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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Meal Planning = Money Saving

Today's post is brought to us by... Marica over at NorthsideGuerillaFarmer.synthasite.com

I love old books. I collect them, I read them, I trust them more than I trust Wikipedia or Ask.com. Someday I will write about the values of old books. For now let me share with you something from Meta Given’s “The Modern Family Cook Book” (1942).

“The Meal Planner’s Creed
“The health of my family is in my care; therefore--
I will spare no effort in planning the right kinds of food in the right amounts.
“Spending the food dollar for maximum value is my job; therefore--
I will choose from the variously priced foods to save money without sacrificing health.
“My family’s enjoyment of food is my responsibility; therefore--
I will increase their pleasure by planning for variety, for flavorful dishes, for attractive color, for appetizing combinations.
“My family’s health, security, and pleasure depend on my skill in planning meals; therefore--
I will treat my job with the resect it is due.”

There’s a lot to reflect on in this passage, but I want this post to be short so I’ll leave it to you all to reflect and comment.

Planning a weekly menu saves money. Not knowing you or your family, I’m going to describe how we do it, and ask that others who plan out their meals share their secrets as well. We can learn from each other.

We are fortunate, we have a deep freezer. It’s stocked with veggies from the garden, fruit from the farmers’ market, and meat. Secret #1: Find out when the butcher marks down the meat and get yourself to the store that morning. It’s amazing how much money you can save. Our cut-off is 50%; that is, if it isn’t 1/2 off the original price, we pass it up. Advertised sales and specials are generally about 25-30% off regular price. Even if your rule is to buy only meat on sale, and even if you don’t have a deep freezer, you’ll still be saving an additional 25% by carefully shopping the markdown bin and just popping it in your regular freezer.

Secret #2: Make a list of what you have in the freezer. We use a spreadsheet, but a simple rolling list stuck on the door of the fridge would do just as well. Delete or cross off what you use.
My husband, John, does almost all the meal planning and cooking. We shop on Sunday morning. Bright and early Sunday morning he sits down and starts planning. This means he literally takes a piece of paper and writes “Sunday,” “Monday,” “Tuesday,”... down the left hand side. We’ve been at this a while, but if you’re new to this, Secret #3 may help you get started: designate “nights.” We have Sunday supper, veggie night, steak night, and fun food night. We change this up every now and again, for example, during the warmer months we add fish night. If your family loves pasta, you might schedule pasta night on a weekly basis. Plan the nights according to your family’s schedule. We typically have a couple of friends over for supper on Sunday and serve something a little special because we have all day to prepare it. Sunday supper includes a dessert that we’ll be nibbling on for three or four days. Veggie night is Tuesday because left over veggies (not just steamed veggies but casseroles and such) become the side dishes for Wednesday’s supper. Thursday is steak night (broadly construed) because one John’s students comes over, and he is a meatatarian. Friday is fun food night because it’s TGIF, and our habit is to stop at our local tavern on the way home. But instead of going out to dinner (and spending money on another drink) we come home to chicken wings and fries, or calzone, or burgers (fun food and cheaper beer). Designated nights gives you a road map to begin planning a week’s worth of meals. It’s worth repeating that you do this based on your schedule. You know you’ll be late getting home on Thursday. Which is less expensive, stopping at the deli or fast food place and picking something up, or throwing some stuff in the crock pot Thursday morning before you leave for work?

Secrets #1-3 work together. For example, last Saturday a friend came over unexpectedly and offered to take out a tree. In repayment, we invited him and his family over for Sunday supper. This sort of spur of the moment company can be a big whollop to your grocery budget. You want to do something really special (it was an obnoxious tree) but it’s the end of the month. Ah ha! There just happened to be a 10 lb. ham in the freezer; a 10 lb. ham originally $17.99 that we paid $8.99 for. We fed eight people for $9 + the cost of a dozen potatoes (bought last week on sale) + a can of pineapple + a jar of marachino cherries + a little brown sugar + homemade brownies. Not bad. But it gets better.

So John starts the weekly menu with ham for Sunday supper. There will be left over ham. That means we can have one of our favorite ham casseroles and a tossed salad on Monday, and a ham souffle on Saturday. We can freeze the bone, remembering to record it (see Secret #2), for soup some other time. It also means ham sandwiches for lunch Monday. Secret #4: No matter what you plan for supper each evening, make enough for left overs and pack your own lunch. If you have to eat lunch out every day-- or worse, microwave boxes of who knows what-- you must be either spending a lot of money or be really bored with your choices, or both.

You can see how planning is starting to go. With the list of stuff you have in the freezer, and in conjunction with your grocery store’s weekly newspaper ad, sitting at your kitchen table planning out the weekly menu is like a trip to the store before you even leave your house.

With a weekly meal plan sitting in front of us, it’s simply a matter of looking at each item on the menu and asking, do we have what we need to make this? If not, it goes on the grocery list, along with the handful of staples we’re running low on. (Remember, too, that if you’ve been stocking up on things on sale, like canned goods, and you are in a temporary financial bind, you can look at your stockpile. Just do yourself a favor and re-stock as soon as you are able.) Secret #5a: going to the grocery store with a list based on a meal plan saves money because you’re not buying stuff, especially perishables, you may not wind up using. Secret 5b: It saves time. Have the list, pick the item up, put it in the cart, check it off. Next item.

Secret #6: Plan on “extras,” and make them yourself if you can. We make almost everything ourselves: salad dressing, bread, bar-b-que sauce, marinade, grapefruit juice, wine. We call these extras and they are included in our meal planning. If we are running low on mustard, John jots it on the weekly menu, and will make mustard one evening. You may have different extras. After-school snacks. Stuff for the kids’ breakfasts and lunches. Crackers and dip for cocktail hour. Fishing food. Whatever your extras are, you are probably buying them at the store. These things cost money. If it hits you at 6pm that you are completely out of granola bars for the kids’ lunches, you are going to spend a lot of money at the Stop & Rob. Plan on extras and make them at home it you can.

I see people in the grocery store wandering aimlessly about as if they were in a trance. What are they doing? Looking for sales? Looking for ideas for tonight’s dinner? No, they are wasting time and money. They don’t have a plan. This is no way to live.

Anyone else want to share your Secrets?

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Ohio Preppers Network Est. Jan 17, 2009 All contributed articles owned and protected by their respective authors and protected by their copyright. Ohio Preppers Network is a trademark protected by American Preppers Network Inc. All rights reserved. No content or articles may be reproduced without explicit written permission.