Budgeting and Planning for 3 Meals a Day at HomeOn April 9, 2020 by Calgary's Child
by Trista Arney
As Calgarians adjust to the new normal, many are confronted with new obstacles when it comes to planning family meals. Many of us just aren’t used to cooking three meals a day at home every week; for others, self-isolation, changing budgets, and limited access to some groceries are making these challenges larger.
While there likely isn’t a plan that will work for every family’s diverse needs, here’s some general advice when it come to budgets and planning meals while navigating our new normal:
Only Buy What You’ll Use
If your family doesn’t normally eat it, don’t bother stocking up it. Some traditional budget foods like beans and lentils may be widely available, but if you have picky eaters in the house, now may not be a great time to fight over a new menu addition.
Plan Shopping Ahead
Planning ahead is always a great idea when trying to save money on groceries! Not only does it make it less likely that you’ll buy things you don’t need, it’s socially responsible to take as little time as possible to shop.
Try to make time before grocery shopping (in person or online) to map out as many meals as you can. Plan what you need for those meals carefully and be sure to restock any go-to items that your family has run low on. To save yourself time and money, try to plan meals with leftovers for lunch or dinner the following day and meals that use similar ingredients to cut down on the number of items you’ll need. (Chili and spaghetti sauce both start with onions, ground beef and tomatoes, for example!)
If you are using grocery delivery or pick-up services, planning ahead is key. Your window may be at least a week away from the initial shopping time. Make sure to read carefully on grocery websites, as many will allow you to adjust your order until the day before delivery/pick up.
Shop Seasonal and On Sale
This is more difficult right now as some grocery stores are completely forgoing flyers to focus their efforts on restocking. However, in general, if you’re looking to save on your grocery budget you should try and focus on items that are seasonally/locally available. If you’re able to go to the store in-person, try using apps like Flipp to check flyers to see what’s on sale. If you shop at Superstore, try downloading the FlashFoods app – you can find excellent deals on items with a short shelf life! They may need to be used immediately, but many products can be frozen for later use.
If finding the time to cook meals is a struggle in your house, there are a couple of solutions. Planning to only cook dinners every other night and then reheat leftovers is a great option. Another option that has gained in popularity in the last few years is freezer cooking! The idea is that you plan a variety of meals in large batches well ahead of time; then, you’ll just need to do one or two large cooking days to stock your freezer. Freezer cooking can be done in different scales depending on your storage space and the size of your family. Since you’re buying ingredients in bulk and preparing them all at the same time, it should save you money, food waste, and time.
Here are a few resources to get you started:
Get the Kids Involved
Whether your meal-time struggles involve fussy eaters or not, many experts recommend getting your children involved in preparing meals. Cooking is a vital life skill and great for math practice, but also many kids are more likely to try a dish that they’ve taken part in making.
A great starting idea is this Bread in a Bag tutorial, but almost any recipe has sections children of any age can help with. Get the kids to wash fruit, measure ingredients, and more. Remember to always supervise children in the kitchen, especially around the stove!
What’s For Dinner?
Although some items may be difficult to find at stores from time to time, alternatives can be found. It’s important to remember to only purchase what your family needs and will use to allow supply chains the time to catch up to the heightened demand.
Here’s a helpful guide to some common baking substitutions if you find yourself out of an ingredient and aren’t able to pop out to the store to restock right away!
If you’re stuck in between grocery shops and can’t think of what you can make with what you have on hand, try My Fridge Food – this handy website lets you check off the ingredients you have on hand to get suggested recipe ideas.
When you’re looking to stretch your grocery dollars, here are some great and filling ingredients:
Rice & Beans – These can be a dinner all on their own. While some grocery stores may still have lower stock of these items than usual, the supply chain will catch up soon. Try looking in the International Food aisles for different brands of the same products! When buying beans, it’s generally cheaper to buy dried than canned. Beans can be easily rehydrated at home by soaking overnight or boiling them, depending on variety. Here’s a handy guide. If you have an Instant Pot or pressure cooker at home, rehydrating beans is even easier! There are many guides available online, but I like this one from Simply Recipes.
Eggs – Pretty inexpensive and very versatile, eggs can be a great ingredient in many meals or the main attraction. Try this egg and potato casserole for a filling and easy meal. Many kids love breakfast for dinner, so don’t be afraid to mix things up!
Hot Dogs – Always a kid favorite, these are readily available in stores right now. They’re a cheap and filling source of protein. You can freeze hot dogs to extend longevity if needed, and chopped up hot dogs can be added to hash browns or pasta. For something a little different, try these hot dog baked taquitos.
Pasta – While some varieties may be a little hard to get until grocery stores catch up, you can always try a new shape! Remember to check out the International Aisle for more options – often you can find orzo, couscous, or even fun star shapes.
Potatoes – Super versatile and generally inexpensive, but often overbought! Be aware of how many potatoes your family can eat to avoid food waste. Store separately from onions in a cool, dry place for best results. For a filling and flavorful dinner, why not try a chickpea and potato curry?
Canned fish – While some people don’t enjoy fish no matter what, our family adds tuna and frozen peas to boxed macaroni and cheese on a regular basis for a quicker version of a tuna casserole. Canned fish can make a great sandwich filler, delicious casseroles, or even be made into fish cakes.
Soups – Soup makes a great, filling meal and there are almost infinite varieties using really inexpensive ingredients! Try carrot soup, black bean soup, or potato chowder. When preparing soup from scratch, you can use bouillon cubes or paste instead of pre-prepared stock to stretch your budget. It’s easy to make your own chicken stock by boiling leftover bones (chicken, pork and beef all work well) with onion peels, carrot and celery tops and other vegetable scraps (just don’t use potato!) Bouillon is another product which can frequently be found in the international aisle.
Oats – A classic staple for breakfasts or for making cookies, oatmeal can also be used in many recipes as a thickener. Oatmeal can be prepared as hot cereal in the morning or can be prepared as overnight oats. Oatmeal can also be used to make filling smoothies, french toast, or even Icelandic vegetable oatmeal soup.
For more ideas try this Prudent Penny Pinchers list of Budget Friendly Non-Perishable Foods, which includes what foods can be frozen.
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