Monday, January 13, 2014

How to Stretch Grocery Money with Menu Planning

As I've said before, I hate wasting food.  Tossing leftovers is just throwing money in the trash.  I don't know about you, but I cannot afford to do that.  My budget is pretty strict right now so it's even more important that I plan & shop wisely.

Here are a few things I do to stretch those dollars.

The most important thing you can do to save money is menu planning.  Yes, yes, I know.  It takes a little time but I promise, it will soon become second nature and you'll be amazed at how much money you save.

The first step in my weekly menu planning is to go shopping in my own pantry and freezer.  It's kind of fun to use up those weird items you bought and then never used.  You'll be amazed what is actually in there. Got chickpeas?  Try making hummus or falafel.  Both are easy, delicious and very nutritious. I had farro, which is a type of wheat, so I'm using it to make a delicious pilaf instead of rice. Be creative. Think outside your normal recipes and try something new.

I then shop the sales flyers and flesh out menus according to what's on sale that week. Yes, I go to a few different stores but they are all very close so I'm not wasting gas.

 I also price check against Aldi.  They are usually cheaper than most but you have to make sure.  Sometimes, the sales are less expensive.  They are also starting to carry organic produce and pantry items so I am very excited!  Just remember, they accept only cash and debit cards.  And don't forget your bags!  You have to bag things yourself.  If you happen to forget, they do sell bags.   

One weird place I go is Dollar Tree.  Yes, they have a lot of crap food there but sometimes, you can hit the jackpot.  I found organic butter, organic frozen spinach, & organic frozen berries for a buck each!  Yes. One pound of organic butter for one dollar!  Amazing!  They sometimes have organic pantry items as well.  I go often. 

Once you see what's on sale, it's time to plan for the week.  Plan all meals for the week and weekend.  This is where you can really be creative and save as well by planning for leftovers.  Here is a good example. 

I buy whole chickens.  They are on sale a lot and always cheaper than buying pieces.  From one chicken, I get at least three meals.  I bake or Crockpot broast it for a delicious meal of chicken, a starch side and a veggie.  Next meal can be chicken enchiladas, chicken pot pie, or chicken pinwheels.  Then, I take the carcass and put it back into the Crockpot, add some celery, onion, carrots, seasoning and water and make delicious chicken broth.  This, plus the leftover chicken meat, can be made into various chicken soups (chicken noodle soup, chicken rice soup, etc.), chicken and dumplings, or chicken and noodles. 

Beef roast on sale?  How about traditional Yankee Pot Roast with potatoes, carrots, and onions.  Leftover can make pot pies, stew, BBQ beef sandwiches, beef and noodles, and yes, vegetable beef soup. 

If you change up the meats enough, you won't get bored with the meat because it's so different than previous meals.  If you don't want to eat 3 meals in on week, you can always freeze the meat and use it again the next week.  Either way will save you a ton of money.

If you happen to have a little extra cash, buy extra items your family eats when they are one sale.  Like my $1 butter.  I bought 5 of them and in the freezer they went.  Just make sure to check expiration dates. 

You probably noticed I didn't mention coupons.  Too be honest, I don't use them very often.  I very seldom buy national brands and if I do, it's because they are on sale.  I've found that even with a coupon, local brands are usually cheaper.   I will clip a few though.  Hubs loves Pop Tarts (ick!) so I keep those handy.  I also clip any for organic foods.  If you pay attention, you can use the coupons when things are on sale and save even more green!

So there you have it.  Easy ways to save some serious cash.  I typically spend less than budgeted and I put what I saved aside.  At the end of the month, I usually have enough saved for a nice meal out.  I love to cook but sometimes, it's nice to let someone else handle things. 

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