Friday, August 3, 2012

Meal Planning - Save Time & Money

Meal planning saves time and money and makes life easier.

I admit, before I started I was skeptical, but in my house, it has proven itself.

I hate to stand in front of the fridge after a long day and try to figure out what to make for dinner. Add a hungry spouse and kids and some extra-curricular activities and it can be really stressful.

We started meal planning to avoid some of that time crunch stress and to make it easier to divide up the dinner making responsibilities. Some nights I make supper and some nights my husband does. We always make sure that the weeks meals are planned before we go grocery shopping so we can get the things that we need for the next weeks meals.

I started out using a magnetic pad of these forms that I found at my local Michaels store. We stuck it on the fridge and planned our meals out a week at a time.

Now we do the plan a month at a time but it is flexible, so if we need to change it we do. We just write the changes on the calendar where everyone can see it. It takes us about 20 minutes once a month to make the plan up which is a very small investment for the time that it saves us. You can make a weekly or bi-weekly schedule, whatever works for you. 
We get out the calendar for the month and write down all the commitments. These include special occasions, meetings, appointments, dance classes, swimming lessons, school events and whatever else is going on.
(I use or you can use an existing calendar or you can even use a blank piece of paper)

Once all the commitments are written down we decide who is making dinner which nights. If I have a commitment one night, then my husband cooks that night and vice versa. It keeps things organized.

Next we decide what is for dinner. We try to use the ingredients we have in the house and to mix up the selection so we are not having spaghetti 7 days in a row. We like to try new recipes every month as well, to keep things interesting. Some days, usually on the weekend, we will plan a dinner with family or friends, like a roast or a big BBQ in the summer. We also allow for 1 or 2 nights a month to go out or order in, as our budget allows.

We also build meals with leftovers into the plan. If I make a roast chicken for Sunday dinner then Monday's dinner will have leftover chicken as part of it, maybe Chicken Quesadillas. If there is still chicken on Tuesday, then that days dinner may be chicken sandwiches or chicken soup and so on until the leftovers are all eaten. Planning for and using leftovers helps to reduce or even eliminate the amount of food waste we generate. More money savings right there.

We plan batch cooking where we need to as well. If we make a big pot of chili or soup for dinner one night then we freeze the leftovers in single serving portions for lunches. I will often double the recipes for other things and then freeze a complete meal to pull out and reheat on a night when we are rushed.

Once the meal plan is complete, then we make our grocery list. We check the cupboards and freezer to see what we have and what we need for the upcoming weeks meals. I make a list of everything we need and try to make sure to follow the list. Following the list helps to ensure that I do not buy things that we do not need, which saves money.

There are times we change the plan based on what is on sale in the flyers or to use up things that we have in the cupboard and freezer. This saves us both money and shopping time.

Meal planning also allows you to spread out some of the food expenses. When it gets closer to the holidays we make a plan for the whole meal and start shopping in advance so that we are not buying everything at once and spending a bunch of money on one shopping trip. The perishables are purchased in the last trip before the dinner but there are lots of other things that can be purchased in advance.

For us, making a meal plan has almost eliminated the time we used to spend staring into the refrigerator trying to decide what to make at the end of the day. It has saved us time at the grocery store by giving us a clear idea of what we need for our week of meals instead of wandering around the store trying to decide. It has saved us cooking and cleaning time after a long day at work because there are things that we prep ahead of time and then can just pull out when we are ready to start cooking.

Our meal planning has also made things easier for me in the kitchen. If it is my night to cook dinner and I am running late my husband can look on the meal plan to see what is for dinner that night. Then he can get it started instead of waiting for me to get home and tell him what we are having.

You do not have to use a calendar and plan a month in advance. Get a piece of paper or a notebook and plan a week at a time. It only takes a little time planning to save a lot of time and money in the kitchen.