Fitting the Puzzle Pieces Together: Meal Planning to Save $$$


More and more, I’ve realized that the choices we make about what kinds of meals to make in meal preparation mode for ourselves and our families are less important than the puzzle pieces of how they fit together. What in the world do I mean? I mean that few items in the grocery store are perfectly portioned for my specific family.

Take a package of hamburger buns. There are usually 8 of them, so even if I budget well, get the sale hamburgers and the cheapest buns, Husband and I will usually eat one, maaaaybe 2 burgers and then have frozen burgers and buns in the house for a while yet. I might use them, but eventually, they often get thrown away.

I hate food waste, but I haven’t figured out how to avoid this project until I realized that most meals are actually puzzle pieces, and that if I really want to save money and avoid waste, I have to fit them together in each week’s meal plans.

This means that if I buy hamburger buns in particular, I want to plan to make some crockpot pulled pork AND serve burgers at some point that week; that way, I get two different meals but I use all or almost all of the hamburger buns.

Many things easily freeze and thaw into nice, easy-to-use meals, but other items seem to be… less… after they’ve been frozen. For me, this is true for most soups. I’ve had to learn the hard way that if I make a soup, I need to eat it in a few different meals immediately or it will end up frozen and eventually thawed and discarded. I applaud people who are better at eating their leftovers than I am, but I think many people have certain leftovers they’ll eat, and certain leftovers they can’t abide.

So the puzzle pieces are the most perishable parts of any meal. If you make a curry with half a can of coconut milk, there needs to be another dish to use the other half of the can. Obviously, we cannot predict all of these, but just by thinking this way, in terms of the perishable leftovers from any given recipe, I’m having an easier time planning my meals and seeing the benefit in less lingering sad food in my fridge, and more money in my pocket.

6 Comments, RSS

  1. Shaun-Charisse October 10, 2017 @ 8:02 pm

    Great tips! Thanks for the follow!

  2. Kristin October 11, 2017 @ 1:46 am

    Yes! I like to keep a running list of ideas of things I can make with my scraps, or, more appetizingly named by you, “puzzle pieces.” It’s always much easier to come up with ideas when I look in the fridge to figure out one thing; more ideas usually start popping into my head once I get the ball rolling… Wow, that really *is* like a puzzle, right? The more pieces you can fit into place, the easier it gets to figure out where the rest of them belong!

  3. teacherturnedmommyblog October 11, 2017 @ 7:47 pm

    I always menu plan. It makes it so much easier to shop and you are right if you can multi purpose items you buy there is so much less waste!

  4. My Way Home Life October 13, 2017 @ 2:31 am

    Great ideas. Especially with three kids, I’m always looking for ways to economize and use every bit of food I buy.

  5. Eileen Sim October 13, 2017 @ 10:45 am

    I agree it’s difficult to ensure we don’t waste food, especially since I’m only cooking for two. Haha, I actually do have half a can of coconut milk in my fridge after cooking curry a few days back. I did recently learn from a chef’s Facebook that he freezes his leftover coconut milk in silicone ice cube trays, but I haven’t bought any silicone ice cube trays.

  6. helenwelsh18 October 18, 2017 @ 12:15 pm

    I like your analogy of ‘puzzle pieces’; I also like to think of my fridge as an artist’s palette … especially just as I think there’s no food left and I’m about to go out and spend more money in the food store. The game is, I’m not allowed to go and buy any more food till I’ve used up what’s there. So I empty out what’s left and create a recipe or two to use it all up. It makes for some interesting soups! I can nearly always delay shopping for another 2-3 days, just by being willing to experiment. Sometimes I think I should write these recipes down, but more often I just enjoy them and look forward to the next experiment! Yesterday’s kale and coconut soup still lingers cosily in my tastebud memories though … !

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