11 October 2011

The Importance of Food Planning

Welcome to the October Carnival of Natural Parenting: Money Matters

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared how finances affect their parenting choices. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Though I feel like a hypocrite for writing this right now, I’m doing it anyway. Why do I feel this way? Read on and I will illuminate your mind.

When I started feeding the two mouths of my children “real” food on a regular basis, I also started to understand how beneficial it would be to make meal plans and a monthly food budget so as to get the most for our money. Of course, some things are always easier said than done and though I set a budget right away, I wasn’t great with the meal planning aspect. I tried my first weekly meal plan when I started my blog in January, but it didn’t make an appearance on my blog again for months.

In the beginning, I created a budget of $300 a month for food. It worked for a little while, but when I noticed just how much my children can eat when they are growing, I quickly decided that $300 was not enough. Some months I could do it, spending $302 or something close to that, but I eventually decided that I needed an extra hundred and settled on a $400 budget.

Four hundred dollars a month for food works out pretty well because it equates to $100 a week. Of course, some months are longer and it feels tight towards the end, but that is when I draw upon my pantry stash to sustain our regular eating habits. So, how do I spend that $100 a week? Let's break it down.

Fresh Veggies/Fruits: It's very important for me to have a wide variety of fresh ingredients to work with, making everything in my pantry a bit more nutritious and appetizing. Right now, I like to spend around $20 at the farmers market each week and I do my best to buy as many fresh items from other local farm stands as possible before going to the store. This includes whatever is in season, of course, but I always need to have lettuce, some sort of greens, broccoli, green beans and/or artichokes otherwise my fridge feels empty. Also, we always need apples and bananas and whatever other fruit is on sale.

Restocking: This varies every week and every month since I do not always run out of the same things at the same time, but I like to spend as much as needed each week to rebuild my stores of product. If it isn't essential that I purchase anything particular item, I'll have more money to spend in other areas, but I generally like to purchase another of the same item once I have started using it. For example, once I open a jar of salsa or peanut butter, I purchase a new one when I go to the store so I'm always sure not to run out. (What would I do if I ran out of peanut butter or salsa?)

New Ideas: On rare occasions, I try new recipes and need new ingredients that I've never used before. At other times, I've wanted to try something for a really long time and never got around to purchasing it, so I try to reserve part of the food budget for interesting finds whenever I can. This means that, whenever possible, I try to spend closer to $80 per week so I have a bit more to work with.

This sounds all peachy keen, right? Sure, especially if you plan out your meals every week or month and only take one day to do all your shopping so you save even further by not using as much gas. Yeah, once upon a time, this worked pretty well.

Before I became a vegetarian, I was really good at meal planning. Ever since I made the switch, I have been having a rough time coming up with interesting meals all week long ahead of time. Making a food formula helped me out a lot, but I still feel like I spend more at the store now than I *should.*

