I had been really frustrated by how much our weekly grocery bill was, and how we always seemed to be out of one or more items when I was ready to cook.
Here's what I did to turn this situation around. And de-stress my dinner routine by about 45%.
First, I decided to make a simple meal plan. It's really not that difficult, and we don't hold to it like it is written in stone, but it sure helps me cut back on the "I should be cooking now, what am I going to make" blues. For a while, the plans used the calendar template from word and I just printed out a month calendar with the main dish typed in each square like this:
(Another post will follow on what I am doing with the meal plan now, but this is where I started)
None of the meals are new, they're all things we have on a regular basis and that I can cook without having a cookbook open. Plus, I know my family will eat the main part of the meal...
This way, I had an idea about what I was making, but flexibility with fruit and veg. Sometimes we might plan for rice and the kids might want noodles or potatoes (not likely) but I can usually be flexible enough to change as needed.
When I started shopping with the pantry in mind then, I could stock up frugally for the month, and know what proteins we were going to need for the month's menu. I could also plan to cook something like a whole chicken for supper, and use the leftover chicken for a pasta dish later in the week. I also gave myself a bit of a break by planning crockpot fridays (which I sometimes forget to start, but it is with good intentions....)
For the shopping piece, the biggest change I made was to start combing the sale sheets here in my hometown. Now, we do not get the local newspaper (picture a two year old destroying that on a daily basis and you will know why) but I can look at all the sale flyers online. I look for items that I know we will be using and are at my target price or lower. How do I know a target price you ask?
When I started researching the idea of keeping a pantry, a blogger I read suggested to start a small notebook that you can keep in your purse. When you see items on sale, you can note down where you got it, and the price. I organized my little notebook by food type: dairy, staples, baking, frozen, etc.
I think the thing about this is that it forced me to pay closer attention to where I was shopping, and when prices were actually good compared to an advertised sale. I could also start to see patterns in the sales that the stores were running.
For instance, one local market had butter on sale this weekend for $1.99 a pound. That's sure better than the $3.29 and up that it usually is, but my target price is $1.79 or less. So, I did not stock up on butter this time. (FYI, the best time to buy butter is around Easter and Thanksgiving.) Stores may have limits on that $1.79 butter, but I may stop back 3 or 4 times during the week to replenish my supply. We keep a good supply of butter in the freezer so I never have to worry that I am out. (No, I do not buy margarine. I don't know what is in it, so we don't eat it.)
This system worked well for me for about a year. I don't use the mini notebook as much anymore, because I kind of have those prices filed in my brain for the stuff we stock up on the most often, but I really want to start doing the notebook again for meat prices-- that's my next goal.
Here is a list of the things that I keep on hand in my pantry so you can get a basic idea of what I shop for:
- Cake mixes (handy for company, coffee cakes, potlucks, etc.)
- Brown Sugar
- Powdered Sugar
- Dried Fruit (Apples, Cranberries, Cherries, Raisins)
- Peanut butter
- Pasta: Angel Hair in multiple quantities and a variety of other shapes and egg noodles
- BBQ Sauce (I want to can my own this year)
- Premade Spaghetti Sauce (for crazy nights--I'd like to can my own of this this year too)
- Evaporated Milk
- Sweetened Condensed Milk
- Canned Soup-- Mostly Cream of Mushroom and Cream of Chicken for soups like Chicken Tortilla
- Ramen Noodles
- Rice-a-Roni (again for quick and crazy meals)
In addition to these, I also can produce. (That's why I don't have things on here like applesauce or tomatoes) More on that in my next post!