A Simple Approach to Living With Less

Minimalism, Menus, and Saving Money

One of the biggest challenges as a family of 10 is dealing with feeding everyone. For any family, keeping up with menu planning while keeping the money spent on food in check, can be a big deal. Keeping within the minimalist mindset, we don’t want things to go to waste or spend unnecessarily. Obviously, the less food that is wasted equals less money wasted.

Dealing with leftovers is our biggest challenge around here. When you cook for 10 every night, you go through a lot of food. However, it’s also hard to gauge how much will be available for our weekly leftover nights. We like to do grocery shopping a week at a time. (Ok, I wouldn’t say we really like to do it that way, but if we go for longer than that we need reinforcements to push the extra shopping carts.)

Our nightly cooking often feels like a scene from the Price is Right. The challenge is “getting to the correct amount without going over.” (If you have never watched The Price is Right, that analogy may be lost on you.) My point is, it’s just not always easy to guess how many packages of meat or frozen veggies we need without going over board. Another example is something like spaghetti. One pound isn’t quite enough, but two is way too much.

We do plan at least one weekly leftover night in our menus, but we usually end up with all these random side items that make it hard to feed us all. We try to track the leftovers by putting small removable stickers on them with the date so no one has to wonder, “Eww, when did we have this?!” Still, when it comes time to clean out the fridge, it is very disheartening to see the food that has gone to waste. This is a food challenge I would like to take on.

Enter, Jo from Simply Being Mum. First of all, very cool lady with some handy practical tips for living a simple family life. If you haven’t checked out her site, you should definitely visit. I have discovered that Jo has some awesome tips on menu planning, using slow cookers (can I get an “Amen?”), and a weekly challenge called “No Waste Tastes Great.”

This week, Jo was guest posting at The Minimalist Mom and gave us The Simple Guide to Meal Planning.” I am not new to meal planning, but I always love hearing how other people plan their menus. I always come away with some new nugget of wisdom to try. If you need some help with this area or are just looking for some inspiration, go check out that article.

The “No Waste Tastes Great” challenge has me the most intrigued though. Just the pictures of Jo’s fridge alone are inspiring! This post has the details of how Jo takes inventory of her food items that she needs to use up for her weekly challenge. I am really excited to try some of Jo’s tips and see what we can accomplish around here.

One other resource I just found today is Food on the Table. It’s a website that will:

  • plan your menus
  • provides or lets you use your own recipes
  • using your family’s food preferences
  • at your favorite grocery store
  • showing the current sale prices
  • and print out an organized shopping list

You can use lots of the features for free so I’m going to try it out. For the record, that’s not an affiliate link. I’m just excited to see resources like this available for helping families save time and money.

I’m sure you have some great tips on saving money on groceries and your own menu planning tips to share. Please let us know what they are in the comments below.


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Article originally published on 03/04/2011

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  1. One of my biggest tips is to try to eat out of the pantry as long as possible. I usually make it a game. Early Feb, I gave myself $100 for groceries, and challenged myself to see how long I could make it last. I’ve still got about $50 left, and we are continuing to get creative and eat out of the pantry. Just because one of our “favorite” foods is gone, doesn’t mean that I replace it immediately. We look for creative alternatives. It’s been fun!

    Dr. Laura

  2. Faith – Thank you so much for mentioning my humble fridge! Since doing No Waste Tastes Great I have been extra extra vigilant in using up my foodstuffs. We have so far only had one disastrous meal – Celery Gratin – not for my palate I’m afraid! I’m doing a little experiment over the next two weeks with my Simple Meal Plan shopping, so may be worth taking a peek back this weekend. Thanks again! Jo
    p.s. – Amen Amen Amen – one for each of my slow cookers

  3. nopinkhere says

    I have tried Food on the Table and like it. But I tend to buy differently for sale items than the menu planning has me do. My family liked some of the recipes I tried, but I ended up having to seriously rework every week. I couldn’t just choose my proteins and go with the recipes that came up. I have gone from using it 3 weeks out of 4 to using it 1 week out of 4. It is relatively easy to add your own recipes. I also found it to be pretty intuitive, and it was very easy to add regular items to your grocery list. I’m not sure that I will renew after my 6 month subscription is up.

