The Meal Planner

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Happy 2009!!!

Not too long ago, I wrote a post about how much my husband and I adored food and would trim other areas of our budget before we ever CONSIDERED trimming our food budget. Yet circumstances change, and sometimes you are forced into it….like we now are ;)

I am now on maternity leave with a new baby due any day and realized I haven’t worked enough hours to qualify for maternity leave pay. It was a bit of a blow to our family at first until we realized that things COULD be shuffled around and we COULD trim our food budget (just a leeeeeetle bit) and still eat all the delicious, exciting meals we love.

Here are some ideas for trimming your own food budget:

Meal Plan
Haha, this one is a bit obvious, and if you are reading this blog you probably already do this. But I will beat a dead horse one more time for the sake of this article. Trust me...you will save money.

Set a Dollar Amount
If you don't already have a concrete number written down somewhere of what your food budget for the month should be, you will automatically overspend. Write it down, keep your receipts and add up as you go. At the end of the month as you near your dollar amount you will be more likely to penny-pinch on your meal plan. If you find you are consistently coming in under budget, maybe you need to lower it. Challenge yourself, but make it attainable.

Pre-Plan & Freeze
This works in conjunction with your meal plan; whenever you are planning to make a meal that you know will freeze well (ie: soups, chili, lasagna, casseroles, etc) plan to make a double batch and freeze one. This will save you when you are absolutely too tired to cook and you are almost thinking of picking up the phone and dialing for pizza….stop yourself and grab the lasagna from the freezer and pop it in the oven. No muss, no fuss, dinner is on the table and you didn’t even have to work for it.

This can also work to your advantage if you find a really good deal on meat. Whenever you see ground beef, chicken breasts or thighs, roasts, etc, go on sale for a really good price per pound that’s when you want to scoop up LOTS so you can have it on hand all month. This is a principle I never used to live by; I saw the high price of the big package of meat and thought “we can’t afford that”…..but if you change your thinking and realize that per pound you are paying WAY LESS than buying a smaller package at a high price every week, you will save more in the long run. This week you may spend a lot on meat but you may not have to buy any for the rest of the month.

Go Meatless Once a Week
Since meat is usually the most expensive item on your grocery list, plan to make a meatless meal once or twice a week. Try one of these recipes: Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup, French Onion Soup, Madras Vegetable Curry, and Refried Beans in tacos instead of beef.

If you are worried about protein, don’t be. Milk, eggs and cheese are complete sources of protein. Grains, legumes and nuts are incomplete sources of protein, but if you combine them together they create a complete protein:

Barley, Beans, Sesame seeds, Bulgar, Lentils, Sunflower seeds, Cornmeal, Dried peas, Walnuts, Oats, Peanuts, Cashews, Buckwheat, Chickpeas, Pumpkin seeds, Rice, Soy, Other nuts, Pasta, and Wheat are all incomplete proteins.

Similarly, you can add milk, eggs and/or cheese to these incomplete proteins to make them complete.

*Info from Body4Life


Stretch Your Meat
To make your meat purchases go a bit further try using slightly less meat than the recipe calls for. Instead of using 1 lb of ground beef, use ¾ lb. If a recipe calls for 4 chicken breasts cut up, use only 3. If I use chicken breasts baked in the oven or pan-fried for chicken sandwiches instead of using 4, I will slice 2 chicken breasts in half horizontally and end up with 4 pieces.

My husband is a meat fiend and I promise you…he doesn’t even notice.

Manager’s Special 50% Off
Look for the bright yellow or pink sticker that says “Manager’s Special 50% Off”. In the meat department this is a great way to save money. The meat will be marked down if it is getting close to its “Best Before” date. If you take the meat home right away and freeze it you don’t have to worry about it going bad. Sometimes if I don’t see any meat on sale, I will check how close they are getting to the expiry date. If I see it’s getting close and there are lots of packages of meat left, I assume that within the next day or two it will go on special…sure enough, if you go back the next day you will most likely see that sticker. I have also heard you can ask customer service to mark it down if it’s close to it’s date, but I have never done it.

There is also usually a bakery/produce section that marks down their product down to 50% off. This is usually bruised or really ripened fruit and veggies, and bread that is close to its due date. I keep my bread and bagels in the freezer, so buying bread that isn’t totally fresh isn’t so bad. I also will buy the very ripe produce if I plan to cook it right away. I once bought a 7 lb bag of very ripe pears that was regularly $7 for $3.50. I came home and turned it into pearsauce for my toddler as well as freezing some to make Pear Pecan Muffins later on.

