First things first. I need to make a list of our family’s favorite meals. Then add on all of the meals that we don’t love but will totally eat and like. Dinners first. Breakfast can be the most expensive meal if done poorly, but dinner is a close second and we’re much more likely to resort to eating out or ordering in for dinner. We can always scrounge a breakfast and we’re not going to go out to get it. So, dinners first. Now, take a look at the list and, if you want to be really organized, separate it into chicken, beef, pork, veg meals, so that they’re all categorized.
Next comes the fun part: looking at the loss leaders for the week. The front and back covers of the supermarket flyers usually hold the products they are selling at or below wholesale prices. Build your weekly meal plan around what’s on sale. If they’re having a killer sale on chicken leg quarters and you usually use breasts, try the legs. Season them up or drown them in BBQ sauce and slow cook them. They’re just as tasty and much cheaper. You can pull the skins off if you’re worried about fat, just like you do with the breasts. If they’re having a sale on chuck roasts and you’re only cooking for 2, grab some potatoes and carrots and onions, roast that sucker and freeze in two person portions. You’ll have delicious pot roast in as long as it takes to defrost it in the microwave. Much cheaper than those single serve microwave meals, and much tastier.
If the loss leader is really good (and you’ll know from your price book if it is), stock up on that stuff! Freeze it and you’ll have cheap meat whenever you need it for the next few months. Meat is usually the first thing I look at because it’s usually the costliest part of our meals but, there are other things on loss leader sales. Pasta, fruits and veggies, frozen foods… they all go on loss leader sales at times. Hard to stock up on fruits and veggies, but you can buy them cheap and preserve them if you’ve a mind to. That way you can have strawberry jam made from fresh, cheap strawberries all year long (I usually do this). I’ve already told you that, when it’s on stock up sale, I buy 30 – 40 pounds of pasta at a time. We eat pasta at least once a week and love it. My husband makes pasta salads for work lunches with chicken and peas. That and a salad and you’ve got yourself a well balanced meal for cheap.
So, now you’ve got your protein taken care of. Look for veggies and sides to fill in that are on sale as well. Potatoes are easy and cheap. Canned veggies go on sale fairly regularly. Fresh bread is always good, especially if you have made it yourself. (Don’t freak out on me, I have a breadmaker. It takes 5 minutes to load and set it and it does all the work for me. 3 hours later I have a fresh loaf of bread.) If not, loaves of french bread can usually be had for around a dollar at the store.
Finally, fill in necessary ingredients to finish the meal from your pantry or onto your grocery list. You now have a set of 5-7 meals (depending on how many days of leftovers you schedule in) that you’ve built around loss leaders and sales. Finally, look through your coupons and see if there are any that match what you need. I keep this as the last step because I am one of those people who will buy something that looks good simply because I have a coupon for it. I wasn’t necessarily going to buy it, but I do. I get into that, “but I’m saving money!” mentality. It’s not saving if you weren’t going to buy it anyway! So, save the coupon step for last. That way you know you are saving the maximum amount. And, if you do have coupons, make sure that the price of the name brand with coupon is less than the acceptable generic. Just because you’ve always made pizza sauce with Hunt’s tomato sauce doesn’t mean you always have to. Try the generic and see if anyone notices. If you’re worried about how it will taste, start with something that’s mixed into other things so that, if you don’t like the taste, it’s mixed in with things you do like to make it better. If you don’t notice the difference, or like the generic better (it’s happened!) keep on using it. Either way, I’d say try a new thing at least once a month. A new recipe or new ingredient. Who knows, you may find a new favorite!
Anyway, that’s going to be my process. I’m going to try to keep my shopping trips to a minimum. I’m a terrible impulse buyer. The fewer trips I take to the store, the less I’ll spend on impulse buys. That’s less I’ll spend overall. I will have to go to the store weekly probably to replenish the banana supply. We are a houseful of monkeys, we love our bananas! But I should be able to get those without too much damage in other departments. I’ll be sure to take my price book with me to the store to make sure that anything I do see and decide to buy is at least a good deal. Maybe the act of looking it up will be enough to keep me from going crazy.
But, that’s my meal planning guide.