Creative Cooking with Chicken Fingers…and Nuggets…and Patties

Anyone with a toddler will know that breaded chicken pretty much becomes a staple food in your house. Fingers. Nuggets. Burger Patties. They’re all good from the perspective of our two year old!

Based on what friends and family members who have kids older than mine have told me, I can reasonably expect this to be a delicacy of choice in our house for years to come.

One Sunday morning this summer, my son and I were doing our weekly grocery run and we came across what I consider to be a pretty sweet bargain. Our regular grocery store had the “name-brand” in chicken fingers, nuggets, and patties on sale for just $4.97 per box – a deep discount from the regular price of $10.99.

Knowing there was space available in the deep freezer at home, I scooped up a box of patties, a box of strips, and two boxes of nuggets.

What I didn’t realize when we were in the grocery store was that each box came with a coupon for $4 off the next box you bought! I kicked myself a bit for not buying just a single box and using the coupons to purchase the additional boxes over the days that followed. Instead of paying $19.88, I could have spent a meager $7.88 for those four boxes!

Frugal thinking and behaviour is a constant work in progress for us, so I took this as a(nother) lesson learned, cut out the coupons, and set them aside hoping another sale would occur before the coupons expired at the end of 2018.

Sure enough, the same product went on sale again about six weeks later at the same $4.97 price tag. For the next number of days I stopped in at the grocery store, used a coupon on another box, and deposited it into the deep freezer.

In the end I got eight boxes of breaded chicken in various forms for $23.76, or just $2.97 per box. While it’s not as little as I could have spent had I noticed the coupons at the time of that initial purchase, it’s still a far cry from the $87.92 those boxes could have cost me had I been purchasing them at regular price over time instead of stocking up.

While this was definitely a win on the grocery bill overall, unfortunately, it seems I overdid it in terms of stockpiling – our available freezer capacity was about 80% occupied by these boxes at the peak stockpile time! We’ve got it down quite a bit since then, but there was still an inordinate amount of space being taken up with boxes of breaded chicken.

So FM made a suggestion: find some creative ways to incorporate breaded chicken into one meal per day for a week straight so we could regain some freezer space and explore some options that went beyond the usual nuggets/strips dipped in plum sauce.

I love to cook, so last week I took on FM’s challenge.

First, I checked into some websites to find recipes, the best of which I found through posts on the websites kitchn and Delish. Then I cross-referenced some of the more appealing recipes with what we had kicking around in the fridge and in the pantry. From there, I developed a menu for a week that gave us some variety, used up ingredients that were already in the house, and ultimately cut down the grocery bill rather substantially that week since we had no meat on the list.

I’ll note that our son wasn’t a daily participant in this breaded chicken challenge. He typically only eats it in a meal once a week, so we were sure to stick to that routine. We may have wanted to use up some of our stockpile, but we’re not about to plow a 2-year old full of processed food every day of the week to help do so!

Here’s what the menu ended up looking like:

Day 1 – Homemade “McChicken” sandwiches with Tater Tots

Okay, it’s not exactly a creative use of a chicken patty. Perhaps it’s the most obvious use. But it brought me back to my university days when my roommates and I would eat McChickens by the case it seemed. Ah, nostalgia!

 

As a parent with two kids to wrangle, this was an ideal meal to prepare. There’s little to do once the patties and tots are in the oven, leaving us free to spend time with the kids while the cook timer on the over counted down to feeding time.

Day 2 – Honey Garlic Chicken Nugget Stir Fry

I’m a huge fan of Asian cooking, which has resulted in more than a few jars of various sauces taking up space in our fridge and pantry. This meal allowed me to use up some honey garlic sauce we had in the fridge and some chicken nuggets. I adapted the recipe from this one at Delish.

Stir-fries involve more preparation, so anytime I make one, I try to prep all of the vegetables the night before. For this one I used red bell pepper, green bell pepper, yellow onion, broccoli, and carrots. Then it was just a matter of baking the nuggets while the veggies fried, making some rice noodles, and mixing it all together when everything was finished cooking!

