If you know how to do it effectively, it can be a huge help instead of a huge headache. Menu planning can be a good thing for anyone - those who work, those who stay at home, those who want to eat out less, or want to get their grocery bill within a reasonable budget. There is no right or wrong way to meal plan. It's all about what is easiest for you and what works for your family. I will share what currently works for my family and I.
Why do I meal plan? It helps me save money as well as time in the kitchen - that way I can figure out what we're having to eat without standing in front of the fridge trying to figure it out at 5pm, stressing over it, and then ending up spending more time doing all that rather than enjoying more time with my family. Dinner time should be an enjoyable time, not a stressful one. And I've also found that I enjoy cooking a lot more, when I'm prepared for it in advance. Less stress and less money being spent on last minute out-to-eat decisions. When I meal plan, I take into account what our schedule is like for the week. If we have anywhere to go, appointments, or if my husband has a class. That way I can plan to have a crock-pot meal that day, or something else easy and quick, and still know that we're having a good meal.
Coupons. I only use a coupon on something if we need it or I'm already going to buy it. Using a coupon on something that you weren't already going to buy, or you won't need/use.. even if it's cheap.. is still a waste of money. I buy the Sunday paper, they have good coupons in there. And I also print out internet coupons. They're obviously even better when you use them when the item is on sale. ;)
Things I Consider when meal planning: What I currently have in my pantry/fridge/freezer, coupons/sales, new recipes, appointments/busy days, leftovers.
I normally meal plan for roughly 2 weeks at a time (every pay check). There's just 3 of us - my husband, me, and my 16 month old. My goal is to spend $170 or less at the grocery store, and that includes toiletries, diapers, wipes, etc. I do 'schedule in' a time to eat out once every 2 weeks, sometimes more.. depends, really. I feel like if I schedule it in, then I feel less guilty about it. Plus, we love going out to eat and exploring new restaurants! So I always make sure that fits into our budget. We also eat leftovers once a week or so, so I take that into account.
I've used many apps for my meal planning - ZipList, FoodOnTheTable, SpringPad. But honestly? I prefer a plain ol' pen and notebook when I'm working on my grocery list, etc. I also use a pretty printable, to write down our weekly menu. I put the pretty printable in a frame, and then write on it with a dry erase marker.,, so I'm not constantly printing off new ones and wasting paper/ink. Actually, now that I type this.. I have a really fun idea on how to display our menu in the kitchen (my husband likes it to be visible lol)... once I figure out how to put it together, I'll blog it. :)
Here are some fun and pretty printables for you, this is where I printed mine off ----> click here. Because pretty little things always make me happier. :)
An example of my current menu, for this 2 weeks:
- 11/1 - Out to Eat
- 11/2 - Chicken Fried Rice
- 11/3 - Ham & Potato Soup, with a side salad
- 11/4 - Tacos
- 11/5 - Leftovers
- 11/6 - Chicken Alfredo Roll-Ups, with garlic bread and fruit
- 11/7 - Breakfast (we love having breakfast for dinner)
- 11/8 - Chicken Noodle Casserole (per my husbands request.. one of his favorite comfort foods;)
- 11/9 - Leftovers
- 11/10 - Turkey Chili & Cornbread
- 11/11 - Beef & Broccoli over rice
- 11/12 - Zuppa Toscana, with a side salad
- 11/13 - Leftovers
- 11/14 - Salmon with wild rice and fresh veggies
- 11/15 - Chicken Breast with Mushrooms & White Wine Cream Sauce, veggies
I try to plan around what meats are on sale (we eat a lot of chicken, and we try to replace ground beef with turkey when we can), or use up what I've stocked up on last time I bought meat that was on sale. We love fresh produce, but it can be pricey if it's not season - so, we try to only eat what's in season. We are eating a lot of apples these days. ;) I incorporate 3-4 new recipes, to keep things interesting. I also try to make sure I have some quick and easy (and crock pot) recipes mixed in.. because I KNOW there will be nights where I don't feel like doing much of anything. And we try to eat up our leftovers - whether it's for lunch the next day, or as leftovers for dinner. It helps cut costs, and I really hate wasting food.
And, after every shopping trip, I clean out the fridge and the pantry. Having a clean, organized space definitely makes things easier (for me, anyway).
I also try to plan for anything extra I might want to bake or create (and I love to bake). We obviously keep the staples in our house (eggs, flour, sugar, choco chips, etc).. but if there's something I want to make that requires a special ingredient, I plan for that too. For example, this paycheck I think I'm going to make a couple different types of muffins, some pumpkin oatmeal cookies, and I need to replenish our homemade chocolate sauce. ;)
Do you meal plan? How do you do it? What works for your family?