Bill statements and calculator.

You’re a Business and Meals are Your Product

As a former business owner, I decided it could be fun to look at meal preparation (whether feeding myself or whole bunch of people) as a business, using principals that any successful business owner would employ. Here are a few simple steps to create meals that will keep your family and your budget healthy and balanced.

Determine your end product.  No business can be successful without knowing its end product. Think details. If we just say “let's make a meal," that’s like Ford saying “lets make a car.”  Which meals, how many people, what are we eating? Deciding on menus is essential for success in our business. Use websites like All Recipes or Food Network for access to simple recipes that can make meal planning painless.

Create a materials list.  What do you need to create your menu? Ingredients include the obvious – meat, vegetables, grains, etc. Our complete materials list may also include spices, or supplies like paper towels, cooking spray or even pots or pans. Remember the number one cardinal rule: don’t shop when you’re hungry!  Create a shopping list and stick to it.  Some items may seem good at the moment, but at the end of the day your budget will thank you for your restraint.

Assess existing resources.  Before you start buying materials, you need to assess your existing resources. In other words, what do you currently have in your pantry, fridge, and freezer? Taking an inventory of the contents of pantry, fridge, and freezer helps avoid waste, both by using up what you already have and helping you avoid unnecessary purchases.  Also assess your financial resources. How much can you spend on materials without putting the financial health of the company at risk? Is the amount flexible or set in stone? How will you be sure to stay in your budget? Will you be paying by check, cash, or charge? All of these decisions should be made before you shop.

Review and revise menus if necessary.  As you assess your existing resources, we may find that we need to adjust our menus to make use of what you already have. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the average family of four throws away $2,275 of food per year. Neither a business nor a family can afford to waste good materials.

Obtain needed materials.  Shop, shop, shop! Amazing how far down this is on the list, isn’t it? There are many shopping tips and tricks you can utilize to create the optimal shopping trip.

Warehouse and manage materials.  How you handle groceries after you get home is just as important as the planning phase. I know personally, I’m just so darn tired after shopping that I don’t want to put everything away, or I just shove it in the fridge. This sets us up for more waste. And remember, wasted food is wasted money!

Just as companies rotate stock, so should we. Put the freshest or most recent purchases at the back of your fridge/freeze/pantry and the older in the front. While doing this, you can assess your existing materials again. Does anything need to be thrown out? What needs to be used in the next couple of days? What may be past the “sell by” date, but is still good? It also helps you discover some of the materials you may have forgotten way in the back. 

Also be sure to store food appropriately. I hate it when carrots are rubbery or lettuce wilts because I didn’t take the time to put everything away correctly. Every time I have to toss produce like this, I am so irritated with myself because I know I’m almost literally throwing away money. A few extra minutes to store your items properly will ensure they stay fresher longer. 

Complete the manufacturing process.  Like most people, when I get home from work I’m seldom inspired to cook. The trick is getting organized on a weekend. Consider cooking meals or portions of meals early, freeze what isn’t needed and then enjoy delicious and easy meals throughout the week. While you cannot make lettuce salads for the whole week, the hard boiled eggs can be prepared in advance, and veggies can be cleaned and chopped.  Taking time to do the prep work in advance allows you to do the final manufacturing without much energy and time.

Salvage excess manufacturing product.  Leftovers, oh my! That’s lunch for tomorrow or dinner for next week (or next month, if you freeze it). Get the most out of your hard work by using those leftovers. I often cook extra chicken breasts or meatloaf because they make such good sandwiches for work. Utilizing everything you have will result in eating out less, which can sometimes be the difference between a $4 meal and a $12 meal.  This Cooking Light article features an interesting side-by-side comparison between eating leftovers vs. eating out.  

With some planning, assessment, careful shopping, mindful preparation and consumption, you can spend less, waste less and enjoy more healthful eating.

Bon Apetite!