Day 3 – Orange Chicken Nugget Stir Fry

I followed the exact same process as the meal above (prepped the veggies at the same time for both meals), but substituted an Orange stir fry sauce for the honey garlic option used the night before. I got rid of another jar from the fridge in the process too! I love spicy dishes, so I threw some sriracha sauce on top of mine for some extra bite.

Day 4 – Buffalo Chicken Strip Wraps with Sweet Potato Fries

On the rare occasion that FM and I get out of the house for dinner, it’s usually to a more kid-friendly type of place, which typically means a fairly broad menu that includes some type of buffalo chicken sandwich or wrap. If there’s one on the menu, chances are that’s what I’m ordering.

For day 4, I decided to recreate one of my go-to restaurant meals at home and made some baked sweet potato fries to go with it! Another meal that requires a very limited amount of attention once it’s in the oven. All I had to do was dice up some lettuce and tomato while the chicken strips and sweet potato baked, toss the strips in buffalo sauce (FM had something milder), and dig in after making the wraps.

Day 5 – Chicken Nugget Mac and Cheese

This one was ultra simple. Just bake some nuggets while making up the mac and cheese, chop the nuggets into little pieces, and mix them into the finished cheesy noodles.

Day 6 – Chicken Nugget Parmesan

Another one that’s really straight forward (see recipe #1 on this list from kitchn). Cook the nuggets and pasta, warm up the sauce, add cheese on top of the nuggets and put them on top of the cooked pasta. Pour sauce over everything. Voila!

Day 7 – Loaded Tater Tots

The final dish of the week required more attention when cooking, largely because I forgot to prep in advance by cooking the bacon that goes on this one. I fried up the bacon while the tots and chicken strips cooked in the oven, then chopped it up into fine pieces. Once the tots were done, they went on the plates and were covered in cheese, bacon, diced green onion, and chopped pieces of the chicken strips. I then topped it off with a dollop of sour cream.

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So there you have it, a sampling of a fairly frugal series of meals we worked our way through over the course of a week.

Going into this, I thought I might be completely fed up with breaded chicken by the end of it. Much to my surprise though, that wasn’t the case at all. The recipes I used provided a great variety of tastes and styles, making the breaded chicken simply a piece of the puzzle as opposed to the main feature.

We did manage to get through a decent amount of our remaining stockpile and got rid of some things from the fridge and pantry in the process, but there’s still plenty of chicken left. Thankfully, there were a lot of other recipes I was interested in trying out, so we’ll continue experimenting with dishes that tie-in breaded chicken over the next little while (keeping our grocery bill lower in the process), though it probably won’t be on a daily basis!

Do you have any tales of stockpiling gone awry? What about creative menu ideas for me to try out? Share your stories and ideas with me by leaving a comment, connecting on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, or by emailing me at frugalfatherblog@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for another Frugal Fathering article next Saturday!

Cheers,

Frugal Father

Why I’m Not Concerned after the Worst Month Ever for My Investments

On the first of each month, I update the “Investment Portfolio” tab of one of my financial planning spreadsheets.

I don’t monitor the value of my investments on a daily basis, but I listen to the business report on the news often enough to know that things weren’t pretty in October. So when I logged into my investment accounts on November 1st, I was prepared for the fact that I was likely to be disappointed with what the numbers had to say.

Sure enough, I was right…and then some.

To digress for a moment, I’ll note that with the theme of this blog revolving around frugality, it should come as no surprise that FM and I both fall into the category of risk-averse when it comes to our saving and investing.

While taking on more risk with our investment comes with the potential for greater returns, it’s a gamble we’re not overly willing to take since there’s also has a greater chance our money could be gone all together. Potentially getting nothing out of our money isn’t exactly making the most of it.

FM and I save for retirement independently of one-another, so we each have our own approaches that we employ.

FM has opted for an ultra-conservative, but sure-to-generate-income approach of laddering Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GICs).

While I’m also fairly risk averse, I take a slightly less certain route and employ a strategy modeled after what I discovered years ago through the Canadian Couch Potato blog by utilizing a combination of Tangerine Investment Funds.

I follow a similar approach to managing the kids’ RESP account, using Questrade to build a portfolio of ETFs.

