Thursday, May 12, 2022

A Few Tips for Meal Planning and Shopping

Some beautiful Lupine in the north woods - one my favorite plants.

I  guess by now we all know about the higher costs of food and even some shortages.  For those of us on a limited monthly income, that can be a concern.  But there are steps we can take to make the best out of a difficult situation.

First of all, we need to remember that this is not new.  Maybe new to some of us and we might feel like we won't be able to get through it very well, but this challenge can be a learning time.   I was going through my Kitchen Notebook and came across some tips that I wanted to share with you.  It was good for me to re-read too because it gave me the motivation I needed to get back to doing a few things that I had stopped doing.

What I find is that when times are good and money isn't a problem, I tend to slack off and go back to convenience.  It's SO much easier to buy everything for the sake of not having to DO everything.  But it's in the "doing" where we find the side of us that is linked to past generations.  Generations that didn't have as much as we do and therefore needed to make do with what they had.  I think fear tends to paralyze us when we should get into action and figure things out as to what we need to do.  Schools stopped teaching girls the REAL home economics and they stopped teaching the boys shop classes where they learned everything from fixing things on cars, to electricity, to basic plumbing.  We have generations of kids who literally know nothing but computers and other brainy stuff.  Not saying that that's bad, but kids used to be prepared to grow up, get married, and take care of their own homes without much outside assistance.

Knowing what your situation is is the first step to take.  Some of you are very blessed when it comes to finances and this whole shopping thing doesn't seem like a big deal.  But even when you are used to having what you want and when you want it and that is all of a sudden taken away or restricted, you will notice it.  Shortages affects everyone and you'll still need to get some items in your home in case things go from bad to worse.

So, let's get started:

*Eliminate processed foods - these are foods that are not healthy.  The processing of foods reduces the health benefits of food and they add stuff that are totally unhealthy!  I believe that in times like these, we should strive to stay as healthy as possible.  Unfortunately, we can't stop disease and illness, but we can take control of what we put into our bodies by purchasing good food.

*Plan meals according to sales - get used to pulling up store ads and create your menus according to what is on sale.  Remember that you don't need elaborate menus!  But choose good food - a good protein source, in-season fruits and vegetables, etc.  Before shopping, have a food budget if you don't have one already.  We all need to eat so your budget HAS to allow for food.

*Buy in season and when things are on sale or reduced, buy in bulk and freeze or can.  Since it's Spring, the "in season" foods are things like strawberries, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, green onions, mushrooms, rhubarb, etc.  If you don't know the basics of canning or freezing (or even dehydrating) read up on it and give it a try.  It is very satisfying to "put up" produce to pull from your freezer or shelves.

*Buy frozen organic fruits and vegetables.  I have to remind myself of this.  I always think that fresh is best but frozen is great to have around.   And I say organic (even though it might be a bit more expensive - but not always) because fruits and vegetables are often the foods that are sprayed and organics aren't and I buy them as a part of the staying healthy.  

*Buy whole chickens (again, organic grass-fed not grain-fed).  Chickens can be easily cut up or baked whole and then use the meat for casseroles and the bones to make soup broth.  Often chicken legs and thighs go on sale and are wonderful for the freezer.  

*Eliminate expensive drinks - we're all suppose to cut back on sugar and all those sodas and juices are full of sugar and they are expensive.  I know that sometimes soda is a treat and maybe should be treated as such instead of buying it on a weekly basis.  Train your family to drink water (which our bodies need anyway),  and varieties of tea (which can be served hot or cold).  If you love iced coffee in the summer (I'm raising my hand) it's so easy to make yourself instead of spending money on the expensive bottles at the store.  You can control the sweetness yourself.

*Grow your own food (at least some of it) - most of us don't have a lot of space to grow big gardens but we all can grow something.  Start by choosing one or two foods that you buy every week (that would be lettuce and carrots for me) and that your family really likes (makes sense).  This is where something is better than nothing and it helps you to learn the important skill of gardening.  One or two things this year and then add something else to it next year.  There are all kinds of helps when it comes to gardening so take advantage of this through on-line learning, books, and magazines and have fun with it.

*Buy/eat meat in moderation - every shopping trip for us includes buying some meat for the freezer whether it's only a pound of hamburger or a whole chicken or whatever is on sale.  Again, when it comes to meat, organic is important to us.  I'm willing to not spend on some things in order to spend on good meat.  Again, organic meat should be grass fed not grain fed.  And just a bit of meat at meals is better than a lot.  Try to aim for leftovers as that is a very good way to be thrifty!  Another good idea is to have a least 2 days a week where you serve meatless meals.

*Double your favorite recipes and freeze the extras - I've been trying to do that lately and it sure is a time-saver (but you have to remember to take the food out in time to thaw!).  I always feel so organized with this tip.  Taking out a quart jar of soup or a casserole pan feels great especially for those days when you don't feel like cooking.  Just pull a salad together and a bit of fruit.  

