Since moving into the trailer, and living within the realities of veteran unemployment, I have to say that far more money has gone out of our savings than has come close to going in. Some of this is to be expected, as it costs some money to set up this season of life that we are beginning, but when it comes to food and incurring costs for it, I think that we can do better.
Frugal Meal Planning: A “How To” 101 + My Plan This Week
I have always been drawn to some level of minimalism and simplicity, so having a food budget that I consider to be reasonable has continued to fall within the realm of that portion of myself. I am not a fan of spending lots of money, especially when it comes to the necessities.
My monthly food budget goal for our family of 8 is under $600 a month. I know this will be tricky, but I am hopeful that the Lord will continue to help and refine my efforts, shaving back areas that were less than cost-effective in our practices. Want to join me on my journey?
Some ground rules that I am trying to utilize are that:
1. Simple meals that do not require more than about 20 minutes of standing/prep time.
2. Edible for the whole family (I have one child who is gluten-free, and another with a dairy sensitivity)
3. Do not require a lot of expensive ingredients (for us, beef is a rarity because it is much more expensive than poultry, but we do try to sneak it in occasionally, if the budget allows. If I can afford organic items, I will get them, but if not, we have to just leave it in the Lord’s hands…some things are just out of our control)
4. Use whole foods for the ingredients and not processed items.
5. Not buying much more than is needed, unless the cost outweighs the volume (if it is far cheaper to buy larger, I will surely do so).
6. Re-use/re-purpose foods as much as possible, such as saving any chicken juices for future soups/broths, and or using left over mashed potatoes/oatmeal for morning pancakes…don’t knock it ’til you try it =0) (in my opinion, re-using leftovers for a totally new dish is a lost art from our grandparent’s generation. It is my goal to continue such kitchen wisdom!)
I know that many of the blog readers are also Trim Healthy Mama followers. If you are such a person, I believe that most, if not all, of the meals I plan out will fit within THM parameters, at the most with a few tweaks. If you have any questions for adapting a recipe, just comment and let me know =0)
Meal Planning 101
In order to help ensure that meals stay on track and our budget remains in tact (as best as we can), I have continued the time proven method of budgeting consistency: meal planning.
If you have never meal planned before, you are in for a treat. It is really not as difficult as it might seem. You do not need any fancy equipment, specialty designed software, or prefabbed files to successfully plan out your meals, for whatever length of time you desire. I am sticking with one week at a time for now (since I ONLY have refrigerator/freezer space for that amount of food…I hope), but I have planned and shopped for up to a month at a time. Customize to your heart’s desire =0)
Here’s what I did:
1. Pulled out my old trusty spiral-bound notebook. As much as I love my iPad and iPhone, they are no match for my old notebook and fine point pen, or mechanical pencil. I just seem to think more clearly with pen and paper.
2. Wrote down each day of the week in its own section of the paper and listed B (breakfast), L (lunch), and D (dinner) underneath.
3. Opened up my Evernote app, which contains my hundreds of recipes collected throughout the years. This is my preferred recipe location, but if you have special cookbooks you love, start there.
4. Began filling in the meals that generally do not change much. For us this would be our breakfast and lunch options (I will list these below).
5. Once pre-determined meals were filled in, I simply began to plug in other meals that I thought would be either a) cost-effective since I already have a good amount of the ingredients, or b) simple and easy to make, since I do not want to worry about spending a lot of time in the kitchen if I can help it. Since “frugal” is the word of the season, I stuck with recipes that I found through other frugal-minded sites/posts…this helps so much!
And, voila! A meal plan! =0)
Once you give it a try a few times, you will get the hang of it and soon enough you’ll be a meal planning star!
Now, though, comes the hard part…sticking with the plan. We can do it!
This Week’s Frugal Meal Plan
– cereal (1 day)
– soaked oatmeal (2 days)
– Eggs with toast/fruit (2 days)
– Potato Pancakes (1 day…made from leftover mashed potatoes)
– Breakfast Cake of choice (1 day…this week it will be fudgy coconut brownies)
– Snack Lunch (2 days…gathering of various easy to grab snack items: nuts/seeds, string cheese, crackers/pretzels, carrots/celery, apple/banana slices, etc.)
– Tuna Wraps w/ apple slices (1 day)
– Tuna salad
– Hard-boiled eggs w/ bread slice & veggies
– Left-overs from dinner
– Yogurt Smoothie
– Vegetarian Chili over Rice (made from dry beans)
– Baked Herb Chicken w/ Steamed Broccoli and Mashed Potatoes
– Garlic Chicken w/ GF Spaghetti and Peas (using up the pantry/freezer items)
– Chili Cheese Lentils over Rice
– Kale & White Bean Soup w/ rolls/crackers
– Red Beans & Rice w/ steamed veggies
– Black Beans & Rice with sautéed cabbage
I decided to do my shopping at Walmart, since the majority of us have a Walmart nearby and the prices are comparative to one another. This week I am thankful that I had several key components of my meal plan in the pantry already (rice, beans, chicken in the freezer, etc). This week’s grocery purchase amounted to less than $70!
I could not find nitrate/nitrite free turkey bacon, which a few of my recipes call for, so I will simply be removing those ingredients from the meals. I also could not find dairy free cheese shreds at Walmart, so I will have to adjust the amount I use for what I presently have to make sure it lasts for whatever recipes call for cheese.