Getting back to the original point of this post, it turns out that October 2018 marked the worst single month for my retirement investment accounts – both in terms of a percentage loss and actual dollar amount – since I started investing and tracking on a regular basis at the beginning of 2015. Same goes for the kids’ RESP, though on a much smaller scale because we haven’t been invested as long and the portfolio has limited exposure to the stock market.

Based on FM’s risk tolerance, it probably goes without saying that when I told her how much the value of my investments had decreased in a single month, she was shocked. When she realized that I wasn’t even concerned about it, she appeared to be dumbfounded.

How could I possibly be so calm about seeing a significant amount of money (significant in our world at least) disappear?

It’s for the same reason that Ramit Sethi – one of a handful of personal finance writers I read on a regular basis –  wasn’t particularly worried about his portfolio losing $75,000 in a matter of just 12 days.

While the impact to my portfolio wasn’t nearly as dramatic as it was on Ramit’s, my reaction was exactly the same as his: ‘keep calm and drink coffee carry on’.

caffeine coffee cup desk

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

10 years ago, my reaction may not have been so subdued. Back then I wouldn’t have been aware of what are now pretty basic investing principles to me. Losing any amount of money would have given me indigestion.

But years of reading and research have taught me that market downturns are an absolute certainty. I know that I’m going to see plenty more months like this between now and whenever it is that we reach our goal of financial independence. It’s not a matter of if, but when we see another recession.

That same reading and research has allowed me to be comfortable in feeling that things are likely to work out just fine in the long-run.

Accepting these facts has allowed me to remove any emotional reaction to the market’s ebbs, flows, and inevitable cycles. It has also allowed me to view months like October as great buying opportunities because I can get more shares for that regular amount of money I’m investing.

The reality is that my oldest child is still more than 15-years away from needing to access the RESP funds. I’m 20-years away from my loose target of financial independence by the time I turn 55.

Both of those things are a very long time away.

So my approach to just stick to the script and keep doing what I’ve always done with my investments: put things on auto-pilot by investing a regular amount of money at regular intervals in a small number of funds, reinvesting the distributions and dividends back into those same funds, and letting the market and time do their thing.

After all, it’s not about timing the market. It’s about time in the market. And as a fairly new parent, time is on my side.

Get in touch by connecting on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, or by emailing me at frugalfatherblog@gmail.com and let me know how you were impacted in October.

Until next week, thanks for reading!

Frugal Father

What Frugality Means to Me

A couple of weeks ago, I received my daily email from Rockstar Finance that highlights what they feel are the best posts of the day from some of their members.

One such article was titled Being Frugal Changed My Life from a blog called Debt and Cupcakes.

The gist of the article explained what living a frugal lifestyle has meant to the author, as well as what is hasn’t.

The article really resonated with me because it sounds as through the author has been on a similar journey to my own. Reading it got me thinking that I really haven’t delved into what trying to live a frugal lifestyle means to me. It also made me realize that talking about what parenting frugally means to me is probably something I should address early on in this blog (it likely should have come sooner that my article on going to the ponies!).

One of my favourite lines from the Debt and Cupcakes article was “a frugal life is the opposite of deprivation”.

I couldn’t agree more.

For me, frugality does not include deprivation either. It does not mean going with the least expensive option every single time. And it most certainly DOES NOT equate to being cheap.

Living frugally simply means making the most of my money at every opportunity and getting the best bang for our buck.

It means comparison shopping and price matching on our weekly trip to grocery store, along with couponing and using apps like Checkout 51 (ideally double-dipping using both on the same purchase!) to save a few bucks here and there on items I was going to be purchasing anyways. Why wouldn’t I take advantage of cost savings on diapers, wipes, or staple foods for our home?

It means taking advantage of the significant savings you can realize by shopping for kids gear on Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace, at “mom to mom” and garage sales, or at second-hand stores.

It means doing enough research to know that purchasing a vehicle with a higher upfront sticker price, but better fuel efficiency and reliability, would likely work out much better on our budget in the long-run than the cheaper, gas-guzzling, repair-riddled alternative. This is exactly what we did when we purchased a van to accommodate our growing family last year.

And sometimes it means splurging on lunch at an independent local burger joint over a traditional fast food option when faced with a choice between the two. I know I’ll get far more enjoyment from the food and won’t feel like complete crap after the meal, so I won’t feel like I wasted my money (though there are certainly far more frugal ways to feed oneself than eating out).