Yes, I am here spouting the benefits of food planning yet have fallen out of the habit of doing it myself. (Secretly, I'm hoping that all of you will virtually slap me and tell me I'm acting silly and hopefully, that will make me do it again.) I do think that the importance of food planning cannot be underestimated, especially in larger families. So I humbly ask you to set aside the fact that I have neglected my own meal planning duties, look at the value of it and see how much you can save by knowing what you want to buy before you do it. If you do it right, it is possible to live on a tight food budget while still purchasing high quality foods.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama Visit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Money Matter$ — Jenny at I'm a full-time mummy shares her experiences on several ways to save money as a parent.
  • A different kind of life... — Mrs Green from Little Green Blog shares her utopian life and how it differs from her current one!
  • Show Me The Money! — Arpita of Up, Down & Natural shares her experience of planning for parenting costs while also balancing the financial aspect of infertility treatments.
  • Material v Spiritual Wealth - Living a Very Frugal Life with Kids — Amy at Peace 4 Parents shares her family's realizations about the differences between material and spiritual wealth.
  • If I Had a Money Tree — Sheila at A Gift Universe lists the things she would buy for her children if money were no object.
  • Financial Sacrifices, Budgets, and the Single Income Family — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks at the importance of living within your means, the basics of crafting a budget, and the "real cost" of working outside of the home.
  • Overcoming My Fear of All Things Financial — Christine at African Babies Don't Cry shares how she is currently overcoming her fear of money and trying to rectify her ignorance of all things financial.
  • Confessions of a Cheapskate — Adrienne at Mommying My Way admits that her cheapskate tendencies that were present pre-motherhood only compounded post-baby.
  • Money MattersWitch Mom hates money; here's why.
  • Money? What Money?! — Alicia C. at McCrenshaw's Newest Thoughts describes how decisions she's made have resulted in little income, yet a green lifestyle for her and her family.
  • What matters. — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life might worry about spending too much money on the grocery budget, but she will not sacrifice quality to save a dollar.
  • Making Ends Meet — Abbie at Farmer's Daughter shares about being a working mom and natural parent.
  • Poor People, Wealthy Ways — Sylvia at MaMammalia discusses how existing on very little money allows her to set an example of how to live conscientiously and with love.
  • The Green Stuff — Amyables at Toddler In Tow shares how natural parenting has bettered her budget - and her perspective on creating and mothering.
  • Jemma's Money — Take a sneak peek at That Mama Gretchen's monthly budget and how Jemma fits into it.
  • 5 Tips for How to Save Time and Money by Eating Healthier — Family meal prep can be expensive and time-consuming without a plan! Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares five easy tips for how to make your cooking life (and budget) easier.
  • Belonging in the Countryside — Lack of money led Phoebe at Little Tinker Tales towards natural parenting, but it also hinders her from realizing her dream.
  • Total Disclosure and Total Reform — Claire at The Adventures of Lactating Girl gets down to the nitty gritty of her money problems with hopes that you all can help her get her budget under control.
  • Save Money by Using What You Have — Gaby at Tmuffin is only good with money because she's lazy, has trouble throwing things away, and is indecisive. Here are some money-saving tips that helped her manage to quit her job and save enough money to become a WAHM.
  • Two Hippos & Ten Euros: A Lesson in BudgetingMudpieMama shares all about how her boys managed a tight budget at a recent zoo outing.
  • ABBA said it — Laura from A Pug in the Kitchen ponders where her family has come from, where they are now and her hopes for her children's financial future.
  • Money vs. TimeMomma Jorje writes about cutting back on junk, bills, and then ultimately on income as well ~ to gain something of greater value: Time.
  • An Unexpected Cost of Parenting — Moorea at MamaLady shares how medical crises changed how she feels about planning for parenthood.
  • 5 Ways This Stay at Home Mom Saves Money — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares 5 self-imposed guidelines that help her spend as little money as possible.
  • Frugal Parenting — Lisa at My World Edenwild shares 8 ways she saves money and enriches her family's lives at the same time.
  • Conscious Cash Conscious — Zoie at TouchstoneZ shares her 5 money-conscious considerations that balance her family’s joy with their eco-friendly ideals.
  • Money, Sex and Having it All — Patti at Jazzy Mama explains how she's willing to give up one thing to get another. (And just for fun, she pretends to give advice on how to build capital in the bedroom.)
  • Money could buy me ... a clone? — With no local family to help out, Jessica Claire at Crunchy-Chewy Mama wants childcare so she can take care of her health.
  • Spending IntentionallyCatholicMommy loves to budget! Join her to learn what to buy, what not to buy, and, most importantly, where to buy.
  • New lessons from an allowance — Lauren at Hobo Mama welcomes a follow-up guest post from Sam about the latest lessons their four-year-old's learned from having his own spending money.
  • How to Homeschool without Spending a Fortune — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares tips and links to many resources for saving money while homeschooling from preschool through high school.
  • It's Not a Baby Crisis. It's Not Even a Professional Crisis. — Why paid maternity leave, you may ask? Rachael at The Variegated Life has some answers.
  • "Making" Money — Do you like to do-it-yourself? Amy at Anktangle uses her crafty skills to save her family money and live a little greener.
  • Money On My Mind — Luschka at Diary of a First Child has been thinking about money and her relationship with it, specifically how it impacts on her parenting, her parenting choices, and ultimately her lifestyle.
  • Spending, Saving, and Finding a Balance — Melissa at The New Mommy Files discusses the various choices she and her family have made that affect their finances, and finds it all to be worth it in the end.
  • Accounting for Taste — Cassie at There's a Pickle in My Life shares their budget and talks about how they decided food is the most important item to budget for.
  • Money Matters... But Not Too Much — Mamapoekie at Authentic Parenting shares how her family approaches money without putting too much of a focus onto it.
  • Parenting While Owning a Home Business — In a guest post at Natural Parents Network, Lauren at Hobo Mama lays out the pros and cons of balancing parenting with working from home.
  • Crunchy Living is SO Expensive...Or Is It? — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy talks about her biggest objection to natural living - and her surprise at what she learned.
  • Mo' Money, Mo' Problems — Sarah at Parenting God's Children shares how a financial accountability partner changed her family's finances.
  • The Importance of Food Planning — Amanda at Let's Take the Metro discusses how food budgeting and planning has helped her, even if she doesn't always do it.
  • Kids & Money: Starting an Allowance for Preschoolers — Kristin at Intrepid Murmurings discusses her family's approach and experiences with starting an allowance for preschoolers.


  1. Great post for CarNatPar. I think the planning you've been doing is fantastic. It's the way to keep spending under control and keep a content family. Making a huge change, like going vegetarian is bound to cause some blips in the routine, I would think. Keep what works and toos the rest, right?

  2. I haven't yet tried meal planning, although we tried food budgeting awhile back (and then, I dunno, stopped). It sounds like a lot of people like it — maybe I should give it a whirl! Then again, maybe I should just skip ahead to where you're at. ;)

  3. I must admit, I'm HORRIBLE at food planning. Knowing what I'm going to eat a week in advance makes me lose my apetite and makes eating a chore for me. When I HAVE done it, we've seen the savings benefits, no doubt, and the cutting down of wastage too, but still. I suck at it.

