Checklist for your List!

For details on how I make my own grocery list each week, click here.

1. Keep a list on or near the fridge. Add to it throughout the week when you run out of something, or when you’re nearly out of something.
2. Check the grocery ad for your preferred store for current sales. Let the sales choose your proteins and veggies, and build meals around those.
3. Write out your working Meal Plan for the week.
4. Cross-check your needed items and sale items with coupons. Use this site, your grocer’s website, and any catalina coupons you may have received at the register.
5. Be sure you aren’t missing any items or ingredients in the following categories:
* Dinner meals
* Lunches
* Breakfast
* Easy Snacks
* Household
* Special occasion
6. Finalize list by writing in coupons and prices. Add items for a preliminary total for your trip.
7. Gather, cut, and clip necessary coupons. Don’t forget your list and coupons when you head out the door!

5 Tips to Offset the Price of Buying Organic & Natural

1. Know your budget. I almost forgot to include this; but being aware of and sticking to a predetermined budget is the first step to maximizing your savings. Having even an approximate amount in mind will keep you from overspending unnecessarily.

2. Plan your meals based on sales. Most grocery stores put out a weekly ad – even the more popular produce stores, like Whole Foods or Mariano’s – and if you don’t get it in the mail, you can view it easily online. I usually base dinners around a protein, and buy the family size packs so I can either separate into 2 meals or make a Second Meal from the leftovers. The protein (fish, poultry, pork, beef, etc.) will usually be most expensive, so consider this first before looking at other specials. Then check out the produce sales. We shop at Meijer, and their store brand organic often goes on sale. This is how I decide what to buy that week. Same goes for their Meijer Naturals grocery products. If you can’t afford to buy everything organic, check out the Clean 15 & Dirty Dozen lists. If you’re only buying a few items organic, you might want to choose items on the Dirty Dozen list to reduce the chance of pesticides.
*Note: If you’re just starting out, it might take awhile to understand what a good sale price is. Don’t stress. Just do the best you can for now, and eventually it’ll be second nature to know when an item is overpriced, when it’s an average buy, and when it’s at a DEEP discount price.

3. Make a list and stick to it. Write down everything you plan to buy based on the ad. Double check your meal plan for the week, cross check your pantry, and add any missing ingredients to your list if necessary. If you’re on a really tight budget, estimate the cost of each item and get an approximate total, adjusting your list if necessary.
Then, when you get to the store, STICK TO YOUR LIST. I know the lure of the produce section… you suddenly get the urge to try a blood orange for the first time… or to buy an exotic root vegetable you’ve never used before. THIS. IS. BAD. Not only will it put you over your carefully constructed budget, but if you don’t have a recipe or specific use in mind for that item, chances are you will end up tossing it anyway, or wasting another item you bought. Reducing your waste (Read: the stuff you throw away because it’s gone bad) is a huge way to save money. If you were really deliberate about your list, you should have just enough produce to make it through each meal of each day for the week. Resist the urge to impulse buy; if you see something new you want to try, make a note of it, search recipes when you get home, and put it on the list for next week.

4. Check for coupons before you go. Part of the reason I love Meijer is because of their mPerks. Not only are there coupons for name brand products, but also for their store brand – which as I said, has great organic and natural products. So when I find a coupon that matches with a weekly sale, it’s a home run! or a 3 pointer! or a touchdown! (insert your favorite sport term here.) So check your favorite grocery store’s website for store coupons on generic items, including produce. Some stores have rewards programs; others have digital coupons you can load to a loyalty card. A little research goes a long way.
And if you are buying a specific brand name, check your local newspaper inserts. In our area, the best website for this is www.coupontom.com. It references an extensive catalog of all the current paper and printable coupons. When you search an item (by brand name or item name) it will pull up any coupons available and where to find them.

5. Enroll in rewards programs. As I said earlier, research if your favorite store(s) has a rewards program. A lot of stores have a point system connected to a loyalty card – and the points can then be converted to savings later. Some stores have a quantity requirement program (Buy 10, get the 11th free). Other stores give stickers based on your total spent within a qualifying time period, which can be returned at the end for products. Meijer has a great one they’ve recently instituted – you choose one reward in each of three categories. (For example, Spend $60 in produce, Get $5 off.) This is cumulative for the entire month. Once you reach the goal amount, you can ‘clip’ your reward to your mPerks account, and it is applied toward your total basket on your next trip. You can work towards 3 different rewards at a time, and if you finish a goal before the end of the month, you can choose another one. Again, check your favorite store’s website, or ask an associate next time you’re in store.

By investing a little time and research, buying healthier, natural, and organic food can be realistic for even the smallest budgets!

Quick Tip of the Day – Prepping Ahead

Have you ever suddenly found yourself with free time? I know it doesn’t happen often if you have kids. But every once in awhile my youngest two will nap at the same time my eldest is at school, or she will ask to play on the computer while they’re napping… And have you ever felt panicked by this? “What should I be doing right now?! Should I finish the laundry, empty the dishwasher, sleep, shower, exercise, AHHHH!!!!” And then I have to admit… sometimes I start 3 of those things and get none of them finished because my brain keeps reminding me of things that need to get done. Been there? (I hope I’m not alone!)

One of the benefits of meal planning is that visualizing all your meals will help you see what has to be prepped pretty far in advance. So when you have those random pops of time, you will know exactly what has to get done.

