Healthy Grocery Shopping on a Budget – January Check in!

It may be a few days into February already, but I haven’t forgotten that I promised you all an update on my budget.

This month was definitely what I would call a work in progress as far as the budget goes. I had a few unforeseen expenses, like having to purchase a new iPhone after mine fell in a river (with me attached) in Oregon over New Years. I also had to pay last month’s Macy’s bill, which wasn’t pretty after all the Christmas shopping I did there 😉 I bought an awesome onesie for this weekend’s pajama pub crawl. But I did not include these extra costs in my budget this month because I thought of them as one time purchases, and really wanted to focus my budget goals on limiting my spending in the areas I could control — groceries and going out!

Let me jog your memory on the budget I gave myself for food in January:

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All pretty self explanatory! $30 per week for groceries (split between the farmer’s market and the supermarket), and $75 for any other stuff.

Going out, also self explanatory – $10 per week at the dodgeball bar (I go 2x per week), $10 per week for other bars or activities, and a whopping $20/week for restaurants.

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I kept track on my handy dandy budget app, Pocket Expense. Unlike other budgeting apps, you have to actually manually add in all your expenses. I was actually pretty good about doing this on the reg, and on days I was lazy and didn’t add whatever I spent, I at least always kept my receipts so I could go back and do it later.

Now……..to see how I did!

foodbudgetjanuaryfinalNot too shabby, right?!

Groceries

So, I only went to the farmer’s market twice this month. I haven’t gone in three weeks…ever since the weekend I ran 9.3 miles, I have been way too wiped out after my long runs to make it over to the market, or I’ve just run out of time (umm, apparently running 10 miles takes a bit longer than running only 7!). So I did most of my grocery shopping at Grocery Outlet and Safeway. I used my Safeway JustForU app to get some great deals this month! Remember this fun quinoa salad thing I made for lunches one week?

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Yeah, that chopped salad was FREE thanks to a Justforu coupon! Using MAYBE a quarter of a box of quinoa, I made 3 days of lunches for less than $2 total! Cha chingggg.

Another way I saved some money on groceries was by stopping by the parents’ house a couple of times this month! Why is it that food tastes SOO much better when you don’t cook it yourself?

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Thanks Mom!

Miscellaneous purchases this month included a couple of Friday night bottles of wine, a six pack of beer, some stamps, a new phone case, and a trip or two to CVS for some nail polish 🙂 All very exciting, right?

Going out

I am shocked that I stayed under my dodgeball bar goal this month. I actually had to go back at my app and double check that I remembered to enter in all my drinks… I did! {It’s not that I get trashed twice a week at dodgeball, but the bar does have a $10 minimum for card purchases and since I rarely have cash, I often find myself offering to buy my friends drinks so I can meet the minimum!} I must admit I had several drinks bought for me by friends who owed me money 😛 Near the end of the month, when I knew I didn’t have much more “entertainment” money left, it became a lot easier for me to just say “oh well!” and grab a cup of water instead.

Because I only went out to eat twice this month, I did, however, start to sneak a few drinks into the “restaurants” column on Pocket Expense since I knew I wouldn’t be using that money. This allowed me to make sure I was still staying within my overall budget for the month, and made me realize that I may have misjudged my spending habits when I set up my budget last month!

Also, seeing that I spent just as much money going to bars/the movies/a roller derby (lol) as I did on groceries makes me think maybe I should start spending more evenings like I spent this one:

IMG_3146The beer was less than $2 in a six pack, and who doesn’t love Princess Bride?!

Based on how this first month went, and how much my first paycheck (!) was, I think I am going to largely keep my budget the same this month. Luckily, I was FINALLY paid some unemployment benefits this week. I will probably only get 5 weeks worth or so (not the full 8 weeks I was unemployed…) but at this point I’m just happy to get something! I’m planning on using the extra money to pay down my credit card bill from December/January and to *ahem* pay for a little trip I have planned… More on that in a few weeks 😉

Here’s my modified budget for February:

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Sorry for the weird text on all of these.. I turned on my computer last night to realize that my Photoshop is busted, so I had to use a janky website to edit my budgets! Anyway, I allotted half of my restaurant money to the dodgeball bar and other activities. If we’re being realistic, I probably won’t even spend $40 at restaurants…But maybe if I know I have the money set aside, I’ll suggest dinner with friends one night instead of drinks!

