Another weekly column :)
Are you familiar with menu-planning? Planning your meals a week in advance can save you time, as well as keeping you on budget. Try this approach:
· Take a quick inventory of your fridge, freezer and pantry: What needs used up? What have you got that can be eaten this week? What must you purchase to complete some frugal meals?
· Consult the weekly grocery flyers: What is on special that can be incorporated into your plan? Begin a shopping list.
· Shop ONLY for the items on your list. Unless you spot a remarkable deal that can be used in next week’s meal plan, do not be tempted to overspend.
Returning to the grocery store throughout the week costs more money because people typically pick up a few extras every time they shop. Get in the habit of making a list and only going once. Now that you have your week’s groceries, write up your menu-plan. Some things to consider are:
- Have you got a busy night (or two) of the week? Plan easier meals for those nights, use a slow cooker, or cook a double portion the night before so part of your work is done. For example, an extra large pot of rice can be a side dish one night and part of a casserole the next. Put leftovers straight into a casserole dish and refrigerate so they are easier to reheat the next night. If you have meals planned in advance you can prepare by chopping the vegetables and thawing out meat a day ahead.
- When you make dishes like lasagna, meat sauce, chili, meatloaf or a favorite casserole, make a double batch and freeze one to avoid buying take-out on a busy night. Being prepared and cooking from scratch are great ways to reduce your grocery spending.
- Use your menu-plan to eliminate waste in your kitchen. Turn leftovers into soups or casseroles. Pair with a quick tossed salad or veggie platter and you have a healthy, satisfying meal that might otherwise have gone to waste. Keep in mind that every meal does not need to be gourmet quality. If you are drastically trying to reduce your spending, focus on nutrition and eliminating waste.
- When planning your menu, ask yourself if there are ways to reduce the cost of your meals. Can you bulk up the recipe with beans, lentils or seasonal vegetables? Can you use a less expensive cut of meat, marinade it and cook it longer to achieve a tender and less costly meal? There are thousands of frugal meal ideas online. Begin “pinning” and reading cookbooks or websites like allrecipes.com.
- When writing your shopping list, notice how much you are spending on empty calories. Do you drink pop? Do you buy juice for your kids? What about cookies and crackers and chips and snacks? Focus on spending your dollars on the healthiest and most nourishing food first—have you hit your budget limit before getting to the candy aisle? What are some cheaper alternatives to your favorite snacks? Pop your own popcorn at home and save. Bake your own cookies and sweets and reduce harmful preservatives at the same time.
- Take baby steps to avoid frustration and failure. If you are used to eating out, select ready-to-serve meals that cost less. If you are used to ready-to-serve, get some easy recipes for your favorite foods and try cooking from scratch. If you already cook from scratch, try switching up your routine. Substitute porridge for the kids’ usual high sugar cereal. Purchase frozen bags of fruit and vegetables and use smoothies to ensure you are achieving the recommended daily servings of fruit and vegetables. Notice what usually goes to waste in your fridge and stop buying it for awhile. Perhaps you were only buying it out of habit and won’t miss it.
- In every menu-plan, have one evening where you make “breakfast for supper”. Supplement quiche, pancakes, bacon and eggs or your favorite restaurant-style breakfast with a bowl of fruit or a smoothie. These meals are quick and affordable if you watch for specials on meat (assuming that meat is your thing).
- Remember to include in your plan (and shopping list) only the things that you will actually eat. There is no point buying ingredients that will go to waste or never be used. Ask people who have gone through lean times what they would cook—your parents, grandparents or an elderly neighbour might have wisdom to share. At any rate, take the opportunity to connect and have a visit.
Use the grocery flyers and in store coupons to get organized and save yourself time and money. And--if at all possible—please remember to support the local food bank. There are donation bins in every grocery store.