Like many others, I love Trader Joes. In fact, when one opened near (okay 45mins away from) me, I was stoked. Except, my first grocery trip was really expensive compared to what we’d usually spend. Like….I spent double and came away with what felt like […]
Can I be honest about something? I don’t think it’s a secret that we eat about 80% Whole30, 90% Paleo, and the other 10% “Food Freedom”/Whatever We Feel Like. Well a couple of those items that fall into the 10% are pizza and waffles. Here […]
I’ve been “meal prepping” for years. Only recently did my husband and I realize how ineffecient we were actually being with our meal prepping and our meal plan. Sure, we could have several meals cooked up, but by the time we’d get to eating those meals, they’d be soggy. OR, we would pick out a few yummy recipes and be out of food by Wednesday night. Sound familiar? Well keep reading, because we’ve gotten our meal planning, shopping, and prepping down to a science. Our family of three eats Whole30/Paleo for about $100 a week. Sometimes it’s slightly more, sometimes it’s slightly less. Along the way, I’ll also give you some money saving tips too! Oh, and before you go, “Rachel, I live in a high cost of living area, there is NO WAY my budget will be $100 for a whole week.” I hear you! My dad is from Hawaii and I was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. I get it. Not all areas are created equal, but the good news is that this game plan works in any location and will help lower any budget. In fact, if you do live in a high-cost area, consider tracking the difference my meal plan/shop/”prep” makes and let me know how it works! I’d be willing to bet you will also save a lot. Just ignore my”$100″ and follow the methods below.
Step 1: How to Meal Plan
Once you get into the “groove” of this, planning meals becomes more reliant on compromising 1. What you want vs. 2. What you have available in your freezer/pantry. I don’t care how much storage space you have; it’s important to rotate these items through to keep your budget down and avoid anything expiring.
For now, let’s pretend you have nothing in your fridge, freezer, or pantry. This is unlikely, but work with me. We try to balance a few things.
Plan something that just sounds GOOD
We eat mostly Whole30 compliant meals, but we live our “Food Freedom” by making sure to include a tasty sounding meal. For example, this week I wanted meatball subs (on actual buns) and hubby wanted rice with our fajitas. So we will compromise on things like that. Obviously this would be different on a round of Whole30, but for our normal lives we’ll incorporate these items. We just plan for them to make sure it isn’t something at every meal.
Our meal planning lists don’t look the prettiest. Usually we scratch things out, and add arrows where we decide to switch meal days. The biggest thing we were bad at before was “stacking proteins.” To us, this is where we would accidentally prep a week of chicken straight, followed by all red meat. This led us into burnout and “I’m SO SICK of ______.” So now, we make sure to have a good mixture. Even this week (pictured below) we realized we were planning to eat poultry four days in a row this week. SO we reworked it.
Planning Around Sales/Leftovers
This leads into how we shop, but I always check my local stores for any really good sales. This is especially important for proteins or unique veggies. Above I said to pretend there’s nothing in the house, but typically this also feeds directly into how we’d meal plan. For example, if there were leftover mashed potatoes, I would repurpose them into mashed potato cakes (click here for the recipe) and work that into our breakfasts. If using leftovers, make sure to incorporate those early on in the week and balance your proteins accordingly.
Don’t Forget Sides
We were the WORST at this a year ago. We’d have tasty entrees ready to go, but nothing else on the side! So make sure to have some easy veggies planned and other sides on your menu too. Your meal plan should always include the full meals (or at least say “veggie” or “grain” as a placeholder)
Plan as a Family/Couple
Our toddler doesn’t get input, but hubby and I work through the meal plan together. That is how we incorporate the items we want and agree on our meals. In the past I created the “perfect meal plan” for the week, only for my husband to go, “I don’t want that,” once it was cooked up. This led to some major frustration and the occassional unplanned pizza night. So then, I’d say, “Fine. YOU plan and cook.” And he would! But then the opposite would happen. We’d eat exactly what he wanted and I’d want nothing to do with it by lunchtime Wednesday.
