As Dave Ramsey fans (I'm secretly hoping if I mention his name enough, he'll see my blog and ask me to write for him. LOL!) we follow a budget every month and we use the envelope system. Last week we were working on our budget, since this coming Friday will be my last paycheck and then we become a single income household, and this got me thinking about all the things I've started doing since we embarked on our debt free journey. The one thing that helps the most in our daily lives is meal planning.
Meal planning allows me to make the most of my grocery budget and still make sure we eat. It also makes me less likely to say, "Let's just order pizza." So today, I want to talk to you about what meal planning isn't and how to meal plan effectively. I even have a printable for you too!
First, meal planning is NOT just writing down what you want to eat that week. When I first started "meal planning" before trying to get out of debt that is what I did. I'd just look through cookbooks (I wasn't on Pinterest yet.) and decide what I wanted to eat. As a person that never shies away from a complicated recipe, this created a problem. I ended up with a lot of wasted ingredients that I only used for one recipe. I also ended up with a huge grocery bill when I hit the checkout.
Once we started our journey out of debt, I started putting a few ideas into practice. I do still like to experiment with fancy recipes, but now I try to make the most of all of my ingredients. Here are my five tips for what you should do if you are trying to meal plan and prevent the waste of food and money.
1. Establish a grocery day.
Having one day a week that you do all of your grocery shopping does a few things. First, it saves you time and gas. You aren't making a hundred trips to town to buy one or two items. You make all of your stops on one day so you are ready for the week. I'm lucky enough that my mom watches my kiddos one day a week for me so that I can do my errands and grocery shopping in peace. I recommend shopping without the kids if possible. It's hard to focus when you have a toddler throwing a tantrum. This is a sure-fire way to forget something. Maybe your husband watches the kids one night a week after work so you can shop in peace. I even have a friend that makes her runs to the store after the kids go to sleep so her husband can still relax but she can shop in peace.
2. Take inventory
Look in your fridge and pantry. What do you have that needs used up quickly? Any lingering produce or fresh herbs? What about dairy? Plan your meals around items that you already have that need used. Also, plan these meals to be made in the next few days. If you have tomatoes about to go bad, you want to plan a meal to use them for the day of or one day after shopping day, not four days from now. We have a garden that gives us a lot of fresh produce during the summer (and hopefully fall this year). I try to plan a lot of my meals to include the veggies we grow in order to save money and eat seasonally. If you don't have a garden but shop local farmers markets, then I suggest you set your grocery shopping day for the day after you buy veggies at the market so you know what produce you have to use for the week. Planning around what you already have will prevent waste and save money.
3. Plan meals that use similar ingredients.
Don't plan a meal that uses a half cup of ricotta and then not have an idea of how you're going to use the rest of the container. Plan a meal for later in the week that also uses ricotta. Have roast chicken one night and then make a soup with the extra chicken the next. Between this step and step #2, I've prevented a lot of waste and really been able to trim our grocery bill.
4. Plan EVERY meal.
This is a step that I didn't really do until I started staying home. I never really planned breakfast or lunch when I was working. I just always tried to make sure we had cereal and random supplies (yogurt, string cheese, chips, etc.) to pack our lunches for the weekdays and then we usually made grilled cheese for Saturday lunches. When I first started on maternity leave, L and I had peanut butter or grilled cheese so often that when she got hungry around lunch time she started asking me, "What do you want? Grilled cheese or peanut butter?" It was about this time that I realized I needed to plan for lunches and breakfasts too. There are days that I plan for grilled cheese because it's L's favorite, but we have days where we eat fish or leftovers. And that brings me to my last step...
5. Make sure you plan for a few "clean the fridge" nights.
On a clean the fridge night, we get out all of the leftovers and try to eat them up. You don't have to eat them the way you originally fixed them either. Make a quesadilla with that leftover roast or chicken. The other day I had leftover alfredo sauce and instead of making more noodles, I warmed it up and served it over fresh garden tomatoes. It was delicious! I usually plan a "leftover dinner" on nights that I know will be busy. One night a week my husband attends a men's Bible study, so I know I won't get help cleaning up after dinner and that he has to eat quickly when he gets home in order to make it to Bible study on time. It's a perfect night to clean out the fridge. You may have kids in sports. Plan leftover nights when you know you have to be out the door quick or you'll get home late.
Use the link below to download my menu planner sheet. Each week before my shopping day, I print a new one off and sit down to plan all my meals for the next week.
I hope that you find these tips helpful. What about you? Do you have any additional tips or tricks that you use?