Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, February 4, 2011

Meal Planning and Monthly Shopping (long post alert)

This new approach has been working out wonderfully-which is great. I have tried for YEARS to get a meal plan that fit our family. The weekly thing wasn't working-for one the more time we spend in the store, the more we buy, which is not out of the ordinary, it seems. I also tended to stray from the weekly meal plan, a lot. I tried doing a different theme each night to make it easier to fill in the blanks, or thought it would be easier to try new things since we had planned them. Yeah, not so much. I also hate having to shop several different places to get a bargain, or to just get all we need. I am not a very good coupon clipper. I clip some every once in a while, or use them for going to eat pretty well, but for groceries it didn't work. One big reason for that is that I am not a brand slave. A few items we end up buying brand name, like the occasional Reece's Peanut Butter Cup, as Dad insists all others will not suffice, but for the most part I want cheap, but quality. I am in the middle of doing a bunch of cost comparison between the places we have frequented in the past. So far, with the cost of membership added in for Costco, Aldi is winning the race. I have to look at my data for Fareway and will need to stop by Sam's Club, but my educated guess is that Aldi will end up winning. With having to basically re-distribute my purchases from bulk clubs to make them flow with our routine, time is an issue as well. One plus of not shopping there is that my items come in all ready-to-use sizes. I like being able to buy a lot of some items. I think I have gotten past needing to do this at bulk stores, and rather, am starting to build our pantry and emergency food storage through just buying a little extra each month, and watching sales.
Though I fail at couponing, I do do pretty well at watching the circular ads I get in the mail to see when super deals pop up. Recently that meant running to HyVee outside our normal in-town days in order to take advantage of a deep sale on chicken and pasta sauce (I only had stewing chicken left in my freezer from our own birds), both things that will store well in the freezer and pantry. I bought as much as the ad would let me, and won't have to buy either for months now, helping out the monthly grocery budget. It also helps me build our emergency pantry, and all it takes is reading the ads, which come in our mail once a week, for free. I keep track of what the average cost of what we usually buy is on top of that, so I know when something is on-sale for just a little less than we usually pay, and when something is on sale enough to warrant a special trip and special deviation from our usual grocery budget.
Our newest venture in the shopping arena is to only shop once a month. This takes planning on my part-I need to know what we eat for snacks, meals and little extras, and estimate how much we will need in a month by looking at previous months. Whoever said running a household was easy stuff didn't take their job seriously :) From that I generate our grocery list, divided into sections for pantry, refrigerated, meat, frozen and fruits and veg. This list should not change month to month, with the exception of months when fruits, veg and our dairy animals, are in season. In those months I make a point to preserve what we aren't eating fast enough for use through the winter, and so far each year we have canned just little more than the last, and we feel the help it gives in the grocery budget. For pantry items, even if we do not need the amount put on the list, I buy it anyway. My grocery bill remains the same each month (for the most part), so I can budget that out, and I build our pantry storage by just buying our usual items. We just don't always go through everything. There may be a birthday or anniversary dinner out that saves that dinner's items. We may have a spontaneous breakfast out on a weekend just for fun. We may entertain guests and use a little more. I think many people are concerned with not spending too much each month on food, but not enough are concerned with not spending enough. That little extra is better spent on a little storage and meal insurance than it is on something else. Don't get me wrong, we are working on wittling down debt, but that happens by cutting other areas, and by shopping smart in the first place, not cutting our food back to nearly nothing. During the summer when fresh produce will be coming straight out of the garden, I will still spend the same amount on groceries-just on items we can stock up on like grains and sweeteners. I think the biggest thing is looking at the big picture and having a plan-then sticking to it. It is different for everyone, this is just what is working for us.
So, all of that leads to our meal plan and grocery shopping list. This is what we have so far, though we are still tweaking everything. We find a meal that just isn't flying with everyone or a new favorite that needs worked. During the summer fresh produce will be added and some meals adapted for outdoor cooking.

One Month Meal Plan~
I keep all of this in a binder divided into each week, with the recipes for that week put in behind for easy access. Recipes that are used more than once are placed at the front of the binder in a "basic" area for easy reference. I also keep my recipe for our gluten-free flour blend and a few easy desserts for family nights or when we're entertaining here, too. I have a whole other binder for other recipes that we aren't using all the time, but are ones we want to save for special occasions. Also housed in that are recipes we want to try. I flip through them from time to time and pull a new one out. Otherwise, I've found our plan works best when we stick to tried and true family faves that I am comfortable cooking-especially after a busy day of errands.

