budget / menu planning / OAMC

Menu Planning: Cheap Eats

This blog has always been a place for me to experiment with food.

Recipes are great, but I have so many in cookbooks and I just don’t have the time or patience to document everything I cook like some online cooks. I love photography, but when you try and take photos while handling raw meat, it gets pretty old after awhile.

I’ve decided I like focusing on menu planning. OAMC is fun and a money saving venture, but man, it’s a bear to try cranking out four or five good meals on a Sunday afternoon. I’d like to keep doing it, but instead of most of a week, I’d rather stick with two meals so that I have something to fall back on during the week. The OAMC experiment did show me that, though it does save money to plan in advance, if you don’t realistically plan out the number of servings your family will eat (or overestimate), you’ll end up with leftovers that will shift how many meals you really need to plan for. I made recipes one week where we had so many leftovers, a lot of food got wasted. So much for saving money!

I saw an NPR post on Facebook today that talked about a woman, Leanne Brown, who created a cookbook specifically for folks on assistance. Her complaint was that so many people who go on food stamps end up eating incredibly carb-heavy, processed food, because that’s all they could afford (ramen, anyone?). She created a cookbook with beautiful recipes that actually look like they taste great, and cost around $4 per day per person.

Unfortunately for folks like me, I cannot eat wheat or oats at all, and many of the recipes call for wheat or oats. My son can’t do corn, either, so that’s probably half of the recipes in her book. My son has severe nutritional needs due to health issues, so we have to eat energy dense sources of nutrition, including more meat than average. We also cannot do most sources of dairy for the same reason. But it got me thinking that there’s a lot that can be done under a tight budget, even with a special diet. I’d like to do some menu planning here with actual dollar amounts and see if I can stick to it.

At the grocery store...

Thankfully, we don’t have to buy milk. It’s not cheap!

Some of Leanne’s tips that are good:

  • Always buy eggs. Expensive eggs are worth it.
  • Wilted veggies can be cooked. Cut off the rotten pieces.
  • Make your own broth or stock, or use water. To make broth, start by saving any vegetable bits that you chop off and would normally throw away, like onion tops, the seedy parts of peppers, and the ends of carrots. Store them in the freezer until you have a few cups, then cover them with water, bring to a boil, and simmer on low heat for a few hours. Add salt to taste, and you have broth! To make a hearty stock, do the same with leftover bones or scraps of meat (preferably all the same kind of meat). Since you’re using stuff you’d otherwise throw away, broth and stock are effectively free.
  • Cooking dried beans takes a while, so make more than you need, then freeze the rest.
  • Dice a whole package of bacon, fry it, then freeze it in small parcels.

Going forward, I can afford a little more than $4 per person per day. But I probably don’t need to spend *that* much more. I’m going to try and stick to a budget of $200 per week to start (I know I probably spend more like $300 or more per week because I don’t plan and I shop when I’m hungry…which is kind of ridiculous). If $200 is easy, I’ll try less the next week. Another sticking point is alcohol. I read somewhere once that most wealthy people don’t drink, and that’s partly why they’re wealthy. Some budgeting sites recommend not drinking much at all. Currently, I probably spend $12-20 a week on wine (roughly $1,000 a year on the upper end). That’s not insignificant. Can I live without? Probably. Do I want to? No. Can I cut back? Absolutely.

I think my first plan will be to a) plan out my menu and b) see if I can afford it all with $200 cash from the bank over one week. I’d like to stick with cash, because that makes it so I can’t cheat. I’ve also read that when people switch from using plastic to using cash, they’re more cognizant of what they spend.

Here goes!


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