Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Before I met MM, I was on a very strict budget. Being a single mom with two kids to raise and a not-so-great paying job (when you consider the cost of living in CA, I mean), I really had to watch what I spent. I especially kept a very close eye on my grocery budget. Besides books, food is my weakness. Fresh ingredients, impulse buys at the grocery store, etc. I did all my grocery shopping online and had them delivered (my local market offered the service and the delivery fee ($5) was way less than I would have spent on impulse buys) and had a set meal plan.

I cooked Monday-Friday, we had leftovers on Saturday and we ate out on Sundays. Every week, without exception. I also used to do weekly menu planning. On Sunday's I'd sit down and figure out what I was going to make every night for the entire week. It made grocery shopping a lot easier and dinner go a lot faster - none of that standing around at 7:00, wondering what the hell to make for dinner. Especially since I was a single mom with a full time job and two active kids. Have you ever tried figuring out a dinner plan when you work until 5, have baseball and ballet until 7 and homework to do? It ain't easy, I'll tell you that.

When I met MM, all of that kind of fell by the wayside. I moved to a more rural area, so I couldn't get my groceries delivered anymore. Plus, we spent quite a bit of time at MM's house and didn't really have a consistent schedule anymore.

Since MM and I moved in together, my grocery budget has greatly increased. But so has my impulse buying. Instead of making a grocery budget and strictly keeping to it, I've been running to the store for "one or two things" and coming home with $60-$100 worth of stuff. About every other day. I've also been scrambling, looking for something quick to fix at 7 p.m. because I have no clear plan in mind. 90% of the time the meat I want to use is frozen, or I'm missing one key ingredient - which starts the vicious cycle of running to the grocery store for 1 item and coming home with a shopping cart full.

Last week I decided it's time to get back on track. I need to stop the impulse buying and get more organized. Not only will it save me a ton of money in the end, but I won't be scrambling around for dinner ideas when bedtime rolls around.

I'm starting with a weekly menu. Sunday is family night, and we alternate who gets to pick dinner and an activity, so that'll be my free day. Otherwise, I plan to cook Mon-Sat.  I have Jazzercise on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday until 6:45, so I need to make sure I have fast, easy meals planned for those days or make something in the crock-pot. I like planning big meals on the weekend, so I'll probably do more complicated/longer recipes on Saturdays. Here's my menu for this week:

Monday - Chicken and Dumplings
Tuesday  - Linguine Carbonara
Wednesday - Chicken with Orange Pineapple Juice and white rice
Thursday - Chili
Friday - Steak w/ Maitre D'Hotel butter and twice baked potatoes
Saturday - Lasagna
Sunday - The Girl's choice

While I'm excited to get more organized in the kitchen, I hope to eventually start doing more Once A Month (Week) Cooking. The idea behind OAM(W)C is to set aside one - or two - days a month and spend them making as many make-ahead meals as possible. For example, on Saturday I might make 10 main courses instead of one. Then you freeze them, and have every meal already made for the entire week and/or month.

I used to do this years and years ago, when I was married to the RB. Not only is it a major times aver if you and your family have busy schedules during the week, but it's a major budget saver, too. I figure I'll start with the menu planning for now and work my way up to OAMC, though I'll probably start making an extra meal here and there now, just so I have them in case.

What about you? Do you do any planning in the kitchen? Or are you a seat-of-the-pants cook?

I remember going to friend's house during grade/high school. His mom had a set meal for every night of the week that never changed. I can't remember what it was every night, but Wednesdays were Taco Night and Fridays were Spaghetti Night. Every week, all the way through high school, my friend made sure to be home on Wed and Fri nights, because those were his favorite.

I think I'd get bored making (and eating) the same 7 meals week in and week out, but I kind of like the basic premise.

PS. If you want to start planning your meals ahead or doing OAMC, but don't know where to start, there are some great resources online. Sites like Recipezaar, Betty Crocker, Kraft, and Cooks offer Menus, OAMC suggestions and a ton of make-ahead recipes. And Once A Month Cooking World has all everything you need to get started all in one place.

*image credit SugarMama Baking Co


Christine said...

I absolutely do menu planning--at least for most days of the week--for several reasons.

1-I'm in an organic produce co-op that provides my family with a big box full of produce every two weeks, so when I get the list of what we're getting, I plan menus around using the most perishable items. For example, use the spinach first, but the carrots can be used toward the end of the two weeks ... that kind of thing.

2- I plan easy menus for the busy evenings, more elaborate meals for the evenings that I have more time to cook.

3- I can't stand that 6:30 pm panic that I have NO IDEA what to make and everyone is starving. Those nights I resort to "onioning my family."

4- I actually try not to make the same meal more than once a month, the exception being homemade pizza, so I need to be organized.

