

I love food.

Like, I really love food.  Probably as much or more than anyone you know.  There is nothing better than eating a fantastic meal.

But, I have a bit of a confession: I didn’t really learn to cook until I was separated at 30 years old.

When I was married, we went out to eat A LOT.  Every night, the question wasn’t “What’s for dinner?”, it was where.  And I had some great reasons for wanting to go out. Not only did I enjoy the delicious food that seemed intimidating to make, we could also eat different meals at the same time, so everyone was happy. We were also forced to sit at a table together for at least an hour and have family time.  (Now I make sure we eat a family meal every night around our own kitchen table).

It wasn’t until I was alone with two young kids that I realized 2 things: 1) Eating out is expensive.  I can’t even imagine how much money we blew on those amazing dinners, and 2) Going out to eat with a 6 and 2 year old by yourself is just not fun at all.  It was time to learn the skill of cooking on a budget.

So, armed with the motivation to cook for pretty much the first time in my entire life, I began searching for recipes in an attempt to bring the delicious food I was used to eating in restaurants home to our kitchen table.

It wasn’t long before I realized that the soup I was paying $5.00 a cup for was the easiest thing in the world to make at home for way less.  Then I tried the chicken enchilada casserole from 100 Days of Real Food and it was amazing (I added green peppers to mine and used whole grain tortillas), which encouraged me to try even more new recipes! I even learned to cook bacon and grits instead of going out to brunch on the weekends!  (Seriously, that is how much I did NOT cook before).  My girls became more adventurous eaters since they had to eat what I cooked (and there were no chicken tenders or cheeseburgers on the menu).  I began to discover what spices went into which types of dishes, and cooking became kind of fun!

I also realized how little a meal could cost.  Since I am not a huge meat eater, we started to eat mostly vegetarian foods.  I started to pay attention to what was on sale and stock up for future meals.  Cutting out meat may not be for you, but for this little fam of all girls, it has worked well!  (And we still eat meat occasionally).

I’m still learning how to make healthy, kid friendly meals on a tight budget, but these are the tips I have learned so far!

  1. Stock Up on Sale Items. But only items you need.  I purchase healthy snacks for my kids and the ingredients to make meals.  That is it.  And I buy the same items over and over.
  2. Use Coupons if you have them. But only clip the coupons if the are for items you need.  It does not save you money to spend $2.00 on a junk food item that you would never have purchased if you hadn’t see the $.50 off coupon.  I also save the coupon for when the item goes on sale again.
  3. Buy Frozen and Canned foods when possible. Frozen veggies are better for you than canned, so I always buy those, along with frozen fruits if I plan to cook with them.  I do buy canned tomatoes and black beans (and other beans, but black beans are a major staple at my house). I do not buy fresh anything if I can avoid it, because I want every item to have the longest shelf-life possible.  Any food item that is thrown out is a waste of money.
  4. Rotate out Fresh Fruits/Veggies. Of course, there are some items you have to purchase fresh, such as fruits and veggies that you plan to eat raw (especially for snacking)! I used to go wild buying several different types of veggies and fruits at once, and no matter how much we snacked on them, I would usually end up tossing something.  I have learned if I get a couple types of veggies and fruits each, we are more likely to finish them and less is wasted.  Then I can get something new the next week and everyone is excited to eat it.
  5. Limit Your Meat Intake. Meat can easily become the most expensive part of a meal. When I first started cooking, I would make a meat and a couple of sides, and I occasionally still do this.  However, I have learned that my kids eat more vegetables when they are incorporated in the meal in some way (soups, pasta, etc), so I started putting meat on the backburner instead of making it the star of the meal.  When I do cook with meat, I will get a package of something such as chicken breasts, cook them, and use a little bit in multiple meals.  IE: I’ll make a chicken pot pie one day, and chicken noodle soup the next.
  6. Soups are your BFF. I love soups. You can put any vegetable in a soup and it instantly become easier to eat.  My kids won’t touch onions or cooked bell peppers until I put them in our favorite chili!  Plus, as an added bonus, we generally have enough soup left over for at least one meal afterwards, and sometimes for me to take to work too!
  7. Have Flip Flop Day. Eat breakfast for dinner. Eggs and Grits are sooo cheap.  Add bacon for a little more.  Pancakes and waffles are quick and easy on a busy weeknight, or you can whip up omelets for a healthier option.

