Meals on a Budget and How to Plan

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I have started writing down my triumphs and errors in shopping and meal planning. It isn’t always easy. There’s a lot to take into account. One of the biggest things I’ve learned, don’t shop with your husband. 🙂

 

What are some of the best ways to shop on a budget?

  • Don’t shop hungry: This is a common mistake I make. I get moving, get the kids ready and out the door… and while I shop the aisles I realize I forgot to eat breakfast. My cart fills up with useless crap because I let my stomach try to tell me what we need.
  • Compare Ads: We get some great ads in the mail. I will sit down and compare the deals. Better coupons here? Better Friday deals there? Pick your plan of attack. Cut out your coupons and create a list to follow at that particular store. Shop more than one store, if you can. I will save part of my shopping trip for later in the week if it means better deals on the horizon.
  • Buy in Bulk: Seriously, best idea ever. I love that wonderful place called Costco. We get a majority of our meats and produce there. Eggs come by the two dozen and they are free range organic. Bananas are something we go through quickly. We can buy two large bundles and I like to peel and freeze as many as I can for smoothies. Bulk up on milk, yogurt, coffee, big bags of spinach, meats….
  • Make your list and STICK TO IT: I am guilty of becoming sidetracked. Oh the samples, look at that pretty packaging, I wonder what I can make with this, what is THAT? Don’t fall for it. Stick to what you have planned and go for it.
  • PRESHOP: This has become my secret weapon. Every month we create a budget for our groceries, among other categories of life. My job is to stick to this budget with little to no error. No, I’m not always fabulous at staying within the lines, but I do a pretty decent job. When I am curious how expensive a trip will run, I plug the groceries into the online shopping cart to get an idea. It’s great to do when I’m cutting it close to the limit. If I go over, I can deduct what items aren’t necessary. Speaking of which…
  • What isn’t needed? Cut out the crap. Juice? Not necessary. It is a treat to have juice in our house. Our girls stick with water mostly, with milk sometimes. We don’t binge on chips or candy, all things that can easily run up your tab if you aren’t careful. Energy drinks? Ew. Soda? Nope.
  • Pick the cheaper cut: Choose flank over skirt steak. Don’t buy pre-marinaded meats. Thaw your own! I’ve noticed I can buy frozen seafood for less money than the store thawed version. I love fresh, but it isn’t always available. Might as well buy frozen. More for your buck and can last longer.
  • Bought a million peppers. Now what? I will go to Costco and get 6-8 belle peppers in a package. Or onions! Pre cut, separate out, and put into bags. I have a large freezer in the garage that I place my stash into. I love dicing and slicing. Pre-made bags for omelettes, stir fry, etc. A variety of cuts help.
  • Stretch your ingredients: If I buy fresh herbs, I make sure it is herbs that I can use through the week for different meals. Thyme? Perfect for chicken and fish. Cilantro? Awesome for any mexican food. Blend together herbs for sauces. Freeze them in ice cube trays so you can add them to a hot dish as needed while cooking. If I know I will have some onion in my rice, I’ll use the other half for a stir fry or soup.
  • Make your own: While I do love the convenience of store bought broth, I like making my own. Bone broth is easy to make with your bone and veggie scraps. Maybe you will find a post on that soon since it’s about time for me to make some.

How do you plan your meals? 

When planning meals for the week I take a few things into account:

Weather: Is it going to be snowing and frigid? Maybe a yummy crock pot soup is in order. Is the weather insanely hot with record highs? Looks like the husband will be grilling with an easy light side dish or two to help you stay cool.

Theme: Is there a trend going on in my planning? Taco Tuesday? Leftover Wednesdays? Is Monday the day one of your kids pick what they would like to have?

What is on sale? I will pick what we are having based on what I can pull from the freezer and have thawed in time. I will also pick our meals based on what is a good deal at the store.

Stretch your ingredients: Can I make a large amount of sauteed chard one night to go into a scramble the next day? Can I use that cauliflower rice in a stir fry tomorrow? How can we finish this loaf of bread? Leftover chicken or steak can turn into a french dip or taco salad. Tortillas leftover? Make breakfast burritos!

How much time do you have? Believe it or not, as a stay at home I have some days that are busier than others. Am I watching children beyond my own? Is there a play date? A game that will creep into cook time? I won’t plan something elaborate if it’s a long day. I will throw things in the crock pot or take advantage of things I have prepped the day before.

Create your menu: I usually go by a list of what is planned for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Often times to cut corners I will have pb&j on standby for lunches when we didn’t cook enough for leftovers. I love having a visual to refer to. I will see if there are ingredients that can be found in common in the menu to help steer where the bulk buying may help.

Don’t be afraid to get creative! I love playing with our food. You never know what you can come up with. I have some extra bacon, why not wrap the chicken with it? Should we throw some of these lemons in the chicken? This avocado ripened quicker than planned, maybe a yummy dressing can be made? You never know what will limit you until you try. And I have a secret to share: food is for fun. It is indeed limitless. 🙂

 

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