Creating menus to feed your family on a budget can seem complicated, daunting and time-consuming. Take the challenge, and turn that chore into delicious, inexpensive dinners for the entire week. If you think creatively, you can stretch a few nutritious dinner entrées by preparing additional meals from the leftovers. You'll find that you not only maximize your food dollar but save yourself loads of valuable preparation time as well. Amaze yourself and your family at how a little simple menu planning can enable just a few basic entrees to cover an entire week's dinners. You'll probably notice the added bonus of a reduction in the amount of food your household may be wasting.
Create a menu plan for the week before you go grocery shopping. Compare local grocery ads for the best buys on main entrée meats. Plan on making several large main meals early in the week, and include fresh garden salad with a different creamy dressing with each serving. Purchase enough of each meat item to enable you to make great meals from the leftovers to see you through the remainder of the week.
Prepare one very large garden salad early in the week, and store it in a plastic container in the fridge to save yourself a lot of time thereafter. Take a little extra care and pinch off any brown or damaged areas from tender leafy greens during preparation. These spots are prone to rot quickly and will spoil your entire salad long before its time. This will go a long way toward extending and preserving the life of your greens, and you'll likely enjoy a week's worth of fresh salad.
Cook a terrific beef pot roast with vegetables and seasoned with a dip mix for dinner Sunday evening, grill or oven-roast some chicken breasts Monday, and bake a pork tenderloin or roast Tuesday. Or for some variety, prepare a double batch of spaghetti, a large casserole, stew or hearty soup early in the week. These one-pot wonders are quick and easy warm-up dinners for later in the week and can even be frozen for future use.
Put meat entrée leftovers to work for you for the rest of the week. Create a meal around curried pork or chicken and fruit salad, and complement it with a wild-rice side dish. Delight your family with barbecued beef, pork or chicken sandwiches on toasted rolls one night. Take those leftover meats even further by trimming them down to thin strip, perfect for making stir-fry with leftover rice. Chicken or beef strips make for tasty Mexican tacos, burritos or fajitas; they're also excellent for creating taco salad and nacho chip meals. Whip up a leftover casserole with any meat, pasta and some leftover veggies.
Choose fresh vegetables over frozen to serve with each dinner. They're healthier for your family because they retain more flavor, texture, nutrients and fiber, and they typically taste better. Serve raw with a side of savory dip, or steam them for just a few minutes until crisp tender. You'll find that they cook more quickly than packages of frozen veggies.
Store leftovers in plastic containers with tight-fitting lids. Plastic wrap is pricey and ends up being thrown away to clog a landfill. Reusable containers will save you lots of money in the long run.
Items you will need
- Plastic containers with lids
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- Don't throw away those little dabs of leftover cooked vegetables; save them in a plastic container in the freezer. Add more leftovers to the container for up to several months. Use the collection to add to a fabulous hearty stew or soup.
- Don't leave cut tomatoes in a salad that you plan to keep for the week. Keep them in separate containers until serving time.
- Try making nutritious sandwiches from leftovers to pack and take with you to work for lunch. This will save you more money than you may realize.
- NetMums: Cooking on a Budget
- Disney Family Go Fun: 15 Dinners Under $1.50
- Purdue University; Cooking Fresh Vegetables; 2002
- USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion; Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals; Shirley R. Watkins and Rajen S. Anand, Ph.D.; May 2000
- Delish; Meals That Save You Money; Linda Smith
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images