Plan Your Menu (and Save $)!
The hardest part of cooking is deciding what to make in my opinion. I love getting to make homecooked meals for my husband, but four o’clock rolled around, I’m back at square one in front of the refrigerator. What in the world do I make this time?
So I’ve started planning out our menu a week at a time, mostly because it made me feel organized and on top of things. Now I can’t imagine running a kitchen without doing it! This little strategy saves me the daily dilemma of what to make, and it also helps me be intentional with shopping and using food that’s already in the pantry. So the extra time that it takes to plan out the week’s meals saves us money!
Below are a few of the strategies that I’ve figured out for planning my family’s menu every week.
Nine Tips for Saving $ with a Meal Plan
- Make your menu planning part of your weekly routine. It’s a priority!
I usually do my grocery shopping on Tuesdays, the day we get our Shopper flyers delivered, so I try to have my week’s meals planned on Mondays. After all, I won’t know what to buy at the store if I don’t have any idea what I’ll be making for suppers, right? Since I start fresh with groceries on Tuesdays, my week’s meal plan usually starts on Tuesday instead of at the beginning of the calendar week. I’ve had to work through some trial and error in figuring out what works for our schedule, and it’s going to look different for every family. So do what works best for you, just make sure you make time to do it!
- Write your plan down.
Making a meal plan won’t work if you don’t write it down! I keep a notebook to write down my week’s menu, to-do lists, and weekly appointments. It’s a system that helps me stay organized. I’ve also seen people get really creative with their menu plan, displaying it on a chalk board or dry-erase board in their kitchen. Have fun with it!
- Make note for special events in your week.
This one is fairly self-explanatory. If you’re going to be out of the house for supper on Thursday night, you don’t have to plan a meal for that night! At the same time, if you have company coming on Friday night, you might want to plan something bigger than leftover hotdish.
- Start traditions for different nights of the week.
We like to have pizza and chips on Wednesday nights, and we usually have a breakfast-for-supper night over the weekend. Having these simple meals picked out beforehand helps me as I plan out the week’s menu. Those meals get filled in first on my menu plan, and that makes brainstorming meals for the rest of the week that much easier. Pick a meal that your family likes and make it a tradition in your home. (And if your family’s favorite happens to be as easy as a frozen pizza, that’s a double bonus!:))
- Transfer unused meals from the previous week.
Sometimes we get invited out to eat unexpectedly, or I have more leftovers that I’d counted on, and we end up with extra meals on our menu. These get entered right away on the next week’s menu plan. After all, you’ve already bought the groceries you need for that meal – why buy more when you already have what you need? 🙂
- Use what’s in your pantry.
I still struggle with this one. I like to keep an eye on sales and buy in bulk if an item is really cheap at the grocery store, but if I buy 14 boxes of macaroni and cheese on sale and forget that I have them, I’m not saving my family any money! Take a peek at your pantry as you plan your menu. It helps me save money in the bank and space in the kitchen!
- Don’t be afraid to keep it simple.
By this time, I’ve usually planned out 3-5 days for my meal plan, and it’s time to start brainstorming. I try to cook on a budget, so I like to start this stage by adding one more simple meal to our plan. Please note: simple and cheap does not have to be bland! Eggs are a good example of what this looks like at our house. They’re pretty cheap, and I can turn them into frittatas, omelets, fried egg sandwiches, or scrambled eggs! Don’t like eggs? No worries – find something else that works for your family!
- Add variety!
This is the fun part. We’ve got 2-3 meals left on our meal plan, and the recipes that we pick here will add variety to our week in the kitchen. Think of meals that your family enjoys or recipes that you want to try from Pinterest. I try to make these “real meals” – something homemade that requires more work than a frozen pizza. Sometimes we have staples like spaghetti or tacos. Sometimes I try something really different. This is my chance to get creative in the kitchen!
- Flyers and Coupons
We usually get our grocery ads after I’ve planned out my meals for the week, so it doesn’t always impact our menu, but I do try to at least glance at the ads before going to the store. Sometimes I’ll see a great deal and work that into our meal plan. If chicken is on sale, put chicken on the menu!
- Bonus – Smorgasbord!
Make sure you’re using your leftovers well. I often pack them for the next day’s lunch, but sometimes I’ll plan the leftover chicken from Thursday night to make a chicken pot pie on Friday (for example :)). If you can stretch one meal into two, that’s money in the bank! During weeks when we have a lot of leftovers on hand, I hoard them and have a smorgasbord at the end of the week. All the leftovers come out of the fridge, we load up our plates buffet style and throw them in the microwave. An easy meal with no-stress prep!
So those are my nine strategies for planning my family’s meals. Keep in mind that your family is different than ours – so do what works for you! What are your tips for planning meals? Let me know in the comments – I would love to learn more! 🙂