Tips and Tricks for Meal Planning for a Family of 5

This post is the sister to my previous post about tips and tricks for budgeting for a family of 5!  So make sure you read that, too, if you’re trying to learn money-saving strategies!  I explain how we use different debit cards for different categories of spending and how that helps us cap our spending.  The first month we did it we literally saved over $500!

But now for my meal planning tips and tricks.  First of all, meal planning is the actual tip and trick to save money.  You should be doing it!!!  Not only has it helped me save money, it has relieved so much anxiety that used to surround grocery shopping.  Now, I just stick to the list and buy only what I need that week and there is usually money left over!  Granted, I will spend that money on something else, you can be sure–but our budget is always enough if I stick to the meal plan.  Always.

Okay, so first of all (I guess it’s technically second of all), here (—> Jessi meal planner) is a free printable of the meal chart I made for our family.  It is hand-drawn and written and pretty basic, so feel free to create your own based off the format if aren’t feeling the grass roots vibe.  I used to plan every meal and every snack, but then I realized we eat pretty much the same thing for breakfast, lunch and snack every day anyway, so I adjusted the chart to simplify that aspect.  Also, I am much happier and healthier when I plan every meal around the vegetable, so I also included a simple way to make sure I’m always making the veggie the star of the show.  So feel free to use it if you think it would fit your family’s personality, too!  Lastly, I also left the days blank so that you can start your week on whichever day you go grocery shopping.  I go on Thursdays, so I start our weekly meal plan then.  This planner gets hung on the fridge with a clippy magnet and I print a new one off each week.

Next tip: I have a categorized list of every meal in our rotation also hung on the fridge so that when it’s time to meal plan I can simply take the list down and see what sounds good!  I also try to plan as many meals as I can with ingredients I already have on hand, for obvious reasons.  But I leave a night or two open for new recipes, which I pick beforehand, print off, and hang on the fridge with the list.  If I like those recipes then they get added to the rotation list.  Here is a small list of some of our favorite meals, with links to the recipe, to help you get started on your own list:

ASIANKorean Beef with broccoli, Peanut Wok Noodles, Chinese Haystacks, Katsudon, Sweet and Spicy Thai Noodles, store-bought dumplings

MEXICAN: Chimichangas, Salsa Chicken Buddha Bowls, Honey Lime Enchiladas, Smokey Pork Tacos, Sweet Pork Buddha Bowls

ITALIAN: Creamy Garlic Pasta, Italian Pork Chops (I use Italian style Panko instead of crackers), Mac and Cheese

BREAKFAST (we eat breakfast for dinner a lot): Pancakes, Waffles, Lemon Poppyseed Pancakes, Eggs and toast, fruit smoothies, breakfast sandwiches

OTHER: Apricot Chicken, Dijon Chicken, Easy Gourmet Chicken, Savory Pulled Pork (I actually don’t have this recipe digitized anywhere and it’s one of my most used!! I’ll get on that…), Yummy Drumsticks, Rosemary Lemon Chicken Thighs, Shepherd’s Pie, Chicken and Dumplings

Next tip: As I’m planning out my weekly menu, I always plan Sunday Dinner first, since it’s our biggest and fanciest meal of the week, and then I make note on the weekly menu if someone is coming for dinner on a specific night, or if we are celebrating something special that will call for a special meal, and I plan those next.  Lastly, I flesh out the rest of the week, leaving one or two nights open for leftovers. I probably cook 4-5 times a week.

Next tip: I have a magnetic notepad on my fridge to keep a running list of items we run out of.  Some of the things will not be urgent refills and can wait on the list until a week when we need them, but the rest get incorporated into the weekly budget.  I also have a list of items we repurchase every week, like milk, eggs, bread, apples, bananas, avocado, sliced turkey, etc. on the fridge, just so I keep perspective of how much I have to go towards the total haul.

So I’m pretty sure that’s it!  One thing to add, there are awesome meal planning apps out there for people who appreciate technology more than I do.  I have some friends who use Pepper Plate and love it.  I’m just old fashioned and like writing things out and having it on my fridge.  I don’t even use my calendar on my phone!  Silicon Valley will never change me, mwahahahaha!!  Okay, it’s late and I need to go to bed.

