Jan 30, 2010

Dollar Stretching Saturday: Meal Planning

I'm in awe of people who can go to the grocery store without planning meals ahead of time and end up with enough meals to get them through a week or two. I have no idea how they do that! But whether you're able to not plan and still have enough home cooked meals or whether you end up having to order pizza or hamburgers a few times a week, learning to menu plan is a huge money (and sanity!) saver.

I know some of you think you can't possibly plan every meal before you shop. But if I can, you can. It's not hard if you have a simple game plan. And, trust me, you'll enjoy the savings in your grocery bill - and the way you become that much better of a steward of the money God gave you. Here's how I do it:

A day or two before I know I'll go grocery shopping (usually around my husband's pay day), I sit down with my cookbook. I rely mostly on a binder full of recipes I've used for years, but I try to incorporate one or two new recipes every few weeks. I also have on hand a pen and a piece of paper.

On the far right hand side of the paper, I write numbers - one for each day I need a dinner. So if I'm buying for two weeks, I write the numbers 1 through 14 vertically in the right hand corner. Then I begin writing the names of recipes behind those numbers, always trying to share ingredients, if possible. (More on that in a moment.)

As I write down the meal names in the right hand corner, I write down the ingredients I need to buy on the left hand side of the paper.

When I'm done planning dinners, I think about the staple foods we eat for breakfast and lunch. They are pretty simple at our house (eggs, sausage, ingredients for bread making, etc.), but if you like something more complicated, you can make a list for breakfast and lunch, just as you did for dinner.

When I'm done, my paper is organized like this:


beef stew meat
onions (3)

1. Borscht
2. Shepherd's Pie
Now here's a vital step: When I'm done, I tear off the right hand corner and post it on my refrigerator. I now have a list of meals I have ingredients for and I don't have to try to remember what I had planned - which usually results in forgetting and letting fresh ingredients rot in the fridge.

Then I take my list of ingredients to the grocery store and cross off items as I put them in my cart.
This method saves money because you'll only buy what you need. No more running to the store (and using up fuel) to buy a few items. No more ordering dinner in.

Once you've tried this a few times, you can save yourself even more money by trying to plan meals so ingredients are shared. This way nothing goes to waste, and you actually end up buying less food.

For example, on day one, I might make borscht (a Russian stew), which includes half a head of cabbage, plus beef stew meat. So for another evening, I'll choose a meal that uses up that second head of cabbage, and on another night, a meal that also uses beef stew meat (because it's cheaper to buy a larger package).

You might notice I didn't mention looking at your grocery store's sales flier while making your meal plan. personally, I'm more apt to plan without knowing the sales, but if I spot something at a great price, I'll pick it up and store it for another time. I recommend that if you're not used to meal planning, you try shopping this way, too. Once you're a confident meal planner, then consider adding the sales flyer into the mix. For now, keep it as simple as possible.

Give it a try!

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  1. I did this for the first time this week, and when I told my husband, he said: "Finally!" I definitely spent less at the grocery stores when I went... Now as long as my toddler doesn't get a hold of my list, we'll be in good shape. :)

  2. Yay, Liberty! I suggest taping your list of meals to the inside of your pantry door, or the inside of a kitchen cabinet door :)

  3. I, too, need flexibility in my meal planning. This looks like a great organizational tool. I will be giving this a try!

    Visiting from Cafe Mom.