Friday, January 10, 2014
How We Meal Plan
First, let me just say that there are so many women putting meal planning resources online that are much wiser and more experienced than I might ever be. :) However, I've received lots of questions about how we meal plan, and specifically, how we do it on a budget. Peppered in with my thoughts on the topic, you'll notice photos of our yellow kitchen... which won't be yellow much longer!! EEEEK!
I mentioned in my January Goals that we would be hopefully starting our kitchen renovation- after a year of living in our home, we decided it was time to pull the trigger on redoing the countertops and backsplash. I'm excited to share more as this unfolds!
Our grocery budget (as discussed here) is $80 a week. For some, that's a fortune. For others, it's pennies. For us, it evens out to be more than enough most of the time. Every week, usually on Mondays, I head to the store with my envelope full of $80. Whatever is saved sometimes goes into extra savings for special treats. :) Other weeks, I have to dip into next week's money. For the most part though, it works out. Not sure why I'm rambling about our $80 grocery budget.
How do I plan? At the beginning of each week, before my trip to the store, I look at our schedule and determine how many nights I'll need to cook. Some weeks it's four, others it's one. During football season I made one crock pot of soup each week, because Ben arrived home just as I was leaving for bible study. Every other night he had games or we went on our weekly date. It doesn't matter what the number is, but I then choose that same number of recipes to make. I made two lists during this process. One list of the recipes I've chosen for the week, and where they came from. The other list is my actual grocery list. I try to write it down by grocery store department (department? section? whatever!) as I go. I don't really nail down for sure which recipe for each night. For some people that might be totally crazy, but a friend of mine who taught my Sunday School class in high school taught me that way, and it's really worked for us. I do have to think it through every morning in case I need to defrost chicken or meat.. but this also allows us to be really flexible. Depending on the week, I'll also plan a soup or something that can be flexibly made during the weekend, depending on our plans. So essentially, my meal planning isn't really planning, but just making sure our fridge is stocked with ingredients to make several meal options for the week.
What else goes on the grocery list? We buy bulk bagged cereal and keep it in a big glass jar on our kitchen counter. We buy fiber granola bars for me to eat before the gym or if either of us needs a snack. I always make sure we have eggs because Ben likes to eat them for breakfast. I also always keep whole grain bread, and low fat yogurt. And a few fresh fruit options specifically for snacks. Milk. When I make my list, I'll check if we are out of any of these staple items and add them to the list if needed.
What do I NOT buy? Random snacks. Chips. The extra grocery shopping dollars build up when you drift from the list.. so I try REALLY hard not to do that. I've found that when I do drift, it's either on food that ends up going bad or is really unhealthy. So it's basically a loose loose situation. A good example of this is my fall obsession/pumpkin obsession. That's what had me reaching for a box of pumpkin pie pop tarts even though we don't ever eat pop tarts. I got the box home, realized how bad they were, and they haven't been eaten since. Maybe now would be a good time to throw those away from our snack basket in the pantry. :)
What meals do I make to keep the grocery bills low? I LOVE, LOVE, LOOOOOOVE the crock pot. It's my magic machine. I really do feel like I can just throw stuff in and pull out greatness. Last year at a shower I was gifted the Crockin Girls cookbook. Their recipes are truly incredible, and can be found on their website! Ben specifically loves White Chicken Chili, Enchilada Soup,and Chicken and Dumplings. I've made so many of them and we've always been pleased! Another clean, healthy chicken option is buffalo chicken lettuce wraps. Chicken breasts in the pot, with buffalo sauce, sprinkled with a packet of ranch. Served with lettuce. Yum! For guests or other fun occasions, I love recipes from the Pioneer Woman. I want to grow up to be just like her. A lot of times I'll cut out some of the butter/heavy cream that she puts in her stuff.. but these recipes are all crowd pleasers. Cooking from her books gave me confidence in the kitchen. We also love grilling chicken and eating veggies/sweet potato fries. We also don't shy away from the occasional bowl of cereal for dinner. When Ben has games, I try and eat the cheapest thing possible. :) This is my go to chicken recipe.
More recipes can be found on my pinterest board, here. I pin with entertaining in mind, a lot.
How do you plan your meals and grocery shop? Are there any recipe resources I'm missing out on that could change my life? :)
Photos courtesy of Zac and Kaitlin Photography.