Basic Recipe Section:
Banana Bread
Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies
All-Purpose Gluten Flour Blend
Gluten Free Thin Crust Pizza Dough
Potato Farls
Gluten Free Artisan Bread in 5 Brioche
Apple Crisp

Week One:
Sunday-Breakfast is potato farls and eggs;  
Lunch out, most likely visiting great grandparents;  
Dinner is Wisconsin Swiss Potato Soup
Monday-Breakfast during the week rotates according to the kid's desires from scrambled eggs, cereal and toast with nutella and fruit;  
Lunch is homemade lunchables (all reference to lunchables throughout is homemade-crackers, cheddar or colby cheese, sliced, and lunchmeat-ham or turkey, plus fruit and veggies) and fruit, eaten in the truck since we run errands this day and  
Dinner on Mondays is our chance to try new things, though I have standbys planned many nights in case we just don't feel like it. Right now this Monday is open.
Tuesday-Lunch is tuna melts;
Dinner is Broiled Chicken Thighs with Peach Salsa with a tossed salad, cottage cheese and some pickled veggie
Wednesday-Lunch is Ham and Cheese sandwiches and
we share dinner with our fr-amily the Reids, otherwise if we have to cancel for some reason, I pull out a freezer meal
Thursday-Lunch is lunchables in the truck again for art class and errands, and
dinner is Tacos. Thursday is Beef/Goat/Lamb night.
Friday-Lunch is leftovers/pasta.
Dinner is pizza with tossed salad. Every Friday night is pizza night at our house.
Saturday-Since Dad is home we have big breakfasts on the weekend. Waffles and turkey/beef bacon. Lunch is Dad's signature sandwich, potato panini with chips, veggies and dip, and
Dinner is Meatloaf, cooked in the crockpot.

Week 2
Sun: B-Bacon and Cheese Casserole
L-Out or with Grandparents
D-Great Lakes Salmon Chowder (this is a new recipe we haven't tried yet. It may get changed)
Mon: L-Lunchables, out running errands
D-something new
Tues: L-leftovers
D-Chicken Tortilla Soup
Wed: L-Leftover or Mac and Cheese
D-With the Reids or Freezer Meal
Thurs: L-Lunchables, art class
D-Steak night with tossed salad and cottage cheese
Friday: L-Ham and Cheese Sandwiches
D-Pizza and salad
Sat: B-Pancakes and bacon
L-Potato Farls
D-Taco Salads (meat cooked in crockpot all day)

Week 3
Sun: B-Eggs, Bacon and hashbrowns
L-Out or with Grandparents
D-Beef Stew
Mon: L-Lunchables
D-Salmon Patties or something new
Tues- L-Ham and Cheese
D- Tortilla Pie with Chicken
D-Reids/Freezer Meal
D-Beef Stroganoff Stuffed Potatoes
D-Pizza and salad
Sat-B-Waffles and Bacon
L-Potato Panini/Sausage Kale and Potatoes
D-Chili Dogs with salad and chips

Week 4-
Sun-B-Egg Casserole
L-out or with Grandparents
D-Hot and Sour Soup; this week we'll be with the Reids for the Superbowl, though
D-Spaghetti Pie
Tues-L-Ham and Cheese
D-Chicken and Ginger Stirfry over rice
D-Reids/Freezer Meal
D-Beef Enchiladas
D-Pizza and salad
Sat-B-Pancakes and Bacon
L-Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwiches
D-Goat Posole

Then we start over after four weeks with another trip to the grocery store and new rotation of the weeks. I keep things like grilled cheese sandwiches, quesadillas and hamburgers on hand for those nights when we just run out of time, or are really tired or just don't want to eat what is planned, which doesn't happen often.
So, that leaves the shopping list. I came away spending $160, plus I had to pick up chocolate milk mix (ovaltine or Nestle) elsewhere. I also am a member of our local food buying group, and try to purchase local goods through them when we can. In the deep of winter in Iowa, choices are limited. I have memberships to a few natural goods mail-order groups, too, where I get random items that are hard to find or hard to get at good prices here, like the specialty flours I use for my gluten issues and spices/herbs and beauty supplies. I don't order there more than once every month or two, so it doesn't add too much to my bill. I will work on the master list post later, as this post is pretty long. I have list that lists what we need to have on hand all the time, then there is the list that is store specific. I also try to stop by Fareway once every week or two and check out the scratch and dent shelf, as well as produce clearance. I make some great finds there.

Homemaking is an ART. Don't let anyone else tell you differently. Each area of the home has specific needs and to do it well it takes time, practice and patience. Each family will find what works best for them, or suffer through chaos. My mind functions best when things are methodical, and so planning and having lists to work from makes me comfortable, just like clearing clutter and having a routine does.


  1. Great post! Meal planning in my least fav-o-rite thing to do...I just recently organized my best recipes into binders but that is as far as I've gotten with that. I'm a total planner but when it comes to meals, I just don't know what happens. I'm a pantry woman too though, so that helps for those last minute meals when you just didn't get it done ahead.
    Have a blessed week Abby.


  2. I used to plan meals on a monthly basis, but got out of the habit when I was pregnant with baby #4. Consequently, our grocery bills have gone up. Way up. Thanks for great reminder that there is a better way. I'm ready to jump back in!

    (I also love to see other people's meal plans-- it helps get the creative juices flowing when I feel like we're getting into a rut, food-wise).

  3. @ Steph, I know! I love to see others meal plans. You never know when you'll see a brilliant idea,or like you mentioned, if you've gotten out of it, to get the inspiration to jump back in. It has taken a lot of time to get to this point. Meal plans and I have never really got a long well until this point, but this has been working so far, so I am thrilled. Thanks for posting!

    @Traci-You have a blessed week, too :) I told Cheryl we need to have a block party or something sometime so we can all meet in "real" life.


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