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Cheap Eats Week 4: Menu Planning

First off, a big "I'm sorry" to those who have been following the Cheap Eats series...the last week has been crazy at our house with lots on the schedule and a nasty bout of sickness and putting together a post was beyond my ability. (Let's be honest, there were a couple of days there where taking a shower was beyond my ability. Ha ha.)  It's been basic survival mode for the last few days. Anyway...excuses, excuses. Today's a new day and I'm back on track!


Wednesday: Beef Stroganoff
Thursday: B.L.T.'s
Friday: Spinach Enchiladas **(see below)
Saturday: Chicken and Black Bean Taco Salad
Sunday: Hamburger Hash
Monday: Sweet and Sour Chicken
Tuesday: Potato Soup and Cornbread

2 gallons milk 4.14
frozen broccoli .78
frozen mixed vegetables .78
4 packages frozen spinach 3.52
sour cream 1.28
half and half .88
cream cheese 1.00
2 lbs cheddar cheese 5.48
margarine .78
bacon 2.48
brown gravy packet .28
country gravy packet .40
grape jelly 1/57
cilantro .42
red bell pepper .48
5 Roma tomatoes .78
2 yellow onions .46
2 loaves cheap sandwich bread 1.36
flour tortillas 1.88
3.33 lbs apples 2.60
iceberg lettuce 1.28
4 bananas .85
1 lb mushrooms 1.88
1 loaf good bread 1.57
Total after tax: 39.15

One of the keys to success with sticking to a food budget is meal planning. How will you know what you need at the store if you don't plan it out? A list and a plan keep you from wandering the aisles and grabbing whatever looks good. Some tips on meal planning:

1. Keep a list of things you need. If you use the last egg, write eggs on the list. This is especially important for staples like sugar and flour and for rare purchases like spices. I have a list that has a magnet on the back and I keep it on the fridge for easy access. If I don't write it down as soon as I think of it, the idea is gone forever.

2. Go through the fridge and see what needs to be used up. Leftover ham? A jar of sauce close to it's expiration date? Try to plan those things into your meals so nothing goes bad. Like my momma always says, "The most expensive food is the food that gets wasted."

3. Make a menu master list. Start writing down the foods your family likes. I keep mine taped inside a kitchen cupboard and I refer to it every time I make a menu. See? Here it is:
I think this is the hardest part of menu planning. It's the age old question, "What's for dinner?" But planning ahead of time is so much easier than having to ask yourself that question at 5:00 with whiny kids and an empty fridge. And keeping a master list makes it that much easier...ideas right at your fingertips!

4. Add variety. Obviously you don't want to have soup every night for a week. I try to think of a chicken/beef/pork dish, something meatless, different ethnic foods like Mexican or Thai, something easy for a busy night, a new recipe we've never tried, what starch/side dish it will be served with... you get the idea.

5. Balance the cost per meal. Sometimes I want to try something new that requires buying a lot of special ingredients. Sometimes I want a nice cut of meat. How can I buy those things and still stay on budget? If one meal is pricey, I serve a cheap meal the next day to make up the difference. One night we'll have roast, then the next we have pancakes. Then things stay under control. This week the splurge was spinach enchiladas (did you see how many ingredients I had to buy to make those?) and the savings meals were hamburger hash and potato soup.

6. Stay flexible. Have you heard that from me before? Ha ha. I don't assign a certain day to each meal. I just choose seven meals, buy what I need for them and eat them when the mood hits. If I decide I want something I don't have on the menu and I have the ingredients to make it, I just save the meal I skipped and add it to the next menu.

Oh, and I have to share my cornbread recipe. It is my absolute favorite!

Buttery Cornbread
2/3 cup softened butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 2/3 cup milk
2 1/3 cups flour
1 cup cornmeal
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and milk. Combine dry ingredients and add to wet. Pour in a greased 9x13 pan and bake at 400 degrees for 22-27 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

I'm starting a new running total since I didn't post last week. Besides, it's a new month, new budget. Right? When I did my February budget analysis, groceries came in at about $175. Under budget...yeah!

Monthly Budget: $200
Spent this week: $39.15
Money left for the month: $160.85

Click HERE to read Cheap Eats Week 5: Budget-Friendly Dinner Ideas

**Just had to add that the Spinach Enchiladas were disgusting. My husband stoically ate one. They were that bad.
Jennifer V.
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