Monday, January 23, 2012

Meal Planning

Meal planning is a very important tool in both organization and frugality. It allows you to use what you already have, not have to ask yourself the dreaded "what's for dinner" each day, and saves you from buying foods you won't cook. At the end of every month I sit down with my planner and plan out my lunches and dinners for the following month. This doesn't take me very long however I still wait until the girls are either napping or down for the evening before I begin.

An old menu planning session while experimenting with a daily page.

- I start by looking in my freezer and pantry to refresh my memory with what we already own. However to be honest I'm not always great about this step because I tend to have my freezer and pantry stocked with the same things almost all of the time. While I basically know what is in there the majority of the time it is still easy to forget the little things like the ham bone I put in the freezer after Christmas (this is why it's important to have your freezer organized in a way that makes sense to the person who does the meal planning and not, lets say, your super organized husband who looks in there and sees chaos).

- After making a mental or written note of the above I sit down with my Menu Helper List (see photo at the bottom of the post) which is essentially a list of options (that way I don't hit a mental block when I start paring meals with days) and note if there is anything I have that I can/need/want to use that I already own and what meal I could use it with. Then I chose my meals for the month based on what sounds good, people's favorites, what we haven't had in a while, and so on and so forth.

- Now I sit down with my calendar and assign meals to days. I try to note what days are going to be crazy and plan something easy for those days. To make this step even easier I have assigned meal categories to each day and lunches are generally leftovers from two days prior (so we are not eating the same meal for dinner and lunch the following day). Also my meal plans are flexible and it is not uncommon for me to switch 2 of my days with each other one week. The important thing to remember is that your meal plan is supposed to work for you and not make you a slave to it.
  • Sunday - Leftovers or a Big Meal such as a roast or baked chicken with carrots, potatoes, and a steamed vegetable (generally leftovers unless we have none or we have company)
  • Monday - Pasta, Salad, Homemade Bread
  • Tuesday - Crock-pot
  • Wednesday - Baked Fish, Rice or Potatoes, Steamed Vegetable, Homemade Bread
  • Thursday - Wild Card
  • Friday - Pizza
  • Saturday - Grill Out (if weather is nice) with Potatoes, Salad, and Steamed Vegetable, Possible Big Meal (see above), or Leftovers
- Last I sit down with my master grocery list and circle or hi-light all the items I need to purchase to make my meals happen (as well as my basic staples) and write the quantity next to the item. Now when my husband gets paid at the beginning of the month I can easily grab my grocery list and head to the store. My husband or I will still have to go to the store about once a week to get lunch meat, milk, yogurt, cheese, produce, apple juice, and diet soda (my coffee) but if I actually do my meal planning and am not lazy this works fairly well for me! Sometimes I feel lazy and don't want to meal plan for a whole month at a time and then I'm either doing it weekly and making more trips to the store, trying to decide what's for dinner at the last minute and getting grumpy, or ordering takeout (not budget friendly!!!). I use the vertical weekly planner page (I like to have all my information together) and the master grocery list (less to write) for my meal planning.

Linking Up with Proverbs 31 Thursdays @ Raising Mighty Arrows

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