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Last month, the BF and I found ourselves frequently “treating” ourselves to a dinner out. It was a rough month for our budget. Our spending had gotten a little out of hand, and it was time to check back into reality and our goals. Since we made the decision to live frugally, one of our goals was to eat out less and cook meals at home more.
In theory, the best way to kick your eating out habit would be to slowly cut back on the number of meals out and instead add a few more meals at home. Guess what we did? Not that! Instead, our overambitious selves ran straight to the grocery store, with our grocery list in hand, and piled up our cart with an entire week’s worth of food. Needless to say, we threw out a lot of food that week. Sometimes, we still do. This is a bad for your budget and wasteful.
One of the biggest game changers in our food budget, was using up what we already had. Instead of planning a completely new meal plan each week, I first evaluate what is left in our fridge, pantry, and freezer to make a list of everything that’s left. Using this list, I start putting together meals using ingredients I already have.
By adding this step into your meal planning routine, you will not only save money on your grocery budget, but less food will go to waste! Putting this system into place will ensure that you are no longer letting ANYTHING go bad because it was forgotten, and you are not buying ingredients you already have.
Let’s get started!
Write it down
I needed a place where I can write down all of my food products to stay organized. I’ve tried writing down ingredients on a sheet of paper, on my computer, and even on the back of a sales flyer to keep track of what food was in my kitchen at any given time. I kept finding myself losing the list, or not updating it often enough. Most checklists out there only cover your fridge and pantry, so I created my own.
If you want to get even more organized, be sure to check out Creative Savings to get a copy of her wonderful Spice Inventory Printable!
Listing every item in your home takes some time, especially if you are like me and keep a ginormous stockpile of everything. When I fill out my inventory list, I put EVERY item down, and update this list every one to two weeks. Don’t feel like you need to do that to reap the benefits of this worksheet! As long as you are crossing off items you’ve used, and adding items you’ve purchased to the list, you’ll be in good shape.
You can also use this worksheet by only writing in key ingredients such as pasta, bread, energy bars, etc. I like to take it a step further by also adding in how many of each item I have. For example, instead of just writing Pop-Tarts, I will write down how many there are, and what flavor.
Throw out food that has gone bad
Making my inventory sometimes turns into a deep cleaning session in my fridge and freezer. As you begin to make your list, you will probably find a few things that are expired or have gone bad. Throw them out now! Note any foods that are near their expiration date and make sure to use them first.
Make your list
Now that you know what food you already have, it’s time to make your list! After you’ve decided what meals you will be making, add any other ingredients you need to your shopping list. While doing your inventory, you might realize that you are running low on certain items. Only write them down if you know you can use them before they expire. While your list is handy, now is a good time to jot down those ingredients so you’ll be ready for your next grocery run.
By taking 20-30 minutes to look in my pantry and write down what I had, I was able to make almost an ENTIRE week’s worth of meals! Here is what I was able to create using ingredients from my home:
- Ground beef, beefless ground, mexican cheese blend, taco shells, tortilla chips, salsa = Tacos with chips and salsa
- Bacon, eggs, pancake mix, syrup = Breakfast for dinner
- Pasta noodles, marinara sauce, head of lettuce, loaf of french bread = Spaghetti with salad and bread
- Frozen Pizza
By using ingredients that I already had on hand, I was able to make four meals without a single trip to the grocery store! Anytime I am meal planning, I start with this method.