Thursday, January 26, 2012

Tasty...Thursday :) - Slow Cooker Lasagna and eating healthy on a budget

Since I missed "Tasty Tuesday," I thought I would just opt for Tasty Thursday instead.

I told you here about our New Year's resolution to try at least one new recipe each week. We have actually been doing more than one each week...maybe we should slow down so I don't run out of ideas before the end of the year ;) But no, really it has been kinda fun, although time consuming (and money consuming...) at times...trying new things, finding out if we like it enough to make it again, and expanding my cooking repertoire beyond boxed and frozen dinners.

We are really enjoying our new slow cooker, and so far, we've probably been doing at least one meal a week in it. I like lasagna a lot, but had never made it homemade before. I am a big fan of the Stouffer's Lasagna in my grocer's freezer...I actually really like it (Walter makes fun of me for it even...), but I thought I should maybe venture out a bit and try something new. I found "Chef Meg's Slow Cooker Lasagna" recipe on my SparkRecipes iPad app, and it was a hit.

- 1 lb. ground beef
- 2 cups eggplant, diced (no need to peel it)
*Note: I had never eaten eggplant before, much less diced it myself. I found this YouTube video to coach me through it: Cooking Tips: How to Dice Purple Eggplant)
- 1 jar low-sodium marinara sauce
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 15 oz. ricotta cheese, part skim
- 1 Tbsp parsley, chopped (I used 1 tsp of dried parsley)
- 1/4 cup egg substitute (or 1 egg white - I used egg white)
- 1 cup shredded Italian blend cheese
- 6 lasagna noodles, dried, no boil variety (I didn't know what no boil variety meant and just used plain ol' Great Value lasagna noodles...they worked perfectly fine!)

1.) Brown the ground beef in a skillet over moderate heat; drain.
2.) Stir in red pepper flakes, thyme, sauce, eggplant and water.
3.) In a bowl, combine egg, ricotta, Italian cheese blend and parsley.
4.) Place enough meat sauce to cover the bottom of slow cooker. Top with 2-3 noodles, broken to cover the meat sauce. Repeat layer.
5.) Top second layer with cheese mixture and finish with a top layer of the meat mixture.
6.) Cover and set slow cooker on low. Cook for 3.5-4 hours.

Nutrition Info:
This makes 8 servings with 271 Calories, 10.2 g of fat, 56.6 mg cholesterol, 283.8 mg sodium, 145.2 mg potassium, 18 g carbohydrate (1.6 g dietary fiber), and 24.8 g of protein per serving.

It was really yummy, and it was definitely 'lighter' than most lasagna I have ever had, which we liked. I think next time I make it I am going to try ground turkey instead of beef!

Onto the next topic...

We are discovering that eating healthy is not cheap. I really like the idea of trying to make more meals from scratch and eating more fresh vegetable and fruit, but it is definitely not easy on the pocketbook. It is definitely more frugal to just buy the pre-made/boxed/frozen stuff, especially when cooking for two. It's crazy to me to think that I was spending about $150 a month on groceries (sometimes less!) when it was just me, but now that my soldier is home, we are spending $350+ a month on groceries just for the two of us and it is a stretch to even do that. He definitely eats more than me, but it's also that we have been trying to do more things fresh and homemade. Another thing that sucks is that even coupons don't really help us that much because you can't get coupons for produce (at least not to my knowledge...if I am missing out on a hidden wealth of information, please enlighten me!). But I wanted to share a couple of things that are helping us to at least keep the spending down as much as we possibly can:

1.) Make a menu!

I cannot stress this enough. This is the part that can be a bit time consuming, especially when trying to come up with new recipes, but I can only imagine how much we save by doing this. We make a menu at the beginning of every week for 3 meals each day. We normally just do smoothies in the morning during the week...they are best for our workout schedule, and the ingredients we use in our smoothies go a long way. Usually one day a week we do oatmeal with fruit and protein powder, and one day a week (usually on the weekend) we actually make a nice breakfast. Making a menu helps us to plan ahead and think of which meals will probably have leftovers...which leads me to my 2nd tip...

2.) Save and take advantage of leftovers!

If I know I am making a meal that has enough servings to last for a 2nd or 3rd meal, we can plan on having that for lunch the next day or so. I know some people don't like leftovers...and can I just say that I think you're crazy? haha. I love leftovers. I take my lunch to work almost every day, and sandwiches just get old sometimes. Plus, on those long days where I get home and just don't feel like cooking, I love being able to just take something out of the fridge, warm it up and call it dinner :) Not to mention it saves money because you can get 2-3 meals for the price of one!

3.) Make a grocery list!

This kinda goes along with tip #1, but when you make your weekly menu, make a list of everything you need to make those meals before you go to the grocery store. This will help you avoid wasting money on things you don't really need.

4.) Use items you already have!

Before I make our menu/grocery list every week, I look in the cabinets/fridge to see what I already have. There are times (like those lazy evenings where I come home and heat up leftovers) that I don't stick EXACTLY to the menu every week. That is going to happen! BUT if you didn't make it last week, go ahead and add it to the menu for the upcoming week! This will also save you a little bit of time while making your menu because you already have one of the meals covered :) Also, a lot of times you may buy something (like cheese, pasta, etc) and not use it all at one time. Pay attention to things that you have and pick out recipes that require ingredients you already have on hand. This will also help you to use up stuff before it goes of the most frustrating things to me is when I clean out my fridge for trash day and find things that went bad that I could've used if only I would've paid attention before they spoiled!

Well that's all I can think of for now. I am going to try to find more ways to cut grocery costs while still maintaining healthy eating habits, and as I do, I will share them with you :) If you happen to have any tips I didn't mention, please send them my way!

Happy Thursday! :)

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