Wednesday, March 3, 2010
How I meal plan...
Obviously, if you are familiar with reading this site, you know that I meal plan a week's worth of food at a time. I thought I would share with you how I go about this lovely process.
First off, we have a budget set for groceries. We'd never really set a budget for food before, and when we moved out here I just went to the store, bought whatever I wanted, and then realized that I didn't always come home with ingredients for complete meals. So, I'd head back to the store to buy more. Honestly, it was a very stupid way to shop. When we started using mint.com to set our budget, we realized that we were spending WAAAAAY too much on groceries. So, I declared that i could spent less and set our monthly budget on groceries at $350.
Yep. $350. And I always get it in cash. That way I have it physically with me. It makes me more accountable that way.
So, when you see my meals, please know that I am menu planning, grocery shopping and whatnot on a pretty tight budget. Needless to say, I have learned to be quite frugal.
I usually start menu planning the Friday before the next week. I try to make meals around meats and pastas I already have in my house or on meats I know are on sale where I shop. I pull out 3 or 4 cookbooks that I want to find recipes in and search for ones I haven't tried or requests that Evan and Elisabeth have asked to have the next week. I go through every ingredient and see if I have it and those that I don't have go on the grocery list. I used to just kind of go by the grocery list when I went shopping, but now I'm pretty strict about making sure I buy only what's on the list.
Once I've gotten the meals set (including the sides), I start going through my coupons and the ads from the grocery stores I frequent. I usually either go to King Soopers or Super Target. Sometimes both if I need to. I have been getting all of my produce at the fabulously fabulous Sunflower Farmers Market, and have been saving a bundle by going there.
Because we get paid twice a month, I take out half of the grocery budget per pay check. So, when I go grocery shopping after being paid, that trip is usually a bigger one where I buy meat in bulk, pastas, paper products and any bathing/cleaning products needed. Then, with what is left over, I use that for the following week before the next pay check. So, I have $175 for two weeks of groceries. If I spend it all that first trip, then I will have nothing left. This was a hard lesson learned when I first started this. Now, I try to spend enough the first week so that I have around 30-40 dollars the second week.
I won't lie, this takes a lot of preparation. I have become a pro at using coupons and taking advantage of deals and weekly fliers. I also have a new slogan, which is, "Sorry, we're out of _____________, but put it on the grocery list and I'll get it next time." We've all learned not to eat all the chips in one day or to suck it up and eat the less than popular cereals that no one wants to finish.
So, here's some tips I've picked up along the way with this "Budgeted and Frugal Meal Planning" adventure I have embarked on:
-I buy certain things in bulk, like paper products. It totally saves in the long run.
-I buy lots of generic things. Honestly, most canned, boxed and frozen foods are just as good as name brands but for almost half the cost. You've probably noticed that the ingredients I show in my recipes are mostly generic. Of course, there are some things that we are picky about (rice, soy sauce, chips) and we budget for those accordingly.
-I compare shop. I buy my milk at King Soopers because it's cheapest there. I buy all paper products at Super Target because they are cheaper there. I am constantly checking the weekly ads and making notes on my grocery list about where to buy certain things for the best deals.
-I cook meals that make enough for leftovers. Very rarely do we have a meal that doesn't have enough left for Evan's lunches for the week. That way I'm not buying him frozen meals all the time and I'm not wasting food and money by throwing away perfectly good food that was never eaten. We also eat leftovers over the weekend for lunches and dinners.
-I try to have extras on hand at all times. I usually have extra things of pasta in the cabinet along with cans of soup, macaroni and cheese, frozen corn dogs and fish sticks, so that if we don't feel like cooking, we can have an easy dinner or lunch. I also will buy sides and things I might not normally buy if they are on super sale or clearance.
Now, there have been weeks where I end up spending over my budget. Obviously if we are out of staples like milk, eggs or bread, I go and buy it. But, as I've gotten more used to shopping this way, I'm getting better at managing my allotted grocery money. And if we know we're having company, I always buy more things to accommodate the extra people.
I won't lie, I have learned to like shopping on a budget. It makes me be creative in my cooking. I have bought cuts of meat that I would have never bought before and have learned how to cook them and make fantastic meals. I've also learned how to use leftovers to make a totally new meal so I'm not wasting anything.
And, this spring, I will be planting my own potted garden. Oh my goodness, I can not even tell you how excited I am. More about that later!