I don't know about you all, but I dread shopping for food. I think as the budget gets tighter, I dread it even more. The dreaded question "what's for dinner?" Sometimes haunts me in my sleep. I wish that I could just fall back on Olive Garden or my favorite burger place here in Texas, Scotty P's, every night. But since we're not millionaires, that doesn't work for us. I admire my friend who can cook up food better than any restaurant and still stay within a pretty tight budget every month.
I can actually go back to my childhood to blame my current meal planning dread. Both of my parents worked and simply picked up dinner makings on the way home every single night (they still do this). I am sure that they could have retired by now on the money they would have saved if they had effectively implemented efficient meal planning. I never really learned how to cook much more than spaghetti and ramen noodles. I have since developed survival skills in the kitchen, thanks to the Food Channel. I do like to cook, when it's a special holiday like Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter. But for everyday cooking and trying to keep within a budget, I just dread it.
When we first got married a good friend with a little more married life experience than I, sat down with me and showed me how to plan a menu and make a shopping list. We had grown tired of buying Pizza on Monday night and having the left overs for the rest of the week. (Seriously, what my husband must have been thinking?!) She showed me tricks like making a pot roast on Sunday and then using the left-overs in different meals for the rest of the week. All of this information was helpful and useful. But I admit that sometimes, I just can't even sit down and make a plan and a list. And now I have the added pressure of trying to be healthy for my kids.
A couple of things that I have learned in the 8 1/2 years since getting married and being responsible for someone else's full tummy might be helpful to you all so I thought I would share them.
First, a friend of ours gave us a year subscription to Quick Cooking magazine. That's all we needed because those 6 issues have given us 4 years of quick meals since then. They have pages and pages of a variety of types of recipes. Ranging from 5 minute prep time to slow cooking meals. We always go back to those magazines. In fact, I just discovered a new favorite two weeks ago. The recipes are submitted by readers so there are tons and tons of great short-cuts and real life recipes.
Second, a new discovery of mine is online menu planning. For a few bucks a month, you can subscribe to a menu planning website and they do the work. All you have to do is buy and prepare the food. They give you the recipes and the shopping list. It is revolutionary, really. There are a few different sites. Most of the sites have a sample menu for you to look at to see if you would like their product. www.thescramble.com Is the one that I think I like the best so far. The Six O'clock Scramble allows you to pick and choose from their recipes so that when you print it out, your shopping list does not include the items for recipes you choose not to use. The Scramble is also family and budget friendly. They make each recipe with as few ingredients as they can and they test their meals with test families before sending them out to everyone else. They have received recognition from Real Simple Magazine too. Another site is www.savingdinner.com. At Saving Dinner there are several different versions of menus you can select from including vegetarian, low-carb, low-fat, budget minded, and a few others. I have their sample menu for what they call the Body Clutter Menu. It is a little overwhelming but it includes a daytime menu as well as dinner. It can't be modified like the menu at The Six O'clock Scramble. Saving Dinner's strength is in their variety of menus. Some other sites to check out are: www.dinewithoutwhine.com and www.morethyme.com