Wish me luck!

Do you budget?

Do you and your friends treat each other to drinks?

What I Ate Wednesday – Lunch Lately

Wellcoooooome Wednesday!!!

Sorry. I’m just excited that it only feels like Tuesday, but it’s already Wednesday! Best Feeling Ever.

Since I started work again and put myself on a budget, I’ve been a little worried about what I’d be eating, whether it’d be healthy, and whether I’d be able to avoid eating out and spending too much money. {For the record, I have been keeping to my $30/week grocery budget! I’m still under my overall budget, but have been slipping in certain areas…I’ll be sure to give you all an update at the end of the month!}

Luckily, it was super easy to get back on the healthy workweek lunch wagon. I do miss the leisurely breakfasts and lunches I was enjoying at home, but my lunches haven’t been too shabby! So this week I’m linking up with What I Ate Wednesday to share my first week of work lunches.

As Jenn at Peas & Crayons puts it:
WIAW is about food and fun! It’s about making new friends, breaking out of a food rut, noting changes in your diet/lifestyle, inspiring yourself & others, embracing fruit & vegetables, nourishing your body with the foods that work for you, finding new ways to eat your favorite foods, and so. much. more. ❤
Be sure to check out Jenn’s post to see who else is linking up today.
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The first “Sunday food prep” meal I made for lunches last week was a curry quinoa. I sauteed kale, celery, ginger, garlic & onions in a bunch of Indian spices (curry powder, coriander, cumin seeds, & turmeric) then stirred in cooked quinoa. It made 3 servings – one I ate at home with a tortilla (see above) and the other two I brought in a tupperware to work!
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Didn’t think I could say bye to my breakfast for lunch meals forever, did you? I am super thankful that my new office is just around the corner from my old one, AKA only 8 blocks from my apartment! I have plenty of time to bike or walk home for lunch and cook up a quick simple, healthy, clean meal…like avocado & toast + eggs & salsa 🙂
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Pretty much the exact same meal, except I loaded my eggs up with goat cheese instead of salsa because I had run 5 miles that morning and wanted some extra protein! That bread is whole wheat flaxseed bread I found at the Farmers Market and it is AMAZING. Small slices so they’re only 70 calories a pop, and it’s got a great texture since it’s loaded with flaxseeds – hello protein and Omega-3s!
This week, I went super ultra cheap for my lunches. I use the Safeway Just For U app pretty regularly to find deals at the grocery store (it even gives you personalized deals based on the items you buy the most!) and this week, I noticed that they were offering a free bag of chopped salad with your purchase. I checked out the ingredient list and it actually didn’t seem too bad, so I picked up the Asian variety:
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The dressing isn’t exactly low fat, but I figured all the cabbage and carrots made up for it!
To bulk up the salad enough to make it stretch a few meals, I mixed in 3/4 cup (dry) of cooked quinoa right after it finished cooking. Raw cabbage is kind of rough on the digestive system, so I figured the hot quinoa would cook it and mellow it down a little.
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Winner winner quinoa dinner! It was super tasty!
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I had time to run home for lunch yesterday and enjoyed a bowl with the wonton strips that the salad came with. Today I am anticipating running errands at lunch, so I brought bowl #2 in a tupperware! I think I’ll add sriracha today too…it would go perfectly with the sesame dressing!
That’s it for week 1 of my workday eats!
Check out some other installments of Lunch Lately to see how I eat healthy during the workweek:
1 2 3 4
How often do you eat out?
Do you prep your breakfasts or lunches?

Healthy Grocery Shopping on a Budget

New Years Resolutions…Such a divisive topic. Around the first of the year in 2013, I set myself a few Fitness Goals for the year and checked in occasionally (see my last check-in in September here) to see how I was doing. Having a blog and stating my “resolutions” publicly for the internet to see definitely made me more likely to hold myself accountable.

If you read my About Me, you’ll see that I call myself a 20-something on a budget. When I wrote that, I basically figured that since I didn’t make much money, and didn’t spend a ton each month, I considered myself to be living “on a budget”.

