By today's standards, I cook for a large family of eight people. Because I have so many people to cook for, I have to budget wisely because food can get expensive. Recently, I have been having a lot of success with spending less than $100/week in my grocery category of the budget. I've had people ask me how it's possible, so I thought I'd devote a blog post to it.
The first thing I do is menu plan. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, every day for seven days. I have a notebook that is my grocery notebook. Each time I make a list, I use one page.
On the side, in the margin, I list the days of the week. I write down next to the day what shift my husband is working because that will often determine what the dinner meal will be (something simpler and that makes smaller portions will be designated for nights he is working, etc.).
Dinners are the meals I specifically plan each week. I plan for a main dish. My side dishes are almost always the same. For my dinners, I look at what I already have in the fridge and pantry and then check the grocery store circulars to see what is on sale.
For example, this week's grocery trip (for next week's meals), I planned these meals:
Sunday--cheesy potato soup
Monday--pulled pork sandwiches
Sunday. I already have potatoes in the pantry and my soup takes 4-5 potatoes. If I didn't have potatoes, they were on sale for a 10 lb bag for 99¢. I buy chicken broth, sometimes I buy an extra carton to have on hand for the future (food storage). The chicken broth I buy, which is just the generic store brand usually, is $1.86 for the 32 oz carton, which I use the whole thing. I can often find the same size carton of organic chicken broth at a neighboring grocery store for about the same price, often cheaper. I happen to have about one pound left of a 3-pound bag of shredded cheddar, which I will use about two handfuls of for the soup. The other ingredients are water, onions (I keep a bag of frozen diced onion in the freezer), milk and flour. I like to add ham chunks or bacon, if I have them on hand, which I do, so I will use those too.
Monday. The pulled pork is actually left over pork from a pork roast I made last week. I had so much left over that after the meal, I shredded it and put it in the freezer. I will use this in the crock pot with BBQ sauce, which I already have in my pantry (part of my food storage item that I like to stock up on). I will make my own buns.
Tuesday. I have chicken in the freezer that I bought last week and never used. Sometimes my meal plan doesn't quite work out and we eat leftovers an extra night or do a breakfast-for-dinner or even stop and grab a $5 Little Caesar's pizza if we have a busy night. Usually I foresee the busy night by planning ahead but sometimes plans don't work out quite right. So I will use the chicken I already have, which I bought for $1.69/lb on sale (fresh, skinless, boneless chicken breasts in a family pack--I section it out to one to two pieces per package and package it for the freezer when I get home). I bought Rice-a-roni for $1 for the box. I will use one chicken breast, baked and cut up into chunks for this recipe plus the box of Rice-a-roni, prepared as instructed.
Wednesday. Lasagna bake. I actually grabbed a Banquet brand "Homestyle Bake" of Lasagna for $3 the other day because it looked good. We may hate it and generally I steer clear of pre-packaged meals like this, but it was a whim and not too expensive. I do have a lasagna toss recipe that is really easy that I have used that is not too expensive and this will probably end up being a similar dish.
Thursday. Hawaiian haystacks. I already have white rice, frozen chicken (I will use two breasts for this recipe), and chow mein noodles. I will cook two chicken breasts in the crock pot with two cans cream of chicken soup (generic brand--69¢ each). I shred the chicken and serve this sauce over sticky white rice with toppings such as chow mein noodles, sliced tomatoes, olives, diced ham, green onions, and shredded cheddar cheese. I always buy things like tomatoes and diced ham and green onions and the cheddar cheese I already have.
Friday. Pizza Day! I make my own pizza almost every Friday. It's a tradition. The dough recipe is quite easy and I make it in my Bosch. I buy pizza sauce (generic store brand-$1.14/jar), pizza cheese blend or make my own with mozzarella and cheddar, and pepperoni and other toppings. I keep a lot of these on hand because I make it every week, so I rarely have to buy the ingredients. This week, I had to buy pepperoni ($2.98), sauce (I'm cleaning out the pantry in preparation for the move and had used the last of my storage), and flour ($1.78--same reason as with the sauce, low on storage right now).
