Monday, March 16, 2009

Menu Planning

I was reading over at My First Kitchen, that 70% of families are now looking for ways to save money on the grocery/food area of their budget. Apparently, people are doing this in response to the every-worsening economy. Well, we've been doing this for so long that I cannot remember when we DIDN'T do it. Probably when we were first married, full time college students living off of Roman noodles and Polynesian sauce (which we saved/stole from the Chick-fil-A at the Student Center Food Court).

Back when DH got paid every two weeks, I would sit down and make out a menu for two weeks, but now that he gets paid every week, I only do one week's worth at a time. Yes, it is time-consuming. But it saves money. You're not looking at the clock at 4:00 wondering what you're going to fix, and do you have all the ingredients. You know you spend more moo-lah when you run to Wal-Mart for that one item. You wind up with ten other items you didn't plan on buying. Which adds up fast.

Here's how I do it: I tend to lean towards quick/crock pot style meals because it just makes my day go so much easier. I have my hands full with these three munchkins. It took me a few times browsing and, but I built up a pretty good stockpile of good recipes. These I keep in the "Recipe" section of my Home Management Binder. I have about three weeks' worth of menu plans that I pull from and rotate.

So I sit down, and I use a grid that I made myself on Word, with the days of the week, and columns for Breakfast, Lunch, and Supper. I fill these out, pull out the recipes, and a stack of index cards. I label my cards Dairy, Breakfast, Baking, Meat, Canned, Bread, Frozen, Produce, and Msc. This is the order in which I "travel" the store while I shop. I always start in Dairy because it's in the back of the store and I go up the aisles towards the front of the store. You do know that they place items strategically throughout the store as a marketing ploy? So it's good to stay focused on what you are there to buy and buy ONLY that. Another good thing about index cards: if DH is with me, we split them and get it done MUCH faster. Which is smart when you have six hands reaching for sugar snacks.

Oops. Rabbit trail! Back to the point--I go through my recipes and list each ingredient on the appropriate index card until all ingredients are listed. I also have a "Master" list with those things that are a given for each weekly shopping trip. Milk, bread, yogurt, etc, are all listed here and I double check to make sure these things are really needed and then put them on their card.

If we are in a tight financially, I have found that buying a big "tube" of ground beef and using beef recipes helps stretch the dollar. DH and I have been on Weight Watchers this year and have not bought much beef, since it's higher in calories. We've been using more chicken and watch the sales papers for good deals at other stores. That's about the only thing we buy outside of Wal-Mart, mainly because it's not convenient to get three kids 4 and under out at multiple stops.

So there you have it--my frugal shopping strategy. We shoot for $100 per week to feed our family. Sometimes it's more, sometimes less. These days it's been leaning more toward the "more" since our kids are growing and eating more. Emma is tearing up some steamed veggies (mashed) and I believe I am saving $ by buying frozen veggies and steaming them for her rather than buying baby food.

I hope this post was informative and helpful for someone passing through. Please share your shopping/meal planning methods. I'm always up for something different!


Natural Mama said...

Look at you, how organized! :) We spend about $120 or $130 every 2 weeks. The best thing I have found with saving money is A. Making my own bread (VERY cheap) and B. making things from scratch. For example, it is cheaper for me to make pancakes a couple times a week, muffins, or have grits and eggs than it is to buy a bunch of cereals or pop tarts that will last 2 days MAX. :) I usually still buy a couple boxes of cereal each grocery visit, but they are gone within a couple of days and after that it is back to scratch breakfasts.
Good tips!

REAL ME said...

I spend around the same. I think I cook pretty basic, goody, healthy meals. I usually meal plan like you and go to Wal Mart because I don't like the mutilple stops with 3 kids either. I hear YA! But I am acutally getting a little behind on the menu planning so I think I will try the month menus and rotate.