Menu planning is one of those things most people dread having to do. It is one part of budgeting that can make your bank account shutter and leave you in tears. We get paid once a month. No, you did not read that incorrectly, I said once a month. No, it does not suck actually. I think it has made me a smarter shopper to be honest. I pay all bills at the beginning of the month regardless of when they are due. I take what is left and divide per week for the rest of the month. There is my monthly food budget.
So, how do I plan meals while buying as local as I can and with real whole foods? So glad you asked…
Know Your Budget:
The first thing I do is find out my budget before planning ANY meals. If we are on a super tight budget that week, then steaks are obviously going to kill my budget, but chicken won’t. We may have more pasta or soups one week than things that cost more to make and do not go as far, like pork chops.
Know Your Pantry, Fridge, and Freezer:
I know what is in my pantry, fridge, and freezer. I will use and create my menus around what is in them. I have found that by NOT knowing I usually end up buying things I already have. This takes away from my budget!
Know Your Family’s Health:
This may sound odd for a second, but think about it. If you know a family member is not feeling 100% then chances are the entire rest of the family is not going to be feeling so hot soon. As in days here. I can then gear the weeks menu around cold and virus fighting foods. Makes life easier for me as well as them. No one wants an elaborate meal when they are not up to par. Nor, am I making an elaborate meal when I have been taking care of those in the house that are not up to par. They want soup…chicken noodle soup to be exact here!
Menu Plan On A Full Stomach:
Yep, I meal plan on a full stomach. When I am hungry, EVERYTHING sounds good to me! However, my budget does not always agree with lobster, scallops, and steaks. Eating before starting my menu clears my head and allows me to plan a meal that my budget can actually agree with.
Make Your Family A Part Of The Planning:
I will ask my family what they would like to eat about a day before I begin planning the menu. I use what they have requested to help me plan the meals. If they say nothing, then I create it completely on my own. They are usually really good about wanting to be a part of the process.
Figure Out How Many Days Are In Your Menu:
Your budget is figured out, your stomach is full, you have an idea of what your family wants to eat. Now you need to know how many meals you need to create and for how many days. They are not the same thing! For us, we are a family of 5. I need to create meals that will serve as 2 meals for us. One for dinner and one for lunches the following day. I plan my menu for 7 days.
Know What You Are Willing To Make From Scratch:
I make my own stocks, soups, breads, tomato sauces, crusts, etc. But I have been asked to NEVER make tortillas again. Not that I can not make them, it is just that I have not found a recipe that is not a huge long drawn out production. Like hours worth! LOL. They were incredible but took us FOREVER to make! So, for now, I will buy them. Noodles are something that I will also usually buy too. We have made them before and LOVED them, but for some reason. I still buy them. Maybe it is because we love the fun shapes we buy.
I scour my recipes and online for different recipes that I want to make. I do not coupon or go off of stores sales. I know that some will advise doing this. I am not one of them. I do not even look at that stuff until AFTER my menu is set. I spend more doing my meals when I try to shop off of sale adds.
I have a notebook app on my phone that I write our menu on for the week. THIS IS WHERE KNOWING YOUR PANTRY, FRIDGE, AND FREEZER WILL BE YOUR BIGGEST ALLY IN MENU PLANNING! If I have chicken, rice or pasta, and a jar of soup but no veggies, the first thing that comes to my mind is chicken casserole. It goes on the menu. I do the same with the next meal.
If I need a recipe inspiration then I look online for recipe ideas. If you need to have a recipe, look for ones that are not complicated. Sometimes simplicity is your best friend.
Get creative too with your stand by recipes. Listen to your body!!! If I am craving broccoli then I will find a recipe that I can create a meal around, throw it in with or have it as a side. Example would be cream of broccoli soup, ham and broccoli casserole, chicken with broccoli on the side as the veggie.
Page 1 on the app is for the menu. Page 2 is for my shopping list. Don’t have an a nifty phone app? Use a notebook. Works just as well. Just write it down!
Once the menu plan is set, then it’s set. I do not deviate from it.
I write down everything I do not have to complete the menus on my shopping list. I have my weekly staples on it too. For us it is fruit, veggies, milk, and juice.
If you coupon, then here is where your coupons come in handy. Shop your sales etc using what is on your actual grocery list.
Here is an actual pic from my phone for this week’s menu and my actual grocery list for this week as well.
Shop With A Full Stomach:
There is nothing worse then shopping on an empty stomach. I personally find that I spend more and go off my list when I am hungry. So, fill up before you go!
Know Where You Are Shopping:
I shop local. I buy my eggs from a local farmer and I buy my meat from an incredible butcher shop. My poultry comes from a partnership between a local turkey farm who get their chicken from a neighboring farm a couple of hours away. I hear all the time that butchers etc are more expensive. Yes, that can be true. Especially if they are certified organic. However, mine are not. I am more than ok with that. I wrote a post about it. You can check it out here. I have looked at chain grocery store and even boxed store prices and compared them to my local stores. The local places are competitive with the chain grocery stores and the boxed stores. I am not a number to them. Because I have gone to them for so long, they will often save me things that they know I will use and give me incredible deals too!
I have my grocery list figured out with who gets my money and my coupons (if I have any) before I leave my house.
STICK TO YOUR LIST:
I shop the outer perimeter of the store almost exclusively. Watch the end caps! They are often designed to look like bargains but usually are the same price as they always are! When we do buy processed, it is 5 ingredients or less. Stores are not fond of giving you coupons for fresh produce and goods. Gee, I wonder why?? LOL. I do not buy name brand most of the time either. Most stores will have a store brand item. Here is another bit of info you may or may not know…. All store brands have their own label. That label can be the chain’s own name or a brand name created exclusively by the retailer for their stores. Store brands meet and often exceed the same testing as name brand products. Often you will find things that are on sale and think OH GREAT BUY!!! Which it very well may be. However, you have a budget you are sticking to. That needs to come first!!! What I will do is buy everything on my list FIRST and if there is extra $$ then I will buy the sale stuff and stock up for the following week or even longer. Meat and poultry are the best things to stock up on when you find it on sale. My local butcher and poultry farm often put meats on sale. I will take full advantage of it when I can.
There it is….How I plan my menu and shop.