Menu Planning

One of the simple joys in my life is opening the mailbox and finding a new cooking magazine in there! I love my magazines, mostly for the recipes, and will sit down with a cup of coffee or hot tea and commit to the hour it takes to read from cover to cover, dog-earring each page I want to refer back to for some awesome looking recipe, or decorating idea, or a gardening or exercise tip. Maybe it’s just me but it’s really disappointing when a magazine that specializes in food is full of sandwich, Panini, wrap, and hotdog recipes. Seriously? I suppose there are people out there who can benefit from these recipes, but…..(sigh). Even chicken recipes. Remember that cookbook called 1001 Ways To Cook Chicken? Well, as we all know by now there are about a million and 1 ways to cook chicken, but I don’t need 20 different recipes for lemon chicken from the same cooking magazine.

I have found that the most effective way to shop and cook for my family is by planning my menus ahead of time. I started doing this about a year ago and was amazed at how much money I saved by sticking to a list in the grocery store. I am sure this is not news to most of you savvy moms. But if you have not done this I highly suggest you give it a try. Immediately I felt the relief of always knowing what was for dinner. No more staring at the contents of my pantry or freezer and trying to figure out a healthy meal. No more opting for pizza because there isn’t any defrosted meat.

So this is what I do. Some months I just can’t plan ahead for an entire month, but I will do what I can. That may be one week at a time, but more likely it’s two weeks at a time. If I lived mainland I’d be able to shop the way I want, which would be one major trip a month for basic staples (and whatever I needed for that first week or two) and then one or two other brief trips for fresh veggies, fruit, milk, etc. But that’s not very realistic around here, main reasons being there is a price markup here on the island, and the closest chain grocery store is 20 miles (gas is also marked-up considerably). However, I do find myself heading mainland often to visit family, and whenever I do I hit Sams Club and Trader Joes (two of my favorite places on earth). So this makes budgeting on a monthly basis a bit hard when I don’t always know when I’ll be able to go to these stores. So some months I can get by with only spending $250 in groceries for a family of 4 (plus dog and cat food) but this is an extreme case of not necessarily needing any shampoo or extras for that month, but on average I spend less than $400 if it’s not a Sams or T.Joes month.

Here on the island we also rely on home delivery, by either Schwans (love it!) or amazon grocery, etc. You can find great deals if you are willing and able to buy in bulk, and buying in bulk is a really good idea when you’re on an island. It is a practice that I will continue when and if we ever move mainland.  Coupons are also a huge help, which most of you already know. The coupon craze is more than just a fad and I don’t know any budget-conscience mom who doesn’t clip and save. To be sure I have no advice to share that hasn’t already been shared. But in case you are not a Harris Teeter shopper, if you live near one this is the best place to redeem your coupons. They double coupons everyday (up to 99 cent) and on a quarterly basis (sometimes more often) they have  triple coupon days. They also do super double days which double coupons up to $1.99. The closest Harris Teeter to me is about 85 or 90 miles, but it is worth it to make the trip if I have enough coupons and a long enough list.

So back to my soap box about the recipes….there are definitely days I cook something yummy just because it’s just soooo yummy. But mostly I want my dinners to be healthy because I know this is going to be the one meal of the day where my kids are going to be getting their vitamins and minerals. Let’s face it, breakfast just isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be when you’ve got school-aged kids running off to catch the bus on time. My older sons loves eggs and can eat them every day, but my younger does not. Once a week is good for him. He also does not prefer waffles or pancakes or fresh fruit. I find myself compromising with yogurt, cottage cheese, turkey sausage or turkey bacon, and a small bowl of cereal with organic milk or a muffin. So even though they are getting enough protein to boost them until lunch, I know they aren’t getting any veggie nutrients at all and that is important to me.

My kids take supplements. Jadon takes gummy multi-vitamins and gummy fiber. Brandon Takes the vitamins as well as a hefty dose of Vitamin C every morning. But at dinner time it is important that they eat lean proteins, grains, and veggies. It can be a chore to come up with new dinner ideas that incorporate all the healthy parts that make up a nutritious meal. Don’t get me wrong, we definitely have our moments. For example, Friday nights are Pizza Nights. I buy either frozen or grocery deli cheese pizzas and add turkey pepperoni. The kids look forward to it and I enjoy a night of no cooking.

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