Eventually, we realized that it just might be a good idea to include each other in the planning process. Shockingly, it worked. Now, if one of us “doesn’t” want something, we have to justify why we’d want to go against our meal plan AND our budget plan. Because wasting food is wasting money.
Plan any Treats/Extras
This has been a bigger thing lately because of my pregnancy, but I’ve been wanting paleo treats lately. No problem, we just plan for them! We also include an extra “fruit/vegetable” to pick up but leave it open ended. I.e. the list literally says “fruit” and “extra vegetable”
Write Down What You Need as You Go
Once your plan is set, make sure you write down everything that you need to make it happen! This leads into how we shop..
Step 2: Shopping for Meals On a BUDGET.
Keep your Shopping list electronic
As we work through our meal planning, we will create our shopping list together. We use the Google Keep app. It’s free and this isn’t a sponsored recommendation. My hubby told me about it, and it’s awesome. Before we used Google docs, but Keep allows you to check off items as you go. That way, you can click off items as you shop! It’s actually helped a lot with the next item. It also allows anyone invovled in the meal planning process to add to it as well (assuming you’ve shared the list with them in the app, which I highly recommend!)
Prioritize Budget Friendly Stores
Not all stores are created equal. That probably doesn’t surprise anyone, but it’s amazing to see how our budget transformed when we “prioritized” our shopping. You see, once you have your shopping list, you can make sure to shop the cheapest place first. I admit part of this is based on geography. I’m able to shop at Aldi, Walmart, Sam’s Club, a regional store, and a local health food store all within a few minutes of each other. It’s about a 30minute drive from our house so it makes the shopping list extremely important. What has saved us a TON of money is shopping stores in this exact order:
- Walmart/Sam’s Club
- Meijer (Regional grocery store with tons of produce/meat options)
- Local Health Food Store/Trader Joe’s/Ordering Online
Again, you might be thinking, “Rachel, I don’t have an Aldi, there is no hope for me!” or “I live in a remote area, this isn’t even possible” and that’s just not true. Find out which stores are the cheap ones and get there first. Figuring that out may take an adjustment period, but you will get into a groove. Where I went to school there was only Walmart and a few (like 3 total) grocery stores. That meant I had to do almost all shopping at Walmart, and fill in any unique Whole30 items online because they weren’t available in person. Things like coconut aminos I had to buy on Amazon. That’s okay! Make what is cheapest in YOUR area YOUR main shopping place and work from there. For some, Trader Joe’s might actually be the cheapest, but for us it’s somewhere I try to avoid because we’ll overspend. Maybe Thrive Market would be a good option if you are really remote, but I’ll be honest we have not used that service so I’m not comfortable recommending it. I just know it exists.
Shop ONCE Whenever Possible
This is why you need to write down every ingredient needed during the meal planning process. It also makes life a lot easier when you have to get to multiple stores. Plan for one large “shop” and get everything you need. Now, I get it. Things happen, and you may need to “fill in,” but the more you can avoid that, the better you will stick to your budget.
Get the “Extras” On Sale
I mentioned above that we always plan for an extra “fruit” and “vegetable” or “side.” These will 99.9% of the time come from whatever is on sale at Aldi (or your cheapest equivalent store). We intentionally leave this open ended for the sales.
Buy Protein in Bulk
This isn’t realistic for everyone, but we had a “sinking fund” for meat in the past. Last year, we bought 1/4 cow from a local farmer and had it processed at a local butcher. We are just finishing up the last bits of this cow a little less than a year later. Everything from ground beef to porterhouse steaks cost us under $3/lb. Granted, this was a large upfront cost and required our chest freezer (purchased secondhand for $20) but has saved us immensely in the long run. The meat is also local and fresh, which is a huge draw too. If you have that option available, look into it! If not, or for other protein types, the next tip is mroe helpful.
