A Super Easy Way to Start Saving Money on Food

Before you read the rest of this post, go and take a look in your fridge. Don’t forget to come back now!

How many containers of moldy leftovers did you find?

I’ve got nine.

Nine fuzzy smelly science experiments that used to be delicious–and expensive–food.

Sigh. It happens to the best of us.

But that is why I am delighted to have discovered the number one step in meal planning.

What is it?

Taking Inventory.

This simple step is guaranteed to save you money, and might even inspire you to culinary greatness. But the best thing about it is how dead easy and completely satisfying it is to do.

How to take inventory

1) Look through your fridge, freezer and pantry and first clear out all of the yucky moldy slimy stuff to make way for some delicious food.

2) Make a list of all the food that needs to be eaten up ASAP. Look in all the little jars and containers, drawers and shelves. I like to imagine the food as dollar bills, loose change and rolls of coins. Yes, this is crazy. But I really don’t want to throw it out!

3) Write your meal plan, making sure you include all those foods you listed above in the first couple of days. You might doubt me, but I’ve found it’s incredibly fun creating meals to use up those found treasures in new delicious ways. I will write a post on this soon, but think soups, salads, omelettes . . . mmmmm.

4) Even if you don’t do a weekly meal plan, a weekly inventory will probably spark your creativity and put at least some of your week’s meals on auto-pilot. This really will save you money and get you started in the mental process of meal planning. I find myself instantly inspired when looking at, say, a bunch of roasted broccoli from dinner. Presto! Broccoli Pita Pizza for lunch tomorrow.

Clear Benefits

Looking through your fridge can probably save you from trudging out to the store (where there is a 90% chance you will spend more than you planned). Using food you already bought means you don’t have to buy more food. Yup. Rocket science.

Taking inventory regularly will keep your fridge and pantry shelves less crowded so it will be easier to see what’s in there. This will make taking inventory–and using up what you’ve got–even easier.

It will also get you into the habit of thinking about your meals on a weekly basis, which is the first step in doing a full-on weekly meal plan. I will be blogging more about this fascinating subject in weeks to come but for now, trust me: it’s the cat’s ass as far as kitchen frugality is concerned.

And I don’t know about you, but I find that EVERYthing seems just a tad more appetizing when it isn’t surrounded by blue fuzzy rice and hairy black jam.

Now, off to do my inventory. So, which yogurt container has yogurt in it and which is that chili from three weeks ago? Help!

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Staying the Course

Our little guy in the newly cleaned-up play space

All in all, last week’s Waldorf Week experiment was a great success! We got out in Nature and made a Nature Table, we eliminated daytime TV, we did cooking and housework together (my girl can crack an egg!), and I revolutionized her room to make it tidy, safe and completely playable. It was a great week, and this week’s plan is simply to stay the course and keep on Waldorfing it up over here.

I’m also very happy to say that my whole blog-the-meal-plan plan has been working too. Meals have been much more organized and our food costs are much more stable. We’ve cut way down on our meat, and amped up the veggies significantly.

All in all, it’s a very boring “life is good” post that I have for you today. Of course, that doesn’t count our trip to the emergency this afternoon (daughter’s headache turned out NOT to be meningitis), followed closely by almost burning down our apartment (yeah, if you go to the emergency, make sure you don’t leave perogies boiling on the stove. Luckily the smoke alarm worked and the super came and turned everything off and opened our windows. No damage except the pot, and a residual “barbecue” smell about the place).

Apart from that, life is pretty good . . .

This week’s meal plan:

Monday: salmon cakes and tabouli

Tuesday: pizza

Wednesday: Stir Fry with Sesame-Peanut sauce (we didn’t have this last week)

Thursday: Chicken drumsticks with broccoli and mashed potatoes (planning to check out Saslove‘s selection of organic chicken and hopefully soup bones–fingers crossed!)

Friday: leftovers

Saturday: veggie lasagne

Sunday: poached eggs

Waldorf Week

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Waldorf education and way of life. Unfortunately I didn’t bookmark the specific article that really inspired me, but a few of the sites I was browsing were www.naturalfamilycrafts.com, and www.waldorfinthehome.org. (Update: Found it! The really inspiring article was here.) If I wasn’t such a staunch supporter of public school, I would totally send my kids to Waldorf school. (Ahh, also if I won the lottery.) I still don’t know or understand everything about it, but here are some Waldorf-y things I’m incorporating into our life this week:

The Natural World

Waldorf education stresses a connection with the natural world, as well as emphasizing natural materials, to foster a connection with nature and natural systems. Since we live in Downtown Ottawa and don’t have a car, it’s a bit hard to get out in The Nature. But we’re trying. Actually, the River is within walking distance and it offers a very natural setting in the middle of the city. We took a walk there today for an afternoon play date and had a really nice time. We saw ducks and heard red-wing blackbirds and watched the river flow . . .

Less TV

When our little guy was born in October, Daddy would get up with our older girl, and watch morning cartoons. Mostly this was a coping mechanism because we were all too tired to think in the morning, especially while I was still night nursing both of them (crazy!). However, this quickly became the routine and has been the way the morning goes for the last six months. Today I did things differently. We got up together and instead of turning on the TV, my girl and I played. I had forgotten that she is often at her best in the morning, very focused and calm, and she really enjoyed the time together. Of course, it helped that the little guy was still sleeping, but I’m going to try to keep this going. Of course this isn’t specifically a Waldorf thing, but it certainly fits the theme.

