Tuesday, February 24, 2015

How I Plan Our Weekly Menu//and Actually Save Money!

When I first started planning weekly menus for our family, I noticed that we seemed to spend more than if I went to the grocery store without a plan. I couldn't understand it. I'd always heard people talking about how planning a menu saved them money.

When I planned a menu before, I usually thought of all the interesting meals I could make, with almost every day being a new recipe or something out of the ordinary and therefore almost every ingredient had to be purchased that week. Not only was this expensive, but it was exhausting. I was hardly ever making easy meals because I had looked up all these "cool" recipes. Needless to say, it didn't last very long.

Then, I finally got finance conscious. I wasn't trying to use a menu in the same way any more. Before it had been to make sure that we had exciting meals every night. Now, it's about saving money by wisely using what I have, and trying to be creative with it.

Here's how I start:

Look in the Pantry and Refrigerator. What do I already have? Beans, rice, corn, chicken makes a great chicken quesadilla or something similar. Instead of starting with a recipe and then buying ingredients, I work backwards. Work with what you have and find recipes that fit.

You don't have to only use ingredients that you have in your home, but make sure that's the jumping off point. If you want to save money, try to work with what you have. I don't usually keep things like fresh basil or cilantro in my refrigerator, but if I do buy them, I try to come up with multiple recipes that use them so that I don't just use it once and let the rest go bad.

Another great way to save money is to make things fresh or from scratch. Plain oats are less expensive than pre-sweetened instant oatmeal. Learn to make your own sauces for spaghetti instead of buying boxed pasta meals.

Another thing to consider when planning your menu is your weekly schedule. Consider the amount of time you will have to get everything ready and plan accordingly. If you're really busy one night, you don't want to be making egg rolls from scratch (trust me, they're delicious but can take a LONG time.) For busy nights, have quick, simple recipes. Save the more labor intensive or long-cooking ones for more relaxed days.

Write down your plan! Having a menu doesn't make you more organized if you don't remember what was on it. I made us a template and put it in a page protector (laminating would probably work better) so that we can use it as a dry erase board. You could also put yours in a picture frame with a glass front, or paint it on a chalk board. Whatever works for you!

Then, once you have everything planned, make a grocery list. Any ingredients that you don't already have go on the list. When you go shopping, stick to your list! It helps if your stomach is full when you go to the store, otherwise those impulsive buys will be a lot more tempting!

If you're interested, here's my very basic menu template ( I colored mine with colored pencils.)

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