The two recipes below take all of the rules above in consideration, and they are go-to meals for me!

 

Easy Peasy Black Bean Chili

This chili is ALWAYS a hit at my house and I keep enough ingredients on hand to make it any time I’m not sure what to make for dinner.  At home, we eat the meatless version, but I usually add chicken if I’m making it for others!

Ingredients:

2 cans of black beans

1 can diced tomatoes with chilis

1 can diced tomatoes

1/3 bag frozen corn (save rest for next time!)

1/3 bag frozen sliced peppers and onions (save rest for next time!)

1 container chicken broth

1 1/2 tbsp chili powder

1 tbsp cumin

1 tsp minced garlic

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground pepper

Diced cooked chicken (optional)

Shredded cheddar cheese, for serving

Sour cream, for serving

Jalapenos, for serving

Cilantro, for serving

Directions:

  1. If you have time, saute the pepper and onions in a pan with a little olive oil and minced garlic. If you’re in a hurry, skip to step 2.
  2. Put black beans, diced tomatoes, and diced tomatoes with chilis in a pot. If you would like your chili to be thicker, drain juice first.  If you want a soupier chili, do not drain.  Add frozen (or fresh) peppers and onions.  Add corn.  Add chicken broth and chicken (optional).  Bring mixture to a boil.
  3. Turn setting down and let the chili simmer. Add seasonings.  I estimated the amounts because I usually taste as I go.  I start with less and add more until I reach the desired flavor.  DO NOT leave out the cinnamon.  It makes a big difference in the recipe!  You can add red pepper flakes for an added kick.
  4. It will be ready to eat in around 30 mins, but the longer it cooks, the better, and it is even better reheated the next day!
  5. Serve with sour cream, cheese, jalapenos, cilantro, etc.

 

Vegetarian Farmers Hash with Gouda Grits

This recipe is my version of my favorite meal at Charleston’s Café, my #1 place to brunch when I’m in Mt Pleasant.  They always add meat in their version (chorizo seems to be a fav), but when I make it at home, I go meatless.  They also usually use potatoes instead of grits, but I prefer keeping grits in my pantry since they have a longer shelf life (and because they’re grits, and I’m a southern girl).

Directions for Vegetarian Farmers Hash:

  1. Saute the pepper and onions in a pan with butter and minced garlic. Add a sprinkle or two of cumin.
  2. Once the onions have caramelized, add drained black beans. Continue to cook mixture until it thickens. (If you want to add cooked meat, you can do so at this time as well).
  3. In the meantime, fry two eggs in a separate pan.
  4. When black bean and pepper mixture is finished cooking, move it to plate. Add shredded gouda cheese on top.  When eggs are done cooking, place them on top of cheese.
  5. Serve with gouda grits and enjoy!

Directions for Gouda Grits:

  1. Cook grits according to package instructions (roughly ¼ cup grits for every 1 cup of water).
  2. Once grits are cooked, add salt and pepper to taste, a pat of butter, and shredded gouda cheese. Add a few splashes of milk and stir.
  3. Serve with Vegetarian Farmers Hash

Don’t forget to shop the sales to get the best price on the ingredients!

What are your favorite healthy meals that are easy on the budget? Any additional tips on how to save?  Tell us in the comments below!

