Grocery Budget Tips: Tip 18 – Meal Plan

Welcome back to the grocery budget series I am almost finished writing. In this series, I will share the top 20 ways that I can think of that our large family uses to keep the grocery budget from getting out of line. To learn more, visit our introduction.

I try to sit down before my monthly shopping trip (I would do this more often if I shopped weekly, and tweak my system accordingly) and consult our favorite recipes and take a peek in the milk crate I use as a filing system for recipes we would like to try.  I draw recipes from both to come up with 30 (or however many days the month has) lunch ideas and 30 dinner ideas, and a few ideas tossed in for breakfast.  Breakfast is generally self serve in my home, so I don’t generally plan each mornings meal.  Any ingredients that I need to buy, I add to my list.  My meal plan changes from one month to another, depending on our financial situation.

While I try to plan for a meal for each day of the month, I also understand that leftovers can be turned into new meals, and opened food ingredients needs to be used (and turned into new meals) to prevent waste.  This allows a little extra flexibility in our menu.  If we did not get around to eating every meal on the list, then we can transfer those ingredients to the following month – though if I purchase perishable ingredients for a specific meal we are sure to eat that before the ingredients go bad!  Ingredients such as meat are frozen when we get home, so those don’t spoil.  But, for example, if we buy or pick lettuce from the garden for tacos, we will eat tacos right away.  I also like to plan use of leftovers for the next day if I know ahead of time we will have them.  For example, if we eat lasagna one night, I can use the spaghetti sauce (I make a big batch each time I make it) for spaghetti the next day. That makes the sauce stretch over at least two meals and I know ahead of time so I can plan for it.

I don’t assign meals to specific days in advance, usually, unless I have a good reason to (for example, a crockpot meal on a day we will be out of the house for much of the afternoon).  That way, I can have some flexibility in my menu.  My husband is not a planner and likes to have options at each meal rather than have them planned out far ahead. This way I can tell him what kinds of meals we have ingredients for and he can tell me what he’d like the day before.  If I know my husband will not be home for a meal, I will certainly plan that meal out ahead of time and be ready for it.

Because our days are so full, and little ones have so many spontaneous needs, knowing exactly what I have on hand and a list of meals that we can eat from makes my meal prep the night before (when kids are in bed) a lot easier (thaw meat, prepare veggies that won’t brown, make salsa/guac/other dips/sauces/spreads, etc.).   Knowing what is for lunch and how long it will take to prepare, allows me to plan the necessary time into the day without being hurried (nothing worse than having a meal picked out, then realizing it takes two hours to cook when you have half an hour and grumpy kids…. Read your cooking instructions as well as the ingredients!).

I do know some who assign meals to specific days of the week and it works very well for them.  If they go shopping weekly, they can plan their menu and buy exactly what they need for the week.  They can consult sales flyers and plan their meals according to sales to save the most money. Then,  any meal prep for the following day is done the night before.

What if someone objects to the meal you have planned?  Does everyone always agree?  Not in my home.  If I have taken the time to thaw and prepare food, that is what we are eating.  I try to plan meals we all agree on, but with so many under our roof, majority rules.  The oddballs are sometimes offered a sandwich, but I generally plan enough sides that they can get their fill from something else on the table.

If you are wondering what kind of form to use, a simple calendar can work fine!  There are also specific meal planning forms you can use online.  I like to use a calendar with blank lines running down each side of the calendar so I can write my list of meal ideas that I have shopped for that month, then if I need to use leftovers I can make note for the next day (on the calendar) what I want to do with them, and if I need to assign a specific meal to a day, I have that right in front of me.  I also like to write the next days meal plan down the night before when I am doing my meal prep so I can remember what we have decided on.

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