I love order. In fact, I love it so much that I operate three calendars, a project management platform as my to-do list, and have notepads galore. As my husband says, I thrive on routine. Every morning, I get up at the same time and do the very same things. My days run almost identically on a predetermined schedule I set for myself. Planned and organized is my ideal to a ‘t.’ Knowing that you would assume that I meal plan meticulously. After all, I have a cleaning plan, project plan, and variety of other plans as they seem relevant. They are my saving grace and the only reason I can be so productive! So, why don’t we meal plan?
Honestly, I tried it! I really tried to carefully plan meals and make it work. I even read dozens of how-tos and sample menus. Despite my effort, it just didn’t work for us. Inevitably, things came up, the planned meals didn’t sound appetizing, we ate more than I planned, or the brothers came over last minute. Plus, the purchasing the planned ingredients ended up costing us more in the long run! That kind of defeated the point of meal planning in the first place.
At one point, I tried freezer meals. For a while, I had several stashed in the freezer and was intentional cooking big batches so I could freeze the excess. Once again, it just jives with our style. I just couldn’t get past the texture changes from freezing and the amount of time it took to prep. Yes, it was supposed to save time, but it didn’t quite pan out that way in the end and many of the meals we regularly eat require fresh prep. So, I still found myself spending time cooking when I should have been doing something else.
So, what do we do instead?
For starters, we found a grocery store that sources quality produce and meats for great prices. Unless my hubby is stocking his snack cupboard or I’m buying specialty items, we shop there. Anymore, I don’t even bother looking at other ads. Yes, I may be able to save some change on eggs somewhere else, but in the long run, it balances out.
Instead of shaping meals around recipes, I shape them around what’s cheap. Granted, there are some things we purchase regularly regardless of the sales. Generally, though, we stick to what’s on sale. Last week, corn was 8/$1. So, we bought eight ears of corn. Sometimes, there’s a sale on bell peppers and I buy up a bunch. Regardless, we pick the healthiest looking produce and go from there.
There is one condition we have when sale shopping, though: I only buy things I know we will eat. It’s easy to get carried away with all the sales and I’ve learned my lesson the hard way. My philosophy is that I’d rather eat everything and have to pick up more mid-week than throw away food. More than once, I’ve had to clean disgusting zucchini from my produce cart. Sometimes, it isn’t even an issue of consuming. Instead, it’s a situation of purchasing too much. Being mindful of the items we don’t eat in high volumes (or at all!) has been really important for keeping our food costs in check.
When possible, we buy things in bulk. Our grocery store of choice has a fantastic bulk section where we buy the majority of our dry goods and a variety of unpackaged snacks. Pretty soon, we are going in with several other people to purchase a cow directly from the farmer. Even with the meat processing cost factored in, we will still pay less per pound than at the grocery store. It can be hard to find those cost-saving, bulk connection, but it’s so worth the effort!
Another way to cut costs is a stash of “fillers” to help make meals stretch. It isn’t anything fancy, but you’ll typically find rice, potatoes, oats and pasta in the pantry. My husband doesn’t enjoy beans, but I do. So, I often have a few cans, in addition to a large bag of dried, that I cook up for myself in a variety of ways. We often have tortillas on hand, too. Almost any roast meat can be shredded for tacos. So, it’s a nice, quick option for busy evenings.
As important as it is to me that we eat well, I’ve realized that sometimes a frozen pizza is best for everyone’s sanity. Cheap, freezer pizzas have saved us in a pinch. While I don’t advocate the ingredients, I am a fan of how much cheaper it is to pop a pepperoni in the oven than swing through somewhere. You’ll also find my husband’s snack cupboard if you go looking in my kitchen. Once again, I don’t advocate the ingredients. But he likes to munch and I’d rather not be making homemade crackers or granola every other day!
What’s my biggest secret to feeding my family without meal planning? Grandma knew best. (Or Great-Grandma if yours wasn’t born before 1930!) For better or worse, many of my go-to meals closely resemble depression-era and farm-style cooking. When I’m cooking them, I don’t follow a paper recipe. Instead, I’ve learned how to fix a variety of dishes by memory and adjust them work with what we have available.
Oatmeal, eggs, roasted or grilled meat, mashed potatoes, pancakes, tacos (okay, not really the most traditional!) and spaghetti sauce are just a few of the many meals we eat on rotation. In the summer, we favor fresh and cold salads, stir fries, and similar, light fare to counteract the heat. We also do leftovers for lunch or repurpose them for supper the following day. As exciting as it is to compile a list of impressive Pinterest recipes, I’ve learned that familiar is best. Best for my budget. Best for my sanity and easily tailored to feed an unexpected crowd should they walk through the door.