Welp, it may not have been before, but that’s about to become literal, folks.

Next week, I start a paid internship, and although it is exactly the job duties and experience that I’m looking for, it pays a little less than I’m used to making. 1/3 less, to be exact…and teetering close to California’s minimum wage. So instead of fitness goals, I’m resolving to establish a monthly budget for myself – and actually follow it!

Because I don’t own a car, I don’t have to worry about a lot of the costs associated with a vehicle, like gas/insurance/parking/repairs. Our rent is on the pricey side for Midtown Sacramento, but my roommate and I are pretty frugal when it comes to utilities and internet bills.

The budget about which I am going to have to be more wise from here on out is my food budget. (OK, and no more shopping sprees on my Macy’s Credit Card…)

I constantly hear that eating healthy is not only more time consuming, but also more expensive than just relying on fast food or pre-packaged/processed meals. I’m here to prove that while the first half might be true, it is absolutely doable to eat healthy on a budget! Here is the monthly food budget that I’ve established for myself:

foodbudgetMy average monthly food spending in 2013 (including groceries, bars, and restaurants) was about $425, with almost 1/4 of that being spent in bars each month. (Thanks, dodgeball)

I’m hoping to spend $15/week at the Farmer’s Market and $15/week at the grocery store. I rarely spend more than $20 at the Farmer’s Market, and the only times I’ve gotten close were when I’ve bought flowers (#TreatYoSelf!). If I do most of my shopping at Grocery Outlet and use coupons at Safeway, that will be plenty. An extra bit of miscellaneous spending money in case I run out of anything during the week or want to treat myself to a bottle of wine or nail polish from CVS will provide a safety net. (again…#TreatYoSelf)

Going out is another area where I can save a lot of money. I will be limiting myself to $10/week at the dodgeball bar (which is actually almost 3 drinks + tip!) that I frequent twice a week, and $10/week to spend on other evening activities, such as other bars, movies, ice skating, etc.

Finally, I am limiting myself to $20/week in eating out expenses. This is actually a generous allowance, since I don’t eat out often.

You’ll notice there’s not a lot of extra money allowed for alcohol. That was no accident…I’m just trying to follow through on improving my lifestyle for maximum Half Marathon success!

Now…for this week’s groceries.

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Before I go into what I bought, let me tell you what I already had in my fridge & pantry. I was pretty low on perishable goods, since we were gone to Oregon for 4 days.

ALREADY HAD:

1/2 bunch kale
1/2 head broccoli
tub of farmer’s market salsa
pasta
onions
quinoa
old fashioned oats
candy/chocolate/etc leftover from christmas
half a dozen protein bars
chocolate peanut butter spread
crackers
a few wedges of Laughing Cow cream cheese
frozen tilapia filets
frozen fruit
most other pantry staples (garlic, ginger, oil, vinegar, butter, etc)

Here’s what I bought:

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How epic is that 2 lb bucket of hummus for just $2.58?! Thank youuuu Grocery Outlet! Unfortunately it expired yesterday, lol, so I’ve gotta eat it fast!

Since I have enough bread and beans to last me for a couple of weeks, next week I’ll probably stock up on tortillas and almond milk instead. It’s all about divvying up the staples between grocery trips!

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And to finish, here are some ideas of meals I will be eating with these groceries and what I already had:

Breakfast

Toast with hummus or Laughing Cow wedges or chocolate PB
Eggs and cheese (with or without toast)
Breakfast nachos
Oatmeal with frozen fruit
Toast with eggs

Lunch

Stir fry (brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower) and toast
Salsa, eggs & stir fry veggies
Grilled cheese sandwich

Snacks

Protein shakes with frozen fruit
Chips and salsa
Hummus and chips/crackers
Cheese and crackers

Dinner

Tilapia with sauteed greens
Cauliflower soup
Black bean soup
Moar stir fry (it’s my fave)
Roasted acorn squash stew

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Now if I could just tackle the whole “it takes too long to cook and eat healthy” part… Looks like I am going to get back into the Sunday Food Prep routine come next week!

