Monday, February 1, 2010

Meal Planning 101

In my post on how to grocery shop, I mentioned that you must plan in order to save money. If you go into the grocery store without a meal plan YOU WILL SPEND MORE MONEY than you want to! It's what they want you to do; they even design their stores so that you will buy things not on your list! People get degrees in this marketing stuff (I know, I thought about it for a while!) So, how do we buck the system? How do we not buy into what the marketing world tells us?

We plan ahead!

I had a few comments on both facebook as well as here that asked my system for planning meals. I truly believe this is the key to our saving money each month on groceries. One of my tips for eating cheap is to eat "boring". Ask anyone in my family and they will tell you: We do NOT eat boring all the time. I have however started planning a weekly menu for breakfast and lunch. We do not vary from this plan much at all. Dinner however is a totally different topic. I love to explore new recipes and new flavors. I think the kitchen is a world ready to be opened up to my children and I want them to taste it all!

I have a copy of the Better Homes and Gardens 1953 Cookbook. I love to look through it sometimes just to get some ideas. It never ceases to amaze me each time I glance through. We've come so far in the kitchen in the past57 years! I feel like people in general are eating healthier, and for our family we are focused on the quality of the ingredients we use.

So, let's get down to the nitty gritty on meal planning!

In order to save time and money I have purchased a large desk calendar that hangs by magnets on my fridge. This is my "master calendar" and if it's not on the calendar, it's not happening. (okay, so not really, but that's how it was in my house growing up!) This calendar helps me to navigate through my meal planning. There are a few different options for meal planning. Because every family is different, each person's methods for planning will be different as well. These are meant to be guidelines to help you find what works best for you.

I always start my meal planning (no matter which method) by sitting down at the kitchen table with my big calendar, my cook books (or computer), pen and paper and sometimes a cup of coffee or tea.

Option #1: The list method.

In this option you simply make a list of the meals that you would like to have in the two week pay period. (if this is how you shop, you can also do it weekly if that works better, just beware that more trips to the store means more chances for unlisted or not needed items to "jump" into your cart!) From this list of meals you can make your grocery list. Don't forget to plan in nights for "leftovers" as well as any meals you know you will be eating out. For example, a two week meal plan, I typically schedule about 10 dinners knowing there will be leftovers and that we eat out on Sunday nights. This is the most "flexible" planning method I've found that still works well with a two week pay period schedule.

Option #2: Day by Day.

In this option you write down each day (on the calendar) what you will be having for dinner. From this calendar you make your grocery list. There's not a lot of flexibility with this option, which is part of what makes it work budget wise.

Option # 3: Theme Nights.

In this option you plan each night to be a type of food to give variety but yet keep the ingredients of what you buy similar to each time you shop. For example, if you make every Monday night Mexican, you know that you will need to purchase lettuce, tomato, meat, olives, sour cream etc. The only change is if you want it flat (tostada) or folded (burrito), crunchy or soft! This has a lot of flexibility.

I use a combination of the second and third options. Mondays are Mexican, Tuesdays are Asian (I always make rice this night!), Wednesday is Italian, Thursdays are "American" , Friday and Saturday nights I reserve for either pizza or leftovers. (Summer time we grill once a week, sometimes more). Sunday's I try to do a crock pot meal, but being in ministry we end up eat out a lot of Sunday's. (It is within the subculture of our Church to share meals, and unfortunately that has frequently transferred from homes to restaurants.)

Instead of just leaving it at a theme for the dinner, I plan out what I will be making each night. It saves me a LOT of guess work and brain power wondering "what's for dinner?"

Also as I mentioned before, I plan out "boring" breakfast and lunches. Monday mornings we eat oatmeal, Tuesday is cereal and yogurt, Wednesday is breakfast rice, Thursday is muffins, Friday is pancakes, and Saturday is eggs and with either bacon/sausage. Sunday is cold cereal as we are usually in a hurry to get out the door for Church. Lunches are as follows: Monday, rollups (pb&j or turkey/cheese), Tuesday sandwiches, Wednesday bean burritos, Thursday quesedillas, and Friday is Noodles/Pasta. ( I don't plan lunch on Saturday because we normally "clean out the fridge" on these days!)

Recently I switched from planning two weeks at a time to doing the entire month at once! It's been FANTASTIC! At the first of the month I make four grocery lists: the first one has all the meat and dry goods I will need for the entire month, the other three have any perishable (produce/dairy) items I know I will need based on my month meal plan. I also have a note pad attached to the fridge to keep track of items I've run out of and need to put on the first list of the month! Having the lists finished ahead of time has been such a relief. It takes so much mental effort to plan and it's worked well for me to just get it done all at once!

I hope these meal planning ideas have been helpful for you and that you are able to use them in your home! Please feel free to leave me a comment with questions or suggestions.


Kerilyn said...

Great post Amy! Thanks. And for the record- your "boring breakfasts and lunches" seem not so boring to me. In fact, you gave me ideas for my own kids! I love a lot of your tips. Thanks again.

Also: your new layout is pretty spiffy.

Elise said...

It's lovely here! I'm so happy to have you in blogland! :)

I love your meal planning system- mine is similar, except I've always done monthly menus; I keep a list of those meals on the fridge and check it the night before or morning of so I can thaw or stick in the crockpot what we're going to eat at the next dinner table. This works well for us, because we might not *feel* like tacos or meatloaf, etc, if I plan it for specific days.

I also choose at least one new/unfamiliar dish to try each month; this keeps my culinary skills expanding and makes dinner even more exciting at least once a month!

I also only plan about 12-14 meals for the whole month, leaving room for leftovers and eating out; and sometimes Mama's tired or children are sick and we just make sandwiches or breakfast for dinner- those things are always on hand! Kindred spirits think alike, I guess! :)

Thank you for sharing- I know this is going to help so many people, my friend!

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