Works-For-Me-Wednesday: A Breakfast Menu “Routine”

October 27, 2010

Planning a menu can sometimes feel like drudgery. I find that I go through menu-planning phases – from the Mountaintop of Menu-Inspiration to the Valley of Absolutely NO CLUE! What works best for me is a sort of menu “routine.”

My weekly breakfast routine looks something like this:
– Saturday = pancake breakfast (cooked by my loving husband EVERY SINGLE Saturday)
– 3 hot cereal breakfasts
– 1 egg breakfast
– 1 muffin/toast breakfast
– 1 granola/yogurt breakfast

Within this outline, the details can vary, but it gives me a GREAT starting point.

The hot cereal breakfasts consist of some type of hot cereal (Red River, Cream of Wheat, oatmeal) with various toppings. Sometimes I’ll do a raisins and spice version; other times it’ll be a more exotic coconut and dried pineapple, etc. We usually have a glass of milk and a fruit alongside our cereal. It all depends on what is in my pantry and what’s on sale that week!

The egg breakfast has limitless possibilities. A personal favorite is a fried egg on English muffins with tomato slices and a glass of juice. The kids drink milk. I sometimes add a slice of cheese for the family if they’ll need an extra boost that morning. Or, scrambled eggs with all sorts of chopped veggies and basic buttered toast with a glass of juice. Or simply a fried egg with a muffin and a smoothie. Or biscuits and eggs and a fruit salad. Like I said, limitless possibilities.

The muffin/toast breakfast is a quick one. The muffins are prepared ahead of time so the morning of that breakfast, we can just grab one and go. I like to pair this breakfast with a smoothie or a fruit salad and a glass of milk. Very quick and simple is the key for this one. It usually ends up being our Sunday morning breakfast because we have to be out of the house much earlier than usual on Sundays.

The granola/yogurt breakfast is just that – homemade granola and yogurt with fruit. Another quick and simple breakfast.

So with my menu “routine” already in place, planning the breakfasts for each week are a little easier, even when I’m feeling uninspired. The routine is half the battle!

Stay tuned next week for my weekly lunch routine!

Works-For-Me-Wednesday is hosted by Kristen at We Are That Family.


The Necessity Of Forethought

April 16, 2010

I just wanted to insert a little blurb  here about the Necessity Of Forethought when it comes to maintaining a frugal grocery lifestyle.

One of the main reasons I plan my menu with my calendar in front of me is because of the Necessity Of Forethought. Take this weekend for example. My husband is away from home on Sunday from about 7:30AM until about 9:00PM. He will need food. He will need both a packed lunch and a packed supper. He prefers not to take food that needs to be reheated, so leftovers are out. And, it has to be food that will keep all day. This means sandwiches and things like granola bars. So, I have to make sure I have bread on hand, and that I have snacky things like granola bars. This means that I have to bake. BUT, I am away from home all day on Saturday!!! This means that I need to bake before Saturday!

If I didn’t have my calendar in front of me when I planned my menu, I would have been caught off guard and stuck without anything appropriate to pack in my husband’s lunch. The result would have been a trip to the store or he would have had to get food from a restaurant. This would have cut significantly into my food budget of under $300/month! Thus, the Necessity of Forethought. It makes all the difference.

So, not only does it save money, it also saves time and stress. Take beans as another example. In order to keep the budget down, I use only dried beans. This requires a great deal more time than canned beans. It is absolutely essential that I am prepared before a meal requires beans! Once again, the Necessity of Forethought!

When I plan my menu, I use my calendar to help me determine WHAT we’ll need to eat, but also WHEN we’ll need to eat it, and also WHEN I will have time to PREPARE it. In the case of dried beans, if I know I’m making chili on Friday because I’m gone all day and want to have it in the slow cooker, then I need to cook the dried beans BEFORE Friday. So I look at my calendar. If we’ve got appointments on Thursday and I’m running errands, that might not be the best day to do the beans! So, I’ll mark ON MY CALENDAR/To Do List on WEDNESDAY that I have to cook dried beans.

The Necessity of Forethought! It pays off. Really.

*Note: My example of dried beans really isn’t the best one. If you’ve seen my tip on How to Cook Dried Beans, you’ll notice that this is actually something that can be done literally while you are sleeping! But I hope I got the point across anyway.


Using Flyers To Plan Your Menu

March 4, 2010

Using the weekly grocery flyers to plan my menu has been a key to keeping my grocery bill down. After first “taking inventory” of what I already have on hand, the next step is to look at what the sales are that week. For me, I get my weekly flyers twice a week – on Thursdays and on Saturdays. My Sobey’s flyer comes on Thursday and my Superstore flyer comes on Saturday. As I’ve mentioned before, I have found these two stores to be the best bang for my buck. There are rare exceptions, and I’m always scouting for better deals, but for now, this is my method.

