Wednesday, August 18, 2010

.: meal planning

Though I just posted meal planning as a page on the site, I wanted to include it as a unique entry so that anyone can read. It will be available in both locations for your reading pleasure.

One of the most frequently asked questions is how people on a budget can get creative with food.

The answer? Plan your meals. How?
Read on for some meal planning tips

Though some plan their meals successfully weeks or even a month in advance, I find it best to plan mine a week out. Usually Friday evening or sometime Saturday, my husband and I sit down and talk about what our plans are for the coming week, and what we want to do for meals. Then we make a list of what we need more of and categorize our list according to where we want to buy the items — farmer's market, Costco, grocery store. Though some people are easily bored by their repertoire, it's easy to put a twist on even the most common items. Search ekatskitchen or other Internet sources for great ideas or ways to spruce up the most common meals. Another way is to have nights like Taco Tuesday, where you have tacos every Tuesday, but change up the variety (standard beef tacos one week, blackened ahi the next) and play with the flavors. The possibilities are endless.

The largest financial outlay takes place for specialty items and spices. If you're just getting started, look for meals that make use of ingredients you have, so that you only need to purchase one or two specialty items at a time. Especially with spices, once you have them, you tend not to need to purchase them often. If, however, you find that you go through a lot of a particular spice, it's wise to find a place that sells them in bulk. Costco sells a lot of the more common spices in larger quantities, but you can also go to a place like Savory, who conveniently has an online store as well as their Colorado-based shops, to purchase just about any quantity of a spice.

Buying in Bulk
Also, buy in bulk. I love Costco. Others prefer Sam's Club. These two membership warehouses are great places to stock up on everyday items. Though they don't consistently have every ingredient you need, or even consistently have the lowest prices, they tend to consistently have reasonable prices on quality goods (less than $3. for 18 eggs, etc.).

If you're looking for dry foods (lentils, pastas, grains, and more), opt for some good bulk storage bins, and then find a store like Whole Foods, where you can purchase these items by weight and un-packaged. I almost always purchase lentils and almonds this way, though sometimes with Safeway's club card coupons, it works out better to buy pasta that way.

Another great way to save money is couponing. I am not a person who usually remembers this, or who is good about saving/shopping with coupons. I tend to shop based on what I want, not what I have coupons for, if I even remember to bring them. That said, it's a goal of mine to get more into couponing to save some money — it's just smart. If you, like me, are just getting started, The Deal Detector offers some great ideas, options, and daily updates on money-saving deals. She also has great savings for military families as well as a great video on how to get organized.

Where we shop
We try to go to farmers' markets just about every week in the summer for the freshest produce and the best prices. Sometimes you end up with a lot of one thing (jalapenos maybe?), but most veggies freeze pretty well. We try to keep Costco trips to once a month as we tend to both overspend and overbuy, but it's a great place for staples. If we feel up to it we then shop at the commissary, but often, we don't want to go the 20 minutes to get on post, so we go to a normal grocery store.


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