Coming up with the grocery list is always an exercise in frugality, creativity and patience. I want to treat my family to delicious and nutritious foods week after week that doesn’t break the budget. The best way I have found is to take a block of time while the kids are occupied with an assignment and come up with a menu. My husband gets paid twice monthly and depending on how the month goes, I could be planning for 14 to 18 days of meals. I never assign meals to days, but keep a list of dinner meals to choose from. I find it hard to stay with a rigid plan, and the flexibility of choosing the night before or morning of works so much better for me.
Before I start dinner planning, I consider breakfast. We usually have the same sorts of things on rotating basis including the following: Cold Cereals, Grits, Oatmeal, Biscuits, Eggs, Bacon/Sausage, Pancakes, Cottage Cheese and Fruit, Fruit Bread. On my Grocery List, I jot down anything we might need in the pantry, as most of these things are part of or made from staples. Don’t forget the Coffee, Orange Juice, Vitamins and other morning time necessities.
Admittedly, I’m not very creative about lunch. The boys generally make lunch for themselves, and they have spoiled me by making my lunch most days as well. We settle for sandwiches of meat and cheese or pb&j variety, left-overs, and quick oven meals of frozen chicken nuggets or wings, fish sticks, or whatever interesting thing I’ve found on sale. Perhaps I should work on this area. At any rate, I jot these things down next. Don’t forget the extra stuff: bread (if you don’t make your own or in addition), mayo and other condiments, extra fruits, raw veggies, and other snacks for the side.
Dinner planning begins with browsing SouthernSavers for the best deals. I print coupons, make sure the coupons from Sunday and the printed ones are organized. (I just started putting them all in a binder with baseball card holders – so much better than my previous envelope system!) Then I browse the online version of my store’s circular advertisement.
As a family we love trying out new foods, flavors from different parts of the world, and new ways to combined our favorites. We often rate the recipes while we eat together. A meal that falls short might receive a kick-to-the-curb-please-never-make-this-again 3 points, while something amazing might garner 1,000 points! We do try to keep it on a 1 – 10 scale most nights. While trying a new recipes each night might keep our palates excited, it might not help the budget or help a frazzled mom who is running late to Wednesday night Church or Knitting Group or other mom’s meetings. I’ve also notice I put dinner “ideas” into 6 categories: Chicken, Beef, Fish, Veggies, Pasta, “Other”. An “other” dinner might be something like quiche or pancake dinner that doesn’t necessarily fit into one of the other main ingredient categories. The goal is to concentrate on those types of things on sale or already on hand, while getting a good mix of fast fixes (for busy or less inspired days) and new tastes, and planning meals from a variety of my categories. No body wants chicken or tomato-based dishes five nights in a row, no matter how great the recipes.
After I’ve decided on recipe, I jot any ingredients down on the grocery list. I mostly use recipes as a guide. I hardly measure anything, substitute liberally, and sometimes stray completely away into unknown territory (esp. if the recipe calls for slow-cooking and it’s 5:00pm and I somehow missed that little bit of info until I start cooking!) I usually have lots of veggies, both fresh and frozen, on hand. A quick look at the list to make sure I’m not reaching for something already apportioned, I usually add easy veggies, bread or what-not to these items. They are just not listed.
Hillbillyhousewife.com and Myrecipes.com are two of my favorite place to browse for recipes, but I also look in magazines, recipe books and other online foodie hangouts. Here’s my menu list for tomorrow’s shopping trip.
Zucchini Casserole with Red-Pepper Aioli Use up squash w/ this too.
Baked Rigatoni with Ricotta and Collard Greens
Sausage and Bean Casserole and cornbread
Almond-Crusted Chicken with Scallion Rice
Asian Chicken Noodle Soup
Big Platter of Roasted Vegetables and Rice
Tacos and Simple Black beans
Broccoli and Cheese Soup
Twice Baked Spinach Potatoes and Salad
Roasted Chicken and mashed potatoes or German hot red potato salad
Quiche (left over veggies)
Sloppy Joes and glazed carrots