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Meal Planning and Summertime

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Food has not been one of my struggles. Meal planning has really saved me in this regard. I believe this is for three reasons:

  • I LOVE to cook for others, and therefore eating out is not a huge struggle. (I do not like to cook for just me.)
  • Aside from kids’ activities, I am home most of the time, so I can get away with spending time in the kitchen between work tasks.
  • It is one of the few expenses, I can control. And that feels good.

That being said, cooking and cleaning, especially when you do not have a dishwasher, can suck up your time. Big time! In an effort to control my time a bit more, I am simplifying our food a bit more for the summer.

Meal Planning

Not only will this continue to help control costs, but will also make meal prep less time consuming.

Meal Plan A:
  • Breakfast on your own. This works best since not everyone eats breakfast, and everyone gets up at different times depending on their schedules.
  • Lunch prepared by me and on the table by 2pm (there is a reason we eat this late.) It will primarily consist of sandwiches and chips, but a couple of days a week will be a full meal of meat, salad and hot veggie.
  • Dinner fresh cut veggies with dip and fruit.

I think this simple plan was brilliant. The kids, not so much.

Meal Plan B:
  • Breakfast is still on your own.
    • I’m typically the only one up during the traditional breakfast times. It’s my quiet time. Most of the time I cook a couple of pieces of bacon and eggs with veggies and cheese, but occassionally settle for a protein and fruit smoothie. (I’m controlling my diabetes by following a Keto meal plan so my carbs are very, very limited.)
  • Lunch is now our bigger meal.
    • Because Gymnast trains 3 nights a week, (more to come on why this is crossed out) we do not do alot of cooking at night, mostly because I’m too tired by the time we walk in at 9-9:30pm. Each of the kids prepares lunch 1-2 days a week. They are responsible for planning, preparing, serving and cleaning up.
    • It is served at 2pm every week day. And that is also when we do “school.” Princess trains from 11am-2pm two days a week. Gymnast and I walk out the door at 3pm three days a week for his training. It’s tight but it works for us.
  • Dinner continues to be simple fare.
    • I keep fresh veggies cut up and ranch dip made. This is typically enough for Gymnast and I. Princess will often cook soup if she wants more than that. I have started packing this type of dinner for Gymnast and I on our late nights. This way I can eat earlier rather than waiting so late, and Gymnast eats on the hour drive home.

Grocery Shopping

I have always admired people who do the monthly cooking or meal prep. But I just cannot get the hang of it. But weekly cooking, that works for me.

Once I week I go to the grocery store and stock up on any fresh veggies and fruits we need. We keep an on going list of chores, needed groceries, weekly menu and a wishlist of small items on the whiteboards in our dining room. (These used to be our school boards, but have now taken on a different purpose.)

whiteboard with chore list

Our whiteboards are invaluable in our house – grocery list, chore list, meal plan and even math work.

I buy meat in bulk from either Sams Club or Quality Foods. Both have a great meat selection and sells family packs of most items. We keep it in the freezer. I typically only have to buy meat every couple of months.

Meal Prep

On my cooking day, which typically falls on a weekend, depending on my work schedule, I prep everything:

  1. I cut up veggies and store them in air tight containers for quick grab and serve meals and snacks. I reuse alot of sandwich meat containers along with plastic storage containers I’ve had for years. We keep colored peppers, cauliflower, carrots, celery as well as broccoli on hand almost all the time.
  2. At the same time, I chop up onions, peppers, mushrooms and anything else that caught my eye at the store for inclusion in recipes for the week. I adore my kitchen tools. I do not have a lot of them, but those we have, get used almost daily. I am a HUGE fan of Pampered Chef stuff. Yes, I know it is expensive, but truly lasts and lasts and does what you expect it too.
  3. While I’m doing the cutting and chopping, I brown ground beef, bake chicken breasts, put together meatloaf and post a menu for the week on the whiteboard in our dining room. I then freeze or refrigerate the meats in whatever manner I will use them.
    1. Meatloaf gets frozen in the casserole dish so it’s ready to pop in the over.
    2. Chicken breasts get chopped into bite size pieces because we use it on salads all week.
    3. Ground beef gets drained and cooled, and maybe seasoned with taco seasoning. Then frozen in 1-2lbs increments so it’s ready to prepare for whatever the meal is that week.

You get the point…

Pre-Packaged Food

We really do not buy too much pre-packaged foods. But there are a few I keep on hand for when the kids need a quick meal or have friends over and I’m feeding more than I expected. The things I keep on hand are:

  • Lasagna
  • Buffalo Wings from Aldis
  • Frozen Pizzas (not often but sometimes)
  • Fruit cups of Mandarin Oranges for Gymnast
  • Fruit cups of Peaches for Princess

As I said, we do pretty good with food. The kids grew up helping with grocery shopping, meal preparation and cleaning. It’s just what we do.

I will always remember when we had my parents over for a meal when Princess and Gymnast were 6 and 5 maybe. I had set the table with steak knives for whatever it was we were having. My dad about had a heart attack seeing them use a sharp knife themselves. Then to tell him that they had helped chop the vegetables for the meal. It was so foreign to him.

I truly do have amazing kids, and all four of them are well prepared for taking care of themselves and their loved ones in the kitchen!


Food Spending Recap

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Food spending has always been a bit of a struggle for us. Last month, I really set my mind to tightening up our budget and documenting our weekly spending to help keep me accountable.

Check out previous updates:

Week 1 spending report

Week 2 spending report

Week 3 spending report

I ended up traveling during Week 4 and never finished the month up with a proper Food Spending Report.

As a reminder, I had originally planned to spend $300 for restaurants/eating out and $450 for groceries. But when I started using Every Dollar’s budgeting software, I realized I was still spending too much money on food! I ended up lowering my food budget down to $200 for restaurants/eating out and $350 for groceries.

When I’d last left off (in Week 3), I had $98 left in our grocery budget, but I had no money leftover at all for any restaurants/eating out expenses.

April Spending

In the end, I came SO.SO. close to hitting our goals, but went just a smudge above-budget. Our final food spending for the month of April came to $404 in groceries and $217 in restaurants/eating out. That was $71 above budget (but still well below what has become our average food spending). One caveat is that we also had Dream Dinners in April, which cost another $250 on food. Our total April food spending came to $871. The previous month, our bill had been over $1,000 so this represents progress but it’s still nowhere near where we need to be. I want to get our total food spending down to $700/month (combined restaurants and groceries).

Plan for May

For the month of May, we have no Dream Dinners. I increased our grocery budget to $450 in an effort to subsidize some of the loss of not having Dream Dinners. I increased our restaurant/eating out budget to $250. That’s a total of $700 for the month in food. I know this is still a crazy-high number for many others, but it’s a STRUGGLE for us and leaves us with eating many interesting and not-so-palatable food options just to use up what we’ve got. It’s been tough, but I think it’s good for us. And with this month already over the half-way point, I can say we’re currently on-par with where we need to be. ¬†As the summer begins and I get to spend more time working from home I anticipate a more relaxed and flexible work schedule. Hopefully this will allow me extra time to do my due diligence with meal planning, sales ad shopping, food prep, etc. Wish me luck!

How many people are in your family and what is your current food budget per week (or per month)?

p.s. Incidentally, I found a great article on what proteins you should buy if you’re short on cash. Its over at my friend Angela’s site, groceryshrink.com.


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