I'm teaching a class on Meal Planning this weekend, and it occurred to me that it's been ages since I actually posted a meal plan here on MoneywiseMoms. Why? I've changed how I do meal planning over the past year, when I started using master meal lists. It saves me the “thinking” part of meal planning, which saves me time and stress. Since we're eating the same things time and again, it seemed silly to post that here each week. But I'd love to get your thoughts–do you want me to post meal plans occasionally? I was thinking about sharing more cooking strategies for how to make (any) meal plan work for a busy family.
So this new method– I make a seasonal master meal list to work from–like my 30 Easy Meals for Fall, which I reused each month to make my life easier. I updated the list in December to include more cold-weather dishes like stews and casseroles, with 30 Easy Winter Meals. Now that it's spring, I'm moving away from casseroles and other oven dishes for cold salads and lighter fare that I know will help us come swim team season. I'm also trying out some new recipes to see if they're worth putting in the regular rotation.
I still stick to my $500/month grocery budget, and we do eat out 1-2 times a month, always with coupons or Kids Eat Free. I use less time each week planning out my meals; I just look at the list and pick some that work with our schedule, then check my pantry/fridge/freezer to see what we have on hand. Then I write a grocery list, and try my best (!) to shop just once a week. It's the cooking strategies that really make it work, which is why I thought I'd write more posts about those, rather than just list what we're eating each week.
Want to try Meal Planning?
Create a Master Meal List–start with what your family already eats/you already cook. I like to fill my protein categories to be sure I have enough variety and that we don't eat the same things every month. That's where Menu Plan Mind Mapping comes in handy! For example, when I buy the 4-pack of pork loin roasts at Costco each month, I have 6 favorite recipes to choose from. If it's spring/summer, I'll skip the ones that need the oven and stick with stovetop or crockpot cooking. By having a number of meals to make from ground beef/turkey, chicken, pork, and vegetarian, I can skip the thinking part of meal planning each week and just make a shopping list.
Check your fridge/pantry/freezer–as you're writing your shopping list, take a look at what needs to be used up or what you may have stocked up on. Before you spend more money, use what you have! Rather than say “we'll eat hamburgers this week,” I choose meals off the list that use food we already have, a big money-saver.
Set aside time weekly–start with 30 minutes a week to plan out your meals and shopping list. It will get faster as you gain more experience. When my girls were in preschool, I did the plan and shopping on Friday mornings; now I do it Sunday afternoons so we're prepped for the week ahead. I also use a number of cooking strategies (like doubling up & freezing a casserole) to help me get dinners ready faster on busy weeknights.
Think through breakfasts, lunches and snacks–for years, I focused on the dinner recipes and would easily forget the staples that our household runs on. Between keeping a list on the fridge and training my husband and kids to write down anything we run out of, and thinking through our routine, we stay stocked on staples which helps avoid extra trips to the store and extra expenses.
Where are you in your meal planning routine? How can I help?
Linked up to Menu Plan Monday at OrgJunkie.