You’ve just logged off your office intranet, gathered up your purse and your leftover lunch from the office fridge, pulled on your coat, and you are now making your way to your car after a long 9 to 10 hour work day. The clock in your five year old minivan says that you have 30 minutes to get home, prepare a meal and have it ready on the table for your family before they become a slavering pack of Vermicious Canids, capable of devouring an entire exhausted mommy in 30 seconds.
So what do you do? You can pull through the nearest drive thru and spend $30 on a meal that will pack on the pounds as well as the debt, or you can drive home, check the preplanned menu on the fridge, thaw the necessary components, and create a meal that your whole family will enjoy.
For the sake of this blog post, you will choose the latter, and here’s why…you are a hard working mom on a budget and while the idea of the convenience of fast food is a good one at times, you cannot, with clear conscience, feed your family fries and guilt every night of the week.
If you want to stay within a budget while still providing fast, healthy meals for your family, you need to follow these simple steps: plan a menu, shop according to that menu, pre-cook and pre-package to make the preparation time quick and easy. We’ll cover the first two in this first part of my guest blog post.
The Menu, Ma’am
The menu isn’t just a fancy list of prepared food items available in restaurants; savvy moms know that a menu can provide organization and ease in any home with working parents. When it comes to planning meals for over the course of a month, creating a menu will not only help you shop for foods, but it will also give you a way to incorporate the family in meal planning.
Step one of planning a menu is to pull the cheap grocery store provided wall calendar off the wall and flipping it to the next month. Step two is to pull out a pad of lined paper and a pencil. Step three is to gather the family the around you and brainstorm a lengthy list of favorite, easy to prepare meals. Step four is to schedule those meals throughout the next month – from Sunday to Saturday each week – making sure to skip days when you know there are other things planned (school banquet, Christmas party, Sunday Supper at the in-laws, etc…).
When you’re sitting down with your family, this is a good time to think up or research other creative meals that you might not have tried yet, but wouldn’t mind giving a go. Family meal time can be fun if you are all trying a new dish for the first time – learn to experiment.
Once you have the month scheduled with meals, your next step is to…
List Like a Madwoman
If you’ve sat down with your family to plan meals for the next month, chances are that you’ve already made most of these meals before. That means that you know that is required to make them; ingredients (fresh and packaged), so you can jot down what is required for each meal on another sheet of lined paper.
Your grocery list should consist of everything you need to make EACH of the meals on your menu (unless you’re planning a meal on the 30th that requires ingredients that would spoil before you can use them, which is a huge waste of money). If the ingredients can go in the pantry, buy them, if they are produce or meats, either buy them canned or dried, or freeze them immediately to preserve their ‘freshness’.
When you have a list of everything you need to make meals over the month, it is much easier to comparison shop or find coupons for the most expensive items.
Why is making a list important? If you walk into a store with only a menu in hand, you’re more than likely going to forget a number of important items that will either send you scrambling to the store after work one night, or leave you standing at the stove over an empty sauce pan with a red mark on your forehead in the shape of your right palm. Also, blind shopping typically leads to you spending money you don’t need to spend on items you may already have and didn’t remember you had, or on items that aren’t a part of any of the meals on your list. DON’T DEVIATE FROM THE MENU!
When you’re looking to create quick and easy meals for your family while saving some money, menus and lists are absolutely critical – together.
Creating a menu and forming a detailed shopping list based on that menu is one of the greatest tools I’ve ever used in my efforts to feed my family actual meals without paying more than I absolutely have to. We are growing into a family of 6 very soon, but I am still able to budget a whopping total of $600 for groceries per MONTH! How do I do it? Menus, lists, and a love affair with my local discount food store.
The bottom line is; while menus and lists may be a hassle at times, consider that buying fast food for a family of four 6 nights a week can total $180. Now, consider that the $180 you spent on 7 days food that will go bad overnight (no leftovers to stretch out over the course of the week) and create health issues, could have been spent on 12 days’ worth of healthy meals.
You do the math…and then come back next week for part two of this guest blog post.