Creating a menu plan is far and away the easiest way to save money on groceries. A menu plan lets you know exactly what you’re eating, helps you create a list for your weekly grocery shopping and, because it covers all meals and snacks and spells out all the ingredients you’ll need for your meals, it keeps you from stopping at the grocery store for “just one thing” or ordering take-out. Menu plans work for all diets, budget levels and family size from individuals to families of 8 (or more!). You can create menu plans for one week, two weeks, one month, two months or, like one mother in Texas, a full year. It’s really up to you.
Menu planning is not as hard as it seems. Follow this simple outline to get you started:
- Determine the duration for which you’d like a plan. I suggest starting simple–one week.
- Write down, or think about, the foods you know you like to eat and the foods you don’t. This will serve as the basis for selecting your meals.
- Print a calendar, like those available from Outlook or Google. You will use this to write down the meals for each day of the week. The other option is to just keep a list. Keeping a list of meals still allows you keep an organized menu plan but it’s a little less rigid than assigning specific meals to a specific day of the week.
- View any cookbooks you may have on hand for recipes. If you do not have any cookbooks, visit a site like www.allrecipes.com or the recipes section of this site for ideas. You may also know certain recipes that you can use for your menu plan that week. For instance, I have a recipe for chicken and rice; it’s not written down anywhere but I know the recipe off the top of my head. I can incorporate it if that’s what I feel like eating that week. Make sure you write down on your menu plan where to find the recipes.
- Survey your pantry, fridge and freezer to see what ingredients you have on hand. Use this list and compare it to the recipes you’ve selected for the week. For example, if you know you’d like to eat black bean burgers, look to see if you have the black beans or bread crumbs already on hand. The write down the missing ingredients on your grocery list.
- Post the menu plan somewhere that the whole family can see it. That way, if anyone wants to know what’s for dinner, you can just say “look at the plan on the fridge”.
Another suggestion for menu planning is to pick a specific day of the week and try to do your menu planning at the same time every week. And try, if you can, to do your grocery shopping on the same day. This kind of schedule allows you to time when foods will run out and when they’ll need to be replaced (ex., orange juice–1 1/2 gallon typically lasts 1 week in my house, so I know that every Saturday I need to buy more juice); this is a money saver. You can budget accordingly and it helps prevent mid-week, unscheduled trips to the supermarket.
If you can, try to also plan your menus around sales at your local grocery store. If pasta is on sale that week, try to plan several pasta dishes. If peanut butter is on sale, try to plan meals around peanut butter. You may wind up eating the same dish on a few different days but it is a huge money saver to plan meals around sales. And when you’re on a strict budget, saving money is essential.
Menu planning helps keep you organized, saves you money and is a huge time saver. Yes, it’s a lot of work up front but when there are so many positive end results, it’s completely worth it!