Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Meal planning and Cutting Costs, Not Quality

This is the time of year when I know I can save money on groceries because it is time for soups, stews and casseroles. My goal is to do this using seasonal, fresh produce, local meats and food preserved throughout the summer months. My grocery list will supplement what I have at home and purchase through the Farmers Market. My goal is to spend a maximum of $150 a week.

How will I do this?
1) Evaluate contents of your freezer, refrigerator and pantry.
Take a look to see what we need to use and have on hand.

2) Create a meal plan for the week and follow it.
Include all three meals and snacks. Plan to have a special dinner night each week where you try out a new recipe or splurge on a special treat. One of the nicer aspects of meal planning is that you don't have to think about what you are having for dinner each night and you can mix it up if your calendar changes. A helpful planning idea is to designate two nights a week for family favorites, perhaps Taco Tuesdays and Pizza Fridays. Lately, I have been using Pinterest to gather ideas for dinner and then I share my "What's for Dinner?" board with my family and let them choose a couple. To save money, try to incorporate at least two veggie nights each week.

3) Buy produce and meat through CSA or Farmers Market and supplement at grocery store.
Buy more when there is a sale and fill that freezer. This is why you should always check the freezer first before you start planning.

4) Make your own bread.
We easily go through two loaves a week in our house. At almost $5 a loaf, that is $40 a month on bread alone. Imagine how much organic flour you could buy for $40 and honestly, nothing compares to fresh bread. While you are making your bread you can crank out some pizza dough for Pizza Friday and throw it in the freezer! One of my busiest working mom friends even manages to pull this off, read about her reason and a post about a family paradigm shift.

5) Avoid boxes and cans.
A can of organic beans can be close to $3 depending on the type. Buy dried beans, they really are easy to make! Foods that are boxed tend to be processed. You will get more band for your buck going fresh. In addition, most cans tend to bring health concerns with them. Good news: Muir Glen canned tomatoes are now BPA free! There are items that are inescapable, just think before you throw an item into your cart.

6) Buy specialty spices per recipe and grow some basics in a window box.
Salt, pepper, cumin, garlic salt, paprika, cinnamon, basil, oregano, cayenne and chili powder we need in bulk. Others tend to just sit in our pantry and lose their oomph. Rosemary, thyme, oregano and cilantro and very easy to keep year round in a small window herb box. If you support a little coldframe with lettuce, that could save you another $5-10 per week (depending on how many salads you eat).

7) When you buy items in boxes or cans, buy in bulk.
Ask your local grocery store if they will give you a case discount. We go through a lot of yogurt, so I order it by the case and then use the containers for seed starts in the spring.

8) Freeze leftovers.
Lasagna deja vu is leaving your family listless on Day Three? Freeze leftovers after they have been in the fridge for two days. Chances are they will be forgotten and then thrown away after a couple of days, so keep them and use them for a "You Pick" night.

9) Go berry / apple / pear / plum / _______ picking
Head to local farms or to friends' with fruit trees and have a picking fest with your family when fruits are ripe. If you have a reliable freezer, freeze for desserts, smoothies and oatmeal toppers throughout the winter months when seasonal fruit is limited. If you can't freeze reliably, invest in some canning jars and keep that summer freshness all winter long.

10) Make your own jam.
Remember how much bread we consume? We go through a jar every week to week and a half. At $6+ per jar for organic jam, we save a bundle when we pick and then make our own jam. It has a lot less sugar too! This summer I calculated that our homemade jam cost us about $1.85 a pint.

11) Drink more water.
This may sound silly, but it is true! Dilute your juice or just offer water. It is better for our kids to have less sugar and it saves money as well. And please do not buy bottled water, filter your own or drink tap water.

12) Make a crockpot of beans once a week.
Beans are healthy AND inexpensive. This is one of the easiest and cheapest meal supplements you can make to fill in the gaps throughout your week. All it takes is sorting, rinsing, and then pop them in a crockpot with a 2-1 ratio of liquid to beans and let her go on high for 3-4 hours. The taste is significantly better than out of the can and the sodium content is extremely lower. You can use one variety or mix it up. If you really want to save some money, make some garbanzo beans and then make your own hummus. The recipe possibilities are endless and the meals are quick to fix. Good for your heart. Good for your pocketbook. Easy choice.

This is a start and while this is our ideal, we are human and the Good Apple will do just about anything for Stove Top stuffing. It would be ideal to live like Barbara Kingsolver in " Animal, Vegetable, Miracle", but this is within our reach. This will work for us at this time because I am not teaching, so perhaps that is the best way to start. I would love to can my own tomatoes however we live in a climate where it is tricky to grow them and expensive to buy them. We do what we can.

During the summer with my husband's long hours at work, we splurged a little more than we should have and now it is time to get back in gear. When I was teaching, pre-kids, we were spending approximately $1200 a month on food. Yes, just for the two of us. Mind you, we were drinking great wine and eating out a lot; however, now that I am staying home, meal planning has cut our budget by at least a third, we are eating much better meals and more responsibly than before. We are saving at least $75 a month on bread and jam alone! The little cuts here and there really add up when you look over the course of a month or a year.

What is reasonable for your family given the amount of time you have?

Can you list 5 goals to keep your family eating responsible, healthy and affordable meals?
Enlist your kids to help, it is the best gift you can give them.

Buying organic: The Dirty Dozen and The Clean 15
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  1. These are some great tips, especially avoiding boxes and cans. I never thought to phrase it that way, but it is so true! I buy all my beans and rice dried in bags and prepare them myself. Since I cook for an entire month, I love this time of year because soups and chili are the easiest to freeze. Definitely a great time to save some money!

  2. Great post. Now I just need to do more of these things....including eating less food that comes out of cans and boxes. It costs more and has less taste.

  3. Fantastic tips here! Thanks for sharing... I like the idea of making your own bread. We go through 2 or 3 loaves per week here too. Great money saving tip!


  4. Love these tips! Like you, I'd love to eat like Barbara Kingsolver, but it's just not realistic for our family (or many others, I imagine). I think if we all did a wee bit, then a whole lot of good would come of it.

    I would add shop the outside edges of the grocery store and avoid going up and down each aisle.

  5. Fantastic resource! I think one of the hardest arguments I have had with my husband is the cost of eating healthy. This is a great reminder that you CAN eat healthy on a budget.


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