November 13, 2011

grocery shopping, lunches, and meal preparation... oh my!

grocery shopping, lunches, and meal preparation have been ruling my life.

-i have seven kids who eat a lot.
-i'm packing lunches every day, which i've never done before.
(wow- this sure adds to my grocery list!)
-i live in a small town and have to drive a long way to the grocery store.
(we have NO walmart or target or costco or sams-- unless i'm willing to drive an hour.  note- people say it isn't that long, but they lie.  they are just used to driving FOREVER around here.)
-i'm in a new house and starting over with organization.
(can i add twenty exclamation points here?) 
starting over with a new house to organize is harder than i thought it would be!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
-we're just coming out of five years of famine where we used much our food storage.
(we're trying to rebuild to have some in store for glen beck's end of the world.  it's coming!)

this month i'm focusing on creating ROUTINES to help with daily decision making.
ROUTINES are essential for a highly effective home.
maybe most people are fine just winging it.
but my house does not function without some well-established routines.
(establishing new routines keeps me up at night with growing pains.)
i repeat.
i am a carefree, free spirited, CREATIVE person.
i like to browse and try new things.  i like random, unique, weird foods.
i have to force myself to repeat recipes.
But, this is something that just must be done for my peace of mind. 
Hopefully I can maintain my creative, fun foodiness with a bit of a system.

Meal PLAN.
1.  I have a system for meals-- Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner.
Sunday:: B-Box Cereal, L-Misc, D-Fancier
Monday:: B-Oats/Smoothie, L- PBJorH Sandwich, D- Italian
Tuesday:: B-Biscuits n gravy/OJ, L- Wrap/Salad, D- Soup n Bread
Wednesday:: B- Eggs/Smoothie, L- Meat Sandwich, D- Salad or Potato Bar
Thursday:: B-Pancakes/Waffles/FrenchToast/OJ, L-Lunchables (homemade), D-Chinese or Mexican
Friday:: B- Granola (homemade)/Smoothie, L- PBJorH/buy school, D- Pizza-ish (homemade) with soda.
Saturday:: B- Box Cereal, L-Misc., D- Leftovers/Quick

There are things that are hidden in my system. 
-- A disclaimer-  I NEVER stick to my meal plan.
-- I repeat, I have NEVER, in 14+ years of marriage, made all the meals in one week that I plan for. 
BUT, I do make meals and use the ingredients I have purchased.  Sometimes, I plan for 7 days and don't make it to the store for 10 days... we're still fine.  My menu is a starting point.
-- I even edit as I'm shopping.  If I say ham but pork loin is on sale, I just cross ham off my list and write in pork loin.
-- I plan in excel so I have a record of each month.
-- I have one tab for the month calendar, and one tab for my shopping list.  On my shopping list I mark week 1, 2, 3, or 4 and a month total.  So, if i'm in a hurry I can just get the one week things and pick up the other weeks later.
--When i'm planning meals, I usually plan one or more per week for company.  I mark that with  ** next to the meal.
-- We have oatmeal (usually steel cut oats) on Monday morning.  On Tuesday (soup day), I make wheat bread (or plan to).  I like to dump the leftover oatmeal into my bread.
-- On Monday we have italian.  I like to combine ground beef with ground italian sausage for the meat.  We don't use a lot of meat, so I usually take out a ziploc full and we use that meat (already cooked) for biscuits and gravy the next day.  (I just use refrigerator biscuits.)  My kids love that breakfast.
--  I always have a big container of homemade granola-- if we are running late and don't cook a hot breakfast, we just have granola.
-- My husband takes leftovers for lunch. 
-- Saturday is always our leftover or frozen food (chicken nuggets/tater tots) day.
-- We drink milk, water, or crystal light for dinner every night.  Just water during the day.  I try to get soda for movie night on Fridays and one other juice for Sunday dinner.
-- I cannot cook the same meals over and over.  It is against my nature.  But, I can cook meals with the same ingredients.  Example-- This month on Italian Monday, I planned ziti, lasagna, spaghetti, and eggplant Parmesan.  This month on Pizza Friday, I planned pizza rolls, calzones, and pizza.
-- I do NOT use coupons.  I do shop sales when I see them. 
--I mainly go to one store, but I have some specialty stores that I go to once a month.

