Where To Start
If you browse YouTube or Pinterest you will find a huge quantity of material focusing on meal prep, meal planning and saving money. Lots of great ideas that may, or may not, work for you.
Before I dive in I want to make sure you understand that there are lots of ways to tackle your food budget and plan meals. They are not ‘new’ by any means as this is something that has been ongoing for as long as folks have been around. The trick, if you want to call it one, is to find the method that works for you and your family. What works for a small household might not work for larger families and vice versa. This is what works in my household.
Step One: What do you like to eat?
Simple, right? Maybe. Have you ever sat down and thought about what you like to eat? Grab some paper and a pen and make some notes.
- What do you like to eat?
- What do you NOT like to eat?
- Are there any food allergies?
- Are there any dietary requirements?
- Are you a beginner cook or are you reasonably skilled?
- Do you need to have a plan you rarely deviate from or can you go to your pantry and put a meal together with what you have on hand?
You might find you like Italian dishes where pasta is a main component. You could also like Mexican meals. You might also like to have breakfast sandwiches or burritos in the freezer for a quick grab and go breakfast.
Make a list of the foods/meals you eat often, then break it down by ingredients. For example, do you eat a lot of ground beef or chicken? If you have recipes, use them to collect an Ingredient List. This is your starting point.
Quick Note: You can find a lot of tools to help you collect your recipes and shopping lists, etc. I have see some rather amazing items on Amazon in addition to some printables on Pinterest.
Step Two: Building your Pantry
I keep a basic pantry of items that I can use in many different recipes. Flexibility is the key. For example, I love pasta so I keep several varieties on hand. I can use most of the shapes in different recipes as long as I keep in mind that each shape handles sauce differently. That could be an issue depending upon the recipe. I do the same with canned beans. Sometimes a recipe calls for a particular variety. If I don’t have it on hand, it will go on the next shopping list.
Make a list of the basics that are in the recipes you want to make. As you go through this process watch for patterns or duplicates. If you have several recipes using ground beef or chicken, note that you can purchase family packs which will save you money and you can break them down into smaller containers for the freezer.
Step Three: Create Your Shopping List
The very first thing you need to do is create a meal plan based on the time frame you set. List all the meals you will be cooking from home.
Shop your pantry first. What do you already have on hand? Subtract those items from your list. Are you getting low on any of your staples? You might want to add those items to your list. (Don’t forget coffee, tea, sugar, flour, salt, pepper, etc.)
Check the weekly ads for the stores you frequent. Shopping the sales ads can save you money. One of my local chains has a 5 for $25 sale. Five different items found in the meat department for $25. Each package is roughly 1 pound. They offer a variety of meats, fish and poultry. When you do a cost comparison and keep in mind that many recipes only call for one pound of a protein, this could be a great option.
On the other hand, I like to purchase large quantities when I can so I can cook ahead. I think of it as money in the freezer.
I also prefer to purchase frozen vegetables and fruits because they save me money. Picked and processed at the peak of freshness and flavor these items won’t go bad when I have a week where I don’t want to use them or have forgotten about them. There are a few items I buy in the can for the same reason.’
Contemplating buying in bulk? Don’t forget to check to be sure you have the space to store your purchases.
Create your list based on the meals you want to make and the ads from your local market. Before you head out to your local grocery store you might want to take a look at this article from the Food Network: 11 Grocery Shopping Mistakes.
You have the basics. As you fine tune your pantry and your budget you will find other options and recipes to help keep costs under control.