The single most effective tool for feeding your family on a budget is Meal Planning.
It will be most helpful to plan your menus according to your shopping patterns. If you do a big grocery shopping trip every week, write a meal schedule for one week at a time. Because I do the bulk of my shopping once a month, I map out a month at a time. Microsoft Publisher creates calendar pages with nice big boxes. I initially tried using a wall calendar – that gentle reminder we get free from the local funeral parlor each year – but I prefer the plain copy paper because I can write on it with a mechanical pencil, erasing and making changes frequently as I organize the meals. Using a printed calendar on plain paper also allows me to keep the calendar pages in my household Binder, so I can look over previous months when I need inspiration.
Before I start thinking about meals, I prepare the calendar by writing in any work or school schedules that will affect meals. My college student has several evening classes, so I know he will need a packed supper or an early one. If I am hosting or attending a dinner party or other food-centered event, I add it to my calendar. Outside activities sometimes require “quick” meals. If I am going to be out in the afternoon, I have to plan a meal that can be put together and cooked quickly upon my return or one that can be prepared ahead of time.
A little wifely note here: I try to schedule cooking so that even if we are not actually eating until later, the house smells like dinner when DH arrives home from work. Kind of a silly idea, but it makes him enjoy walking in the door. Bread and garlic are especially good for this purpose. 🙂
So after you have pencilled in your activities, you need to stock of your resources. Look in the refrigerator first. Is there any take produce that needs to be used up? Celery getting limp? Make soup or chow mein soon. Ground beef in there? Schedule chili or spaghetti ASAP. Sour milk? Plan pancakes or muffins or biscuits to use it up. Leftovers? Make soup or put it in Hubby’s lunch. Wasting food by allowing it to go bad is NOT frugal. Then check the freezer and pantry. At this point, you are surfing for “free” meals. They are not really free, of course, since you did invest in that food already, but each meal you can create from the stock-on-hand is one less meal you have to purchase on this trip.
The next step is to do some virtual shopping. Hopefully, you have the current sales ads for your local grocery stores tucked inside your coupon binder. Pull them out and see what items are on sale. Most grocery stores are online now, too. At this point, for menu planning, you don’t really need to think about stocking up on the big bargains. You can do that later, when you build your grocery shopping list. For now, just consider meals for this month (or week or whatever time period you are charting.)
Finally, you are ready to plan meals!
More on this tomorrow…