Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Meal Planning.

This summer I'm in a bible study that's all about embracing my job as a woman to be a Keeper of my home. It's a study I did last summer, and I learned so much from it last summer I wanted to do it again this year. You can read HERE about my experience last summer.

This past week we went over being a manager of your home. I was asked to share with the group how I go about planning our meals as a family. This is something I've always done. It helps us stay on budget with our food, and makes things a little more easy when it comes to deciding what to cook each night. I always thought that everyone did this... to me it's something that just comes naturally, so it never occurred to me that others may not know how to do this, or at least how to implement it effectively (not that my way is seamless). I thought I'd share the tips that I shared with our group. The way I do this is by no means perfect. If you meal plan, feel free to leave tips in the comment section-- I know there's always room to improve!

  • Pick a day to make a meal plan. During the summer this day will vary for me since our schedule is so whacky, but during the school year I try to pick the same day to do this. Go through recipes/ask family members/search interest for what you want to cook. I aim to keep about 2 weeks worth of meals in our home. This means roughly around 6-7 dinners (I always make enough for leftovers… your meal count may be more or less depending on how much your family likes leftovers). Keep a list on the fridge with all the meals you plan to cook for the next two weeks. I find it helpful to write where I can find the recipe next to the meal, that way I’m not flipping through cookbooks at the last minute.
  • After you’ve selected the meals you will cook, check to see what you need for each meal. Some items I have on hand, so I won’t need to purchase those. For each item I need, I write it on a grocery list that I will take with me to the store.

  • If you coupon, you can clip coupons at this time. For my coupons, I simply save the coupon inserts each week, and write the date the coupons were released on the top of the insert. Then, before I go to the store and after I’ve written my list, I go through and search the passionforsavings.com coupon database for things that normally have coupons (salad dressing/soups/salsa/etc). I used to clip coupons each week, but let's be truthful: finding time to clip coupons when I have two preschoolers in my house is like trying to find a needle in the haystack. This way is SO much easier than clipping out each one and then having to have a file system. 
  • To help our budget, I don't shop at just one store. I know a lot of moms have told me they don't like shopping at multiple stores, but for me, it works, and knowing that I am saving our family money is worth it for me. I basically buy several staples at Aldi's once or twice a month (coffee creamer, granola, and canned goods have always been significantly less than other store's prices). We shop Walmart for most every day groceries (Walmart will price match competitors ads, so I try to have my produce prices matched to Aldi's whenever possible. I just pull it up on my phone and show the cashier!). Sam's Club has great prices on dairy (yogurt/milk/cheese), frozen meat (chicken) and frozen veggies. That's usually what we purchase at Sam's. We love to go to Sam's as a family, so we usually will make that trip every other week or so. We buy sandwich bread once a month at a local discount bakery. I only purchase Natures Own bread, since it has no preservatives, no artificial flavors/colors and no high fructose corn syrup (we eat whole wheat bread). The discount bakery sells these loaves at most for $1 a loaf, and the last two times I went they had them for 50 cents. This savings alone is close to $2 a loaf! I will purchase what we need for a month, and freeze the bread. We keep the bread in the fridge so it doesn't go bad throughout the week.
If you follow these basic principles in meal planning, it generally will mean that you only have 2 BIG grocery trips a month. I still go to the store each week for perishables (mainly milk and fruit since my boys go through that stuff so quickly). This also means that you're not aimlessly walking the aisles not sure what to buy for groceries, which in turn means (hopefully) that you will have a more consistent grocery bill each time you go because you're not buying on impulse.

A few time saving tips that I implement:
  • - if your recipe calls for shredded chicken, boil your chicken, and then shred it with your blender! This is SO much easier than shredding it by hand or with forks. Sometimes I will even make big batches of shredded chicken and then freeze it in 1-2 cup increments. That way all I have to do is pull it out and thaw it for the meal. You can implement similar pre-cooking with ground beef.
  • - if you’re making soup, double the recipe. Eat it that night, and then save a little for leftovers and A LOT for your freezer! This is GREAT to do in the winter, when you eat soup regularly anyways. A lot of times I'll have a soup Sunday, where I'll make two large pots of soup and then have enough soup to last us at least a week!
  • - keep an easy meal that is frozen on hand. For the summer months, ours has been a bag of California mixed veggies with chicken drumsticks. Simply put everything in a dish, along with a little chicken broth and some garlic salt and bake in the oven! If you always have this on hand, this will help reduce those nights where you don't have groceries on hand and end up going out to eat instead of eating at home.
  • - have a blue moon fund. This is a set amount of money put aside that is outside of your budget so that if you find a GREAT deal on frozen or non-perishable foods, you can stock up without breaking your budget. We do this a lot during Thanksgiving and Christmas, when a lot of foods are discounted (and also after Easter, when you can generally find hams greatly discounted).

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