Sunday, August 24, 2008

School has started at our house and returned us to our much needed normal routine. During the summer break we go through the busiest, craziest time of the year at our house. Between all of the kids summer activities (swim team, synchronized swimming, gymnastics, t-ball, annoying each other and destroying the house) and the increased business load we go from being a well-oiled machine to a sputtering mess. We manage to keep up the basics of clean clothes and dishes but regular meal planning always seems to slip through the cracks. Now that summer is over I'm thrilled to be getting back into the old routine.

We actually did start to work on our meal planning before school started as we noticed just how much we were relying on fast food (sadly way too much). Not only is it obviously not good for you it adds up really quickly. In our never-ending quest to save money we decided to get back to eating at home.

Planning ahead is the key to the entire operation. I plan a "Menu" for 8-10 dinner meals. I have tried and true recipes that I incorporate as well as a few new ones for each Menu. I utilize my crock-pot on days when I'm working so I won't come home exhausted and bail on dinner for convenient drive-thru junk.

The other appliance I love that saves time is my steamer. I buy lots of frozen veggies and can put those in the steamer and 20 minutes later have perfect, healthy side dishes. Surprisingly the kids love it too so we're all happy about it (I suspect this is because I've done it their whole little lives). It also does a great job steaming rice as well. I'm on my second steamer as I used my first one so much it eventually died. Although not identical this is very similar and the same brand as my steamer.

Lunches are either leftovers or regular standbys like sandwiches. Sadly the kiddos are doing nothing but increasing their dinner consumption rate which radically depletes any leftover reserves (I'm sure this part of the algebraic equation which ultimately equals the fact that they are outgrowing all of their clothes. ::sigh::). When we're out of leftovers we fall back on good old standbys like sandwiches, salads and pantry raids. We've invented some interesting meals out of the pantry in the past. And there's always a feeling of triumph when we buck up and eat lunch at home instead of forking over $5-$20 on lunch at McDriveThru. During the school year the kids take a packed lunch to school most days.

Breakfasts need to be quick because I'm NOT a morning person. Frozen waffles, cereal, fruit, oatmeal, banana bread, muffins, scrambled eggs are all morning options. I will bake the banana bread and muffins the night before so they'll be ready to go the next morning (again, NOT a morning person. Did I mention I pack their lunches before bed too?).

I rarely buy convenience foods and make every attempt to cook as much as possible from scratch. Not only does it tastes better it is also way cheaper. That being said I confess there are certain items that I do fall back on regularly like pie crust, pre-trimmed chicken breasts and frozen waffles. Some of these things are either cheaper to buy pre-made like the waffles. Others don't cost much more than making them from scratch and save me time so that's a no-brainer. And finally some of them I buy purely to make my life easier and because I'm prone to bouts of self-indulgence.

I'm happy to say that this weekend we ate every single meal at home. Don't get me wrong, I love going out to restaurants as much as the next person but it's a small victory to stay ahead of the game financially by not having to spend a dime all weekend. Friday night I made one of my husbands favorite dinners, Garlic Beef Enchiladas (go ahead, click it it's a link. Make it with some Spanish rice on the side and make your house smell yummy with garlicky goodness). Yesterday morning we had a brunch of scrambled eggs, toast & bacon. Last night we had barbecued burgers, dogs, potato salad. We've munched on leftovers for breakfast and lunch today and will be grilling chicken for dinner tonight.

All of the planning and prep is worth it though. We routinely feed a family of five for $75-$100 a week (and that usually even includes cleaning supplies and toiletries as I do the shopping for everything all at once). It also helps that I have several meals that are very inexpensive to prepare that I rotate through the menu in addition to the more expensive meals.

So there you have it. I challenge everyone to eat at home more. It makes your home smell yummy, saves you money, let's you flex some creative muscle in the kitchen, let's you bond with the kiddos while nourishing their little bodies and also thumb your nose at Big McDriveThru. What's not to like?

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