Are you struggling to balance to rising cost of food with providing your family with good nutrition? Do you wrestle with not having enough time to prepare a tasty meal every night? These five tips will help you make a plan to get on track.
1. Many churches and ministries around the country are host sites for Angel Food Ministries. The basic concept is simple: Pay $25 for a big box of high-quality groceries. You’ll get frozen meats, vegetables, pastas, beans, and rice, breakfast and dessert items. The menu changes each month. Everyone is eligible to participate — there are no applications or qualifications for the program. All you have to do is go to the host site, pre-pay (most sites accept cash and food stamps, some accept checks as well), and then go back to the church on distribution day to pick up your food.
My family of three buys two of the $25 units of food per month. We supplement this with a few more cuts of meat and some more fresh and frozen vegetables, milk, coffee, flour (I bake my own bread), and similar staples. Because the bulk of my shopping is already done, I spend very little time actually in the grocery store. I can also plan ahead with menus for the entire month so that I save time and money.
2. Consider serving vegetarian meals once or twice a week, and use ground turkey instead of hamburger. I know, I know — most husbands would flinch (and look up the number for Pizza Delivery) if they knew this was part of the plan! Yet my husband didn’t know for at least six months that I’d traded in the hamburger for ground turkey, and although he realized that we were eating meals without meat once in a while, they were tasty!
I generally use the turkey (usually available for less than $1.00 a pound) in things like chili, tacos, and spaghetti sauce. You really can’t tell the difference! Vegetarian meals are easy: macaroni and cheese, pasta with alfredo sauce, pinto beans, homemade cheese/veggie pizzas, corn chowder, omelettes, pancakes or waffles; the list is endless (and cheap!).
3. As I hinted at in the first tip, having a menu plan can really save time and money. There are two basic ways to make a menu plan — weekly or monthly — depending on how often you go grocery shopping. There are also two basic ways to use the plan. Some people have a list of meals which they cook as the mood strikes them. Others plot out breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, and dessert for each day, never deviating from The Plan. If you’ve never done this before, I suggest you experiment for a while to see what works best for you.
Begin by checking your food on hand and the food you already plan to buy (perhaps through Angel Food Ministries, which has a set menu). Using these items as a framework, brainstorm a list of at least five (for one week) or twenty (for one month) main dishes that are inexpensive, nutritious, and tasty. The trick is to plan at least two meals each week that will have ample leftovers to create a new dish on the second day (for example, if you cook a whole chicken on day 1, you might make a stir fry or chicken soup on day 2).
Try not to have too many of the same types of things (such as beans or pastas) too close to each other. Also try to give some balance to the types of vegetables you are serving, and make sure you offer a good variety throughout the week.
Once you have an outline of the meals you are going to offer, build a grocery list from it. Include how much of each item you need: two cans of corn, three pounds of ground turkey. That takes the guess-work out of your plan once you’re at the grocery store. Double-check your list against your pantry, and cross off any items you already have. Add your staple items to your list, such as coffee, toilet paper, pet food, and the like — then you’re ready to go shopping!
4. An easy way to expand on the weekly or monthly meal plan is to create a menu of items that are freezable, cook two portions, and turn the second portion into either meals or lunches. You could either take every other week off on cooking, or always have lunch ready and prepared for you! Be sure to label and rotate your food, and only freeze things that freeze well (some things just don’t!).
These freezer meals are also good to have on hand as a ministry — if someone you know becomes sick, is going through a hard time, or there is a death in the family, you will be able to provide for them in a tangible, caring way.
5. On a similar note, even if you are not doing the full-fledged cook two tip, DO have at least two or three complete meals in your freezer and ready to go in your oven or microwave.
Admit it — how many times have you left work so tired (or stressed) that you didn’t even want to THINK about dinner? How often have you gone to a fast-food restaurant simply because there’s nothing to eat at home? The situation is almost never “nothing to eat”, but the effort that must go into planning and cooking a meal. If you have already done so, and all you have to do is move one dish from freezer to microwave from plate, then it becomes easier to go home than it does to hit the drive-through line!
With some planning and a small amount of effort, you can save a significant amount of money on your family’s food bill each month! Set aside a few minutes to check out the Angel Food Ministries website and find a host site near you. Then make a meal plan and decide how to work freezer meals for your family. You can do it!