Two of my goals for this year were to make more food from scratch and to save money. I've had encouraging success with both goals over the past two months, and I owe it all to meal planning. I've read so many blog posts about wonderful stay-at-home-mums who save a bajillion dollars by making month long meal plans and hoarding coupons and grinding their own flour, all while homeschooling and bicycling and gardening and sewing all their clothes from upcycled organic cotton. Honestly, I feel defeated in the face of these women's incredible efforts. As much as I'd like to emulate the enthusiasm and discipline of the hippie super mamas, I know my limits. I had to come up with a method that worked for my family and allowed considerably more lazy internet browsing time.
Here are my basics. I hope they help you find realistic inspiration!
The notions bag I got at our knitting group's holiday party has already come in handy! I knew it would!
I plan our meals weekly. Every Friday I sit down for 20-40 minutes with the grocery flyer and the contents of my fridge, pantry, and freezers to come up with seven days worth of lunches and dinners. I make sure easy meals are planned for busy nights and Jake-friendly cooking is planned on nights I'll be out. I ask if there's anything the family hopes to see on the schedule and include requests if at all possible. My main goals are:
- Use all perishables before they go bad so no food is wasted.
- Plan purchases around the meat and produce that is on sale or earns extra loyalty points. This cuts the food budget down considerably and encourages creativity.
- Make sure our diet is varied, healthy, and delicious, with lots of fresh veggies and as few processed or ready-made foods as possible.
- Try new recipes and flavours. I knew I was pinning tasty things on Pinterest for a reason!
Because I know what's for dinner ahead of time, the rush and stress is gone from cooking. I am much less likely to make "put all the things in the fridge in a sauce over pasta or rice" on tired nights when inspiration refuses to strike. We order less takeout. Produce doesn't rot. Cooking is fun again. Jake's lunches are planned ahead of time (and are usually based around the previous night's dinner) so I can pack them up at night, saving money that he would otherwise spend on fast food. Knowing what's for dinner ahead of time also allows me to make things from scratch - If I know I need tortillas I can allot an extra half hour to roll and cook them.
I use a few tools to keep track of things and I thought they might help you too:
- Pepperplate app: this awesome free app stores recipes and has a monthly calendar for meal planning. The in-app shopping list allows you to move easily between your calendar and recipes for efficient grocery planning. It has timers you can use while cooking, and can multiply your recipes for you (so you never double the baking soda but not the flour ever again. Yuck). The interface is sleek and intuitive, and the same account can be synced to multiple devices so you can send your partner to shop, or plan on your PC but use your phone as a shopping list. Love it.
- Mint.com app: I use this free budgeting app to track all my finances. I just checked now - before meal planning we spent $550-$725 monthly on food to feed a family of three (including restaurants, fast food, coffee shops, alcohol, everything). This month we have eaten better food and will be spending less than $400. I think we'll continue to spend even less as I gain more experience and self control. I'd love to get it to $300.
- PC Plus app: this is only relevant to you if you do your groceries at a President's Choice affiliated store (we go to Real Canadian Superstore). Their points program follows what you regularly buy and offers you points based on those items. It's a little hit and miss (no, Superstore, I will never buy crackers stop trying to make me) but still useful. If you're going to buy potatoes anyway, and they want to give you extra points, plan two meals with them instead of one and save a little money!
- Pinterest: I know, Pinterest is a giant time suck full of ridiculous, impractical hot glue projects, Taylor Swift quotes, wedding dresses, and obnoxious thinspo photos. It's also a Mecca of craft inspiration and delicious recipes, depending on who you follow. I follow some amazing boards and I've tried several delicious recipes. Check the blog sidebar if you want to follow me or check out my friends. I haven't seen a thinspo image or a popsicle stick craft on Pinterest for months, all because I carefully curate the boards I follow. Don't knock it unless you've really tried it.
- Costco: if you stay away from name brands, don't overbuy, and watch for sales, Costco is an amazing resource. I pay $13 for 20 kg of flour and store it carefully in sealed buckets at home. Suddenly, baking bread is actually cheap. Large cuts of meat (I'm looking at you, 4kg pork loin) that you can cut and freeze can be a great deal too. My amazing local fair trade coffee company costs less than half the grocery store price, making it actually reasonable. Grain free cat food with an excellent ingredient list costs barely more than WalMart Purina and might save you a fortune in vet bills. As always, beware good deals on things you don't need. The membership costs money, but you can split it with a friend or family member and shop together.
Well, that's all I can think of today - I'd love to hear from you! Do you plan meals? What are your favourite recipe sites? Are you an amazing couponing flourgrinding home sewing organic super mama with the secret to how you can do all the things in only 24 hours a day? (Is it amphetamines?) Tell me!