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Frugal Meal Planning
            By Adlen W. Robinson  

Back in January, I wrote a column about cutting your food budget. Who would have thought that food prices would continue to rise? I have received lots of emails lately from people who are wondering how they can slash their food budget, but still eat well. With four children and a food-loving husband, I can relate to all of your woes! Here are some guidelines to help make each and every dollar stretch.

First and foremost: Make a menu plan for the week, complete with a shopping list. When you are trying to make every dollar count, having a menu plan is critical. Most people blow their food budget when there is no dinner plan, little people are hungry, big people are tired, and pizza is only a phone call away. Pizza is fine, but purchase frozen pizza or fresh pizza from a discount warehouse and have it on a night you planned for.


Before you make your weekly meal plan, clean out your refrigerator and freezer. I am always astounded by how many meals I can make from my freezer without buying anything. Remember when you do put leftovers in the freezer to label, label, label. How many times have you had to throw out things simply because you have no idea what or how old it is?


With milk costs so high, think about buying powdered milk and mixing it half and half with milk. I advise against telling your children about this tip since you will likely hear the word “gross” screamed at you. When our children were quite young, I used to do that all the time. I would take one gallon of milk and pour half into another empty gallon, mix with the powdered milk and water. Just make sure the milk has a chance to get very cold before you serve it. If you buy the powdered milk from a warehouse store, it is even more economical.


Ground beef, turkey, and chicken are much more affordable than steak, roasts, etc. When they go on sale, stock up and store in the freezer—again, be sure to label and date. When making tacos, do not buy the boxed variety, just brown beef (or turkey) and then drain well. Then, to the browned meat, add a little chili powder, cumin, garlic and/or onion powder, and salt to taste. Add a little water and simmer for a few minutes. Those pre-made packets are filled with additives you do not need anyway.


Pasta is cheap, and delicious. Instead of buying bottled spaghetti sauce, make your own. Simply sauté some minced onion and garlic, add a can or two of crushed tomatoes (at a warehouse store, you can get cans of crushed tomatoes for a great price), season with a pinch of sugar, a splash of dry red wine, some dried Italian herbs, and some fresh basil if you have some. Voila! Delicious homemade spaghetti sauce in minutes.


Eat vegetarian a few times a week. Again, I usually do not announce this. Instead of serving a meat as the main course, make a vegetarian baked ziti, or Fettuccini Alfredo. Serve a salad and another vegetable accompanied by some garlic bread. Nobody will miss the meat.


Buy in bulk when it makes sense. Calculate the cost and consider that if the item is on sale at the regular grocery store, sometimes that makes it cheaper. If you bake a lot, buying flour and/or sugar may be a better deal to buy it in bulk. Doing a little leg work and calculating can really pay off. I have found that buying free range chicken breasts at a warehouse is almost always a better deal than buying them at the grocery store—but I always check the regular grocery stores sales flyers just in case they are deeply discounted. You can never have too many boneless, skinless chicken breasts in your freezer.  

To save on treats, plan a family baking day. Bake cookies and other treats, wrap tightly in freezer wrap, label and freeze. Homemade treats taste better and have the added bonus of not being full of additives and preservatives.  

To save on vegetables, shop the local Farmers Market and/or small grocery stands. Better yet, plan on growing your own next summer!  

Get your family in on the act. Explain to your children you are cutting the food budget and let everybody brainstorm about how they can help. Try to calculate how much money you save in a month, and use part of that to do something special for the entire family—like enjoy a steak dinner!


Adlen Robinson’s “Home Matters” column is published in every Sunday’s Lifestyles section of the newspaper. You can also read her food column in Friday’s newspaper. Adlen welcomes reader tips, comments and suggestions! Please email her at or write to her at the newspaper. Visit Adlen’s web site at for more columns and recipes.


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