“Mom, what’s for dinner?” Nearly every mom without a meal plan dreads that question. I’ve been making family meals for over two decades, and without a meal plan I still dread that question. When I was a young mom, there were always women who looked like they had everything together. I felt like there had to be secrets to what they did. I found out that no mom has everything together, but there are secrets to being more successful, and one of those secrets is meal planning. Meal planning saves my wallet, my time and most importantly, my sanity on a regular basis, and it’s easier than you think.
How to Start making a meal plan
What’s important to you when it comes to getting meals on the table? For me it has always been making simple meals that taste great and don’t break my budget. Food bills can ruin a budget, especially when eating out is your “go to” meal. Don’t get me wrong, I love to eat out, but in most cases, food cooked at home is much cheaper and better for you than anything you buy as “take out”. Pinterest is full of amazing recipes, and I love sharing my own recipes here and on Pinterest at Mama K’s Kitchen. To meal plan on a budget decide how much you want to spend per month, per week or per meal and move on from there.
Decide where to shop
Where to shop is a big decision. Some people prefer one store to save time. Some prefer local. Bargain hunters shop at multiple stores for the best prices. In my area, Walmart has better prices on middle of the grocery store items like paper towels, peanut butter, canned goods and bagels. Kroger is closer and more convenient with great produce and bulk items like organic nuts and seeds. Meijer has great prices but isn’t worth my time to drive 8 miles with other stores so close. Trader Joe’s has some favorite specialty items, and Fresh Market has $2.99 Tuesday for their excellent ground chuck and chicken breast. These factors help me meal plan within budget and make meals my family enjoys. Several grocery stores now have services that you can shop online and either pick up or have groceries delivered to save time or avoid shopping with children
Coupons and circulars
Some people love coupons. Others hate them. Some people love looking circulars to find bargains. Some recycle them (I hope). Although some dinosaurs like me still like paper coupons, I enjoy using electronic coupons more and more. There are several apps for coupons, but I leave that to other experts. I clip coupons from weekly circulars and the Sunday paper and add coupons to my Kroger shopper card. I read the paper circulars every week to help make my grocery list, so I know what the special and sales are and take advantage of combining coupons and sales whenever possible. This is the meat of my meal planning (pardon the pun). I know which items are on sale to get the best value for my menu planning dollar. That helps me decide which proteins, vegetables and additional items I need to buy to make our favorite recipes.
The weekly meal plan
I ask my family every week if there is a meal that they want. If they don’t have any suggestions, I scour the circulars. For example, let’s say roast is on sale. Roast is an easy meal to prepare. To make a roast, I use carrots, onions, celery, potatoes, beef broth, garlic and a sprinkle of dried thyme. I check my supplies then add the ones I’m missing to the grocery list. The best part about a roast is leftovers. My husband shreds the leftover meat and makes shredded beef barbecue sandwiches for lunches. I use the leftover vegetables and stock to make soup. A roast and veggies meat that cost $10-$15 to make converts into one dinner and two to three lunches as well as saving on stock for soup. A roasted chicken with vegetables works the same way.
My best tip for meal planning
Do you have a family calendar? If you do, it is your best resource for meal planning. If not, get one and read my post about how to create a Family Calendar.
Meal planning around a busy life makes so much sense because it’s when we are the busiest that it helps to feed our family and ourselves healthy, well planned meals. Slow cooker meals are a menu planning blessing on days when you know you’ll be home late or your family members eat at different times. Sure, it’s ok to drive through now and then, but you’ll look like a hero when you have a nice hot meal at home too. You can prep a slow cooker or pressure cooker meal the night before and either dump all the ingredients in the cooker before you leave in the morning or wait until you get home and cook them in the pressure cooker. Either way, you’re prepared and feed your family well.
Make a list
Having a list at the grocery is a game changer for those on a budget. When you have a list, you know exactly what to buy. Without a list, you wonder as you wander the aisles and pick up whatever catches your attention. That’s how budgets get busted and you end up with five bottles of soy sauce. Thank goodness they don’t expire. Having a list made a huge difference in keeping my grocery bills in check. To make things even easier, I have paper on our refrigerator for my family to write items we want or run out. Although I have a paper list on the fridge for others to write on, when I go to the grocery I usually use a digital list that I can delete as I go. That also makes it easier to have several lists for multiple stores.
Keep a running total
Have you ever stood at the checkout and nearly cried when the cashier announced your total, even after coupons and deals? I certainly have, and it’s not a fun moment. To keep that to a minimum, I keep a running total of what I spend as I delete items off my digital list. Because of that, I rarely experience grocery sticker shock anymore.
Shopping is done
You have the food and a plan. Now what? First, post your plan where everyone can see it to hold you accountable for your purchases. For years I bought groceries with mental plan that never worked and ended up with rotten perishables in my fridge. Prepare as much as possible ahead of time. Cooked pasta keeps for a week in the fridge. Cut up root vegetables in advance. Salad keeps longer with a paper towel in the bag or sealed container. Celery stays crunchy for days wrapped in foil. Canned and frozen vegetables work in recipes that call for fresh, although I suggest using fresh whenever possible. It sounds like a lot of work, but an hour of prep on Sunday saves hours of aggravation later. You’ll save, time and most important, you’ll have an answer to the question, “Mom! What’s for dinner?”
Now if we could get someone to do the dishes!
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