I know what you’re thinking. How can $1500 be only half our monthly food budget?
Well, as a large family living of nine in Quebec where food costs can be daunting, it was no great feat to dump $3,000 a month on food. AND that’s with very very limited processed foods (some dry goods like cereal) and zero packaged snacks, or ‘eating out’.
But, to be sure, we passionately FEAST on our homestead. Gathering around our meal table is one of our greatest joys.
Admittedly, however, at the end of a busy week, I often threw care to the wind and arrived at the grocery store to buy whatever I felt like making that week. I usually donned a list, but the major meal prep sounded so overwhelming that I avoided it like the plague.
During our Debt-Free Journey however, I had this “AHA” moment. I realized I needed to “take control” of our monthly meals that affected so much of our daily life. I knew if I wanted us to save big on expenses and still eat bountifully, I would have to be more intentional about meal preparation.
Meal Planning with a Purpose
Which leads me to the wonderful method of meal planning I have discovered, that not only saved us time, but also shaved $1500 off our food bill!!
Meal planning is everything and really makes or breaks a budget. If you walk into a grocery without a plan, and cash in hand (Studies show we spend more when we use a card of any kind!) prepare to spend more than you anticipated.
Tip #1. Plan with the Whole Month in Mind AND TAKE INVENTORY of Your Stock!
I know how crazy this sounds. But MAN, what a relief to get through a whole month without wondering “What’s for Dinner?”. I never thought I would plan meals a month in advance. As many people have told me, “How do you know what you will FEEL like eating that day?”.
Well, in our family of nine, not one person will feel like the same food as the next person in any given day.
We manage this by teaching gratitude (not everything has to be what we want that minute), and making healthy whole food meals from scratch. Additionally, I guess my desire for not having to think about “what’s for supper” that night outweighs my appetite.
But, I will say, we try to create DELICIOUS healthy meals from scratch that don’t break the budget. And ones that generally everyone in our family love!
So think about what meals you typically ate in the last month, and simply PLAN to make them. Don’t be afraid of “repeats”. We love doing themed meal nights to help with planning.
Here are Some Suggestions!
- Meatless Mondays
- Taco Tuesdays
- Wild Caught Wednesdays ( This means fish! And BONUS you can use up leftovers from taco night)
- Thirsty Thursday. Sometimes we will do a “Smoothie night” and add in a side of fresh baked banana bread to change things up!
- French Fry Friday usually includes burgers and HOME FRIES.
- Silly Saturday means we Do Homemade PIZZA! This doesn’t have to be a fortune. There are hundreds of varieties of pizza out there, and they do not all have to include gobs of mozzarella! Try the gourmet “Pear and a Crumble of Goat Cheese” version. Delish!
- Sunday “Siesta”. Aptly named as this is a Day of Rest for us. We are not always great at following our own rules and relaxing, but we do always try to do family centred meals and ones that are prepped the day or weeks before, so we can truly take a break from the intensity of meals prepping. And meals can be INTENSE in a family our size!
DO NOT make your meal plan before scouring the freezers and pantry for food you have that you can put to good use in your current meal plan!
Tip #2 Buy the Week BEFORE the New Month Arrives
This is pretty straightforward, but I’ll explain. Pre-paring for the month ahead means you want ti be intentional before the new month hits with hungry mouths and food prepared.
BUY WHAT’S ON SALE.
STICK TO THE PERIMETER of the store. Avoid isles. Isles are typically full of sugar, unnecessary refined carbs and actually lead us to crave more junk food rather than whole, healthy food.
Stock up on frozen and fresh veggies, fruit and meat that is on sale.
Eating whole foods, avoiding processed items, no matter how many coupons you have, will end up saving you money down the road on health bills at the very least.
Tip #3. Write Down Meals for EVERY Day of the Month and Keep Your Menu in VIEW.
This is SUCH a stress relief. Our kids almost never ask me what’s for dinner anymore. They just run excitedly to the fridge to read the menu and see what we are having that night.