Simpler Recipes That Use Less Ingredients
If you find recipes that use fewer ingredients, you will be spending less per meal. I know I can be quite prejudice against recipes with very few ingredient. I begin to think “Where’s the flavor? How can that taste good?” But remember spices are your friend. They don’t really count as ingredients since their cost is so miniscule. So cook more simply…with more spice :)

Plan Around Weekly Flyers
Instead of throwing away those weekly grocery stores flyers, grab it and see what’s on sale. This will help you to know what ingredients are cheap this week and what meals you should plan. If you don’t get the flyers sent to your house (I don’t), you can also find them online.

Couponing
My original impression of using coupons was “I’m saving $0.50? Big whoop”…but the more $0.50 (or $1 and $2) coupons you use all adds up. Even if you are only saving $5 on your whole grocery shop if you do that every week, in one month you just shaved $20 off your grocery budget. Once you get better at it you can double or triple your savings. I haven’t been couponing that long and I can’t seem to get as amazing of deals as the ladies in the U.S. do, but I have noticed savings each week.

One thing I have learned is to be patient with them…wait until the item goes on sale and then use your manufacturer’s coupon to get double the savings. Sometimes you have to hang on to the coupon for a month or two, but it’s worth it.

There are a ton of frugal mom bloggers from the states, so there are tons of resources of where to find coupons. Check out Money Saving Mom for some links.

Here in Canada, these are a few websites I have been able to find coupons on:
Save.ca - you click on the coupons you want and they mail them to you for free
P&G Bransaver - same idea as save.ca
Smart Canucks
Coupons.com - you have to have your own printer to print these

Scanning Code of Practice
This is my new little trick for saving money. Whenever an item is scanned improperly or I would find a mistake on my grocery bill, I would let the cashier or customer service know and they would go “Okay…here’s your $0.30 back.” It never seemed worth it; until I found out about the Scanning Code of Practice. This little baby is amazing. If an item is scanned for MORE than what is advertised or what the shelf says you can “enforce” the Scanning Code of Practice (just by saying the name) and get the item for FREE. You get the value of up to $10. For some reason cashiers don’t enforce it unless you enforce it. I guess they think they can get away with it if the consumer is none-the-wiser. This works especially well if you shop somewhere like Real Canadian Superstore that changes its sales all the time…they tend to miss retagging their product which means free items for you. Friends of ours save $20-$30 every week because of this.

This may not work for all stores, but check the till and see if you see the Scanning Code of Practice sign. The ones that have it posted have to abide by it.

Make Stuff from Scratch
Instead of buying expensive prepackaged food, making it from scratch will save you money. Getting a breadmaker would help you to make the homemade goodies, and still allow you to not put forth too much effort. Try making:
- Bread
- Pizza dough
- Bagels
- English muffins
You can also make big batches of muffins and store them away in the freezer for quick snacks and breakfasts. We did this to save money for my husband’s lunches, instead of buying expensive granola bars. And the next time you make pancakes or waffles, make a double batch and freeze the extras. They heat up the same way in the toaster and taste awesome. Homemade pizza pops are delicious freezer fare as well.

Another idea is to make homemade “Cream of” soup. In recipes that call for a can of the goopy stuff that costs about $1.49 for Campbell’s, you can make your own instead with this recipe from $5 Dinner Mom. It’s healthier and only costs about a 1/3 of the price.

Make Breakfast for Supper
Eating eggs, waffles, pancakes, quiche and breakfast casseroles once a week or just inserting it into the meal plan every so often is a good way to stretch your budget. Breakfast foods are generally a lot cheaper to make.

Buy in Bulk
I don’t just mean buying the restaurant-size can of tomatoes that you found at Costco, but check out the bulk bins at your grocery store. We find a lot of stuff that’s cheaper there than on the shelf…probably because of the lack of packaging. Our grocery store puts the price per 100 grams on their price tag, so it’s really easy for me to tell if it’s more economical to buy it off the shelf or from the bulk section (if your grocery store doesn't do that bring a calculator). I now buy my authentic Indian brand of basmati rice in the bulk section; it’s the exact same brand as the shelf, but about $0.05 cheaper per 100 grams…which adds up when you buy a 2 or 5 lb bag.

Check Other Frugal Mom Blogs
There are a ton of women out there blogging about saving money and being frugal. These ones I read regularly:
Money Saving Mom
Grocery Cart Challenge
$5 Dinners

I don’t read these ones regularly, but they have some great frugal tips to check out:
Stretching A Buck
Frugal Cooking
Bargain Briana

Community Programs
This one is all dependent on the city you live in, but it’s worth it to do some research and see what is offered in your area. For me, I found two programs that will help my husband and I save some money in the grocery department while I am on maternity leave. Both of them free, and neither one of them required an invasive sign up process…I just…signed up.

The first is the Interfaith Country Kitchen. You show up one afternoon (or morning) a week to cook two dishes and then take home everything you make. There is also free childcare. It’s an amazing program; one night a week I have fun cooking with friends and I walk away with a free meal.

