Meal Planning – What works for you?

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When it comes to meal planning you need to figure out what works for your family! I find one of the hardest obstacles to sticking to a budget is trying to follow someones else’s plan. Not that you cant try, but don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work for you. If things don’t work it doesn’t mean you are a failure or the person who shares their plan is hiding something from you. It comes down to a couple things. How your family eats, your time you devote to cooking and planning, how much food you consume, and your local grocery stores.

I budget is $450.00 a month for food groceries. I reserve $50 for items we stock up on for the month such as coffee, soda pop, bag of chips things my Mr.Tasteful takes to work. I set aside $100 a week, then my goal is to only use $50 a week for our grocery’s for M-F. I try to save the other $50 for Sat-Sun. However some weeks the grocery store has great buys and I need to stock up becasue I know I wont see those deals for another month. So I may spend $100 or $150 one week, but the foods will be used thorough the month. I use cash I do not use a debit or credit card, this will resort to over spending for me, even if I know my budget. I will carry $100 but I will try to stick with $50 especially if its a no thrill week for deals.

We are a family of 3 who do not eat large portions. We take the principle of 3oz of beef and 4 oz of chicken when we dish out our plate. So if you take a chicken breast from a whole chicken, honestly the proper portion would be to only eat half for one person. Therefore one meal where I bake a whole chicken, Mr.Tasteful will eat half a chicken breast, I will eat a thigh and Little Cupcake will eat a drumstick or a slice of chicken breast. The other whole chicken breast is used for tacos or sandwiches. The other thigh, drumstick and half of chicken breast is used in soup or a casserole. I then use the chicken carcase to make chicken broth. That whole chicken cost me $5.00 and I was able to make 3 meals with it plus stock.

This economy is becoming so challenging in how we feed our families. I am all for promoting “clean eating”. But the reality is unless you can garden or buy from your local farms it may not be a reality if you have a tight budget. I try to buy organic and hormone free items as much as possible. Certain items I will always do that with such as my dairy products, carrots, eggs and chicken. I also only use sea salt, unbleached flour. I cook mostly from scratch and try to use less processed foods. I say I cook about 85-90% of our foods from scratch. I don’t buy canned soups. This Try to make small adjustments, don’t make them all at once. It can be overwhelming and you may not be able to stick to it. Any time we make a commitment or a goal, it has to be be cemented in our hearts and mind that we are committed to a change. If we force a change when realistically we are not ready or maybe our circumstances don’t allow it, sticking to it may not happen.

I’ve done meal planning in various ways. I tried writing out the meals I wanted to make and then shop for the ingredients. I don’t do this anymore. Why? Because it doesn’t work for my family. By the time I went shopping the ingredients started adding up to be over my budget. So for me I have to plan my meals around my basic shopping list that remains the same every month. I don’t add to my list until the week of the grocery store flyer appears on Wednesday morning, which really comes down to meats, canned beans, and cheese.

I believe in a stocked pantry of my basic needs. This is my list I do every month to re-stock if I am low on an item. Having these basic items, you can create almost anything and have a great meal. It may not be fancy, save fancy for special occasions like inviting a guest over to share a meal. Or maybe for once a week when you want to add something exciting to your meal plan. I have had to retrain my way of thinking when it comes to how and what we eat. Lets face it the average family trying to survive can no longer function the way we use to. We got so use to what use to be special treat was now a demanded. I have had to retrain my thinking. That daily Coffee latte, that is now a treat. Or having  seafood, is now a treat. Of course each region is different. So what may be costly for one area like buying lobster in Oregon might be cheap in Main. So you have to make your meal plan based on what is reasonable in cost based on your area.

I have 6 stores I price compare. All these stores are within 5 min or 10 min of each other. I’m fortunate to have a Trader Joes in my area, which I know is not the case for many. I shop at Trader Joes, Safeway, Roths (Local Market), Winco, Costco and Walmart. It took me about 2 months to know the prices of the basic items from each store. Now I know what I will buy from each store for the best prices to fit my budget. I also realized that some items such as produce purchased at one store will not last as long as if I purchased from another store. For me its about your consumption. If you will use up items fast then you wont worry about items going bad. However if you are like me and your produce like carrots, celery & onions last for 2 or 3 weeks, then I spend the extra money to buy from the freshest place I shop.

