Meal Planning to Save Time and Money
I have heard of the wonderful idea called meal planning many times over the past few years and every time I read a post about it I love the idea of having all of our meals planned out at the start of the month but quickly come to the realization that we are not that great at planning out our meals. We are very last minute dinner makers and our only “planning” is to decide what meat and vegetables we want during our weekly Costco trip and then cobble together a meal based on what else we have lying around. And let me tell you, that is after years of making a serious effort at not just going to the store the day of to buy whatever we want for dinner. I will confess that we used to go to Costco multiple times during the week, sometimes daily, to pick up one or two items (at least we were good at only getting what we needed right?) and make dinner that night. There was no planning involved. It was all very haphazard and as you can guess we ended up throwing out a bunch of food because we would forget what we actually had at home.
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I went back to work a couple of weeks ago so I thought we would try a little bit of meal planning to reduce the stress of trying to figure dinner out every night. I got a full-time job which I am really excited about but I have not worked full-time since my oldest daughter was a preteen so needless to say it will be a huge adjustment for our family. I worked very part-time before and after our 4 year old was born and quit when she was about a year to stay home and I am really appreciative of my time as a stay at home mom but it is time for me to go back to work. I did not have my act together enough to have all of the meal planning ready for all of April but we are going to try it out for a couple of weeks and see how it goes.
Planning Out Grocery Trips
We have made a genuine effort to cut back on our Costco trips and most of the time we are really good at going once a week now. I am still going to the store more than I would like but we have discovered that certain items are cheapest at a particular store and many of the dairy-free items we buy are not at the same store so it leads to multiple outings. Generally throughout the month I go to Target, Whole Foods, and Fred Meyer once or twice each depending on how much dairy-free milk and cheese we go through. Target has the cheapest price on the milk our kids like, Whole Foods has the best price on their yogurt and cheese and Fred Meyer has the best price on soy milk for the adults, the dairy-free yogurt I like and on Luna bars which have become a great source of protein and calcium for our kids and sometimes the only thing I eat for breakfast. The morning rush out the door for us is no joke and many times I do not have time to eat so I always keep a couple of Luna bars in the car to munch on during my morning drive. They are also great for those morning when the kids sleep in and are too tired to eat before we leave. Hands down the family’s favorite flavor is the Chocolate Peppermint flavor. They go super fast in our house!
Once every few months I make a trip to our local Franz Bakery outlet to purchase massive quantities of bread. This particular run netted me so much bread I had to do quite a bit of rearranging to fit everything in the freezer and it only cost us $19.98. It would have been $10.00 but I bought two loaves of gluten-free raisin bread for my peanut butter toast in the morning and they are sadly $5.00 each but they are way more in the regular grocery store and I was able to get an extra pack of hot dog buns out of it so it saved us an extra couple of dollars that way too. Most of it goes in the freezer as soon as we get home and we slowly work through it over a couple of months. My kids love bagels and sandwiches on hot dog buns and at 4 for $5.00 and a free loaf of bread for every $10.00 you spend it is a bargain you can’t beat. Having a freezer full of bread is also a great way to always have a meal on hand. You just need a few extras stored away and you are set for a week even if you have a week where grocery shopping is not in your budget. For this reason we always have peanut butter, sun butter, jam, frozen hamburger patties and some sort of meat for sandwiches on hand. Bagels can also be made easily into breakfast sandwiches with an egg and a little mayo or of course with cream cheese (we buy this brand for our dairy-free people in the house). Since I have a freezer full of bread I also have no qualms about gifting it when requests for food due to financial stress come up in our Buy Nothing group. Sadly this has become a frequent occurrence in our group and 95% of the cases are a genuine need from families that have come upon rough times with no emergency funds.
Meal Planning Motivation
After participating in the Uber Frugal Month Challenge this past January I was amazed at how we were cooking way too much food on a weekly basis. We still have not adjusted to having one less adult in the house and having our daughter home for an extended Christmas break threw off our cooking schedule. In January we also ate less meat and for some reason we just didn’t need to cook more. Our fridge was emptier but we still had plenty to eat. We only had to cook every few days and we still had extras for lunch.
Then came February and we hit a few bumps in the reducing our food waste bandwagon. We hosted a large group of people, threw a birthday party, attended several friend’s birthdays (free lunch!), had major illness in the family and our oldest daughter was in and out for a couple of weekends and we ended up buying a lot of food we didn’t end up needing (I am looking at you lettuce I found in the back of the fridge). I am not even sure if we made our grocery budget because I have not had a chance to look at it. Needless to say we need to make some changes and make more of an effort to reduce our food waste and stay on track with our budget. Cleaning out the fridge this week and finding tons of little containers with a mouthful of food or two was a huge motivator to be more conscious of the food we are buying.
Meal Planning How-to
The basic idea of meal planning is to sit down at the start of the week or month and write out a plan of what you want to eat every day. Some people get very involved and write out breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks so that they know exactly what they will eat for every meal. There are a bunch of different ways to write out your meals and you should probably use which ever one makes the most sense to you. Some people make a spreadsheet, use a printed calendar, use a digital calendar, us a planner or even just write it out on a piece of paper and tape it to the fridge. The important thing is to look ahead and see exactly how much food you need to buy without wasting any. A lot of people do this by buying one item that can be used many different ways. For instance, we buy chicken in bulk from Costco and that is our meat for the week. One day we might have fried chicken, another teriyaki chicken, another “basic chicken” and then we would use leftovers on a salad, in soup or even as chicken salad so that the one jumbo pack of chicken lasts the whole week (or even two if you incorporate vegetarian meals as well).
This past month we did this with a ham we bought. My husband found it at Safeway with a 50% off sign and the entire 20lb ham ended up costing us about $7.50. It was a steal! Mr. Oscoey heated it up with the sous vide so it would not dry out and then sliced a large chunk of it. We then ate it over rice with steamed vegetables, in sandwiches and also cold straight from the bag (our kids’ favorite method of consumption). He also made a delicious ham broth out of the bone and used that to make a lentil soup that also used up some carrots in our fridge. We still have a lot left that we sliced and put into the freezer.
Getting Started with Meal Planning
We are going to start our mini-meal plan adventure next week. This week we have a wonky schedule due to the flu going through our house and nobody is eating their normal meals. Next week is Spring Break but neither my husband or I can take any time off since we were home so much with the kids this past week. On Friday I am going to sit down and finalize a plan for just our dinners for the week. We have sandwich stuff for lunches and I will just need to buy some fresh fruit this weekend and breakfast is usually toast, oatmeal or cereal with eggs. Baby steps are the key to making any change in our household!
Our plan will be something like:
Sunday: chicken, rice, roasted Brussels sprouts
Monday: leftover chicken, steamed peas/salad, rice
Wednesday: chicken nuggets, steamed green beans, carb (Dance Night so we have to eat quickly and early)
Thursday: chicken cooked a new way, Beans, salad/corn
Friday: My husband usually comes home early enough on Fridays to cook dinner so I will have to see what he is thinking but I have a feeling we will be having more chicken
Saturday: Grocery shopping day! We will see what new meat we buy for the week and go from there!
It will be interesting to see how the week plays out and how well we stick to our plan! Have you tried meal planning with any success?