Don't think you can cook semi-homemade meals for your family most nights of the week? Well, I'm here to prove you wrong. As a busy mom with a full time career and a special needs son at home, I didn't think I would ever be at the point where I could cook a homecooked meal most nights of the week. I thought there was WAY too much preparation involved! But I have come up with a routine that has allowed me to provide healthy, easy and most importantly FRUGAL meals to the table.
Here's how I do it:
Step 1: Take Inventory. Look in your pantry, fridge and freezer and see what you have on hand. Got a jar of tomato sauce? Got some spagetti noodles? With just a few more ingredients this can turn into either a quick Lasagna or Chicken Tetrazzini.
Step 2: Create a Meal Plan. Since you now have an idea of what you have on hand already, browse through your favorite cookbooks to get inspiration on what you plan to make. I use a combination of online and hardcover cookbooks. Some of my online favorites is http://www.myrecipes.com/ and http://www.foodnetwork.com/. Some of my absolute favorite cookbooks is The $5 Dinner Mom, Pioneer Woman Cooks and Rachel Ray 365: No Repeats. A helpful tip when creating your meal plan is designate each day of the week as something different.
Monday - Salad Day or Soup Day for Winter months
Tuesday - Chicken Dish Day
Wednesday - Turkey or Ham Dish Day
Thursday - Beef Dish
Friday - Take Night Off from Cooking (give yourself a break!)
Saturday - Slow Cooker Day
Sunday - Casserole Day
Step 3: Write a Grocery List. After you create your meal plan, write out all the ingredients you need to create these fabulous meals. To make my life easier, I write out everything in groups. I group the dairy items together, the frozen items together, the produce items together, etc. etc. That way, I'm not running around the store. Try out this fabulous form from $5 Dinner Mom to help you out.
Step 4: "Frugalize" your List. If you are a couponer, take out that coupon organizer and browse through it and pull out the coupons you can use with your list. Put them in an envelope so it's easy to organize when you check out. Some helpful internet coupon resources I use is http://www.redplum.com/, http://www.smartsource.com/ and http://www.coupons.com/. However, if you like the traditional coupons, get your Smart Source/Red Plum (and sometimes P&G) inserts from the newspaper on Sundays. Beef up your coupon stack even more and contact manufacturers about the products you use the most and most of the time you will receive coupons to use on your favorite products. Some of the companies I've contacted and received high dollar coupons are: Smuckers, Kraft Foods, Quilted Northern, Stonyfield Organic, Huggies, Campbell's Soup and Pepperidge Farm. Most importantly, check your grocery store's circular for sale items.
Step 5: Go Shopping! The items I take with me every time I go to the grocery store is my grocery list, a calculator, my coupon organizer and an envelope with the coupons I intend to use. My family is on a grocery budget of $60 a week for a family of three. That includes toiletries, food and diapers. Every time you put something in your basket, keep track of how much you are spending. Pay with cash and it will help you stick to your budget.
That's it! There may be lots of little things to remember and it's okay if you don't hit your goal right away but you'll get there. Not only will your wallet be happy with this process, your family will be happier and healthier!
For more recipe ideas, visit my Frugal Recipes tab!
Disclosure: This is a post written solely by me and all opinions in this post are 100% mine. This post was originally written as a guest post over at Feeding Four on July 23, 2010. I thought it was good enough to post again!