Pantry or Menu Plan?

photoI have read many frugal blogs and sites.  Many of them rely and support the idea of menu planning for cutting your grocery bill.  Those who are supporters of this practice, say they look at the sale flyers and base their menu on the rock bottom prices.

While this may work for some, it really is not realistic for many.  Why?  Suppose you plan on having Chicken Fajitas for dinner on Tuesday.  Tuesday comes along and you just don’t feel like fajitas.  But maybe you really feel like a pizza.  The menu planning option is too rigid for this type of circumstance.  Or, maybe you made too much pasta one night and have leftovers.  How do you use up those leftovers with a strict menu plan?

Instead of a menu plan, I rely on stocking my pantry; combining that with shopping sales and special markdowns.  Basically, I shop sales to stock up!  I always have the basics in my house:  eggs, milk, flour, sugar, chicken, basic canned and frozen vegetables, etc.  When I see a fabulous sale on any of these items, I stock up.  Here’s an example, of one of my trips to the store, I saw a special markdown on sirloin tips and London broil.  They were both marked down to $1.99/lb. for quick sale.  I (along with other savvy shoppers) stocked up on them.  Why…because, I have not seen that price for beef in a long time.  My family loves a beef dinner every once in a while and it is nice to not just have ground beef.  (I have not seen ground beef at $1.99/lb. in a while)  When buying reduced meats, you just need to cook it up right away or store it in the freezer.  I normally cook one that night and put the rest in the freezer.

So, how do you make sure that you have all the ingredients for what you want to make?  Simple, decide what to cook the night before.  While cleaning up from dinner, I plan my next day’s menu.  Any leftovers that are enough for one portion, go into my husband’s lunch for the next day.  I take anything out of the freezer that needs to defrost and any side dishes I make come from my pantry.

A note on side dishes.  I shop for produce at a local fruit market.  They don’t have “sales” flyers.  They are a restaurant supply store and they stock any leftovers that were not purchased by the restaurants in their store.  They (and I) never know when the deliveries will be made for the day and what they will have.  Sometimes, I can get bags of salad mix for $2 (we are talking large bags or organic), artichokes 4 for $1, strawberries for $1, gallons of organic orange juice for $1 (I saw a sticker once and it was $21/gallon but I paid $1).  I never know what I will get.  I make my side dishes based on what I buy at this market.  I normally can buy a weeks’ worth of produce for $5-$8.  That’s right…$5-$8 of fresh sometimes organic produce.  If you don’t have a market like this in your area, shop in the reduced produce section.  While your deals may not be as good as the ones I described, they will be substantial.  Once the fresh produce for the week is gone, then switch to your frozen or canned supplies.

These tips have helped me maintain an average food bill of $40-$60 per week for 4 people.  I hope they help you too.

Now, how do you cook?  Meal plan or cook from pantry?  Comment below.

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