Excerpt from Chapter One
Organization is the key to saving money in many areas of your budget, and this is especially true in the kitchen. Before you set foot in the grocery store, it pays to have a plan. A weekly menu and grocery list are a great place to start.
Organized and efficient shopping starts with a menu plan. Don't let a lack of time get in the way of sitting down to write out a plan. Once you get organized, it takes just a few minutes and ends up saving you loads of time (and money) in the long run. Additionally, you'll be able to offer meals with better nutritional value to your family.
You'll see that many of these general shopping tips will be expanded upon later in the book—we'll just start with the big picture and work our way toward the details.
Start simply so you won't be intimidated by the process.
If compiling an entire week's worth of menus seems like too daunting a task, aim for three or four. You'll be inspired by your success and want to build on it.
First, decide how often you want to visit the grocery store.
A weekly menu plan works well for most families because you will always have fresh produce and you'll be able to take advantage of weekly grocery store sales. (Refer to the weekly menu planning worksheet on page 6.) By making only one trip to the store each week, you're saving time and gas, but an even bigger benefit is that you'll be avoiding impulse purchases, which, according to sociologist Paco Underhill, can account for two-thirds of all purchases. As you become more adept at organizing things, you may want to try a biweekly or even a monthly plan.
Grab your calendar.
Decide how many meals you'll be responsible for in the time between visits to the grocery store. Which days will you eat breakfast and lunch at home as well as dinner? Will there be nights when you won't be at home, or times when you'll have more people to feed than your immediate family? Take time constraints into consideration when planning meals. Having a slow-cooker meal on a busy night makes sense if you don't have time to cook.
Take an inventory of what you have.
Take special note of any perishables nearing their expiration dates. Incorporate them as much as possible when planning meals to avoid wasting food. This is also a great time to clean out your refrigerator.
Toss anything that is no longer fresh, and give the shelves a quick wipe-down.
Stock upon staples.
If you're running low on things like sugar, salt, flour, eggs, and milk, make sure you add them to your list.
Be specific in writing your list. Using general terms such as "pasta" or "cheese" leaves a lot of room for interpretation. How many boxes of pasta do you need, and what size? What kinds and varieties of cheeses? Sometimes even planned purchases can get out of control. When you create your list, be as specific as possible.
Next, see what's on sale at the grocery store.
Search for recipes that combine what you have on hand at home with the best deals at your grocery store. For example, if you have potatoes and carrots on hand and beef roast is on sale this week, add a pot roast to your menu plan.
Plan your protein.
Since this is likely the most expensive part of your meal, plan it first. Keep in mind that you don't have to serve a big slab of meat with each meal. Consider main courses such as stir-fries or one-pot meals that use meat as part of the dish but not the main focus. Or consider using beans as a meat extender or in a casserole.
"I'm a firm believer that menu planning saves both time and money. Before the start of each month, I get out my index box of recipes and plan our meals for the next four weeks. I start with a blank calendar and start plugging in the food. To ensure variety, I plan a different type of meal for each day. Sunday is Crock-Pot or sandwich day, Monday is chicken, Tuesday is breakfast for dinner or Italian, Wednesday is Mexican, Thursday is beef, Friday is fish or pizza, and Saturday is an easy, on-the-go meal."
—Sonja Goodchild, East Troy, Wisconsin
Include frugal meals each week.
Good ideas are a planned leftovers meal, a time-crunch meal (one that's premade and stored in the freezer or a slow-cooker meal), a meatless meal, a soup-and-sandwich night, and a breakfast-for-dinner night of pancakes, waffles, or even cold cereal. Use the menu planning worksheet on page 6 as a guide.
When perishable food is on your list, plan multiple ways to use it up. If you're going to be buying a bag of celery for one recipe, how can you incorporate it into others on your menu plan?
Does your menu plan include a variety of foods such as pasta, rice, beans, fish, poultry, and red meat as well as fruits and vegetables? Does it include a variety of textures and flavors? If it doesn't, chances are you'll get bored with what you have on hand and be tempted to return to the store for something else.
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Expand your recipe collection.
Avoid eating the same meal more than once or twice per month. Build up your recipe collection to include at least fifty family-friendly meals that include a wide array of main dishes, sides, and healthy desserts to avoid frugal fatigue.
Don't forget the snacks.
Meals take the most planning, but you'll also want to include some healthy snacks on your shopping list too.
Before going to the store, compute the cost of each meal.
Computing the cost of homemade meals can be a huge eye-opener. Sometimes more expensive cuts of fresh fish and meat, when paired with a simple vegetable, cost the same as—or even less than—prepackaged frozen meals or casseroles with a lot of thrifty ingredients. Additionally, simple meals like this usually involve much less prep time and fewer wasted ingredients. Being aware of the cost can help you make well-informed buying decisions. Compare the casserole meal here with the fresh fish meal on page 8.