Seems like the topic of healthy and frugal meal planning is a timely one for many! I'm so glad! If you didn't get to read yesterday's post yet, please go read that one first, then come back and read this post.
There was one thing that I realized in re-reading my post yesterday that I meant to mention (I know I thought it, but I guess it didn't quite make it all the way from my mommy brain through my fingertips onto the keyboard). When I was talking about planning for nutritional variety in meal plans, I only mentioned protein sources. The other two major areas that I consider from a nutritional standpoint are grains and vegetables.
I want to make sure that my meal plan includes a colorful mix of different vegetables, as many kinds as possible, and a combination of both cooked and raw veggies. For grains, it is important not to just become dependent on one type of grain- this is one of the ways that sensitivities and allergies to grains can develop, plus each grain contains a very different composition of vitamins and minerals. It is wise to use a couple of different kinds of flour in your baking and cooking (I use mostly spelt, a bit of wheat, and also kamut, barley and brown rice flour). Grains can also be incorporated in other ways- barely in soups and stews, rice with stir-fries or saucy dishes or in soups, quinoa in salads or as a side dish or in stuffed peppers or tomatoes, buckwheat in pancakes and waffles, millet in place of rice in a casserole or just as a side, etc.
Now let's continue on with the topic on meal planning where we left off- the shopping.
As I mentioned yesterday, I do my best to keep my freezer and pantry stocked up with foods that I find for the best prices possible. Because I am working with the foods that I have already stocked up, after making my meal plan I write a list of what I will need to complete these meals, most of which is usually produce, as well as other fresh items like eggs, milk (we actually pick up our milk once a week now), cheese, some spices I am running out of, a can of coconut milk, etc.
I make a plan for where I will buy these items and approximately how much I believe they will cost (the ability to estimate very closely to the correct amount has come from several years of cost comparisons and a somewhat freakish memory for trivial things like exactly how much a flat of tomato paste costs at Costco vs. Superstore, or which store has free range eggs for 20 cents less than another). However, if you do not have this "gift" or desire to memorize all the numbers, I suggest you purchase a small notebook to fit in your purse, and begin to compile a simple chart listing the item, and then 2-3 columns where you will note the price of this item at the stores you commonly shop at. Over time, you will grow very accustomed to knowing where the best deal is to be had.
As I make my lists, I buy slightly beyond my meal plan. Partly because I am ensuring that we have enough for breakfasts (which I do not plan for specifically), but partly because I am preparing for the next week of meal planning. (But wait, you say- you haven't planned for next week, yet! You're right, I haven't! Wait for it...)
When I go shopping at my selected stores, trusty list in hand, I will also be scanning for deals. If I notice that whole wild pink salmons are on 2 for $5, I will buy some as long as my budget allows for it. Same with finding a coupon for $1 off cheese, or 5 cans of coconut for $3, etc. BUT, I will only buy these extras when I have the extra money for them (you know, that whole budget thing)!!!
Now, when I go to the produce market, I do the same thing. I will already have a list of the produce needed for my specific meals (and if I need 3 carrots, I don't buy just 3, I buy a bag), plus some extra fruit, etc. for breakfasts and snacks. And as I go around the market, I check to see what is seasonal (more to come on this topic in another post), what is overstocked and therefore on sale, any bags of discounted produce (only if they are in good shape still- I won't compromise nutrition and quality for a deal).
Because I have bought slightly larger amounts than I need, as well as other produce items that are going for a good price, I will come home with a nice amount of fruit and veggies to last us more than a week.
And this is where the second part of my meal planning comes in!
The second week of my 2 week period, before I look at my recipes, I take a very thorough look at what I have in the house, specifically what is in the fridge and needs to be used up. My primary focus will be on how to use the extra produce I've already bought (for a good price, remember!). Now I can choose recipes that suit the food I have on hand, and do my best to use up everything that I have bought before going shopping again (this really helps me avoid waste and stretch our dollars!). I will still sometimes need to make a small list of items that I need to fill in the gaps for my recipes, but it is usually quite small (maybe $20-30 worth).
And so my second week is planned by finding recipes that use what I already have on hand, and still keeping in mind the meal planning principles mentioned yesterday (nutrition, variety, our schedule, etc.). One of my favorite resources for this lately has been All Recipes. This site has a great ingredient search feature that allows me to find new recipes to use what I have, avoiding the ingredients that I don't have. Sometimes I tweak recipes to make them healthier, but at least I often find great inspiration or the skeleton of a good recipe.
I hope that this explanation of my menu planning is useful and gives you a starting place if you have never tried this before!
I have recently been posting my menu plans every Monday, as part of Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Mondays. Check out my Menu Plan Mondays category to see my previous meal plans, for some great recipes and inspiration on putting together well-balanced meal plans. This week, along with my menu plan, I will also post a step-by-step
explanation of how I made my plan, based on what I had, what I bought,
nutritional needs, etc. If you would like some further motivation, why don't you try to make your own meal plans (starting this weekend, even!) and post them, then add your link on Monday? Maybe I'll see you there!