Would you be able to live on $30/week for groceries? (Assuming you’d only be shopping for yourself)

I already asked this yesterday, but how do you keep track of your budget? I downloaded Pocket Expense to use for now, but have heard good things about Mint as well.

Fitness Friday – Half Marathon Training Update #1

Hi everyone and a belated Merry Christmas!

I hope you all had a nice time visiting with family and/or friends, eating good food, and enjoying the season. I know I did!

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On Christmas Eve, we drove to Marin County to spend the evening with my Grandma. My mom’s family is Italian, so our own tradition is Italian food on Christmas Eve. This year, we brought that tradition to my dad’s side of family and my mom made an epic lasagna, which we enjoyed before going to church and checking out some Christmas lights in the neighborhood.

On Christmas morning, the rest of the family arrived and we had a Christmas brunch, complete with mimosas (because duh, this is me we’re talking about!) and plenty of eggy, cheesy dishes. There was no shortage of cheese this Christmas hahaha #godblessusEVERYONE!

I got a few nice things this year, but the two best gifts I got were a job offer (!!!) and my parents treated me to a new pair of running shoes.

I went to Fleet Feet to get fitted (they’re the ones putting on my half marathon!). I’d had my old shoes for almost a year, and when I got fitted last time, I told them I was running 3 miles max (which was the truth!)… this time, I made sure to get inserts and running socks as well.

Which leads me to my next subject… An update on my Half Marathon training!

I am currently in Week 4 of my “12 week” training plan. I have 12 weeks of runs planned, with 2 weeks extra in case I need to delay a long run because of travel or sickness. I actually did have a bit of a head/chest cold this past week, but luckily since I stayed in on Friday night and slept 10 hours, it didn’t get in the way of my long run on Saturday.

Last time we spoke, I had worked out a training plan…

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I have since decided to create another spreadsheet showing my actual progress where I can keep track of my pace.

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Any run labeled as “run” is supposed to be at an easy pace, and any run labeled at “pace” is supposed to be at race pace. I have basically been pushing myself to stay under 9 minutes for my race pace runs.

You can see last week my pace SHOT up after getting new shoes and replenishing my fitmixer Clean Energy supply. At this point, I think/hope I can manage a 2:00:00 half marathon time, which would be about 9:10 min/mile. We will of course see if I can keep up my pace as I increase my distance!

Thoughts After 4 Weeks:

aches & pains

I decided I couldn’t wait till Christmas to get new shoes because I had been getting bad blisters and, since increasing to 3 runs per week, a little bit of knee pain. So I went on December 18th, and learned that my right knee over-rotates a little bit, which I think accounts for most of the pain I experience. One of my feet is also SLIGHTLY (like less than half an inch) bigger than the other, which may cause some hip pain eventually. So basically I’m feeling a bit of wear and tear, but I’ve got fingers crossed that it’s nothing that will develop into a more serious injury!

Moral of the story: stretching and icing are my friends right now!

the course

For 5 miles or less, I usually just run loops around nearby Capitol Park or McKinley Park…But as my distance increases, I’m changing up my routes, because it would be a little boring to run around Capitol Park 8 times 😉 This past week, I ran on part of the actual Half Marathon course and was less than thrilled that there were a couple of hills…

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The view was nice though!

It motivated me to go for a bike ride on Sunday for my cross training, and I biked pretty much the entire half marathon route. It was extremely humbling, to say the least. There were way more hills than I expected on the bike trail that the course follows! This definitely solidified my plan to train on the actual course.

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lifestyle changes

One big reason why I decided to do this half marathon was to force myself to make changes as far as diet/lifestyle/etc goes. I’ve already started using my Saturday morning runs as an excuse to stay in on Fridays (and drink tea instead of beer 😉 ) and the result is definitely tangible. Being well rested for my long runs makes a huge difference!

I’m hoping that once I start my job, I will get back on track as far as food goes. I’ve been all over the place: some days eating cookies for breakfast, vegetables for lunch, and going out to eat a lot more than I prefer. Tis the season, right? I’m interested in seeing how much weight I lose post-holidays, if any – I’ve put on about 10 pounds, but am fairly convinced it is mostly muscle!

