Last week in the Eat Well, Spend Less series I did a lot of talking about menu planning and making your meals fit together, and this week, I’m going to demonstrate with five of my favorite go-to meals and a typical week of meal planning in our household.
In our house, we often start by planning two main meals for the week and building from there. We aim to plan five total meals each week, leaving some room for flexibility. Flexibility is key when you have two working parents and four kids, each with their own schedule for life. Those five meals are intended for Monday-to-Friday consumption, though they have been known to creep into the weekend here and there. Weekend meals are generally whatever we have left that needs to be cleared out of the fridge: makeshift quesadillas and wraps, leftovers or something that will end up on the blog that is separate from the meal plan.
The goal in planning our meals for the week is to get the most bang for our buck by (1) using plenty of pantry staples that we keep stocked and buy only as needed, (2) incorporating a meatless or vegetarian option or two, (3) using similar ingredients in multiple meals to avoid over-purchasing and (4) making more than will feed the family so we can use leftovers for lunch and other meal components.
Grocery Budget Breakdown
The majority of our budget consists of fresh produce. Whether from the farmers markets during the growing season or stocking up in the store, I have no problem filling the fridge with organic fruits and vegetables in their whole, unaltered form. They are snacks, side dishes and main meal components each and every week. Our meat allotment is smaller, and this mostly has to do with an increase in meatless meals, a reflection on proper portion size, cost per serving and the desire to splurge a few times a month on more expensive cuts than eat mediocre options daily.
Dairy and eggs are used in sauces, smoothies, breakfast bakes, frittatas and more. This would also include any yogurt or sour cream we purchased and, of course, cheese. Finally, the whole grains and staples are things we stock in our pantry and purchase as needed and also the packaged foods we do purchase like organic blue corn chips, pretzels and coffee.
Now that you have the budget, let’s start planning the meals. These should give you an idea of how everything breaks down from meal to meal. To round out the week, we’d probably plan in a burger night or a even a steak and potatoes night to satisfy the man of the house.
When purchasing chickens, know what size you’re getting. A fryer chicken is smaller than a roaster, but they can also be the cheaper per pound of the two. A broiler sits in between those two. Sometimes you can get a deal on multiple fryers, which can help keep the cost down and produce more chicken stock, which is exactly what we do with the bones once we’ve had dinner and then removed any extra meat for leftovers. Round out this meal with a rice or pasta side dish and a steamed or sautéed vegetable mix or salad.
Chickpeas, white beans and barley make up the base of this salad. A few fresh vegetables and herbs give it life and add to the flavor profile. We serve this with tzatziki sauce and pitas. Add a side of fresh fruit and crudités for a perfect spring and summer meal. We make our own pitas (or naan) and plenty of them. Dry beans are a great bulk item to purchase and keep on hand, and even organic varieties can be frugal. When boiling these, double the amount needed, so you can use them later on.
Those extra chickpeas come into play and meet up with a head of broccoli and cauliflower and a cocktail of curry spices. We’ll also be using a bit of leftover chicken and the stock that we made from it. Served over a bed of rice, this is a quick and easy meal that feels nothing like leftovers.
Pizza is a favorite for many, and you can make it cheaper and easier by using homemade flatbread as the base. Rather than purchase pizza sauce, make your own. You can go with tomato, but a simple garlic sauce is also delicious and any leftover fresh herbs you have can be blended in for a sort of impromptu pesto. Top with anything you have laying around, making up fun combinations and interesting new favorites. One of ours is sliced potatoes and zucchini on pizza with goat cheese.
Southwest-Style Chicken Vegetable Soup
Soups are a fantastic way to keep the budget low, especially if you’re making your own stocks and broths. Just toss whatever seasonal vegetables you have laying around in alongside beans, pasta and other grains for an instant meal. This one is full of extras from the week, as well as a few mix-ins that won’t break the bank, including frozen/fresh corn, hominy and chipotle peppers.
So, now you’ve seen a bit into how we work our menu and make food stretch and last around here. Take a minute to visit the other wonderful posts in the Eat Well, Spend Less group and see their favorite frugal meal ideas as well.
- Aimee from Simple Bites
- Alyssa from Kingdom First Mom
- Carrie from Denver Bargains
- Jessica from LifeasMOM
- Katie from Good Life Eats
- Katie from Kitchen Stewardship
- Mandi from Life Your Way
- Tammy from Tammy’s Recipes
1 1/2 cups leftover chicken, shredded or diced
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 red green pepper, diced
1 small yellow onion, diced
6 scallions, diced
6 cups chicken stock
15 ounces white hominy
1 cup frozen sweet corn
1 cup chickpeas, cooked
1 cup black or white beans, cooked
1/2 can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (less to control spice level)
salt and pepper to taste
Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add in chicken and spices and sauté until heated through. Remove from pan to stockpot and add remaining olive oil. Sauté vegetables until tender. Move vegetables to stockpot. Pour chicken stock over the vegetables, and then add in hominy, corn, chickpeas and beans and bring to a simmer for 30 minutes.
Serve with grilled corn tortillas, corn chips or homemade flour tortillas.
Makes 4-6 servings.