One Friday not long ago I glanced at the clock and saw that, once again, dinner was half an hour away and I had no idea what to make. A search of the cupboards and refrigerator was uninspiring. Every idea I thought of would require more prep work that I had time to do or ingredients we didn’t have.
We ended up with an easy meal we had already eaten twice that week, but I cringed at the reaction of the kids, and honestly, I wasn’t all that excited about a third meal of the same again either. I realized that I really needed to do better at planning menus.
Planning menus out ahead of time can prevent that uncomfortable scenario. Taking Saturday to write out meal plans for the next week ensures variety in our menu and makes both cooking and eating more enjoyable for our whole family. A less apparent side effect, though, is that planning menus also saves money. It’s one of my favorite ways to save money on groceries without using coupons because it has other great benefits as well.
While it may sound daunting at first, once you get into the habit (and in my case, stay in the habit), menu planning makes meals better and helps preserve your budget. Here are a few ways that menu planning saves money, along with some tips.
Menu Planning Saves Money
1-You’ll buy what you’ll use and you’ll use what you’ll buy!
When you shop for a list of specific ingredients for specific meals, you won’t waste money on extra ingredients that you won’t use. You won’t have to worry about unused produce or perishables going to waste because they weren’t used in time. You’ll waste less food and money by planning your menu!
2- Make fewer trips to the store!
When you don’t plan a menu, you will find yourself making (or at least being tempted to make) more trips to the store. Each trip to the store costs you in a couple of ways. With gas getting more and more expensive, each trip to the store is costing more, not to mention the extra wear on your vehicle. Making an extra trip to the store also takes valuable time. Impulse buys can be another expensive risk of making additional trips to the store, especially if you’re hungry or have a sweet tooth. Menu planning saves money by requiring fewer trips to the store.
3- Eliminate an expensive Plan B.
When mom is tired and kids are grumpy, it’s very easy to resort to take-out when there isn’t a menu plan. Eating out regularly, even if it’s just fast food, really adds up. If you wait to think about dinner until you’re hungry, then it’s probably too late. Menu planning saves money by preventing the temptation to go out to eat.
4- Sanity is priceless
I will be the first to admit that menu planning is an area where I could improve. The weeks where I do plan out our menu definitely go more smoothly than the weeks where the 5-o’clock hour rolls around each day and I don’t have a clue what I’m going to fix. Since we live in the boonies, there isn’t ever the temptation to run to the store or go out to eat, menu planning definitely saves sanity. Who can put a price tag on that?
A Few Tips
Here are a few tips from my menu planning experience. Feel free to share your ideas in the comments so we can all learn from each other!
Plan your menu around the sales.
Each week grocery stores have their best deals on the front page of their ad. They are often called “loss leaders” because the deal is so good that the store takes a loss on them, but they are willing to do so because they know that when you’re in the store you’ll buy more than just what’s on the front page. Plan your menu around the sales and get a little more to stock up while the price is low.
Try something new.
If you’re like me, then you’ve learned that it can be tricky to try a new recipe on the fly because it seems like you’re always missing a key ingredient. Planning ahead is the perfect way to try a new recipe. On weeks when I successfully plan our menu, I try to add one new meal during the week. Since you’ll plan your menu before you go shopping, you’ll be sure to pick up the ingredients you don’t have on hand. Your family will be excited to add a new favorite to your recipe repertoire.
Make a list of your favorite meals.
Keep a long-standing list your family’s favorite meals and put it somewhere easy to remember. I have mine taped on the inside door of one our kitchen cabinets. Review the list each time you sit down to meal plan. The list will prevent your mind from going blank as you try to think of meal ideas.
Make freezer meals!
When you plan your meals ahead for the freezer, it really makes dinner time easy and painless. I found a system that lets you choose from a huge variety of meals (including paleo, allergen free, vegetarian, etc), makes the shopping list for you, and shows you how to put together 10 meals in around an hour. It’s called MyFreezEasy and it has really simplified our menu planning and dinner making!
I’ll admit that sometimes I get lazy an fail to plan our menu out in advance, but let me tell you, weeks are so much more stressful than the weeks where I have my menu-planning act together! If you’re new to meal planning, just give it a try and you’ll see what I mean! You’ll cave time, money and sanity!
How about you?
- Are you a menu planner?
- How has menu planning helped you save money (and sanity)?
- Do you do menu plan the old fashioned way or use an online tool or app?
- What menu planning tips can you share?
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