Na Na pinches her pennies (aka frugal living)

Shh… don't tell anyone I'm poor. They all think I'm living frugal and green just like everyone these days. This is a blog about a senior citizen living a frugal life, on a fixed income, in a low income food desert, and passing along knowledge from lessons learned. Some she learned from her Grandma Mama many years ago and some learned only a few days ago.

Menu planning for one

There are people who look into a pantry and see only cans, jars, and dry stuff.  When I look into my food storage I see full meals complete with side dishes.  Some people may look in the freezer to see only frozen lumps of things wrapped in plastic but I see meals ready to cook.  Each person has their own way of seeing.  Is the glass half full or half empty kind of seeing.

No parking on street or lawn ordnance

I hate menu planning.  I’ve tried many different ways over the years.  None worked for me because they were to rigid and didn’t account for the way I obtain my food.  I had better success by keeping my food storage well stocked and then shopping it each day for meal ideas.  Shopping the pantry is similar to shopping a store on the way home from work.

However; I did say I’d be willing to try menu planning once again to go along with my new cooking for one in tiny pots.  I knew I needed a menu plan that would let me shop my pantry.  A plan that would be simple and flexible for days when activities or eating mood changed.  I believe maybe this will be the plan that works for me.  I must say though that the only difference between what I’ve always done by shopping my food storage and what I do now is pieces of paper.  What has always been done in my head each day is now written on pieces of paper.  I convinced myself to think of this as an eat down the pantry challenge or maybe a no spend challenge instead of menu planning.

All food regardless of how I obtain it is put away when I bring it home.  That’s when I do my basic menu planning.  For example let’s say I bought a package of meat.  When I bought it I had some ideas of what meals I could make with it.  As I’m re-packaging and putting that meat into the freezer I write down the meals I have in mind on a sheet of paper.  When I put away the vegetables I get from the food bank I write down how I will use them in meals.

After all the food is put away I sat down with that sheet of paper and a bunch of file cards.  I copied the meal ideas onto the file cards.  One meal, one card.  I have pink cards for breakfast meals.  Across the top is the main part and underneath is reminders in case I need to mix something ahead.

Blue cards are for lunch meals.  Sometimes I include the recipe ingredients on the cards and that way I don’t have to look it up.  If I’m out of something in the recipe I substitute something else or just leave it out.  Lunch used to be leftovers from the evening meal the day before.  I doubt there will be many leftovers from now on.

Yellow cards are for dinner meals.  I stopped cooking in larger pots which means I no longer have large amounts of leftovers to deal with.  I was only fooling myself when I’d say they were for freezer meals or for saving energy.  My old way of cooking was causing me to gain weight and/or feel guilty when I threw food away.  My new cooking for only one person does allow a little cooked extra while the oven or the skillet is hot.  I call it planned leftovers that are to be the start of another meal.  For example a couple of extra slices bacon cooked at breakfast to be used as seasoning in a recipe that evening.  What I have to be very careful about is avoiding the temptation to eat those planned leftovers before time to cook the meal.

So that I don’t become bored with the same main ingredients several days in a row I merge the cards of planned leftovers with at least one day separating them.  I would probably bake both a chicken and a roast in the oven together to save energy.  I’d have the baked chicken on day one and the beef roast on day two.  Then, using the planned leftovers from both, I’d plan other meals and alternate them.  Now that I’m cooking with smaller pans I buy much smaller cuts of meat.  I look for a really small roast or a very small chicken.  If possible two pounds or less.

I have green cards for desserts.  I like a sweet as a snack in the evening.  I have white cards for make ahead mixes or miscellaneous tips to remember.  An example of make ahead mix might be a seasoning blend or some magic mix.

Next I put all the cards with all the meal menus into a file box.  I made dividers by gluing two cards together.  As I said before, the only difference between what I’ve always done to plan meals and this new way is the paper with ideas written down.  I’m giving a physical presence to my thoughts.

