We’ve all heard the spiel. Plan your menu to save time, money and frustration. That’s all find and dandy except sometimes? Planning your menu? It can be stressful! Especially if you’re just trying to learn! It can seem incredibly overwhelming when you think about the recipes, time and organization involved. Luckily though, learning how to menu plan isn’t actually as hard as it seems. In fact? It’s fairly easy. My own menu plan takes around 3 hours per month to do but saves me hundreds on groceries making it totally worth the time spent since my biggest reason for menu planning is to save on groceries.
I recently had someone ask a question about why I tell people $400 is a doable grocery bill for a large family. It went something like this:
“What does you define as a large family because $400/mo seems really low for eating healthy?”
I understand that $400 a month can seem like a low amount for folks that have 3, 4, or 5 kids. Let me tell you something though. It absolutely can be done for $400/mo if you truly want to save the money. How do I know? Do I have 4 kids? Nope…but 4, yes 4 of my best friends have at least 4 children and you know what? They all eat healthy and delicious meals for…you guessed it. Less than $400/mo. It is easy? No, but nothing that is worthwhile in life usually is.
Menu Planning 101 – How to Use Menu Planning to Save Yourself Money
Menu planning by itself isn’t going to suddenly drop your grocery bill down to $400/mo. You will need to look for other ways to save on your groceries too. Things like learning how to make things homemade instead of buying them and learning different tips and tricks for saving on meat. You’ll have to really dedicate yourself to saving money and getting your grocery costs down as much as possible. That is the nature of a frugal lifestyle period and it really doesn’t work unless you do buckle down and get to work. Having a well planned menu though takes all of those other tips and tricks that you’re currently doing and focuses them all into one big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey…wait, that’s an entirely different subject.
Having a well planned menu takes all of those tips and tricks and focuses them into the one area they need to be. Your kitchen. When you don’t have a set menu, you can easily find yourself asking the age old “what’s for dinner” question night after night. A lot of the time, you’ll find it easier to just grab something on the fly, to head to the store to buy ingredients or to order out. All 3 of those things, especially shopping when you don’t need to and ordering out, are budget breakers. With a well planned menu though, you know exactly what you’re cooking and what you will need for those meals. This means that you can shop once a month (which saves you money because you’re in the store less) or watch the sale ads locally or shop online to find the really good deals. It also means that you’re much less likely to order out since you have already cemented what dinner should be in your mind.
Getting Started Planning Your Menu
The first thing that you’ll need to do is to figure out how many meals you want to plan each day. There is no wrong way to plan. If you want to know what all three meals are? Plan all three! If you only want to plan dinners then only plan dinners! It is your family and your menu. You know them both best. I personally only plan breakfast and dinner. For lunch, we all usually just grab what looks good or eat leftovers so it works out best for us. Honestly? I would totally only plan dinners if I could get away with it. Having a breakfast menu plan though forces me to do the freezer cooking that I need to do so that we have healthy, homemade but quick breakfast ideas.
This next part is actually kind of fun! Well okay, it’s kind of fun depending on who you are. You’re going to gather all of the recipes that your family loves. Yes ladies, I’m giving you permission to get on Pinterest. Grab all of those recipes and either put them into a Microsoft Word document or a spreadsheet. Don’t forget to check sites like Yummly and any other recipes sites that you like. You will likely have three and a half boat loads of recipes. Be sure you check out the tasty recipes that we have posted for you too! That’s okay. It just means you will have variety! Be sure to add any new recipes that you want to try too!
Got your most favorite recipes collected? Great! It’s time to plan! At this point, you’ll need to decide how you want to plan things. Do you want to do a month to month thing where you plan your menu on the first of every month or do you want to do a year at a time? I personally don’t have time to do a menu plan each month so I do a yearly menu plan. No, this doesn’t mean that we eat the same thing every month. It just means that I do 12 different menus at a time. If that won’t work for your family, you’ll need to do one at the first of every month. Once you’ve figured that out, take a large desk calendar and plan what meals you’re having each day or week. If you don’t want to tie yourself down to a specific meal on a specific day, just plan it out with enough meals to last each week and choose what you’re having that day.
Now? It’s time to take inventory. Take your recipes and make a list of all of the ingredients that you will need to make each meal for the month. Then total it up by how much. In other words, if you make 5 recipes that all will use 1 red pepper each, you’ll need 5 red peppers. If your recipes will use 10 cups of flour, that equals 2.5 lbs. Take an inventory of your pantry, freezer and fridge and make a list of what you have and what you need to buy or make to be order to cook every meal on your menu plan.
After your menu plan and your grocery list is done, head to the grocery store or hop online to buy the things you’ll need. As I said earlier, you can shop all at once or you can shop weekly or even bi-weekly. Whatever you do though, be sure that you prepare yourself to shop as little as possible. Just being in a store is a great way to spend money that you didn’t intend or plan on. Get your groceries and skip the extras.
Menu planning and Beyond
It really is that “simple!” I know, it seems like a ton of work. That’s one of the reasons that I plan yearly. Once the planning is done, the only thing I really need to do is keep track of my pantry inventory and do the grocery shopping which Tom can do most of the time (unless I’m using coupons). The only other thing you’ll need to do? Actually cook the meals that you plan! You would be surprised at how many people take the time to plan but then never stick to it! It isn’t going to help you save money if you don’t follow through!
One final tip. Freezer cooking can save you a ton of time especially with a menu plan. If you’re not the type to do a full on freezer cooking session, it’s not hard to fill your freezer without once a month cooking, but you absolutely will have the best success if you do at least some once a month cooking. If you’re going to, you’ll need to pick up the supplies you’ll need in addition to your groceries. Things like foil baking pans with lids that can be cooked and then frozen in, freezer labels that generally work better than a sharpie, freezer bags or even food safe tubs with lids. The vast majority of the items involved can be reused so I wouldn’t worry too much about the costs. We use the foil baking pans and as long as we’re careful with them, we can wash them out at least 3 times each. The lids not so much, but a couple of pieces of foil does the exact same job. Reusing them cuts your cost down significantly and makes freezer cooking and menu planning an even better way to save!
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