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Category: From My Kitchen

Thanksgiving on a Budget: Sweet Potato Casserole and Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes

If you've never had this sweet potato casserole before, let me tell you,
you're in for a treat. Even if you don't normally like sweet potatoes,
you'll want to try this because I'm guessing this is one sweet potato
dish you will eat and like.

Best of all, it's simple and fairly economical–especially if you
can snag a deal on sweet potatoes. (By the way, Aldi has them on sale
this week at $0.99 for three pounds so you should go scoop some up
there if you have an Aldi store close by!)


Our Sweet Potato Casserole

4 cups sweet potatoes, mashed
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoons vanilla
2/3 cups milk
6 Tablespoons butter, melted

1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup butter
chopped pecans, optional

Mix first six ingredients together and spread in a 9×13-inch dish. Mix topping ingredients together and sprinkle over sweet potato mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Makes approximately 10 servings. This can be made the day before Thanksgiving and kept in the refrigerator and baked on Thanksgiving morning.


Our Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes

15 small to medium potatoes
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup sour cream (can use plain yogurt)
1 8 oz. block cream cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Cut and boil potatoes leaving the skins on (unless you prefer them skinless). Use mixer, Bosch, food processor, or KitchenAid to mash potatoes and add in the rest of the ingredients. Place potato mixer in a slightly greased 9×13-inch. Dot with butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Makes approximately 8 servings.

These potatoes can be made the day before Thanksgiving and kept in the refrigerator and baked on Thanksgiving morning. Or, if you're really brave, you might try Amy's method of freezing and reheating in the crock pot.

Up Next: $5 Dinner Mom's recipe for Orange Ginger Cranberry Sauce and her recipe for some easy green veggies for a healthful side.

Want to join us for our Baking Day?

We're having another Baking Day today and tomorrow! Our freezer is almost cleaned out of everything we made last Baking Day and we're definitely needing to restock but I'm going to be gone this afternoon and tomorrow afternoon, so I decided the split up the Baking Day projects over two days.

Here's what I'm hoping to get made:

Healthy Harvest Muffins
Cranberry Wheat Muffins
Pumpkin Apple Breakfast Bread
Cranberry Pumpkin Scones
Banana Apple Carrot Muffins
Whole-wheat waffles
Apple pie
Cook up rice and freeze

I'll put up a post tomorrow afternoon or evening with pictures of what we accomplished. Just for fun, if you'd like to join us in doing some baking over the next day or two, I'll include a Mr. Linky in my post tomorrow so you can leave your link to share what goodies you stocked your freezer with. Remember, the goal is to use what you have on hand, keep it simple, and have fun in the process!

This week’s shopping trip and almost-$40 menu

Our shopping trip today:


We had a great shopping trip today at both Aldi and Dillons (Kroger). I especially enjoyed the Dillons trip as we were about to get two big bags of apples marked down to $1.49 each along with some skim milk marked down to $0.73. I just always love the adventure of spotting mark-downs; you never know what you might find!

I also discovered, much to my delight, that the Goody Ouchless ponytail holders were on sale for $2 so using this $2/1 coupon, we were able to get five packs free. And just in time as we somehow lost almost every ponytail holder we own when we moved (how does that happen?!). I'm guessing these are on sale at all Dillons stores and maybe some other Kroger stores so be sure to check.

Before coupons and sales, our total was around $105 at Dillons. After coupons and sale prices? $26.76! Gotta love those deals; who would ever pay full price for this stuff, though?

I ended up spending a few dollars more at Dillons than I was originally planning to so I took a few minutes before going into Aldi to cross a few things off my list that I didn't have to get this week and also took a quick inventory of how much leftover grocery money I had stashed away from staying under budget in recent weeks.

At Aldi, we picked up a few staple items we needed, 3 lbs. of sweet potatoes for $0.99, and some fruits and veggies to round out our menu. Our total there was $15.07.

So all totaled, we spent $41.83–a little over our $40 budget, but using the extra cash from the past few weeks that we've stayed a little under budget, I didn't have to have them take anything off my order! Yay! And next time, I'm going to plan a little better and make sure I don't get carried away on deals at Dillons like I seemed to do a little of this week! 🙂

Here's our menu for the week (As always, this is using ingredients purchased this week and ingredients we've stocked up in past $40 shopping trips. We didn't buy any meat or many veggies this week as our freezer is still stocked with those from past sales.):

Pumpkin apple breakfast bread, yogurt
Whole-wheat pancakes, yogurt, juice
Oatmeal with bananas, flaxseed, and brown sugar
Cranberry wheat muffins, fruit, milk
Banana peanut butter smoothies, toast
Granola over yogurt with fruit
Healthy Harvest Muffins, yogurt, juice

