Saturday, November 19, 2011
Family Menu for December 2011
When it comes to feeding our family, I find that, for me, having a plan saves me time, money, and calories. I do not function well "on the fly," making up what I'm going to prepare. If I'm tired, it's too easy to just go out and buy food at a restaurant or fast food place, or cook something super fast, but not necessarily well-balanced. Having a plan takes out the daily guesswork and ensures we're eating healthy.
Since my husband gets paid on the 23rd of every month, I spend the week before payday preparing our family menu for an entire month. I've been planning monthly menus for almost three years now, so I have many stored on my computer, and can always refer to past menus as a reference. But I sometimes like to mix things up, and our lives and schedules change, which plays into my menu as well. Here's how I do it:
1. I start by creating a blank chart to work from (see sample in the link below). I fill in the dates for that particular month. I also fill in anything on our calendar that may affect our meal schedule. Then I print it out.
2. I then start filling in meals. I've done this many different ways over the years, but two methods are my favorite. One, I like to assign each day of the week a different theme, such as Monday is chicken, Tuesday is fish, Wednesday is meatless, and so on. I often like to do crock-pot meals for Sundays, since we're so busy and we like to relax on Sunday afternoons. I put in dinner before I leave for church, and it's ready when I return. My second method of meal planning is to plan two whole weeks of meals, and then repeat them, so you eat them twice in one month. This sometimes can cut down on the variety of foods you have to buy at the grocery store, as well as the time you spend planning meals, and just makes things simple.
WHY ARE THERE SO MANY MEALS EACH DAY ON YOUR MENU? Because I am trying to lose weight and be healthier, I have solicited the counsel of a dear friend of mind, Kati. Kati suggested I eat six mini meals, at approximately 300 calories each, hence the six meals on the menu below. I had to do my homework for a while, counting calories, and was quite shocked at what I discovered. I really ate way too much. After counting calories for about a month, I don't have to anymore. I have a good handle on what makes 300 calories. In a restaurant, I shoot for anything under 500 calories. Every restaurant should be able to provide their calories if you ask them.
3. Once I have my entire month filled in, I translate that into my grocery list. A long time ago, I developed a staple list that I save on my computer. You can see it on page three and four of the link below. With few exceptions, this list doesn't change much month-to-month. It includes not only just staples, but things we don't want to run out of in our house. I have found that, if I have everything on my staple list in my house, I can pretty much make any recipe I want. Each month, after I've planned my menu, I make sure every ingredient I need for that menu is on the grocery list somewhere.
4. Now that my grocery list is completed, I do inventory. Once a month, I go through my food supply and check off my grocery list what I do NOT need to buy. I get a feel for how low I'm getting on things. Because I do not operate in the urgent ("Oh no, I don't have such-and-such!"), I save money, because I get the best buy on each item, rather than having to run to the nearest grocery store and spending too much because I need it NOW.
5. OK, so I have my menu typed out, printed, and hung with a magnet on my refrigerator. I have my grocery list with items crossed out that I do not need to buy. I wait for payday, and when it happens, I'm off! I shop for the entire grocery list all at one time. I shop at two stores, and here's how they were chosen. Several years ago, I took the time to price out EVERY item on my grocery list to compare prices between many stores. I priced them out by unit (for instance, how much per ounce), and wrote those prices on my grocery list. From there, I could see where I would get the best buy. It's possible that one particular item may be cheaper at the Dollar Store, but I'm not going to add a third store to my shopping day just to get a better buy on one item. Gas must be factored in as well. But for the most part, I am confident that I will get the best buy by shopping at Costco and Winco. There are some items, such as canned goods, that are a far better buy at Winco. Other items are equivalent, such as eggs and milk, so it really doesn't matter which of the two stores I get those at. And still other items, such as cereal, are better buys in bulk at Costco. You can often see the price per unit on the label at the store in smaller print. NOW, BIG DISCLAIMER HERE: I told you I did these price comparisons a long time ago. Prices have changed DRAMATICALLY since then, and I haven't had the time to update my list accordingly. However, I now have a pretty good feel for what I prefer to buy where. If you look at my grocery list below, you will see a "C" next to the items I like to purchase at Costco, and a "W" next to the things I like to buy at Winco. On shopping day, I usually start at Costco, just in case there is something I meant to buy there that they ended up not having, then I can pick it up at Winco next. I take my 12-passenger van, and remove the back seat. The entire shopping takes me about 3-4 hours (depending on if I have little ones with me). Then I'm done for the month!!!! I stay out of the store the rest of the month, other than maybe a replenishment of milk.
So, each morning, when I awake, I look over the menu for the day, and see what needs to be thawed for dinner or put in a crock-pot or whatever. It's smooth sailing from there.
WHAT ABOUT PRODUCE? I used to go weekly and purchase my produce, so I'd set aside some money from my entire grocery budget for this. I liked Henry's Farmers Market in Elk Grove, and even the Galt flea market. However, recently, I joined "It's Organic." They deliver boxes of seasonal organic produce right to my door every Thursday. I was paying about $50 a week in produce, if I went to Raley's (which I hate doing, but sometimes had to). I pay It's Organic $30 for one box (2-4 people) or $60 for two, and I don't have to go to the store. It tastes FABULOUS - so much better than store produce! You can get a fruit only box, a vegetable only box, or a mixed box. You can even add organic pastas and grains and cage-free eggs, for an extra charge. Every Monday or Tuesday, I go on their website to see what they will be delivering that week, and if I don't like something, I fill out a form that says, "Don't send me that. Give me extra of this item in its place." I have been VERY pleased with this service! Check them out at www.itsorganicdelivery.com, and if you sign up, mention my name as your referral.
WHERE DO YOU STORE IT ALL? In my last home, which was 1360 square feet, I didn't have very much pantry space at all. I bought a few "monkey racks" for the garage, and I would store extra food out there that I didn't have room for inside. I set up the racks sort of like my own grocery store. I also had an upright refrigerator/freezer in my garage for extra cold things. We now live in a home that has floor-to-ceiling cabinets in the laundry room. That is my new overflow pantry. I also keep all my cleaning products in there. I have added a small deep freezer to my garage, and I freeze my bread, tortillas, extra cheese, and just about ANYTHING so it will last a month. This deep freezer only cost me like $250 at Costco a few years ago, and it's been a lifesaver! I love my deep freezer! So in my kitchen cabinets, the only food I store is that which is already opened. Any unopened food, I keep in the laundry room pantry or my fridge or freezer in the garage.
DO YOU USE COUPONS? I don't use very many coupons, and this is why: I try, in most cases, to buy the store brand, because it's so much cheaper, even with coupons. The only exception is when it tastes significantly worse, such as with saltine crackers or graham crackers. In addition, I buy so much in bulk quantities because it saves money when you compare the per-unit price, and there aren't coupons for that. I do, however, use the coupons I get in the mail from my Costco membership ad, but only if that item is on my grocery list for that month.
WHY COSTCO AND NOT SAM'S CLUB? Comparing the two, their prices aren't very different. So it then became a matter of preference. I have had very poor experience with the customer service at our local Sam's Club, so I chose Costco instead.
BUT I DON'T HAVE A LARGE FAMILY: I see no reason at all why this organizational method cannot be used for ANY family. The only difference is the quantity, but even for smaller families, non-perishables are a better buy in bulk, and anything you can freeze. Any woman would benefit from working from a plan, eliminating unnecessary trips to the grocery store, and saving time and money.
OK, I think I covered everything I wanted to share with you about my menu planning. If you think of any questions you have, please write them in the comments and we can start a dialogue. Here's my menu for this coming month, which I completed this week: