I often get questions from readers about meal planning. Meal planning, although we all know it saves money, can be difficult! It’s not exactly something thought of as “hot” or even “fun.” But, what makes it sexy is the money you can save when you make meal planning part of your personal or family routine.
White it’s definitely true that it’s hard to think up 30 dinners to serve your family or yourself each month, especially when you have to take into account the taste buds of several people, meal planning is rewarding. We’ve come up with a plan that has made it easier for me and, I think it can be just as helpful for you too.
Meal Planning Made Easy
If you’re looking to get your grocery budget back on track, setting it on a rock-solid meal plan that you can use day in and day out is a great place to start. Consider the following tips to help simplify your meal planning experience:
First, write down a list of meals that each person in your family likes. Ask each one for a list of their favorite meals, and specify that they have to contribute at least five ideas. We like to ask our kids separately so that there’s no undue influence on one kid by another. By starting with a list of everyone’s favorite meals, you’ve got a springboard in which to menu plan from.
Second, you’ll write down on your menu list 15 meals, planning to serve each one twice during the month. You don’t necessarily have to shop for all 30 meals at once, but at least have a plan for what you’re going to serve. There’s a trick, however, that will help you save money as you plan for your 15 meals: Think dual-purpose. What does that entail?
Well, for instance, if you’re planning on having pot roast one night, plan to take the leftover roast, freeze it, and use it for beef stew or beef stroganoff another night. If you’re having a dish with ground hamburger, chop the burger extra fine, use half for your tacos (or whatever you’re serving that night) and save half for a hot dish later in the month.
Serving grilled chicken one night? Plan on making chicken fajitas the next night. Or use the leftover chicken and make a batch of chicken noodle soup (minus the noodles) to freeze for later in the month.
By working to find a dual purpose for every meal you make, and by cutting down the amount of meat you use in each meal, you can save a lot of money on your grocery budget. The same can be done with vegetarian meals.
Having veggie stir fry one night? Take the leftover veggies (unseasoned) and make fried rice or a hot dish the next night, or save the veggies to make a nice minestrone soup. The possibilities really are endless.
Another Money Saving Tip
Serve a “cheap and cheesy” meal at least once a week. Our favorites? Popcorn night, buttered noodles, chipotle rice (rice with cilantro, red onion, lime juice, olive oil and salt and pepper), homemade pancakes and “leftover night”. Leftover night happens when we’ve got several dishes of leftovers in the fridge. Not only does it cut down dramatically on food waste, it gives me a night off from “real” cooking.
The thing I love most about our cheap and cheesy meal nights, though, is that it gives us more money in our food budget to splurge on the good stuff once in awhile, not to mention extra money in our bank account.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out task that you come to dread every month. With a little teamwork and ingenuity, it can actually be fun!
Do you meal plan? Why or why not? What are your favorite meal planning tips? What have you tried that didn’t work and almost made you throw the towel in on meal planning in the past?