The thing about eating well with a menu is that it still does depend on several factors. You can very nearly life-proof your menu plan. Even when you can’t afford to.
In Part 5 of the series, I offered a free 5-week menu plan. It is a cheap-as-they-come menu because when I designed it for my family of 6, we were the most broke we have ever been. If that’s you, too, head over that way.
If you are trying to pull together a food budget and your own menu or just need some inspiration, let’s keep going:
MaKe The Menu
Call for back up. Talk to your family about your menu. Openly discuss your food budget and why you have a need for it. Children can be amazingly compassionate and seriously helpful when we allow them to be. Let everyone add some of their favorite dishes and make suggestions.
Have a themed menu. I get that some of us prefer to live spontaneously, but when it comes to a menu, I found themes have helped calm the chaos during the week.
When we had a daycare, the kids and I had a fabulous time of naming our days according to our meal plan: Sleepy Sunday for the easiest of meals. Meatless Monday in which we tried new, inexpensive vegetarian and vegan meals. Tasty Tuesday offered some of our most delicious favorites. Wacky Wednesday we had lunch for breakfast, breakfast for lunch and something obscure for dinner. Thrifty Thursday was a day to use up leftovers and challenge ourselves to eat even more frugally. Fun Friday heralded breakfast cookies, chocolate peanut butter banana milkshakes, do-it-yourself meals and a celebratory weekend dinner. Super Saturday was about the business of satisfying alllll the cravings.
Over the years, with changes of schedule, we have changed it up a bit. Monday is still meatless with spaghetti for dinner. Tasty Tuesday is chicken, Wednesday is a run out the door night so we eat egg sandwiches. Thursday tends to be another run night, but still thrifty, so it’s soup, salad or a leftover surprise night. Friday is still fun and Saturday is still super with lists of favorites or to-try dishes.
Make it easy on yourself. Though Pinterest is so inspiring, it can kill your menu. All of those gorgeous, complicated recipes with methods and ingredients that you may be unfamiliar with can seem like too much on most nights of the week. I have very few meals that require more than 10 minutes of prep time I no longer need recipes for my staple menu because they’re so simple and I have mastered them. I generally pick a day of the week that I try new recipes: a day which I will not be rushed and – in case it’s the worst – no one is coming over to eat.
Thrifty Thursday! Breakfast for lunch using whatever is leftover. Scroll over! Zucchini and green onion four-egg frittata topped with the last of the mozzarella. Banana pecan muffins. Plus I'm going to eat leftover beets. #katie #inthekitchen #thriftythursday #frittata #veggies #eggs #cheese #castiron #muffins #leftovers #yum
PLAN AHEAD. Again.
Even if you have an incredibly well pulled-together menu and enjoy cooking, there are days that things come up. I am not even talking about binge-watching a show on Netflix (but if we’re honest…) Like real stuff.
Here are some basic tips:
Have a fall-back plan. Expect to be flexible – be prepared with something easy that can be thrown together quickly using ingredients that you always have on hand. Like Breakfast foods.
Have a last-resort plan. This comes in after the fall-back plan. You already ate that plan. This is essentially the survival plan. Ours is usually eggs, popcorn or oatmeal. I can’t even say that we have fruits or veggies with the last resort.
Have a no-eat-out plan. If I have been running all day, it’s too late to make something but we are way too hungry for snacking, it’s sooo tempting to stop at a restaurant or hit a drive-thru. But, deep inside I know it’s incredibly expensive to do that and not as satisfying. Instead, I will go for convenience on the cheap. It may look like a rotisserie chicken, bagged salad, bagged croutons, and Caesar dressing. (I make sure to look for items reduced in price for further savings.) Even if some of these things are splurges, you are still eating well and not spending nearly as much as you would by eating out.
Make it a family event to come up with the fall-back, last resort and no-eat out plans. When it comes to the moment of truth, there’s strength in numbers. But if not, and if you fail, you fail together.
And, for the record, at times that Kevin and I were weakening, we have several children that have been much more resolute and willing to do whatever it takes to stick to the plan. They’re kind of amazing.
Sometimes, getting to the store for the big grocery haul is tough! Even when you can’t afford to, it’s easy to fall into the habit of heading to the store to pick up just a few things here and there.
I have done the math, as have countless others, and 99.9% of the time, shopping in small bursts costs more. For me, it also gives the illusion that I’ve hardly spent anything so I can afford that little extra something not on my short list. When that happens each time I go to the store, it adds up!
I recommend going shopping biweekly or, if you can stretch it – a monthly major haul, with one or two smaller “fresh” pickups in between. In all cases, be intentional when you walk through those doors – have your list and backbone ready.
You may be tested at the end of the month. But it’s not always that bad…
I do shop at Aldi, hit stores for reduced groceries or when I find a stellar deal in the sales ads.
Find a routine that fits you best and work it. And, remember, just like a good schedule, budget, and menu, if your needs change, so should your routine.
Adjust the attitude.
Occasionally, we don’t want what we have listed. Not because we don’t have the ingredients, not because we don’t feel like cooking but because what we have planned just does not sound good. That’s okay, don’t be a slave to that menu. It doesn’t own you.
We get tired of rice and beans at times, but pair that with a game of Skip-Bo, and you just Mary Poppins-ed that dinner. That is okay. Some days are like that.
But it has to be an occasional thing. If it’s more daily, there may be an issue of contentment. Friend, I get that. I so do. I encourage you to go back to read Part 1 of the series. Convey this to your kiddos. Work on this together. Let the prayer before you all eat that meal be one to ask for a thankful heart. It’ll taste better. Really.
Now, go get your family, a fun snack and tackle your menu plan together. You got this.
What’s the hardest part of life-proofing your food budget and menu plan for you?