As the mom of a one-income family of 5, I am always on the hunt for ways to save money on our food budget. One of the ways I do this is by menu planning.
I know several people swear by coupons and they work really hard at searching out deals and combining sales with coupons and they have cool binders and highlighters and calculators and they travel to 5 different stores to get the best deal each week for their families.
That’s not how I roll. Highlighters are a great idea for me and my crew of merry elves if I want everyone to be a subtle shade of florescent yellow (or green, pink or orange) by the time I finish getting the milk out of the cooler and into the cart.
My menu planning has evolved several times over the course of the past few years. I went from never planning at all to very detailed planning for 3 meals a day plus snacks to my current system.
My process includes:
- Check freezer and fridge for available ingredients or items that need to be used soon. Put them on a list.
- Consult my list of dinner meal ideas for recipes that utilize available ingredients. Jot them down.
- Check my electronic calendar for our schedule that week (appointments, games, sports practices, field trips and other obligations). Note which days I have time to cook and which days I don’t.
- Make my daily dinner plan and write it on our fridge’s white board.
- Consult recipes for additional ingredients required and add them to our electronic grocery list (we use Cozi).
- Check our pantry for items we are low on or out of and add them to the electronic grocery list.
- Plan my shopping trip.
Typically I shop at 3 stores each month.
- Sam’s Club: baby formula, coffee, instant breakfast (for my DH), AP flour, bread flour, sugar, chocolate chips, grated parmesan cheese, tomato sauce & paste, jelly, dried cranberries, snack crackers for kids (Goldfish or Cheez-Its), parchment paper and ground beef. I go once a month and get what we need.
- Aldi: the majority of our food items are purchased here. Bread, milk, butter, eggs, cheese, baking powder, olive oil, salt, tuna fish, canned fruit (my kids love canned oranges), bagels, ground turkey, bacon,yogurt, OJ, half and half and some produce. I go twice a month and get what we need each time.
- Kroger: everything Aldi doesn’t carry or Kroger has better quality/price. Diapers, produce, soy nut butter, frozen vegetables (10 for $10). I try to go twice a month, but for quick trips in between large shopping trips we usually wind up at Kroger.
On special occasions or specialty meats or other products, I shop at a really fancy fruit and meat market. Their prices are absolutely crazy high, but the quality of their meats and produce can’t be beat. It’s a rare treat to shop here. Like birthday meal special.
Luckily our breakfasts, lunches and snacks are pretty consistent and boring, so I found that I didn’t need to spend as much time as I had been planning these. DH eats the same things each day for breakfast, so his is easy. The kids rotate between a few standard breakfast items so I keep these on hand all the time. DH prefers leftovers for his lunches and if there aren’t any, he has yogurt, granola and/or sandwiches. Lunches are pretty much the same every day too.
- Cereal (Rice Krispies – I buy the Aldi brand since the kids can’t tell the difference, but my budget can.) The kids like to have mashed up bananas in their cereal.
- Bagels with cream cheese
- Oatmeal with a pinch of brown sugar
- Scrambled eggs & toast
- Occasionally: Apple fritters, muffins, sausage with biscuits & gravy
- Holidays: breakfast casseroles, fruit salad, cinnamon rolls
Lunch rotation for kids:
- Soy Nut Butter & jelly sandwiches with fruit and veggies on the side
- Occasionally: tuna fish & crackers, macaroni ‘n cheese (boxed), tomato soup (no grilled cheese, they rarely eat melted cheese), deviled eggs, cheese and crackers
The baby has only recently started eating solids. We do a modified baby-led weaning type of transition to solids. We use a food grinder to feed her the same things we eat and anything that is already soft and small, she feeds herself under our supervision (of course).
Snacks are not a daily occurrence around these parts. The kids like crackers or cut up fruit (apples with cinnamon, fruit cocktail). I try to make cookies once every couple weeks, and they are allowed to have them for snacks and dessert after dinner. Desserts are not a staple either. Desserts are offered occasionally if a healthy dinner is eaten without complaint or whining. The big kids still have a glass of warm milk each morning and before bed.
Lastly, I try to have some consistency each week such as one day each for beef, pasta, chicken, pizza, soup, turkey. Sometimes it works out that we have chicken or beef or pasta twice instead of once. Sometimes, like this week, pizza night gets passed over in favor of leftovers. I had an appointment on Friday afternoon and another on Friday evening so I knew I wouldn’t have time to prepare the dough (scratch made on pizza days) and assemble the pizza & breadsticks. With this in mind, I planned a heavy week of leftovers so there would be enough for an easy meal for DH to heat up for him and the kids in my absence.
With all this in mind, I am able to feed the family and buy all of our household items (paper towel, toilet paper, baggies, toiletries, etc) for $250-$400/month. When DH is in town the bill is at the top end of that range, when he is out of town it is at the bottom of that range. He has some special items he likes to have which adds to the grocery bill considerably…but he’s worth it.