Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Low Carbing On A Budget Part II -- Menu Planning

I can’t emphasize this enough.  Menu planning:  It’s not just a good low-carb strategy and a time and energy saver, it’s a savings imperative.  If you implement only one savings strategy, it should be this one.  Menu planning will not only keep you from straying off plan, getting stressed out with last-minute “Oh, my God, what can I fix for dinner?”, but will keep you from wasting food.  Menu planning can take into account unexpected schedule changes, abbreviated time available for cooking, nights when you’re just too pooped to cook, and unexpected guests.  I’m going to talk you through a week’s menu planning at Casa Logston.

Because Wednesday is the day my Kroger’s puts meat into the Manager’s Special section, I go to Kroger on Wednesday.  There’s a nice chuck roast there.  While I’m there, I notice that chicken drumsticks are still on sale for 79 cents a pound.  From my comparison list, I know this is a great price.  Tomorrow the new weekly ad comes out, so I won’t have that price tomorrow.  So I’ll snag a package now.

I’m a late-night worker, so after midnight, sitting at my computer, I’ll pull up the local stores’ weekly flyers.  I’ve already got the chuck roast and the chicken legs; that’s two meals.  Paul and I love “breakfast for dinner,” but I don’t have to buy anything for that; I already have bacon and sausage in the freezer, and we never let the egg supply get low.  Leftover bacon and sausage will become quiche makings, so there’s two more dinners taken care of, although I’ll need leeks for the quiche; I’ve already got cream, frozen chopped spinach, and cheese.  That’s four dinner entrees.  I still need two dinner and two lunch entrees (Paul and I sleep late on weekends and only cook two meals, and we eat out on Mondays) and veggies to go with everything.

Kroger has whole chickens on sale.  A whole chicken makes two meals – roast chicken for one, and chopped leftover chicken to cook with shirataki noodles to make chicken and noodles.  Meijer has ham shanks at a great price; that can go in the crockpot.  Meijer also has a good price on ground chuck – that means hamburgers and shepherd’s pie.  Okay, I’m set for meat.  Now I need veggies.

Meijer has the better price on cauliflower, so I’ll get two for the shepherd’s pie and two more besides, because we love cauliflower; I already know I’m going to Meijer for the ham and ground chuck.  Zucchini looks good at Meijer, too, and asparagus.  I’ll also get salad greens here.  Our Kroger’s produce section sucks, but two heads of cabbage are cheap and hard to abuse too badly, and they have bagged turnip greens on manager’s special – those will be great with the ham – and I mustn’t forget my leeks. 

Right now, my tentative dinner pairings would go something like this:

Chuck pot roast and lemon pepper cauliflower
Roast chicken and stir-fried zucchini
Ham and turnip greens
Shepherd’s pie and fried cabbage
“Breakfast for dinner”
“Heroin” chicken legs and coleslaw

And lunches:

Hamburgers and asparagus
Bacon, sausage, leek, spinach and cheese quiche (two quiches) and salad

Yes, there are leftovers here that aren’t used in meals, plus a whole second quiche.  There’s a reason behind this.  I work from home.  Leftovers, including the chicken and noodles I planned, are my lunches, together with salads.

Note that I’ve located the pot roast, the roast chicken, and the ham at the beginning of my schedule.  I do this because I want the leftovers from those meals to use as my own lunches and as ingredients in other things throughout the week.  However, for example, if I knew Paul was going to be working very late on Thursday, I might schedule the ham for Thursday, because it can happily sit in the crockpot, and by the time Paul gets home, I’m not going to feel like putting a lot of effort into cooking, so the turnip greens will be quick and easy.  I’ve paired the hamburger and the asparagus because we love grilled asparagus and it’s handy to cook them both on the grill, but I could, if I chose, serve the asparagus with the chicken and make marinated grilled zucchini with the hamburgers.  I also make sure that I’ve got enough ham and turnip greens to take some over to my parents, because they adore my crockpot ham and turnip greens.  When I caramelize the onions to go in the shepherd’s pie, I’ll caramelize enough for the quiche, too, and pre-prep the leeks in the same skillet after I’ve removed the onions – that way I’ll have nothing to do for the quiche but assemble and cook it, which makes it extra easy for a lazy weekend lunch.

By and large, Paul and I are “meat and veg” or “meat, veg and salad” eaters, but I’ll throw in a little extra variety – Meijer has chayote at a decent price, so I’ll make a pan of mock apple brown betty for a vegetable “dessert” with the pot roast.  Mac and cheese made with shirataki noodles will make a second side with the ham and turnip greens.  My extra head of cauliflower will make Cauliflower “rice pilaf” to go with the chicken legs.  I’ll make flaxmeal pancakes for our dinner “breakfast” and MIM buns for our hamburgers.  All these extra touches take little effort, but they’re what make the difference between a frugal, healthy meal and a wonderful frugal, healthy meal.

You can see how I’ve planned my menus not only around what’s cheap at the store, but also to minimize work on my part, and to take into account my and Paul’s schedules as well.  I’ve saved myself a lot of money and time – no last-minute emergency runs to the store – and I know exactly what to fix and when, and I’ve planned in treats to make sure I’m not tempted to stray.  Just that small bit of pre-planning has eliminated unnecessary spending, stress and waste, and assured my lunches for the week as well.

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