Flyers can be tricky. Generally speaking, the items advertised on the front and back pages of the flyer are the best deals. Inside the flyer, there are sometimes other sales and good deals, but the front and back pages are the best. Also, flyers often list items with the price, leading you to believe that it’s on sale, when in fact, it’s the same price as it always is! This is one reason why it’s a good idea to keep track of what you’re spending for your usual items. Some people use a price book for this. I have yet to start mine, but I plan to do that in the near future. You can do a search online for pricebooks and come up with a wealth of information.

Anyway, after perusing the flyers and getting a good idea of what will be on sale when I do my grocery shopping, I plan my menu using as many of the sale items as possible. For example, if canned tuna is on sale for a great deal, you can bet we’ll be having tuna sandwiches and probably at least one other tuna meal that week. Also, if you have enough room in your grocery budget, when you come across a really amazing deal, stock up on the item if it’s something you use regularly.

For Canadians, http://www.flyerland.ca has most of the flyers you would need to plan your grocery shopping wisely. There are all the major grocery store flyers on that website. Make use of them!

For Calgarians, if you live in a community that publishes a monthly newsletter booklet, make sure you look in it for the 10% off Sobey’s coupon! If the book isn’t delivered to your home, check your local library. I noticed that the library nearest my home has all the neighborhood newsletters for my quadrant of the city. This coupon is very valuable particularly on Sobey’s Dollar Days. HEADS UP!!! That is happening THIS WEEKEND till next Friday. This is a WAY better deal than the 10% Tuesday. Often, the 10% Tuesday is a trick – they jack up the prices for the 10% Tuesday. If you WAIT and use your coupon with Dollar Days, not only are the prices great, but you get an EXTRA 10% off.

For example, this week, many of my staple items are on sale at Sobey’s for Dollar Days. There’s canned tuna, canned tomato sauce, canned pineapple, etc. All for $1. With my coupon, I’ll get each item for $0.90. In many cases, this is cheaper than Superstore, but not always.

Another advantage to keeping tabs on the flyers is that you learn the patterns of the sales. I’ve noticed that many of my regular items are on sale in approximately 6-week cycles. This is helpful because I can then buy 6 weeks worth of the item when it’s on sale, if I have the room in my budget, enabling me to never pay full price for that item. It’s also helpful because I can wait for an item if I know it will be on sale in a week or two. If I’m wanting to buy chicken legs and I know they are on sale in two weeks, I won’t plan meals that use chicken legs until the sale week arrives.

Practice using flyers and save!


Step 8: Update Your Inventory

February 3, 2010

At some point shortly after you have gotten your groceries put away, it would be a good idea to update your inventory. This is not necessary. You can always start back at Step 1 next week, and re-evaluate your inventory using your Master Grocery List. However, if you’re a large family, or have a large stock on hand, it’s never a bad thing to keep track of what you have so that you can make use of it in your menu planning.

If you are not the inventory-keeping-type, my next suggestion is to have a piece of paper or a pad of paper specifically for the purpose of your grocery list ON DISPLAY in your kitchen. The MOMENT you realize you’re running low on something, PUT IT ON THE LIST IMMEDIATELY. If you can keep this list on hand, it will make your menu planning/grocery list process easier next week.


Step 5: Plan Your Grocery Shop

February 3, 2010

Plan your grocery shop? Does this step sound a little unnecessary? If you’re a total beginner at this, it might be a little meaningless to you right now. But it’s important to develop this step as a habitual part of your weekly grocery plan. As you learn the different techniques and tricks for saving money and spending less on groceries, you may discover that it is worth shopping at more than one store for your groceries. When you begin to do this, you will need to plan for it in order to make it worth your while and to save you time and energy and fuel.

With your grocery list in hand, decide which items you will purchase at each individual store.

I have three main stores.

Costco is a RARE stop for me, and in fact, I probably won’t renew my membership there. While there are several items that are cheaper to buy at Costco, I don’t think it’s worth my while to renew. And besides, my mom goes there REGULARLY, so if there’s something I really want from there, I can get her to pick it up for me. (I know that’s cheating, but it’s the truth!)

Sobey’s is my favorite regular supermarket store. It has better quality meats and produce than the discount stores, and it’s less expensive (in general) than Safeway or Co-op (the other two main supermarkets around here). I also receive a 10% off coupon for my local Sobey’s once a month. This particular grocery store has a monthly sale week called Dollar Days. During Dollar Days, there are many of my regular items on sale for $1. With my 10% off coupon, I can stock up on these items for $0.90 each! So during those weeks, it’s worth the extra stop for me.

A majority of my grocery shopping is done at Superstore. (Extra Foods and No Frills are basically the same thing, but Superstore is the closest to my home.) This is a discount store, almost like a warehouse store. It’s big, and the store brand (President’s Choice) is excellent quality on most of the products I buy. They also have a lot of no name products, which, naturally, are very inexpensive. If you shop here, remember to bring your own bags because they charge you $0.05 per plastic bag!

