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Thursday, 14 March 2013

Menu planning means money saving

I am a terrible cook, gentle readers.  Really.  Awful. The whole process exhausts and confuses me.
I can follow basic directions of a recipe, but fancy terms, techniques or substitutions baffle me. If it were just me I would be very happy with a yogurt everyday instead of ever trying to prepare a lasagna.

But, its not just me. My kids and the daycare kids need something more than yogurt and cottage cheese to keep them going for the day.

I am not a fan of processed or packaged meals. Being so processed they contain limited nutrients. Our bodies need nutrients, and when we don't get them we tend to feel unsatisfied or still hungry. This is one of the reasons its so easy to over eat and gain weight with processed foods. And that's not to mention how expensive they are!!

So, here's me. Unable to cook, unwilling to buy pre-made- whats a girl to do? Marry That Guy! :) Not only can he cook, but he is willing to do it almost every single night for our family and my day care children.
Over the years we have come to see a huge value in menu planning.
Primarily, this helps my day run smoothly with day care, knowing what to serve.  It also helps keep my day care parents happy- they can have confidence in what I am feeding the children and should there be a reaction we can track back to exactly what was served.
Yet, of course, it helps us save money too.  By actively thinking about what you will feed your family its easier to make choices based on the food items you already have on hand.  This constant inventory taking will also help prevent your food from spoiling or expiring because you know you have it so you can use it.

Over lapping ingredients or entrees helps to significantly lower your costs as well as simplifying your meal preparations.  For example, That  Guy makes a really great chicken stew. When he makes it he makes enough to feed our family dinner and the daycare lunch the next day and then he doubles it. By doubling the chicken stew it ensures that we have enough left over to turn it into a chicken pot pie.  One entree, two meals.
I make a pretty decent applesauce.  I make a ton at a time. Throw in any fruits you might have that are just about to spoil. Hint: if you add strawberries also toss in a few drops of red food colouring. When strawberries are cooked they turn grayish  which is less than appetizing.   I serve apple sauce in the traditional way as s snack to my day care children.  The next day, I pop a slice of bread in the toaster, top it with applesauce, sprinkle with cinnamon and call it "cinnamon delight".  The kids are convinced its a different snack and I don't have to prepare anything new.

Tomato sauce can be used in a multitude of ways :pasta topper, lasagna filler, chili base ect.  So make a decent tomato sauce and you're already started on several meals.

Menu planning allows you to ensure variety in your meals, as well as the opportunity to take advantage of  local and seasonal produce. Buying this produce from a farmers market may also allow you to negotiate on prices.  Please remember though, that these are hardworking farmers out to provide for their families.  I love saving a dollar but be thoughtful in your negotiations and consider not beginning your relationship with a farmer in this way.  Show them that you will provide them long term patronage and have a respect for their work first.

My kids love veggies, cucumbers and bell peppers being a big favorite.  They will happily eat them simply washed and cut.  But after so long its me that's looking for a new way to eat them.  A very simple cucumber and tomato salad in the summer is a huge hit with everyone.

Running low on a bunch of things? Too low to feed any one thing to your whole family? My solution has been "dipping fun".  Giving the kids the last of the crackers/bread sticks/ pitas and a variety of  raw veggies cut into spears, combined with the last of the cottage cheese/Greek yogurt/hummus/jam/guacamole is a meal that cleans out our fridge and the kids adore! (speaking of hummus, please don't buy it.  Serve a simple rice dish with chick peas and veggies one evening.  Then use the remaining chick peas to make the hummus)

Using very basic Excel knowledge I do up a calendar spreadsheet of our meals for the month, including snacks for the day care kids.  If your kids go to school outside of the home this could be very useful in planning bagged lunches and snacks as well.  Then each month I just copy and paste to vary the menu slightly.  Each season I add in seasonal produce and remove items that call for ingredients which will no longer be in season or readily/cheaply available. This approach only takes work four times a year (once for each season) for the first year.  Then just re-visit your old menus.

Each time you're in the grocery store it costs you money.  Really, how often have you run in to just grab some milk and wound up spending $47 on things you had not planned to buy? It used to happen all the time to us.  Menu planning helps you make a complete and very useful grocery list.  This means that you can effectively cut your grocery shopping to once a week thereby saving you time and lots of money!

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