Tuesday, July 28, 2015

7 Strategic Tactics for Winning Mealtimes when you're on a Budget of Time or Money (Or, How I survived college without Ramen)

Mealtimes can be a battle. You want to save money, but you also want to eat delicious food. Your schedule is busy, but you don’t want to eat out all of the time. Whether you have college classes, a job, or volunteer work, we have so many things vying for our attention. How can we win the battle of business and make time for food?

I get the “busy schedule” scene, especially as a recent college graduate. But, meal times are not just about consuming food and rushing off to the next activity; meal times are about nourishment of the body and soul, growing in fellowship and communion with others. My husband and I get to communicate during mealtimes, we love to save money, and we really like delicious food. So, we eat homemade. We eat our meals together when possible. And we continually find ways to save money (in two years, we’ve decreased our weekly food spending, on average, by about $20).

If we have to battle busy schedules, finances, and life in general to have good mealtimes, we need a battle plan. And over the course of our marriage, my husband and I have implemented different tricks and tactics to help us have awesome meals without spending a ridiculous amount of money or time. Everyone has their own kitchen tricks which work for them, and I always love hearing the methods that other people use! So feel free to pipe in with your insights!

7 Strategic Tactics for Winning Mealtimes when you’re on a Budget of Time or Money (Or, How I survived college without Ramen)

A Big Bag of Rice. 
Typically, the bigger bags cost less. We always check the "price per ounce" section of the price tag at the store, just to make sure. We typically have a 10 or 20 pound bag of rice sitting around. Any ol' grocery store should have them! It doesn't cost much, it's delicious, filling, and so versatile. Spanish rice, fried rice (of which there are many varieties), rice pudding, plain rice, sushi, and casseroles, to name a few. can all be made from this big bag of goodness. And rice (unlike potatoes) is an ingredient that can sit around for a while and not go bad.

My monthly meal plan. 
Today, I took about an hour to craft my plan of attack for the month of August. I started large-scale meal planning during Lent last year, and I discovered that I really, really enjoy it. I save so much time and money, because I’m not trying to frantically figure out what we’ll be eating in the next  of couple days. A lovely handwritten list is already sitting on my fridge, outlining our meals. How cool is that? Personally, I like a lot of variety, so I try to put each recipe on the meal plan only once or twice a month. I try to incorporate soup about once a week, and meat a couple of times a week (because not only does less meat save money, but supposedly there are benefits tonot eating meat all of the time. Also, eating meat only a couple times a week makes it more special).  

Smoothie ingredients. Lots of them. 
Everyone makes smoothies differently. I always get excited when I’m visiting other people, and they offer to make me a smoothie, and when I’m expecting some health food drink, they waltz out of the kitchen with a glorified milkshake. YES! Some people put fruit in smoothies, some use veggies. Some people use yogurt or milk. I typically make the smoothie that I grew up with:  Orange juice, frozen bananas, and whatever fruit you have lying around. So when our grocery store has massive produce sales (lately, they’ve been doing lots of 29 cent mango sales), we buy a bunch, freeze most of them (because freezers are amazing like that), and have smoothies every day!

Lots of Beans! 
Beans are a great source of protein and fiber, they are extremely versatile, and they are very cheap, as well. Plus, they last forever in your cupboard. Currently, our cupboards are graced with garbanzo beans (because they are glorious), white kidney beans, and pinto beans. We’ll probably get black beans soon, too. And, as with the rice, check the price per ounce tag—but most of the time, the bigger bags are a better deal.

Bags of flour! 
Now, we usually don’t buy these in super huge bags, because if flour sits around too long, you occasionally find lovely, nasty little bugs. And I for once do not like nasty little bugs in my flour. So we usually have one or two 5 pound bags (very inexpensive) around. All-Purpose flour can be used for homemade bread, pasta, tortillas, pita bread, cookies, biscuits (I also have self-rising for biscuits), brownies, cakes, etc. etc. I love flour!

Boil ‘em. Mash ‘em. Stick ‘em in a stew. Again, potatoes are cheap and delicious. The only thing you have to watch is if you buy 10 pound bags and don’t go through them moderately quickly, some potatoes can eventually go bad. At our grocery store of choice (Aldi, in case you are wondering), the 5 pound bags are cheapest. So we go with those. Also, sweet potatoes are amazing. I love roasting cubes of them in the oven for a snack or putting them in biscuits.

My records book. 
I have a little notebook where I record everything related to food. In one part of the notebook, I record which store has the best prices on a couple of different items, and in the other part of the notebook, I jot down all of our receipt records. At the end of the month, I’m able to go through and see how much money we spent on groceries, and make sure that our spending is on track. I make sure to add special notations for special events, though. For example, when we celebrated our first anniversary Star Wars style, we bought lamb; thus, we spent a little more money then, and recorded it.

If we’re going to win the battle of mealtimes, we need to have a solid plan of attack and tactics to obtain our victory. Today, I shared with you 7 of my main strategies, and I hope that you enjoyed learning about them! Do you have any special kitchen tricks and tactics that you want to share? I always love hearing the different strategies that people employ!

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