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I.hate.grocery.shopping.

Rather, I hate grocery shopping, knowing that I need to stick to a budget, because grocery prices are OUTOFCONTROL!  Shopping is now an exercise in discipline, which seems like an inherent oxymoron, if you ask me!

It’s time to be strategic, fellow parents!  And yes, that still goes for those of us that start to hyperventilate when we think about sticking to a schedule.  (Funny thing is though, I LOVE schedules, I just love being able to deviate from them if I need to!)

Menu planning saves SO much money – it’s basically a budget for your FOOD.  Therefore, you know that for this meal, I need X-amount of such and such.  I can look at the 7 basic dinner meals that I have laid out for one week, and then budget my INGREDIENTS accordingly, so that when I get to the store and I know that I need rice this week, I know how much rice I need, and so I don’t buy to much or too little.  Too much, and I have to cut corners somewhere else.  Too little, and I am running to the grocery store 17 times a week to get that “one last thing I forgot.”  Both issues can break the bank, and I don’t have a lot of extra wiggle room these days!

So, for those of you who have never once considered menu planning, I have some tips to get you headed in the right direction – because we can’t afford to splurge anymore!

  1. Don’t worry about introducing new exotic dishes.  When you’re first starting out and getting into the habit of menu planning, stick to the recipes you’re familiar with and you know the family loves.  This makes it easier and at the end of the week, you aren’t wondering what to do with the extra bok choy from the Tom Kha soup that no one liked.  yeah, exactly.
  2. Don’t worry about breakfast and lunch.  Yes, I know you need to eat and I don’t expect you to fast, but right now, just look at your dinner menus.  Those typically call for more ingredients and tend to be more planning-intensive. Start planning dinners first, and choose easy, repetitive meals for breakfast and lunch until you get the hang of it.
  3. Keep a Running list of favorites.  Use pinterest, or create an online recipe book through such sites as food.com and allrecipes.com to get a running list of your families favorites.  Believe it or not, you can also use pen and paper!  Simply make a list of foods by main ingredients: chicken, beef, seafood, vegetarian, etc and start listing all of your families favorites.  This will give you a starting point when you sit down to make your menu for the week, as well as your corresponding grocery list.
  4. Don’t wait until the night before! I typically go grocery shopping on Saturday.  So, without fail, I find myself making out my menu for the following week on Friday night.  Give yourself TWO days.  I know this sounds like a huge commitment, but hear me out.  If you shop on Saturday, start planning on Thursday.  This gives you TIME – plain and simple.  Time to surf pinterest for some new recipe ideas, time to print off some amazing Traditional Foods recipes from Cheeky Bums [insert shameless plug], and time to make a comprehensive list.  If I wait until the night before, I ALWAYS forget things on my list.  You’re simply giving your brain time to process, because let’s face it, if you wait until the night before to check out pinterest for recipes, after 3 hours, you will have completely re-designed your home, your future child’s nursery, and you’ll have made a “sewing board” – and you don’t sew. And you will have very few recipes to show for it.
  5. Look at your schedule for the week.  Don’t plan elaborate meals that take hours of prep work if Johnny has basketball every night this week and little Suzy has dance rehearsal Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  Remember, this is all about being strategic, so budget your TIME as well as your money.  Have a crazy week?  Then plug in that crockpot and check out recipes that can be made ahead.

Yes, this is time consuming.  No, it’s not glamorous.  But in a weird way, it is kinda fun (please don’t burst my bubble, just humor me…)  Meal planning is like an enormous jig saw puzzle, and it’s all about making the right ingredients fit on the right evenings, within a really tiny conservative budget.  Whether it’s up to mom or dad to plan the meals and do the grocery shopping, it’s time to buckle down and find what works! Chris talked about budgeting on Monday, and this is the same idea…we’re budgeting our menus and ingredients, so that we CAN operate within a food budget!

So, without further adieu…

This week, The Reas are having:

Monday – Roasted Chicken with root veggies (then the remains get thrown in with some onions, carrots, garlic and celery to make chicken stock for the week)

Tuesday – Calzones made with this crust, stuffed with cheese and veggies

Wednesday – Cheeseburger Soup (recipe below)

Thursday – Soft taco night – homemade tortillas with all the gloriously messy stuffings (meat, beans, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole, sour cream and olives)

Friday – Pakistani Kima (a wonderful Middle Eastern dish, from the cook book, More With Less – coming soon!)

Saturday/Sunday -

  • leftovers with a side of leftovers
  • popcorn + smoothies
  • breakfast for dinner (using these great pancakes from this post)
  • omelets
  • fruit/veggie/cheese plates with hummus
  • cheese and bean quesadillas

Do you use a menu plan?  What tips can you add to our list?

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Cheeseburger Soup

  • 8-10 large potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 3-4 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 3 celery stalks, diced
  • approx. 6 cups of chicken stock (homemade if possible!)
  • 4 Tbs. butter
  • 8 oz cream cheese, cubed (it will melt faster)
  • whole milk/cream OR additional chicken stock
  • salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste

This is a very basic potatoe soup recipe.  Simply simmer the veggies in the stock just until fork-tender; try not to overcook so that the potatoes are still slightly dense.  Remove about 2/3 of the soup, and blend it until mostly smooth, then return it to the pan. (You can also use an immersion blender and it cuts down on the mess – I hate extra dirty dishes!)  At this point, add in the butter, cream cheese, milk and spices.  These are all to taste, so make the soup as runny or thick as you like, by adjusting the amount of milk/stock.  This is the base of the soup, but the toppings are the fun part!

Top with: (any or all)

  • seasoned, cooked ground beef (I use seasoning salt and pepper)
  • crispy bacon
  • diced fresh tomatoes
  • shredded cheddar cheese
  • diced onions
  • finely chopped dill pickles
  • finely shredded lettuce

and enjoy!  This is such a unique soup and the base is so hearty that it fills you right up!  This is the ultimate comfort food, and don’t plan on many left-overs!

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This post is part of Real Food Wednesdays and Frugal Days, Sustainable WaysSimple Lives ThursdayPennywise Platter ThursdayFight Back Friday, and Fresh Bites Friday

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