Saturday. Chicken pasta. This is the same as the chicken rice, only with pasta-roni. One of the kids' favorites. I have tried to make my own pasta sauce for this, but the pasta-roni just tastes better. It's only about $1 per box and if my husband is home, I will buy the Family size or two boxes, but with just the kids and me, one box is usually enough.
I often do leftovers on Saturdays or the following Monday. One of my favorite ways to serve leftovers is in the form of "Surprise Dinners", something my mom used to do. You take each leftover, dish up a portion size into some foil, wrap the foil around it, and put them in the oven and heat them up that way. Then the kids pick a foil and get a surprise on what they get. In our family they are allowed a trade only if the other person is willing (not forced), and they can trade once. Other than that, it's "You-get-what-you-get-and-you-don't-throw-a-fit".
As I mentioned before, the sides are always the same. I do a vegetable and a fruit. The vegetable consists of something like steamed broccoli or green beans, sometimes a canned vegetable if I'm lazy, or a tossed salad (lettuce is usually cheap, so are carrots). The kids don't care much for a lot of variety in the salad, so I make it with lettuce and carrots and shredded cheese. I like to add my own cucumbers and tomatoes and other things, so I will often have those available on the side for those who want it (me). They prefer steamed broccoli over everything else, so I always buy it when I can find it cheap (lately 99¢/pound).
I like to make a fresh fruit salad by cutting up a few pieces of fruit, which vary by season. Often, I can use one piece of each fruit, like one apple, one pear and one banana, to make the salad. If apples are 89¢/pound, pears are the same, and bananas are 54¢/pound, that means that means apples and pears are about 30¢ each and a banana is about 25¢, then a fruit salad for one night costs about 85¢. That is about $5.95/week for fruit salad. However, I don't make the fruit salad every night. Some nights we have canned fruit, like canned pears or peaches, and some nights (usually on Sundays) we have a jello salad with fruit in it.
I generally don't plan specific breakfasts, but I do have a routine. I have to give credit where credit is due...I learned this from my mom. I alternate egg mornings and cereal mornings. We have eggs in some form every other day and cereal on the other days during the week. On Fridays and Saturdays, I like to make pancakes or waffles. On Sundays, we usually have an egg casserole and muffins. The eggs I make are scrambled (with and without cheese), fried, and hard-boiled or soft-boiled. Occasionally we will have an egg-cheese-potato thing that my husband makes or omelets. On the cereal days, we have oatmeal or cream-of-wheat first followed by a bowl of cold cereal. Some days we have two bowls of cold cereal, something not as sweet first, like Cheerios or mini wheats, then a sweeter kind next.
I don't exactly plan these either, but I do have to stock up on lunch foods. My kids will take deli meat sandwiches in their lunches, since peanut butter is not allowed at their schools. If it was, they'd probably take pb&j most days. I buy roast beef, ham and turkey regularly and buy it again when we are out. We were not out this week, so I didn't buy any. I will buy a block of cheese on sale, otherwise they will go without cheese. For lunches, then, I buy bread, deli meat, cheese (on occasion) and typically they take a piece of fruit (an apple). I buy a LOT of apples and usually stop by the store once during the week to buy more apples. They will take a dessert. Sometimes I will buy Little Debbie desserts or cookies if I can find a good deal or know I won't be baking at all, but I try to bake some things like cookies and brownies for them to take. They do buy a milk at school, which costs me $20/month for all four of them that are in school. For us at home, we eat leftovers or sandwiches or sometimes I get creative and make quesadillas or mini pizzas.
I grocery shop on Friday for the next week. I make my list based on the circulars and usually price match at Walmart but sometimes will go and find the item at the store where it is advertised. Today, I spent $79 on groceries for next week, which was more than I wanted to. I did buy a few extras that I didn't put on my list, like Little Debbie desserts (a good price) and some paper towels that I saw and remembered we needed. I will be spending more money on Monday for items from Costco (I hate Costco on Saturdays and didn't have a chance to get there today) that come from my grocery category--namely, milk ($5 for 2 gallons), bread (2 loaves for $4), and toilet paper (about $15). So that will bump up my weekly total to about $110, since I need to buy four gallons of milk. Still not too bad for a family of eight!