one thing i believe we all have control over is how we spend our money. how we spend our money, for the most part, can allow us or prevent us from living our precious lives to the fullest. another thing i believe in is food. good food shared with others. often times, when the topic of good food is brought up, people find it hard to believe that the nutritious meal in front of them is affordable. but i promise you, it can be.
a lot of you have asked how i provide good food for my family at such an inexpensive cost. simply put- i plan. although i am not an expert by any means, i want to share my form of meal planning with you. let's begin.
1. set a budget.
our family spends $75 a week. when we first began meal planning a little over three years ago, we spent a bit more. over the years, though, we have found ways to cut costs. i know our budget will increase as we add little ones, but for now we spend at most $300 a month.
i want to mention a few disclaimers before you get the idea that we are starving- we don't eat all organic. we purchase as many organic fruits & vegetables as we can, but at this time our budget doesn't allow for us to eat exclusively organic. additionally, we have chickens who provide for our daily eggs. lastly, we farm & grow a large amount of our own food. this saves us huge amounts of money. we have a freezer full of beef & pork from the farm & we grow vegetables year 'round in our backyard garden.
2. assess what you do have.
before i ever begin to plan out our meals, i thoroughly search our fridge, pantry and cupboards for foods that might make the perfect ingredients for a healthy meal. those two carrots? perfect for a vegetable soup. the extra black beans from this week? delicious on a tortilla with salsa for lunch. i also like to know if we have items, like milk, that we need to use before it expires. i hate to waste food so this speaks to my frugal spirit.
3. check your schedule
my sweetie & i always discuss our schedule before i ever begin planning our meals. if i know we have a commitment on a particular evening or that day looks to be extra busy, i will plan an easy meal such as frozen soup or prepare something in the crock pot the morning of.
additionally, there's nothing more frustrating than not communicating with your family and realizing you are hosting a guest that evening or expected to bring a dish to an event after you do your grocery shopping for the week. the extra planning doesn't seem as worthwhile if you're visiting the grocery store once again.
4. plan your menu
using as much of what you have already on hand in your fridge & pantry, plan your menu. some plan for the entire month, but i like the creative rhythm of planning our menus every week. i usually plan my meals on sunday & grocery shop before work on monday.
when i am planning, i gather my favorite cookbooks (here, here and here), my meal plan notepad, my grocery list, and my family planner. i map out our week, including evening events, and write them on my meal plan. i then choose seasonal, healthy recipes that create a balanced meal with few ingredients. i write those recipes on my meal plan along with their source & page number. i also write notes such as "thaw soup" or "put beans in crock pot morning of" on each corresponding day. these simple reminders prevent me from forgetting a key ingredient in our meal before the flurry of dinner preparations begin.
just a note- i only plan dinner on our meal plan & always make extra as leftovers for lunch.
5. leave prepared
there's nothing i dislike more than planning my menu & grocery shopping the same day. it's exhausting & leaves me cranky. like i said before, i like to plan my menu slowly on sunday & leave for the grocery store early on monday morning before work, refreshed & fully nourished from breakfast.
i always take reusable bags. my local food co-op gives 5 cents for every reusable bag used & it's nice to know i'm not filling a landfill with plastic bags. you can pick up a reusable bag at most thrift shops & second-hand stores.
i also always bring my grocery list & calculator. turn around right away & go back home if you forget those two items. if you forget these two items, it will prevent you from getting everything you need & keeping you on budget. in my case, i use my phone as a calculator. every time i add something to my cart, i take a moment to punch it into my calculator. i keep a running total as i cross each item off the list. this keeps me from splurging on delicious coconut ice cream if i don't have it in the budget. it's a nice reward to know i have an extra $4 in my budget once my grocery list is complete & everything is added up to grab that sweet treat. you know exactly how to spend your money when you keep a watchful eye on where it's going.
i thought it might be of some interest to you to know what i purchase each week with $75 & a sample of my menu plan. the above photo shows the groceries i purchased the week of valentine's day (not shown are bulk chia seeds). i spent $50 on this load with $25 to spare for our special valentine's day meal & wine.
here is my menu plan for this week:
monday- (make garbanzo beans for lunches) brussels sprouts with dried cranberries & goat cheese over brown rice (pinterest)
tuesday- small group / veggie burgers and roasted sweet potato bites
wednesday- white bean and tomato mushroom soup (whole living) with mini ciabatta rolls
thursday- (thaw chili) long work day for natalie / frozen chili with homemade cornbread and salad
friday & saturday- natalie is out of town / luke's choice
sunday- leftover sunday!
here are a few affordable, whole foods recipes i really love: black bean sweet potato burritos, white bean & mushroom stew, and buttermilk biscuits.
& finally- some tips to answer any questions you might have:
- always write down foods as you run out of them. we keep a market list on our fridge that we add to daily. this saves me a lot of time when i am planning & trying to remember everything that we might have run out of the week before.
- shop seasonally & preserve. we just ran out of our black cherries, peaches & strawberries from this summer's bounty. preserving food, whether it be canning, freezing or drying, saves our family so much money. i usually spend a large part of my summer preserving fresh foods for the winter. i not only enjoy it, but i also find satisfaction in pulling out that bag of frozen green peppers from the freezer for a stew & opening up that delicious jar of sweet applesauce for breakfast. make a mental note of the foods your family enjoys most & keep an eye out for those items at your local farmers' market. they are usually the cheapest & most delicious at the peak of their season. buy more than you usually would & preserve the extra.
- never forget the power of leftovers as another meal. we often thaw soup, stews & chili for a quick meal. i also like to use leftovers from the previous night's dinner for lunches & dinner the next day. i will use extra black beans from one night's taco salad for tomorrow night's vegetable fajitas. tonight's roasted sweet potatoes are a great addition to tomorrow's soup. whole ingredients are affordable & very versatile.
- avoid pre-packaged food. you have the time, i promise. you will save so much money purchasing a large container of plain yogurt & filling small jars for lunches & quick snacks. top with frozen fruit & you have a delicious treat. i never, ever buy individual packages of pretzels, raisins, etc. i always buy the large package & quickly toss whatever snack food in a bag or to-go container before heading out the door.
i hope this was helpful in easing the stress of balancing health & our budgets. please don't hesitate to ask any questions you might have. i am not an expert, but i truly love sharing what i do know with you.
also, if you have any great ideas for meal planning, i would love to hear them! there's always more room for improvement!