5-There are days when all the planning in the world doesn't get dinner on the table on time and I find myself heating up a lean cuisine in the microwave for everyone--which can take up to 30 minutes with 5 people and a husband who easily eats two at a time... or we order take out.

I'm not crazy about the OAM(W)C because I'm not very fond of leftovers... although there are a few dishes that actually taste better the day after. When I do plan on leftovers for dinner, I usually re-invent whatever's left over into a new dish. OMG I'm realizing how incredibly SPOILED my family is!!!

Mollie said...

It's posts like this that make me realize I will FAIL if I ever have children. I can barely feed myself or budget or effectively grocery shop for that matter....


You're a better woman than me Holly!

Holly said...

@Christine - I'm trying to decide if I should join our local co-op. There are many things I like about the concept, the main one being that the area I live in has jack for good organic produce, but it has drawbacks, too. I don't necessarily like the idea of not knowing what I'm going to get every few weeks.

Plus, it's fairly new still and pretty expensive for what you get. I think when I averaged it out last it came out to between $5 and $7 a pound for the produce. That seems kind of steep to me.

You bring up a good point about the OAMC. Leftovers, ugh. I still haven't mastered the art of portion control cooking, so I always have a ton of leftover stuff. Usually I freeze them, but I obviously can't do that if I've just taken them out of the freezer. I'll have to ponder that some more. Maybe I'll see if I can work on making less so we don't have waste.

@Mollie - I think you'd be surprised about what you're capable of when you have no choice. But believe me, it isn't for the faint of heart. :)

JenB said...

I'd love to start planning menus. No, wait...I've planned menus before. I'd like to actually learn to stick to the menu.

I've been cooking a lot more now that I work from home, but a lot of it is still prepared food, which isn't really all that cost effective (or good for us). I roasted a chicken and potatoes today, and that's about the freshest thing I've made in the past couple of months. (it was damn good, though)

I think my problem is mostly that I hate my tiny galley kitchen (seriously, it's smaller than my bathroom) and I hate cooking when it's hot.

Maybe I'll get motivated this fall. LOL For now I'm just happy to be spending so much less on groceries than I spent on eating out 3 meals a day (and I've lost 10 lbs despite being a housewife! yay!).

nath said...

I hope it works out, Holly :D It sounds great actually :) and I mean, money and time saver!!

Amy said...

Holly, you sound like me with a weakness for book shopping and grocery shopping. It's so easy to go to the grocery store with no clear-set list and come out $100+ poorer. And I'm just cooking for me and John!

Like you, I think I'm going to try this planning thing. I can't necessarily cook straight days in a row since I work nightshift and an erratic schedule more often than not, but I can probably plan menus for two weeks in a row since I'd be cooking maybe 4 or 5 days total out of that routine.

Plus with rent going up (ok, only $25, but still) and us wanting to pay bills down before the wedding, this is a no-brainer, eh?

Oh, and can you share that carbonara recipe? I've been wanting to try one.

Becky said...

I really, really , really need to do this. I'm horrible about freaking out at 6pm about what to do for dinner. Then we end up with fast food and belly aches.

You may be able to inspire me. And the chicken with orange pineapple juice sounds yummy!

Holly said...

@Jen - Something that helps me stick to the menu: When I go grocery shopping, I buy only what I need for each night's menu. That way I'm forced to cook it, even if I don't want to. It really sucks at first (I didn't want to make chicken fajitas tonight, for example) but it gets easier as you go along.

And YAY for losing 10lbs. Especially since you're home all day. I swear all I do is eat all day long...lol

@Nath - Win/win, right? Let's hope I can stick with it.

@Amy - In case you didn't see, I posted the Carbonara recipe for you.

I think you can do some menu planning, even with your crazy schedule. Something that helps me is prepping additional food while I'm cooking tonight's dinner.

For example: I made mozzarella, tomato and basil couscous with braised chicken breast. While I was waiting for the tomato mixture to marinate and the chicken to cook, I prepped 3 extra chicken breasts and veggies for tonight's dinner - Chicken Fajitas.

Dinner was easy tonight, because I'd done all the work yesterday. So instead of it taking me an hour (to cut, mix and cook) to get dinner ready tonight, it only took about 20 minutes.

@Becky - I'll post the chicken and pineapple juice recipe later (if I don't, remind me). It was freaking amazing. The entire family loved it.

Even if you start off only planning one or two nights a week, that should really help. Isn't that panicked, "OMGWTF are we going to eat" feeling the worst?

Holly said...

For example: I made mozzarella, tomato and basil couscous with braised chicken breast. While I was waiting for the tomato mixture to marinate and the chicken to cook, I prepped 3 extra chicken breasts and veggies for tonight's dinner - Chicken Fajitas.

I meant to say I made the couscous LAST night. Just wanted to clarify because I realized that was confusing as hell.

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