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Using a Meal Plan on a Budget

Updated: Feb 27, 2022

One way that my family sticks to our budget is by meal planning every month. Over the years I have tried making my own meal plans with varying degrees of success, but currently I base our meals around the plans made by The Roasted Root. In December 2020 they began releasing a bi-weekly Paleo meal plan that has been such a blessing in my overworked life. Since May of 2021 it seems that they have slowed down to releasing a plan once a month (bummer!) but I still follow the blog for posts and recipes. Meal plans are essential to staying on budget (in my opinion) because it allows me to know exactly what I need to buy for our food for the month, and gives me the ability to take advantage of sales at the store without wasting money on things we don’t need.

To use a meal plan effectively I go through a bit of a process: · Print out the meal plan/recipe/ shopping list. This way I have all the ingredients listed in one place where I can see them · Print out my Grocery List printable to compile all the needed ingredients · Check my pantry and freezer to see what I already have on hand. This keeps me from over buying when I’m at the store. I don’t buy more salt if I already have my stock filled on hand.

· Look at local ads to find special deals at the store. This step is important because it allows me to make reasonable substitutions to my recipes to cut back on my costs. Let’s say a recipe calls for Romaine lettuce, but I can buy a head of cabbage for significantly less, then I’ll substitute cabbage into the recipe and save money. If a recipe calls for salmon, but I can’t find it at a decent price, then I’ll substitute in a less expensive fish or just replace it with chicken. Once I have my list completed, I gather up everything I use on my trips to make life easier: · Clip board with meal plans, shopping list, and pen · Filled 64 oz water bottle · Reusable Grocery bags · Boxes or baskets to carry food

When I go shopping, I am usually buying enough food to feed 5 people – 2 adults and 3 boys – for a minimum of two weeks. For the record: This is a lot of food. My boys are constantly going through growth spurts, and are almost always in the 90+ percentiles for height. These kids quite literally grow like weeds. My almost 9 year old is now reaching the “I’m taller than a grown-up” stage. Keeping them fed is practically an Olympic sport. They once ate $400.00 worth of produce in less than a week. I’m generally not one to ration our produce, but that incident left me considering it! On a good week we can go through 2-3 gallons of milk, plus yogurt, cheese, and 5 dozen eggs. There are definitely weeks when we use closer to 5 gallons of milk and 10 dozen eggs. I like to cook a lot with eggs because they are a cheap and easy source of protein that even our pickiest child will eat. We usually have eggs at least once a day, if not twice. When I get home with our groceries there is usually no “Let’s manage this in one trip” type thing either. Everybody pitches in to help bring the groceries into the house, and we put them away from there. This usually involves several trips up and down the stairs to our apartment as we rush to get food in before it starts melting. When I make up my grocery list I look through the recipes and see how many of them can use frozen veggies as a substitute for fresh veggies. This helps in a couple of ways – I can cut down on shopping time by simply grabbing several bags of frozen veg, and I save meal prep time because the veggies are precut and ready for cooking!

I’ve recently decided that I need to do the majority of my meal prepping as I put my groceries away, so I’ve started going to a restaurant supply store and buying aluminum pans with lids so I can put meals together as I sort through the groceries. Now, this makes for an incredibly long day for me, but it is generally worth it in the end because I’m able to make nearly a month’s worth of dinners and get them in the freezer to be baked or tossed into the Instant Pot for a homemade meal every night! One day of utter crazy busy running around saves me much more time all month long, and it gives me peace of mind to know that I don’t have to start everything all over every night – with loads of dishes to wash every evening. Anything that needs to be cooked – like ground beef – gets cooked right away and portioned into its meal. All the messy stuff done on one day, and just pasta or rice needing to be cooked up on the night the meal is made. Breakfasts and lunches are usually simple – eggs and oatmeal for breakfast (I like to buy the giant boxes of Instant Quaker Oats!), and sandwiches or quesadillas for lunch. For Christmas last year we got the boys a grilled cheese sandwich maker – just a simple one from Walmart – but it has been one of the best investments we’ve ever made! When the boys get hungry I can tell them to take some bread and cheese and go make themselves a sandwich. I’ve figured out how to make quesadillas in it, and I think I like them better than the ones that make on the stove! Hubby and I are planning on upgrading when this one burns out. We’ve even made desserts in it! Seriously, best purchase ever.

By planning and prepping our dinner meals for the month I’m able to minimize food waste, and cut down on my day-to-day stress by knowing that a big task is already taken care of for the evening. Evenings are when I tend to have the least mental ability to handle extra stress, and when I’m most likely to freak out at everyone as I try to get things done, so having a dinner I can just pull out of the freezer is essential for my internal stability. It also helps the boys to know that dinner will be done and ready at a specific time, and lets us maintain a solid evening rhythm.

This is part two of our Monthly Meal Planning on a Budget series! Next week, in our Monthly Meal Planning on a Budget series we will look at more ways to save money on our food budget by gardening and growing our own food! If you would like more tips on saving money, then follow us on Pinterest for more advice on budgeting, self-sufficient living, and homeschooling!

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