I’m so excited to share these tips with you! These are from my friend, Alexis Davies. She’s amazing at meal planning!
Budgeting and meal planning tips:
I am basically a slave to my budget. So for a family of six I go with $500-$550 a month. It’s usually more than enough. That includes things like toilet paper, diapers, cleaning supplies. I usually buy this from Costco, and it lasts for a few months.
-First I usually sit down and write out meals I know my kids like and will eat. I also think about meals my husband and I like. The meals are usually the cheaper ones (spaghetti, tacos, soups, stroganoff, pizza, breakfast, sloppy joes,tortellini, etc.) Then I go through my cookbooks and find meals that sound good and have relatively cheap ingredients or ingredients I will be buying anyway so I bump it up to ‘bulk’ (things that contain ground beef, ground sausage, chicken).
-Then count out how many days I need meals for (usually between paychecks) I shop from mid month to mid month usually and normally have around 28 days of meals.
-I keep thinking up meal ideas until I get 28. I usually throw in a few nights of leftovers but add an extra day of meals just in case no one wants leftovers.
-We always do breakfast for dinner on Wednesday’s so that takes four days out of my rotation (and leaves me with less meals to come up with.)
-Then I start putting my meals on my calendar. I try to put meals that require fresher ingredients closer to the beginning of the month so things don’t spoil.
– I break up the meals I always have in my rotation; the ones my kids like and will eat (see list above) and try to put a few of those meals in each week. Then I just fill in the spaces with the other meals. A lot of times on Sunday we get home from church kind of late so I make that day a snack type dinner..we pop popcorn, make a treat and pull out leftovers.
-Once a meal is assigned a day than it makes it easier to know what to cook on that given day. It also means I will have all the ingredients for it because I shop for groceries according to my meal list. Its not set in stone, I rotate meals all over the place.
-I usually plan snacks, lunches and breakfast this way as well. I try to rotate these around so the kids don’t get bored. Breakfast includes: cereal, hot cereal, eggs and toast, smoothie, waffles/pancakes etc. Snacks are usually some type of protein and fiber. But I get it, I have kids and sometimes they just want a ‘treat’ so I will give them a snack that is carbs..but I try to have them also take something with a bit more sustenance. Lunch always includes: protein (peanut butter or other), fruit/veggie, carbs and a treat.
-A lot of items can be bought in bulk and broken down and frozen. Cheese, bread, milk, ground beef, chicken, sausage, pita bread etc.
-I usually add up how many pounds of ground beef my month of meals will require and get that many. Its usually 6 lbs of beef so when I get home I cut it into 1 pound sizes and put it in ziplock freezer bags. I do the same thing for sausage ( I use sausage in my spaghetti). For chicken I just buy the large bulk bag of chicken tenders from Costco and keep it in the same bag. I don’t buy the breasts because they are too big for my family to eat. Tenders are a perfect size for portion control.
-For milk, you can buy gallon size milk and freeze it right in the container. Its made to expand when frozen. Be careful though, not all cartons are made the same. Costco cartons always break when I thaw it out. If it breaks, just put it in a pitcher and make sure the ice that is left in the carton goes with it otherwise it will taste funny. To thaw the milk, I just pull it out of the freezer the night before and put it in my kitchen sink. The warmth of the house slowly thaws it, but not fast enough that you have to worry about it spoiling. There will always be ice left in it to keep it cold.
-I buy cheese in bulk, already shredded and freeze it. I usually pull out a quart sized ziplock bag of cheese and keep it in my fridge before I freeze it. That way I have it on hand if I need it. When I need the frozen cheese I just pull it out earlier so it can start to thaw (just enough to get off what I need).
-I buy the bulk lettuce from Costco ( or BJ”s). It usually comes 6 heads to a bag. I take the individual heads and put them in ziplock bags and put back in the fridge. They always keep for a month. The trick is to remove produce from the prepackaged bags. They usually contain excess moisture and bacteria and cause the food to spoil quicker.
