Friday, May 11, 2012

Menu Planning

This year we have made a very big priority of staying on budget, particularly for household things like food, supplies, clothing, and toiletries. We don't feel like a cash system works well for us but we did open a separate bank account for household and at the beginning of each month the budget amount for all those categories is automatically deposited in the account. So, it's up to me to make sure that bank account doesn't empty before the month is up!!! I carry around a tiny notebook in my purse to keep a running balance of all our categories. So far things are working and I've stayed in budget! This amounts to a savings of $200/per month this year in the grocery budget alone! I'm very excited.

The not so exciting part is the work it takes to make this happen. For me that means making a month's worth of meal plans before I begin shopping each month. I find this difficult and uninspiring. I also find some of the basic meals I come up with not to be quite the joy to eat that I would like them to me. Fortunately, it seems the rest of the family is very happy and they don't care. Here are some of the things I take into account with my meal planning:

--I don't usually plan out Sundays in advance but do plan to have special meals that include large pieces of meat or extra side dishes, dessert for sure. This leaves room for creativity on the weekend.
--we always eat some form of eggs for dinner on Saturday night, usually crustless quiche with homemade oven fries and some vegetables
--that leaves me only 5 dinners to plan each week
--I try to make a note of what is in the freezer and include as many meals as possible based on what I've stored away
--I spread out meals that have a higher cost so they aren't all in the same week
--I also plan out breakfasts, lunches, and snacks because otherwise we end up eating only cereal, cheese sandwiches, and apples and no one wants to eat that day in and day out
--I give myself freedom to deviate from the plan if leftovers materialize, a great sale shows up, or I just can't bring myself to cook what I've planned
--I do a large shop at the beginning of the month at Costco and Trader Joe's to purchase everything I will need from these two stores in the month ahead. The rest of the month I go to Aldi to get fruit, vegetables and other basic staples. I make a few side trips to Meijer to get things Aldi does not carry. I try to purchase meat on sale and stock up, ideally having most meat for the coming month in the freezer before I even make a menu plan. Only very rarely do I end up buying meat for the current week in the very week I need it.
--I keep a few luxury items in stock so that I don't feel things are overly boring: these include a case of black olives and some nice jams, chocolate chips, and plenty of tea.
--fresh herbs added to "boring" meals make a big difference

Here are some lists of things I have included on my recent menus:

Cold Cereal
Plain yogurt with maple syrup and granola
Egg McMuffins
Eggs in Tortillas
Scrambled Eggs
Baked Oatmeal
Homemade Instant Oatmeal
Leftovers: muffins, pumpkin pie, whatever

Baked Potatoes with Cottage Cheese
Black beans and rice
Cheese Melts with Tomato Soup
Cheese Sandwiches
Refried Bean Burritos
Cottage cheese with toast

Crackers and Cheese
Toast and Milk
Nuts and Raisins
Apples and Peanut Butter

Thai Stir Fry
Beans and Rice with Taco Toppings
Grilled Pork Chops
Pork in Crockpot
Pork and Pasta
Grilled Chicken Salad
Baked Chicken
Pork Burgers
Grilled Chicken
Rarebit Chicken
Sloppy Joes
Pasta Salad with Cottage Cheese
Chili Potatoes
Soups (in winter)
Crockpot Chicken (curry or bbq)
Brats and Mash
Chicken Potpie
Sausage and fennel with beans
Tamali Pie
Turkey Burgers
Various forms of stir fry
White Chicken Chili

I am always on the lookout for new meals to try! I make lists from the food magazines I receive and try to include them in the next month's menus.

And now I must go down and get something started for lunch. Beans and Rice is out and I think we'll have french toast instead.

PS: Just a word about menu planning, budget keeping, etc. These kinds of things go in cycles in our lives -- sometimes we must budget very tightly, sometimes we don't need to worry. The important thing is to do what is best for your family. When Laura was so sick and life was very overwhelming, I couldn't stick to our budget very well. I shopped only at Meijer and we ate more variety. I didn't have the emotional energy it takes to exercise "will power" and confine my purchases and eating so tightly. Things are different right now. Who knows what they will be like a year from now. So, if you have to budget tightly, more power to you. If you don't have to budget and can eat whatever you like, more power to you too. Having food and raiment, let us therefore be content........


Lovella ♥ said...

Heather you are such a good homemaker. I remember back when our children were small and budgeting the groceries was not an option. I find that I am guilty of waste and thankful for our kids that I can send home leftovers that the two of us are not eager to eat anymore. I'm thankful for my son who is eager to take a frozen entree to work.

One thing that I find easy but only because we are adults is that we eat the same thing most lunchtimes. We eat a couple of eggs and then cottage cheese and peaches. Breakfast is also rather routine...whole wheat toast and yogurt with muesli.
I'm impressed by your menu.

Ruth MacC said...

That is a brilliant post. Very, very very well done Heather.

Laura said...

terrific blog.. so helpful.. such good info..thanks :).. you have inspired me,because I am about to be on a very tight budget.. will be asking for help on food planing.. :)... I raised you well :).. you are now teaching your mom.. love it!!!!