Budget Meals

How can you feed your family well for less? There are a number of things you can do to stretch your grocery dollars. Try them out and incorporate the ones that work best for you and your family.

Use cheap but nutritious ingredients

Eggs and beans provide protein without costing a lot. Rice also provides nutrition cheaply. Cooking a large chicken on sale and using it for multiple meals will save your dollars. Bananas and baby carrots are not expensive fresh fruit and vegetables.

Shop at the cheapest grocery store

I am a huge ALDI fan, but there are other options available. If your staples are consistently affordable, you are a long way toward meeting your budget. Also, be careful that store-hopping for deals does not cost you more in time and gas money than you are saving on the groceries.

Stay flexible to take advantage of sales or windfalls

You never know when the manager’s special will be a jackpot or day-old bagels will be available for use. Remember your meal plan can be tweaked, so take advantage of the bagels or whole chicken and work that into the next meal or two while it’s fresh.

Use storage mindfully

If you have a freezer or large pantry, make the most of it. But do so mindfully. If you don’t rotate stock or forget to use items until they are out of date, you are throwing away food (and thus money) and wasting space.

Use meal plans

When you plan out your meal menu, you will provide boundaries for yourself. This makes it easier to buy only what you plan to use. You can stay flexible, as noted above, to use bargains, but your list will be complete without room for impulse purchases that are unnecessary and potentially unused.

Eat at home when you can

It is so tempting to just pick something up on busy day after busy day, but remember that groceries go farther. You also have the added benefit of family time, good conversation, and healthier menus.

Junk food costs money

Similarly, snack foods are generally pricy carbs. If you can cut out sugary drinks and pre-packaged snack packs, you will be healthier for drinking water and have more money for good, fresh fruits and vegetables.

Note: Many thanks to multiple family members, far better at this than I am, who contributed ideas to this post!

Meal Planning

Like grocery shopping, meal planning is constantly with us. Whether you plan as you walk in the kitchen or a month out, it has to be done at some point or the hungry hippos will descend!

As I have worked into my own system for our household, I have pondered again how different situations call for different solutions. I have a large upright freezer in the kitchen that is a wonderful resource. I also have easy access to multiple grocery stores. My sister has a small refrigerator and minuscule freezer. We handle the same task differently, and rightly so.

There are even more ways to tackle meal planning than that. We have a wealth of information easy accessible, sometimes too much. But if you take what time you have to sift through a few concepts, then dig deeper into what fits you, and implement in pieces, you can steadily and confidently work into a system and habits that help you and your family.

  • A few minutes on the internet will yield more family meal plans than you could cook in a lifetime. Some are geared toward budget, some toward health, some just to be easy. You can surf and start gathering a set of recipes that your family enjoys and fit your style. Pick and choose from what is available.
    Once you have a small library that works for you, it can be the backbone of your meal plan. You pick what you will be serving any given week and know what groceries to have on hand.
  • Another popular solution abundant online is freezer and slow-cooker meals, where you go on a large grocery trip, then assemble 20 meals at one time. They go in the freezer ready to pull out and go when needed. This can be a great resource, when you have the time to invest on the front end, and is easy to supplement with last-minute meals when that is called for. You have the flexibility to respond to daily needs.
  • Friends or older women in the church who have been prepping family meals for decades are also a great resource. There is a wealth of real-life experience available to you in conversation for the asking.

My personal mode at this point in my life is to stock up on meat (thus the freezer) when it is on sale, buy the produce that is in season and on sale, keep a variety of frozen vegetables on hand for insurance, always have a loaf of bread available (family favorite), and then fill in other menu items as I desire or have available. This ensures I always have meat and vegetables as a base, bread pleases my family, and I still have flexibility to be creative or satisfy a craving around that framework. (Note: I also keep one large lasagna or other casserole in the freezer for emergencies or sick days.)

As I do my daily and weekly planning, I also decide what I will serve for meals — usually 2 or 3 days in advance, subject to change. This means I can pull out any meat needed to thaw first thing in the morning or the night before, because I know what I have planned. I also can pick up a necessary item at the grocery store at my leisure, rather than having to run at the last minute. (Note: Since I prefer planning ahead, I do tend to try to make do with what we have in the pantry, though, even if it means adjusting. It can force creativity sometimes! It also lets me plan for leftovers when I know I will have them, i.e., repurposing mashed potatoes into shepherd’s pie the next day.)

Since my meal planning revolves primarily around meat, it helps to be familiar with a variety of ways to prepare it: roasting, slow-cooking, baking, frying, broiling, simple casseroles, basic toppings and marinades, etc. Having a small arsenal of options allows variety and ease (once you know each method well).

Always stocking ingredients for a couple of “go-to” meals, family favorites that are easy to make, is a good idea. This creates memories (I can tell you mine from growing up because I still make them today!) and can save the day when you realize meal planning didn’t happen, yet it is almost time to eat.

We will dig further into this topic, with a sample menu coming later this week, but for now — Bon Appetit!

 

Your Grocery List

We all do it. Every week. Or more often. (Twice one day, anyone?) The trip to the grocery store is necessary for someone if the family will be eating meals in the future. If you do not have a personal shopper or an online grocery ordering service in your area, this post is for you.

The first step in organization for grocery shopping is fairly obvious: a list. Any list. You may have a notepad in the kitchen where you jot down staples as they occur to you or you run out. That’s a good start. If you are a smart phone user, you can use an app like GroceryIQ to keep track of what you need beforehand and what you have in the cart while you shop. If you do regular meal planning, a shopping list comes out of that effort as well.

However it looks, knowing what you need before you head to the store helps save time thinking about it in the aisles (or a second trip for forgotten items) and helps limit the impulse shopping.

May I suggest an improvement on the basic list? You can save a significant amount of time by planning out your list and your path each trip to get you in and out of the store efficiently. With an initial investment of time, you can design a list that works for you and your preferred store(s).

  1. Head to the grocery store with a pad and paper (or take photos of the aisles and type it up at home). Note each aisle in the center of the store in order, along with the categories of food in them. Then make a list of the outer walls (i.e., produce, deli, bakery, dairy, frozen) in order with frozen at the farthest end. The goal is to start at one end of the center aisles, finish on one side of the store and then walk the edge all the way to the checkout, with ice cream being picked up at the last possible moment without losing the flow. Note: if freezers are in center aisles, start the list at the other side of the store, then do the outer edge as described after the aisles finish in Frozen Foods.
  2. At home, type up your list. Each aisle would be a separate section. After you list the main categories, add in items that you buy regularly, such as Raisin Bran, cheddar cheese, rice. List them in the section in the order they come in the aisle.
  3. At the end of each section, add at least a couple extra lines to write items in.
  4. Format the list in columns (to be easier to read) and to fit on the front and back of one sheet of paper. Depending on your store and volume, you may be able to fit two lists on one sheet and save paper.
  5. Print and have handy in the kitchen. As you need items, circle them. You can note how many you need in the circle. You can write in special items in the proper section. When you are ready to go to the store, your list is ready and organized to go with you. Print more lists as needed or revise and print when the store remodels.

Grocery List Image

When you are at the store, you can walk through the list, aisle by aisle. Pick items up in order down the row. Don’t leave the aisle without a quick check to make sure you have all you needed. You can skip aisles where you have nothing marked — or walk quickly through to get a few more steps in on the Fitbit. Once the shelf-stable items are in the cart, take your final lap around the edge of the store and head to the registers. Voila!