Work as Play

When I read about this, it seemed so simple, I thought it wouldn’t really work, but it did. The idea is, instead of, say, putting the kids in front of the TV so you can cram in a load of laundry and quickly chop some veggies for soup, you involve your kids in the housework and make it a part of your activities for the day. This teaches the kids that they are not nuisances to be silenced while you frantically do the real but unpleasant work, but rather that housework can be fun, and a shared activity that involves satisfaction and learning, but also that the kids can be a part of making their home a nicer, cleaner, more orderly place. My girl is three, and she can now do things that actually help me and save me time. It was really pleasant doing housework with her today. Again, maybe today was special, but I’ll be trying this again for sure.

Reverence

We are not a religious family, so we don’t have many spiritual practices in our household. However, the more I read, the more I see the value of rituals and valuing the spiritual side of life. It’s funny–even though I’m not religious and never have been, I do consider myself to be spiritual, mostly in connection with the natural world (this is probably why Waldorf appeals to me so much). So this idea of reverence really struck me. The article I read (which I cannot find, gosh darnit!) spoke about using gratitude as a path to reverence. That is, thinking about where things came from and thanking the creatures and forces and beings that brought these things to you. Our girl got right into this. For our broccoli soup at lunch, we thanked the Sunshine, and the farmer for the broccoli, and Daddy for buying the broccoli, and Mommy for making it. This idea of stopping to think about where things come from, and then thanking those who brought or created it is common to Buddhism as well.

A simplified play space

Okay, I’m working on this. But our girl’s room has become messy to the point of being dangerous. She just has too many toys, all out and accessible all the time. Quite often, she flits from one thing to another. Other times, she works in “creative destruction” of her toys, painting them, cutting their hair, etc., it makes me wonder if she really values them. So my plan is to take away all but a few of her toys to play with at one time. The other things are going into her closet, so she isn’t worried about missing them. It will only make a visit to the closet extra exciting, but once this is all in order, I will make sure she’s only playing with a few toys at a time.

Today just¬†felt so wonderful and so right. I know not every day can be like today, but I’m going to continue the experiment. I figure it can only bring good things!

And here is our Waldorf Week Meal Plan:

Tuesday: tabouli and hummus

Wednesday: chicken stir fry with peanut sauce

Thursday: leftovers

Friday: black bean soup and cheese quesadillas

Saturday: fish of some sort

Sunday: spaghetti (I’ll try to make it to the Organic Farmer’s Market on Saturday for some local beef–wish me luck!)

Detox Week

I can’t link it to just one thing, but a bunch of things: being busy last week and eating mostly beige food, coupled with two giant Easter dinners back home flanked by two terrible fast-food-on-the-road travel days on the way to Sudbury and back . . . all this has led to a terrible feeling of heaviness, slowness, general lack of good health.

In response, I’ve named this week Detox week. I’m aiming for lots of vegetables–including lots of plant leaves; lots of fish; little meat; and lots of raw food. While I’m totally not “into” raw food as a lifestyle or even a concept (food tastes REALLY GOOD cooked, and I’m not about to give that up!), right now I just feel the need for as much nutrition as I can cram into my body.

I’m also going to exercise and drink 2 Litres of water daily. My dream about doing Sun Salutes must mean something! In addition, I think we’ll try to forage some greens for salads this week. There should be some dandelion leaves budding in the parks, and maybe I can find some lamb’s quarters too. I’ll report back on what we find.

So here’s this week’s meal plan: 7 days of health!

Tuesday: green soup (watercress or spinach) with homemade crackers

Wednesday: salmon and roasted sweet potatoes

Thursday: roasted veggies and salad

Friday: tabouli and spaghetti squash

Saturday: veggie lasagne

Sunday: squash soup, and salad

Monday: eggs, salad and bean salad

Wish me luck! Let me know if you have a detox week at your house, or if you had one, what would you plan?

This Week’s Meal Plan

So you may have noticed I haven’t been around the blog much lately. I haven’t been very frugal lately, or very organized, leading to more non-frugality. So I’ve decided to start posting my weekly meal plans as a way to 1) get more organized, 2) eat better (less meat, more vegetables, less waste), and 3) save more money on food.¬†Just like my reason for starting this blog in the first place, I believe that by putting something under scrutiny, I will improve my habits pertaining to that thing.

Before Nicky’s birth, things were going really well, frugality-wise, but things have been a bit chaotic since then. It’s interesting: I’ve had a lot less time to blog, and I’ve also had a lot less time to organize and plan shopping, eating and finances. So maybe by making my blogging time a direct organizational activity, I will both get organized and add some content to my blog. Hopefully the content will be interesting to my readers!

So here goes: Meal plan for the week, Monday March 29th to Sunday April 4th

Monday: chicken soup (made with the remains of a store-bought barbecue chicken, plus frozen veggie parings from freezer)

Tuesday: Linguine with Red Clam Sauce plus a salad

Wednesday: cold sandwiches with tuna salad, maybe some, plus some hummus and veggies,

Thursday: Perogies or fish bites and a salad

Friday: we’ll be on the road heading to Sudbury so we’ll probably pack peanut butter, crackers, granola bars, cheese sticks, little yogurts, and the like.

Saturday: my mom is making Easter Dinner–yay!

Sunday: Easter Dinner number two at Aunt Vickie and Uncle Scott’s–extra yum!

There you have it. I’ll post again next week with our next meal plan, and I’ll also list what we actually ate, so I can tweak our plans if need be. Thanks for reading!