Stock Up When There are Deep Discounts on Protein
I always, always check for heavily discounted meats when I do our shop. This week, the “extra” item I came home with was a large pack of bone-in chicken drumsticks. I scored these for $0.69 a lb! While they won’t be used this week, they will be in our chest freezer for future meal planning. I always check the “manager’s special” stickers where the meat must be used or frozen in a short time-frame. Again, if you can allow a few extra dollars in that week’s shop, then you will ultimately save money in the long run. I have bought $35 hams for $5, Ground chicken for $1/lb, and other great deals.
Step 3: Meal “Prepping”
You might have noticed there are quotes around the word “prepping.” That’s because we don’t fully meal prep anymore. We used to fully make EVERY meal for the week on Sundays, but that left us burnt out. Both hubby and I work full time. I’m also a full time online grad student, and we have a toddler and a puppy. We NEED our weekends to keep sane (side note, I even try to do our “shop” on Friday after work to further give us the weekend).
Chop, Chop, Chop!
We make sure to chop/slice/dice/mince everything that needs to be done for the upcoming week. Recently, I bought a mini chopper from Aldi for $8 and it has been a game changer. I can get onions done in a fraction of the time as before. Also, remember how I said we like our weekends? Usually, we will do this portion of meal prepping while our toddler is napping or contained (coloring in her high chair, eating a snack etc.). Often Netflix is involved.
Make ALL of Your Breakfasts
Typically, breakfast is our one redundant meal. Whether if it’s a frittata, or sausages and greens etc, we typically eat the same breakfast all five days and fully meal prep these over the weekend. We just make sure to change these up from week to week. This week, I bought two packs of Sam’s Choice Chicken and Apple Sausages, sliced them in half and seared in a cast iron skillet. It’s a Walmart/Sam’s Club version of the Aidell’s Chicken and Apple Sausages. We’ll have these over greens and with a side of olives, so the prep was super easy this week.
If we are going to make a meatball or meal that needs meat or veggies marinated, we’ll get that going today too. This means any defrosting, slicing, and seasoning. It doesn’t take much effort, but goes a long way in the flavoring of the dishes and the ease of cooking the night of.
Have the Sides/”Snacks”/Treats Ready
Often, I’ll roast up veggie sides this day that will reheat fairly well. Things like
- Roasted veggies (carrots/peppers/brussel sprouts)
- Hard Boiled Eggs
- Cooking Rice
- Sauces (Mayo/Ranch etc)
Pre-Roast or Casserole Prep
This is very dependent on the Meal Plan you’ve created for the week, but if yout need a roasted vegetable (I’m thinking things like spaghetti squash based dishes) then we’ll prep that. OR if we make a casserole, we’ll try to get the casserole prepped or at least the components ready to go. The whole point is to limit the work done throughout the week. Dishes used to be a major concern, but now that we have our dishwasher this isn’t as big of a deal, I’ll just run it throughout the week (almost daily with all of our glass meal prep containers)
I hope that gave you some tips on how to meal plan, shop, and meal prep to make life a bit easier, cheaper, and healthier! Let me know what your #1 tip is when it comes to planning/shopping/prepping in the comments. Thanks!
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This week I had a budget fail that really stuck out to me as a “stupid tax,” but then also a budget win that almost made up for it just a day later! These were both pretty unique things so I figured it might be an entertaining read. Because I want to end on a positive note, let’s start with the budget fail….
Budget Fail: Bacon
I have a really efficient habit that has worked really well for me until yesterday. Occasionally on my lunch breaks, I’ll do some grocery shopping. I work almost directly next to an Aldi, so if I’ve got my list I’m not even pressed for time. This is my working mom hack: using my lunch break to do the shopping means I can get home sooner! In wintertime this is even easier. I just leave everything in my car because it’s naturally in a freezer this way. In August though? Well…I think you may see where this budget fail is going.