I have price points that I stay at or under for when I comparison shop. I am including a price point I stick at. My stores do not always have these price points, therefore I don’t buy until on sale then I stock up.

My basic Foods List:

Pasta $.99 pkg. ( I am picky when I buy it. Trader Joes has all their pasta for $.99, and it is much more healthy pasta because its true Italian pasta which uses different gluten’s. If I was to buy the cheapest brand at Winco or Walamrt for $.89, I;m personally going to spend the extra $.10. My other pasta I will only buy is Barilla brand when on sale)

Can Beans – $.69 (safeway store brand, they have it at least once or maybe twice a month at this rate under the “just for u” price) I stock up on Black, Pinto & kidney beans.  I also like Garbanzo beans for soup and hummus. I will also buy navy beans.

Dried beans – $1.50 bag. I like Red lentils, Split Peas. I also will buy Black Beans and make my own and freeze.

Cheese – 2lb $5.00 (I buy local cheese, I stay away from Kraft or brands with processed cheese. I will buy Safeway Lucerin brand. Winco will have the best price compared to Walmart for the Local Cheese like Tillamook. I only buy for my basic needs wither Mild Cheddar or Monteray Jack Cheese. These are good cooking cheeses. Any other cheese for us is a “luxury item”)

Lettuce – I buy mine from Costco, bc I can buy 6 heads of Romain Hearts for $3 or buy a huge organic bag for $5

Half & Half– 1/2 gallon at costco for under $3 (darigold brand, so hormone free)

Sour Cream – Costco big container too, like 3 of the small ones for $3.00 (also dairgold brand)

Milk – I buy only hormone free, so I buy from Trader joes, its $3.19 right now. I was buying 1/2 gallon of Darigold at winco buy they stopped selling it there.

Eggs– I will buy from Costco 24 for $3, or I buy from Trader Joes for $1.79 for 12. I buy eggs probably twice a month, or once a week if I buy only a dozen at a time.

6lb can of crushed tomatoes – Great buy at costco for under $3. I make one large batch of tomatoes sauce, plain. I just cook for 2-3hrs with garlic and little salt. Then I will dived out into small bags and freeze. Ill use for my Chili or Spaghetti Sauce. I will also use in place of a recipe asking for a can of tomato sauce, maybe soup or casserole. I will also use to make my own enchilada sauce.

Bread– I try to spend no more then $1.00- $1.50 per loaf. I will buy from Safeway, best deals. Or buy from Costco, they have 2 loafs for $2.80

Unbleached All Purpose White Flour – I buy from either TJ or Winco. TJ is $3 for the 5lb bag but  prefer the taste, and it is unbleached. I will buy from Winco in the Bulk section, so its sold buy weight and is sold at $.35-$.47 cents a lb. I only buy unbleached and my bread flour there. I can buy 1lb at a time which is about 6 cups or so. So for $.35 cents, thats a good deal!

Granulated white Sugar – Winco its $.36 cents lb or I try to buy a preferred brand for $2.00.

Spices – I buy all my spices by weight at Winco or a local store here called Roths. So even thought the weight cost for cumin might be $4.00lb, I spend pennies on it for 4 tBs, about $.25, compared to buying a container thats the same amount for $3.00. I will also buy my dried Thyme & Rosemary from Trader Joes bc its $2.00 and i like the flavor better then Winco. At walmart I buy the 5th Season brand of Garlic , cinnamon, & Onion powder for $.50 each.

Yeast – $1.00 for 3 packages (I use often because for bread making)

White Rice– Winco, its like $.30 cents lb, so I can get what I need for the week or two weeks.

