Monday, June 19, 2017

Knowing What's for Dinner

It's astonishingly easy to find yourself running around like the proverbial chicken. Trying to keep up with work, kids, social life, personal goals, etc. can be daunting with a mere 24 hours in a day. But taking a breath, spending a little time to organize these activities can dramatically reduce this feeling...and probably your spending, too.

I was surprised to learn from my daughter that we're the only family she knows at school that has a meal plan. They're all improvising on a daily basis. That sounds exhausting to me! And if last-minute meals means trips through the drive-thru or eating out at a restaurant, the lack of routine is costing you money, too.  I know we lived like that too way back when, but it seems so foreign to me now.  I thrive on our routines, and Riley does, too.

Taking a few minutes every week to plan your weekly meal plan and your grocery shopping an will not only help your budget, but your stress level.

My friend makes fun of me for my routines. I have a day where I go grocery shopping, a laundry day, a fast food night, and meals planned at least a week in advance.

I use Pepperplate for my meal planning (for free). I import all my recipes in there, then use the planner to pick the day for each meal. They also have a shopping page where I can select all the ingredients I will need to add to my shopping list.

I don't use their shopping list at the grocery store. There, I use ValueTracker, which costs 99 cents, but it was the only one I could find where it let me also track the unit prices for everything. I have a pretty good estimate even before shopping of what my total bill will be and if it's looking too high, I can change my meal plan before I go to the store to make sure it fits my budget.

We shop at Aldi. I was thrilled when they started to open in Southern California! It was my favorite store in Rochester, NY because the prices are so much less than any other store. The closest to us is still about 20 minutes away, but completely worth it. I'm getting pretty good at choosing meals where we can exclusively shop at Aldi, but every so often, we will need to go to another store to complete our list. Still worth it.

I plan slow cooker or Instant Pot meals for Mondays and Thursdays. Riley cooks on Tuesdays. I choose more labor-intensive meals for the weekends. We grocery shop on Fridays and Wednesday night is our fast food night. 

My favorite site for recipes is Budget Bytes, which now has an app and a book. I started to enjoy cooking with Budget Bytes. My second favorite is Supercook because you can search recipes by what ingredients you currently have.

Riley knows she has to choose her recipe to cook by Thursday so I can include it on the list for Friday shopping and make whatever changes need to be made to accommodate. I don't put any restrictions on what she can cook (other than it can't be dessert!) to help her have an appreciation for appreciation I didn't gain until I was at least 35!

After the groceries are put away, I update YNAB so I can see where I am for the monthly budget, and ValueTracker with the most current prices.

On Sundays, I make my lunches for the next work week. I usually also put them in to-go containers as soon as it's ready so I don't really have to think about it in the morning.

After I do the dishes each night, I check Pepperplate to see if anything needs to be defrosted for the following night's dinner.

All told, it took me longer to write this post than it takes to do everything I wrote here, except for the actual grocery shopping. (Riley bags everything for us at Aldi - which she enjoyed more with the Fiat's smaller trunk because it was a harder game of Tetris then.)

Since implementing all of these routines, the last being switching to Aldi when they opened, we have not gone over budget with our grocery shopping. And we've also been known to buy a few things not on the list! I also try really hard not to stop by a store in between our weekly shopping trips. A few times, we've not had much choice, but usually, even if we've forgotten something or a dinner doesn't turn out right, we can improvise with what we have at home.

If you haven't yet tried meal planning, start with planning at least 2 days in advance what you'll be eating. Then 3, and then a week. Starting small may help it feel less daunting.

Eventually, I'm gonna guess that not having a plan will feel more stressful!

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