Tomorrow will be my first “furthest run ever” training run of 7.25 miles, and it’ll be a fun exercise in self control to abstain from adult beverages tonight 🙂

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That’s it for today! I doubt you’ll be hearing much from me until the new year, since we are trekking out to my roomie’s family cabin on the Oregon Coast for New Years. We went 2 years ago and had a fantastic time, so I’m excited to escape to the little lakeside cabin again!

Happy New Year!

Do you have any fun Christmas traditions?

Half marathoners: How did you predict your race pace? Were training runs a good indicator for you?

What I Ate Wednesday – Breakfast Edition

Happy Wednesday! We’re almost over the hump! Although these days the days and weeks are all starting to blend together for me, especially with last week’s holiday. Read on to find out why, and to find out how it inspired today’s What I Ate Wednesday post 🙂

Continue reading

Spinach & Artichoke Stuffed Chicken Breast

CHICKEN. It’s what’s for dinner! 99% of the time.

Amiright?

Chicken was always a staple of our household growing up. Pretty much most weeknight meals at our home consisted of either chicken or pasta. When I started taking an interest in cooking, I soon realized that while chicken is one of the most readily available and easy to cook ingredients out there, it’s easy to fall into a chicken rut.

Don’t take it out on the chicken, Rachael. It’s not its fault it’s boring to eat!

There’s only so many things you can add to a chicken breast before you get sick of it. So you have to start getting creative…

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A little while back, I blogged about La Terra Fina dips and how much my roomie and I LOVED THEM.

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The Chunky Artichoke & Jalapeno was definitely my favorite of the two. It has mild chilies in it that go PERFECTLY with the cream cheese-based spread. Add in artichokes and I’m in heaven.

While I decided that the Chunky Artichoke & Jalapeno was my favorite to go at with chips or veggies, the Spinach Artichoke & Parmesan screamed RECIPE to me.  It’s a bit more smooth than the Artichoke & Jalapeno, and is delicious heated up. And thus this recipe was born.

Delicious dips + boring chicken –> miracle recipe!

Though La Terra Fina’s dips are all made of natural ingredients, are gluten free, and include no trans fat, they don’t claim to be “low-fat” or “light” or any of that nonsense.

So to keep this entree on the healthier side, I used a trick I often do when cooking chicken breasts, which is: to butterfly them and split them in half. One serving of chicken breast is 4 oz (about 140 calories)…Most chicken breasts that you buy in the store come in at nearly twice that size. Unless you’re a body builder, you probably don’t need that much protein in one sitting! Butterflying your chicken breasts makes them a healthier portion size…plus, your chicken will cook faster! With the space you save on your plate, you can load up the rest of your plate with more veggies, salad, whole grains…whatever is your jam.

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PLUS, butterflying your chicken breast makes it much easier to wrap around some delicious spinach & artichoke dip 😉 How bad can that be?

INAAAAAAA. How’d you get in there?!

Spinach & Artichoke Stuffed Chicken Breast
makes 2 small servings

1 large chicken breast, butterflied & split into 2 separate pieces
2 tbsp La Terra Fina Spinach Artichoke & Parmesan Dip (or your preferred dip)
~1/4 cup breadcrumbs
salt & pepper
cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. After cutting your chicken width-wise down the length of the side of the breast and splitting into two thinly sliced pieces, season with salt and pepper. Place about 1 tablespoon of dip on the chicken breast, closer to the base of the breast. Carefully roll the chicken over the filling, using a toothpick or skewer to keep the ends closed.

Sprinkle/cover/roll chicken breast in breadcrumbs (If you want, you can coat the chicken in egg wash first, but I found it wasn’t necessary) and place on a baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until done. Watch out for dip oozing out of the sides 🙂

Disclaimer: La Terra Fina provided me with dips to review/taste/develop recipes. All opinions, however, are my own!

New Obsession: MixMyOwn Muesli

Did you eat breakfast daily as a kid?

My brother and I sat at the table and eat cereal every morning throughout my childhood. Usually it was something “healthy”, (are Frosted Flakes considered healthy? 😛 ), but every so often we’d get treated to Lucky Charms or Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Unfortunately, Cookie Crisp never found its way into our pantry. Thanks a LOT, Mom!

