Friday, September 3, 2010

31 in 31 - Day 24

The joy of a "new" toy:

I brought this little car up from the basement today for Nate to start enjoying.  It was one of Josh's favorite toys because it is how he got around until he learned to walk.  Nate tasted every part of it . . but when Josh got up from his nap, he took it over for the day.  That was part of my strategy in bringing it up now, though.  Nate isn't quite ready to ride it by himself yet so hopefully Josh will tire of it quickly and Nate will be able to enjoy it :-) 

Menu Planning/Grocery Shopping

Over the past few months, I've really refined my Menu Planning and Grocery shopping.  Really, I've always planned because that is who I am - I can't just walk into the grocery store, pick up a few items, and than go home and cook.  I need a list when I walk into the store.  But I didn't always plan well.  I never planned side dishes, breakfast, or lunch for myself.  Instead I just figured it would "happen" - something would entice me to eat it.  That really isn't the best plan.  After reading lots of other posts, sites, and books on how to plan a menu and how to shop, this is what works for me.  I don't think that the same plan really works for another person - it always has to be tweaked to fit your lifestyle, but if you currently aren't planning, do!  It will save you stress, money and those last minute trips to take-out or the store.  You'll become the "hero" in your home when you put dinner on the table - something different - every night of the week and those special pizza nights will be a treat instead of an expectation.  

What works for me is to shop weekly - I read a book about a family that shopped monthly for a family of seven on $350.00.  Wow.  I tried going two weeks - was in the store for hours and still had to go back the second week to get produce and dairy products.  So once a week works best.  As you may know from my other posts - I'm working to get my budget down from the current $75.00 a week fifty cents at a time and this is part of what helps me.

First, I am a coupon cutter. Honestly, this is not my favorite past time but in order to save as much as possible, I do cut, file and use my coupons.  I found a really great coupon organizer online at that I use to the fullest and it has really made actually using my coupons so much easier.  It uses the basic "baseball card" holders but they are designed to withhold the constant use.  It also has tabs for the different areas (I will say, I wish there were blank tabs so I could refine some of the groups but now that I've used it for awhile, I know where I put things) and it has front pockets where I keep my menu/recipes until after I shop and the ad for the week.  Yes, I carry my menu/recipes with me in case I'm going over budget and need to make a quick switch.  I can actually see what ingredients to put back and what I also needed for another recipe.  Don't let coupons deter you from planning, though, it is just one more tool I happened to have in my basket.

Second, look at the weekly Ad.  I only really shop one store, Meijer, and that is dictated more by my location.  If I had others like Aldi's, I would probably try to save more and shop there for most things.  Or shop at Super Target, Meijer and others if they were all close; the cost in gas currently cancels out any sales the other stores may have.   I use the ad to match to coupons and also to try and plan meals - especially meat - on what is on sale.

Third, plan your weekly menu.  Mine runs from Saturday-Friday because I normally shop on Friday night.  To plan you menu you need to plan all things.  Look at your calendar - are there nights that you will be gone or the family will be gone? Are there plans on a certain night that will dictate dinner?? Once you have done that, than start with which ever meal is the easiest and plan all things - the sides, the main dish, etc.  This includes snacks for you and the kids - it is hard to snack when there is nothing in the house! 

Fourth, take your recipes and fill in the grocery list, double checking your pantry so you don't over buy or assume you have something you need.  After years of having a random list, I finally created a master shopping list in order of my store.  This has cut my time in the store down because I don't have to backtrack all the time.  Make sure you get everything on there you need - even if you have made a dish 100 times, double check it to make sure you haven't forgotten anything

Fifth, shop :-)

So, how does my menu work?  It's simple.  First, each day is assigned a "theme" that I use for dinner:

Saturday: Fun, Appetizers, Eating Out, Grilling (Pretty broad because I don't like cooking on Saturday's)
Sunday: Crockpot or a long cooking oven meal to cook during church; Sunday night I try to plan something "fun"
Monday: New Recipe Night
Tuesday: Ethnic - Pasta, Pizza, or other ethnic based meals
Wednesday: Chicken or Beef
Thursday: Breakfast or Pork (I added breakfast meals here since most breakfast meat is pork)
Friday: Seafood, Grilling, Family favorites, or out - which is normally Pizza or Taco's from our favorite place in Grand Rapids)

This might not seem like a big deal but it really makes picking meals easier and I don't end up with beef 7 days in a row!

Here's a Sample Menu:
B: Toast or Cereal (keep breakfast simple but still plan)
L: Cheese slices, crackers, apple, tomatoes
D: Pizza or Tacos (I'm not going to the store until Saturday night!)

B: Toast or Cereal
L: Stuffed Pork Loin, Baked Potatoes, Green Beans and Rolls
D:  Hot Broccoli Dip, Cheesy Bacon Bites, Chocolate Chip Cheeseball and Crackers

B: Cereal and Fruit
L: PB and J Roll ups, Gold Fish Crackers, Apple
D: Sweet and Sour Crockpot Pork, Rice, Salad

B: Aunt J. Breakfast Entrees (they were on Sale!)
L: Quisidilla's, black olives, tomatoes, apple
D: Spaghetti, Garlic Bread, Salad

B: Toast with Cin and Sugar and Fruit
L: Meat Sandwich, Pretzels, Apple
D:  Chicken Pot Pie, Salad

B: Cereal
L: Cheese and Crackers, Tomatoes, Apple
D: Breakfast Casserole, Banana Sour Cream Bread, Sauteed Apples

B: Toast
L: Leftovers
D: Taco Bell

Snacks: Pretzels, Gold Fish, Graham Crackers
Sweets: Chocolate Chip Cookies, Strawberry Pie

It's that easy :-)  I will say that our breakfasts generally stay the same - it is just Josh and I so we have cereal, fruit, toast with jam or he likes Nutri grain bars.  My downfall is still planning my lunch - the lunches you see are more for Josh (I don't like some of them but he does!!)  This was actually last weeks menu - some of the items I didn't end up fixing so I carried them over to next week.  That's part of the plan - sometimes something comes up - just move that item to the following week and part of your planning is done!

Hopefully this didn't confuse you but rather inspired you to maybe even plan just one or two full days worth of meals.  If you have questions, please feel free to ask too!  I'm still working on this process but am more than willing to help.