After so many people asking me what I do to plan meals for the month, I thought it might be worth while to share what my process is in planning out our meals, and if it's helpful to anyone out there, then great =)
So Here Goes =)
1. I try to stay under $250/month. (this includes all of Jace's needs - diapers, wipes, etc)
2. Because of our busy schedule we certainly don't eat every night, but we also try not to eat out more than 2-3 a month (this includes fast food)
3. For each month I try to plan 5 cheap/quick meals, and about 12 normal, but hopefully quick =) meals (I'll give you some examples in a second)
4. I limit myself to trying only 2 new/more extensive recipes a month. I do that because many times, new recipes always require a few ingredients that I don't typically keep on hand = extra cost.
5. Once I have all my favorite cookbooks/recipes in front of me, I sit down and go through them, and based off of what I already have in my pantry, I try to pick recipes that won't require me having to buy ALL of the ingredients needed. Now this obviously takes some time, but I try to mentally get myself geared up on my day off, and then knock it out during one of Jace's naps. Once it's done, it's such a relief because then throughout the month I'm not scrambling to figure out the night before what to make the next day. The one day of planning really pays off=)
6. I list out each of my meals for the month and post it on the fridge for quick reference.
7. As I select meals I'm going to make that month, I have a separate list I'm compiling of all the ingredients I'll need to purchase, hopefully some of them I already have on hand =)
8. Once I've finished my meal list - my separate list is now my grocery list for the month =)
9. I always have a paper on the fridge for ingredients I run out of throughout the month. I take this list and my new grocery list and put them together, just to be sure I don't forget anything.
10. To stay organized, I like to type up my grocery list in a word document and then separate ingredients by category. For instance: Dairy, Meat, Frozen, Produce, etc. It's an extra step, but again, when I'm getting groceries for the entire month, it really helps me to take the extra 10 minutes & helps make my grocery trip go much faster when I can get everything from one section of the store all at once.
11. Once I have all my groceries and I'm making making meals, I try to be mindful of my most perishable ingredients and incorporate those meals into the beginning of the month. One of the biggest wastes of money, in my opinion, is buying tons of yummy produce and then throwing it away before you can even use it :/
12. Try to go under budget because even though you'll be able to get most of your groceries for the month, there are a few things you'll want to pick up throughout the month as well, i.e. fruit, milk, and anything extra you either forgot or run short on. Its a nice thought to think you can get absolutely everything for the month all at once, but milk just doesn't stay good for that long =) a long with a few other things :P
13. Here are some examples of what I meant when I said, "cheap/quick" meals:
a. Taco's (using the $3 taco kits from the store)
b. Chicken Ceasar Salads (I buy the $3 salad kits then add my own grilled chicken)
c. Sausage Jambalaya (entire meal costs around $7. all you need: Zataran's jambalaya box rice mix and Hillshire Farm Smoked Sausage. So easy and Chris loves it!)
d. Breakfast for dinner (i.e. Biscuits and sausage gravy. Usually costs me around $5. or you can do Pancakes and bacon, again only about $5-7 for the meal)
e. We do a lot of grilled chicken with different marinades. I usually serve it with a side of veggies. (Takes 15 - 20 minutes to make and usually only costs about $8 for the chx and veggies put together)
f. Frozen Pizza - definitely low on glam =), but on a Wednesday night after a long day and youth service, who wants to cook?! Spend $6 on a more expensive brand that you really like, and you've got a quick, cheap, and tasty dinner for two =)
14. Here's one last tip, once I've got my grocery list in hand, I shop at Aldi's first. They don't have a huge selection, but what they do have is much cheaper than even Walmart's prices. I get whatever I can from there, and whatever else I can't get, I either get from Sam's or Walmart.
15. Don't be opposed to going to a few stores. Convenience doesn't always = savings. I always do Aldi's first, and then Walmart, but many times I'll also go to Target. I'm not a fan of going to Target for groceries because I feel like they're mostly over priced, but their diapers are my favorite. They're only $13 a box and they fit Jace just as good as Huggies, w/o paying $20 a box.
16. Finally, of coarse, without a doubt, cut coupons. Be mindful of what coupons you have when planning your meals. BE CAREFUL though. A lot of people make the mistake of cutting coupons and buying those items simply because they have a coupon for it. Here's a helpful hint: ONLY CUT IT, IF YOU NEED IT =)
Hope this helps =)