Ah, menu planning. My savior, my nemesis. Planning in advance what meals I am going to prepare for my family saves us a lot of money, but it is not something I particularly enjoy doing. I know it works well for us so it has to be done. Yet every time a new month comes around, I am slightly filled with a sense of dread. Yes, that's right I said MONTHLY. I meal plan for a whole month of dinners, now that's hardcore.
Before you stop reading this post declaring that I am completely cray cray, just hear me out. The reason is this: I hate shopping. Any form of it, whether it be grocery or clothes, I avoid shopping like a plague. I would rather gouge my eyes out with a rusty kitchen implement than shop. I just don't like the busy crowds, screaming kids (sorry!) or bickering couples and having to deal with it, puts me in a foul mood. Why is it that everyone rushes around like it's a matter of life or death? I don't get it. Unfortunately for me, I can't always avoid shopping centers, as I am the mother of 2 teenagers who love to hang out at the local shops. On these occasions when I am forced to go, it doesn't end well, and is comparable to Lindsay Lohan in detox -trust me it's not pretty.
So here I am, a woman who tries to go shopping only once a month. It suits me, and I believe it saves me time. Besides, I'd prefer to spend any of my free time anywhere but a mall. I manage to buy most of my groceries all at once, except for fresh fruit and vegetables which I usually buy fortnightly. Over the years I have always written some form of a meal plan, however the system I use now is prepared and executed like a great military battle, with me as the ultimate victor.
I used to write my meal plans out on a piece of paper but being the cheapskate I am, now I now use this really cute, free printable I found here I then laminated it and use a wipe-off marker to change it each month. No more paper wastage!
The way I meal plan is reasonably simple, first I go through my pantry, freezer and fridge and list every item. This is time consuming, but gives me a clear idea of what I already have on hand. Did I really buy 5 packets of dehydrated shitake mushrooms? But seriously, quite often I will already have a few ingredients lying around to make up at least 1 meal, sometimes a I'll have a few. If I have say mince, pasta and a tin of tomatoes then Ill cross those items off my pantry lists and add "spaghetti bolognaise" to the meal plan. Or, if I have a sachet of curry mix then Ill add a curry dish to the meal plan. By knowing exactly what is in my pantry and what ingredients are needed for each meal, helps avoid any excessive spending.
Next, I work out what everyone wants to eat. My boys generally ask for
Mexican meals like tacos, nachos or burritos while my daughter
likes pasta. Hubby will eat pretty much anything. There are definite favorites which we eat every month, while other dinners are variable. I change up the meal plan depending on the weather and also because I only buy fruit and vegetables in season. I'm just not willing to pay $7 for a punnet of blueberries in May. Screw that! My kids will have to be content with eating apples and oranges for a few months. In Summer we eat more barbeques and salad, while in Winter we tend to eat soup, roasts and slow cooked meals. Ill also add in a few vegetarian meals as they are very economical.
I will add meals to the plan but as I do so, cross reference with my pantry/fridge/freezer lists to see if for that particular dinner, there are any items I already have. If not, I'll add the ingredients needed to my shopping list. Then I just keep writing meals on to the plan until the whole thing is full. I am a bit pedantic when it comes to this part and spend way to much time trying to balance the meals so we are not eating meat and 3 veg or rice dishes a few nights in a row, because I like to space them out. If I'm really stuck for ideas I might have a look in some cook books for a meal I may not have cooked in a while, or do an internet search for frugal recipe ideas.
I am a fan of buying in bulk and although it may cost more to outlay, it can save a lot of money in the long run. If an item you use regularly goes on sale, this is the time to stock up. Body care products and tinned food are ideal as they can be stored for a long time. I'm pleased to inform you if there is ever a zombie apocalypse, I have enough toothpaste and body wash to keep my entire neighborhood clean.
A chest or deep freezer is a great investment and although it does cost extra electricity to run, Ive never noticed any real significant difference to my power bill. When you have a big freezer it's easy to stock up on milk, bread and meat when its on special or reduced. I recently scored some diced lamb as it was on sale for $6 a kilo. In my house, anything that is not mince, chicken or sausages is fancy, so we were all a tad excited.
Of course this way of meal planning can easily be adapted to shopping weekly or fortnightly as well.
With the month coming to an end, and already I am preparing for next months meal plan. I know we have the glut of lamb, so that will be making a regular appearance, as will some tortilla wraps I bought on clearance.
Do you meal plan? If not, is it something you would consider doing?