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Meal Planning

Meal Planning

by Laura Barnes   |   February 13, 2019

I remember going grocery shopping with John for the first time after we got married. We were in grocery heaven! John threw everything in the cart. EVERYTHING. Chips, soda (Yes, I have to call it soda now that I’m married to a New Englander), snacks…oh and maybe some chicken. That was about it. $200 of groceries eaten or thrown away within 7 days. I’m so ashamed to even admit that! I wasted so much food! If I had learned how to meal plan before getting married, it would have saved me a whole year of wasting my food and money.

I am so excited to show ya’ll how I meal plan. It’s detailed, and sometimes time-consuming – but SO worth it! I’ll be sharing exactly how I budget for my monthly groceries, how I know I’m getting the best deal, and plan my meals for the month. I don’t waste ANY food for one reason – John HATES leftovers! So every bit of food I have is divided between all my meals. Before I get ahead of myself, let’s start from the beginning.

The Budget

I budget for three people. John, my husband; Stephen, my 1-year-old; and myself. Stephen goes to his daycare every weekday so he needs two snacks, a lunch, 1 to 2 bottles of milk and a bottle of half water/half juice. On the weekend, he eats whatever I make for the family. John and I eat an occasional breakfast, he eats lunch at home while the school I teach at provides my lunch, and we eat dinner together. Once I figure out the number of meals I will need, I plan my budget.

My average monthly budget for groceries is $150-$180 for roughly 30 daycare meals, 30 lunches for John & 30 dinners for the family. I don’t plan specific meals for breakfast. I just purchase about 4-6 dozen eggs for the month and use the eggs that I don’t have designated for meals. Flour and sugar are always in my pantry so I can whip up some waffles, pancakes, or cinnamon rolls without hurting my grocery budget too much.

Once I determine my budget, I check out grocery store ads online to see what is on sale in my area. My “go to” stores are Target, Walmart, and Lil’ Brians (a small, family-owned produce market). My absolute favorite store to shop from is Aldi! Unfortunately, we don’t have Aldi down in Alabama, but one is being built about 30 minutes away from my house so I can’t wait for it to open! Aldi is a HUGE money saver. The store layout is easy to memorize and I’m able to list my groceries in the order that I walk through the store to save time.

So, how do I spend so little on groceries? It’s simple:

1. Whatever meat is on sale is what’s for dinner.

Usually, chicken drumsticks are on sale for $.89 per lb. so I’ll plan several meals around drumsticks:

  1. Fried Chicken: here is one of my favorite fried chicken recipes. I use whatever chicken I have on hand and this recipe has turned out every time! https://www.lakegenevacountrymeats.com/recipes/simple-fried-chicken
  2. One Sheet Pan Chicken w/ Misc. Veggies: Set drumsticks side by side in the middle of a large sheet pan, add your favorite vegetables that won’t get mushy after baking. Broccoli, asparagus, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, thickly sliced zucchini, and yellow squash are a few things I like to use. Drizzle with vegetable or olive oil, and season with garlic powder, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Bake at 400 degrees for 30-45 minutes. This is quick and easy prep and so delicious! Quick shout out to Gabrielle Turner for introducing me to this amazing meal!
  3. Grilled Chicken: There are so many options! BBQ sauce, Buffalo sauce (1/2 cup of Frank’s Hot Sauce and 1/3 cup of melted butter will cover 2 lbs. of chicken), or just use a simple seasoning like McCormick’s Montreal Chicken seasoning!
  4. Crockpot Drumsticks: Season drumsticks with your favorite seasoning. I love to use McCormick’s Rosemary Chicken packet seasoning. I season 6-8 drumsticks with half of the packet, add 2 cups of chopped carrots, 2 cups of quartered potatoes & 2 stalks of chopped celery and then add the other half of the packet. Let it cook on High for 4-5 hours or Low for 7-8 hours.
Whole Chicken is much cheaper than specific cuts of chicken so I always purchase two whole chickens each month for $10. I usually throw them into the crockpot and then premake meals like chicken pot pie filling, cheesy chicken and rice, chicken soup, chicken enchiladas, and plain shredded chicken. I toss them in the freezer, and with two whole chickens, I can make roughly 6-10 meals for our family of 3 (give or take depending on the recipe).

Pork ribs are amazing and can be reasonably priced every so often! Usually, once a month, they go on sale at Rouses and I buy a pack of 8 for $6-$7. Get your favorite BBQ sauce and throw 4 of them in the crockpot on Low for 4-5 hours. They will be falling apart and SO moist! We eat one per meal with a starchy vegetable and homemade garlic knots and save the other two for the next day. An 8 pack of pork ribs makes us 4 meals!

2. I rarely purchase name brand groceries.

A friend whose father worked for a well-known cereal company once told me that the name brand factory would just change the shapes of the cereal and label the boxes as an off brand. So am I going to buy Lucky Charms for $3.29 or Marshmallow Yummies for $1.99? Those Marshmallow Yummies are going in my cart.

3. I purchase in bulk for the entire month.

Yes, I could go to Costco or Sam’s Club, but I’m doing just great with my budget while going to a store that doesn’t cost me an annual fee so it works for me. Instead of chicken breast, I get two whole chickens. Instead of 1 or 2 pounds of hamburger, I buy a 7-8lb package. If I don’t need all of the meat, rice, or veggies, I store it for the next month and save a little.