For example, on school days the kids usually have waffles or cereal for breakfast. Tomorrow I’m giving them crepes for lunch though, so I’d prefer they have protein for breakfast. When I had a few free minutes, I beat the eggs, milk, parmesan, and S&P in a Tupperware and put it in the fridge. Now all I have to do in the morning is spray and heat the pan and pour the eggs in the pan.
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Another way I’ll maximize my time is by prepping more than necessary for the meal at hand. For example: I needed some chopped peppers for the pasta I made the other night. But since I had them out, I cut ALL of them into strips and again, into the Tupperware they went. (by the way, the ABC check keeps capitalizing Tupperware. I don’t use ACTUAL brand ‘Tupperware’. Just thought you should know. 😉 ) Brendan loves raw peppers (hooray!) so now they are ready for snacking or for a side with lunch. AND they are easier to chop up next time I need them in a recipe.
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See? A little thought goes a long way into saving time!

Pantry organization, Meal planning, and OHI pars

Dream pantry?!

Sometimes I wish my pantry looked like the one in this picture. Alas, all I have is an abundance of cabinets! Thankfully I do have a lot of them. But at this point in my life, my ‘pantry’ organization is based on what I allow my kids to get into or not. Yes I put locks on cabinets, but not all of them, because it’s way too much of a hassle. I limited myself to locking the ones that have glass or harmful things like cleaning products in them. Part of the reason is, I didn’t want to have to bother opening it myself. However, the biggest reason is this: I do believe, although it’s more work, to use all opportunities possible to TEACH my kids. Also I purposely put their snacks and dishes in low cabinets where they can reach, so they are able to help themselves. (Think cereal, crackers, fruit snacks, granola bars, fruit cups, etc.) Even if they can’t open the packaging themselves, they will bring it to me and ask if they can have it and if they can open it. Our youngest, at 14 months or maybe earlier, would go in the kids’ dishes cabinet and bring a cup over to the fridge if she was thirsty. I learned accidentally that kids are actually a lot more capable and at a lot earlier age than we give them credit for. Another example: when Aubrey (our eldest) was 2 and 3, she wanted to help me with everything: dishes, baking, laundry, cleaning, you name it. At first I kept saying no (which led to big-time disappointment on her end, and extravagant distraction methods on mine). Finally one day I figured, what the heck? I would wash the dishes and she would dry them. When she was 3 I learned she was actually quite good at folding her and her brother’s laundry – they were small enough for her to handle. Ah HA! I thought. A learning opportunity. I can teach her how to do these chores now, while she WANTS to, and I was getting help too. Why be a domestic martyr if it wasn’t necessary? I didn’t have to do everything myself, and she was learning valuable life skills she’d use the rest of her life. Win-Win.
Anyway, I am sure that once my kids learn to suppress their desire to dump my sugar all over the floor and play with it like sand, I will be again re-organizing categorically instead of according to what I can afford them get into or not 😉

That said, as I sit down to plan my weekly grocery trip, I wanted to share with you a list of my essential OHIs. Produce rotates seasonally, so they’re not listed specifically. These things are on the list because I know I can make meals spur of the moment from them if necessary. Here it is:
* 2 dozen eggs
* White and Whole Wheat bread
* Parmesan
* Shredded cheese of some variety
* Some lunch meat & cheese
* Milk, Half & Half, Sour cream
* Butter – sticks and spreadable
* Refrigerated rolls (Grands)
* Various Oils and vinegars
* Salad dressings and/or salad dressing mixes
* Condiments: Ketchup, mustard, low-fat mayo, peanut butter, grape jam, sriracha, BBQ sauce
* Cream of mushroom soup
* Spaghetti sauce (usually Hunts in the can or jarred Prego)
* Canned tomatoes  – various varieties
* Bananas – this is my yearly consistent fruit. We ALWAYS have bananas. Quick for snacks, and great for baking.
* Onion and garlic
* Dry snacks: crackers (wheat or Ritz usually), granola bars, fruit snacks
* Dry pasta (whole wheat when possible): angel hair and various shapes of boxed dry pasta
* Mac n Cheese
* “Cheater” sides: Instant mashed potatoes, Knorr rice and pasta sides
* Rice
* Cereal
* Waffles
* Frozen pizza, frozen chicken nuggets
* Frozen mixed veg, Frozen steamed microwavable veg (Green giant or Steamfresh)
* Hot dogs
* Baking supplies: whole wheat flour, white sugar, cocoa powder, semi-sweet chips, baking soda and powder, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice, allspice
* Seasonings: kosher salt, sea salt, table salt, pepper, pepper grinder, garlic powder, paprika, chili powder, taco seasoning packet, country gravy packet
* Seasonal fruit for snacking: berries, grapes, etc.
* Seasonal fresh veg that I can build a meal around, or build into a meal
* Protein – generally chicken breasts or thighs, some kind of pork, ground sausage or beef, occasionally fish, red meat, or ham

Now I’m going to be straight up with you. I work 3 nights a week at a restaurant. On those nights I allow myself to make ‘cheater’ meals. I have to be there at 5, which means dinner should be finished by about 4:30.  This means a combination of the following items, usually following the ‘meat, veg, starch’ guideline: pizza, fries or tater tots, mashed potatoes, Knorr sides (rice or pasta), frozen steamed veg, raw veg, fruit, chicken nuggets, mac n cheese, hot dogs. I felt really bad about this for awhile, like I’m feeding my family crap. But you know what? Until I don’t have to work at dinner time any more, or we don’t need my income anymore, it’s a necessary part of our life, so I just learned to be okay with it. I don’t have to extend too much mental energy making these things, and they’re pretty much no-brainers. Sometimes if I do have extra time, I’ll make a casserole or maybe a chicken pot pie, something that can be in the oven while I’m getting ready for work. Every once in awhile I’ll do a crock pot meal, but generally I don’t have time to eat dinner before work, and I like to enjoy my crock pot meals, so that doesn’t happen often.

So before I make my grocery list, I take stock of my OHI. I figure out what I need to replenish and then do my meal planning based on what’s on sale that week. That plus coupons determines my list for the week. And that’s another post entirely 😉