When I first moved out of my parents’ house, the thought occurred to me that I would now be solely responsible for my own meals, every single day. For someone who loves to plan, such as myself, this was oddly overwhelming. While I loved “free taco bar at happy hour” night just as much as the next 22 year old, I put quite a lot of time and thought into meal planning: what could I cook that was A) cheap, B) relatively healthy, C) delicious, and D) did I mention very cheap? I started listing dinners that were successes on all fronts so I’d have a bank of ideas from which I could pull weekly. I plotted where I’d shop based on grocery store sale fliers, and planned a weekly menu based on coupons and store specials.
I lamented how much I spent on food each week, striving for healthier meals and lower totals at the check out. For whatever reason, I felt guilty if I spent more than I’d planned to on my weekly Stop & Shop trip. Even now, over a decade later, and with two children and a husband, my weekly grocery shopping trip is a source of stress. Figuring out breakfast, lunch, and dinner for four people– one quasi-vegetarian, one omnivore, and two picky children– while staying within a budget isn’t easy.
But this past Saturday, I threw that all out the window and decided I’m basically a wizard. Why? Here’s the thing: I came to the realization that with about what it would cost for my family of four to go out to 2-3 restaurant meals, I am cooking four servings of twenty-one meals plus snacks. Think about it– groceries are expensive. Healthy food, sadly, often costs even more than ready-to-eat food…not to mention the time, mental energy, and physical work it takes to make breakfast, pack lunches, and whip up dinner every. single. day.
But– check out this math:
$130 (what I spent last week on groceries) divided by 84 (that’s 4 servings of 21 meals) = approx. $1.55 per serving
According to this article, the average meal outside the home costs $12.75 per person. Theoretically, if we ate restaurant meals for dinner every night, even while still eating breakfast and lunch at home, we’d spend $357 per week. Just on DINNERS! And suddenly, I stopped feeling pressure and guilt, and started patting myself on the back for the insane wizardry that is meal planning and shopping for my family.
On a related note, here’s our newest easy dinner that we’ve been enjoying lately!
-Your favorite type of noodle (we usually use Udon noodles)
-Assorted veggies, fresh or frozen (great for using leftovers up!)
-Protein, can include marinated tofu, steak, chicken, shrimp…pick your favorite!
-Stir-fry sauce…we use teriyaki ginger sauce or peanut sauce
-Mung bean sprouts
-Salt, pepper, garlic and any other seasonings you like
If your noodles are not pre-cooked, cook them ahead of time and set aside. Grill your protein of choice and set it aside. Heat about 2T of olive oil in a large skillet. When hot, lightly sauté mushrooms, seasoning to taste. Add your assorted veggies and cook until they soften slightly. Add mung bean sprouts and cook until they reduce slightly in volume. Add your cooked noodles, and toss all ingredients together in the skillet until warm, along with a generous helping of your sauce of choice, and voila! Dinner is served. Enjoy!