After reading this post over at Kate’s blog, I was reminded of how much meal planning really helps. I suppose it can be added to the list of “things I need to do more of” though, because I seem to go through spurts where I do it, and then periods of struggling with dinners and groceries. Whenever I take the time to make a solid meal plan we save money, time, effort, and we also eat healthier. So, feeling re-motivated, I made a meal plan for this week.
I ended up planning 6 days of meals for us (one day is usually for leftovers or visiting with one or the other of Simon’s grandparents), and doing groceries that would feed us breakfast lunch and dinner every day for only 88 dollars and change. See? It saves us money.
Whenever I set out to make a meal plan, I revisit this article. Even though I do not make the same meals that she does, her methods are helpful to me, and I follow many of the same guidelines that she does. Here are my tips:
~A lot of coupon websites can be a cluttery hassle to me, and I rarely find stuff I buy in the Sunday paper. (I believe you should never use a coupon unless it is something you buy already, or have wanted to try.) I benefit more from finding my coupons in 2 different ways: I shop at Hannaford, where they offer a rewards program. They send you a sticker that you put on your key chain, and having it scanned when you shop helps their computer to generate coupons for the things you buy. So instead of a random coupon for like, twinkies, which I would never ever buy, I would get one for almond milk, which I buy every week. In addition, I will Google search coupons for the exact things I buy, instead of browsing coupon websites hoping to find something relevant. For instance, I can always find a coupon for Newman’s Own (one of my favorite brands) just by typing “Newman’s Own coupon” into Google. This particular week, I only used 1 coupon, that saved me 55 cents. So even in a week with less coupons my budget is doable.
~I try to buy some items in bulk at my local natural food store when I can. A gigantic bag (5 lbs!) of organic oats cost me just over $7 and lasts us quite a long time. I also buy nuts, seeds, frozen fruit/berries, and dried fruit in bulk to toss in with oatmeal, yogurt, salads, etc. By buying these items this way, they don’t need to be purchased every week, which keeps my grocery bill down. They also spruce recipes up nutritionally and add flavor.
~Sometimes I organize my grocery list by aisle, from one end of the store to the other. This speeds up my shopping trip and makes me less likely to forget an item.
~I don’t buy a lot of meat. This keeps our groceries cheaper and also fits in with the conscious effort we are making to only buy ethically treated and properly fed animal products. (Check this out.) This week the only meat I purchased is a package of bacon, which I am using in 2 meals, and deli meat for Jeramy’s lunches.
~I think about what I have on hand. For example, a bottle of teriyaki marinade in the fridge inspired me to want to make tofu stir fry this week. A package of pasta made me decide to make spaghetti. If my pantry is running low on things like this, I will try to grab them when I can afford to, or plan meals that use ingredients that can be bought in bulk. Pasta is a good one for this. Getting the bigger box that can stretch for two or three meals, means you can have it in your pantry for inspiration, and one less item to buy next time you shop.
~I pay attention to the calendar. I ended up scratching off a meal I had originally planned for Friday, and changed it to soup when I remembered that I am having my root canal re-done on that day and will probably not want to chew. On days when we have our music class until 5pm, I will either plan something super quick and easy to make, or will plan to make something in the crock pot that morning. If I don’t pay attention like this, I am likely to get thrown off plan when life collides with my expectations of time, and end up stressed out and on the phone ordering expensive takeout.
~I don’t buy dessert (except the occasional ice cream). I bake it. If I really want a sweet in the house badly enough, it is worth making from scratch. If I’m not willing to put in the effort, then I don’t need it. Flour, sugar, baking soda…all are cheap and on hand. Plus, store-bought treats are just no comparison to the yumminess of homemade baked goods. (Not to mention you can control what goes in and avoid high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, etc.)
Ok, so here is what my meal plan for this week looks like:
Monday-Spinach, cheese, tomato and mushroom omelets with a side of bacon
Tuesday-Spaghetti and salad with crusty bread
Wednesday-BLT’s with avocado and salt+vinegar oven fries
Thursday-Tofu marinated in teriyaki, stir fried with veggies
Friday-Soup and grilled cheese sandwiches
Saturday-Frozen pizza and corn
For breakfasts I am counting on my bulk oatmeal, and also yogurt with nuts and fruit. Lunches can be leftovers from the night before, eggs with toast or fruit, or salad with added nuts and cheese for protein. For Jeramy lunch is a sandwich that he brings for his 15 minute break at work.
I took a couple of shortcuts. I bought the pre-cooked package of all-natural bacon, which cost a bit more, but I realized we were short on time and needed to hurry up or dinner would be thrown off. I also bought pre-shredded cheese for the same reason. I bought a pre-made soup for Friday night because I am not sure that I will be feeling up to cooking after my procedure, and I didn’t have to buy all the ingredients separately this time around. (When I do make soup from scratch, I like doubling the recipe so we get multiple meals from it.)
This was a pretty average week for us grocery-wise. Sometimes it has to be a little bit more because we run out of several staples at once, or we have less in the pantry to draw inspiration from, or if there is a special occasion and we splurge on items for that. None of my recipes this week are particularly exciting, but since this is my first week getting back into the planning ritual, I took it easy on myself. I will share again when I do a bit more creative cooking.
Do you meal plan? What are your tips?
Note: I failed to mention the occasional Cadbury Egg when I said I don’t buy desserts. This time of year is so darn tempting!