In my never-ending quest to save money at the grocery store, I have read numerous blogs and articles that all suggest meal planning as a way to save on your grocery shopping trips. I’m always a little disappointed when this is the number one tip, because I have been doing this for as long as I have been grocery shopping. So while I continue to look for more tips, I figure a number of people are not meal planning and could use more info on this strategy. While I don’t claim to be an expert, I can share my process.
I try to plan for two weeks at a time, thus only having to do one big grocery shopping trip every two weeks and a small run for milk, produce, and incidentals on the off week. I start by marking off any events, outings, or activities that would affect dinner time. For example, every Wednesday night we have a youth night at our church that includes dinner. So I mark that down as a dinner I don’t need to plan. I’ll mark any other nights I know I don’t have to make dinner such as birthday parties, dinner with family, etc. I also mark things like nights with school or sports activities starting close to dinner time or nights when my husband or I work late since I will want to plan something quick and simple on those nights.
Next, I mark our “standing” dinners. We have pasta and garlic bread one night a week because everyone loves it and it’s cheap. I’ll mix it up with different sauces or types of breads, but basically pasta and bread. We also usually have pizza on Friday nights to kick off the weekend. In the winter, we usually have soup and sandwiches at least once every two weeks and in the summer we usually have hot dogs at least once every two weeks. Again, everyone loves them and they are pretty cheap. So at this point, I usually have at least two or three of the seven nights in a week already planned.
I go through the freezer and cupboards next to take stock of what I already have on hand and jot these things down. I try to keep an up-to-date list going of what is in the freezer to make this step quicker. I’ll mark down the meals I can make with what I have on hand. This usually brings me up to at least five meals for a week, sometimes more if I have stocked up on good sales recently.
Finally, I check out the sale flyer for my grocery store and plan any remaining meals around what is on sale. Sometimes if there are really good sales on something, I might swap out the deal for something I have in the freezer or cupboard and save that meal for another time. I also try to pay attention to meals that are likely to have leftovers and factor a “leftover buffet” night in once in awhile. My kids actually love this because I throw all the leftovers on the counter and take away our usual rules about requiring a fruit or veggie with every meal. They have picked some odd combinations, but they eat it and the fridge gets cleaned out!
*BONUS* - CLICK HERE for the handy sheet I created for meal planning! Enjoy!