Grocery round-up a day late & Menu Plan Monday a day early

by Karen on August 24, 2008

Here’s our menu for the week:

Sunday: Vegetarian chili (a new recipe with lots of veggies and beans)
Monday: Chicken quesadillas
Tuesday: Leftovers/sandwiches (Tony is in class late on Tuesdays, so this will be our new standard)
Wednesday: Pesto pasta
Thursday: Chicken wraps with roasted potatoes
Friday: Homemade pizza

Be sure to visit orgjunkie.com for more inspiration for your own weekly menu plan!

As you may recall from last week, we’ve been working hard to make some serious cuts to our $90/week grocery bills. After reading the great advice of the people who left comments, I took an honest look at our grocery spending. I realized we’d been throwing a lot of unnecessary stuff into the cart that was really adding up.

Things like fruit, yogurt, and juice may not be packaged snack foods, but they were still driving up our grocery total without contributing to actual meals. The worst part is, we usually end up throwing away at least some of the fruit because we don’t eat it all before it goes bad. Dumb.

Because those things are healthy and I’d like to keep them in our diets, I’m going to gradually work some of them back into the budget once we get our spending under control. In order to find a happy balance, I think it’s necessary to restrict ourselves to only the necessities for a while. Once we get into the range where we’d like to be, we can add some fruit or juice if it’s on sale. We were buying too many of those items regularly, though, and paying too much for them most of the time.

This week we made a serious effort to avoid buying anything that wasn’t an actual ingredient in a meal. It worked! Well, at least we got as close to success as we’ve even been.

I was amazed at how empty our cart was with only meal ingredients in it! I had no idea we were buying so much extra stuff, but we must have been because our cart is usually stuffed to the brim. This week it was practically bare.

The grand total was $67.66. Still $7.66 above my absolute maximum goal, but I’m cutting myself some slack because we had to buy olive oil this week (a staple that we use in most meals). One bottle should last a couple months, and we bought the store brand at only $6 for a huge bottle.

We stuck to our list except for one item. We weren’t due to buy chicken breasts for another couple weeks, but I saw a single 3.5 pound package of boneless, skinless breasts on special for $1.99 a pound. That’s the cheapest I’ve ever seen them, so I went ahead and bought the package to freeze.

Without the olive oil and chicken breasts, my total would have been $53, which is right where I’d like our average to be. Tony, ever the rain cloud over my parade [kidding, kind of :)], was quick to remind me that it’s not wise to think of the olive oil and chicken breasts as “extra” purchases outside of the budget since we typically need to pick up at least one high-priced staple each week, whether it’s bulk meat, olive oil, mozzarella cheese, or coffee. I agree with him; our weekly budget should have room for these items.

The good news is we learned a few things this week that should help us get closer to our goal in the future.

For starters, one of my strategies was to cut down on meat dishes. We tried to do that this week by adding vegetarian chili and pesto to the menu. Now I’m looking at my receipt and really looking at the costs of those meals. Expensive items like red pepper, jalapenos and three separate cans of beans drove the cost of the chili up despite the fact that it’s vegetarian. For the pesto, our recipe calls for fresh basil, fresh parsley and pine nuts. All three of those items are pricier than a cheap cut of meat.

My new strategy is to limit ourselves to only one fancy vegetarian meal with gourmet ingredients per week, if any. Homemade pizza is always cheap and meatless, so that will remain a staple. For the third vegetarian meal, we’ll find some cheaper recipe ideas in the future.

After reading some of the great advice on last week’s post (thanks to everyone who chipped in!), I also decided to include a leftovers/sandwiches night to our weekly menu. It works perfectly for us. Now that school is back in session, Tony is teaching and taking classes again. Tuesday is his late night with classes until 9 p.m. and no time in between to come home for dinner, so he’ll either bring something to campus with him or eat when he gets home. That leaves me home alone to rummage around for something to eat. :)

Despite the fact that we still didn’t reach our goal this week, I’m feeling optimistic. At least we’re moving in the right direction, and I can see a few minor tweaks that we can make to get even closer in the future. This is a slow process, and I’m just happy to be on the right track!

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