Tutorial Tuesday- Meal Planning
How I plan my family's menu each week
I like to think I've mastered meal planning. It's my favorite "chore" but definitely a difficult task when having to take several things into factor such as budgeting, eating healthy, and our family's schedule. I know not everyone has the time to do to meal plan to this extreme, but... I have to say, I have a 7 month old and a 2.5 year old, and I find the time to get it done so we save money and eat well. It's a challenge that has big benefits!
Here is my start to finish outline on how I meal plan for the week.
1. I always plan meals for 7 days. I used to only do 5, but then I found that since we were running out of planned meals for the weekend, we'd do more eating out and spending more money. Not good. I also plan out at least 3 lunches to make for my husband, the other 2 (more often 3 or 4 of the 5 days) are leftovers from the evening before.
2. I take a gander at my pantry, freezer and fridge to see if I have a few items that were left behind and could be used in a meal. I also look to see if something is about to expire, or produce that is wilting. These things could be used in my first meal of the week.
3. We get the Sunday paper with the penny saver in it. I clip the coupons I think we'll use. I also browse through a coupon of coupon sites, but don't get me wrong... I am not an extreme couponer. Here are a few of my favorite coupon sites: swag bucks (where you can earn points for using coupons) Mommy Saves Big (where you can not only find manufacturers coupons, but retail and restaurant coupons as well.) I also shop at my local Super Target for my groceries. Target offers online coupons, and also occasionally sends out coupon booklets that have been compile of savings just for me. (kind of creepy, but I'll take it.) It is where I've found I can save the most amount of money. (Well, I could go to Walmart and save a few extra dollars but I choose not to for a few unsaid reasons.)
5. I try to plan my meals according to my savings. So, lets say that Market Pantry frozen chicken, brown rice is on sale, and I have a coupon for $1 off any fresh produce purchase, I will plan a meal of chicken and broccoli stir fry with brown rice. It feels great to tell my husband, "This cost us $2.50 a serving!" It's something to be proud of.
6. Sometimes the savings isn't all that great, so I have to look to my handy meal planner for some inspiration. Remember this beauty?
Well, I use it. A lot. Each week has a list of the meals we will be having each night. It's so nice because sometimes I forget what I bought certain items for, and just look up on our menu. It's also nice to just sift through the meal ideas when I'm in need of a little inspiration. I print out new recipes about once a month. We've been craving more summer meals lately, so I just printed some more.
7. After I have a layout of the meals that I want to make for all 7 days, I begin to write a list. I know where everything is in my Super Target. So, I start at the place where I walk in, and end at the dairy section. It's wonderful to have it all laid out. I do this list in a word document so things can be moved around and organized as I add each meal's ingredients. I also keep a running list on my kitchen counter for staple items that we have run out of and aren't always included in our meal plans. (i.e.- brown sugar, butter, coffee, etc.) I compile everything and print my list out. I put a * next to each item that comes along with a coupon, as well as the details of the coupon. (My 2 year old LOVES to hoard the coupons if she catches a glimpse of them at the store, so I try to not take them out if I don't have to.)
This is what my finished list looks like.
I end up adding a few items here and there, but generally, this is what I bring to the store.
8. When I get to the store, I write down rounded prices of each product. Yes, it's extreme, but I want to make sure that I don't go over the budget. When something is 1.89, I round it to 2.00. Or if it's 1.21, I put down 1.25. I always round higher so that there is room for taxes. At the end, or near the end, I stop for a minute and add all of the items up, making sure it does not exceed my budget.
This is what my list looks like after I have gone through the store.
9. This one is the most IMPORTANT part of the meal planning, and budget keeping! Keep those pretty eye balls on your cart and list. Do NOT gander around the store you are in, especially if you are in Target. I really think their logo says something about the store... it says, "Come to me, buy everything in my store, it'll make you feel warm and fuzzy!"
10. Bring your items home and bask in the glory that is your awesomeness.
Another tip: Write down ideas of things you'd like to make next week, or deals you've seen on TV, on the internet, or in the paper. Maybe even set out coupons that you didn't use this time, for next time. I always keep a note pad out in my kitchen to write down odds and ends that we need, then I add in what I would like to make. This makes it easier to come up with meal ideas rather than going through the list and trying to come up with them the night before.
Email me or leave a comment with any questions you may have!