I know we’ve all experienced it: the feeling of dread that overwhelms you when you’re standing in front of the fridge, just hoping and praying for a meal idea to appear. Many of us are spending much more time at home. That meal planning dread might be hitting us pretty hard.
The less you eat out, the more you eat at home, which means the more groceries you have to buy. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a budget buster. Our kids are teenagers, so it’s
almost like we have five adults in the house. We’re also a homeschool family, and both my husband and I are self-employed and work from home most days. That means most of our meals most of the time are at home. Over the years, there have been some creative ways I have found to help us save money.
The Meal Plan
Having a meal plan has helped me to nearly eliminate that standing-in-front-of-the-fridge-and-wondering-what-we’re-going-to-eat-dread. With my meal plan, I already know what we’re going to do. I’ve taken care of the thinking about it on another day. All I have to do is prepare what I already know I have planned. Having a meal plan fuels my grocery list, and sticking to my grocery list helps me cut back on unnecessary spending at the grocery store. We’re all big girls, so ultimately, sticking to that list requires self-control to say “no” to our whims. That includes the Target end-cap clearance sections, mamas… am I right?)
Speaking of lists and sticking to them…
The Grocery List
Shopping with a grocery list – and sticking to that list – has helped me save a lot of money over the years. It keeps me focused on what we need to buy so that I’m less distracted with all the whims that will inevitably jump out at me when I’m food shopping. Yes, I still add those things to my cart from time to time. But instead of a cart full of whims because I had no list, I have a cart full of what we need with maybe a whim or two thrown in.
Fresh is always preferred, but during this time where I don’t want to go to the grocery store as often, I have found that frozen steamable veggies are a wonderful option to eat healthy while saving time. I also try to focus on whole ingredients I can use to make things versus buying pre-packaged. Now that we have a little more time around the house, having baking ingredients available to make cookies and other baked goods as opposed to buying bags and boxes of pre-packaged snacks is a healthier option. You know exactly what ingredients are in it, and nothing beats the smell of freshly baked anything. A dear friend shared with me recently, “Keep it simple. Simple ingredients = fewer ingredients = less in the pantry to clutter and buy!”
Still working on this one, but I try to go food shopping only after I’ve exhausted as much from my fridge and pantry as I can. It forces me to get creative with what I already have, instead of rushing out to replenish things I may not need just yet. Again, those pesky whims that try to get the best of us and derail our monthly food budgets.
So what do we do once we get home with all that food?
The Meal Prep
Meal prep is probably my least favorite part of this process. The kitchen and I have learned to become better friends over the years. It is still a tense relationship at best. I am in the kitchen out of necessity because I care for my family and want to make sure they have food and are fed, and not because I really enjoy it a whole lot. In no particular order, here are a few things I have done to keep my time in the kitchen at a minimum and still get the job done:
- Using a slow cooker. I know, an Instapot is popular and super-safe, but I still prefer my slow cooker. (*insert here: I might be a little scared of them.) Once I add my ingredients and adjust it to the right setting, I can walk away.
- Make enough food for leftovers. Cook once, and eat from that more than once.
- Prepare two meals at once. I can put a lasagna in the oven, while my salsa chicken is in the slow cooker. If I’m feeling really ambitious, I can cook two of one dish – let’s say, have two lasagnas in the oven so that you can freeze one for a future meal.
I’ve never done this myself, but I have known several families over the years that have had a day to cook and prepare ALL their meals for the week. It was usually Sunday, and they would spend all day cooking and preparing their meals for the week. It made for a long and tiring day, but then all their meals were taken care of for the week. All they have to do is heat and serve, and they’re in the kitchen less time.
Here are some other tips shared with me via a recent Instagram poll I did:
- Food delivery and grocery pick-up services help save money – no impulse buying.
- Make a list and stick to it. (Hmm, where have I heard that before?)
- Buy and cook seasonal.
Money Saving Mom is a great resource – you can find her tips and helps (and coupons and savings deals!) here.
Would love to hear from YOU – what are some ways you have found save money with meals?