Now here’s how the cards are supposed to work for me.  Let’s say it is Sunday evening.  Before bedtime I decide what my meals for Monday will be.  That’s when I put items from the freezer into the refrigerator for safe thawing.  Let’s say on Monday morning I have fasting lab tests scheduled which means I can’t eat breakfast but I’ll be home in time for lunch and be home for dinner.

I take out the front menu card from lunch and the front menu card from dinner but not one for breakfast.  I also take out the first menu card from the desserts because I don’t have any made and I’ll be wanting something in the evening.  I’ll be having BLT for lunch using planned leftover bacon from breakfast Sunday morning.  I was very tempted to eat the extra bacon but I resisted.  I might also set out the ingredients that go in the meat loaf planned for Monday dinner.  As well as the pan and putting the ground beef in the fridge to thaw.  Well now there is my menu plan for Monday.  The cards are kept on the counter as a reminder when I prepare each meal on Monday.

Lets say now its Monday evening and time to plan the meals for Tuesday.  I return the meal menu cards from Monday to the file box but they each go to the back of the stacks (reversed) because those meals are done and the food is gone from storage.  The color cards make it easy for me to refile.

Tuesday I will be home all day so I get a breakfast menu card, a lunch menu card, and a dinner menu card from the front of each.  I don’t need a dessert menu card because I have leftover dessert from Monday.  I only use a new dessert card when I need to prepare a new one.  Tuesday morning I’ll be having oatmeal pancakes with a syrup sauce made with the scrapings left in an almost empty jelly.  The spaghetti for dinner will be made using leftover meatloaf in a meat and tomato sauce.

Ok, let’s say I had pulled the next dinner menu card from the front but I really wasn’t in the mood for that spaghetti meal.  No problem.  I put it back in front and get the next menu card in line.  Let’s say for some reason my day changes and I’m not home for the dinner meal I planned.  I save that menu card for the next day.  See how it works?

I keep certain basics in stock all the time such as flour, beans, pasta, butter, cheese, potatoes, onions, eggs, powdered milk, and canned tomatoes.  I call these items “my back up plan” meals.   On days when I’ve forgotten to take something out of the freezer I’m able to whip up a simple meal with the staples.

I’ll keep the cards after I’ve had the meals because I tend to fix the same food combinations over and over.  Each time I put away food I look through the already used cards for a meal that can be repeated.  I do have some duplicate cards because I repeat some meals.  For example when I buy a package of Italian sausage there are five in a package.  Cooking small means five meals with Italian sausage.  Three menu cards might be the same meal with the other two different.  I do merge these cards among other cards to avoid repeating two days in a row.

I said I’d give meal planning another try and this is it. These cards are just to help me remember what I had in mind when I bought food or got food from the food bank.  I had the color file cards laying around doing nothing so I used them to make my meal plan look pretty.  I don’t see why this file card planning wouldn’t also work for someone who pre-plans meals.  The part I like best about my new menu planning is the flexibility for when things change.

Sorry this post became so long.  I’m interested in your opinion about my menu planning.  Do you plan this way?  Have you found a menu plan that works better for you?  Do you make planned leftover ingredients for other meals?

21 comments on “Menu planning for one

  1. craftytadpole
    July 16, 2018

    I think that your menu plan is very sensible. I’m glad you were able to recognize when something wasn’t working for you and work on change. It can be hard to break long time habits or even recognize that they just don’t work for us.

    I got to say that I am learning a lot from you and from reading the comments left by other readers. ❤

    • Anita
      July 17, 2018

      Thanks Laurie. I learn a lot for the comments too.

  2. Cath young
    July 16, 2018

    Good way to save money and early is portion control. Eat less. Use your money to buy goods that are healthier and tastier and more expensive because you are buying less of everything else

    In your case, you have a lot in the pantry to use. Focus on buying the healthyb garnishments , fresh fruits and vegetables to augment what you have.

    When I buy a whole cooked chicken, I cut it into quarters and freeze 3/4 of it. The 1/4 i leave out , try to make into 3 or 4 meals.