    What I did find helped though was receiving weekly food deliveries. If nothing else, it keeps us in fresh foods for a week, it's all organic, seasonal and most of all - avoids daily trips to the shops which saves a fortune in itself.

    Actually, I guess an organic food delivery is kind of LIKE meal planning, except you use that as your basis and come up with a meal day by day?

    Great post - you've inspired me to think about it a bt more.

  4. See, I'm good about food planning (when I'm motivated), but I'm horrible about food *budgeting*. Honestly, I couldn't tell you exactly how much I spend on food on a weekly/monthly basis. I should probably figure that out, eh? Maybe we should just collaborate - you be the budgeter, I'll be the planner ;)

  5. You have given me some great, great ideas for making a plan!

    I am terrible about our food budget, terrible about meal planning. It's all a mess, really. Just an example: this week I went grocery shopping only to come home and realize I had forgotten to buy onions - something I use in virtually every meal. I made a special trip the next day, just for onions, but walked out with $40 worth of stuff. I put the onions away, only to realize that I already had some.

    Will you just keep bugging me regularly until I actually get my act together? If that happens to be before you get back on track, which it won't, I'll be glad to virtually slap you then. For now, I have no room to make any recommendations on this topic! ;)

  6. If we meal planned better I know we could save so much!! I always say I'm gonna then I dont.
    I love that you buy stuff when you open the new one. I should really do that. I usually buy right before I'm out. Then I run the risk of forgetting, and I always do.

    Great post!

  7. You've spurred me on to get back in to meal planning, it's so much easier!

  8. I just had to comment again to say LOL to Melissa. :) I totally do that all the time. I think that's why we have THREE open bags of tortilla chips right now.

  9. What would you do if you ran out of artichokes??

    I LOVE the idea of food planning and do it often - what I suck at is actually following the plan!! So you get no virtual slap from me...but really Amanda - it's awesome that you're trying at all! You can see the good, know what happens when you don't do it, and try, try again...that's just what we're all trying to do, right? (At least that's what I keep telling myself... :) ).

    Plus, vegetarian does make it more difficult to plan meals until you really get used to it - especially if you don't like that many veggies lol ;) See if you can find some of the Moosewood restaurant cookbooks - they've got lots of awesome recipes and ideas and were some of my favorite as a vegetarian.

  10. I've really got to get on this whole meal planning thing. It's hard to get things organized when I'm already so busy, but I know it would actually save me time in the long run. Thanks for the reminder. =) We can get on the wagon together!

  11. Food must really have different prices all over North America! We have twice as many children as you, but they are LITTLE and don't really eat very much. Still, we easily spend $800/month on food. And honestly, this is down from $100/month just 2 years ago because, like you said, I began planning my meals in advance and buying only exactly what I needed every week.

    But wow!!! I really can't over that you spend only $20/week on fruit and vegetables. I live in Toronto and in the summer I spend $80/week on fresh produce. In the winter it often goes up to $100/week as all of the food has to be shipped in from warmer climates. The prices I pay certainly prove that I don't live in the Banana-Belt of the world!

  12. Wow - we were just talking about meal planning this evening and my partner saying how I need to get back into filling in all the nice meal plan charts I had printed out. It makes it so much easier when I know what we are going to eat. Thanks for giving me the virtual slap...I'll send you one of my weekly plans when I get it done for fellow veggie inspiration! onelove x

  13. This is really impressive. I don't really have a system like this, but I think this would be worth trying!

  14. Thanks Amanda, lots of food for thought (ha!). I also am impressed with your budgeting, though I know I could be a lot better with this. The produce thing is really a challenge for me -- it's really spendy here, just to keep us in fresh fruits and veggies! Patti, I do think food costs vary considerably depending on where you are in the country, and even what part of town you shop in (at least here in Seattle). A drive three hours south from Seattle to my parents reveals VASTLY different prices, it always shocks me. I always kick myself for not stocking up whenever I visit them. I know someone here who would drive an hour from her house for her shopping, because even with gas it was cheaper. Hate that!

  15. Thanks everyone :) I sort of feel virtually slapped, even if you all didn't totally intend it. Maybe next week I'll make a plan..... :)

    And FYI Patti (because I was sleep deprived and not completely clear while finishing this) I spend $20 at the farmers market, but then I also go on to the grocery store to pick up whatever they don't have there, such as artichokes :). So, I'm not sure what the final number on fresh veggies/fruits is, but I limit my farmers market budget to $20 (+/- a few dollars depending on what's there).

  16. Like Dionna: Food planning, yes. Food budgeting, not so much. We've been tracking our spending on groceries — oh! the horrors of what we are spending! — but so far I haven't been able to translate the tracking into budgeting. Thanks for sharing your approach to the challenge — I think I can use it to help us make that translation.

  17. Thank you, Rachael :) Food is like the hidden monster money eater that needs to be tamed. I'm glad I may have inspired budgeting change in your life :)