The other is the Better Beginnings program for pregnant or nursing moms. I wish I had known about this program when I was pregnant with my first or even sooner in this pregnancy. Basically if you are pregnant or nursing and financially things are tight, you can sign up and you get coupons to get free eggs and milk every month. This lasts the duration of the pregnancy and a year after the baby is born. I can also go to a free Slow Cooker class where I will make a slow cooker meal, take it home, and also take home a free slow cooker. There are many other perks but these are the food related ones.

Do a little research and see what you can come up with for your area.


This is ridiculously long-winded, but once I got started I had so many ideas to impart I couldn’t stop. Hopefully you can come away with a few new ideas you didn’t know before to start saving on your grocery bill.

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13 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Awesome, detailed post! You do such a great job of this! I'm one of the people who don't meal plan so that is a goal of mine now for 2009!! Tarilie


  2. Vanessa Says:

    Great post, Kindra! I've heard of the scanning code too, but also rarely enforced it. If your friends are saving $20-$30 that's a lot of money and something I should definitely try!

    I really hope to bring our grocery bill down this year...wish me luck...it's gonna be hard! I'll definitely be coming back to this post for inspiration while I try to chisel down that grocery total.


  3. arlene Says:

    You've inspired me to start doing freezer meals again. (I did this when my kids were young and don't know why I stopped).
    "Once a Month Cooking" and "Dinner's in the Freezer" are two great resources. Do a search on Amazon for "Once a Month Cooking" and you'll see a lot of books that have recipes and shopping lists. Then, you can order them at the library.
    The bulk food really is cheaper. For example, compare the cost of a regular can of fruit to the #10 (gallon size). It's often about 2 X's the price for 5X's the product! I figure I can give 1/2 away and still come out ahead. I do this with spices too. When I buy a big bag for LESS than a small jar, I just take the excess along with a bunch of little containers the next time I get together with friends and hand it out. Fun! (Funny too).
    Very inspiring and informative post Kendra. Thanks!


  4. Tarilie - Meal planning in 2009? That's awesome!

    Vanessa - Since I found out about the Scanning Code a couple weeks ago, I haven't caught any mistakes yet, but I do know that I have caught mistakes in the past so I'm hoping it will save us some money :)We go to the self-check out just so I can keep my eye on all the prices that come up.

    Arlene - Thanks for the tips of bulk food and the freezer cookbooks. I've been doing some freezer stockpiling myself recently to prepare for this baby. Maybe I'll get some more ideas :)


  5. Mrs. Querido Says:

    I have never heard of the Scanning Code of Practice...I am going to go see if my favorite stores have that! Thanks for enlightening us! :)

    Blessings in 2009!


  6. Meggie Says:

    So, the coupons at Coupons.com will work in Canada? I'm in Ontario, not sure if that makes a difference. I've looked at coupons online before, but they always say in fine print Valid in US only. I can't see the details on the coupons unless, I'm assuming, I download their program - which I don't really want to do without knowing if I can even use it. I was hoping to hear from another Canadian mom before trying them out. Thanks!


  7. Meggie - sorry I posted this before attempting to use a Coupons.com coupon....since then I have discovered that NO, they are only valid in the US. Sorry!


  8. holly Says:

    i am wanting to find out more info on the better beginnings program. when i searched for info i came up with nothing. can you point me to a website or phone number where i can get more info on the program? thanks.


  9. Holly I'm sorry it took me so long to reply back to you. I'm not sure where you live, but this particular program is only available in my city. Here's the website: http://www.informalberta.ca/public/service/serviceProfileStyled.do?serviceQueryId=3791


  10. Rebecca Says:

    Nice post! Though I am a bit behind reading it. ;)
    Some very good ideas that I am going to give a shot.

    I did want to point out that cashiers aren't generally trying to be nefarious or pull the wool over your eyes. When I worked in retail people would be checking out and get so mad at ME because an item doesn't scan at the correct price and I didn't notice. People seemed to think that every cashier knows (or should know) every sale going on in the store, but it is just not possible in bigger stores. I've never heard of the Scanning Code of Practice, but then, I worked at a pet supply store, not a grocery store. Sounds neat!


  11. Thanks I'm glad you liked it Rebecca! Hopefully there's some things you can find useful.

    I definitely don't mean to suggest that all cashiers or rude or that they should have every price memorized and if something is wrong it's their fault. But the Scanning Code of Practice is a Canadian Law that no one talks about, and cashiers aren't actually suppose to mention it. If the consumer is smart enough to know about it and "enforce" the cashier has to abide by the law and refund the value of the item. If the consumer is none the wiser the cashier will merely refund the difference.


  12. Taryn Says:

    Awesome blog! My wife and I are needing to start budgeting our groceries. Like you food is the last thing on the list to cut here also. You've done a great job on this blog keep it up. Thanks for putting all the links also. Go Canucks