This month, we are celebrating the Christmas holidays, as well as three birthdays and hosting family for New Year's Eve. So I've been charged with the task of making sure that the grocery budget stretches as far as we can. Considering the amount of social activities and extra shopping/visitors we'd be hosting this month, I wanted to see how far I could get with smart planning and cooking in bulk.
First, I checked with the Boss about his preferences for the holiday meals and then asked for preferences of those celebrating their birthday. Those would be the cornerstones I had to work around.
Then I raided the pantry to see what we had on hand. With a list of basic ingredients in hand, I planned out meals where I could make once, eat twice... basically, make a double batch and cook one immediately, then freeze one for use at the end of the month. Lasagne, casseroles, soups, chilis all made that list.
Then I looked for similarities in the recipes where I could buy in bulk and split up the items. Italian sausage is a great multitasker: I planned to use it for lasagne, migas, and roasted polanos with sausage. Rotisserie chicken was planned for chicken cheesy nachos, a spicy chicken tortilla soup (turkey leftovers work awesome with this recipe, too), and homemade chicken stock. I have three recipes to use with butternut squash- including a sweet roasted squash, a savory casserole, and a soup with roasted apples.
I don't use tomato based sauces often, so when I used a marinara sauce for a dipping sauce for pepperoni monkey bread, I planned on making the lasagne shortly after so I could use the remainder of the sauce. I made a note of what type of shredded cheeses I'd need to buy in bulk.
I consolidated all the recipes into a master grocery list, looked for coupons and sales, bought in bulk where I could. With the exception of milk, eggs, ice cream for the birthdays and fresh salad greens, I believe we are done for the month and we've only used half the normal budget. When all is said and done, I expect to spend about 70% of what we'd normally spend, despite the various special occasion meals we'll be having this month.
I have casseroles tucked away in the freezer, a loaf of pumpkin bread, several soups and chilis frozen in smaller portions, frozen cookie dough waiting to pop into the oven, ingredients for 2 types of lasagne and scones ready to be prepped this week. I also have ingredients for candy and other holiday treats ready to go.
On top of this, a lot of pressure off me is gone. I don't have to worry about unexpected guests dropping in or spending my time in the kitchen cooking the entire time while we have visitors... I can pull out something I prepped earlier. Best of all, when we go to potlucks or have a work event, I always have homemade cookies I can bake in less than 15 minutes.