This past Friday I actually completed these “Grocery Budgeting” lessons as a two hour class. My plan was to speak for 45-50 minutes, take a break, then complete another 45-50 minutes, after which I would have time for questions. I spoke for about an hour and a half before I checked the time, then I rushed to finish up. I felt there was SO much I wanted to say but missed! It was my first time speaking with blog content, so I was a little nervous. Helping folks to save is something I am very passionate about. I wasn’t surprised I kept talking through the break. I could go on forever about this! I hope it’s a blessing to you.
On to part 2….
This week, we are focusing on developing a menu and creating a master inventory. These are the two biggest tools I use to develop a bi-weekly menu plan.
When I talk about developing a menu, I am talking about creating a master list of the dishes that you regularly serve in your house. Just like a restaurant will develop a menu of the dishes they plan to serve, and you can choose from those dishes for a meal, I want you to have a menu to choose from when you plan your weekly menu plan. You want to keep a menu so that, when you are faced with a calendar, your mind doesn’t go blank as to what you are able to prepare. I have found that, when this happens, I end up preparing the same thing over and over again. I get in a food rut, and my family gets bored. Once you get bored with your menu planning, it is easier to go off the menu plan, and that will cost you more money. To combat boredom, we develop a menu and choose meals from it.
Here is a copy of my menu:
Let me share with you a few things about this menu.
#1- Breakfast and lunch aren’t regularly planned at our house.
If I had smaller children, it would be. We have a kind of “continental” style arrangement for those meals. I try to make sure that the items on the list are available, and my children (all of which are older and capable of preparing their own meals) can choose from anything in the house. I did leave a couple of breakfast items off the list, even though they are prepared pretty regularly at our house. Ricky, my younger son, likes to fry ham and eggs, then eat it with a batch of sticky rice. We love Asian food here, and rice is a staple. He loves it, but it’s not a traditional breakfast food for me, and I often forget about it. The other forgotten item is biscuits. I know. This is the South, How could I forget biscuits? I did. I’m sorry. I will go cry in the corner now.
#2- Breakfast is simple.
At the class I had on Friday, it was asked if we eat cereal. The answer is NO- most of the year. At Christmas, we always buy our children each a box of their favorite cereal (or one they have been wanting to try). It gets wrapped up and put under the tree. This makes for an easy, “special” breakfast. My children and I have discovered that we are STARVING within a few hours of eating cereal. It doesn’t fill us up like a meal, so we treat it like a snack. I also try to use milk thoughtfully. Pouring a gallon away on what is essentially a snack food seems wasteful to me. Most of the time, we have oatmeal or toast. We have a variety of egg preparations with muffins (English or corn bread). The children enjoy yogurt and granola, and I love a quick bread for breakfast (pumpkin, zucchini, apple, whatever is in season). Also missing from the list is homemade pop tarts. Briana makes them occasionally, but it is rare. It is not included because I do not purchase groceries based on this special treat. If we have the ingredients, and she is inclined to make it, we have it. Fruit is mostly enjoyed for breakfast in the summer and fall. My goal for breakfast is that it is quick, easy (including clean-up), and stress-free. No one wants to start their day with a complicated meal.
#3- Lunch doesn’t have to be complicated, either.
Lunch, more often than not, is leftovers, sandwiches, or soup. You don’t have to eat ramen and hot dogs (or even have them on your menu at all) to stay under budget. We always have ramen on hand, and we go through spurts where we eat a lot of it. It’s a matter of preference, not budget. We normally eat it with a sandwich, which is, most often, tuna. Hot dogs are also on the list, but we don’t eat those often at all. Rick and I are not big fans, and we only buy beef, which is a little pricier. Still, they are found often enough to be included. I NEVER eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but my husband and children enjoy them on occasion. Our sandwiches are usually meat sandwiches. One local grocery store regularly discounts their deli meat to under $3 a pound. When it is $1.99 a pound, I buy all they have and freeze some if necessary. Chips are rarely purchased. I like to buy pretzels because they are not everyone’s favorite, and we don’t go through them as quickly. It’s sad, but true. Soup and leftovers make up most of our lunches. I think sometimes leftovers have a bad reputation, but we appreciate good leftovers here. I would much rather have leftovers than a hot dog any day. Salad was left off of the list (I guess I was thinking main dishes), but we have been known to enjoy a soup, salad, and bread lunch similar to that served at Olive Garden. My husband likes nothing better than a little pasta fagioli, salad, and garlic bread when he comes home from work. On that note, let me say that my husband does not normally eat at work, unless someone there feeds him. Those guys like to buy a box of doughnuts and pass them around. One gentleman, in particular, loves to bring new foods in for Rick to try, and his wife is often baking good things for the department. They have spoiled him a little. I have also been known to bring him a $1 biscuit from McD on occasion, but most days, Rick comes home for lunch. The thing is, he goes into work between 5 and 6 AM, and gets off around 1. He is usually hungry for a snack at his scheduled “lunch” time (around 10 AM), but he usually waits to eat his actual lunch until he gets off. Brian goes into work at 9 AM. He usually eats breakfast before he goes out the door and has lunch when he gets off at 1:30. I have offered to pack both gentlemen lunches, but they prefer to wait. I think they just like having a hot lunch when they get home rather than a cold one at work. Whatever the reason, my budget includes lunch for all 5 members of the family. With our schedules, it is much easier to keep everything simple at this meal, too.