    • Faith Janes says

      Thanks for info for Food on the Table. I’ll try and look at it more in depth over the weekend. We’ve done programs like E-mealz before too but the portions are all planned for 4 people. I could of course just multiply what we need what then it’s not saving me as much time and buying multiple small items on sale isn’t cost effective.

  4. Faith,
    These are some great ideas, I had just commented on Jo’s site about the whole grocery thing. We are really watching the budget but our housemates, Lord love ’em, really, seriously like to food shop. They aren’t used to bringing minimalist goals and precepts into every area yet. we’re working on it. Hadn’t heard of Food on the Table, I’ll check it out. Thanks for the inspiration, between you and Jo I’m getting some great ideas. Tonight (Friday) tends to be taco night at our house and we have a visiting family friend from the mainland, so homemade salsa (my hubby’s specialty) is on tap. I use it instead of more fresh tomatoes on the tacos to save some. Have a great weekend! Get some rest before the book launch, we’re excited! 🙂

    • Faith Janes says

      One of my husband’s favorite meals is tacos and homemade salsa. He’d love it if it was every week. Right now we have about 5 weeks of rotating menus but we’re still over buying. Like you said, not everyone view minimalism as applying to all areas of life. 🙂

      I hope you have a great weekend too. I’m getting really excited about the launch too! Still lots to do behind the scenes.

  5. Jo that Celery Gratin sounds experimental for sure!

    Faith I’ve been loving Jo’s meal planning advice. I still haven’t quite “done” it but I’m really trying to get a little more regular with my menus, especially with the limited pantry/fridge/freezer space. Patrick and I eat very differently from Cora so we have totally different food going on the storage zones!

    Even though I’m not meal planning I do cook from scratch constantly. The biggest thing that works for me is always having a big pot of soup on hand. I cook a giant batch, freeze some, and leave some in the fridge. It’s very inexpensive and healthy. I also do lots of frequent veggie/bean salads in big quantities. For me cooking in bulk works.

    Why this works for me: If I always have something healthy on hand, if I don’t feel like cooking I’ll still eat healthy instead of grabbing some junk food and instant stuff.

    • Hi Tanja – Had to pop in here! Your cooking habits sound fantastic… batch cooking is a fantastically productive way to cook, and as you say having something healthy on hand stops bad choices. Slow-cooking is a brill way of doing this (couldn’t help myself I am obsessed – seriously I’d marry my slow cooker if it wasn’t committing bigamy). Soup is perfect as a meal and slow cooked. One of my favourite soups ever is slow cooked spicy ginger, carrot and lentil. I’ve been planning some ‘Super Soup’ posts for the blog. The inspiration came from a BBC documentary about healthy eating – I hadn’t realised that they way soup is digested means that your stomach is fuller for longer due to the volume consumed rather than the calories. I need to check my research, but I do plan to post on this soon. Jo

  6. I think the key to using (small amounts of) leftovers is thinking outside of the box. A small, silly example to this being a leftover plate of spaghetti. Just ONE portion wouldn’t be anything for the ten of you if served like that.

    However, if you mix that portion of spaghetti with 10 eggs, you’ll have a great omelette for the next day, which everyone can enjoy.

    My wife is an expert in these things, as she can’t stand throwing anything away. It makes her very upset to see something go down the garbage can (unless it’s really moldy or anything. *lol*)

    Best wishes from the Netherlands!

  7. Our family just started trying to pay for groceries and a few other categories in our budget with just cash. Out of our budget of $300 for March, we only have about $75 left! In a WEEK! Granted, I have 2 little ones and formula and pull-ups for the older one were part of that as well. But still- ONE WEEK? This is a great, timely post as I try and make meals for the rest of the month without buying anything extra… I am NOT willing to go over what we had in our budget. And it makes me so thankful that we use cloth diapers 99% of the time!

  8. Great tips! I love eating from the pantry. I’m not very creative, so I let allrecipes.com do the work by just typing what I have into the ingredient search. I have found several great recipes this way that end up sticking around.

  9. Faith – thank you so much for finding our site and writing about us! If anyone has any questions or feedback, we are all ears! We’re a relatively new site and we want to make it useful to those that are trying to solve what they’re going to eat for dinner. You can email me at amanda (at) foodonthetable.com with any questions or suggestions. Thanks!


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