Looking to save a few dollars? Wondering how to make fancy meals on a fixed budget? Feeling overwhelmed about what to make on the weeknights? I hear what you’re saying! I often hear my friends say, “How do you make all these great meals without grocery shopping every day?” Bottom line is: I don't grocery shop every day & I plan ahead.
1. Make a shopping plan:
-I make a list of menus for the new week on Saturdays. Then I write out my shopping lists and head for the store. (Check out the Menu Planner at www.health-full.blogspot.com for daily and monthly ideas for meals. I always love to share recipes if you don’t find them on my blog.)
-I go to Trader Joe’s and my local farmer’s market (Shaw & Blackstone) once a week for my regular groceries. I buy weekly staples (I’ve compared prices) and local specials (always a cheaper option). I try to go for ingredients that are in season.
-I frequent Costco once a month for bulk items like organic meats, shredded cheese, Organic tomato sauce and paste, honey, oatmeal and some spices.
-I go to Winco once a month for healthy bulk supplies like nuts, seeds, dried fruit, honey, fresh peanut butter and spices.
2. Cut down your meat. Buy more quality:
-Consider doing one to two meals a week with a vegetarian flair. Don’t worry. You don’t have to make it a meal of brussel sprouts. Make it something fun like Veggie Pizza, a Homemade Soup with farmer’s market finds or Pancake Night.
-I know what you’re thinking. “Dorina, I’m not into that vegetarian stuff.” I grew up a staunch carnivore so I feel your pain. Our decided to take it gradual. We kept our meat budget the same but substituted for about half the amount in organic and grass-fed meats. There’s something to be said for the hormone-free beef and free-range chicken. Let’s pump our kids with good stuff, not the hormones, chemicals and preservatives that will be harmful to them down the road.
-Then my husband suggested (yes, he did!) we go for one vegetarian meal a week. Because we changed slowly over a longer period of time, it didn’t feel like a fad diet that gets old. It became a habit!
3. Buy local & bulk when you can:
-We live in the Central Valley of California, which happens to be full of the nation’s finest foods. (No bias, really. Our produce and goods are shipped all over the world.) There’s no reason to spend your loot buying expensive foods shipped in from other parts of the country. Check out your local farmer’s markets and fruit stands for deals.
-I love the Orange Store on Shaw and Maroa. (Feel free to find your own local farm stand.) They have fresh fruits and veggies every day of the week at reasonable prices. I often go for the “sale boxes” of peaches or plums or apples. These are sometimes the smaller or ripest specimens so they need to sell fast. Use them right away or cut them up and freeze them for smoothies and desserts.
-Buying in bulk is also a great way to save. I take advantage of the bulk foods bins at places like Winco, Whole Foods and Pacific Grains & Foods on Shaw. Plan a once a month stop at these bulk bonanzas, store your goods in bags or jars in the freezer and save a ton of moolah! You might even consider buying a whole cow (no joke!) and freezing the meat if you have the space.
-Be open to experimentation. I love to go the Shaw & Blackstone Vineyard Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings and talk to the vendors. They have great ideas for recipes. And there are always some dishes like quiches, soups or stews that can be improvised with whatever ingredients are on sale and in season. This style of cooking is creative, flavorful and cheaper!
4. Plan leftovers:
-I make at least one meal a week that can go a long way (as in into the freezer for later in the month or into a casserole dish for alter in the week.) For example, I do big versions of Tomato-Meat Sauce, Pesto Sauce, Enchiladas, Chili, Pecan-Crusted chicken that can double for Chicken Parmesan or a Chicken salad on another night.
-Use your weekend time for cooking these big meals. Weeknights can be stressful. Maximize time on a day when you might be home cleaning or gardening or resting anyway and let that pot of tomato sauce or stew sit on the burner.
5. Put your kids/family to work:
-Most people are afraid to let their kids hang out in the kitchen when they are cooking because they don’t want them to a) get hurt b) make a mess. I say teach your little ones to cook with you – even doing simple jobs – to make your cooking more fun and less of a chore.
-My 2-year-old daughter and I make the family granola recipe every Sunday or Monday. She loves pouring all the oats, nuts, seeds and such into the bowl and mixing them with her hands. The textures are fun for her.
-Yes, we have an occasional “ingredients food fight” in our kitchen but I always choose to cook with her the day BEFORE I do my mopping.
-Build these habits now with your kids and in the future they could be making YOUR dinner.