*Use up leftovers.  I admit that I haven't always been good at this.  I didn't schedule it in when making my menu plan for the week, but now I do.  Like doubling foods for the freezer, cooking for leftovers makes sense.  For example, I made a quinoa pilaf to serve with our baked fish for one night and then I had enough leftover for making a meal out of the quinoa a couple of days later - I just added canned shrimp to it and heated it up.  It tasted like shrimp fried rice that we used to get for take-out.  Oh, I forgot......with the original fish dinner I also steamed some broccoli and had some of that leftover as well and was able to add that to the quinoa and shrimp.  Added nutrition, it looked pretty, and was very tasty.  : )

*Make your own desserts.  If you're like us, we really do like to have a dessert once in a while.  I bought a favorite pie at a local grocery for Mother's Day and I paid $18.00 for it!!!!!!!  I, of course, normally wouldn't do that but it was Mother's Day and I didn't feel like making my own dessert!  So, I splurged.  But I couldn't believe it.  It could have easily been made for just a couple of dollars if I would have planned better.  And, desserts for us don't necessarily mean a fancy dessert.  I bake and freeze cookies all the time so that I can pull a couple out for after a meal.  Cakes are very easy and freeze very well - cupcakes are best as they can serve a group when needed or an individual or two.  Fruit pies are fun to make with seasonal fruits and freeze well too.  So, just plan ahead and have some sweets around for a nice treat.

*Prepare your own pick-up snacks - snack foods are expensive and they aren't that good for you.  This is where you can buy things like dried fruits, seeds, nuts, etc. and put them in little bags for your family to just reach in and grab one.  Having fruit around that are easy to eat like grapes, apples, and oranges are important too.  Chips are okay once in a while but, again, treated as a treat.  If your pocketbook says "no" listen to it.  Popcorn is another snack that is very inexpensive.  Just pop some, put them into little bags and let your family nibble away.  I know popcorn tends to go stale quickly so don't make too much ahead of time especially during the humid summer months.

*Cook from scratch - this is probably obvious, but the grocery stores are filled with convenience foods - everything from pizza to full meals that are frozen.  First, the ingredients on these are full of things that we can't even pronounce.    Cooking from scratch does take time and time is what our excuse is for not cooking from scratch very often.  But being careful with our money means that it should take precedence over our time.  We need to take the time to cook from scratch.  A pizza takes only a minimum of ingredients for example.  And speaking of ingredients......I think it's important to have ingredients on hand in your pantry.  For the pizza, obviously you need flour, yeast, and salt for the dough.  You'll need tomato sauce and Italian seasoning for the sauce and a block of cheese to shred for the topping.  It's a simple pizza but it's good, it's healthier than store bought, and it saves a lot of money!   Those ingredients you have will make several meals which is cost effective as well.  So get the recipe books out and start cooking!  

*Some healthy foods on a budget include bananas, broccoli, rice, eggs, sweet potatoes, spinach, organic yogurt, whole grain pasta, whole organic chicken.  Just with this list you can plan a few healthy meals without spending a lot.

I do know that having a take-out meal once in a while or actually going to a restaurant is a treat for everyone and maybe with what you save in shopping frugally and doing the work at home, you can set aside a certain amount to treat yourself or your family to something like that.  But don't be in despair if you can't either.  Now is the time to think things through and think about what is really important. Do you really need all that soda?  Do you really need those chips and other snacks?  You will be amazed at how much you can save when you stop buying what you don't need. What I like to do is think about what our favorite family restaurant used to be and what everyone seemed to order when going out.  Take that memory and prepare the same food at home.  Of course, you can't be a short-order cook and make something different for everyone at the table, but take one thing at a time and create a nice atmosphere.  Light the candles, dim the lights, etc. if that kind of meal screams for that or you can light up the room and put fun music on to create a whole different atmosphere that would go great with taco night or pizza night.  It doesn't have to be mundane and it gets those creative juices flowing.  Get the family involved or your friends.  

Yes, we are in difficult times.  But we can do this.  Even if we have to put a little water in some ketchup to make tomato soup, and make our own crackers to go with it, we can do it.  I know that that's extreme but maybe it will come to the extreme?  I don't want to be depressing but in all seriousness, now is the time to start thinking in a different way and to be ready for anything.  Preparation is key.  Learn lessons from the past and start implementing them now.

The last thing I would like to mention is to have an attitude of gratitude.  Always thanking the Lord for what he provides.  If you count all your blessings today you will find that you are so blessed and He will not leave you desolate.  Give all you have to Him (because it's all His anyway!) and He will continue to take care of you.  We have to remember to stop looking at how much other people have and learn to be content.  

Well.......I think that's it for today.  I began writing this post last night while listening to all the severe weather updates around us until our own tornado sirens went off and I had to go downstairs.  I was alone at the time and my husband was at church so I'm VERY grateful nothing but winds and heavy rain happened.  We actually needed the rain anyway.  LOL

So I bid you goodbye and I hope that you all have a good day, a good rest of the week, and a good weekend ahead.  Thank you SO much for stopping by.  I appreciate it very much.  God bless.


  1. So much useful information here. Thank you for sharing. I am always inspired by your writing. Have a cozy evening!

    1. Hi Billie Jo! Thank you so much for your very kind words. I hope all is well with you and I hope you have a wonderful rest of the day. : ) Mary

  2. This was excellent and so thorough! Your wise advice in the kitchen is so encouraging to me, especially since it is my weakness. A friend just recommended the book called "Make the Bread, Buy the Butter." It's all about what you should make from scratch because of better taste and cheaper cost, and what isn't worth your time to make. I bet you'd love it! I make a few staples; it is my DH who loves to try new things. I did try some new Chinese veges last night, but it was just okay. Probably because my sense of smell is still off, now that I think about it. But I'm 90% better. Have a good week!

    1. Hi Janine! Thanks so much for your comment. I admit that the kitchen is a struggle for me as well - I'd much rather be cleaning or doing other things. But we have to eat and I'm really wanting us to eat well and the challenge of trying to save money while doing that motivates me to want to improve in this area. And, yes, the book sounds right up my alley!!!! I'll look into that, thank you. : )

      I'm VERY glad to hear that you are feeling so much better and hope you will have a good week ahead as well. : )