 

Tips and Tricks for Budgeting for a Family of 5

One of the main things I get asked about is how we budget for our family of five on a single income while trying to pay off student loans and living in one of the most expensive areas in the country, and this happens to be one of the things I love talking about the most!  I recently did an Instagram Live video all about it and thought I’d share the highlights here in written form in case anyone wants it in this format.  We’ve experimented around and have found that our current approach works great with our personalities and lifestyle, but it won’t be for everyone.  If anything, I’m here to give you ideas and hopefully give you encouragement in your own budgeting endeavors!  I know it can be hard and discouraging, but we have found some tips and tricks that have really made it a positive thing and have helped us feel confident in our financial situation (even while living in one of the top three most expensive areas in the country!!).  The first month we did this approach, we literally saved over $500, for example.  So let’s dive in!

First of all, let me clarify a few things: Number 1: I’m talking today mainly about grocery budgeting.  I’m not including things like monthly bills or medical expenses.  Those are all things we have budgeted already, and our grocery budget reflects those expenses already being taken care of.  Also, I will not be going into detail about how much money we budget for specific categories.  While that is not only personal, it is also not a very good reference point because our area is just simply more expensive than the average area and our budget reflects that.  What I will do is give you recourses to calculate your own budget that fits well with your specific situation and geographic location.  John and I have used different budget calculators to get an idea of the ball park we should budget in and we try to stick to the bottom end of that ball park, just to play it safe.  Here is a calculator widget that might help you, but there are also apps, websites, and probably facebook pages that could help you as you google search what a good grocery budgeting range would be for your situation.

 

Okay, now for the exciting part—OUR BUDGETING BREAKDOWN!!  Have you heard of the envelope system?  That’s basically all we do, but in plastic form!  First, let me explain my personality a little.  I hate big numbers.  I can’t comprehend them, they make me anxious, I get overwhelmed.  I don’t want to know the big numbers.  I thrive in a controlled environment where I only know the small numbers I’m dealing with in a short period of time.  Because of this, John has taken on the role of “banker” in our marriage, meaning he transfers the money onto the cards with apps that I choose not to have on my phone.  As much as he would prefer I be equally involved in managing all the money, I simply cannot do it without emotional repercussions and so this is how we’ve made it work for us. To be honest, I don’t even know how much John makes!  I prefer it that way.  John is very finance savvy and I trust his financial goals completely, so I just do what he says.  But if you are both equally involved in your family money management, simply decide how to divy up the responsibilities of governing the money transferring and you’ll be great.  
 
Now, back to biz.  Instead of envelopes, we use debit cards.  I have four debit cards–one each for gas money, household contributions, personal spending money for myself, and entertainment.  Like I said earlier, all the bills are already taken into account when we budget these numbers, and we have a completely different system for medical bills.  But as far as the debit cards go, here is how we manage the transferring of money onto each card:
 
GAS: We load this card with one tank’s worth of money as needed.  If I’m running low, I try to give John about a day’s notice to load the money, but sometimes it’s a more immediate need.
 
HOUSEHOLD: This is for groceries, new clothes for the kids, school supplies or fees, decor or anything that is contributing to the household. The way we manage this card has really made the difference, I believe.  Instead of doing a bi-monthly or even weekly transfer, we do a BI-WEEKLY transfer.  We do a big transfer of about 70% of the weekly budget on Thursday (our big shopping day) and then the rest on Monday.  This keeps grocery store visits down (which helps save major cheddar) but also allows us to pick up staples we run out of (MILK!!) before the week is over without anxiety.  This does NOT include staples like toilet paper, paper towels, diapers and wipes, which we have subscriptions for through Amazon (subscribe to as many things as you can and you will save lots of money there!).  Our weekly budget reflects those subscriptions already being paid for, they are not just extra expenses.
 
THE JESSI CARD: This is basically my allowance card.  John and I agreed on an amount of money I get each month just for me, and I decided I wanted about 70% of that allowance on the 1st and the rest on the 15th, just to divide it up so that there’s always a little something there for me to pull from.  I will say that I do use most of my personal money on things the kids need or projects I want to do around the house.  But of course I have a wish list I’m knocking off one by one, here and there, too.
 
ENTERTAINMENT: Full disclosure–this might as well be named the McDonalds card, because that’s where all the money goes to.  John transfers a small amount to this card each week for wiggle room as I try to entertain the kids.  Yes, that includes a lot of McMuffins, but we also use it for other affordable sources of entertainment.  This is really just the “breathing room” card.  And it helps a ton.
 
An there you have it!  At first I was going to include our approach to actually spending the grocery budget, but I’ll do a post solely dedicated to meal planning and link that HERE.  The two posts really do go together, I just don’t want either to get too long.  Email me any questions you have! Or even better, DM me through my Instagram, which can be found on my sidebar.  Some final thoughts–I can say with confidence that I used to be addicted to spending money.  With the help of my husband I have come SO FAR, but this system has been the real game-changer for me.  I’d like to think my spending habits have matured, but this system simply doesn’t allow me to fail.  Maybe that’s running away from my problem or not trying to overcome my weakness, but I like to think I am emotionally mature enough to know my limits and have courage to manage my weaknesses.  Honestly, if I can do this–ANYONE CAN DO THIS.  I’m happy to assist you as you establish your budgeting style, it will change your life!

