Feeding an army, part 2

Hopefully you’ve read and enjoyed Feeding an army, part 1

Now that you have your meal planning started what do you need to do next?

Well, hopefully you have a handful of favorite recipes on hand, in your file box or in your notebook. Get them out and start checking your local sales before you head to the grocery store. I have my menus set up on a rotating schedule on my online Cozi calendar. Sometimes I may end up with 2 or 3 meals for the same day. I usually check the sales and see what the specials are before deciding which meals I will be making. I also try to shop for the upcoming week, on occasion I will shop for the month. When I shop for the month I will still go out every 1-2 weeks for fresh produce and other items that we may need.

I also check the sales to see if there is anything on sale that we use quite often. Around the holidays you will often find cream of mushroom and cream of chicken soup on sale which I do use a lot in recipes. Sometimes you can get a lot of other canned goods on sale and cranberry sauce is often on sale. Yes, cranberry sauce, which we sometimes use in our Sweet and Sour Meatballs.

Where do we start with sales? Well, you can check the Sunday paper for local ads. There are also a variety of online sites that have the local ads, not to mention that each store should have an online ad too. I generally use couponmom.com which is free to sign up and use. There are a variety of ways to search and look for sales on the site. There are also quite a few video tutorials that you can watch to help you get started.

The other great thing is that this site lists the coupons and where to find them or links to print them out. I know, I know, you are probably thinking that you don’t want to be that crazy coupon lady who is holding everyone up in the checkout line. Well, I’ve been there and done that. One store would even open up a register for me when they saw me coming to check out. When it comes to being frugal and being a good steward of what I have I don’t mind holding up the line for a minute or two. (Please note that I am not a ‘shelf clearer’ nor do I make a big fuss if a coupon doesn’t scan as I am usually buying things I really need anyways. I can always ask them to take an item off it doesn’t ring up the way I thought it should.)

You don’t have to use the coupons to save money though. I have been rather lazy the past few months, maybe the past several months, and my stockpile and pantry are showing the results. Just shopping the sales and planning your meals around the sales will help you save money.

So how do you do this? First and foremost you need to set a grocery budget of how much you can spend. You can set a monthly budget, bimonthly budget, or weekly budget it doesn’t matter as long as you have a budget. I know money has been a little tight here this week so my grocery budget this week was $65.00! Crazy huh? Sounds impossible that I could possibly feed 9 or 10 people for a week on $65.00. Well, I’m gonna tell you how I did my shopping this week. (My normal budget is $100-$200 a week but with Christmas approaching and some minor vehicle repairs that came up our budget was temporarily reduced.)

First, I checked my pantry, fridge, and freezer to see what I had on hand. In the pantry I had some cake mixes, ramen noodles, yellow rice, pastas, lots of stuffing mix, and some canned veggies among other things.

In the freezer I found some fish, a few different types of sausages, brats, pork ribs, and several packages of hamburger. The ribs and hamburger where on sale a couple of weeks ago so I had stocked up then. Some of the pastas and dry foods had been on sale during previous weeks also and I had stocked up on them as well.

In the fridge I found some baby carrots, salad mix, grapes, cherry tomatoes, ham, and a few corn tortillas. We love to use tortillas to make quick burritos and quesadillas. They can also be transformed into nachos to eat with salsa, yum.

I also have the basic staples like flour, sugar, and other baking supplies on hand. These can and will be used to make some quick breads, muffins, and other items to go along with meals or to be eaten as snacks.

Second, I quickly scan the sale items to see what I could possibly use to complete my meals for the week. I see that one store has some BOGOs on shredded cheese (we eat a lot of cheese), oatmeal, potatoes, tea bags, canned vegetables, and pasta sauce. Another store has a sale on milk, sliced cheese, syrup, eggs, and cereal. I printed out the sales and attached it to my blank grocery list.

Third, I sat down and checked my menu calendar to see what I could possibly make with these ingredients. I folded a sheet of paper into thirds and simply wrote ‘breakfast’, ‘lunch’, and ‘dinner’ on separate sections. For breakfast most of the meals stayed the same as usual except that the kids have been wanting to try Peanut Butter Oatmeal. Yep, that is a real recipe and they loved it. Our lunches this week will consist of leftovers, PB & Js, egg salad, brats, scrambled egg sandwiches and maybe some ramen noodles. Sounds easy enough but dinners can get a bit tricky.

Again I just wrote this out very simply on a sheet of scrap paper but you could be more fancy if you like. I didn’t assign days for the meals either just a list of possibilities. This method would also work when you first get started with your menu planning as well. Dinner possibilities are as follows: Ground Steak w/mashed potatoes and veggies, Slow Cooker Baby Back Ribs w/veggies, Red & White Pasta w/green beans, Popover Pizza w/veggies, Breakfast for dinner, Smoked sausages and yellow rice, and Fish w/Mac-N-Cheese and veggies.

We will also be going to my daughter’s for a cookout and making a pasta salad and then we will be going to my sister’s for Thanksgiving and taking some green bean casserole with us then. (I found green beans on sale and had the other items in the pantry.)

With a general menu outlined and the sales printed I sat down and make my grocery list out. When this is finished I did a few minutes to clip a few coupons that I had (maybe I will do a post on couponing soon). I do not spend a lot of time (30 minutes or less)  on coupons but I do think it is worth the time and effort that I do put into it. I also check my coupon wallet to see what store coupons I may have. Many stores offer ecoupons as well and sometimes I will check on those, however this week was not one of those times.

Then I head to the grocery store with my lists and coupons in hand. My first stop was where I bought some oatmeal, tea bags, paper towels (I had a coupon to make them $0.50), toilet paper, dishwasher soap, syrup, pasta sauces, macaroni and cheese, and a few other things for just under $23.00. That left me with $42.00 and some change! The next store I got cheese, canned veggies, eggs, potatoes, and cereal. After coupons I spent a little over $21.00. One more stop for milk, bread, and some Koolaid mix and my total, after coupons, was almost $22.00. I think when it was all said and done I was still under budget.

I don’t always shop different stores and I occasionally I will price match when allowed. This time however my budget was a bit tighter than normal and I wanted to make every penny stretch as far as it could. Since I was using some manufacturer coupons and some store coupons it was also a necessity to shop the different stores for maximum savings. These stores were also fairly close together too. If you don’t have multiple stores or can’t shop more than one store you can just shop the sales at your local store. Do the best with what you have available.

I have posted the meals on the fridge, just as I do for my ‘Pantry Challenges’ (another post for another day), so that everyone can see what we are having. I cross them off as I make them so I know what we still have. This can still change as I may come up with another idea to replace something on the menu.

I have been putting together the pasta salad as I typed this post and now its time to call the kiddos inside so we can clean them up before visiting big sister. I really hope you found this helpful.

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