Category Archives: Food

Taking a Food Inventory

Taking a food inventory

A food inventory is ALWAYS my first step in meal planning. Before looking at Pinterest. Before looking at my Meal Categories binder. Before thinking of any meals.

“That will take forever!!!” you are probably thinking.

BUT. If you are consistently doing this method and using up your inventory, this doesn’t take long AND you are saving money by using what you already have. A stocked freezer or pantry is nice in theory, but food is money.

So, moving on to the method.

Inventory Planning Meals

Inventory

1. Inventory your pantry.

Write down anything you have that is useful for a family meal.  No, not the half bag of chips or the 1/2 cup of rice.  I’m talking canned goods, 1/2 or almost full boxes of rice, enough potatoes for your whole family. These are all components that can be used to make a complete meal.

2. Inventory your refrigerator

Same rule as above. Only usable items. This also helps you see what you can quickly throw together for a snack or meal to use up before grocery shopping. 1 nectarine and 1 plum? Great, cut it up for your kids’ snack this afternoon. Use it up! Food. Is. Money.

3. Inventory your freezer

I count freezer meals I’ve prepped in this one as well.  When I freezer prep, it’s because I’ve made a double batch of something or saved some leftovers. These meals are usually used up within a month.  Sometimes I have extra meat because it was an insanely great ad price.

Plan

Look at your list of ingredients and mentally put them together to make a meal. For example, I have rice, tortilla, chicken in the freezer, and Rotel.  All I need is some sour cream and cheddar cheese and I can make enchiladas.  Another example: red sauce and spaghetti noodles. All I need is some ground beef, or we could have a meatless spaghetti. Add these ingredients to the list on the inventory sheet.

Sometimes you will be able to make a full meal without buying anything additional. The key is to look for meals that only need 1-2 ingredients. This way, you are using up what you have and your grocery list is going to be short.

Download your FREE copy of the Inventory sheet I use and check out how I shop for these ingredients and plan my remaining meals: Ad Shopping.

 

 

How I Shop The Ads

How I Shop The Ads

I have 3 main goals when I look through the ads.

  1. Find ingredients that I need for the meals I came up with from my inventory sheet.
  2. Check for staples we always have around the house that may be on sale. Things like salsa, bread, certain produce my kids love, etc.
  3. Look for great deals that can contribute to a meal. This might be meat at a great price, produce on sale that we will eat as a side, or other components like rice and tortillas.

Other tips:

I almost always “settle” for an ad item. What I mean by this is instead of eating broccoli as a side, we will have asparagus because it’s on sale cheaper than the broccoli.

Don’t buy an item just because it’s on sale. Buy it if it’s cheaper than the store brand and you actually NEED it or will USE IT for a meal.

Color code the stores as you make your list. You will be able to see which store has the best deals at a glance, then decide if it’s worth going to that store.

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If there are only 2-3 items in an ad that you need, will use, and is cheaper than store brand, it’s not worth going to the store. I only go to the store if there is a significant amount of sale items.

If you’re new to ad shopping, I suggest starting a price sheet just to start seeing what good prices are. This opened my eyes a ton to seeing what is actually a great sale price. You can read about how I did that here.

Download my Ad Shopping sheet below!

_Ad Shopping

Meal Planning Made Easy

Meal Plan Category.png

How many times have you stared at a blank sheet of paper trying to plan meals but the same meals come to mind? This happened to me so often…probably every week! Luckily, sometimes I wrote down our meals in my planner, so I would flip back through. I wasn’t consistent so it only helped a little. I knew I needed a better system.

Insert my meal planning binder!

Meal Planning Categories32

I began thinking of meals in categories. I’m not organized or consistent enough to actually have themed days like Meatless Monday or Taco Tuesday. (I would rather have a list of meals and choose the one I feel like making that night.) But once I started listing down meals by category, it was so much easier to think of all of the possibilities.  In order to keep it all in one place, I created this printable and store it in a 3-ring binder.

Click below to get yours! You can print off the pages that apply to your family.

Meal Planning Categories

Easy Burrito Bowls

I am always looking for meals that my kids will eat without complaining. Don’t get me wrong, they’re really good eaters and eat almost everything I cook.  But having 3 kids, the chances of at least one person not liking the meal are pretty high.

