Tag Archives: grocery shopping

A fun dinner menu for your family’s meal planning

Every week, we take the guesswork out of dinner planning by putting together a menu for the entire week. I’m lucky to have married a man who cooks, so he and I switch off weeks for cooking. On Saturdays, he or I will create the dinner plan for the week, creating our shopping list from that menu plan.

Btw, I talk a lot about time saving tips like meal planning in my book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul, a guide to organizing your full-time life to make room for your craft. I even include a 30-day meal guide and coordinating shopping list! Find out more about it here.

Back to the meal plan…. Usually we just jot it down on binder paper and pin it to the refrigerator. The kids appreciate knowing what we’re eating each day (although, sometimes it dictates whether they’ll be home for dinner or not), and we never stand in front of the refrigerator feeling lost because the plan is already created.

Lately, though, I’ve been playing around with creative menus, putting together fun templates through Word as if I was creating an actual restaurant menu. Here’s the latest:



We usually have the more involved meals on the weekends (though tonight I’m going out, so the rest of the family gets pizza). During the week, I make meals that take very little prep time and are 30 minutes or less to make. By midweek, we generally have a lot of leftovers, so I always incorporate a make-your-own meal night (plus, the teens really should make their own food at least once a week). And Fridays we either go out or have breakfast, because by the end of the week, I’m so over cooking.

This template I used isn’t anything fancy. I just took an already created Word template for a menu, but tweaked the background and the wording.

Would you like to download it for yourself? CLICK HERE for a word doc you can easily edit.

P.S. The photo I have above is not on this week’s menu, but one you may want to try. It’s Honey Ginger Soy Chicken from the Mom 100 Cookbook. Find the recipe here, along with information on the great cookbook it came from.

What are your family’s favorite dinner ideas?

Grocery Shopping on a Budget

There is a steadfast rule when it comes to grocery shopping. Never go when you are hungry. I remembered this rule as my stomach growled on the way into the grocery store parking lot. When you are hungry, it is so easy to succumb to the smells and sights of really good food that are whispering to you, “Buy me, you know you want me. Don’t worry that I am 5,000 calories per bite and cost twice as much as I should. I will love you more than anything else in this world.” My problem is that I was going grocery shopping because I had no food in the house. My son had made that abundantly clear to his teacher earlier today when the teacher asked him why he was spacing out in class.

“I didn’t really have a good lunch today,” he told him.

“Well, you might want to think about packing a bigger lunch for school,” the teacher told him.

“I couldn’t,” my son said matter-of-factly. “We have no food in the house.”

The teacher laughed and said, “Then you should get yourself over to a shelter and get some food.” He turned to me. “Isn’t it funny how kids can be so dramatic?”

I smiled weakly, still recovering from the teacher’s joke. I had just paid out a couple of unexpected bills that left my checking account in a precarious position, and any check I wrote today was going against a paycheck I hadn’t received yet. And the food situation in our house was at the bare ends since I had stretched it for as long as I could, which is why I was going to the store on an empty stomach.

You could say the economy is affecting this household.

I was talking with a woman the other day at a friend’s birthday party. She was confiding that she had just had her car worked on, and the work was so expensive that she asked the mechanic if she could break the payment into installments, complete with a post-dated check. The mechanic graciously complied. But when the woman came home and told her husband, he was mortified. How could she let an outsider know that they were having money troubles?

Thing is, everyone is having money troubles these days. Prices are not getting any lower, people are losing their jobs or taking pay cuts, times are tight. I told her this, that money issues are nothing anyone should be ashamed of in this day and age. Talk to anyone, and you’ll find someone with a similar story to share.

Luckily, having never known the luxury of being rich or well off as an adult, I have a few tricks up my sleeve for saving a buck. And grocery shopping, the biggest necessity in any household, is where I try to save the most. I rarely buy things for full price, and will even buy the generic. Generic coffee filters, for example, filters coffee just as well as Melita. Western Family yogurt tastes just as good as Yoplait. Same with cereals for the kids, or household cleaning products. Sure, there are some brands I love too much to go generic. I do love my Clover milk. But for most things, generic brands are a great way to cut the bill in half.

The other trick in grocery shopping is to never go shopping when you aren’t armed with a list. I don’t care if you create the list outside in your car before you go in. Just make sure that you have your plan of attack ready before you even cross the threshold. Grocery stores love impulse shoppers. They thrive on them. That is why all the snacks and knick-knacks are at the front of the store and lining every aisle. YOU DO NOT NEED THOSE ITEMS. The best way to create a list is to sit down with your cookbook and plan out your meals for the week. Create your shopping list as you go. Pay attention to the ads in the paper so that you informed about what’s on sale.  Clip coupons.  Be sure to add the items, like toothpaste and toilet paper, which you are running low on. And once inside the store, do your best not to defer from that list. Little secret, you will not only save yourself money, you will save yourself calories as well. If you need a little help in deciding what it is your household needs, there are sites, such as www.grocerylists.com, that allow you to go through it item by item, and then print it out for your convenience.

Buying in bulk? Sometimes that’s a good idea, especially if it’s something that you use a lot of.  But check the price.  It may seem like you are saving money by buying the bigger package.  But the smaller packages sometimes do cost less.  We found that out today when we went to buy a 10-pack of crackers, and discovered that two 5-pack of crackers cost $2 less.

