TRICKS OF THE TRADE: by becca hardesty
I am taking a break from the blog this week because our Scarlet Ruth Mosser made her way into the world this past Tuesday! She is a dainty little girl already and bringing us so much peace and joy!
Today's post is from my friend Becca Hardesty and I'm sure we will ALL learn from her practical advice on meal planning, grocery shopping and staying in a budget.
(Chris, Becca, Bennet and baby #2)
Meal planning and grocery shopping can be daunting tasks, especially if you have kids to mind and a budget to stick to.
I am by no means an expert at these things, but I feel like I have a pretty good method (shopping can get quite interesting when you are 8.5 months pregnant and have a spirited toddler!) to getting it all done. I'm so glad that I get the opportunity to share the method to my meal-planning madness and how I keep sane on long grocery shopping days all the while staying in budget.
Some of this may be common sense, but sometimes common sense is what I need to hear the most!
My husband Chris gets paid every other Friday, which are my grocery shopping days. This means that I only need to do big grocery trips two times a month.
I usually head to the store to grab some fresh produce and milk on Sunday for the second week, but at the end of the two weeks our refrigerator is looking pretty darn empty. Luckily, having a menu planned out means that I'm not scrounging around for things to make at the end of the two weeks (always a plus)!
IT'S ALL IN THE PLANNING: It's important to have a binder of recipes you've torn out of magazines, a folder of saved recipes on your computer, a Pinterest board dedicated to meals you'd love to make/your all-time favorites OR all of the above!
While meal planning, I refer to each of these things often but Pinterest is definitely a favorite for gathering and sharing new meal inspiration and also keeping it all organized.
THE WEEK LEADING UP TO GROCERY SHOPPING:
- Take stock of what needs to be used up in your refrigerator and pantry. Plan meals using these things...wasting is never good.
Example: I know I need to use up some sweet potatoes, sour cream and cilantro so maybe I will make sweet potato tacos next week.
-Think about what you'd like to make. Have you been craving warm soup in this rainy weather?
-Keep your menu interesting by choosing a few favorites, a few oldies and a few new recipes...once again, Pinterest has been a lifesaver in the meal-planning department!
-To mind our budget (and our health) I only plan 1-2 meals containing meat per week. This allows us to get more veggies into our diet and actually all of our favorite meals are meatless ones now!
ASSESS YOUR PLANS FOR THE NEXT WEEK OR TWO (depending on when payday occurs):
- Will you be out of town or having dinner guests over? Do you need to make something quick on house church night?
-Plan accordingly (don't forget to take advantage of that crock pot...it can make your evenings/life so much easier)!
-Choose meals, but not necessarily for specific days (this allows you to be flexible) unless you have something special planned, like a big batch of fish tacos for when your friends come over Friday night.
THE LIST: When I'm doing my meal planning, I first like to find a meal and write it down on the back of my grocery list (or put into my "meals" note on my phone). It's handy to have the list of meals I'll be making while I'm out shopping. After I write down the meal, I take a look at the ingredients and add the ones that I'll need to buy to my grocery list. I then move onto the next meal until I'm all the way through my planned menu.
Speaking of my grocery list, I used to be so attached to my paper lists and would cross out each item as it went into my cart. Recently I decided to try out the Grocery IQ app for my phone. It took a while to get used to, but now I Iove it and don't miss my paper lists at all. The best part is that it's free!
When I'm writing out my list, I have a different list for each store I need to go to. I squeeze three different stores into one morning before naptime so it's important to be organized. (Does anyone go to just one store?!)
SHOPPING DAY: Before you head out, plan your route according to what stores you will be going to and what you need to buy there. Do you need to get a lot of frozen items at Costco? Go there last (or if you are the over-achieving type, keep a cooler in your trunk).
Drive a little farther to get to where you need to go if the stores happen to be closer together somewhere farther from your house. I usually head to Costco first, then park in between Fred Meyer and Trader Joe's since they are pretty close to one another. I do my grocery shopping at Fred Meyer and load it into my car when I'm done and then I walk over to Trader Joe's. This not only saves time and gas but also keeps my toddler happy since he doesn't have to get in and out of the car seat another time.
Speaking of keeping kids (and mama) happy on grocery day, make sure to pack plenty of snacks, water and a sandwich for lunch so you can put them down for nap right when you get home...this will make unloading groceries much more efficient.
Don't forget to have a few distractions up your sleeve (or in your purse) like stickers; and don't be afraid to drop your child off at the play area of the store. I finally tried it out and wish I had done it sooner! My son loves the hour he gets to play as opposed to being stuck sitting in the shopping cart. I'm also able to focus more so we get home earlier and don't miss that precious naptime window!
STAYING ON BUDGET:
-A simple solution to getting the most for your budget would be to choose meals that overlap in ingredients. You could even pick a theme for the week, like "Mexican" which would ensure you'd use up all of those corn tortillas and sour cream.
- I would love to buy all organic groceries if I could, but that's not really realistic on our budget. I always buy organic dairy products, or at the very least I stick to a brand that I trust. I also stick to the same rule when it comes to meat, which doesn't add up too much when you are only making a couple of meals containing meat each week. As far as produce, I try to buy organic if they are in the "dirty dozen". Pretty much this means that if you eat the peel or skin, then you should choose organic since most of the pesticides sit in the skin or peel.
-It's unfortunate that good and healthy food has a high price tag, but keeping our families healthy is probably a top priority for every parent. If you can't afford to buy organic meat all of the time, cut back on meat in general and spend that money on organic produce instead.
Above all, be prepared and focus on the task at hand. It's easy to get overwhelmed (especially if you have kids) but remember that grocery shopping only lasts a short time and it's such a privilege to be able to go out and fill our cupboards with new items every few weeks!