Planning for ONE MONTH.
For many years, I have planned my meals one week at a time. 
I use this sheet for the month...
And, this sheet for the week (i found them both online... i need to look up the source because i love them).
I write my meals and my groceries and I head to the store.
I usually spend under $300 per week- including food and diapers and household stuff.
Planning the meals usually takes me over an hour. 
And, the actual shopping takes me a good three hours round trip.
I'm not sure why-- but I really spend a lot of time planning. 
And, shopping is just exhausting.
**I have gotten to the point where I really could not go shopping (even for one week) by myself with my three toddlers who I have home with me all day.  I have been doing it... but it sure is hard.
And, I don't really have enough time to go with my two youngest while leah was at preschool for 2.5 hours.
A few times I've had to beg people to help me bag and load groceries in my car as I was imagining my little preschooler waiting all alone for me to show up.
shopping was making me CUH-RA-ZEE!!

I had an idea that it wouldn't take me much more time to plan a whole month in one sitting.
My goal is to do ONE big shopping trip at the beginning of the month, and just a small "special things" trip weekly.
I have had to bring a couple of my older kids shopping with me for the big trip.
We used two carts- they each pushed one, and mainly just got the same stuff I usually bought in bigger quantities.
It was a big shopping trip-- but very possible and SO worth it.
This week I shopped for the next THREE weeks (till the end of November) and I spent $475. 
I'm guessing I'll spend about $100 per week on my smaller trips.
{I was pleasantly surprised at how much less I spent because seriously, i bought tons of stuff.  I felt like I was buying so much more storage items than i usually buy.  hmm?}
I can manage smaller trips with my three little girls and actually have fun together at the store.
And, I feel like I have more substance to my pantry.
I bought things big, like a 50lb bag of white flour, and a 50lb bag of wheat flour.

I spent last night reorganizing my cupboards... my goal is more "centered" living.
I want a place for baking, a place for cans, a place for lunch preparations, a place for putting away leftovers.
It's COMING!!  And, i'm so excited.
I should have gotten my PhD in GROCERY MANAGEMENT.  seriously.

The Lunch Center.
My favorite addition is my LUNCH CENTER.
Because I bought stuff for one month, I ended up dividing everything out into little snack bags.
I use individual Tupperware for their fruit/veggies or fridge things each day...
but the snack bags worked great for dividing out one sugary treat per day (like gummy bears), and one starchy snack (like pretzels). 
All of my kids have snack breaks during class- even my middle school kids.
I made five different snacks and treats (two for each day) times four kids and put them in big ziplocs marked ONE WEEK. (Yup- one week = 40 snack bags.  crazy.)
I did this four times-- for the whole month. 
(I stuck the gallon sized bags in the back of the shelf and just poured one week of snacks in the Tupperware.)
You can see my whole shelf below... Snacks, Treats, Sandwich Fixins.
My friend (with 7 boys) lets them pick one homemade snack per day.  She makes batches of cookies, or bars, or brownies, and freezes them in individual baggies.  Each morning her kids grab a snack from the freezer, a fruit, and make themselves sandwiches.
I was actually surprised how many snacks I got... over a month's worth.
I made the portions small-- I just want them to have a small treat, but fill up on healthy things.
Because I don't usually pre-portion things out, I usually use more snacks.
I feel so at peace knowing for ONE MONTH, all I have to worry about at lunch time is a sandwich and a fresh fruit/veggie/egg.
The boxes of snack bags that I use do bug me-- I hate all that trash.
someday I may sew tiny bags or something fun, but for now this works for me.

