Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Monthly Meal Planning

How often do you go to the store and find yourself adding additional things to the cart than what you've set out to get?  I know this happens to me pretty much every time.  Its true, the more often you go to the store, the more likely you are to spend extra money on impulse purchases.  So why not cut out the middle man by eliminating all of those trips to the store?  
This is something that I have done several times over the last year or two:  I plan my meals for the whole month.  The whole month??!!  You'd have to be insane, right?  Well...maybe not.  I will admit that I do not do this every month, but, really, I should.  We seriously save major moolah when we do it this way.  And I never realized how much time it takes going to the store until I started having extra time to do more enjoyable and productive things!
Let me explain that I did not jump into this head first.  I eased my way in... I decided to start off by planning out two weeks at a time.  Two weeks is a lot easier to handle than a whole month, at first.  Once I got the hang of it, I realized if I could do two weeks, I can do a whole month.
I plan my meals according to what I already have on hand, and then I make enough in each meal so that we have leftovers for lunch, so that kills two birds with one stone.  We've always got eggs, oatmeal, cereal and frozen fruit for smoothies on hand for breakfast.
Here are the steps I use:

1.  Take inventory.  Make a list of everything that you have on hand including canned goods, and stuff in your pantry and freezer, so you can figure out what meals you can make out of your stock.  *Don't forget about freezer meals*
2.  Whip out old monthly meal calenders if you have them.  This is like a cheat sheet for me.  Its a lot easier to go off of previous month plans once you get going.
3.  Create/Pull Out a list of your go to recipes that your family loves.
4.  Print off a blank calender that you can start plugging your meals into.

5.  Start placing meals into your calender. Its a good idea to keep a calender of your monthly events/engagements near by to incorporate them into your meal planning.  If you know everyone is going to be out for the evening, maybe its a quick sandwich night, or even a "fend for yourself" type of night.  We also are big "breakfast for dinner" kind of people, so I incorporate that in to my calender at least a couple times a month.  Plan easy meals for busy nights so that you stick with your plan. Use a pencil.  Once you start plugging in meals, you may see that one might be too similar to another one that week and so on.  Just take your time.
6.  Make your grocery list.  Once I have my meals put onto the calender, I go through and look at each recipe.  I make my list in order of where each item is at the store, so I can zip through there!  I make a list of each section of the store, and as I look at each recipe, I place what I need from the store under each column. This saves so much time at the store; this way you can get in and out.
Here are some tips to keep you from getting overwhelmed:
  • Start with two weeks, and work your way up
  • Plan to use fresh produce towards the beginning of the month according to what will keep the longest.  Potatoes, onions, celery (if kept in water in the fridge) will all last longer.  
  • There are usually great sales on fresh fruit in the summer when it is in season.  We stock up when its super cheap, and freeze it our self, rather than buying the ridiculously expensive bags of frozen fruit.  Frozen fruit is great for smoothies or a quick dessert or side dish.
  • Having freezer meals on hand makes this whole process MUCH easier.  I plug in freezer meals that go in the crockpot or oven without messing up the kitchen on nights that I know I will be too tired to cook.  See my post on freezer meals for tips and recipes.  You can also make one recipe a week that you double or triple: eat one of them, and freeze the rest to stock up or add to your freezer meal stockpile if you don't want to do it all in one weekend. Make sure its something your family will enjoy before making multiples...I learned that the hard way when tripling out a new recipe that turned out to be not so tasty. *Whoopsie*... I even make an inventory list of what freezer meals I have, just so I don't have to go digging through the freezer to see what's in there.
  • Don't give up!  Know going into it that the first time or two will be the hardest!  Once you get the hang of it, you will have a cheat sheet of meals to go off of like I have and you will know what you're getting into.  It will getting easier learning how to use what you have on hand first, and keeping an eye out for deals.  Be kind to yourself and be proud of this accomplishment, its a big deal!
  • Have fun with this!!  I kind of make it like a game (I'm easily entertained).  Scope out the best deals, and then say, "AH-HA!!!"  when you leave the store, knowing you won't be back for awhile to give them any more of your hard earned cash!! Walk proud, you earned it.
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