One of my girls doesn’t enjoy Mexican, so I was fully prepared for her to turn her nose up at these burrito bowls. Surprisingly, I was wrong…All 3 kids LOVED these! And they were super easy, so WIN-WIN for Mom!

Ingredients:

Brown Rice

Chicken Breasts

Seasoning of choice (I used cumin, chili powder, garlic salt, salt, and pepper)

Variety of mix-ins (avocado, black beans, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, and sour cream)

Directions:

  1. Heat oil in skillet. Season chicken. Place in skillet. Flip several times until cooked.
  2. Cook rice according to package directions.
  3. While chicken and rice are cooking, chop and prepare your mix-ins.
  4. Assemble bowl to liking.

My bowl:

The girls loved being able to choose their own ingredients.

Kid Approved!

They even asked for seconds!

Mid-Month Meal & Grocery Planning

My goal going into part-time work was to cut our grocery bill in half. On You Need A Budget, I noticed it was the 3rd highest spending category so I changed the way I shopped for groceries.  At the beginning of September, I detailed how I only spent $151 for two weeks.  Here, I will lay out my mid-month planning and shopping.

The first thing I did before planning meals for the remainder of the month was take inventory of the ingredients we already have.  I list all the things in the freezer, pantry/cupboards, and fridge – items that can be part of a meal.   You may already do this in your head, but it’s much easier to see the meals you can make once it’s all written out.

I studied the list and checked to see what I could use together to make a meal – frozen taco meat, tortillas, taco shells, garden tomatoes – all I needed was some lettuce and sour cream for tacos.   Same thing with hamburgers – I had frozen buns, ground beef, and french fries. Hot dog pizzas – I had pizza sauce, frozen hot dog buns, and mozzarella. All I needed was the pepperonis.  Chili – I have every single ingredient and hadn’t even planned on it!

Next, make a list of ingredients needed to complete each meal, as well as items for snacks or refills (dish soap, syrup, etc.).

I had already done my price sheet so I checked that to see where the cheapest price was for each item. If it wasn’t on sale, I quickly searched online Walmart and Hyvee. I was ordering online anyway, so I just added it to my cart at whichever store was cheaper.

Last, I hit up Fresh Thyme for cheap produce and picked up my orders at Hyvee and Walmart! Grand total was $182.89.  I wanted to be around $150, but purchased meat this time. A few convenience items also brought the price up.

Meat: chicken legs, chicken breasts, turkey sausage, deli turkey, deli ham

Produce: 2 baby carrots, lettuce, avocado, canteloupe, 2 salad bags, grapes, oranges, apples, 2 prepared salads, pears, 3 bags frozen vegetables, bananas

Convenience: PBJ Uncrustables, frozen pancakes, taquitos, juice boxes, Larabars, 20-pack of snack crackers, 8 fruit cups, frozen veggie noodles

Diary, etc.: Eggs, 2 packages sliced cheese, string cheese, cheese singles, stick butter, soft butter, sour cream, 5 yogurt Flips, Go-gurt

Refills: syrup, gum, dish soap

Other: 2 loaves of bread, pita crackers, nacho cheese, 3 bags chips, raisins, chocolate chips, canned fruit, chocolate pretzels, oatmeal, almonds, cinnamon

Cauliflower Rice + Chicken & Veggies

A few weeks ago, I found a fun section at Walmart next to the frozen vegetables. There was riced cauliflower, zucchini spirals, carrot spirals, and more! I grabbed a few packs, having no clue what I would do with them.

This week, I used the riced cauliflower with some things I had on hand.

Ingredients:

(Get the Everything seasoning at Trader Joe’s or Amazon!)

Directions:

1. Heat oil in skillet Season chicken(I used 3 strips) with Everything seasoning and pepper before cooking.

2. Sauté sweet potatoes in skillet with oil.

3. Microwave cauliflower in bag. Season with salt/pepper.

4. Microwave green beans.

5. After I put it on my plate, I realized I wanted it all mixed together so you could just dump it all in a bowl together!

I love that it makes enough for 2 meals! Great for supper and lunch the next day, or meal prep for 2 lunches.

2 Weeks of Produce

When I tell people I shop for 2 weeks, there is almost always a question about the products. Do I have enough for a 2nd week? Do I have to go back to get fresh? How do I make it last 2 weeks?

Here are the fruits and vegetables I have left from my September 1st grocery trip. (The white basket has items from our garden.) Still plenty to make it through the week!