I made it out of the store alive, my receipt showing a number that was hardly scary. And the kids promptly made a mess of the kitchen as they got into all the goodies I had just bought. Times are tight in this single mother home, but we’re fortunate that with a few amendments, we can continue to put food on our table.


While we’re on the subject of grocery stores, don’t forget about the event tomorrow night at the Rialto – the documentary for “Ready, Set, Bag!” This event benefits the Redwood Empire Food Bank, an organization that has excelled in feeding the county’s poor, all with the help of volunteers and from the public’s donations. If you want to learn more about this event, read the blog I posted yesterday.

Busy Day Dinners

recipesBecause school is in, during the next few months there will be plenty of blogs and forum topics by me about the lack of time available. I know I am not alone in this boat, so I have been trying to share as many time-saving tips that I have. And the one area that takes a beating because time is so scarce is dinner time.

It is tempting to skip a nutritious dinner on busy nights in favor of a high-fat quick choice like McDonalds or Taco Bell. Or maybe you have a cabinet or freezer full of processed food like Macaroni & Cheese or TV dinners that you can make in 5 minutes flat. Yes, the kids love it and will eat all of it. Yes, it really is quick to make. Yes, that is your derriere getting larger, your kids getting chunkier and slower, and your wallet getting slimmer. But it really isn’t that hard to get everything done in your schedule AND sit as a family over healthy, home-cooked dinner.

The most important rule when it comes to any meal is making a weekly menu. This heads off the annoying “What’s for Dinner” question. But it also allows you to create a shopping list while you are planning your meals. As I write out my menu, I also write out the ingredients I will need on a separate piece of paper that will become my shopping list. I cannot tell you how important it is to make your weekly menu BEFORE you go shopping, or even how important it is to go with a list. Just those two tips alone will save you lots of calories and money that is wasted on impulse shopping.

Here is an example of a weekly menu, something that my family would most likely have throughout the week. Notice that some days are dedicated to leftovers. It is always a good idea to make more than you need, and to get your family used to eating leftovers. I make sure to have a container of freshly washed, cut up lettuce to make a quick salad to add to most meals. Also, we do most of our more involved meals on the weekends, and save crockpot cooking and easier dinners for the weekdays when we are busier. Finally, we eat a LOT of chicken and a bit of fish. It’s healthier than other meats, and our household enjoys chicken and fish much more than red meat.

Crockpot BBQ Chicken

Chicken Roll-ups (using leftover BBQ Chicken, wrapped in a tortilla)
Zucchini and bell pepper stir-fry (to add to the roll-ups)
Shredded cheese, salsa, and NF yogurt (instead of sour cream)

BLT’s (bacon, tomato, mozzarella, basil, lettuce and mayo on whole wheat bread)*
*I don’t generally eat bread in the evening, so I actually use lettuce leaves and just make wraps out of this. It tastes incredible, and is extremely easy on the stomach

“Wine Country Meal”* (the kids nicknamed this one. It’s when we make a smorgasbord of foods that don’t need cooking, and arrange them in a special way. We will usually drink sparkling apple cider in wine glasses with it, and may even have lit candles to create ambience)
*This meal will be Caprese (leftover mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil with drizzled balsamic), grapes and apples, and crackers with cheese and turkey lunchmeat, or a tuna salad to spread on the crackers.

Rotini Pasta

Crockpot Tortilla Soup
(more on the Crockpot below)

Crockpot Tortilla Soup leftovers
Buttermilk Biscuits

When I make my menu, I try to use a lot of the items I already have in my house so I don’t have to do a huge shopping trip. And I try to buy in bulk those items that I use consistently: tomato sauce, garlic, pasta, etc. We generally go grocery shopping once a week, and our weekly total is $75 – $100. This not only includes dinner items, but also items for all of our lunches and healthy breakfasts, and necessary household items like TP or toothpaste. When you think about how much it costs to eat dinner out, and then multiply that by 7, you can see how tremendous the savings are!

I can’t end this without giving major props to the best invention ever made. Every busy household will agree with me, it’s all about the Crockpot. I love my Crockpot. I still don’t feel like I use it nearly enough. But when I do, I seriously question why I even put it away. It is way too easy to prep your meal in the morning, or even the night before, and come home in the evening to a home that smells wonderful and a home-cooked meal waiting to be served. Honestly, I don’t know how I handled sports and school before the Crockpot. There are so many quick and healthy recipes that can be made in the slow cooker. And with a little bit of extra planning, you can actually be free from cooking meals in the evening and enjoy sitting as a family around the dinner table at a decent hour.

The best website I have come across for slow-cooking is “A Year of Slow Cooking”, by Stephanie O’Dea. She blogged for a whole year, a recipe per day. Her blog is filled with so many great ideas, from Tortilla Soup, to soap, to Christmas ornaments, to BBQ pulled pork. I own several great Crockpot recipe books. But most of my recipes come from her site. She even has a book: Make It Fast, Cook It Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow Cooking, coming out next month.

I hope this helped a little bit. Do you have some tips for busy households? How about some great dinner recipes? Leave a comment or mosey on over to the SantaRosaMom forums and leave your two cents!