#4- Dinner is always planned.
The menu plan is created for dinners. My stand-by meal is a meat, a pasta (or rice), a potato, and veggies. That’s more carbs than most would prefer. I understand that. However, if you look at pictures of my skinny children and husband, you will see that we don’t really overdo the carbs. Rick and Brian do heavy lifting all day at work. They need the calories, so I am sure to provide them. It is my personal goal to get Brian to gain at least 20 pounds. I am the only person in my household that could lay off the carbs, so I have to be a little more disciplined and back off. That being said, veggies are provided at every dinner (and usually lunch). I don’t normally have to fight my children to eat their veggies. Of course, they have their favorites, but they sometimes get to the point that they crave a salad. I am glad they listen to their bodies. I listed the meats, veggies, and salad items we have on a regular basis. Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list, only a basic, everyday list. Pastas are boxed. I don’t make my pasta from scratch, but I wish I could! I get them from a discount grocery store. I also stretch the boxed, flavored pastas by adding non-flavored pasta in. For instance, I might make one box of macaroni and choose and add two boxes worth of elbow noodles to stretch. It has never seemed to effect the flavor enough that the children or Rick and I are dissatisfied. This stand-by meal is one I use when I can’t think of anything else.
The meals listed under the dinner menu are the ones I make often. The ones with a “*” have recipes that are found on my Pinterest page. Be sure to check it out, but also be warned. Some of those recipes are SPICY! Make sure you adjust the spices to your families taste. Cut the black pepper in half, at least, if you are unsure. You can always add more spice later (especially when trying the tortellini soup). The one thing we don’t have too often is potato soup. It isn’t very filling, kind of like cereal. It is for special occasions. Ricky always wants it for his birthday. Any other recipes can be found in the red and white, Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. You can find those at thrift stores or look online.
#5- We drink water.
You may have noticed that there are no beverages listed. We drink water. There is tea in my house for guests or illness. My husband drinks coffee. Other than that, we drink water. Even when we go to a restaurant, our family normally has water. This is not just about our budget. This is for our health. Brian has never had a cavity, and Briana has only had one. Ricky has had a couple, but the dentist said that he appears to be genetically prone to them. We don’t drink soda except on RARE occasions. I am not a big fan, and to be honest, the children aren’t either. The family of Briana’s best friend laugh at her when they have birthday parties because she asks for water (and not because I told her to). Soda is not her favorite. For a treat, we will go to the coffee shop where they will enjoy a tea, a non-coffee frappuccino, or a fruit smoothie.
#6- We don’t buy snacks.
OK. To be entirely honest, we buy them for others. When there is a church fellowship or our homeschool co-op is having an event, we may buy snacks for convenience. However, we don’t regularly buy them for ourselves. If we want a snack, we have to make it from scratch. This keeps us from eating too much junk food. My favorite snack is pumpkin pie. I love snacks that add a bit of nutrition with all of the sugary goodness. It helps me to feel less guilty. You can see from my lead picture that Briana learned very early how to make snacks from scratch. She is a great cook!
This menu is filled with the things we make in our home, but you should create a menu of the things that you make in your home. Write it down. Ask your children. Ask your husband. Go through your Pinterest boards and cookbooks. Once you have a list, you can move on to the inventory, which I will write about briefly.
Once you have a menu plan, you can create a basic inventory. This is a list of food items (including spices) you should have on hand at all times. You could (and should if you are new to this) write it down, but I have mine memorized. I have done this for years, so I know exactly what I need. Before I go shopping, I look in my freezer, my refrigerator, and all of the cabinets to see what is missing or running low and I make a list. Having a running inventory in my head helps me to think ahead and make things last.
In part 3, we will discuss shopping. Now that we are prepared with a menu and our list from the inventory, we are ready to head out the door. Until next week, my friends!
Series now complete! Read every part!