Too Busy to Cook?
by Doris O'Connell
My Story: Coordinated Meal Planning
Meals on the Run
This is one of my most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).
Here's Sharon's questions, my reply follows.
It was so nice of you to respond so quickly, Doris. I knew you had many "irons in the fire" and I am delighted that you even have time to answer my message! I will be glad to send you a question per week.
Great idea; I get answers to what I want and you don't have to come up with a topic for an article. It sounds like you are the busiest woman in the world. That is how I came up with my first question for you. You must be extremely organized to get everything done. I am a secretary, work 8-5, 5 days a week, so does the DH, and we have 2 teenage boys, 15 and 18, so we are a busy family, on the go with activities after supper, and weekends. How do you find the time to plan ahead, plan those meals, so we don't resort to eating out because of lack of time. I do pretty good for awhile, and get the freezer full of stuff to just put in the oven. But before I know it, I've got an empty freezer, a mountain of laundry, coupons to clip, bills to pay, bathroom to clean...because I have not been home to keep up. I feel like I know what to do, if I were only home to do it! I'll keep this question limited to just the meal planning part! It sounds easy to say just plan ahead and plan your menus and everything will fall into place, but real life gets in the way sometimes. Just how does the Tightwadmama keep good cheap food in the house and on the table on these busy days?
Thanks for listening,
Dear Sharon & Readers,
Like most of you, I, too, have a very full schedule, yet want to save money on my food bill. Here are some of the ways we keep our food bill extremely low, yet get to enjoy great tasting meals.
- I have a work center where menus, refunds, a perpetual grocery list, inventory of foods that are bought in bulk, cookbooks, calendar of events are kept and all necessary office supplies are at my finger tips. This can be as simple as a cardboard box that's portable and brought to the kitchen table, or a card table in the corner of kitchen, all the way to an elaborate workcenter.
- On top of my freezer is an inventory sheet so that we know at all times exactly what is in there and don't have to open the freezer to do a hide-and-seek seek routine. Every item that goes in the freezer is labeled, dated and listed on the inventory. Same with any leftovers in the refrigerator. My inventory sheets are generated on the computer with the basics that we regularly stock and enclosed in clear plastic page protectors so that a wax pencil can be used to easily add or remove quickly from the inventory, by simply rubbing off one log. An example: Applesauce pt containers: IIIII IIIII IIIII IIIII It is simple to see at a glance that there are 20 pts., and when I take out 1, I simply rub off the last I in my log system. I don't use the four with a line diagonally thru as it would be messy and complicated to remove from the inventory. Same system is used for our yearly food supply from the garden. Any purchased canned goods are dated with bold black marker on the label. All foods are rotated, with the new additions going behind or under the older stock. If we notice that we have double the amount of say beef stew as we do chicken soup, the beef stew would be on the menu twice to once for the chicken soup. Bread is usually homemade, but there is nothing wrong with buying bread at the thrift store and freezing for big savings. Be sure to date it with bold marker, so that it gets rotated. This way, it doesn't end up getting outdated or spoiled.
- Now, many can use the Once A Month Cooking Plan. Those that can do this with frugal recipes will save tremendously. Most of the recipes in the OAMC were too pricey for this Tightwad. For me, that would be NOT be possible I can't and won't do marathon cooking. Baking once a month for things like muffins, biscuits and bread is doable and saves quite a bit of money, as the muffins and biscuits can be used for snacks, to fill out a meal, or as a quick breakfast on the run. However, I do cook in double or triple batches and freeze individual portions (could also be meal sized portions, but we prefer the flexibility of single portions). For instance in my big crockpot, I can make a double batch of beef stew (twice the veggies and 1/3-1/2 the amount of meat). We will enjoy it that evening and then we'll put the rest into one-serving containers in the freezer for future meals and perhaps make deep dish pot pie with just a top crust and pop that in the freezer. We do individual portions as they are more flexible and more like choosing the entree when going out for a meal, but when our children were younger we just served on meal sized portion.