Egg salad sandwiches, carrots
PB&J sandwiches, pears
Cheese quesadillas, grapes
Salmonettes, muffins, apples
Steamed veggies over rice
Rice cakes, yogurt, carrots

Enchilada casserole, green rice (I'll have to share the recipe for this sometime soon; it's a family favorite!), broccoli
Goulash, homemade bread, veggies
Church dinner–I'm bringing scalloped potatoes, apple pie, and banana bread
Chicken broccoli rice, homemade bread, grapefruit
Homemade pizza, fruit
Steak stir fry over brown rice, homemade bread
Dinner out

Snacks–Muffins, yogurt, apples, carrots

For more menu inspiration, head over to Organizing Junkie.

$40 Menu Q&A: Aldi, menu-planning, recipes, and our budget

Since there were a number of questions on this week's $40 shopping trip and menu post, I decided to answer them in a separate post for those interested.

Do you know of anyone who blogs
about sales at Aldis? Aldis moved my city recently, but the closest one
is about 15 minutes from my house (I have 3 other grocery stores within 5 minutes of my house.) So I don't plan to go to Aldis often, but
would like to know when they have specials. Any tips or ideas for
shopping there?

Aldi doesn't really run many sales but their staple prices are often much lower than grocery store prices. I'd recommend you make a trip or two to Aldi in the next few weeks to familiarize yourself with the store and compare prices.

You might find that a trip there once a month to stock up on staple items will help you to lower your grocery budget. Or you may find that you can usually beat their prices with store sales and coupons. Either way, it will be good to know.

For more advice on shopping at Aldi, check out this article.

I have a question about your meal
plan, shopping lists and recipes – how long does it take you to do this
every week? I'm in desperate need of guidance in this area – we spend
$300 – $500 dollars A WEEK on groceries and other household supplies,
yet we never have anything to put together balanced meals! I'm looking
for a place to start so any advice you could offer would be greatly

First off, remember that I didn't start menu planning and feeding my family on $40 a week last week or even last year. I've been at this for years and the practice really does make a difference.

As for how long it takes me, well, that really depends upon how good the sales are. On dismal sale weeks, I usually try to use what we already have on hand and then hit Aldi for the rest. So the whole menu-planning and grocery-list-writing process might take me 20 minutes or so.

On good sale weeks, I take more time to scour the ad, match-up coupons, find printable coupons, and then make our menu and grocery list. All told, it might take me 45 minutes to an hour. I rarely ever spend longer than that.

My advice for you would be to start our slowly. If planning a week's worth of meals seems daunting, try to just plan a week's worth of simple dinners. Go through your cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer and make sure you have everything on hand to make all the recipes you've chose. Plan side dishes, too. And then force yourself to stick with it! Sometimes the determination to see it through is half the battle.

Also, your family needs to be on board with you. If Mom's determined to shop once per week and stick with a menu but everyone else complains and whines and refuses to go along, chances are you likely won't be able to make it work.

Have a family meeting, let your family members give input on meals and snacks, and work out a plan. And then work the plan! Don't expect changes to happen overnight, but be encouraged as you start heading in a more organized and cost effective direction. You can do it!

Do you add up your price (net of
coupons) on your calculator each time you add an item to your cart? I
know I would forget something and never quite get my total right! How
do you stay so perfectly within budget?

Yes. My biggest help is that I only bring $40 cash to the store. No credit card (we don't have those–thanks, Dave!), no debit cards, no nothing else besides the cash. Believe me, when you know you only have your allotted amount to spend, you usually are pretty determined to stick within the budget!

I usually try to leave a few dollars extra wiggle room and have mentally picked out a few items in my cart that I can always take off my order if I end up being overbudget. That has happened a few times and I want to be prepared.

Ok…spill your recipe for peanut butter smoothies. I bet my kids would love them!

Here you are:

Yummy Banana Peanut Butter Smoothies

3/4 to 1 cup sliced frozen bananas (like this)
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon peanut butter

Blend in the blender until smooth. The above makes about 13-15 oz. I can drink all of that  for breakfast but I'm also pregnant and nursing.

Word to the wise: Do not give these smoothies to young children who like to make messes. Otherwise, in the process of eating it, they will spill it all over themselves and your kitchen and you'll have sticky banana goo to clean up. Ask me how I know. 🙂

What is crockpot ragout? Could you share a description or recipe? I love using the crockpot.

Here's the recipe. This is my first week to try it so I can't say whether it'll become a regular at our house or not.

do you have a recipe site? i have
wanted 2 of your dishes now…enchilada casserole and another taco dish
you made. please share!

