Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Ten Simple Strategies For Easier Meal Planning

I have steadily been reducing our grocery budget since October. I used to hover around $500 a month for our family of 4. In January, I was able to get it down to $290 by going on a Spending Diet and participating in the online Eat From The Pantry Challenge.

But $400 seems to be where I have settled at right now. I'm okay with this number because it still allows me to cook the way I like (mostly from scratch) and provide my family with healthy, whole foods.

One of the biggest ways I have been able to save money on groceries is by planning our meals. It takes a little time and effort, but the rewards are a reduced grocery bill, no worries at night about 'what's for dinner', and hopefully a less stressed cook in the kitchen.

Ten Strategies for Easier Meal Planning:

  1. Pick a day that works best for you to be your meal planning day. Mine is usually on Sunday afternoon when I have the grocery flyer(s) in front of me. I personally try to keep my large weekly grocery shopping to one store unless there are some irresistible loss-leaders elsewhere. My eye is always looking for great sales on our staples like chicken, turkey, fruits, vegetables, bread, laundry detergent, and toilet paper.

  2. Keep your pantry, freezer and refrigerator organized so that you can cross reference what is on sale, the ingredients needed for a recipe and what you have on hand.

  3. Find a blank calendar or notepad and designate it as your meal planning calendar. I use a free calendar that I received in the mail back in December.

  4. Get the family involved. Ask THEM for suggestions. Every week when I ask my 4 yo, I inevitably hear, "I want pasta". I make one pasta dish every week for my little sweet pea.

  5. On your designated planning day, pull out the family activity calendar. What is going on in the week ahead? Will everyone be home for dinner that week? Is there soccer practice, mid-week church activities or a late night at the office? On those hectic nights, quick and easy meals will be needed. Maybe even a crock-pot meal. Are you going to a pot-luck that week or somewhere else that would require you to make and take a dish? I make those notes on my meal calendar and then fill in the blanks for the meals where we are home.

  6. Plan for breakfast, lunch and dinner. On hectic mornings, life is so much easier when breakfast is planned and there are ingredients on hand. Also, my husband tries his best to come home several times a week for lunch, so I need to make sure there will be food for him.

  7. Plan for all seven days. I've been lazy in the past and just planned for the work week and ignored the fact that we do need to eat on the weekends. We usually eat out one night, but if I don't plan the other six days, then it becomes more than one night out and we end up over budget in that category.

  8. Create a family recipe binder. My binder is a very important part of my kitchen. It is full of recipes from magazines, friends, and online that I have collected over the years. Some people keep their recipes on the computer, but I don't have a convenient spot to keep my laptop when I am cooking, so I keep my favorite recipes in a binder. The first page in the binder is a master list of my family's favorite, quick fix, healthy meals. It is a quick reference tool, but I don't list all of the recipes in my binder, just the family favorites that are a regular part of our meal rotation. When I look in the freezer and see several packages of ground turkey, I then look on our list under Turkey for recipes.

9. Avoid boredom by trying at least one new recipe a week, maybe on a day that isn't hectic. For those hectic days, refer to your Master recipe list for easy suggestions.

10. For new recipes, use websites such as CookingLight.com, myrecipes.com or allrecipes.com where you can enter a particular ingredient and the site will recommend recipes for you. This is how I found Turkey, Arugula and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta, one our my family's favorite meals.

For me, meal planning is the strategy where I save the most money on groceries. By planning our meals around what I have on hand, what is on sale at the grocery store and what my family likes to eat, I have been able to reduce our grocery bill by about $100 a month.

Do you plan your meals? How often do you plan? Weekly, Bi-Weekly, Monthly? Let us know in the comments.

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  1. I used to meal plan for the month but I have found that, for our family, it is easier to plan on a week by week basis. With that change, I have been able to go from a $450/mo. grocery budget for a family of 4 to a $300/mo. budget! I am pumped! I told my husband about my personal goal of reducing our grocery budget in order to add the extra to other areas like our "Family Fun" budget or the mortgage. (We are debt free except our mortgage) He didn't complain- in fact, he said that if I saved $150 for the month of Feb. he would purchase a sturdy shelving system so that I can start a food storage program for our family.
    Well, I have a nice five shelve system with a small stock of food already available!
    I love the challenge of saving money with out scrimping on value and I am still trying to find a way to cut my budget another $50 just to see if I can pull it off this month.

  2. Annie - You rock!! Congrats on reducing your grocery budget by $150!!

  3. Great post! I really need to get around to making a family recipe binder. I'm forever trying to remember where I put my favorite recipes! Thanks for linking to Thrifty Tip Tuesday!

  4. Good post! I had gotten our grocery budget down to $200/month for the 2 of us (which might still sound like a lot for 2 people, but it was way better than what I was spending before). However, when we went on the South Beach diet and changed the types of foods we were eating (a lot of meat and fresh veggies), my grocery bill went way up. However, I feel so much better with what we're eating now, that I don't mind spending a bit more. My goal now that I have some idea of what we're actually eating, is to keep our grocery bills to $300 (or less) a month. Last week was certainly my best South Beach shopping trip yet, so I'm getting there. Thanks for sharing your progress and method with us! :-)

  5. Sounds like you have it figured out. I am terrible at planning for meals other than dinner, because I work outside the home. I just grab something convenient to eat at work.

  6. Hi! Visiting from Life As Mom. Great tips! I need to re-organize my recipe binder. I like how you divide it up by meat - turkey, beef, ect.


  7. I think menu planning has been one of the biggest helps to us saving money each month. Thanks for all your ideas!

  8. Those are really good suggestions. I've been meaning to try this forever! Maybe I'll make some time this weekend and try it out for next week.

  9. I love meal planning...I love that it ultimatley saves time and money!

    I usually meal plan once a week -- I have done the monthly route -- but, find it works better weekly or biweekly with our busy family schedule always changing.

    I actually adapted a fun way to meal plan with kids -- going to be posted on my blog soon.


  10. Thanks for stopping by and for all of the comments.

  11. You definitely need to plan ahead for those potluck emergencies! When cake mix, gelatin mix, or any other ingredients for goodies that you would normally take to a potluck go on sale, then stock up on one or two. If you have the ingredients already in the house, it will take less time to make something (and be a LOT cheaper) than picking up a bakery or deli item


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