1. The Grocery Budget
My primary resolution for last year was to cut our grocery bill by 50%, and although we only managed to drop by 40%, we also drastically cut back on our numbers of lunches and dinners out. Even with all that extra eating at home, we still did rather well. I think we can get the rest of the way to this goal in 2009. A lot of people do just fine with a whole lot less, but this is a place we are fortunate enough to be able to choose to spend more than the absolute bare minimum (although don't think I'm not in total awe of moms feeding families of six on $40/week...!).
As I did last year, I would like to keep up or improve our level of "junk-free" food -- organic, natural, green, local, whole-grain, cruelty-free, hormone-free, additive-free, blah, blah, blah food at the same time. This is a non-scientific, within-reason kind of thing -- I'm not going to stop buying brands we love unless I become convinced that they're terrible for us, and I'm unlikely to pass up on particularly good deals or make a special trip to a different store for an item or two (except when it comes to meat and milk, where I always really taste the difference...and the wanton use of hormones and antibiotics in animal-sourced products is a little anxiety-producing anyway). If I make it from scratch, my attitude is that it's junk-free, even if some ingredients aren't organic or all-natural: I made it, and I didn't put a bunch of junk into it, so that's good enough. But if I dump non-organic corporate-ag-produced veggies into a saucepan for five minutes, we'll eat it and maybe enjoy it, but it's not particularly junk-free (although knowing me, I probably got it for 80% off).
Bottom line -- if it's not junk-free, we better love it, or it better be cheap. Minimizing our tox load is important, but we have a whole family of filtration organs for handling this stuff....and triscuits, diet squirt, and pop-tarts are yummy....
My overall strategy this last year has been to plan meals in advance, to take advantage of sales and coupons, and to avoid waste. These three together seem to have been relatively successful. We've saved money and time as well as dropped our overall meal-making stress...I'm not sure I'd want to go back to doing things the old pre-kid, pre-budget way! I've started up a little bit of a stockpile (which needs more organization...and I've got to pay more attention to using up some of this stuff, like the mountains of carrots and potatoes from the organic veggie CSA) and learned a lot about prices/coupons/sales. I think our new giant deep freezer will help in this area as well. Additional strategies I'd like to implement this year include: stocking up at farmer's markets/u-pick farms, using our new meat/dairy CSA membership, and continuing to build up my stockpile/sales/coupon mojo. Reminder to self: renew veggie CSA membership ASAP!
2. Target the Top Three Food Stress Days
We are fortunate to be able to each work from home one day a week, which leaves three days per week where both of us are gone all day and Stella is at her fab babysitter's house. Getting all of us out the door in the morning and all of us home again in the evening seems to result in long days overall -- one of us inevitably has an early meeting or a last-minute disaster and we end up short on time, energy, or both in the evenings. I want to target these three days (Monday, Tuesday, and Friday) for particular effort in the meal planning process as well as in an advance meal prep schedule to drop the overall time to dinner delivery. I've done some of this off and on (remembering to cut up extra of this or that, setting out all the ingredients for a crockpot meal, tossing something in marinade, planning leftovers or quick meals for these days, etc.) but I haven't been consistent or focused.
3. Observe Kitchen Wednesday
I started up "Baking Wednesday" without a lot of thought -- it's my work from home day, and back then, Stella took 2 or 3 naps and was happy in her high chair. So using the 'commute time' savings to do some extra special meal prep, or taking 10 minutes while lunch is cooking to knead a hunk of bread or toss a cobbler in the oven was easy to do. But my baking plans only made it into my meal plans irregularly, and as Stella has grown up, she doesn't nap as often as she used to, and she's not as happy just sitting in her chair or rocking in a swing while I make a mess in the kitchen. Finding new and creative ways to work with a toddler (and soon enough, a toddler and an infant) while doing extra in the kitchen will be a challenge, but I think some extra planning will really pay off. Stella is a good observer and a good helper, and I think she'll respond well to some kitchen routines.