Friendship, Relationships (Friendship/Dating), Tackling Lemons

How to Make Friends as a Single Mom

First Day of Kindergarten.  College Orientation.  There are some situations in life when it is easy to make friends because everyone else is looking for new friends too.  But for the rest of your life, it can be more difficult.  You have to make more of an effort.  You have to seek out friendships instead of having them fall in your lap.

This can become even more difficult as a single mom.  Some newly divorced moms find that their married friends don’t call them to hang out as much, or they stop getting invited to couples events entirely.  On top of that, many single moms end up moving, either for financial reasons or to be near family.  That means they have to start over in the friend department.

But don’t worry, there are many places to make new friends if you take the initiative and have an open attitude!

Where to Make Friends

  1. Church – If you are a Christian, the local church is a great place to build new friendships! The key is getting involved by joining a small group/lifegroup/Sunday School class and/or volunteering in an area where you are gifted.  If you are currently at a church where you aren’t connecting with anyone, try a different church!  Pro Tip – If there is a playground, hang out there for a bit after the service.  That is a great place to meet other parents!
  2. Meetup.com – I have made countless friends on this site at different stages of my life. It is free to join, and there are groups of every kind.  Search for Single Moms groups or moms groups in general!  But don’t limit yourself to meeting other moms!  Charlotte (where I live) has groups for hiking, board games, kickball, wine tastings…etc.  Whatever your interest, you can find others who are into the same thing!
  3. Sports Leagues – If you are the sporty type (or not, but you like team sports anyway like me), check out the local leagues. You can play kickball, soccer, flag football, softball, volleyball, etc.
  4. Facebook Groups – No matter where you live, there is likely at least one group on Facebook for moms in your area. Where I live, for example, I am in three: one for my town, one for moms in my neighborhood with school-aged kids, and a smaller group for those new to the neighborhood.  Post in the group asking if anyone wants to meet up for a drink or a playdate. You’ll likely have a ton of interest!
  5. Neighborhood clubs/events – If you live in an active neighborhood or apartment complex, you probably have clubs and activities going on. Pay attention to any newsletters or announcements that you receive from the HOA or management company to see what all there is out there.  See something that interests you but not sure if it is your thing?  Try it out anyway!  Bunco is something I had never played before, but it was a great way to meet people in my neighborhood!
  6. Start a group for single moms where you can meet up together if you can’t find one! I have lots of friends who are married with and without kids, or single with no kids, but it is nice to have at least a couple of friends who can understand the specific challenges that come with solo-parenting, dating with children, etc.  In fact, I just started my own local group for single moms last week!  I posted in the Facebook mom’s group for our hometown asking if there were any other single moms who would like to get together.  The response was great, so I started a Facebook group for us and we got together this past Friday night for the first time!  If you start it, they will come, and they’ll be thankful you took the initiative!

So now that you know how to find people, how do you turn acquaintances into friendships?  Here are some methods that work for me!

How to Make Friends from Aquaintances

  1. Be open to people who are different than you. When I go somewhere new, I do not just go into the room looking for single moms in their 30s with a 2nd grader and 4 year old.  Don’t discount a potential friend because that person is married, doesn’t have kids, has different interests than you, etc.  There is likely something you have in common with pretty much everyone.  Look for that commonality, and build a friendship from there.
  2. Look for ways to hang out in addition to the planned activity.  If you are meeting people in a structured environment, invite the group out to do something fun.  If you meet at church, see if anyone wants to go out to eat after the service Sunday, or go grab a drink after kickball.
  3. Invite people over to your house.  Pretty much every month has at least one excuse to celebrate!  Super Bowl, Mardi Gras, St Patrick’s Day, Memorial Day, July 4th…  Throw a party and invite people from the groups you are involved in to come.  It is a great way to get to know people better!  Pro Tip: Over-Invite!  Especially if your party is on a holiday when people may have other plans (ie: July 4th), you could have low percentage of attendees.  Even if someone cannot attend, however, your invitation will be appreciated!
  4. Invite people from one group to another group.  I naturally do this, but I’m not sure if others do.  If you are my friend from small group, I’m going to invite you to join my kickball team, and vice versa.  This is a great way to spend more time with your new friends as well as to get to know them in a different environment!
  5. When someone invites you somewhere, go. If you get invited to something and you like the person who invited you, go if at all possible! If you can’t find a sitter or have previous plans, be sure to let that person know that you would love to attend next  time!
  6. Be authentic. We are all different.  Be your own, real self and don’t try to be what anyone wants you to be.  They will like the real you more than someone who wears a mask.                                                                                                                                                     

