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Creating Your Own Meal Plan

Tuesday, June 30, 2009 |
I know, my meal plans are super simple, because honestly I don't enjoy cooking. The only thing that keeps me from grabbing take-out every night is the amount of money that would cost me and I guess the fact that my kids would be super unhealthy wink! I have had to find ways to enjoy cooking and meal planning since there isn't a practical and inexpensive way around it.

When I started Grocery Smarts I learned a few things that made the whole process of meal planning and shopping much more enjoyable and do-able! By planning my menu on Tuesdays and cleaning things out that day, it made for what seemed, a less time consuming task and then I actually looked forward to shopping the next day. I also learned that my way of meal planning was super expensive. I would plan menu items based on what I wanted or liked to eat, instead of making meals from sale items. I remember countless times asking my husband, "what would you like to eat this week?” And he never had an answer, so I would pull out my recipe books and files and sift through them until I found enough meals for the week. It took what seemed like FOREVER. Then I would go through and make a list of all the ingredients I needed. Then I would look to see what I already had on hand, which was NOTHING and then head out to buy those ingredients. Wow, looking back on that I realize how much time and money I was wasting.

Everything I use to do I learned to throw out the window, accept the meal planning part. Planning a menu is an absolute must for the following three reasons:

Money Saver: When you plan a menu you have all the ingredients you need for your meals at home, so there will be no need to make those last minute or uh-oh I forgot this shopping trips. Those trips always seem to be the most expensive because you see things you think you might need or you see something that sounds good (your usually hungry because you haven’t had dinner that night yet) and they are never on sale. Menu planning eliminates impulse spending. It also allows you to stretch your menus further. There tends to be leftovers, leaving you lunch for the next day. One less meal you have to spend money on.

Time Saver: You know exactly what meals you have to make that week, so there is no need to frantically search for something to make 15 min before everyone is expected to be home. You aren’t going to be searching through your pantry, freezer or fridge for that one ingredient you need to make that meal you want to prepare.

Nutrition Saver: By looking ahead you can see what types of things you are eating, so you can plan and make sure you are eating well-balanced and healthy meals. The things that go on sale tend to be seasonal, so you are getting a wide variety of food and exposing your family to all types of foods.

When I meal plan I look at the upcoming weeks sale ads on my preview lists. I figure out what is on sale and plan enough meals for the week. By using 4-5 star deals in my menu plans I save TONS of money every week. If I see that chicken and tortillas are both on sale I would plan a few meals around those items; chicken enchiladas, southwestern egg rolls, and chicken caesar salad wrap ups. This wouldn’t be a good week to plan lasagna or beef stew, because neither one of those items are on sale.

The first thing you’ll do is scan through the list and figure out what meats or staples are 4 and 5 star deals that week. Figure out that if ham is on sale you can make a breakfast, lunch and dinner from a ham. For breakfast you could have ham and cheese omelets, for lunch ham sandwiches and for dinner glazed ham. I would never plan on eating all three of those meals in the same day, but if I plan them on different days of the week it won’t become tiresome. Plan out the main ingredients of your meals and then go through and figure out what types of sides you can add to your meals. This lets you plan nutritious and well balanced meals.

After you plan out enough meals for the week walk to your kitchen and see what you already have on hand to make those meals. If I was planning chicken caesar salad wraps I know that I already having the caesar dressing and croutons on hand. I would cross those ingredients off my list.

I finish figuring out what on the list I am stocking up on, clip out the coupons and make sure I am within my $50 budget.

The next day I head out the store. By breaking the process up I never get overwhelmed with menu planning, cleaning out last week’s expired food, shopping, bring the groceries home and then cooking that night’s dinner. It seemed to be a never ending cycle and dreaded task. When I divide it up it seems to be something I look forward to doing.

Make sure when you are at the grocery store you stay flexible. Occasionally you’ll find things that have been marked down in the produce aisles or butcher department. Grab those things and plan on using them that week. Every penny counts. You can also plan a meal and then get to the store and have them be out of it. By being flexible then you won’t get discouraged.

When you get home put those finishing touches on your menu. Incorporate that container of mixed vegetables you found on a manager special and make chicken fajitas. I like to post my menu in my kitchen so I can see it. I think my husband and children appreciate knowing what meals I making that week. I also try to organize the meals to meet my family’s schedule. If I know we are having a night out after dinner I would never plan my Sunday meal that night, because I know we will be rushed to get out of the house. I would choose one of my meals that were fast and would allow for easy clean-up. I also don’t put a day to my meals because who knows what my day will be like. Sometimes my daily routine can change and then so does my menu plan.

The other thing I learned is that not every night as to be a grand masterpiece. My family truly enjoys making their own tacos, pizza, quesadillas and even eating the traditional spaghetti and garlic bread. It’s become a relief that I don’t have to “try” new recipes all the time to make my family happy.

All you have to do is commit to making a menu plan. Make it a habit. I also love to save my menus and file them away. Next time I see that chicken goes on sale I will pull out the week chicken went on sales menu and see if I can use those same ideas. Most of all have fun with it!

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

I have been meal planning for years now. I mostly plan around what we like to eat but I like your coupon based meal planning idea. I have been using a meal planning website recently that has helped a ton. It creates a categorized shopping list from the meal plan and I can keep all of my recipes in one place. It would be cool if the website could recommend a meal plan based on local coupons. They are always adding new stuff and I bet they would add that if enough people asked. The website is www.plantoeat.com if you want to check it out.

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