One of the best ways to reduce your grocery budget is to meal plan. Incidentally, it’s also the best way to fight that 5 p.m. blah. You know, when your husband and kids are all asking what’s for dinner, and you’re just wishing there was kosher take-out, because you have NO IDEA.
Of course, while I know that meal planning is a real money-, time- and sanity-saver, I must admit that there are many (many) weeks when I don’t get around to planning a menu. Which inevitably translates into an expensive and stressful week.
This summer, I decided to try something new: Monthly meal planning. I’ve always been daunted by the idea of planning a month in advance, since I couldn’t imagine having to come up with 30 different meals at a time. So I cheated. Instead of 30 meals, I decided to make the same thing (or some very similar variation) on the same day of the week for the entire month.
Monday — lasagna or baked pasta
Tuesday – tacos or burritos
Wednesday – quiche or gratin
Thursday – homemade pizza
Friday – meatballs and rice or roasted chicken
Saturday – flexible, depending on our Shabbat plans
Sunday – grill out
No, it isn’t the most creative, gourmet menu plan in the world, but you know what? It’s been working. Not perfectly, but then what fun would that be?!
So, how does this monthly meal planning thing save me money? Well, lots of ways, but here are a few of them:
- I’m less likely to splurge on Kosher Subway (our one kosher restaurant in town, bless their hearts!) since I’m not scrambling to figure out dinner at the last minute. I’m also less likely to run out to Walmart to pick up a bunch of ready-to-make ingredients that don’t exactly fit into my budget.
- I’m able to shop more strategically, since I know exactly what I’ll need for the next four weeks. I can scout out sales from the grocery flyers and buy “in bulk” because I know the food will be used within the month. Once I’ve got the basic ingredients stocked up, I just watch the circulars for great weekly sales on fresh fruits and veggies.
- I’ve further simplified my life by doing some basic freezer cooking, as it fits in with my monthly meal plan. For example, on the first Monday of the month, I made one cheese and veggie lasagna to eat that night, and prepped four more to freeze. Which means that tonight, all I have to do is pull the pan of ready-assembled lasagna out of the freezer, stick it in the oven for 1.5 hours and cut up a salad. Convenience foods without the inconvenient price tag!
- I can increase our vegetarian meal quotient, while still making sure that my family gets enough meat (and other animal-based protein) to satisfy their carnivore tendencies. Lasagna, tacos, quiche/gratin and pizza are all vegetarian, with beans, tofu, cheese, TVP or veggie crumbles adding some more substance to the meal. While kosher cheese is costly, I can minimize that expense by balancing it with the other protein sources. And there is no doubt that a can of beans (or, more frugal yet, a bag of dry beans) is far cheaper — and better for your heart — than a pound of beef. Makes the 9 days a lot easier, too, since we’re already accustomed to veggie meals!
- By shopping strategically at the beginning of the month, I can comfortably afford little splurges. That’s because I now have a better sense of how much money is going to be “left over” in my grocery budget. It used to be that every week, I would aim to spend $100. That’s a great basic budget, but it doesn’t allow much wiggle room for special treats. Now, I’m spending $200+ the first week of the month to stock up on staples, and then I’ve got $300 left to spend on cheap CVS toiletries, more costly dairy or meat purchases, and, yes, even a dinner or two out at Subway.
Do you menu plan? What’s on your schedule this week? For inspiration, check out the organizingjunkie.com to see what 300+ other women (and men) are making for dinner this week!