My family and close friends have heard about 6 times "I finally set up a meal plan that I think we can actually use." I had almost given up, since one plan after another seemed perfect, and then failed to meet our needs. However, preparing for the impact a baby will have on our budget and schedule motivated me to try once again. Each time I am more prepared because I have found more resources, and am equipped with the knowledge of what made the past attempts fail. So, we'll see if this on sticks.
Here are a few pointers I have gleaned along the path of failure, which hopefully leads to success.
1. You can't hold yourself to other people's standards of frugality and nutrition. One family eats bean and soup cassaroles nearly every day to get their budget down to like 2.50 per meal. Another family eats only seasonal local vegetables, with no meat at all. Slow food people recommend buying only whole chickens. None of these things work for me. I could give you all of the excuses, but most of you understand because you have your own. You have to find the balance of all of these things that is best for you.
2. I think that it is insane to make a full time job of scouring sales ads, clipping coupons, and writing a spiral notebook full of notes on whohas the cheapest average price on green beans,and what that price is. I have a favorite grocery store. They are cheaper on somethings and more on others. I go there because they are friendly, it is a smaller chain (I hate walmart), and they have good produce. I also like to go to a local market that has both flowers and vegetables when the bulk of what I need is fresh. I don't care if several things on my list are cheaper at another store, I am not going grocery shopping at 2 stores.
3. I tried to be a cassarole girl, because it seemed like that is what everyone else frugal is doing. This is what I learned:
a.It's not that I don't like them, but I don't love them-the leftovers will probably rot.
b.They require a lot of specialized ingredients, like soups. These are either cheap, but processed and filled with preservatives, or something I would spend hours and hours making and canning myself. No thank you.
c.They make a large amount of food, but the leftovers can only be one thing. A meal with several components can be re-arranged to make several meals.
d.It is really cheap and easy to broil meat that was on sale and throw some frozen vegetables in the microwave with olive oil and a little salt.
4. Build in easy nights. If I don't plan to eat pizza once every two weeks or so, we will do it anyway. We will buy a pizza because I am tired, and the house is hot, and I just don't care any more. If it is not planned, I probably have something defrosted that will go bad, I will feel guilty, and we won't have healthy easy sides on hand to go with it. So just plan on it.
5. Eating out is not absolutely more expensive. We can buy a Hot'n'Ready Pizza, or a whole fried or bbq chicken for 5 dollars, and eat it with fresh fruit or salad at home. To me that is an excellent price for feeding two or three people. Also, sharing is terrific. If you count the cost of one meal/person at a restaurant, of course it is expensive, but if you realize that the chicken parmesan that is 10.95 at your local Italian restaurant will feed two people twice, and includes salad, bread, and wait-staff it's not bad. My parents get fajitas for two and a plate of three enchiladas to fee themselves, my husband and I, and my little sister at a great mexican food restaurant down the street from my house. If we get water it is less than $20 to feed the 5 of us till we are stuffed. They always have meat left over that they send home with me for a salad at lunch the next day.
I may post more later if I figure out how to link to PDFs of my meal plan and menus.