Recipe: creamy mini quiches

My mother-in-law made these, oh, SEVEN years ago for my brother-in-law’s mission farewell party and I have never forgotten them!  Any recipe my MIL uses is out of this world, you can find some of my favorite recipes I’ve gotten from her here, here, here, here, here and here, for just a few.  Well I finally got around to making these little beauties for a party of my own and they were every bit as wonderful as I remember.  These will be in the regular rotation for entertaining or meals to take to neighbors or Sunday breakfast or any time, really.  They are to dzie for.

Creamy mini quiches
Yields 32
Creamy, unforgettable mini quiches, perfect for entertaining
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
1 hr
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
1 hr
Ingredients
  1. 2 cans flaky biscuit dough (I used Pillsbury Grands)
  2. 2 bricks cream cheese, room temp (16 oz)
  3. 4 eggs
  4. 4 tablespoons milk
  5. 1 cup swiss cheese, grated
  6. 1 bunch green onion, chopped (about 4 tablespoons)
  7. about 10 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. For every 1 biscuit, mold 2 wells of a muffin tin with dough by peeling each biscuit apart into two. I like to use silicon muffin liners for easy release and cleanup.
  3. Using an electric hand mixer, combine cream cheese, eggs and milk until light and fluffy.
  4. Fold in bacon, green onions and swiss cheese.
  5. Pour 2 tablespoons of egg mixture into each prepared muffin tin well.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes!
Notes
  1. These freeze wonderfully! If you make a bunch ahead of time for a party, reheat the batch at 350 for about 10-20 minutes before serving. Do not over heat them and burn them right before your party! I've done this before.....
  2. You can also microwave one or two at a time for a quick breakfast!
Adapted from Erin Henrie
Adapted from Erin Henrie
Hopes and Dreams http://cherishinghopesanddreams.com/

 

 

Recipe: fast and easy focaccia bread!

Okay, so it’s not real focaccia bread but it’s DELICIOUS so who cares? I like to think I’m the queen of quick and easy breads, and this little beauty has now been added to my regular rotation.  I found this recipe as I was looking for quick peasant bread and this specific recipe can be adjusted in different ways to produce different kinds of breads! Check out the original post –here– for more ideas. But here are a few more of my favorite fast bread recipes: fast easy buns for burgers, etc., favorite clover rolls, fast breadsticks, crusty peasant bread (this one takes forethought because you have to let it rise overnight but it comes together in less than five minutes.) And now—FOCACCIA!!!! Man, I love beige food.

Faux Focaccia Bread
Serves 6
Fast and foolproof, make this for your dinner tonight!
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Prep Time
1 hr 30 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
2 hr
Prep Time
1 hr 30 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
2 hr
Ingredients
  1. 4 cups flour
  2. 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  3. 2 cups lukewarm water
  4. 2 teaspoons sugar
  5. 2 teaspoons instant or active-dry yeast*
  6. room temp butter for greasing the casserole dish
  7. olive oil, course salt and rosemary for topping
Instructions
  1. Proof your yeast if using active-dry.
  2. Meanwhile, combine flour and salt.
  3. Once the yeast is proofed, mix in the foam and dissolve the sugar into the warm yeast/water mixture.
  4. Combine liquid with flour and stir with either a bread spoon or wooden spoon until a shaggy dough forms.
  5. Cover and let rise in a warmer environment for at least 1 hour.
  6. Grease a 9x13 casserole dish (mine is glass).
  7. Drizzle dough with 2 tablespoon olive oil and Place dough in dish. Use your fingers to flatten dough until it is evenly distributed in the dish.
  8. Use your fingers to create dimples in the dough (I found the dough too wet to really see the dimples, so I'll skip this in the future probably).
  9. Sprinkle dough with course salt and rosemary.
  10. Let rise for 20-30 minutes more.
  11. Bake for 15 minutes at 425 and 17 more minutes at 375.
  12. Remove from pan and let cool on a cooling rack for 10 minutes before cutting.
Notes
  1. *To proof active dry yeast, sprinkle it on top of the luke warm water and let sit for 10 minutes or until foamy, then mix in the foam.
Adapted from Alexandra Cooks
Adapted from Alexandra Cooks
Hopes and Dreams http://cherishinghopesanddreams.com/