I'm going to Capri-Suns for their drinks.
They're 100% juice, cheap and easy.
We've been using water bottles and THEY DRIVE ME CRAZY.
We've bought many different kinds-- and they ALL leak or spill all over my kids' backpacks and homework papers or lunches.
I know that if they were better at closing the lids, this wouldn't happen.
But, they're not and I'm sick of them being all soggy or having to carry their water bottle's separately when they are already carrying a backpack, an instrument, a bag for sports, etc., etc..
Capri-Suns it is. Unless you have a better idea.
Unless you have another great idea.

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE my new lunch preparation area.
Everything is there, and it's right next to the bread box, and the refrigerator.
Kids can easily make a sandwich, put their fruit/veggie/egg into a Tupperware, grab a snack, grab a treat, grab a drink and GO!! 

The Baking Center.
I bought bulk and my friend gave me these little buckets.
I buy most of my baking stuff in bulk and pour them into my containers.
I just labeled everything with paper i already had and clear moving tape.
It makes me happy...
I keep moving things around. 
My kitchen doesn't have a good spot for pots (your supposed to hang them and i don't want to.) 
My kitchen also doesn't have a walk in pantry.  There are a lot of cabinets in the laundry room, but no big storage.
I keep rearranging things.
But, by jove i think i'm going to figure this kitchen out!

The Canning Center.
We did a little canning this year.
When we would finish a jar, we usually had the empty container sitting on our counter for awhile until I took it out and put it in a box in the garage.
Now, we have a spot inside for the empty jars and we're a bit more ordered.
I had just stuck the jars on my shelves... with a little more order I can see that I have a heck of a lot of pears.
I didn't realize we had that many.

The Pantry-ish cabinet.
I really want to get a shelf-reliance shelf from Costco for $300 shipped!
We're saving up.
I have dreams about this shelf all full of my canned goods for a year.
someday...  (SOON!!)

You can laugh at my excessive planning and grand ideas.
Sometimes I laugh at myself.
Most of these ideas I have copied.
I love learning from other people.
and, if nothing else, this post might make you GRATEFUL you don't have to shop for a family of NINE.
I HOPE that my planning with be helpful- to your family and mine.
I HOPE I can stick to this routine and not feel the need to create another new system next month.
(See that sneaky thing... I am a creator, so I enjoy creating new routines... NOT following old systems.)

Onward and Upward Soldiers... Just marching through another day with these battle plans!!
{insert marine cry here-- what is it?  Hooo Aaaah!!, or something like that}


Victoria Gilbert said...

Holy cow you are the most organized person I know. It's so impressive and inspiring! I don't know how you find time to do it all, but I am impressed!!! Thanks for posting all your great ideas!

Sandra Butcher said...

We have started to order groceries online and have them delivered - it actually saves money (less temptation to grab random things from shelves), and while it doesn't always save time (it takes a while to place the order) it does mean less hassle in the shops with kids. Do they do that by you? If so, check it out, it is well worth the little it costs for the delivery charge in my opinion... XXXX P.S. your shelves are humbling to those of us who have chaos behind closed doors...

beckyjune said...

You are indeed SO organized and it's wonderful. I have been looking at my once-organized pantry/cupboards lately thinking that I need to try something new. We hope that you guys are doing great up there.

Karry said...

I don't have much sympathy for ya driving to a store. :) I am 2 hours from Wal-Mart, Target or Sam's. But your planning will be super helpful for me as I continue to find better ways to be organized & prepared.

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness! I just love the way you've been organising meal planning and cooking zones- fantastic!

I order my groceries online too (like Sandra) and find it a real money saver. Not only because there's less temptation, but because you can see all the special offers for the week/ month right there on the screen, so I often start planning the following week's menu based on what I see on offer, plus if you are clever/ have time you can make use of money saving websites and get special coupon codes for the shop you use that you may not get otherwise.

Marie said...

Wow --- I'm impressed! Not surprised, though. :) I love organization so much it makes my teeth itch! (I know, that sounds odd, but it's true.) You've given me a couple ideas here to help me with my little family of THREE! (You can stop laughing now, Jen. LOL) ...Now where's my labels?

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