When I hit high school and started taking a 7am zero period sophomore year (which I then continued, in addition to a full course schedule, through senior year…seriously, who was I?!), breakfast took the back burner. As anyone in my family can tell you, it takes a lot to get me out of bed in the morning, and I usually prefer to set the alarm as late as humanly possible, then rush out the door. I need my maximum possible amount of sleep!

As you can imagine, the no-breakfast habit continued into college for the most part. My meal plan included 14 meals per week, which allowed for lunch and dinner every day. Sometimes I’d treat myself to breakfast at the dining commons and grab lunch at a cafe on campus, but I by no means ate breakfast regularly.

In France, my breakfasts were usually a coffee and chocolate covered gaufre (waffle) from the vending machine at the university that I snacked on during class. (Oh my god, I miss those!) When I lived in an apartment senior year, my breakfast usually consisted of some kind of chocolatey Pop Tart, or a Luna bar.

Long story short: I had a very unhealthy relationship with breakfast for a long time 😉 Suddenly, I no longer wonder how I weighed nearly 20 pounds more than I do now just 3 years ago when I graduated!

When I moved home after college, to deal with being unemployed and bored, I got myself into a little routine: I started each day with a small breakfast and a workout, followed by a bigger breakfast/lunch. I forced myself to like bananas, because they were the easiest pre-work out breakfast option.

Nearly 3 years later, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t eat breakfast. During the colder months, I eat a lot of oatmeal. During the summertime, I usually have Greek yogurt and some kind of granola bar. This summer’s obsession was toast + Laughing Cow wedges. But when I went to Blend Retreat back in May, I tried overnight oats for the first time made with muesli…and I was hooked. It was basically like cold oatmeal, but tasted soooo much better than that sounds 🙂

In the middle of my recent toast and Laughing Cow breakfast kick, I was contacted by Klara from MixMyOwn Healthy Breakfast, who offered me a free sample of their product. Fresh out of muesli (thus the reason for the toast and Laughing Cow kick!), I jumped at the opportunity. MixMyOwn has a few muesli mixes they create themselves, but the coolest thing about the site is that you can create your own cereal/granola/muesli! And what really appealed to me was that they use all natural ingredients:

By offering nearly 100 responsibly chosen ingredients, including a variety of 100%
natural, unprocessed, organic, non-GMO, preservative free and sugar-free options,
MixMyOwn provides an alternative to processed cereals and snacks.

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So I went to work and Mixed My Own personal muesli…and it was amazing!

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I had no idea where to start…just check out all these options:

“A customer can choose from 31 types of dried fruits including 13 types of freeze-dried fruits, 20 types of nuts and seeds, and other healthy ingredients to add to the bases.

MixMyOwn offers 8 premixed breakfasts, as well, including: Kids Mix, Fitness Mix, Gluten-free Mix, Antioxidant Mix, Tutty Nutty, Very Berry, Strawberry Almond Mix, and Classic Mix, and even these can be adjusted to suit the customer’s unique needs”

I knew I wanted to make my own, rather than going for a premix. So I decided to go for a tropical theme! In addition to oats and various grains, I added: flaked coconut, dried mango, dried papaya, chia seeds, macadamia nuts, and because I still had a little bit of extra $ left, I splurged on a vanilla bean.

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Oh my gawwwd. SO good. I love the variety of textures, and you could tell that all the ingredients were high quality. I’m glad I went with the coconut (even though I’m not a huge fan)… I have always disliked shredded coconut, but I’m now sold on flaked coconut!

I also love that they include the nutrition stats for your mix:

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Look how low in sugar it is! Just 2.5g! I mix about one serving/half a cup of muesli with a cup of almond milk and a few more chia seeds, store it in the fridge overnight, and VOILA! Amazing breakfast.

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I definitely recommend trying out MixMyOwn! Especially if you’re picky about your oats 🙂

PLUS from now until the end of September you can get 20% off your order with the code HEALTHYBREAKFAST. Perfect timing, since I’m about to run out of my mix!

As I mentioned, I received my MixMyOwn mix free of charge…However, all opinions are my own!

What’s your go-to breakfast?

If you eat oatmeal/overnight oats, what’s your favorite combo of ingredients?