Here are my tips on how to make produce last 2 weeks:

Buy Frozen

Frozen vegetables and fruit have just as many nutrients as fresh because they’re picked at peak ripeness and frozen within a few hours.  I always have both frozen fruit and veggies in our freezer for week 2 or as a backup incase a vegetable goes bad or the kids eat more fruit than I had anticipated.

Know What To Use First

Eat and cook with the produce that will get rotten quicker, and save the others for week 2. For example, asparagus first, carrots the 2nd week. Grapes and peaches for snack first, apples and oranges for snack the 2nd week.

Buy Only What You Know You Will Use

This is something I had to get better at. I would walk by the vegetables and grab broccoli, asparagus, and brussels sprouts and think “We might need these for a meal some night.” and then they would get bad because I didn’t actually need them.  Always plan your meals ahead and make your grocery list from that. Stick to the list!!

You Don’t Need A Huge Variety

I used to buy strawberries, blueberries, grapes, apples….aaaalll the fruit – because my kids LOVE fruit. It makes up about 75% of their snacks. But having so much variety meant that it couldn’t all get eaten before it went bad. Now what I do is buy a small variety of fruit the first 2 weeks, and buy different fruits for the last 2 weeks of the month.

Ham & Cheese Pinwheels

Here is a quick, easy recipe with 4 ingredients that you can enjoy as an appetizer or main meal with sides.

Ingredients

Ham

Swiss Cheese

Pillsbury Crescent Dough

Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagel seasoning (Purchase here!)

Directions

Roll out the dough. Sprinkle with seasoning.

Place a layer of meat on the dough.

Place a layer of cheese on the meat.

Roll up the dough. Slice into smaller pieces (depending on how thick you want them). Place on the tray face up, as shown below.

Sprinkle more seasoning on.

Bake 10-12 minutes on 350 degrees.

The second time I made these, I used a Pillsbury Pizza Dough Sheet instead, and we liked these much better! They were less bread-y.

I served these with salad, chips, and frozen peas.

2 weeks + Family of 5 Eaters = $151 Grocery Bill

When I switched to working part-time, I revisited our budget several times to see where we could cut back. One category that was always extremely high was the grocery bill. At an average of $800/month, groceries was the third highest spending category – just after mortgage and daycare.

I’ve always wanted to use the ads, compare prices, and use coupons or money-saving apps. I’d never taken the time to do those things, and I thought I knew what a good price was. I assumed shopping at Walmart gave me the lowest prices, but after using a price sheet I realized I was wrong!

If you’ve read how I create and use my price sheet, this is where I show it to you in action!

STEP 1: Shop your cupboards. Take inventory of what you already have. I knew I had about 8lb hamburger, a pork shoulder, and 2 packages of chicken to use for meals. These were past sale purchases that I knew I would utilize in the future.

STEP 2: Plan your meals. For 2 weeks, I plan 8-10 meals, which allows for a couple leftover nights,1-2 nights of dining out, and 1-2 “Clean out the fridge/freezer” nights, if needed.  I found that getting groceries weekly resulted in a lot of wasted food.

STEP 3: Ad prices go on the price sheet. Find which store has the lowest price and make a store list. I shop from 4 stores – 2 are pickup, 2 I have to go in.

  

STEP 4: For the remaining items, I searched online Hyvee and Walmart to see who had the lowest price. I order online and pickup at both of those stores.

STEP 5: Go shopping and be proud of all the money you just saved!!

Lazy Mom Hack: Muffin Tin Meal

If you’re a mom, you know that kids aren’t going to eat what you make 100% of the time. Unless your children are perfect. Or you have secrets, which I need to know.

I have found ONE lunch that my kids will eat without a fuss every. single. time.  And it’s great for lazy moms like me because it’s basically snacks from the fridge and cupboards. Bonus: My oldest daughter has now taken it upon herself to prepare this “meal” on the weekends so now I can be super lazy.

I give you…

Muffin Tin Meals:

I think it’s the cute muffin tins that are enticing.  (Two thumbs up!)

You can use any size. This one was for sharing (because I didn’t want to dig through my messy, unorganized cupboard.).

Mom win! They get fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, protein, and whatever else is small enough (or can be cut into pieces) to fit in the muffin hole.

The funny thing is…I could put these same exact foods on a plate and they would probably complain. But put it in a muffin tin and BAM! It’s exciting! It’s fun! And the food is devoured.