As we started this No-Spend Month and a new year, I wanted to be more mindful about planning menus for the week, using food that we have in the house, and sticking to a grocery budget. While the planning takes a little longer (especially with interruptions from my daughter who needed help with downloading a game on the tablet and the dog who seems to want out more often when the weather is bad ;)), last week I only had to go to the store once, saving me time in the long run. Typically it’s not uncommon to make two or more trips a week because something ran out, I forgot something, or simply didn’t plan for the whole week and needed more ingredients for certain recipes.
I thought it might be helpful to some of you to share how I’m planning menus and my grocery list, but before I do, here are a few things that I don’t currently do:
- I do NOT plan a month at a time. I like to plan just a week. It’s manageable, I can check ads and coupons, plan around what I have, and also make meals based on what I’m in the mood for. Living in Nebraska means that the weather changes a lot, and the weather affects what we’re in the mood for quite a bit!
- I do NOT extreme coupon. Not that I don’t have an interest and I do check for deals, but a lot of what I buy isn’t usually on a coupon, and this would add to the time it takes me to plan.
- I do NOT have a rotating/repeating menu. While I have my favorites, I like to also try new things and as I mentioned before, change meals with the season.
- To help stay on track with our budget and to help our school/church in the process, I purchase Scrip gift cards on payday weeks. With Scrip we’re able to buy gift cards for grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, etc., and a portion of the proceeds come back to the school. I spend the same amount of money, but get to “give back” at the same time. It can also work similar to an envelope system, and when the gift card is up, the grocery money is gone for that week or two, and we can no longer purchase groceries until the next week.
- If I’m able to purchase a Bountiful Basket when they’re available (every-other-week), I do so and wait to plan my menu to see what I have for produce so that I can create meals around that. I’m able to get produce (and organic produce), as well as loaves of organic bread, cheaper than in the store, and the variety keeps things interesting. I’ve gotten things I never would have bought on my own, which has allowed us to try new foods and new recipes.
- I take an inventory of what’s in the pantry, fridge and freezers, including my Bountiful Basket produce, and try to build meals from that to use up what we have. The more I do that, the less I have to buy at the store, the less the grocery trips cost, and the less waste we have.
- I plan my meals for the week based on what we have, using recipes in my collection and searching Pinterest. If I have specific ingredients that I’ve rarely or never cooked with, Pinterest is a great resource for finding recipes to try. Often I can find recipes that utilize multiple things I have on hand. For example, one week we got pomegranates and persimmon in our Bountiful Baskets. I found a recipe with both fruits and I just had to get ricotta and lettuce. I had the same happen one week that we got watercress and beets. I made a salad with them and hard-boiled eggs, and had the ingredients already to make the dressing. In the past I never cooked with cuts of deer meat other than ground venison because I wasn’t sure how to. My husband hunts and when he gets a deer, we wind up with a lot of meat in the freezer. Making an effort to use what we have has taught me how to use those other cuts (like tenderloin), and we’ve found some recipes that we really like. When planning meals I make a plan for lunch and dinner, because I send lunches with my husband and daughter most days, and feed the daycare kids at the house. Even if it’s a simple sandwich I need to know what I’m making so that I am sure to have all the ingredients that I need. Sometimes I’m able to use one meal two or more times which helps a lot. I consider what activities are going on each day so that I have more free time to make the meals that require more time to prepare, and I estimate how far a recipe will go and if we can use it for more than one meal.
- As I decide on a recipe, I make a list of the ingredients that I need to buy and I pin the recipe so that I can find it later. (Often I’ll print it and put it on my menu board so it’s available that week, but currently I need ink and can’t print so I rely on Pinterest.)
- Once my list is made, I search CouponMom.com for deals/coupons, as well as Ibotta, Checkout 51 and my Hy Vee app (if that’s where I’ll be shopping). The Hy Vee store deals come up on CouponMom, but I also have their gas reward card and they offer special digital coupons for reward customers, so I check that. Unless there’s a good deal (rock-bottom pricing) for something I regularly buy that I feel I should take advantage of, I don’t buy anything that’s not on my list just because there’s a deal or coupon for it, especially if it’s perishable.