or I print new recipes off the internet that I would like to try.
I usually reformat recipes into a word file---so that I can include a photo and make sure the instructions stay to one page only. This way they fit nicely into the plastic protector sheets I have in my recipe notebook.
It really doesn't take long to cut and paste and then I have a computer file of my recipes as well. Lately, I've really liked getting new recipes from Budgetbytes.com. Well worth trying if you haven't already!
Once I've chosen 7 dinner meals for the week, I arrange those recipes to be together in my cookbook so that I don't have to look for them during the week.
If I have older recipes I'm using---some even from the days of recipe boxes---I slide those into the plastic protectors, too!
Then I sit down and make a grocery list from all the recipes. I do this right in the kitchen, so that I can see what supplies I have and don't have. This week's list looked like this:
At the top right, I list all the dinner meals I'm planning for. This helps me to remember what I'm making so that I can make changes when I'm at the store if I can't find a certain item or if it is too expensive.
At the beginning of the list, I put the basic staples for the week. Cereal, milk, bread, fruit. I buy those every single week.
Next, I go through each and every recipe and write down what I will need to buy for it. I don't try to group the list into any order other than straight out of the recipe ingredients. It makes for a little bit of walking back and forth in the store, but I know I don't miss anything from a recipe this way.
Last on the list is extra staples we are getting low on. They aren't necessarily needed this week, but are things I like to have on hand regularly. If I go over budget, they can wait until another week.
When I'm done, I go down the list and estimate how much money each item may cost. I try to get a general sense of how much I'm spending. If it is way over budget, I will have to revise my menu plan for the week. This week, my guess was about $54.50. I was okay with that.
Now it's time to GO SHOPPING!
With my list in hand and a pen to mark things off, I start down the list. Having a list really helps me to have blinders on as I walk past all the lovely displays of foodstuffs I don't really need or want.
As I find and check things off, I write down exactly what they cost. Or I estimate the cost if it is produce sold by the pound. This way I can get a feel for whether I am way over or under budget. I can see that on one item it was over, but on another it was under. It helps me to decide if I will buy generic or name brand. It helps me keep with the budget.
Before I check out, I add up the new list and make sure I'm still close to budget. (I have a calculator on my phone, so this is easy.) This time the tally ran up $49.66. I decided not to get the shredded coconut this week because I don't really have plans for it and I wanted to stay in or very close to my $50 budget.
Sure enough, I was almost perfect. With tax, the bill came to $50.85. That is close enough for me.
Bread was on sale super cheap, so I bought two loaves and put one in the freezer for next week. $1.25/loaf plus a .55 cent coupon that was on each bag brought the cost down to $0.70 a loaf! And it's good bread!
Pizza sauce was awfully expensive. Most jars were over $3 and I had only budgeted $2. I could have made my own from scratch, but didn't want to take a chance of having a really busy night and not wanting to do it. So I chose the very cheapest brand in a can at $1.49. I can doctor it up a bit with my own spices if I have time and want to.
Mayonnaise was all expensive. Nothing but the name brand was on sale. But since the name brand was only 20 cents more than the cheapest off brand, I chose to get it. I really love the flavor of Best Foods mayonnaise and it was worth it to me.
Stew meat was over $5/lb which was ridiculous, so I bought a lovely beef top sirloin steak at $3.49/lb that I will gladly chop into stew meat for myself. And it will be better meat! At $2.93, it also saved me $2 off my budgeted amount.
All the shredded Parmesan cheese in the store was over my budget of $3. I was happy to find a small block of it for $2.59. I don't mind shredding it myself and think that extra-freshly shredded cheese will be perfect in the fettuccine and pesto planned for this week!
Green peppers were one of the extra staples I had on the bottom of my list.
It took me exactly 3 minutes (I timed myself!) to chop the green peppers I bought and put them in a freezer bag. Now I will have these for future weeks without any worry.
Sadly, I was over budget on fresh basil, red onions, mayonnaise, fresh parsley, and cilantro. But coming under budget on other things balanced it out. And keeping track this way helps me to better estimate for the future.
But what about breakfast and lunch?
I don't make plans for breakfast or lunch because we mostly eat cereal and fruit for breakfast or make pancakes/waffles/etc. from pantry staples. My husband and I eat leftovers from dinner for lunches (I always pack his right after dinner.) For my daughter, we have fruit and sandwich-making supplies always on hand or she comes home from high school (it's an open campus) and joins me for leftovers lunch.
Things are not so complicated as when we used to have children in elementary school that needed a packed lunch and all the special little snack foods to fit in.
This is how we are keeping a food budget! What works for you?