I love to cook. Before my son arrived, I would peruse Pinterest, looking for the next fun recipe to try, which was fun until it all started adding up. Often times this fun recipe would require ingredients I didn’t already have on hand, so I would have to run to the grocery store…sometimes multiple times a week.
And then I started thinking: Why am I buying more groceries when my freezer and pantry are already so full?
In the past, I’ve tried meal planning and maybe stuck with it for a week or two before I lost interest and caved to my Pinterest perusing problem. However, when I was doing it, I would always make comments about how much easier it made life when I knew exactly what I was making when I got home from work. It was even better when I didn’t have to run to the store first (or send my husband…he’s the MVP in this category).
And then enter budget.
Now that I’ve been meal planning for awhile, I look back and shudder at all the money I wasted on groceries before Landon was born. We tried our hand at budgeting, and the weekly allotment for groceries was $88. Then, that seemed like so little, and I often struggled staying within the budget.
Now, our budget has shrunk to accommodate baby expenses, and our new weekly allotment for groceries is $50. But, guess what? It’s possible! Hard, but feasible.
How do you only spend $50 a week on groceries and survive?
I’m not going to lie: it’s really tough. But, sticking to a meal plan and shopping at a cheaper store (it’s out of town, though, so it’s important to have an organized list to make the trip worth it) has made all the difference. I would not be able to do this if I didn’t meal plan for several reasons:
- I’m not that creative. I wouldn’t take the time to view the items I already had on hand when trying to figure out what to make, often resulting in a trip to a grocery store to get items for whatever random meal I chose.
- If you haven’t caught this already, meal planning reduces both trips and time spent at the store – both major wins!
- Meal planning eliminates impulse buying. Now, when I go to the store, I have my grocery list carefully planned out according to what I actually need in order to make that two weeks’ worth of meals.
- We never eat out now, and meal planning reduces the temptation to throw up my hands in despair and declare we have no food to make anything good, thus ending in a trip to a favorite restaurant.
(Disclaimer: We are very fortunate to be able to get all our beef from my farmer/rancher parents, making it easier to stick to such a low budget. However, we buy all our other meat from the store.)
Therefore, meal planning is the. best. thing. ever.
Want to give it a try? Let me help.
- Make a list of all the main dishes you like to make. I came up with 28 initially, and my list is growing as I remember other dishes we enjoy. However, if you want to start smaller, I’d recommend at least two weeks’ worth. Also, since I work full time and my husband goes to school full time, we are only home for supper, so I only plan those meals and the meals for the weekend. Tip: I make enough each evening to have leftovers for lunch during the week for both of us. I package them in individual containers so it makes packing lunches so much easier.
- Now add sides to your main dishes, completing the entire meal.
- Organize your meals in the order you’d like to make them. Try to lump together meals that have similar ingredients that could spoil. For example, if I plan to make tacos using only 1 lb of hamburger from a 2 lb package, I plan another meal that would use the remaining hamburger within 2 or 3 days after. Or, if I plan to use cream to make creamed corn, the next day I use the remaining cream to make alfredo sauce for chicken alfredo. Eliminate waste by using foods before they spoil.
- Print/buy a calendar and add your meals to the days. Make sure you know your schedule before doing so, and adjust your list to have easier meals during your busier days. I’ve included an example of my September meal plan below. I color coded both mine and my husband’s events, noting when he would be gone for a meal due to meetings and other events happening at school. Tip: I just created this menu in Microsoft Word using a pre-existing template. Super easy.
- Lastly, create your grocery list based on your menu. In September, I decided to try only going to the grocery store once every three weeks. This almost worked, except we ran out of milk. I couldn’t buy milk that would last that long. Also, my fresh produce isn’t making it that long either, forcing us to rely on frozen veggies instead of fresh. So, I think I’ll just stick to shopping every two weeks.
- Post your calendar somewhere in your kitchen and use it religiously! I like to freeze a lot of foods, so I look ahead to see what I’m making the next day and if it involves frozen meat, I place that in the fridge to thaw out the day before. This is a huge time saver when I get home from work and have to start making supper.
Meal planning saves time, money, and your sanity. I’m much more at peace knowing exactly what I’m going to cook. Also, since doing this meal planning stuff, I’ve actually lost more of that pesky baby weight that’s sticking around. It eliminates eating junk and forces me to cook a vegetable with each meal. Often times before I meal planned I’d only think about the main dish and then totally forget about the sides until it was too late.
Now, obviously, when planning things a month in advance, we’re bound to have unexpected things come up. That’s fine. I just eliminate meals that don’t have ingredients that will spoil if I don’t use them. Then, if you want, incorporate them into the next meal planning session or wait for that meal to come around again. It’s up to you!
Happy meal planning!