I had a really short list today of what I’d be purchasing. In fact, I only had one refrigerated item. Bacon. My husband needed it for a recipe he was making that night. While at Aldi I picked up everything I needed. I put the bacon and some cherries I planned to eat at work on the front seat of my car. This was so I wouldn’t forget it. About two hours later, I’m sitting at my desk munching on cherries when I think, “wait, did I grab that bacon?!” So I run to the fridge and it’s not there. I practically run to my car and sure enough there was the bacon. I grab it out and the package is literally hot. So I bring it inside, and straight into the trash it goes. Talk about wasteful. I was pretty bummed about that, and I may need to rethink my strategy of lunchtime shopping if cold items are involved.
Budget Win: the Headshot
This actually started off being a potential budget fail. I got into work yesterday morning and in my inbox was an email from the VP at our company. He sent it late in the evening the day before and apologized for the late notice. It was a notice that we were having professional headshots taken on Thursday and that we were required a dress code of a white or oxford blue button up. No exceptions. Mind you, I received this the day before our headshots! I didn’t own either required color button up mentioned which meant last minute shopping. At lunch, I decided to head to a thrift store just to check. I found a lovely white button down in perfect condition. I looked at the tag after trying it on and realized it was Brooks Brothers! And it only cost me $2.99! Just a quick reference, Brooks Brothers has a very similar top on their website currently listed for $98!! So I am now calling this annoyance a big budget win! A white button down is a classic piece that will be good to have for my professional future. It’s a super high quality shirt, and I’m getting a free professional headshot courtesy of my company. Yay!
What are YOUR budget wins? Any stupid taxes? Let me know!
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So if you are familiar with my website, you know that I was able to score the Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Wiz for $1.50 at Ulta a while ago. Yea. AWESOME DEAL. And I was so excited to try this because it is such a cult favorite product. I found the $21 price tag to be too much, but for that price I was very ready to try. In fact, I actually ended up buying two, and paid a total of $12 for both. Super score! I waited about two weeks to open and try because I was still using up my favorite drugstore brow product (more on that later) and I don’t believe in having more than one product open if possible.
So, I tried it. My first impression was that I did not like it. I tried to use it several more times, but that opinion did not change. Here is the breakdown of my brow wiz review…
First of all, I don’t think the girl at Ulta color matched me correctly (she was being overrun with excited women trying to get their hands on this deal so I don’t blame her too much!). I bought the shade “dark brown,” but it has too much warm red undertones. I thought at first it was because I had applied too much, but continued use had shown me that nope. It just isn’t a good match. My brows tend to look patchy with reddish bits.
The texture of the brow wiz is also less creamy than I would like. I could understand how some people would enjoy this, but I like the product to be able to move easily and then set. I’m also like this with mascara. The more wet the mascara, the better it works with my eyelashes. I think this is similar for my brows as well. This product as not creamy enough to work for me, so I had to press harder to get any product. I also noticed that the brow wiz tended to wipe away easier, despite being less creamy.
To end on a positive note, the packaging was much nicer than other brow products I’ve used, and the spoolie was very nice and sturdy. I also liked that the product came out in a very fine tip (though there are drugstore products that do so too!)
Overall Brow Wiz Review
All in all, I decided to actually return my unopened Brow Wiz. In fact, Ulta even let me return the partially used one (with about half gone!), which I’m grateful for. I was able to get some items I actually ran out of.
Trust me, I never thought I would dislike the product enough to return, but I just don’t see how it is worth $21….my one underlying suspicion is that Ulta had an overwhelming amount of product and put it on the 21 Day Sale to move the product out of inventory/storage? It could explain why the product didn’t seem creamy etc. I just find it hard to understand that I found this product so “meh” when everyone else loves it.
Did YOU notice a quality difference with the Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Wiz from the Ulta 21 Days of Beauty?
Also, save your money….my next post will be about my favorite drugstore brow product. It totally blows this out of the water for less than 1/3 of the price. Ultimately, I’m not mad I didn’t like this, becuase I’m not even remotely tempted to but. Its a budget beauty win!
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