I’m not a meal planner.
I was once, the year I graduated college. I was on a tighter budget back then and worked at the local newspaper. Part of my job at the paper was handling the grocery store sales inserts that went in the paper each week. I would always grab an extra Publix insert for myself and design a meal plan based off what sales were happening that week. I got pretty good at it, and saved a lot of money buying around the sales cycles.
Unfortunately that all stopped when I moved to Orlando. It was just me then (in Tallahassee I was cooking for my ex-boyfriend and/or sister), I had a little extra money to spend, and I didn’t have the time to meal plan like I used to (I started this blog, which took up a lot of my spare time). I ended up shopping by whatever looked good and would get creative with meals based off of that. That way of thinking carried me through the last few years, and is still my shopping methods today.
Though I try not to be wasteful with food (again, I like to get creative), it’s not the smartest way to shop.
I knew I had to change that way of shopping for the #SurviveOn35 challenge. Yesterday I grabbed a Publix sales flyer, a pen, and paper, and attempted to plan meals for the week.
I think the hardest part about the challenge is going to be taking the bulk pantry items out of the equation. I thought about making homemade granola to eat for the week, but when I factored in the cost of the ingredients to make it (brown sugar, raisins, oatmeal, etc.) it all added up quickly. For just one week, it was cheaper to buy a box of granola on sale. The same thing happened when I thought about making homemade cornbread. The flour, cornmeal, etc all came to a total of $5, which is fine when you are going to use the ingredients to make several batches of cornbread over time, but for a one time deal – the $0.55 mix was the better deal.
Obviously pantry items are things you collect over time. You buy a thing of flour, a jar of peanut butter, or even a bulk container of raisins, and you expect them to last a while – they’re not items you bring home on a weekly basis.
When meal planning I had to take many of these items out of equation. Peanut butter, jam, or raisins for my oatmeal? Not in the budget. Coffee? Not in the budget. (Derek usually drinks his morning cup at work anyways). Nuts for snacks? Not in the budget.
While I took all those items out of the budget, I tried to keep fruit and veggies in it. Creating meals that incorporated vegetables when possible, and only purchasing the EXACT amount of veggies that I need. (i.e. I took one zucchini and one yellow squash instead of buying the pre-packaged bunch of them).
I created a rough (very rough!) plan for all meals in excel.
*It should be noted that Derek usually eats a simple sandwich for lunch everyday with just deli meat and bread.
And a grocery list based off of my meal plan.
It was eye-opening to see what items I actually needed, besides just what I thought I needed. I kept thinking I needed to add more stuff to the list (or the shopping cart at the grocery store), but this list brought me back to reality and showed me the basics of what I actually needed and not the unnecessary items that I don’t really need. Do I really need an avocado to go with my tacos? Nope, they’ll be just fine without one.
Protein is really the most expensive part of any meal plan or grocery budget. My meal plan for the week is mainly a vegetarian menu, with an emphasis on lentils and legumes for protein. I found split chicken breast on sale at Publix this week ($1.99/lb) so I came home with more chicken than I was expecting, which is nice since I ended up having to say no to my tempeh/tofu idea with the stir fry – I’ll just have to stretch the chicken breast through both meals.
I’ll go in more detail why I selected certain items, or meals as the week goes on (like frozen veggies instead of fresh), but here’s my final spread.
Coming in (barely) under budget.
No wiggle room here.
I also had to toss a few items – like the tofu, ice cream (sniff), and a second loaf of bread – to bring us under budget.
Derek and I typically spend $50-$80 every Sunday at the grocery store so, at first, the number looks right on target. However, that average total does not take into account the 2-3 meals we eat out a week, the specialty items we buy on occasion at health stores, or the food we already have in our pantry that we try to eat away at. Take all of that out of the equation, and we’re losing a lot of meals that the usual average is used on.
Now we have to “budget” our food wisely, to make sure it lasts for all 7 days. That’s the real challenge.
Do you have any meal planning tips? Leave them below and I’ll create a list for my next post.
Day 1: Meal #2
2 eggs in a whole-wheat basket
Hummus and carrots
Publix hummus was on sale for $1.99 this week. Since tahini is $$, it wasn’t in the budget to make my own (homemade hummus is NOT the same without tahini!). My goal is to savor this container and make it last the week.
- Publix Bread: $2.49 ($0.32 for 2 slices)
- 18 Eggs: $2.39 ( $0.28 for 2)
- Carrots: $1.89 ( $.19 for 2)
- Hummus: $1.99 ( $.25 for 1 tablespoon)
- Total: $1.04