I have often received the question of “How do you do it?” in relation to our family. Not because we do an awesome job or anything, but simply because people are curious to how we manage our household. I figured I could write about this, as it seems to be of interest. I’ll make it into a series so I can tackle one subject in each post. Today I will talk about food!
As we are a household of 5-6, with girls that often eats more than me, and Simon, who exercises lots and burns calories like a champion, and can therefore eat a whole heap as well, food is important. I generally like to make all food from scratch, but don’t mind taking some short cuts every now and then as they do make life easier.
Our grocery budget is roughly around $300 a fortnight, which I think is pretty good, making it aproximately $20 per day, aka $3-4 per person. This also includes things such as toilet paper, shampoo and laundry powder, plus dog food and rubbish bags. We try to only do one big shop each fortnight, and then filling up with more fruit, veg, milk and bread when needed. I usually go to the markets once a week to buy stuff for that week, then to one of the big supermarkets for the rest. Meats are divided up and put in the freezer (unless it is to be used straight away, of course). We also like to go to the shops and look for the discounted meat, as this also saves us money, and we can often try out stuff we wouldn’t normally. We do find that if we go there more often, we tend to buy more than planned, so by having the big shop to fill up the fridge it saves both time and money. It can, however, make it look as though we have no food left come shopping day though, but we don’t throw out much food either.
One of the things that have made life and dinner so much easier for us, is the fact that I make a meal plan. I know, meal planning is something everyone says helps with their budget and managing, and it works for us. I love sitting down and coming up with ideas for dinner. I have even made meal cards that I can flick through to decide what we are having if I feel like we are stuck in a rut.
What we have done now, though, is identifying certain days and certain patterns in our life and dinners that we acknowledge and incorporate into our meal plans as to not make those days as stressful as they have been. As an example, on the days when we do the big shop, it usually takes time and effort, and by the time we are home, the last thing we’d like to do is cook and clean. So we have decided that should be our pizza night. Maybe not the healthiest and best choice, but it saves a lot of hassle and grumpy kids that are waiting for us to cook.
We have also decided that we shall have Friday night is Chicken night. Buying a whole cooked chicken from the supermarket is now so cheap and easy that we just need to take advantage of it, and Fridays tend to be one of our busiest days! Half of them are spent driving back and forth to pick up Jasmine, and for some reason, the other half is always full of appointments and other stuff. So we end up coming home late, kids are tired and waiting for food and Simon and I just want to eat and start the weekend. So we are going to have Friday night chicken. Then we can have a sandwich, a salad or order a serve of chips with it. Also, as there usually is meat left, it makes Saturday lunches much easier!
To make meal planning easier, we have a list of what we “must have” every fortnight. On that list is fish, schnitzel night, soup, a bulk meal (so we can save a meal for a rainy day), salad night and leftovers day. We do pack up leftover food for Simon to take to work as lunches, but some days there’s lots left (enough for two people) so we keep them separate and then just reheat on leftovers day and everyone takes their pick. Saves another day of cooking, and cheap. I tend to put leftovers day on the day after a rather big meal, so there’s a fair chance I’ll have lots left for me to reinvent or just serve up. Simon loves making chicken schnitzel and the kids love it too, so that day I know I don’t have to cook myself (hooray!:)). Then, when making up the plan, I just look at the list of ‘must-haves’ and pop it in wherever it fits. I also leave a couple of days open (which means NOT planned, and it drives me slightly mad:)) for whatever is in the house and for what we feel like at the time.
So, this is where I invest the time. The actual meal planning and shopping plan takes a few hours all up to make. I like it though, and make quite an elaborate list, but that is not for everyone!
Once the plan is done, I start from the top writing a shopping list of what we need. Then, once that is done, I figure out what is already in the kitchen, so what I don’t need to buy anyway. After that, I put in the rest of the shopping, like milk and bread and fruit and vegetables. I also put down an approximate cost, so I can figure out how much we are spending. If, by the time the list is done, I end up having ‘saved some’ from the $300 budget, I put it on the list as “extra.” So while I am at the shops and maybe find something we could use or maybe something is at a special price, it will come under “extra”. I know, it may seem a little harsh, or confusing, or weird, but I enjoy it, and it works – plus we always have enough food and more. And as I said, we don’t throw out much.
I also go even further and categorise the shopping list. This can obviously make the shopping trip easier and quicker, but it probably takes just as much time for me to list it that way as it does going up and down the isles. I don’t mind though, I love lists, haha!
I usually divide the budget into five ‘parts’. Meat has the biggest part, with a $100 share. Fruit and Veg has a $60 share, and Dairy takes out $40. The Breakfast part gets $30 to play with, and the remaining $70 is for everything else. You might think that since we are eating Pizza and buying chickens separately, that we are ‘cheating’ on the budget, and yes, that does mean that we are kinda cheating a little, but we have just decided on this, so we don’t know how it will play out, whether we will have heaps more food at the end of the fortnight, or maybe we will just eat more?
As you can see, my list is quite thorough, even colour-coordinated for fanciness. I use an actual book instead of a disposable list, as it can make me go back and get inspiration for meals. And see where we can make improvements:) (This is a new thing though, the book might be lost within the next couple of weeks, who knows:))
Do you like meal-planning? Maybe you think I am too rigid? How do you manage meals and everything in your household?