Life has not been kind to us as of late in the cash flow department. My hours have been cut lately, and Redneck just got laid off. We are definitely trimming the fat in a lot of our budget categories lately. This week we honestly had nothing left over to spend on food, well, with the exception of milk, eggs, and bread. So my Zero Budget Meal Planning came into play big time.
Redneck and I are total foodies. We are always looking for new ways to make and flavor just about everything. It’s honestly hilarious just how many kitchen gadgets we own between the two of us. I moved in with him and realized that even though our pantry is huge, we have overflowed it with all the stuff we have. (We have 8 Crockpots, for crying out loud!) So coming up with ideas for what to eat is interesting when we are both involved.
I would also like to add that we are not take-out people. My idea of splurging is an $8 trip to McD’s for breakfast with my step-sons on a special occasion. Not only do we like to cook, but we like to cook together. I think that having both of us involved in the process not only makes things go easier, but it strengthens our marriage as we learn to work together in the kitchen.
Zero Food Budget
My typical budget for a week of groceries is around $100, depending on whether it’s our weekend with the boys or just the two of us. Feeding two teenage boys can get expensive. Especially since the running joke surrounding the younger one is that he has hollow legs.
The older is harder to cook for because he is such a picky eater. I’m a fan of buying cheaper cuts of meat that will stretch farther in different dishes. This one refuses to eat meat on the bone or that doesn’t have every single iota of fat trimmed off of it. I’m fighting tooth and nail to get him to understand that if I take off all the fat, then I’m taking off all the flavor and drying out the meat.
The concept seems to be going completely over his head. So I just hide what I can and adjust to it all.
Zero Budget Meal Planning- How to Meal Plan with No Cash
The first step in meal planning when there is no cash to go grocery shopping is to take a very detailed inventory of what you have on-hand. We typically have a running inventory in our household budget at all times. Honestly, though, this time around we had been slacking, so it took a little longer than normal because we actually had to write out a new inventory from scratch.
Don’t be overwhelmed. The process of inventorying your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer is well worth the effort in the long run if you are looking to cut back on your grocery budget.
Once you have everything inventoried, sit down with your meal planning worksheets (available for free by subscribing to my newsletter below) and look over your inventory, creating a strategic meal plan based on what you have on-hand.
For example, we always have an abundance of meat. I’m a crazy person when it comes to getting meat on sale. I watch the local butcher shop’s Facebook page for their monthly bundle sales and try to always get a box from them if it includes things that make sense to our family’s eating habits.
An added bonus on purchasing from the local butcher: the meat is generally of much better quality. It also supports our local economy and small farmers. Being raised by said small farmers, I love the fact that I am helping them and not contributing to Big Business any more than necessary.
Making Your Meal Plan
Sitting down with your inventories, write down what main dishes can be prepared.
I have a large roast in the freezer that can be made into numerous different recipes. I can look at my inventory and see what ingredients that we have on hand to make any one of the available dishes. Now, since I do not have cream cheese on hand right now, my stroganoff is off the menu. Even though I could make homemade noodles if I needed to. I don’t want to purchase anything.
The key is to make whatever you can without having to purchase anything- not even that $1 block of cream cheese.
So, I look again at what is available. I have all the necessary ingredients to make barbeque sauce, so I know I can make barbequed beef. Now, we have no buns, but I could make a loaf of bread OR I can serve over rice (which is also on-hand). The boys wouldn’t eat it over rice, but Redneck loves it that way. Because I am only cooking for us, BBQ Beef and Rice gets written in on a day for the week.
Use What You Have
Continue making decisions based on what you have available. Even small add-on purchases add up and destroy the whole idea behind Zero Budget Meal planning.
Once you have all of your main dishes planned out, then go through and plan your side dishes. Typically, we all have canned or frozen vegetables available. Just making a side of green beans or corn (depending on your main dish) can work out just fine. The idea is to be able to eat, not to create gourmet meals. Sometimes good old-fashioned good enough is good enough.
Make sure you plan on using up all your leftovers also. Maybe packing it for lunch, or planning a leftover smorgasbord one night. Waste nothing if you can help it.
Making it Last
As you create your meal plan for the week, keep notice of if you could do this again next week in order to keep your budget to a minimum. We will have to keep being as frugal as possible with our budget while Redneck is laid off. But knowing what you have on hand (by keeping an inventory) can make you not feel as restricted in your food options. You can see that even though you don’t have a lot of money for food, you aren’t going to go hungry.
What keeps me going and keeps me sane is remembering my own childhood. We were far from rich. Honestly, looking back I see just how poor we really were. I was just too young to even realize it until much later in life.
Things got so bad for us in the early-1980’s that I remember my parents having to get food stamps. That was unheard of in our family.
I remember going to the store with Mom. We had to watch her hand over what looked like Monopoly money to the cashier… through tears. The absolute horror and shame she felt at the moment resonated for years after with my sister and me. She cried on the drive home. Once my dad realized how traumatic it was for her, he never made her use them again.
Dad worked his butt off to make sure that no matter how many hours he was away, how crappy the job was, he made enough to keep food on our table. If I remember correctly, I think he may have even sold his motorcycle in order to make sure that we could live as well as possible for a while.
It’s amazing how the simple act of buying food can instill such a desire to work hard in life. The idea of going hungry and remembering Mom’s face has given me a work ethic that has served me well. I absolutely refuse to allow myself to be in the situation that I have to ask someone else to feed me.
Using Your Resources
Zero Budget Meal Planning is nothing to be ashamed of. You worked your butt off to buy what you have on hand. You are using the tools that you have at your disposal to make sure that you do what is necessary to keep food on the table in your household.
I’d also like to add that I have no judgment on people who do get assistance. Every situation and family is different. I respect anyone who puts food on the table by any means necessary.
Just because your budget isn’t what you are used to or what you think other people have doesn’t mean that you can’t have wonderful food. Prepare what you have with love, every night of the week.