    Most of us need to lose weight anyways!

    • Anita
      July 17, 2018

      I guess what I’m doing could be called portion control. Tiny pots instead of large pots does cut back on the amount cooked which also means eating less. I don’t believe I’ll ever have the funds for a $12 cauliflower or a $3 apple or a $7 egg plant. But maybe I can buy some in season vegetables once in awhile. I did get two pounds of California strawberries a few days ago for $1 a pound. Those went into the freezer right away to be special treats.

      • Cath young
        July 19, 2018

        I hope you enjoyed some of those strawberries fresh too! It really makes sense that eating less costs less. I’ve cut my portions in half and used half of money saved to buy pricier healthier things.
        I had a delicious omelette this morning stuffed with tomatoe and mushroom. Tomato I got fresh from farm stand and they are fresh tasting with that zesty flavor. I wish so bought more. Mine still green. Mushrooms from Dollsr tree. Just $1 for the jar. Used half

        I’ll snack on Dollar Tree pickles and celery today. And then have dinner. A small piece of pork from leftover that I froze, salsa relish, bag of $1 broccoli and rice.

        That’s it for day. Tomorrow hot cereal with a little bit of fruit for breakfast.

        • Anita
          July 20, 2018

          Yes, I did have some of the strawberries fresh. So yummy. Simply cutting back to no leftovers is helping save a little. Most of the foods I cook with and eat are free from the food bank. This means I can’t save as much as someone who pays for all their food. I check the discount bins at stores for produce and meat sale items. I don’t buy as much discounted items as in the past so that’s saving some too.

          • Cath young
            July 25, 2018

            I’d love to see what some typical food bank foods for a typical week for you are. And see what Menus I can come up with. What do you try to stick to in food budget in dollar amount per week?

            • Anita
              July 25, 2018

              Sure, I can always use helpful suggestions. Thank you for the offer. I have dozens of pictures of what the typical food bank food looks like. There are two buttons on the side bar of the blog. Frugal diabetic & diabetes and food banks. Click on either of those to see dozens of blog posts about the food I received and how I used the food or stored the food. I take lots of photos. You can see my food storage area in the pictures too. We get potatoes, onions, carrots, and cabbage almost everytime. I give away the processed and junk foods such as cakes, cookies, bread, cereal, and juice because I make my own. Food banks depend on donations and we never know what has been donated until its given to us. Sometimes there are good donations and sometimes not so good. There are only two food bank days each month in the area where I live now.

              Currently my food budget is $10 per week. Now and then (not very often) the amount is increased to $20 for a special discount bin purchase. That extra money is usually a gift from someone that I don’t spend until needed. I do all the food processing things like canning and dehydrating and cooking from scratch. When it comes to my food I pretend I’m living in the 1930s or 1940s. If my grandma mama would not recognize a food I don’t eat it.

              I gotta ask this because I’m curious. Did you spot something wrong with the way I menu planned with the cards? A second set of eyes can see things we don’t see ourselves. I normally don’t menu plan. I was experimenting to see if I could come up with something easy and flexible. I usually look into the pantry and see meals ready to cook. I can’t send or receive emails anymore so communication will be limited to comments on my blog.

  3. Margie in Toronto
    July 14, 2018

    I think that everyone should go with what works best for them – if this helps you avoid the boredom and waste then it’s perfect.
    I’ve mentioned before that I don’t really do meal planning for a full week’s meals. I find it easier to cook every few days – a protein – a batch of roasted veggies – raw veggies for nibbling or for in salads. Then I mix and match and add in eggs, cheese, canned tuna, salmon, sardines or beans as I choose. If the protein is a large amount – extra chicken/a large meatloaf etc. then I freeze individual portions so that I have a variety on hand for later in the month.
    I always have yogurt or cottage cheese in the fridge to eat with fruit so that makes a breakfast or a light supper – I tend to eat two meals a day with a snack rather than 3 meals – but again, that’s what works for me.
    I also always check the flyers – match up sales with my Loyalty Point offers and then shop for those items. I rarely shop for a specific protein for recipes unless it’s on sale or I can accumulate points. The only exception is when I’m checking out a store specifically for proteins that are marked down by 50% then I’ll grab items to freeze and use later rather than because they are on a “to be made this week list”. Like you I shop my freezer and pantry first.

