“Mom! What’s for dinner?”
Nearly every mom I know dreads the question. I’ve been making family meals for over two decades and occasionally 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 menu planning. Menu 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
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, you can make food much cheaper and better than you can buy it already made. Pinterest is full of amazing recipes, and I’ll be sharing more and more of my own recipes over the next few months to help with holiday madness. If you’re menu planning on a budget, you can decide how much you want to spend per month, per week and even per meal.
Decide where to shop
This is a big decision. Some people prefer to shop in one place only to save time. Some prefer patronizing local businesses. Bargain hunters will shop at more than one store to get the best prices. Those looking to get the most out of the grocery budget shop at several stores to get the best bargains and save the most money. Knowledgeable shoppers learn how to find the best bargains by learning about the stores in their area. For example, in my area, Walmart has the best prices on the middle of the grocery store, like paper towels, peanut butter, canned goods and bagels. Kroger is the closest and most convenient store for me and they have great produce and bulk items like organic nuts and seeds. Meijer has great prices on both, but it isn’t worth my time anymore to drive 8 miles when other stores are only a mile or so from my house. Trader Joe’s has some of my favorite specialty items, and Fresh Market has $2.99 Tuesday when their excellent ground chuck and chicken breast are $2.99 per pound. All of these factors help me menu plan within budget, and I work trips to each store into my weekly plan to streamline my week and use my time well.
Coupons and circulars
Some people love coupons. Others hate them. Some people love looking at the circulars to find bargains. Some throw them away or recycle them immediately (I’m hoping they recycle). Although some dinosaurs like me still like to have paper coupons, I am enjoying using electronic coupons more and more. There are several apps for coupons, but I leave that expertise to others. I clip coupons from my weekly circulars and the Sunday paper. I add coupons to my Kroger shopper card on a regular basis, and I read the paper circulars every week to help me make my grocery list because I walk into the store knowing what the special and sales are, and I have a plan to take advantage of them the best I can. This is where the meat of menu planning takes place for me (pardon the pun). Because of circulars, which you are online if you don’t get them at your home, you know which items are on sale and how to get the best value for your menu planning dollar. The circulars help me decide which proteins to buy, which vegetables and which additional items I might need to make our favorite recipes.
The weekly 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. The temperatures are on the cooler side this time of year and a 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.
The big success secret
Do you have a family calendar? If you do, it is your best resource for menu planning. If not, get one. Menu 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 the healthiest meals. Slow cooker meals are a menu planning blessing on days when you know you’ll be home late or your family members will be eating 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 (affiliate) 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 for a quick meal.
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 of on the list. 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 various 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 now keep a running total of what I spend as I delete items off my digital list, and I rarely experience grocery sticker shock anymore.
Shopping is done
You have the food. You have a plan. Now what? First, post your plan where everyone can see it. For years I bought groceries with a plan in my head that never worked out. I would forget to take meat out of the freezer or forget what I planned for the day and before I knew it, I had unidentifiable perishables in my fridge. Post the menu so it holds you accountable as well as reminding you what you purchased and what you plan to do with it. Prepare as much as you can ahead of time. Cooked pasta will keep for at least a week. Root vegetables other than potatoes keep for a few days after being cut up for a recipe. Salad keeps longer if you open the bag and put a paper towel in it. Celery stays crunchy for several days wrapped in foil. Canned and frozen vegetables work in recipes that call for fresh, although I suggest using fresh whenever possible. It may sound like a lot of work, but I assure you that the time you invest pays huge dividends, and an hour of prep on Sunday will save you hours of aggravation later. Before you know it, you’ll have more money to spend, more time to enjoy your family and most important, you’ll have an answer to the age old question, “Mom! What’s for dinner?”
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