So, with my list in hand, I mark my items according to store. If I’m using my Master Grocery List, I will highlight all the Costco stuff in one color, and all the Sobey’s stuff in another. Everything else is assumed to be a Superstore purchase.

Another method is to do this step along with the previous step. Make your grocery list for each store individually.

Just use whichever method works for you. And again, it takes practice to figure out what you like best.


Step 4: Make a Grocery List

February 3, 2010

You can choose to make your grocery list as you are creating your menu plan, or you might want to focus entirely on the menu plan first, and concentrate on the grocery list after the menu plan is complete. Either way works. Just pick what works best for you.

The trick for this step is to make sure you don’t leave anything out. The point of the grocery list is to insure that your home will have everything you will need for the next week in order to feed your family nutritious meals. If you run out of something, you either have to put your creative juices to work and improvise, or you will have to go to the store, which will cost you more money in gas, and probably add unnecessary expense to your grocery budget.

An easy way to make your grocery list is to print of a copy of my Master Grocery List, found on the Printables Page. Over time, you may wish to create your own Master Grocery List using the ingredients that you buy most often. There are also many other versions of lists like this all over the internet. Using a Master Grocery List is easy and saves time because you don’t have to write anything down. You can use it in one of two ways:

1) Based on your menu plan, CROSS OUT the items on the Master Grocery List that you DON’T need. Everything else that is left is your new grocery list, already written out for you. If you use my list, there are little checkboxes that you can use as you’re at the grocery store to mark when you’ve got the item in your cart.

2) Based on your menu plan, use a highlighter to mark the items on the Master Grocery List that you need to buy. Items not marked are not needed.

If the Master Grocery List idea overwhelms you, feel free to just write out your list on any old scrap of paper. This is the logical choice particularly when your list is very short! However, if your list is longer, I highly recommend sorting your list according to the layout of your grocery store as much as possible. List dairy items together, produce all together, frozen foods together, etc. This will save you time in the store and help you to stay focused and not add any extras to your cart!

As this whole process becomes second nature to you, you will learn to incorporate the weekly grocery flyers into your meal planning and grocery lists as well. You will slowly start to develop a stock while sticking with a very low budget which will enable you to keep your weekly grocery shopping list a lot shorter. Don’t worry about this for now. Just be aware that it’s something to work toward.

With your grocery list in hand, you’re ready to move on to Step 5!


Step 3: Plan A Menu

February 3, 2010

The internet has a plethora of menu-planning resources. There are many, many methods of doing this, and with a little bit of research, you can come up with many options and styles of menu-planning. Some plan a menu for a whole month. Some plan for a week or two. Some plan only suppers. Others plan three meals a day plus snacks. Some plan only main dishes. Others plan EVERYTHING, including condiments! With time and practice, you will eventually fall into your own style and method. Be patient with this process and don’t panic if something doesn’t work for you.

My personal recommendation is to start by planning only one week. HOWEVER, plan all three meals each day of the week, and if you’re ambitious, plan your snacks, too.

There are two ways of doing this:

1) Use the menu planner I have provided on the Printables Page, or choose one from the Menu Planners list on the Links Page. Plan your meals with the specific days in mind. You will end up with a little weekly “calendar” type menu plan.

or

2) Make a list of 7 breakfasts, a list of 7 lunches, a list of 7 suppers, and a list of however many snacks you think you’ll need.

Usually, I do a combination of these two. I use the calendar-type menu planners, but I list snacks separately instead of “scheduling” them. And I don’t stick to the assigned day for the meals. If I have Minestrone Soup planned for lunch on Monday, but for whatever reason we don’t want it then, I shift it around to another day. I switch it up. I allow my menu plan to be flexible.

Once you have your Menu Planner sheet ready, write down any meals you came up with during Step 2. Then, take a look at how many blanks you have left, and plan accordingly.

I find it helpful to write the dates on my Menu Planner. This reminds me of appointments or plans we might have scheduled on specific days. If we are going to be out all of Friday afternoon, I will try to plan a crock-pot meal or reheat a soup or leftovers for supper that night. If I know that we have to leave the house really early on Tuesday morning, I will be sure to plan a quick and easy breakfast that morning (yogurt and granola, for example). This is most important if you’re using the calendar-style menu planner. But even if you are using the list style, it’s helpful to be aware of the need for three crock pot meals this week, or two on-the-run breakfasts, for example.

For now, plan your meals based on what you’re familiar with, what ingredients you have on hand, foods your family likes and is used to, etc. As we continue on with this process, more recipes and menu plans will be added to this site to inspire you, and you will come up with your own faithful plans and recipes.

Practice makes this step easy. It can even be fun. Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed. This takes time, but it’s well worth it!