Butter – I wont spend more then $2.50 per pack (4 sticks) and I dont buy cheap stuff. I wait for sales or i always buy at Costco, you get a 4 pack of 4 for $8.00

Tortillas – Usually Winco or Walmart, around $4 for a big pack

Rotisserie Chicken – Best deal for a cooked whole chicken is Coscto for under $5.00. Its my go to chicken when I cant buy chicken either at Safway or Roths for $.99lb or less, which comes out to $5.00 and I cook it myself. I wont spend more. Roths has a brand that goes on Sale that is hormone free and i stock up. Most of the time I use Foster Farms. I save all the bones and juices which i turn into my chicken Stock and chciken base/grease.

Whole Garlic – Whatever the price is, I don’t price comparison on this,

Celery – I try to spend $1.50 or less for a bunch.

Carrots – I buy organic from TJ for $.79 for 1lb bag or I buy Safeway for $1.50 2lb when on Sale

Russet Potatoes – I try to buy either the 5lb or 10lb bag, I dont spend more then $2.50 a bag, right now its been $1.50 for a 10lb bag at Safeway.

Spanish Onions – $1.50 for 3lb bag from Winco or Safeway, sometimes Walmart

Cucumbers – depends on season, right now $.48 each at Safeway. Or I buy English and try to spend less then $2.00.

Tomatoes – Roma usually under $1.00lb

Sea Salt – $2 from TJ

Wine – Two Buck Chuck from TJ $3, red wine is great for cooking

Frozen Vegetables – $1.00 16 oz bags. I buy Corn, Green Beans. Spinach, and Peas. ( I do not like frozen carrots)

So that is what I buy every month. The produce I will usually buy twice a month.

When it comes to meat I have price points I have to wait for, so my meal plans will be very simple if these items are not on sale. I will usally just buy the Rotisserie Chicken at Costco until these meats are at my price point.

Whole Ham – $.99lb

Pork Chops – $1.89lb

Beef for Roast – $3.00lb

Ground Beef– $2.50-$3.00lb

Italian Sausage – $2.00

Bacon – $4.00 package

Whole Chicken – $.99lb

So this is my list of food. Anything else not on list is extras. I know from this list of food we will eat and be satisfied. My typical recipes I plan to cook with my basic foods list all use the same ingredients some samples are:

Roasted Chicken: I roast a whole chicken. I will dice up garlic, add to butter, dried parsley, and salt & pepper. I will melt butter and then stuff under the chicken skin. Bake for 30 min on 400 then turn temp down to 350 or 325 and bake for 1 hour. I serve with mashed potatoes and a vegetable. I like sauteed carrots with garlic and a little brown sugar.

Enchiladas – Spices like cumin, chili pepper, diced onion, garlic, tomato sauce, cheese and leftover chicken. Serve with Black Beans and Rice

Soft tacos or Burritos – I don’t always serve sides,  I will have black beans and Rice, but that may be added to the taco or served on the side. I include lettuce, onion or green onion, grated cheese, tomatoes or salsa.

Chicken Soup – I will add pasta or rice ( I cook separately from soup so its not soggy) . I make my own stock or I will use the reserved grease and chicken liquid from when I roasted the whole chicken. I add carrots, celery and onions. I serve fresh baked bread.

Chicken Rice Casserole – I use rice, chicken, cheese frozen vegetable like green beans or spinach. I like to make a rue to add a creamy aspect instead of using canned soup. Rue is flour, butter, I prefer to use chicken stock instead of milk. If I add milk its just a splash. The add cheese to melt. Add in Chicken, Vegetable, Rice then bake.

Potato Soup – Potato, Onions and chicken stock or water. Il saute celery & carrots, remove. Then I will dice potatoes and onions, add liquid and cook until done, puree then add carrots, celery and I may add a little milk or cheese. Sometimes I will add a vegetable like corn or blanched broccoli. I may add chicken or ham if I have. I serve Fresh Baked Bread.

Red Lentil Soup – Lentils, Carrots, Celery, Onions, potatoes and Stock or Chicken Base. If I have a special vegetable like Kale, I will add. If I have left over chicken or ham I will add. Serve Fresh baked bread.

Chicken Sandwich: I will make homemade white bread. Chicken, cheese, Lettuce onion. If I have I like cranberry sauce or avocado.

Hope this helps!


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