Welcome to the second part of my Grocery Shopping Series. Before you can even hit the store you need to have a plan and a list of food. I recently gave a one month meal plan a try. At first I really thought it was going to be hard, but it wasn’t. I started a little while ago a book listing all the meals we enjoyed. Breaking them up in different categories, like Chicken, Beef, Pork, Vegetarian and Easy Meals. Using this, checking what we had on hand and looking ahead over Dave schedule I was able to plan out a whole month, and I still had great meal ideas to come in other months. The idea is you want to fill in the days first with meals you enjoy cooking and your fancier meals. Then I filled in some of our easier meals on days that were busier. Lastly I put in a leftover night once a week and things like Mac n Cheese or Pancakes on days Dave was working days and it was just the kids and myself. I made sure to include a favorite for each person and also a new recipe or two I wanted to try. I also wasn’t afraid to repeat a few meals, like spaghetti twice and homemade pizza. I plan to make a few more months up and then the idea will be to just rotate a few of the different months, change a night or two if needed and easy as pie.
Now meal planning is not just about dinners, you have lunches and breakfast to consider and snacks. Right now our kids are pretty easy for our other meals. They all eat Oatmeal for breakfast. I buy a few small bags of the no name quick oats (surprisingly cheaper than buying the big bulk bags), one for each week generally. I make sure to have Apples and bananas on hand. The boys love bananas. Add some yogurt if they still need more and done. Lunches are usually sandwiches (PB, Jam, Honey or Grilled Cheese), Amy also loves soft-boiled eggs right now too, or Kraft Dinner. It may not sound fancy but it is usually all they want. Sometimes we have some cut veggies as well with our meals. The boys will either eat scrambled eggs, Kraft Dinner or left overs. I have a few snack things on hand, more for the boys and Diana’s lunch. If they kids are hungry outside of meals it is fruit, yogurt (if it wasn’t eaten with breakfast), or some cheese slices. I don’t often have juice on hand so it is water during the day and Milk with supper. If I’ve been baking then they may get a muffin for a snack for how ever long those last. The reason the boys have more snacks is because it is harder for them to tell me if they are hungry or full, so I keep things like Animal Crackers or fish crackers to help them out if a meal is still an hour away. I don’t find that the girls or boys are too often hungry or snacking all the time. They eat good when they sit down and since Oatmeal is so cheap usually 2 bowls full. I can buy Oatmeal for a month on what I would spend on cereal for a week. I keep things like raisins, brown sugar, cinnamon and apple sauces on hand to change-up the flavor of the oatmeal if they need it.
For myself and Dave, we are also creatures of habit. I usually have an egg on toast with a cheese slice for breakfast or oatmeal with the kids. Dave gets cereal but only when I have coupons or there is a really good sale. Lately I’ve had great Buy 2 Get 1 coupons, combined with sales so we are stocked up on cereal. Lunches are easy what is on hand things. For me they have to still fit within weight watchers. Dave doesn’t always eat lunch and if he does it is toasted peanut butter and jam sandwiches.
With all that in mind I make sure to have things like bread, cheese slices, eggs, peanut butter, fruit, and yogurt on hand. We do have treat things in the house but they are saved for Diana’s lunches and a special treat. I also don’t buy any of those things unless they are on a super sale, or have a super coupon and then I stock up. It also helps for special days at school where we may need to bring a treat or snack to share.
Now that I have my meal planned figured out, my freezer and pantry have been checked for supplies on hand I work at putting together my grocery list. What I looked at doing with my list and meal plan was write down everything I needed to buy to make everything, leaving aside things I would need fresh each week, eggs, milk and fruit. Keeping in mind I was going to be buying a lot of items I took out some lined paper and put food section headings (Produce, Meat, Dairy, etc.) and filled in my list underneath. The first shop I spent a lot of time looking over my list and my meal plan. I also checked out what I could of the flyers online (I currently don’t get them to my door), just to see what the good sales were. Because this is still new to me I don’t have a logical store set up yet. Once our Save on Foods is built I may switch to them for things like our meats because on the first Tuesday of the month I can save 15% and they sell bulk packs of meat. I’ve also heard great things about their meat. I’m not too crazy about Superstore meat, unless it is Lilydale Chicken. But we mostly eat red meat, for that I usually go to Safeway currently. I want to be able to come up with a good plan to maximize my savings and airmile earnings, but I figure that will take a few months or even a year to get going.
With my list in hand I first went to Safeway to get a few things, and earn a few airmiles, buying only what was a good sale or the same price as other stores like Milk or Bakery Bread. Afterwards I went to Superstore to pick up the rest of the food. I also needed things like blue bags and bottle liners which are always cheapest there. I made sure to put things on my list that I was looking for if there was a good sale, writing sale next to it as a reminder. If I didn’t like the price of an item and it was not on this weeks meal I put a star beside it and kept my list so that I could put it on the next weeks. I crossed off the items as I went. I really liked how this all worked out. I wasn’t worried about what we were eating, at the start of the month I had almost everything I needed for all my meals too. I wrote things we ran out of on our wipe board to add to the list when I sat down for the next week. Because I also planned meals that went further than one meal it was a bit cheaper. I bought 1kg packs of pepperoni and salami at the start of the month, used my friends slicer then broke it up into meals and froze what I didn’t need right away. What I spent on those 2 items is what I may have spent over 2 – 3 meals at the deli, and I ended up with enough to do 10 pizza nights. I also bought bulk packs of the smaller submarine buns (they look like fancy hot dog buns) for the cost of one pack of hot dog buns. I froze them and pulled them out as our meals needed them. It was another big cost saver. I found I was able to save a lot of money this way and on the other weeks I shopped since I didn’t need meat and other expensive items I was able to stock up on other things I found on sale too.
So far to date I only spent $492.35 and saved $65.98 with coupons and my safeway card. I was so happy to see that I could feed my family of 6 for a month on $500.00. I still have the last 2 days of next week to account for but I will only need milk and bananas maybe. Next weeks shop will kick off my February meal plan. I do expect that some months will be higher since I did have lots of meats and things we were eating already on hand from previous sales, our beef freezer pack we ordered in the fall and my freezer meal day as well. But I’m hopeful that I can keep it under $600.00 a month at the most. Once everyone gets bigger and they are all in school it will change, by then though I will have this down to a science and be able to keep our spending reasonable, even when I’m feeding 4 teenagers. If you couldn’t tell already, I’m a number nerd, and I like to crunch numbers.
Well I hope this is found to be encouraging for others. I’ve also attached my meal plan so you can see what we ate. I didn’t write things like side dishes and veggies down since I always have those things around too.