Sunday, March 4, 2012

Saving Myself in the Kitchen

Many of you know me as a couponer. I have a confession, I'm not couponing as much as I used to. Whew, did that feel good to get off my chest. I feel slightly guilty about it, but I haven't stopped altogether, I just don't let it take as much time as I used to. Not that it was that long, just that while working, I can't do it all any more. Another reason is because my lil man has food allergies which encourage us to eat more fresh foods and foods that are allergen free. Let's face it, it's not frequently that you get coupons for organics (yes they are out there but not in abundance) and fruits and veggies.

My life changed when a friend introduced me to a great cooking blog by a chef in this area. I started to peruse her site to get ideas for meals for kids with allergies. There weren't a ton, but there were many recipes that I wanted to make despite the fact that they are not E friendly. So, I did. In the process, I stumbled upon her posts about meal planning and how it helps her keep her budget down, organized, etc. I decided I would try it because I was sick of getting home and not knowing what I was going to cook. (Anyone else feel me there?) I mean, I have 2 boys (hubby and lil man) who want meat and potatoes, not a bagged salad with frozen Tyson chicken on top. Not only that, let's face it, going out to eat gets boring and expensive.

Meal planning revolutionized my kitchen and cooking experience. Where I wasn't excited about being in the kitchen before, I was now getting excited. I knew what I was doing and made sure I had all the ingredients (imagine that! Some days I still miss something- hubby will testify to that). Everything is beautiful and efficient with meal plans. The meal planning not only made me more organized in the kitchen to know and have everything ahead of time, it also started to change my shopping routine. Instead of buying a myriad of things that I may not need but seem interesting, everything had a purpose. I was actually saving money because I was buying what I needed for meals instead of just what was on sale but I couldn't make a meal out of. I still clipped coupons and still do, I just don't make it the number one priority anymore.

Meal planning has made it to where when hubby asks what's for dinner, I can easily spout it off or simply say "look at the calendar". I love it! Oh! Yes, I write the meal plan on my shopping list then transfer it to the calendar that hangs in the kitchen by the fridge so I know if I need to put anything out to thaw or not.

How often you plan for is up to you. I plan for 7- 8 days (just in case I don't go to the store on my regularly scheduled Sunday afternoon trip). You save more money when you plan around the sales at your grocer. You'll be more prepared for pot lucks (at least if you know in advance). There are a lot of pros to it. You don't have to feel like you have to make something new each week, but if you want to, this allowes you to. You could even do themed nights (Taco Tuesday, Meat free Monday, Free Friday (left overs, pizza, etc), Wacky Wednesday (new recipe night)). I don't really do it this way. My cheat days are Fridays and Sundays for the most part. Definitely Sundays. I don't really cook that day with preparing for the week.

The one thing I learned in the past 5 months I've been doing this is that it's best to leave at least 1 day for left overs and 1 day for an easy meal (grilled cheese and soup, breakfast, whatever). You'll be eating out less often by meal planning and feel good about what you're doing. Give it a shot for a month and see what you think.

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