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7.10.2012

Easy, Frugal Meals and Tip #1 for Eating Real Food on a Budget

My first and probably THE most important tip for eating real food on a budget?
Command central in my kitchen- my meal plan (middle) and the family calendar, along with some fantastic artwork.
Meal plan!

Every week, for every meal, make a plan.  There is no faster way to either blow your budget or break your resolve and settle for convenience foods than to not plan.  Pretty much everything else is negotiable, but unless you're my mom (in other words, someone who doesn't have to think about dinner until 4:30 in the afternoon and who can then whip it together without ever making a trip to the store, because the store is 20 miles away), you need to meal plan.

Write it into your schedule.  Put it on your weekly chore list.  But it has to get done.

But if anyone knows how intimidating a blank weekly meal plan can be, it's me.  Usually I can squeak out 7 dinners (I have 699 recipes in my Paprika account, you'd think it would get easier...), but I freeze up when I get to lunch and dinner.  Here's what I do to iron that out:  For breakfast, we eat three meals on a rotation: 1) choice of eggs and toast OR breakfast leftovers, 2)pancakes, and 3) oatmeal (eggs are often included with the last two).  On the weekend, especially if Scott isn't working, we eat a little fancier- bacon or sausage, homemade biscuits, blender waffles (but I hate making waffles- it takes 5x as long to cook them than to cook pancakes because you can only cook one at once).  As with the other meals, I go by what I have on hand.

For lunch I have a list- things I can make quickly with items I usually have on hand.  Our list includes things like wraps (with leftover meat, salad, and cheese), quesadillas, tuna salad, "a bunch of things on a plate," potato cakes, grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup, and chicken fried rice.  You know what you're likely to have on hand- make a list for easy reference.  Then if you notice you're having chicken and rice in one week, make chicken fried rice for lunch one day.  Notice you'll have leftover roast?  Schedule BBQ beef sandwiches for lunch the next day.

If you are intimidated by planning, start simple.  Look for recipes either on Allrecipes.com or food.com that use up ingredients you have on hand, prioritizing perishable ingredients first.  Both sites allow you to search multiple ingredients at once.  It may be worthwhile only using one website at first- both allow you to create a free account and save recipes, which would make them easy to find come cooking time, and it may be easiest to start with just one account (so you're not wondering "where did I save that recipe again?"  Both have literally katrillions of recipes.  Because that's a real number.

Same with your hard copy- no need to buy a fancy whiteboard or even a special notebook.  Do you already use a planner?  I simply write my dinners in the 6pm slot (I keep my lunch list elsewhere).  As I make the list, I write down any ingredients I need to buy to the side of the page, or under the "to do" list on the day I plan to shop.  There are also apps for that- I particularly like Cozi because it is free and very multi-functional- besides meal plans and grocery lists, you can also put appointments into the calendar and set it to send reminders to your cell phone.  Need your spouse to pick up some stuff at the store?  Simply have Cozi email him the list- it takes one click.  I know I sound like an ad right now, but they're not paying me, I promise.  It's just a really helpful ap.  It's available online and on mac devices, android phones, nook, and in the amazon ap store.
One of my old meal planning systems.  The days and lines were written on a piece of card stock, then I laminated it so it became like a portable white board.

My meal planning system has taken on many (many...) forms and evolved over the years.  I like to over organize and over plan sometimes, and I tend to make my systems more complicated than I can sustain.  But in this case, simple is key.  If it's easy you will keep doing it!  Also keep visibility in mind.  You also have to actually see it in order to keep up with it.  For this reason a marker (or chalk, but I hate touching chalk) board in the kitchen may be best for you. 

So, without any more ado, here is my meal plan fand purchases for next week.

Allotted actual budget:  $30

Milk:  $7.50 (only got 1.5 gallons this week, had leftover from last week and am going out of town this weekend)

Farmer's Market:
  • 2 bunches beets with tops (2lbs)- $2
  • 4 onions- $2
  • 2 lbs. green beans- $4
  • 12.5 lbs cucumbers- $10
Total spent:  $25.50
Yep, I even bought all those cukes and I'm still under budget.   I'll be making those into Sour Pickles, they won't even to towards this week's meals.

Meal Plan:

Monday:  Homemade Mac n Cheese (pasta is one of our compromise foods, we try to limit it to once a week) with sausage and caramelized onions.  Green beans sauteed in bacon fat on the side.

Tuesday:  Chicken Lickin' Drumsticks (it's from Sprout.com, my kids chose the recipe), adapted as such- leave on skin, use a whole cut up chicken instead of drumsticks, and use corn meal instead of polenta (although they are essentially the same thing...)... and probably no parm.  I think we may be out.  So I'll add more seasonings.  Also sauteed zucchini with butter and garlic.  ETA: I mixed the topping up in the food processor with some bacon fat, because I wasn't really okay with a baked breaded chicken with no extra fat... but that's just me:)  We also were able to add a dessert to this meal, since we got some rasberries in our CSA box!  I made an easy stirred soft egg custard with a simple rasberry sauce.  Yum!

Wednesday:  Salmon Patties, black beans with lemon and garlic, soaked brown rice, and a veg from the CSA box (I pick up Wednesdays).

Thursday:  Clean out leftovers because...

We're going out of town for a wedding until Sunday night.  So the rest of the meal plan consists of us doing the best we can in BFE Wisconsin:)

That's it for this week, but be sure to check back, and I'll be posting more highlights from the Real Food Summit!

This post has been shared at GNOWFGLINS Simple Lives Thursday.

1 comment:

Amateur Cook said...

We dabbled with meal planning in our house for a while but somehow we didn't give it enough variety. There were 7 meals for 7 days and we had the same meal on each day of the week.

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