Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Saving Money: Menu Planning

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not an overly organized person.  I do go through my pantry every 6 weeks or so and look for things that will expire in the next 2 months and move them upstairs so I can plan meals around them. Otherwise I'm not real great anymore at knowing exactly what I have in my pantry and how many of them I have.

In an effort to save money on groceries, I decided it was time to get to work on meal planning.  This ensures that I use the things that are close to expiration, and also helps me to know exactly what I need for the next two weeks, instead of just winging it every day, and possibly sending my husband to the commissary for the one ingredient I'm missing.  An added bonus is that if I know what I'm supposed to be cooking, it makes me less likely to say "I'm not in the mood to decide on dinner and cook, so let's get something from the cafe," or "Why don't you stop at the food court on the way home and pick something up?"

My meal plans aren't really fully fleshed out most times.  I much prefer quick and easy, but with just a few variations so that I have the ingredients on hand, but can change it up a little depending on what we are in the mood for.  I also don't stick strictly to certain days when I  make my meal plan.  My husband works a crazy schedule, and volunteers as an EMT and firefighter, so things frequently get moved around when it comes to dinner anyway.  I also only plan out the meals that my husband or my son will be home for, so when my husband is on days and Elliott is at school, I don't plan out lunches for just me.  I almost always have leftovers, or salad stuff, or something else equally easy and quick. :)

A typical week's meal plan might look something like this:

Pizza pasta with salad (Monday)

Italian chicken, potatoes and mushroom casserole (Tuesday)

Fajitas with refried beans and rice (Wednesday)

Vegetable stew (Thursday)

Chicken nuggets, fresh veggies (cukes or carrots?), and mac and cheese (Friday)

Steak with corn on the cob and baked beans (Saturday)

Creamy Tacos (Sunday)

Even though I have a general idea of when I will make them, I'm pretty flexible and willing to move stuff around to a different day if I need to.  I also usually let Elliott choose a veggie for a side, unless it's something with a lot of veggies in the main course, and then I let him choose something else.  We eat fruits for snacks, so I rarely serve them with meals.

Knowing ahead of time that I'm making stuff with ingredients that I don't keep on hand (heavy cream for the creamy tacos in this example) saves me a trip to the store.  It also helps to have this list up so that my husband knows not to eat all the peppers before fajita night.

I'm still pretty flexible, though, so if I find a really good deal on something I can change up the meal plan a little bit.  Like if I found ricotta cheese marked down because it was within a week of the expiration date, I would go ahead and grab it, and make lasagna instead of pizza pasta.

I've only been really into menu planning for the last few weeks, and I can already tell it's going to be a decent money saver.  When my husband and I went shopping on Friday we spent less than $75, and other than fresh produce and dairy, that took care of everything on our menu plan for the next 3 weeks, and even included some fun stuff for homemade dessert items. :)

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