I have taken a couple of years off from homeschooling due to some health issues and now I am back. But now I have 4 children ages 11, 6, 4, and 2. Not only are my littles, well- little…but they are high energy children which means my day is full of beautiful, energetic chaos. In order to keep up this summer I basically frequented the local Carl’s Jr and Little Caesar’s pizza way too many times in a week. My health and my pocket book were suffering. With Fall around the corner, new and exciting ways to spend my money were popping up everywhere! New music classes, co-ops, curriculum, bonus material and birthdays (all but one of my kids have a birthday from Sept 15-Oct 13). Plus I really wanted to lose some of this weight I gained in the last couple of years. Writing everything down is so much easier now that I have a plan. Half the work is already done. But I must warn you, it took me a few days to get all of it organized. But it was so worth it!
So I guess the first thing is to make sure you have room for 3 months worth of food. If not, then one month at a time works too! I have a deep freezer and large cold storage room that works great for me. But I still had to make room for things in my pantry. I put everything I don’t use regularly into the cold storage or on the high shelf in the pantry. Everything I use regularly went right where I could reach quick and easy. I also got containers that always have a space in the pantry that I fill with things like flour, sugar, seed mixes, pancake mix (I mix myself), corn starch and anything else that I use a lot. I did this so I could go bulk and save some money, but still have room in my pantry for all of it. I keep the bulk in the cold storage.
So let’s talk bulk. Bulk is the best! If you have a Costco or Sam’s Club membership you know that this is the best way to go when trying to save money in the long run and get a large supply that will last.
OK this is where it gets fun.
Step one: Make a plan
I made a basic menu that I use. I put it in a plastic sheet so I could make any changes to it or add ideas. Each season I change it a little bit to go with what is available or the health needs of the family. Also Soup sounds better in the Winter than Summer, but Ratatouille is fabulous in the Summer with all those yummy veggies coming up in the garden. So the menu is flexible. For Breakfast I assigned each day a meal. So Mondays are always the same, Tuesdays are the same and on through the week.
For Lunch I do basically the same thing but I add a 4 item list. 1 Main Dish, 1 Side, 1 Snack (or another side) 1 treat. Lunch is where I take the opportunity to teach them about food and nutrition since it’s right during our learning time anyway! I make healthy treats loaded with goodness but still sweet. The side is usually some kind of veggie or dairy like cheese. I like to make lunch colorful and fun.
Dinner is as follows:
Monday: Latin Night
Tuesday: Vegetarian Night
Wednesday: Asian Night
Thursday: Crock pot or Leftover night
Friday: Italian night
Saturday: Grilling Night (Summer) Soups (Fall/ Winter) Experiment Night (Spring)
Sunday: Crock pot/Leftover Night
I did it this way so that I could have all the basic spices and necessities for a particular night with the flexibility of changing it up a little. If we had tacos every Monday, my kids would get sick of it. So sometimes I have Haystacks, Taco Salad, Enchiladas, or Fajitas. I still serve Guacamole, sour cream, cheese, chips or tortillas with these meals and use the basic spices. So my grocery list doesn’t change much.
I have one extra meal per day because we eat Dinner around 4PM, It was nice to have a later meal so my family doesn’t go too long with out eating. With all our different activities in the evening it just worked better this way. I used to have a 3PM snack and then Dinner at 6, but this is better for our family. You will have to find what works for you. I find that about every 4 hours my family it hungry so I planned accordingly. I have this menu up on my fridge so everyone knows what to expect.
Step Two: Recipes
So Now I have my plan in place. Now I gather up recipes. I believe in keeping everything together so I don’t have to waste time looking stuff up. So my favorite or most used recipes are copied from other books, or printed off from on line and put right in the book. I keep a quick recipe guide in the front of my Recipe Keeper Book. Then I don’t have to thumb through anything if I need a reference. Most of the time I don’t use a recipe, but the reference section of my Keeper is a valuable resource.
Right behind the quick recipe guide are all the Crock-pot freezer meal recipes that I will be doing for the next 3 months. I find about 10-30 recipes that I like. Many of them follow the outline type for dinners. For example one of my favorites is a fajita freezer meal that I can use on Mondays. I could do a freezer meal everyday if planned out right. I tried it for a week and ended up with a lot of extra food. So I limit it to about 2 or 3 per week. Conceivably, we could eat for 2 days on one freezer meal, and then I would really only have to cook once a week. Finding the right balance is really an individual family thing.
Step Three: Shopping/Storing
So then I make my shopping list based off the menu and recipes. If I go to the store too many times in a week, I tend to spend way more money, so I try to limit my shopping. I make a basic “monthly” shopping list for each season and then get enough for 3 months. My “Monthly” shopping list is what I will need for at least that month. So the first thing I do is check my pantry and cold storage to see if I have enough to last the month. If I have that item, I mark it off. I don’t make a new list every month, that’s just a waste of time. I just use the same basic list and shop at home first. Then I hit the local Costco and try to finish off my list in bulk. Anything else gets put on the weekly list. Especially things that may go bad after a week. I also shop in the middle of the week because I can usually find better produce, cheaper produce, and shorter lines at the register. Just say’n. But if it’s going to take a long time to get it all, then I supposed Saturday would work too.
So that brings me to storing. Here are a few tips I have learned over the years. You can freeze most dairy (even milk!). When you take it out of the freezer, use a sharpie and put a new “due date” on it. When freezing chopped veggies, fruit or squash, put on a baking sheet and freeze for about 1/2 hour first, then put it in your storage bags. Labels are quite useful. On all freezer meals or anything you are canning/freezing for storage, put a “use by” date not the date you put it in the freezer. If you have extra stuff from your prepping day, freeze it and use the next prepping day.
Step Four: Prepping!!
So here is where it all comes together! Literally!! HAHA
I take one day to get as much prepping out of the way as possible. I have these nifty storage bag holders that I use when doing my Crock-pot freezer meals and other freezer bag prepping. They make is so much easier. I usually have my 10-30 recipes for Crock-pot freezer meals handy and as I chop things up I just fill up the bags. Like chicken may go is several bags and then I just add different spices to each thing. I try to do as much bulk chopping, sorting and filling as possible. I may also make my taco meat, or spaghetti meat and freeze that in bags too. Anything that can be prepped and stored ahead of time is done on this day. Then I fill up my freezer.
Somethings don’t freeze great like rice, so I will make a load of that for the week. Somethings I do only last for 2 weeks in the freezer, like my breakfast pops, so I will do those every two weeks. I will also make baked goods and treats for the week. I do like to have fresh produce around for snacking. I just go to the produce section and get a few things or my husband can pick those things up after work. My 3-month prepping is a full day (not much longer for 3 months than 1 month). My weekly prepping is only a couple of hours. My daily prepping is almost nothing. Some days I do more, but that is by choice not necessity. The freezer meals are great because I can stick it in the crock-pot in the morning and it’s ready to go by dinner. Prepping is 5 minutes. Love, love, love crock-pot freezer meals. There have also been times that I have had a lot of leftovers from a fresh made meal that I just bagged and put in the freezer to eat later.
I have found that once a system is in place, it may need some tweaking here and there. But eventually we find that perfect balance. Of course, life changes things up and then we have to tweak it again. I had a neighbor tell me she didn’t like freezing food because fresh made dinners tasted so much better. She also has 2 kids that she is planning on sending to school. But I find the meals taste fantastic, and nothing tastes better than a time saving, money saving meal. Except maybe one you didn’t have to make yourself ;).