October 12, 2015

How to Make Meal Planning Work for You!

meal planning tips, eat at home,

So, we're buying a house. Which means it's time to tighten down the wallet, so I'm busting out all of my best money saving methods once again and I thought I might share.

One of the best ways to save money is by eating at home. But there are days when 5:00 rolls around and I still don't know what we're having for dinner, and all of a sudden Little Caesar's is sounding pretty good. But, if I have put together a meal plan for at least the week, the chances of me running out to pick something up at the last minute drop dramatically. It took several years and half a dozen failed attempts to get down a meal planning rhythm.  But all that time and effort was worth it. Today, I sit down every other week and plan out the next two, write up a shopping list and by doing that, I only have to go to the grocery store twice a month. 
Here are a couple of things that I learned over the course of my trial and error.
  1. Shop your pantry first. Go through your fridge and freezer to see what needs to be used up.  Go through your pantry to see what you already have.  Then make the shopping list.
  2. Check the weekly ads.  Super awesome sale on chicken?  Use that in your menu.  Pasta for a dollar? Lasagna it is!
  3. Don’t forget about leftovers.  It you’re making something like teriyaki chicken and rice, make a little extra rice and use it in a casserole that calls for already cooked rice the next day.  Or get creative.  How can you use up that italian chicken that was leftover?  Could you make a pasta salad from the spaghetti that didn’t get eaten?
  4. Take into account your schedule.  Don’t plan on making that long and complicated meal on the night that you have to be at a PTA meeting and your kids have a baseball game and a dance recital.  Save the freezer meals or sandwiches for those nights.  Granted, things are always going to pop up, but don’t start the week by shooting yourself in the foot.
  5. Keep your menu where you can see it.  Some people like to keep it on a bulletin board in their kitchen. I find that the less time that my children know what I’m making for dinner, the less amount of time they have to complain about it.  I keep my menu on the calendar on my phone.  It’s easy to access and almost always at hand. Plus, I set reminders for myself, which really come in handy when I'm planning a crock pot meal.
  6. Don't try a new recipe every night. You want to save the new stuff for a slow night, when you have time to fix mistakes. I usually throw a new recipe into the mix about once a week and that's plenty.
  7. PINTEREST!! Keep a board of recipes that you have tried and loved. You can also do this the old fashioned way, with a notebook or a recipe box, but Pinterest is my favorite way to do it. It's easy to refer to when you're putting the next couple of weeks together, and easy to add to when you do try a new recipe and it's delicious!

Menu planning has a direct effect on my grocery shopping. It cuts down dramatically on the last second runs to the grocery store, when I inevitably spend more than I need to and walk out with ice cream or cookies.  By menu planning, my impulse purchases are limited to twice a month, and when I’m buying the store and running out of room in the cart, I’m less inclined to throw something extra in. One more thing that I’m sure you have heard before, but is oh so true, don’t, I repeat, DON’T go shopping hungry. You will spend more money, you will buy things that you don’t need and you will regret it after lunch.

Do you have any tried and true meal planning tips that I missed? Leave them in the comments below, I would love to hear about it!

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