    • Anita
      July 15, 2018

      Thanks Margie. You are so right, we each work with our own preferred method. I told someone I would give menu planning a try and I’m doing this mostly as an experiment to see if I could make it work for me. I like experimenting. I’m kinda surprised that its actually helping me a little. I don’t have to think so much about what to cook/eat each time and the plan is based on what I already have in the pantry.

      These days its really difficult to know what to eat. Food borne illnesses like never before. Cereals with salmonella, lettuce and pre-made salads with listeria, fresh vegetables with parasites, fish with worms, food with metal fragments, and more. What is safe anymore?

  4. carenowplease
    July 14, 2018

    https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/sites/default/files/CostofFoodMay2018.pdf are the latest government food spending figures, wow, I have a fraction of this to spend ( as I am sure do most low-income people without children; I don’t think my state provides food assistance to most adults without children )

    • Anita
      July 15, 2018

      Thanks for this link too. I don’t understand the process for getting their figures but, like you, I don’t have that much money to spend for healthy food. It says on the thrifty plan for an adult over 71 I should be spending 36.40 a week. I guess if I figure in the cost of food I get from the food bank maybe I spend that amount. In Kentucky seniors don’t usually qualify for SNAP. That’s why the food bank lines are 90 percent seniors.

  5. carenowplease
    July 14, 2018

    Menu planning is very much on my mind, and it gets harder buying for one, things are mostly affordable only in large quantities.

    I’ve just been reading this Anita https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2847733/ ‘Can Low-income Americans Afford a Healthy Diet?’

    For me personally to be healthy I can’t fill up on bread, milk, cereal and it’s a struggle to be healthy on minimal dollars. I need a low-inflammatory diet so not the usual things to survive poverty.

    I’ve been doing well financially until this week when almost $1800 of unexpected car repair bills have thrown a spanner in the works…of course I need a vehicle to work, and I need to work to buy health insurance.

    It’s exhausting trying to keep it all together sometimes. Thanks for your ideas.

    I do have some canned goods in case of hurricane but try to keep them to unsalted vegetables, canned tuna and pink salmon.

    Flour is not my friend these days, nor sugar, so living off buttered toast and pancakes for a few weeks as I would previously is not a great option!

    • Anita
      July 15, 2018

      Thanks for the link. Interesting read. I had told someone I’d give menu planning a try and I am. Actually I believe its helping me a little. I don’t have to think so much about what to cook each time. Or at the last minute.

      Gosh, that’s a lot of repair costs to absorb in a budget. I understand how eating pancakes for several days helped you in the past. We do what we must in order to survive. My budget survival foods are beans and potatoes. Going to the food bank helps me a little but its still just survival food.

      I’m curious. Do you have a few favorite low-inflammatory recipes? Do any of them use less expensive ingredients than the others? Could any be considered as budget survival meals?

      • carenowplease
        July 17, 2018

        Yes, it wasn’t the only unexpected expense this month, been a depressing one financially!

        The pancakes I like are more thin-like crepes and with cheese melted as filling, but I can’t eat them often without feeling ill. They are delicious with lots of fillings too : )

        For me avoiding salt, sugar, additives and flour seems to be the best way, the hardest thing is finding affordable quality protein, fresh meat and fish are high here right now. The simpler the better Anita, last night I found three yellow and orange peppers for a dollar which I cooked in some olive oil; the meat was a $2 kroger casserole ( reduced from $8 which I would not pay, it’s barely 2 servings and though it tasted okay it has a bunch of additives I’d rather avoid )

        eggs I love, especially poached with some grilled fresh tomato, but they tend to upset my digestion .