To be clear, it took me a long time to put this type of thinking into practice. It’s a trained behaviour. It takes a great deal of repetition, dedication, and foresight.

Over the course of a number of years, critical thinking about how and when we spend our money has simply become routine.

In the last couple of years it has absolutely had to.

We’re faced with expenses that we had never encountered or had to consider before becoming parents. Things like diapers, baby food, and daycare are in the cards right now. Soon enough it will be hobbies, recreation activities, and family vacations with more than two people to account for. And not long after that it could be support for post-secondary education, if that’s the path our kids choose to take.

Taking a frugal approach to our spending in recent years has and will continue to pay dividends for us for years to come. We focus on experiences as a family, making memories while attending low- to no-cost activities and events. We’re paying down our mortgage significantly faster than what the minimum payments call for. We’re saving for things that matter to us, like financial independence.

And I can’t imagine ever going back to my free-spending ways of long ago. The benefits of frugality are simply too great for me to ignore.

Do you try to lead a frugal lifestyle? Has becoming a parent made it more of a priority for you like it has for me? Share your thoughts with me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, or email me at frugalfatherblog@gmail.com.

Until next Saturday’s post, thanks for reading!

Frugal Father

Affordable Family Fun – A Night at the Races

This past summer, FM and I hosted our niece at our house for a week during her summer vacation.

We’ve long-planned to have three or maybe even four kids, so the week gave us a taste of life with more than two. All told, things went very well!

Our niece was excited to get a week of relative independence away from home (as much as you can give an 11-year old), our toddler was overjoyed to have another kid around who he could play with, and we were happy to have an extra set of hands around to keep our son occupied and help out with tending to the baby, making meals, and getting household chores done.

One of the potential challenges that we had anticipated in advance was that we’d need to find a way to keep a pre-teen entertained and engaged during her time with us. In her frugal wisdom, FM took it upon herself to do some advanced scouting by researching low-cost and free activities for us to do with the kids over the course of the week.

One such activity that came up in her searches was heading to the horse racing track located about 15 kilometres from our house.

FM and our niece both love horses and our son is a fan of pretty much every animal at this stage of toddlerhood. I also enjoy gambling every now and then – mostly in friendly wagers, but occasionally in very small amounts of cash for some cheap, added entertainment.

Those things, combined with the gorgeous weather forecast for the night we could attend and the absence of any admission fees, made a night at the track seem like a perfect frugal adventure for the five of us.

And just as we’d hoped, it didn’t disappoint.

We arrived just as the first race of the evening was ending and stuck around for a pair of races. We spent just over an hour standing trackside, watching the horses up close and personal.

The highlight of the evening for me and FM had to be watching our son cheer, clap, “ooohhh”, and “aaahhh” as the horses came racing down the stretch toward us. I’ve noticed in my brief stint as a parent that the old cliché is most definitely true; few things in life will bring you as much joy as seeing your child doing something that makes them happy.

The races actually ended up being a secondary piece of the entertainment though. The kids found it much more interesting to have lots of horses out warming up on the track and passing by us frequently between the race as opposed to having a pack of them fly by us in a flash during a race.

The viewing area by the track also provided a great view of the stable where the horses entered and exited the track from. Our son absolutely loved being able to watch literally dozens of horses come and go over the course of just a few minutes.

And while I had planned on placing some small bets on the races, I ended up not spending a cent. Instead, we each picked a horse for each race and made friendly wagers within our little group. None of our horses ended up winning those friendly wagers anyways, so no one was able to collect their desired prize, but it made the races entertaining nonetheless.

By the time our evening wrapped up, we’d only spent 30 kilometres worth of gas money and made some priceless memories in the process. A frugal parent’s dream evening!

I’m also happy to say that the week with our niece didn’t scare us off from our plan of having more kids. No idea when we might look at adding to our family, but it’s still something that’s in the cards.

If you’ve got any ideas for affordable family fun that you’d like to share, please leave a comment below, connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, or email me at frugalfatherblog@gmail.com.

 Thanks for reading!

Frugal Father