Welcome to Part 4 of my Menu Planning 101 series. This series is designed to get you in the kitchen, start planning, and help feed your family delicious home cooked meals they will enjoy. Part 1 discussed why we should menu plan, part 2 included almost 40 links with meal ideas for your family, and part 3 added 5 extra meals plus sides.
By now you should have enough meals and side to get you through an entire month of menu planning with a few repeats and leftovers. It is time to implement your list.
Shopping and Sales
There are several ways to shop for your meals. The most common would be weekly, twice a month or once a month. I do know people who shop daily, but I have yet to meet someone who manages to shop like that frugally. I shop twice a month, with dh picking up milk and veggies on the off weeks. This has worked well since I now live about 25 minutes from the Commissary. Some people have had great success shopping once a month. I like the idea of shopping once a month, but I have never been able to make it work for me.
You can menu plan before or after you shop. If you create your weekly meal list before you shop, make your list of needed ingredients to make your meals. If you are planning after you shop, make a list of all the deals and sales you want to find. Either way this is your shopping list. I really like Laura’s master shopping list template which is a free download on her site. Of course if you google “master shopping list” you will find many other options.
It is a good idea to check your local store’s sales before you plan your menu for the week. If your store is having a sale on ground beef, this might be the week to plan your tacos, meatloaf and hamburgers. There are several great websites that run store sales and coupon matches across the web. Mommy Snacks, Keeping the Kingdom First, and Stretching a Buck all post weekly store deals, coupon previews, and printable coupon links that can help you with your planning.
Another way to shop is to only shop the sales. Stockpile the really cheap (or free) stuff and then menu plan from your pantry full of food. I did this when we lived in a remote area and it worked well. It is also the method Amy Dacyczyn (Tightwad Gazette) used when she was writing her newsletter.
A note about menu planning, shopping and lists. I am sure we have all been in a situation in which we are getting ready to make dinner, or we have already started it, and realize we are missing a key ingredient. This does not mean you have to scratch dinner and order pizza. Many times you can substitute the missing ingredient with another item you have in your kitchen. Once again, let the internet be your friend, and search for a substitute. I found this ingredient substitution list after searching for less than 3 seconds.
What if you planned for spaghetti and only have 1/3 a box of noodles? Get creative. I once had someone bring us a pasta meal that had about 5 different kinds of pasta mixed together. My friend had just combined all her leftover boxes to make one big meal. Focus on the ingredients you do have and try to make it work.
Food Storage and Stockpiling
I frequently hear from people that they do not have room to stockpile or store food. Over the past several years I have lived in some very small houses and I believe if you are organized and you want to make it a priority you can find room. My friend Kate lives in a small condo with her family of six, yet she is able to shop once a month because she is very creative with her food storage. In our last house we turned our coat closet into a pantry by adding shelving purchased from Lowes for under $30. Currently I have food grade storage buckets stacked high in my garage filled with grain and oats that I was able to purchase at a discount.
Properly contained food can be stored anywhere in your house, not just the kitchen. Evaluate your home and see if you can find some extra space. By buying certain items in bulk I am able to save hundreds of dollars a year on my grocery bill. As I write this I am reminded of a friend who found an incredible deal on Cheerios and bought 40+ boxes. She was living in a tiny apartment so she stacked up the boxes in the dining area. It wasn’t the latest in home accessories, but she saved a lot of money on breakfast!
It could be as simple as just organizing your current pantry. I have found that my pantry needs to be reorganized at least once a month. Each time I do it, I always have a lot of extra space. It might mean getting rid of other things in your kitchen that you do not use or use so infrequently they aren’t worth having. If getting rid of the punch bowl set you have used once in ten years means freeing up an extra cabinet to store food, I say the punch bowl takes a trip to the thrift store. (Unless of course it was a gift from your great aunt, and you just can’t part with it)
Take an afternoon or two and give your kitchen a good spring cleaning and de-cluttering. I think you will be surprised at the extra space you will find.
This article on stockpiling presents a good real life example of stockpiling. As a warning the site is full of ads, so if you have to overlook them to get to the content.
On Your Mark, Get Set, GO!
By now you should have your meals and sides list, a grocery list, coupons, and a place to put the food when you come home. It is time to actually menu plan. For those who have put it off for years, the time is now! Several years ago I cut my grocery bill in half and the only change I made was menu planning. It really does work. Not only does it save you money, it saves time, and the “what’s for dinner” dilemma.
By starting to menu plan you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You can stay flexible with your plans and create a weekly list without assigning days. Or you create a more scheduled plan with a specific meal planned for each night. However you do it, the key is actually doing it!
This post wraps up my Menu Planning 101 series. I am happy to answer any specific questions, so leave your question in the comments.