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Posts Tagged ‘Dinner Co-op’

In an effort to cut the family budget, Mr. Fabulous and I have really tried to make a conscious effort to not eat at restaurants as much and to stay home and cook more often. It totally sucks. 🙂 I love cooking, but you know how it is! After a hard day’s work, the LAST thing you want to do is stand on your feet (they be swoll!) and try to come up with something for dinner. And food is just plain expensive! So here are a few solutions to save on your grocery budget and hopefully help you avoid the “takeout trap.”

Menu Planning
I can’t tell you how much of a difference this will make. Simply plan out – BEFORE YOU GO TO THE STORE – what you will eat each day and what you need to buy to make it so. Put all the ingredients you will need on a list and shop from your list. Don’t wander around the store willy-nilly, gossiping on your cell phone, throwing anything and everything into your basket. Not that I do that, or anything. If you are far more capable than me (or if your family situation dictates that you can only shop once per month), plan out the whole month in advance. If you are able to be more flexible, plan and shop one week at a time. Don’t make it hard! The FABULOUS ladies over at Home Ec 101 always do Menu Monday — they are a great inspiration!

(I like to write my weekly menu on a magnetic board on the fridge, so there are no complaints from Mr. Fabulous about what we’re eating. Because usually this is our dinner conversation. We’ll sit down to a plate of, say, tacos. Mr. Fab will say, “Kathy, guess what I had for lunch today. Tacos.” Never fails! It makes me so mad! So if we know in advance what we’re eating for dinner every night, Mr. Fab can try and remember not to eat the same thing for lunch.)

Along those same lines: KISS
That’s right — keep it simple, sista. Don’t make dinner harder than it already is! Food with 9,000 ingredients is just not practical for a random Tuesday. In our house, our weekday dinners consist of a meat, a green vegetable, a starch, and occasionally some other side. So it might be pork chops, green beans, and mashed potatoes. Or roasted chicken, broccoli with cheese sauce, bread or rolls, and a tossed salad. Don’t make it hard! Throw some meat in the oven to roast and steam some fresh or frozen veggies or open a can of beans. Viola! It’s dinner! You can use sauces or marinades to jazz up your meat (we love this on pork chops and this on, oh, just about everything else) and alternate roasting with grilling with searing. You’re not cooking for the queen here, honey. Just keep it simple

Take your lunch to work day!
If you are not doing this already, come over here so I can DONK you on the head! You will save a small fortune by packing your lunch even 2-3 times a week instead of eating at restaurants. (You will also save a ton of fat, calories, and sodium if you are concerned about that sort of thing.) Leftovers are the ideal solution, methinks, but if you don’t have leftovers, pack a sandwich or even take a frozen prepackaged meal — it is still cheaper than getting a meal from a restaurant. And if you are particular, like my husband, freeze this week’s leftovers and eat them next week, when you will have forgotten all about them.

I personally eat Weight Watcher’s Smart Ones for lunch nearly every day. At around $2 at the Wal-Mart, it’s way cheaper than eating out, which generally costs me about $10 per meal.

Buy Local
If you have the opportunity to get locally grown produce, you will save a ton of money and get much fresher, better-tasting fruits & veggies. (Not to mention you will be supporting your local family farms, you’ll have more opportunity to buy organic, and there are fewer carbon emissions from having to ship produce from all ends of the earth.) Check your local newspaper for seasonal farmer’s markets. Your local health food store may also be able to supply you with some information.

If you are fortunate enough to have a Community Supported Agriculture Program (CSA), you can get a bushel of local fruits & veggies for not very much money. (Most CSA’s allow you to buy 1/2 or 1/4 shares, which is good for a small family.) It may take some planning, budgetwise, since you are usually purchasing the entire share in one payment, so you may have to plan ahead and start putting money aside to pay for your produce in the spring. But the money you will save will definitely be worth it!

(Of course, if you work less than 60 hours a week and are all-around more capable than I am(!), a garden is a fabulous way of getting practically free fruits & veggies.)

Another idea (if you have access to a large freezer) is to buy an entire side of beef from a butcher or meat market. (Alternately, if you are from the country, as were are here in the Fabulous House, you can sometimes find a farmer who will let you “buy” a cow from him and have it butchered.) The meat can be butchered to your specifications, is higher quality, and generally costs less overall. You can, of course, split the cost and the meat with another family or 2.

(Sidenote: We are buying a large deep freeze from my cousin’s cousin for $40! I can’t wait to fill it up!!)

Buy Frozen
I am a huge fan of buying frozen fruits & vegetables. They are generally cheaper and easier to store than buying fresh, but they have all the good vitamins and nutrients. We generally keep some combination of broccoli, spinach, asparagus, peas, squash, brussels sprouts, corn, carrots, onions, potatoes, strawberries, peaches, pineapple, and berries in the freezer at all times. If you have a small family, like we do, it may not be possible to eat up fresh produce before it goes bad, so frozen is a “cool” (hardy har har) alternative.

Go meatless
At least once a week, serve a vegetarian main dish. (I know, I know. Your husband won’t eat vegetarian. Mine either. That’s why I tell him it’s just a “casserole” or “enchiladas” without going into too much detail. What he don’t know won’t hurt him! :)) They are practically giving beans away at the store — make bean burritos, beans and cornbread, and vegetarian chili are all dirt cheap and filling. Crystal Miller over at The Family Homestead has a great primer on cooking with beans and some fabulous frugal recipes.

If you won’t eat it, don’t buy it.
This sounds kind of elementary, Watson, but it may not be. Hamburger Helper is pretty cheap, but my husband refuses to eat it. It does us no good to sit in the pantry forever! It doesn’t matter how cheap or how good the sale is, if you don’t like it, don’t buy it.

But if you do like it, get it!
This too seems counterintuitive, but if you are used to eating out a lot, like we are, it really makes it hard to come home to peanut butter sandwiches & water! Splurge on a few indulgences — they are still cheaper than eating out! It’s totally okay to treat yourself once in awhile. And you will be more inclined to come home & make something if you know your favorite foods are there for you. A deal-breaker in our house is diet Dr Pepper and cookies. We MUST have them! (They are, after all, 2 of the 5 major food groups: Dr Pepper, dessert, mexican, cheese, and carbs!) (We eat SO healthy, can you tell!?!) A 12-pack of soda is about $3, and a packaged cookie mix is about $1, and they help entice us to eat at home.

Try a food swap.
I have always wanted to do this, but my schedule is so crazy that it just doesn’t work in my life. But basically, you and another family (or 2 or 3!) divvy up dinner duties for the week. On Monday, your family makes enough dinner to serve all the families in your little dinner co-op. On Tuesday, the neighbors have dinner duty, so you get a clean kitchen, no hassle, and a “free” meal. The idea is that each family can do a little more work one night of the week to help everyone in the co-op out. I think you could also save money by buying the ingredients for your meal in bulk, and not having to waste money buying smaller packages of meat or smaller quantities of vegetables or spices. Dinner Co-ops is kind of the home base for this idea (beware, they will try to sell you their book!), but there are some other good resources and information here, here, and here.

These are very basic, jumping-off-point ideas, but I hope they will encourage you to stay home, for God’s sake, and cook a meal. More on this topic to come as well!

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