-I buy the bulk grapes and strawberries and other fruit from Costco as well. I do the same thing..put them in ziplock bags and they keep for a month.
-I do a lot of cooking/baking from scratch. I buy lunch treats for my kids but I also make them throughout the month as well. If I give them a store bought treat, they don’t get both (if it comes in a two pack like a snack cake) I split it up. They don’t need the extra sugar and it keeps the treats around longer. I also bake my own bread (this has come about in the past few years). I make a couple loaves and freeze the rest. If I buy store bought bread, I freeze the loaves I don’t need right away.
-I buy a lot of tomato sauce (in big cans). Its cheaper to make my own pizza and pasta sauce with garlic and herbs I already have. If I do buy canned spaghetti sauce, I add up how many meals need it and get that many cans only.
-I buy store bought cereal but also figure in days where I will make breakfast ( I also have a breakfast rotation that includes, oatmeal, cold cereal, waffles, eggs and bagels and some other warm breakfast). I usually estimate how many boxes of cereal I need for my family.
-I make my own pizza crust (I have a few good recipes that are super easy if you want them). Then we make homemade pizza and the kids help and they love it.
-For snacks, I’m still working out a good system but I usually buy fresh fruit and veggies and rotate them in with popcorn and crackers and granola bars and yogurt. If they eat a protein with a fiber they fill up quicker and it lasts longer so they don’t need a lot of snack and stay full longer. One thing I love is Peanut Butter and Co. They have PB singles that the kids just squeeze into their mouths. I love to pair it with fruit or veggies. I buy them on Amazon.
-Once you figure out what your kids will and won’t eat then it becomes easier to keep your pantry shelves stocked with essentials. I always have lots of flour and sugar on hand for baking. I also have canned beans, corn, etc. on hand in case I use all my lettuce before the month ends and need a veggie for a side dish. Rice is also an essential at our house. It’s a good side dish or main part of a meal.
-If I make soup or chili or even waffles I always make extra so I can freeze the leftovers. They fit easily in a ziplock bag and don’t take up too much space in the freezer (I also have a chest freezer in my garage where I store all my freezer stuff). Knowing you have a bunch of frozen soup or chili in the freezer lessens the grocery bill for that month. Frozen homemade waffles can go in the toaster like an ego and heat up quick for breakfast.
-I buy frozen fruit for smoothies or for toppings for waffles.
-I also make my own syrup because it’s cheaper to make it then buy it (sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, water)
-I buy toilet paper in bulk, it usually lasts for the month and then into the next. That way I always have enough 🙂
-I buy laundry soap in bulk too.
-I usually buy eggs in bulk too. Either 7 dozen from Costco for close to 12 bucks or from Wegmans (I can get 3 dz for almost 4 dollars at Wegmans. I usually get 6 dz. We use eggs a lot at our house.)
-I always buy peanut butter in bulk because we use it a lot for sandwiches or for treats.
-I usually spend around 300 dollars for a month’s worth of groceries at Wegmans. Then close to 200 at Costco. Costco is great for bulk items, but a lot of it you don’t need. Over time you will be able to assess what bulk items your family needs and what ends up going to waste.
I listed some of the common menu items we have each month (yes, you do get kind of tired of them, but you just switch it up the next month). Here are a few more:
tuna casserole (sparingly, I’m not a huge fan, but my kids like it)
grilled chicken and rice
home made pizza
homemade chicken noodle soup (I love to use store bough egg noodles instead of making noodles)
biscuits and gravy
homemade mac and cheese
Navajo tacos with left over chili (a personal favorite, we fry up dough what us westerners call ‘scones’ and eat the chilli on the scone with cheese, lettuce and sour cream) also really good to add honey butter to the scones or jam. Yum!
About Alexis Davies
Alexis is a mother of four beautiful children. She is from Utah. She is currently living in the Washington D.C. area. She is a full-time mom and a part-time TV and radio reporter. She has a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University in Communications.