        I look for grapefruits, avocado, apples, green beans and sweet potato. Corn cobs are around 20 cents each here right now, will cook them at the weekend ( just boiled and served with a bit of rel butter )

        I’ve been trying to add lemon or lime or lemon/lime juice to the large amount of water I drink, it’s supposed to reduce blood sugar by 10 %.

        And I eat a banana most days for the potassium.

        It’s a learning curve that’s for sure, and as you say it’s not doable on the government budget, I don’t have eligibility for SNAP here either.

        Flour, sugar, salt and additives are what I avoid for the most part, I can manage a small amount of bread occasionally and Subway have had their 6 inch salad sandwich at $2 so I’ve had that a few times.

        Been trying to read everything I can find on diabetes being an inflammatory disorder.

        • Anita
          July 17, 2018

          Low income means lots of things out of financial reach. Unfortunately low income also means healthy foods out of reach and getting more so each day. Chicken has been really cheap the last couple of weeks. Thighs 87 cents a pound and breasts for 89 cents a pound. I bought a family pack of each a couple days ago. I’ll de-bone and package for individual meals for the freezer. I’m glad there are so many recipe varieties for chicken.

          • carenowplease
            July 17, 2018

            Yes, the popular perception of poor people could eat healthy if they would only try ( type of thing ) is certainly not true!

            Chicken has not been cheap here, the only meat which has is pork.

  6. silveryew
    July 14, 2018

    I don’t do menu planning as such week to week, though I round up anything that needs using and place it so it gets used first every week, ensuring food in the fridge is rotated that way. I check this several times a week (most of the time…).

    I sometimes make extra pasta or rice as planned leftovers, pasta used for salads and rice for fried rice. And if I see a good bargain on a whole chicken, I do buy it with a mind to use the whole bird for several meals.

    • Anita
      July 15, 2018

      Thank you for your comment. I like knowing how others do their menu planning.

  7. Kathleen
    July 14, 2018

    Hello Anita,
    This is usually what I do…cook a fryer, day 1 have roasted chicken, next day have cold chk legs..I Love with a veg or any side..like salad..next day a little chk ala king over rice..next cold chk in a pita sandwich…or chk tacos…and The last I have already made broth from bones first day..I make soup..I do freeze the chk and broth so it won’t go bad and take it out as needed..
    Same with Roast..day1 roast, pot. ,Veg, day 2 cold or warm in a pita, next green Chile Verde, next beef and homemade noodles or soup…until it’s gone or freeze it for another day..
    Just cooking for me now …I divvy up the meat into portions and freeze what won’t be eaten until later in the week..
    Next week I plan salmon and tuna..
    I jarred a bunch of beans..love beans…they are my go to when I am not hungry for whatever or I add some as a side.
    Hamburger…same thing..hamburger stk4oz, tacos and beans, or pasta , beef and home grown tomatoes…and some cheese..or Chile stew potatoes,chile,onion,Hamburger..water..
    Bread and butter…mmm
    I do have to jot down a few reminders of what I have planned sometimes..so not to waste..
    That’s me now!! Cooking for just one now..
    I did make Spanish rice Last night..I plan on eating on that for 3 days…I love leftover Spanish rice..with some beans one night, some veg another..mix match..
    Making homemade pita bread today..first time in awhile..

    • Anita
      July 14, 2018

      Thanks Kathleen for your comment. I understand using one cooking for several meals and that’s the way I used to do my meals too. Before my change to smaller pots I started being very bored with eating leftovers several days in a row. Mainly because I was fixing too much food for one person. No matter how much I changed the leftover its still tasted like leftovers. I think that’s about the same time as I started completely skipping meals. I got the food, stored the food, cooked the food, but then hated the thought of eating that food. My eating is changing though.

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This entry was posted on July 14, 2018 by in $20 a month grocery budget, COOKING FOR ONE OR TWO, DIABETES AND FOOD BANKS.

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