4. Unless there’s a sale, frozen fruit and veggies win every time!

My husband has never been much of a vegetable eater; he prefers fried rice and burgers, but once I learned how to broil my veggies – our lives changed! If you have a broiler in your oven and you don’t know how to use it then LEARN NOW! It’ll change your dishes and your anti-veggie husband’s mind! *Refer back to One Sheet Pan Chicken w/ misc. Veggies recipe to broil your veggies. I love to buy frozen brussels sprouts, broccoli, edamame, stir fry veggies, yellow squash, and peas. I typically purchase sweet potatoes, red potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, avocados, bananas and mandarins fresh and in bulk.

5. NO. FAST. FOOD.

This is a very hard step for me to follow. When I’m exhausted and I don’t feel like cooking, I just want to stop at Chipotle or Panda Express. When I’m stressed out I gravitate towards fast food, but when I’m pregnant I crave snap peas…makes total sense. In my mind, I always justify my fast food purchase. “It’s only $5.29, it’s not going to affect the budget.” But it always does! $5.29 is the cost of an entire raw or Rotisserie chicken, $5.29 pays for 1/4 of my gas, $5.29 would cover 5-6lbs of sweet potatoes – $5.29 is a lot!! Pick and choose your date nights, family nights, splurge nights or whatever you want to call them. Choose them and don’t change them. It’ll change the way you budget when you walk into a restaurant and think of all the groceries you could get with the $15 you just spent on a steak meal. Also, John and I don’t have to go out to eat to go on a date! If we want to save money, we eat a good dinner at home and go out for dessert or coffee and walk around the mall, explore parks, public museums, flea markets, or even dig through the $3-$5 section at Target. We LOVE renting movies at home and eating homemade pizza, playing Settlers of Catan or Dutch Blitz with friends over dessert and coffee, and challenging each other to a Call of Duty tournament. There are plenty of ways to get creative! I can spend an extra $10 and get ingredients for us to make homemade ice cream together, go for a walk in our neighborhood, cuddle on the couch and binge watch a tv show…and the ideas just keep coming!

How To Get The Best Price

This is definitely the shortest and easiest of the entire grocery process. The easiest way to tell if you have gotten the best deal is to just look at the “price per ounce” on the price label at the grocery store. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about – it’s the very tiny print below or next to the actual price of the item. By basing your decision off of the price per ounce instead of the price of the item, your expensive grocery budget will quickly diminish!

“Understanding the Price Tag” | ChooseMyPlate.gov

Meal Planning

The last step to saving money is to meal plan. Going off the top of my head or even writing down everything I need without having a designated use for it will cost me so much more than if I take the time to meal plan! Breakfast doesn’t have to be a budget breaker and I don’t typically meal plan for it. I have everything on hand for any type of breakfast. For the three of us, I buy a box of cheerios for Stephen, an off-brand of Lucky Charms for John and an off-brand of Raisin Brand Crunch for myself. We are all set with the cereal, eggs, toast, and ingredients to make waffles, pancakes and cinnamon rolls. If I have some extra money in the budget I’ll get frozen fruit to make smoothies. Lunch is easy for us because my school provides my lunch and John eats two peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches. This is typically what I get for Stephen’s daycare lunches each month (and a lot of it spills over into dinner/snacks for him). 4 – 29oz. cans of mandarin oranges, 4 – cans of Spaghetti O’s, 3 boxes of Mac n Cheese, 2 boxes/bags of crackers (Animal Crackers, Thin Wheats, Cracker Rounds, and Whales are what we get – yes, all of these are off brands). Every other month I get either unsweetened apple sauce or yogurt. I purchased ten, refillable apple sauce pouches on Amazon for $10 and each week I fill those pouches with apple sauce, puréed fruit and veggies, and yogurt. I also get him a 2lb. block of cheese and cut it into cubes (way cheaper than cheese sticks), bread for pb&j’s and tortillas to make a quick quesadilla in the microwave or oven.

Dinner is where the planning comes in for me and Pinterest is my best friend! Here are several budget-friendly meals that I like to make:

  1. Chicken Enchiladas – https://pin.it/m36m2ryjsqygru
  2. Chicken Parmesan – https://pin.it/ul6st3arfypyg6
  3. Taco Pizza – https://pin.it/as7jomivrwnm2x
  4. Bourbon Chicken – https://pin.it/rbzonhyj7iyyqd
  5. Homemade CrunchWrap Supreme – https://pin.it/mg55k7uyw7evau
  6. Chicken Pot Pie – https://pin.it/ehyf744cnsurj5
  7. Goulash – https://pin.it/mgq7khygtcdge5
  8. Chili – https://pin.it/ddzv3rr5arvefb
  9. Indian Fry Bread with taco toppings – https://pin.it/fus3rvo4ckohiq
  10. Cheesy, Scalloped Potatoes (I add chicken and cilantro to it) – https://pin.it/abjmvfatgju3zh
  11. Biscuits & Gravy – https://pin.it/koohaasfgsc7w2
  12. Spicy Chicken Chipotle Pasta (this is my one of my “splurge” meals when we decide to have a date night at home) – https://pin.it/zkwy72ljyyij75
I hope these tips were able to help you! Meal planning and budgeting can be so much fun once you figure out what works best for you and your family. The best way to learn how to budget is through experience so get out there and find some deals!

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