Plans for Budgeting a Family Menuby Lisa Brei
Feeding a family is an expensive endeavor. Growing bodies, picky eaters, different schedules, soaring food costs -- families today are challenged to eat well and save money at the same time. Coming up with creative ways to budget for your family's meals doesn't have to be a full-time job.
Buy in Bulk
Stock up on the non-perishable items your family eats regularly, such as pasta, rice, dried beans, cereal and crackers, when they are on sale. You can also get these items from the large grocery warehouses and store them in your pantry. If space is tight, you can store them in a closet or even in an airtight plastic storage locker in your garage. Other items used regularly, such as produce, that tend to spoil quickly when bought fresh, can be purchased frozen. While many people eschew this option as less healthy than buying fresh, according to the "Fitness Magazine" website, frozen produce can actually have more nutrients, because it is flash-frozen at the time of picking. Frozen fruit generally costs less up-front and saves money in the long run, because it doesn't run the risk of spoiling before it can be eaten. To keep frozen foods extra-fresh, use a food vacuum sealer, such as a FoodSaver. It will create an airtight seal and keep food safe from freezer burn. Food vacs also work great when you want to freeze pizza, tortillas -- virtually anything that can be frozen -- and kept for much longer than you'd otherwise be able to keep anything in just a resealable plastic bag or plastic storage container.
Plan for the Week
At the beginning of each week, determine how many meals need to be made. Allow for one or two pizza delivery or dining out nights, if the budget permits. Save these for the nights when your family is most pressed for time, such as when you're working late or getting home late from your son's soccer game. If your budget doesn't allow for take-out or delivery nights, make these nights leftover or casual nights. Kids get a kick out of having breakfast for dinner. Try scrambled eggs and pancakes or even cereal and fruit. Subscribe to an online coupon delivery website. Gone are the days when you have to sit for hours scouring the newspaper for coupons. These websites will send coupons directly to your inbox.
Decide on Recipes
Prior to going grocery shopping for the week, decide on recipes that call for the same cut of meat you can buy in bulk -- chicken thighs and legs can be roasted, barbecued, used in a soup or in a slow cooker. Even the same basic ingredient can seem completely different if you use different spices or sauces to cook it: Sweet-and-sour pork can be served one night with soba noodles, while another night pulled-barbecue pork sandwiches can be served. Side dishes don't have to be extravagant. If you're on a tight budget, a bag of Russet potatoes can make scalloped or mashed potatoes. Thinking of a variety of uses for the same ingredient allows you to buy in bulk, which generally saves you money. Steer clear of recipes that call for unusual spices you might not use again. Unless you think your family will use cumin again, buying a bottle to use for one recipe, only to have it sit in the cabinet after that is not friendly to your budget. Think about substituting spices and ingredients. Many recipes call for fresh products, but canned and frozen often work just as well. Having a freezer stocked with basics, such as frozen broccoli, peas and edamame makes it easy to grab a handful to toss into soups or casseroles as needed.
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