I’m in the process of streamlining the food category of our life.
I know we talked about this before, but some weeks (due to pickiness, deals, and perhaps too much freedom) I could shop at three different places and still not have a great idea about what to make for dinner. My husband is a CPA, and it’s no secret that he loves spreadsheets and budgeting. After having a legit meeting to discuss our finances and goals, food is definitely an area that we can cut our spending in. Now that we have 5 mouths to feed, it is easy for the bottom line of a grocery receipt to be pretty high. I am mindful of the bottom line, and I’m not the mom who walks into Target and walks out without even knowing how I dropped $100. But, when shopping at multiple places a week our monthly spending was a lot higher than I expected it to be. It all adds up.
While he brought the money aspect to the table, I wanted to also talk about simplifying and removing some low-level stress I was feeling. I am in a constant cycle of cooking, cleaning up, sweeping crumbs, meal planning, and shopping. That feeling of not knowing what I am making for dinner can make my whole back tighten up into knots.
So, we came up with a weekly dollar amount for shopping. This includes household items, diapers, beauty products, and all groceries. We also brainstormed some ideas for simplifying the cycle I find myself in. After all, we need to eat, but there has to be a simpler way! I’m going to share what we’ve started doing (start date October 1!) and if you have suggestions from your own family, please comment. I’d love to learn from you. Here is our multi-pronged plan of attack:
SHOP ONCE A WEEK AT ONE PLACE
This is not rocket science, but shopping at multiple stores often means you’re missing that one ingredient on your list to finish off a meal. It means you’re only half done with the job. And for me, it means I have to corral three kids into a cart more often than I want to. So, I’m now shopping at one grocery store on Wednesday mornings.
In order for the one-day-a-week shopping system to work, I have to create a meal plan, which leads to my list. I pick a dinner for every night of the week. I write each meal on the corresponding day of my hard-copy calendar in our kitchen, and then write any items we need to buy. I also have a regular group of things I buy for breakfasts and lunches. Plus, I keep track if we’re running low on toothpaste or diapers or if I need new mascara, etc…
ESTABLISH A MEAL RHYTHM
Now, picking 7 new meals each week is exhausting. So, we are starting to create some weekly meal rhythms for our family. It has really helped with my stress of being in charge of cooking! Tuesday is pasta night. Thursday is taco night. Saturday is homemade pizza (a date-night-in). At least one night a week is for soup. Sunday nights we can use the leftover taco meat for nachos. These are fairly simple and inexpensive meals, with the bonus that my kids will eat them too. Having a meal rhythm has not only made my job of shopping and cooking easier, but I’m hoping it will create some “traditions” that will cement in my kids’ memory and give us some reliable quality time at the dinner table.
STICK TO THE LIST
Ok, this is when the budget could go out the window. I’m trying to make a really conscious effort to walk into the store with a great, comprehensive list and to walk out with only those things. Often I have to ignore deals that I would have sprung for in the past. Sometimes I have to say no to my kids when they ask for things, and really, it’s ok. So far, I’ve been surprised at how easy it is to stay under our dollar amount when I just stick with what I wrote down.
WATCH THE INGREDIENT LIST
When I’m picking the meals for the week, I intentionally try to line up ingredients from one meal that can be used in another meal. Having wasted food is no good. I also try to keep an eye on how expensive a meal is, and not stack up too many expensive meals back to back.
SUPPLEMENT SHOP ONCE A MONTH
So, I’ve said that I like shopping at a few places and this can get me into trouble. I’m kind of picky about food, and I’m trying to let some of that go. But, one thing Zach helped me to see is that I could save up a percentage of our weekly budgeted money and go to “fancier” stores to stock up on some of our all-time favorites. So, I’ll still get to buy meat at Fresh Market on a Tuesday and parmesan cheese and salsa from Trader Joe’s if I spend less during my weekly trips.
EAT WITH THE KIDS
The other thing that was stressing me out was that I have been cooking four meals a day. We have been in a habit since Evelyn was tiny of feeding our kids and then eating ourselves after they were tucked in bed. Now that we have three kids and a longer bedtime routine, it just hasn’t been working anymore.
I was walking downstairs to our messy kitchen at 8pm to start making dinner for Zach and I. Sometimes we weren’t even eating until 9, and to be honest all during bedtime with our kids we were hangry. So now we’re eating with the kids, which has been an unexpected awesome change. The kids love that we are more present to sit and talk with them. I’m not rushing through bedtime because I want to get to my own meal. And I just cut down my workload since it’s one less meal to prepare, and I can usually walk downstairs to a clean kitchen. The only exception is when Zach and I are doing a date night at home, like Saturday nights so we can eat together and talk uninterrupted.
As soon as we had an action plan and some routine added into my week, a lot of stress instantly lifted. I didn’t realize how much the constant meal planning, shopping and prepping was adding to my anxiety. And while a budget on food may sound restrictive, I’ve noticed already that when you add boundaries to your life, it can become like a little game.
Can we eat well without overspending or stressing? I am sure we can.