Bottom Line: No matter where you make your friends, be true to yourself and open to others, even if they seem very different than you…the person who is your total opposite may end up being your best friend!

 

What are your tips for making friends?

Positive Mindset

Raining Lemons

Y’all.

I have been looking so forward to starting this blog about being positive and living your best life as a single mom, and then, oh the irony.  Today, the day I finally took the plunge and bought my domain, my toilet overflowed ALL OVER THE DOWNSTAIRS.

Tomorrow morning, my oldest daughter will be put to sleep for the first time for a minor procedure and her dad is not able to make it due to being between jobs and living in another state.  My youngest just got over the flu.  And then this happens.

Today is a day when I feel like I have been dealt a few lemons.  Too many lemons.  Well, I’m trying to do my best to make the best darn lemonade I can.

We are all dealt lemons sometimes.  Divorce.  Job loss.  Moving from somewhere we love.  Sickness.  Death of a loved one.  I know I have had all of those thrown at me and more.  But it isn’t about the lemons, what matters is our mindset when they come.

When lemons come my way, I try to deal with them and stay positive, even when I want to curl up in a ball and cry (and sometimes I do that first, just being real here).  However, I don’t stay in that place.  I reset my mind on the positive, and these are some of the ways that I am able to do that, even when everything is bad.

  1. Look for the positive in the situation.  There is always a positive. Tonight, I caught the water before it ruined the entire downstairs.  That’s a pretty big positive.
  2. Meditate on your blessings. My kids are generally healthy.  The flu did not spread through our home (knock on wood).  Speaking of homes, we have one and it is a nice one in my favorite place to live.  I have a wonderful family and lots of friends.  I am not doing this thing all by myself, even if it feels like that in the moment when no one else wants to take care of my sick kid and no one else is there when the toilet overflows right when I need a break.
  3. Ask for help. Tonight I called my parents for advice on how to deal with the plumbing issue (and to commiserate with them).  When my daughter had the flu, I posted on my neighborhood page looking for someone to bring me Elderberry syrup (I had cash) and I had two different strangers bring me things I needed to take care of her since I couldn’t get out.  Even though my daughter’s dad won’t be there tomorrow, my boyfriend will be at the hospital when we get there and my dad is going to come when he has to leave so I won’t be alone.  If you need help, ask for it.  Then pay it forward.
  4. Create more positives. If your life right now is just one big lemon, focus on the problems and tackle them one by one.  Have no friends?  Make some (get started here).  Dating life stagnant when you don’t want it to be?  Put yourself out there.  Unhappy with your health?  Start making choices to move towards your goal.  Create more positives in your life instead of focusing on the bad.
  5. Accept that life will not be perfect.  Life is not perfect for anyone.  There are some things that we just have to deal with.  Parenting is hard.  Relationships take work.  Dealing with an ex on a regular basis because you have children together isn’t super fun.  Focus on the things you can change and control, and look for the good in the situations you can’t change.

I am not perfect, and sometimes I have to have a bit of a breakdown before I get to the stage where I can look at the positives, but it really does help to reset my mind and look for the good in a situation instead of wallowing in the bad.  Because no matter how great a person’s life looks, there is always at least a little bad.  And no matter how awful your situation or mine looks, there is always at least a little good.

What are your tips for keeping a positive mindset when it is raining lemons?