Before I started saving hundreds of dollars every week with this whole coupon thing, I was a make-a-meal-plan-for-the-week-then-go-shopping-for-everything-in-just-one-trip kind of mom. Sure, I was spending at least $250 a week at Publix, not to mention another $200-300 every month at Sam's Club, but we ate well! I love to cook and I love to entertain, and when I wasn't worrying about my budget, my creativity in the kitchen was free to run wild.
I sort-of miss those days.
But then I look at how much money I have saved in just two months and I start to feel a little better. Unfortunately I still have to figure out what to cook! I really find the meal planning aspect the most difficult part of couponing. It doesn't suit my plan-ahead type-A personality at all. Like anything else in life, however, with time it is getting easier, especially as my stockpile grows, giving me more options to choose from, and as I am getting better at taking advantage of sales on fruits, vegetables, & meat.
One website I have found very helpful is e-mealz.com. I paid $12.50 (normally $15 but I found a $2.50 off coupon by doing a google search for "e-mealz coupon") for a 3 month subscription. For that price they provide a printable weekly meal plan with recipes and a shopping list based on the weekly specials of the store of your choice (which for me is Publix.) I don't follow their plans exactly, since not all of the meals appeal to me or my family, but I have been using at least 2 or 3 of the meals each week. They are generally pretty fast and easy, family friendly recipes, and since they are based on the weekly store specials, most of the ingredients are usually either kitchen staples I already have or things I was planning to buy that week.
Of course, a willingness to be flexible is still pretty important too. It is something I am still learning, since it goes against every fiber in my want-to-control-everything being. Last night, for example, I was going to make an e-mealz 3 hour crockpot recipe for Chilies Rellenos. Except yesterday afternoon I got busy doing other things and completely forgot to put the food in the crockpot. Suddenly it was 4:30, the girls were starting to get hungry (and cranky) and I had no idea what to make. I couldn't even substitute Friday or Saturday's meal plan because we have other plans for both those nights.
Luckily, I now have a fridge, freezer, and pantry full of food!
45 minutes later, dinner was on the table and I had scored my first true home run of this coupon game:
There are very few meals that my whole family can agree on, but everyone was very, very happy with this one.
Strawberry Blue-Cheese & Avocado Salad with Honey-Mustard Dressing (for mom & dad)
Strawberry, Olive, & Avocado "Kid Salad" (for the girls)
(strawberries BOGO at Winn-Dixie, blue cheese & avocado from Sam's, Fresh Express Salad Mix BOGO at Publix, olives from CVS. Approximate total for salad ingredients: $2.00)
Chicken Kiev (chicken stuffed with butter & herbs) (for dad & the girls)
(Barber Chicken Kiev BOGO at Publix (two weeks ago). $1.50)
Buffalo "Chicken Wings" (for vegetarian mom)
(Morningstar Foods Buffalo Chicken from Publix $0.13)
Sauted Green Beans with onions, garlic, & balsamic marinade
(Green beans and onion from Publix with leftover garlic & marinade from fridge. $0.70)
(Betty Crocker potatoes BOGO at Publix. $0.82)
Total Cost of Meal: $5.15 ($1.29 per person!)
For that price, I guess I can learn to be flexible.