Menu Planning & Shopping Lists

I am often asked how I menu plan and grocery shop. I decided the best way to explain it was just to blog it.

Here is the breakdown of it all….

Budget

We are a family of 5 (Hubby, myself, and our 3 daughters 18, 10, and 5) AKA 3 adults and 2 children. We get paid once a month.

Yep. I. Said. Once. A. Month.

 So, budgeting is essential for us.

Paying Bills

I pay ALL bills at the beginning of the month regardless of when they are actually due. Our gas for our vehicles is considered a bill and is put it into a separate checking account with it’s own debit card. This account is used just for our gas. It makes life SO much easier! We know exactly how much gas we each have at all times. The same amount is transferred each month. If by chance we have extra left over that month, we try and put it back into the main budget.

After all bills have been paid, I take whatever is left and divide it by 4 or 5 weeks (depending on how many weeks are in that particular month). That is my budget for EVERYTHING for the rest of  month. Kids need clothes, dogs need food, etc, it comes out of what is left over. One month I had $729 left over after all bills were paid. There were 4 weeks left in that month.  That comes out to $182 per week for the rest of the month. Remember I said that everything comes out of this money, not just food.

Charts

After scouring the web for pantry charts  that would work for my needs and coming up with nothing, I created  charts using Google Docs. It took me 5 minutes to customize the charts to my needs. I then took those charts and laminated them. The best part is that dry erase markers work amazing on them to keep track of what I have and where I have it.

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Freezers, Fridges, & A Pantry Oh My

I have 2 large deep chest freezers in my garage. One is for all my fruits, veggies, and breads. The other is contains our meats, poultry, stocks, and any frozen leftovers I have made (soups, chili, etc). We have our normal fridge and pantry. Plus my youngest has her own mini fridge.  Our pantry is REALLY easy for me to see exactly what we have and do not have. It is small, very organized, and easy to use. All of which was done on purpose.

Couponing

I bought a smallish notebook with a pocket in the front flap of it to keep whatever coupons I have  organized by the weeks they are valid for. I take this notebook everywhere with me. Since we do not buy processed foods Wegman’s, Whole Foods, Common Market, local farmer’s markets, butchers, orchards and a local poultry farm are where I shop. Wegman’s often offers coupons for fresh produce, cheese shops, and a couple of $$ off a certain amount that you spend. I take full advantage of them when I can. I also buy organic when I can, but not all the time.

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How We Eat

We eat Real Whole foods with Feingold (stage 2) (FG) incorporated into it. We are NOT dairy free, casein free, or gluten free. I make everything from scratch. I do stay at home and homeschool 2 of my kids. My youngest Reine has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).

Eating Out

We also do not eat out. Occasionally Hubby has to eat out for work or he will meet up with friends. When he does this,  he will order a side salad and bring his own dressing or he will bring his own food and drinks. If someone forgets their lunch, they do not eat until they get home. It may appear strict, controlling, or whatever, but with a tight budget, there is no other options.

Cooking For 5

I make one meal for everyone. I have met people that make multiple meals daily for their families. This is their choice. I have no issues with those that have chosen to go this route. For my family, I do not have the time or the $$ to make several meals for each individual person. I hear from people all the time that their child would starve if they did this. Or family members would complain and never eat. My thoughts are that your child will not starve. Your family will eat what you make when they get hungry enough.  The only exception to this is those that have serious food sensory issues. Reine has taught me a lot about sensory issues. But I have never allowed any of my kids to become “picky”. Reine included. We have a 3 bite rule here. You must eat at least 3 bites of each thing on your plate before you say “No Thank You”. This rule applies to every meal. Reine often devours the food on her plate that she insists she can not stand. We often try foods (even those we do not like) in different recipes with a variety of different spices, seasonings, and main ingredients. We not only expand our food choices, but what we do not like in one meal, we find that we like in another meal. Thankfully my youngest eats a wide variety of foods as a result of this rule. Most meals consist of some form of protein, veggies, fruits, and a starch.

Dishing It Out

We use pie plates or small plates for each meal. We have found that the small plates stop us from filling our plates with too much food and my garbage can from eating what could have been leftovers. I dish out the plates so that everyone gets the right amount of all foods, not just their favorite foods.

Lunches

Lunches are made at the same time we dish out the plates for meals. I do it this way so that I know everyone has a lunch for the following day. You are already in a groove dishing out the food, so throwing it in a container is really quick!

Seconds

If you want seconds in my house, there is no issues as long as you have eaten everything on your plate first. Since the lunches are already packed, everything left is fair game. There are times though when there is not anything left and someone is still hungry. That is when they eat fruits, veggies, or a small salad.

Disliking Of Certain Foods and Food Intolerance

 If I know you genuinely do not like a food, I will not give it to you. I will omit it from the recipe or serve it on the side for those that do like it. My hubby HATES, HATES, HATES olives of any kind. I will not give him any in his food.

If I know you have a food intolerance, I will create something else for you to enjoy along with the meal. I am the only one in my house that has food intolerances. I do not avoid any foods that have my intolerances. Instead, I have learned the amounts that I can have without issues. I will make sure that I have a side salad, or a larger side of veggies. That is the only way we cater here.

My Philosophy

I am a huge believer in the philosophy that you make the time for whatever is important to you or on your priority list. If making things from scratch is important to you….you will find the time. If it is not on your priority list, then you will not make it so. It is truly that simple. Everyone has a different priority list. Just be honest with yourself.

Menu Planning

I start my menu planning by doing a quick look at my charts. When we use something or replace something, we try to remember to change it on the chart. I use these charts to see what we have and what we need. These are pics of  the same charts from up above just filled out.

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My entire family has input on our meals. I have found they are more apt to eat the foods and not complain when they have helped come up with the menu. It takes me seconds to see what I have and what I need to create the meals. Once the meals are figured out, they are set in stone. There is no deviating from them.  Again, my budget does NOT allow for that. I do not have the $$ to hear my family say they are not hungry for this or that. They are really good about not doing that.

When we plan our meals, I will either do them for a week or a two week time frame. It depends on the weather and how crazy I know things are going to be for us and how long  the shelf life of certains foods are I am buying.

The meal plan shown below is for 2 weeks worth of meals. However, it only has 9 days worth of meals actually written down.  I know that we will have enough leftovers to bring us to the 12 day mark. I write our menu on the left side of the page with my grocery list written out on the right side. I make sure to take any coupons that I can use for that particular shopping list and paper clip them by store, then  all together. It makes it easier to go through them and to remember to use them.

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There you have it,  you all now know how I menu plan and do my shopping lists.

How do you do yours?

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