One of the biggest sanity-savers for me has been meal planning. Since I homeschool, mind the small ones, and run the regular affairs of the house, it gives me tremendous peace of mind to know ahead of time what meals we’ll have. AND (drumroll, please…) it saves us money! Planning what we’re going to eat for the month keeps me from buying extra or unnecessary things when I’m shopping.
With that being said, there are some meals I don’t plan. I don’t exactly plan breakfasts (although, I will sometimes plan a special weekend breakfast) and I don’t plan lunches. I’ll explain further down.
Near the end of the month, I print out a blank calendar, figure where I want the month to begin and end and start filling in the meals. For us, we enjoy getting out together as a family on the weekends. Since we only have one car we normally do the bulk of our month’s shopping together on the first Saturday of the month. At that point, the fridge is practically bare and even the kids are willingly eating the last of the carrot sticks because there’s really nothing else to snack on.
It is time for one big massive grocery haul.
Let’s just say that years of playing Tetris as a kid has really paid off for my husband; he can manipulate those Costco boxes into the trunk of our Freestyle like nobody’s business!
The following weekend, or ideally the weekend after, we make a mini grocery run to replenish a few things like some produce because, obviously, lettuce and tomatoes won’t keep an entire month.
I have my menu and I’ve made a shopping list based on those meals. The closer I stick to my list, the more successful I am at saving money. Here is an example of a typical monthly menu for us:
Repetition: As you can see, there are a lot of repeat meals in there. Having two or three of the same meals every week is less kitchen work for me, the kids usually look forward to dinner, and it allows me to better calculate the amount of some items that I’ll need. For example, since we have tacos every week, I figure I’ll probably use roughly 1 ¼ packages of tortillas (some nights, the kids are hungrier than others!). So I’ll buy 2 packages and then I know I’ll have extra tortillas for random snacks or lunches or to be used in freezer burritos or breakfast burritos or a meal like fajitas. I know in one month of meals we’ll probably use 1 entire block of cheddar cheese on just the taco nights. I will probably buy an extra block for lunches and snacks but reserve one for tacos. 1 box of grape tomatoes from Costco (if I’m conservative enough with it) will last our family two weeks of tacos and pizzas and maybe as an add-in to a veggie tray snack.
Soup night: Not everyone in the family is nuts about soup night. I try to place it between more “exciting meal” days so that while we’re trying to be thankful for being cheated out of a solid meal we can all remember “oh yay! Tomorrow is pizza!” Soup night is awesome for me as the chef because it’s the one night I can force my family to consume lots of bone broth and I can look through our produce supply and throw in any number of vegetables that need to be used.
Freezer meals: There is nothing better after a crazy day than remembering that I don’t have to make anything for dinner because it’s already done. Whew! I can breathe a sigh of relief (unless of course I entirely forget to pull it out in the morning for it to thaw-oops ;))!
Left-overs: I have a great aunt who grew up during the Depression. Nothing ever went to waste in her home and I mean NOTHING. I cringe when I have to throw food away. Even if I can’t remember how old it is and really don’t feel like eating it, I still hate wasting food. Usually, left-overs show up for lunches through-out the week but once in a while we’ll have a collection of left-overs that can amount to dinner portions. I re-heat all we have and place it on the table buffet-style. I’ve finally gotten smart and started write the date I put it in the fridge on the lid!
Everything else: All the other meals I try to be fairly conservative with. For the most part, I select meals that will use (or can be substituted with) ingredients that I’ll likely already be buying for other meals. I have a small arsenal of favorite meals I pull from and don’t put a lot of strain on the grocery budget.
Breakfasts: As I said, I don’t write up month’s-worth of breakfasts on the menu. I repeat breakfasts much more than dinners. Unless I plan ahead for a special weekend breakfast, I just don’t have the time to anything more complicated than a pan of scrambled eggs. I use my weekly breakfast board (laminated for repeated use) and write up an easy list. Here is a typical week of breakfasts from the board:
So when I shop with breakfasts in mind, I’m generally just buying a ton of eggs, butter, bags of frozen berries, oatmeal (which I buy every few months in bulk), fruit, greens like spinach and kale, and tons of milk for making yogurt.
Lunches: This is where I really wing it. Dinner left-overs supply about half the week’s lunches (taco salads on Wednesday afternoon!), then I stick with some basics like sandwiches (there’s always peanut butter and jam around and making bread is easy and cheap), quesadillas, or, gasp! Macaroni and cheese. I usually have enough veggies or fruit around to provide a small side for each kiddo.
Sweet tooth: I also consider a few treats for the month like cookies one week, or pie at the end of another week. But just to avoid having too much sugar and spending more I keep it to a minimum. To be perfectly honest, I’m the biggest culprit! If there are chocolate chip cookies around, I’m in trouble.
My completed menu goes into my binder or on my fridge so I can always quickly reference it. And just because more is better (haha), I write up my breakfast ideas and dinner plans on my laminated boards which also adorn my fridge.
There’s the planning part of it all. I love the frugal feeling I have when staring into a clean, empty fridge at the end of a month knowing that we really did use what was in it. And then the feeling of satisfaction when the fridge is bursting with new, good food for another month!