Monday, May 17, 2010

Meal Planning 101

-I took this with my phone one time, I thought it was funny...its not normally overflowing, I promise!-

I meal plan, and frankly, I do it pretty darn well…but trust me; it took me a while to get to the point that I am at! When Kale and I moved into our first apartment it was the first time that we really to make our own food. I lived in the dorm for the 2 years before moving and had lots of dorm food, never would I make my own food, mainly no kitchen! Then of course Kale was at the barracks and just ate chow hall and would never make his own food, mainly because he is a guy, but he also didn’t have a kitchen! So when we moved in together it was a whole new experience. Never mind that our pantry wasn’t that big, or that our freezer was super tiny, but the biggest thing- I NEVER COOKED! I mean, I helped my Mom fix dinner at times but I never really made a full meal by myself, and now I am expected to do this EVERY DAY!?
-This was our first pantry...pretty rough, until Kale put more shelves in...he loves me-

We started off not meal planning and spending about $500 a month, which was insane to me! So I began slow and have slowly (with the help from a deep freezer- I love my deep freezer, truly!) worked up my meal plans to only having to do 1 big shopping trip for the entire month. That’s right, I plan and shop for 30 meals in one single shopping trip. I usually spend between $150-175 during that big trip, then throughout the month I will do smaller (much smaller) trips for things such as milk, too good of sale items that I can’t pass up, or items that Kale ate in the middle of the night that I needed for a meal! Those usually don’t cost more than $15 bucks total so the most my bill will be is $200 a month….a whole lot better than previously mentioned $500!!!

How do I do it? How do you not end up eating the same thing each week? Isn’t it so overwhelming?! Well, read on and find out! I divide it into phases- I didn’t realize that I did it this way until after it happened but it worked!

Phase 1

Start out by assigning a “theme” to each day of the week- for example:

Monday: Chicken

Tuesday: Pasta

Wednesday: Seafood

Thursday: Leftovers

Friday: Pizza

Saturday: Beef

Sunday: Crockpot

Then, from there you pick a recipe that corresponds to that night’s theme. Pretty simple huh? That way, you won’t be eating chicken or ground beef dishes every day of the week! Once you get that menu, list out all the ingredients and go shopping! You won’t save too much money during this but there are plenty of opportunities- say 2 of the dishes call for a certain product- you can buy the bigger can or box as opposed to two smaller ones, thus saving money!

Phase 2:

Once I got a lot of different food ideas and got used to not eating the same thing over and over, that is when I stepped it up for more savings. I drifted away from theme nights and I started looking at different sale prices and then planning my menu from there. At this point I was still only doing 2 or so weeks at a time so if I noticed that ground beef was on sale, I would add meals that included ground beef into more meals than normal. I helped it not seem repetitive by using that ground beef in very different recipes! For example- one day in the week I would make beef enchiladas while in the same week I would do spaghetti and meatballs. Those recipes are so different; you didn’t feel like you were eating the same type of food over and over! Using the sales ads to make your meal lists is a great way to skim down that grocery bill. Then if you add in coupons in addition to the listed savings, man, you are full force on your way to being a super meal planner!

Phase 3: Last one, I promise!

This is when my handy dandy deep freezer became my best friend! You know that ground beef that was on sale during phase 2? Instead of picking up enough for the week, I buy around 5 of them and freeze what I don’t plan on using that week. Same goes with all proteins- I love buying the big bags of frozen chicken breasts; it is so much of a better deal than going with fresh and since I freeze them anyway, why not go for just straight frozen! So then, after a while, I realized that I had a freezer with lots of meats- enough to last me a couple weeks! Thus, monthly meal planning was born! I knew the meat that I had so all I needed was things to go with it! Then during my monthly trip I pick up the meats that are on sale, or buy in bulk so that I restock my freezer! The same concept goes for my pantry as well- if something is on sale, I buy a lot of it so then when I go to shop that month, I don’t need as much!

-Normally EXPENSIVE steak that was on sale for a great price that I bought and froze until it was perfect time for a BBQ!-

Wow, that was a lot longer than I thought but I had a lot of people ask how I do it/ got to this point…take it slow and enjoy your money saving methods!

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