- Meal times here have always been a family affair. Everyone helps out, cleans up after, and the following day's supper and lunches are either prepared from leftovers or else taken from the freezer and put in the refrigerator. The extras goodies added to the lunch bags. Children were taught at an early age to add to the perpetual grocery list, how to shop with a list, how to calculate the price per oz, pt, qt, and comparison purchasing for greatest savings. It teaches living skills that are very valuable when they set out on their own.
- We used to have 21 basic, simple, favorite meals. About 6 months ago, we cut this down to 14. We have now cut this to 9 basic meals that we cook in double or triple quantities. 3 bean recipes, 3 chicken recipes, 2 turkey recipes, 1 beef recipes. The variations come with the cooked veggies, salad, bread, rolls, muffins or biscuits and the fruit, or the way the entree is served. For instance turkey could be put in containers and served as turkey tetrazini, turkey & gravy, creamed turkey. We have several vegetarian meals each week that combine the beans or bean products like tofu, mock refried beans, bean burger stew (with small amount of meat or preferably Texturized Vegetable Protein (TVP) in combination with rice, pasta or grits. By taking the entree out of the freezer the night before and putting it in the refrigerator, it only takes a few minutes to cook rice, pasta, stuffing or any other grain from scratch, so in say 15-20 minutes the meal is ready, table set, side dishes prepared. Takes longer than this to go out and get a fast food meal at a burger joint.
- The small amount of food that we buy from the supermarket is purchased during loss leader sales. Items that we use in quantity are purchased in bulk and we grow, can, freeze and dehydrate as much fruit, vegetables and herbs as possible. Cook everything from scratch and make our own mixes. For instance, when making a double batch of muffins, it's just as easy to measure into the bowl with an equal measure going into a large zipper plastic bag. Then the next time the liquid ingredients are added for a quick homemade mix.
- The secret to keeping organized is to have all the activities on the calendar and planning the menu accordingly. For instance, if we will be late getting home, a crockpot meal that takes 5 minutes to load up in the morning is preferable to going out for a meal, or in less than 10 minutes pancakes can be coming off the griddle, or in 5 minutes 2 portions of lasagna can be heated & the salad made while it's heating in the microwave. Keeping meal simple also means less time preparing meals.
- Coupon and refund form clipping is beside my chair for TV watching time. So is my coupon organizer and old envelope box to put the refund forms into. Scissors are here and also a waste paper can. This maximizes my rest times and also helps to save money on the food bill. I don't refund to the degree that I did previously and only use coupons for items that I ordinarily purchase.
- Junk food, fats, sweets and high salt items don't come into our home. Dessert is usually fruit, fruit sauce and is served with the meal. For a special occasion, we might serve a homemade pudding, cake or pie. Water, tea or herb tea are the beverages of the house and unlimited. Things like juice or milk have as per USDA guidelines for the number of servings per day for that ages group.
- Snacks (not a frequent habit) are muffins, air popped corn, crackers and peanut butter, or a piece of fruit in season, on sale, or from the freezer or home canned goods.
- A grocery pricebook has always saved us mega bucks on the cost of groceries, as has using the supermarket flyers to organize the shopping list & menu for greatest savings.
Hope this helps. Whether one is at home working or leaves the home to work, having a menu and meals planned will save time, energy and money. Like everyone else, I learned by trial and error what worked best for me and my family. Start off slowly. Perhaps each time you cook double the recipe. Many times my double or triple batches are made on weekends and then we "coast" from the freezer if it's going to be a particularly hectic week.
Peace, Love & Joy!
Doris O'Connell aka Tightwadmama@juno.com
From: Doris O'Connell-copyright 1996, may be copied in full for distribution via e-mail in full version only.
Share your thoughts about this article with the editor: Click Here
More Tips & Tools to Help You
Live Better...For Less
- Is your family normal? See how other households spend their money
- 5 big bills you can cut fast
- 5 frugal ways to expand your living space
- The 12 best bargains for shoppers in April
- 4 steps to a simpler (and more frugal) life
- 8 habits that plug parental spending leaks
- 3 great low-cost summer activities with kids
- Keeping your pet out of the economic doghouse
- Frugal living ideas for large families Readers' Solutions
- What is the cost of raising a child?
- Spouse income calculator
- Should my spouse work, too?
- College savings calculator
- Home budget calculator