Weekly meal planning is (from my experience) the only true way to eat on a budget. Each meal is set out, all the ingredients are in your refrigerator/cupboard, and there is no quick and stressful trip to the co-op/grocery store/farmers market. Soaking grains and beans is not a chore that sneaks up on you, thawing a sauce or broth or stock comes easily. A few years ago, when we lived in PA, a most wonderful friend introduced me to the beauty of such a plan. At first it felt old-fashioned, but I am here to tell you- meal planning is the hippest thing a mom can do. For real.
Each week I sit down before G-Day (you know grocery day) and set out a few inspiring cookbooks or browse a good cooking site. I pull out two sheets of paper. I start with the staples. What are we out of? Rice? Olive Oil? Butter? Milk? Dr. Bronners? Dried black beans? If they are absent, I add ’em to the list. Then I pop in each day of the week I will be covering. Some people do this for a two-week stint, some do it for up to a month! But, I am not that good. Yet… I start filling in the blanks thinking carefully about leftovers and how to utilize them to make my evenings easier. I write the page number and the cookbook down in parenthesis if it’s not a meal I have made many times. I mostly cook vegetarian, by choice and for financial reasons. A good chicken in these parts costs about $20.00. I categorize “good” to be if I can name the farm and know full well that inside my chicken is… just plain old chicken. Someday I will be able to name the chicken. (That’s when I will know I have finally made it.) I make a little list of baked goods I will have to make either in advance or with my boys or in the night when everyone is sleeping. It’s almost always therapeutic, whether its baking oat cakes before the sun rises, or kneading dough while my children go crazy around my feet. It saves a lot of money to make your own, for you don’t have to purchase high-priced processed food, and surely it gives me peace of mind knowing what each and every ingredient is. Deciphering labels is not my favorite thing to do. (What is dough conditioner anyways? For bad hair days? hahaha..) As I am jotting down each nights supper, I write the list on the other slice of paper. I check the cupboards periodically to see if i have what it takes and if not I write it down. At the end, I add-on some fruits to snack on, and call it a day. The list is ready.
It’s that easy.
I sprout seeds. I make tortillas. I cook a lot of dried beans.
I don’t have any fancy system. I am not ultra organized, or even spectacularly clean. I spend under 125 (my newly raised budget… like I said maple syrup on tap just put me over the edge). This is a dollar amount that can easily cover any extras too. Yes, I tote a calculator into the grocery with me. When my children are there this is a task that is very difficult to say the least, but I have done this so many times now it seems as if the level in my cart dictates the dollar amount. But, the last few times, I have been making this trip solo and it has been just glorious.
I pack up my to be used again containers (soaps, shampoos, syrups, oils, grains, flours, milk, cream, all can be found int he bulk isle at our co-op). I stuff the bags with more bags. And now I am off.
Do you meal plan? Or are you a fly by the seat of your pants kinda person?