Friday, August 10, 2012

Meal Planning Ideas

I have been talking to a lot of friends about meal planning lately.  In life I am a big time planner, and I love to meal plan.  It saves money and it is healthier.  I wish I could tell you this post will "give you 30 days of meals for $200 a month", but that is not the case.  Though I meal plan, I still spend $300-400 dollars a month on food.  I buy A LOT of produce and that is usually where the bulk of my grocery bill goes, that and fish.  I just thought I would share how I meal plan and hopefully someone can get something out of it.

I start off by printing off a calendar and going through my recipe book.  My recipe book is super ghetto, it is just a large binder filled with plastic pages and plastic 4x6 photo card pages.  A few years ago my Mom gave me the best Christmas present, she typed up her recipes and put them in a binder, that was the start of my recipe book.  Since then I print off a lot of recipes and slip them in plastic pages or jot them down on a recipe card and stick them in.  If you want some cute free printable recipe cards, check out these and these.

When planning, I plan a month at a time.  I then transfer it over onto my weekly menu board each week, and make a grocery list from there.  I also have a grocery list hanging on the side of the fridge at all time, so that if I run out of something while cooking or baking, I can jot it down so I don't forget.

 When planning I find it key to have an organized fridge, freezer, and pantry.  These were scary photos to take and post, but my fridge and freezer usually look like this.  I forgot to take one of the pantry, oh well.

 I generally buy my beef and chicken at Costco, divide it up into portions, and organize it in the freezer with Tupperware.   One thing of chicken or ground beef usually lasts me about 3 months, I have found this the most cost effective method for my family.  When I go to the store weekly, I will browse what meat is on sale and if it is a good deal I will buy a bunch and freeze it.  A few months ago Smith's had a killer sale on small steaks, I can't remember the cut or the price, but it was a good deal and they are tasty.  Don't mind all the Cool Whip, I am making an eclair cake for my Father-in-law's birthday.

 I buy half of my produce at Costco as well.  I usually freeze half and we eat the rest fresh.
When I sit down to actually plan my weeks usually look like this: 1 meatless day, 1 chicken day, 1 beef day, 1 fish day, and 1 "sale meat" day (meaning whatever other meat I have in my freezer, ie the steaks), 2 leftover days.  For me the 2 leftover days are key to keeping a cleaned out fridge and ensuring no food goes bad, and there is just no way I could plan 7 days worth of meals.  Both myself and my husband enjoy cooking, we like trying out new recipes, and I have found Pinterest to be an amazing resource.  We also make our son eat what we eat.  He doesn't get a special meal, I think it has really helped him to not be as picky, and he likes most of the recipes we make.

Another thing I try to do when planning to make the most out of my grocery list is I try to plan multiple meals in the month using the same ingredients.  For example if I buy cilantro, I will make Lime and Coconut Chicken week 1, Taquitos week 2, and Honey Lime Chicken Skewers week 3, that way I am using all my cilantro and it is not going bad.  Another example would be buying corn tortillas, they come in a large bag, so I make Fish Tacos week 1, Taquitos week 2, and enchilada casserole week 3.

Meal planning takes a little time, but I think it actually saves time, because once you have done it for the month, you're done!  No standing in front of the fridge thinking "what should we have for dinner tonight?" and no extra trips to the grocery store (which saves money!)

As far as snack items go, we buy a few things like dried fruit and nuts at Costco, and then keep them portioned out in the pantry.  I try to make a lot of items that are expensive, like granola bars.  I have found some great recipes on Pinterest for things like home made granola bars, muffins, mason jar salads, and smoothies.  The great thing about making your own is they are less expensive and more healthy!

I have found this is what works for my family and am always on the lookout for tips and tricks to implement that will save time and money. Feel free to check out my board "Recipes I've Made and Yum!" If you have any advice or ideas, please share!
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