.: Meal Planning

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 theme nights (Taco Tuesday, for example where you have some kind of taco/burrito each week on Tuesday, but change up the variety -- 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. There's always Costco, but even better are the spices you get from a spice vendor... fresher, custom blends with fabulous flavors. If you don't have a local spice shop that you frequent, I recommend a fantastic online vendor like Spices Inc. who has yummy tasty treats, and, who hosts a spice collection that I created - World Kitchen Connection. :) You can buy spices from Spices Inc. in sets, individually or in bulk, based on how often you think you'll use the spice.

Buy fresh and local
When we lived in the Lower 48, we went to Farmer's Markets as often as we could in the summer for the freshest and healthiest produce and the best prices. Sometimes you end up with a lot of one thing (jalapenos maybe?), but you can preserve almost anything by freezing, drying or canning. If you can find a local source for your dairy, eggs, meat, and/or produce, you'll save money and get food that is loaded with more nutrients (plus you're promoting sustainable practices).

Now that we're in Alaska, we've subscribed to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) that delivers locally grown/produced foods (veggies, greens, tofu, mushrooms, sprouts, etc) that are supplemented with organics from Outside in thin months.
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. However, it's a good way to go, if you have the time to devote. If you are just getting started, Bethany @ The Big Red Pot offers some great ideas, options, and daily updates on money-saving deals. 


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