No, I don't have a recipe site and I'm afraid I'd not be a very good candidate for a recipe blogger. You see, I'm not one to use recipes very often. After years of tinkering in the kitchen, I've found I prefer to use recipes as a guideline or launching pad rather than a strict standard to be followed.

For instance, the enchilada casserole will be based upon a recipe but then highly modified based upon the mood I'm in, our taste preferences, and the ingredients we have. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but my hubby loves most everything I cook and I do, too. Plus, the creativity in the kitchen helps us to use what we have on hand and spend less at the store. So I guess you could say it's a good problem that I don't like to follow recipes very carefully. 🙂

Would you consider doing a post
about your ENTIRE budget? I would love to see a real world example of a
real family's entire budget.

Here's a link to a post on my old blog which has both our bare-bones $1000/month law school budget and our current budget. We've modified it a bit since that post was written, but it's very similar. Feel free to ask if you have any questions. I can't promise I have great answers, but I'll try to answer as best as I can!

This week’s $40 shopping trip and menu

We did our weekly grocery shopping at Aldi and Dillons this week. Here's what we came home with:


I was so excited to find some mark-downs on bananas, steak, milk, and yogurt. Plus, with the sweet mix-and-match sale going on at Dillons, we were able to score some other great deals–including a number of free and more-than-free items.

The best deal was the Scotch-Brite nailsaver sponges which were on sale for $1 and part of the mix-and-match sale of Buy 10, Get $5 Back. I bought five and using five $1/1 coupons, I was paid $0.50 for each one I bought. And we just opened up the last package of sponges I'd purchased on a deal last year. I love it when sales work out like that!

Before sales and coupons, our total would have been right around $70. After coupons, we paid right around $14.50! Gotta love Kroger!

We picked up a few staple items at Aldi and spent right around $25.50. So it worked out to be almost to the penny $40 for groceries this week. It's amazing how only having cash and a calculator forces you to stick with the budget!

Here's our menu for this week:

Pancakes, yogurt, juice
Banana/milk/peanut butter smoothies (these are soo good!), whole-wheat toast
Oatmeal, fruit
Banana bread, yogurt, fruit
Scrambled eggs, toast, juice
Granola over yogurt with fruit
Cold cereal with fruit

Egg salad sandwiches, carrots
Baked potatoes with cheese, veggies
Beans and rice, veggies
PB&J, carrots
Rice cakes, yogurt, fruit
Grilled cheese sandwiches, fruit

Chicken noodle soup over mashed potatoes, homemade bread, grapefruit
Birthday dinner for my mom at my family's house–I'm bringing make-ahead mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, and pumpkin rolls
Crockpot ragout, homemade bread
Meatballs, twice baked potatoes, veggies, homemade bread, pear crisp with whipping cream
Enchilada casserole, green rice, veggies
Hamburger mashed potato casserole, fruit
Dinner out
(Can anyone tell that I'm craving anything with potatoes right now?!)

Banana bread
Granola bites

Our $40 menu this week

You can see the groceries we bought this week here for $38. Of course, we're not just using those to make the following meals; many of the ingredients are coming from things we already had in our cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer.

The beauty of bargain-shopping is that stocking up on sales enables you to have a variety of ingredients at your fingertips at all times. With our move and my break from shopping while in my first trimester, our stock was somewhat diminished. However, I'm hoping to quickly replenish it all the while sticking to our grocery budget. Follow along with my shopping trips over the next few weeks to see if I'm able to do that!

Whole wheat waffles (From the freezer–I made a batch of these during breakfast one morning and froze them.), homemade yogurt, grapefruit
Whole wheat toast, scrambled eggs, apple juice
Homemade granola over homemade yogurt with strawberries
Whole wheat pancakes (from the freezer), yogurt, orange juice
Cold cereal, apple juice
Banana muffins (from the freezer), yogurt, strawberries
Fruit smoothies, whole wheat toast

Mixed green salad with hard-boiled eggs and shredded cheese
Beans and rice with cheese, steamed veggies
PB&J on whole wheat, carrot sticks
Baked potatoes with cheese and broccoli
Egg salad sandwiches on whole wheat, apples
Soup in the crock pot, mixed green salad, whole wheat bread

Lasagna, steamed veggies, whole wheat bread
Snack foods (We're going to an election watch party where food will be served so I'm just feeding the girls some snackie foods before we go to tide them over.)
Taco pie, steamed veggies, grapefruit
Goulash, steamed veggies, whole wheat bread
Meatloaf, cooked carrots, baked potatoes
Dinner out
Leftover (Sunday night)

Yogurt with fruit
Banana muffins
Carrot sticks