Check what is on sale at your local grocery as close to the next month as possible, leaving a few days in advance that you can meal prep for the month.
Make a list of staples that are on sale, like proteins and produce, and grains if you eat them, and plan how much you will purchase of each item for your recipes.
How to Write it OUT!
I literally write a list in three columns down the middle of a sheet of loose-leaf, marked “Breakfast”, “Lunch” and “Dinner”.
Next, if you want variety, write out at least 10 meals for Lunch, 10 for Dinner and 10 for Breakfast that you will shuffle through.
If you are less picky, keep it simpler and stick to only 5-7 options for each column that you repeat. If you need more variety, choose more. But keep in mind, the more meals you can BATCH COOK the better. That means “repeat meals” can be a blessing! Just make sure they are healthy and delicious!
Begin filling in the columns marked “Breakfast”, “Lunch” and “Dinner” with your choices, until you have at least one meal planned per column each day of the month.
BONUS: Include a list of “Healthy Snacks” you can prepare in advance too.
Our kids ALWAYS snack between meals, so I like to be sure I have things on hand that are healthy, home-made and that they LOVE!
- Stovetop Organic Popcorn (Keeps fresh in a well sealed container). All you need are organic popcorn kernels, a little extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and a large pot with a clear lid. Heat for 5-7 minutes, shaking the pot occasionally, until all kernels are evenly popped.
- Homemade Granola. SO GOOD!
- Banana Bread you can freeze in advance.
- Energy Bites– These ones are SO good!
- Healthy Homemade Cookies.
- Sliced veggie sticks, like carrots, parsnips or celery fresh from the garden.
- Baked Pumpkin Donuts
Tip #4 Purchase What is ON SALE
I realize this is a “no-brainer” but it has to be included. Scour the sales at ALL Your local grocers before making your shopping list.
I also LOVE to buy some specialty or bulk items through companies online because it comes right to my door, often supports small online businesses (even through AMAZON!) and it really SAVES.
Here are some items I love particularly that always cut down on our food budget and give me a lot more for the money!
- Coconut Oil! I use this for cooking and baking constantly. A small 12 ounce jar at our large grocery will cost about $15, but I can get 54 ounces for only $17!
- Bob’s Red Mill Products like Almond Flour, Coconut Flour, Scottish Oats
ITEMS FOR THE KITCHEN THAT SAVE ON MEAL PREP AND BUDGET
- I’m not sure why I waited so long to invest in an INSTAPOT but it has SAVED so much time and money in helping with speedy meal prep! I have the “11 in 1, 8 Quart” and find it perfect for everything!
- A Dehydrator is amazing for making your own Jerky for snacking or dried fruit! We LOVE ours! Here is another one that is a little higher quality but worth it if you love making your own Meat Jerky!
- A Food Processor veggies chopped fast so you can freeze them!
- This Zoodles Machine is amazing if you do not eat grains, or are trying to cut down on processed carbs! You can have FAST pasta from zucchini or carrots with almost no prep!
Tip #5. BATCH COOK
Make some Freezer space! This is the time to prepare your best meals times four (or more!).
Plan a few hours each night for two or three nights (or one day on a weekend) to prepare many meals.
Have a list in front of you, of which meals you need to cook, bake or prepare ingredients for.
Ready ingredients in order with which you will be preparing the meals.
Think in an “assembly line” and prepare everything in order.
I find it helps to prepare meals with similar ingredients.
For Example, If you are making Lasagne, try a Chili too! That way you can actually batch cook large amounts of ground beef or ground chicken for use in multiple recipes.
MEAL IDEAS FOR BATCH COOKING
- These Crispy Salmon Burgers are DELISH!
- Hearty Rainbow Chili is so SO easy and full of dense nutrition. Plus you can easily make it into large batches and freeze for ready made meals throughout the month!
- This Best Vegan Lasagne is a winner!
- These Oatmeal Cookies freeze particularly well, or can be stored in a container up to a week in the pantry.