Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out ways to save money on our grocery budget. With 10 mouths to feed, it is always a challenge (and one that I sometimes don’t meet) to stay within our budget. A few years ago (before the recession started) when our grocery expenses jumped by 30% and I could only increase our budget by 18% I had to come up with new weekly menus that were cheaper without sacrificing nutrition.
Many years ago a friend and I spent about 1 year working on filling our freezers using our own version of Once A Month Cooking (OMAC). We learned A LOT (by trial with LOTS of errors) and I’d like to share some of that here, along with some of the menus and recipes we chose. It was SO MUCH NICER and definitely more fun to do this with a friend…also, even though we made much more food, we split the pre-preparation between us and it really helped with the work.
This is what we made:
- chicken tetrazzini
- scalloped potatoes and ham
- shepherd’s pie
- chicken enchiladas
- chicken vegetable scallop
- beef enchiladas
- taco meat
- beef stew
- taco soup
- vegetable soup
- split pea soup
- barbeque shredded chicken
We each cooked 6 different meals and double servings of each. Doubling the servings was VERY easy!
The very first time we did it, we put together our entire shopping list and the we did some price checking. We found that on some items Sam’s was cheaper, but on many items, Super Walmart was cheaper! Some things were cheaper at Aldis and there was a local Highland Foods grocery store that had the cheapest and best meats and poultry! So you should do a ‘reconnaissance’ trip first before you shop to check prices and put them in a book that you can use each month (or how often you do this) to check against local sale ads.
This is how we did it (and we did this monthly for about a year):
- we put together our food list over the phone and made up a huge shopping list and e-mailed this to one another
- try to make sure that you organize your menu so you can best utilize the foods you buy, like having several dishes that have cheddar cheese so buying the 4# bulk package for less per ounce will leave you with no leftovers and will make buying the larger package a financial savings in the long run
- we divided the shopping list among the 4 stores, based on what was cheaper where
- I would shop at 2 stores, she would shop at 2 and we’d bring all the groceries to her house to divide it up
- we’d each take home certain foods that we would prepare (vegetable chopping, pre-cooking hamburg, pre-cooking chicken, etc.)
- the next morning, we’d get together at her house again (a bigger kitchen than at my house) around 8:30 and begin our cooking…sometimes we’d work together on things, sometimes we’d each do 6 of the meals – it would depend on what we were cooking. The cooking part used to take us until about 4pm – a VERY long day!! But we’d go home with between 8-12 meals each.
Some things we learned:
- make sure all foods are COOL before you put them in freezer!!! Not just room temp, but actually cool in the fridge. Otherwise putting too much room temp (or even slightly warm) food in the freezer will end up thawing some of the food that is in there (it raises the temp of the freezer too much) and causes spoilage. You can also cool them in a cooler chest with ice if there isn’t enough room in your fridge (see below*).
- come prepared with easy lunches for the day
- make sure you have supper for that night ready (pizza to go into the oven when you walk in the door is a good thing) – you will be EXHAUSTED and not interested in cooking anything for supper!!! Or better still, have the children prepare supper on their own!
- have a nice soft padded mat to stand on and good shoes that will support your feet because you will be SORE!
- dress messy, because you’ll get that way anyway!
- do NOT plan anything for the next day because you will be very tired and sore!
- do NOT do this with young children around…very little gets done and it becomes a danger to have them in the kitchen area at all
- use gallon and 2 gallon freezer bags to store your 9X13 pans in for casseroles – they are easily reused and make less mess with spillage (Whenever possible, I try to put the casserole in a gallon ziplock bag alone (like scalloped potatoes and ham). If it is something that needs to retain its shape (like shepherd’s pie) I have about 8 9X13 metal pans and I put it into that pan and put the pan into a 2 gallon freezer ziplock bag.)
- make sure you do a good check for spices you might need – you don’t want to find you don’t have pepper in the middle of cooking!!
- have index cards and several sharpies and tape to write out the baking directions and the name of the dish and tape to the ziploc bag – if you want to print it out on your computer the night before and cut them up, it will save you time the day of cooking
- *have several large cooler chests with bags of ice to transport food from the place where you cook to your own house, it helps to cool the food down by the time you get home.
- make sure you clean as you go!!!!
- have as many large ladles and huge slotted spoons as possible! Also numerous sets of measuring cups. And several LARGE AND DEEP (at least 12″) sauce pans