Grocery Budgeting And Menu Planning Made Easy (Review AND Giveaway)

Everyone knows that the healthiest and most budget-friendly meals are the ones we cook at home. For some, the process of setting a grocery budget and planning a menu that fits it –and which their family will actually eat– is overwhelming. Add in the confusion of trying to match coupons to sales that aren’t really good sales, and it’s understandable why so many homemakers wind up serving prepackaged convenience foods. (Sorry, but if the directions are “open box, add spice packet and heat” it’s not home cooking, and it’s probably not healthy, either.) They need Anne Simpson’s new 150-page eBook, Your Grocery Toolbox. ($4.99.)

Anne, who writes at Quick and Easy, Cheap and Healthy, sent me a copy of her book for this review. I have to say, I was very impressed with the abundance of helpful information:
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Chapter 1: The Budget (establishing yours, with a helpful example)
Chapter 2: The Price Book (creating and using one to discern true sales from minor markdowns)
Chapter 3: Sourcing Healthy Food (finding good food deals both on- and offline)
Chapter 4: OAMS (Once a Month Shopping) (stretching your grocery dollars through once-a-month trips)
Chapter 5: Price Caps (setting boundaries on how much you’ll pay for grocery items)
Chapter 6: Coupons (increasing your savings by stacking coupons on top of sales)
Chapter 7: Do It Yourself Food (making pantry staples using Anne’s recipes to save even more)
Chapter 8: Take it to the Next Level (expanding your cooking skills for added value)
Chapter 9: Saving in the Internet Age (using group deals and other sites for even more savings)

While none of these sound like terribly fascinating subjects, Anne’s conversational style makes her book enjoyable to read. And have I mentioned the wealth of information she provides? There are printables to help you calculate your grocery budget and create your first price book, a tool I’ve used for a couple of years now to recognize true sales so I know when to stock up. When you’re ready to seriously save money by shifting to a once-a-month menu planning/shopping routine, Anne’s got you covered with printables to help there, too.

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Then there are the recipes! Let me just say, I’ve cooked a number of things from Anne’s recipes on her website, and she’s never once steered me wrong. The recipes in her book are just as reliable and delicious. Her “Clouds of Chocolate” meringue cookies are a favorite of mine since they deliver that yummy chocolate taste without the horrifying calories of a candy bar. But we’re going to have to agree to disagree whether it’s acceptable to use bottled lemon juice when making lemon curd. (I say it’s not, especially when lemons are so cheap this time of year.)

I’ve cooked a number of things from Anne’s recipes and she’s never once steered me wrong.

Why the 4 stars, instead of 5? Simply put, at times Anne’s conversational style overwhelms. When it comes to extracting valuable information –which this book is full of– it’s helpful when an author either precedes or summarizes sections with bullet-points.

There were also times I found the organization a bit confusing. For instance, Chapter 8–Take it to the Next Level, covers everything from gardening to canning, then loops back and instructs the reader to plan a menu for the upcoming week (something covered in a previous chapter), before skipping to tips on using kitchen scraps… with a couple of recipes squeezed in, even though Chapter 7 is where the bulk of her recipes are. Phew!

But, listen, if all I have to complain about are a couple of organizational points in a book this chock-full of information, it says more about me and my nit-picking than it does about the author. Anne’s book is a fantastic, helpful resource that any homemaker will benefit from reading, and I heartily recommend it.

Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this review.

UPDATE: Anne has generously offered a free copy of her book for one lucky HWHT reader! Enter using the nifty widget below. (If you can’t see the widget, try refreshing the page using F5.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  • Melody Bartley

    I have trouble with healthy meals since I don’t do the shopping. It is best right now since the garden is helping.

    • http://housewifehowtos.com Katie B.

      Melody, my husband’s been the one in charge of the grocery shopping, although I write out a detailed list for him (organized aisle by aisle, because he hates wandering around in the store). Sounds like that’s going to change with his health issues now, though.

  • Rave

    I plan meals, not meals when.
    Let me ‘splain-

    It’s very difficult to decide what you are going to eat each day for a week, let alone a month.
    So I like to have several recipes (meals) that I purchase groceries for instead of a daily planning menu.

    What if I don’t want Tuna casserole (yuck!) on the second Tuesday of next month?
    I’d rather have the items and recipe cards available, but not plan which day I choose to use them. :) Keeps me flexible, AND focused, AND frugal.

    • http://housewifehowtos.com Katie B.

      Rave, I have a 2-week rotation of meals that I plan, but don’t always follow it. Improvisation is half the fun of cooking, to me!

  • http://www.smalltownmommy.com Small Town Mommy

    I shop once a week and determine what I will serve during the week. The day I serve meals depends on my mood and expiration dates on meat and how produce looks. I try to serve healthy food but I have to admit, I sometimes get lazy.

    • http://housewifehowtos.com Katie B.

      Anne, we tend to do a big shopping trip every 3 weeks, with small trips for produce and milk in between. Or a rotisserie chicken… because I get lazy, too. :)

  • sara

    My biggest problem now is finding meals that are something easy to make and 13 month old approved. Most nights I’m cooking just for my 13 month old and myself and it needs to be quick.

    • http://housewifehowtos.com Katie B.

      Oh, yes, Sara. Very young kids are SO picky, aren’t they?

  • Melody Bartley

    This is a great pagel

  • http://twiceblessedlife.com Lara at TwiceBlessedLife

    Being too tired to think straight is my biggest problem with trying to get organized with the grocery shopping and cooking, and also the fact that one of my children is ultra picky – if it doesn’t come off a fast-food menu, then she’ll kick up a heckuva fuss – very labor intensive getting any food into her :)

  • Virginia Ellen

    I am just a bad planner, and things go to waste because I didn’t have a plan for them. Now I have very few recipes in my lineup and I only buy staples and that seems to help.

  • http://www.buildamenu.com/blog Lisa Holcomb

    Thank you for the book review. I think one of the most (if not the most) important thing in keeping ourselves on a budget is a menu. Outside of mortgage/rent, grocery bills are usually the next biggest family expense. That can be cut down tremendously by planning a menu. I believe in this so strongly that I actually created a menu planning website. Whether someone uses such a website or plans their own menus, the savings can be tremendous. :) Thanks again!

    • Katie B.

      I absolutely agree that menu-planning is important. We have a weekly organic CSA delivery, and if I don’t plan how I’m going to use everything in the box then it goes to waste, and it’s too expensive to waste! At the end of the week, I plan a ‘dab a dinner’ (what my mom called it when I was a kid) which involves polishing off all of the entree leftovers and turning all of the side dishes into a soup which, for some reason, is always surprisingly good.

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