>Meal Planning

>I’m not good, but I’ve had good intentions to get back here and write some more about cooking and the fun I’ve been having in the kitchen. Life has gotten a bit crazy these past several months, but here I am posting again.

A handful of people have asked me how I go about meal planning and staying within my food budget for our family of five. (Really 4 1/2 since Cora doesn’t eat much yet.) I’m going to try to explain my method here. It might get long, so please be patient with me.

  • I budget $500 each month to spend on groceries. This does include things like soap, toothpaste, paper towels and so forth. Also, some weeks I give in a bit too much to my foodie tendencies or make an unexpected trip to Trader Joe’s. Therefore we do go over occasionally. I try to adjust the next time around by planning more frugal meals (which I will cover in a bit). Amazingly enough, there are some weeks that we actually have a few dollars left over when the next paycheck comes in.
  • Before making my menu list, I check out the sales online. (To see the ones for Kroger, click on the link below and then click on Weekly Ads.) I grocery shop mainly at two stores–Kroger and Earth Fare. I also get certain bulk items at our local co-op and buy wheat for our bread at a local bakery/general store. I know the prices on most of my basic pantry items and if I have to stop at more stores and unfamiliar ones at that, it becomes not worth my time. Since I shop at Target for sundries, I will also buy certain food items there. I make a short list or a mental note (although the short list is much more reliable, as I have Mommy Brain) of the items that I use and like and that are on sale. This takes 5-10 minutes at the most.
  • I like to use old school paper to make my meal plans. I’ve used the computer, designed forms with the date and a place to write special notes, but when it comes down to it, a simple lined notebook works best for me. I try to write out about 15 meal ideas–and this generally means the main entree, not all the sides–at once. Then I choose a week’s worth to shop for and make the basic list of perishables for the second week. (This is simply because we get paid twice a month.) So. . .
  • Armed with my list from the sale ads and my recipe box or a cookbook or two or three I get started. Often I ask for requests from my boys (big and little). I write down the recipe with the page number and an abbreviation of the cookbook title on the left and the items that I need to make it on the right. I do this until I have 15 main entrees. Sometimes I add in the sides if they are something that we don’t have regularly. Then I go back and pick the first week’s worth of menus. I try to base this on my calendar and what’s going on. For example, Thursday late afternoon the boys have dance class. When I’m the one to take them, I try to plan a crockpot meal for that day.
  • Next step is The Grocery List. I use the right column of the list of menus to start it. I use the next page in the notebook for The Grocery List. I have a space for Kroger, Earth Fare, and Target. (I add others when necessary.) I attempt to write my list in order of the path I take in each particular store. This has really helped to save me from backtracking while at the store. If the 2nd week’s menu list has any non-perishable items, I often go ahead and purchase them so the grocery trip the following week is considerably shorter.
  • Now I still have some items that are missing from my list. During the week, when I use the last of a pantry item, I add it to the list that we keep on the kitchen whiteboard. So I take The Grocery List to the kitchen, open the pantry, check for any items that didn’t make it on the whiteboard, and add them. Then I copy the whiteboard list onto The Grocery List, fitting each item in store order.
  • The hardest part of this is sticking, not to The Grocery List. I don’t have a problem with sticking to that list. It is the final Menu list. Some days I get involved in a project. It gets to be 4, 5, sometimes 6 p.m. and I scour the menu for the easiest thing. Next day we all go out on a late afternoon errand together, I come home and scour the menu for the easiest thing. Next day comes and there are no more ready-in-15-minute meals left on the list, so we have sandwiches or déjà-vu food. But all in all it works.

I’ll take and add some pictures tomorrow. If you’re like me, it’s nice to have a visual–or two–or three. . .


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