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How Do You Meal Plan?

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 
I *think* I know the basics of meal planning. Plan meals ahead of time, and then shop once or twice a month, no? If you have a set budget for how much you can spend per month on food, how do you know how much different items are before you go to the store? I planned meals out for about 2 weeks, and went to the store, and spent almost our whole budget for the month. I bought the cheapest I could find of everything, and I didn't buy anything organic/special.

I used to buy the newspaper to get the ads, but they don't have ads for our stores here in the newspaper, you have to go to the store to get them, and I don't know if it would save that much money to go across town to look at the ads before I plan the meals.

Can anyone give me a crash course in meal planning, since I guess I'm not doing it right or don't know as much as I thought?
post #2 of 19
I'm trying to do this now, for the first time. I saved the receipts and made a list at home of the stuff that I buy, and how much it costs.

Next step is writing down every meal and snack for .. starting with 1 week, and then I'll have to figure out how much I need of everything... and then do the juggling to make it fit within budget.

Sure made me open my eyes and see how much is wasted with allowing the kids to be so wasteful...and even myself to be careless. WAsteful in that there are things I haven't needed to eat, but I ate them just because I wanted to. I could save a lot of money just by tightening my belt.. We've been terrible. I'm actually glad for this little financial crisis we're in because it's forcing me to get my act together.
post #3 of 19
Well I have a list of foods we like and that we'll all eat. I shop sales, whatever is on sale that we actually use, I buy it and stock up. Then I plan big meals for the weekends and end up cooking a few different meals that we'll eat all week and for lunches.

I do buy a few snack things, mostly potato chips. But they go on sale often enough I don't end up paying too much. Most stores have a rotation of when items go on sale. I buy enough of whatever it is to last me until it goes on sale again.

Can you access your store's ad online?
post #4 of 19
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Alyantavid View Post
Well I have a list of foods we like and that we'll all eat.

Can you access your store's ad online?
So you stick to a list of foods that are "tried and true" and make them over and over?

I never thought about them having their ads online! That's a great idea! Thanks!
post #5 of 19
Mostly. I do try a few recipes but less now that I have to watch my grocery bill more.
post #6 of 19
I only plan a week at a time. We shop every weekend and my husband comes along. It makes it easier and cuts down on impulse buys.
post #7 of 19
This is really my first time learning about meal planning. It's just me that I have to cook for so I find I only have to make 2-3 meals a week and they last all week. I kinda combine meal planning with the pantry challenge since I don't have much money for a real grocery shop this month. Luckily I had a few cans of beans and crushed tomatoes and some pasta in there.

I just asked people here what I could do with certain things and when they gave me ideas I planned around that. I only had to buy a few inexpensive things to add to it and borrowed some spices from my roommate who didn't mind.

When I did go to the store I looked around at what was on sale and thought about what I still had at home and tried to put ideas together then.

Also this month I started to be more serious about getting veggies at the Asian shops instead of paying way more at the regular grocery store. I should take advantage of this since we have so many of those little shops in my area.
post #8 of 19
In answer to the question about whether you use new recipes--I use mostly things I've made before but I try to include one new recipe per week. That way I'm trying new things, too! As long as I buy the ingredients ahead of time, it's no biggie to try something new. I never used to try new things this regularly before I started meal planing, because I never had all the stuff and didn't want to make a special trip. I would only make things that were in my ordinary repertoire because those were the things I always had the ingredients for.

So, not only are we saving money and time, we're branching out!
post #9 of 19
Another tip about planning and shopping, is that before you do anything, take stock of what you already have and work around that. Most of us have cupboards full of stuff that hasn't been touched in ages. Make a plan to use that up, and only buy as little as you need to to work around them. You can even try to challenge yourself to ONLY eat out of your pantry for a week -- with the exception of fresh veggies, etc, where necessary.

Storing (freezing and preserving) food when it's in season and cheap is also helpful in the long run -- though obviously November isn't the time to be starting that, it's something you can start preparing for (planning the best storage methods for your situation) so you're ready to take advantage next summer and fall. I have a written down inventory of what I have in my freezer and try to work from that.
post #10 of 19
In answer to the question about whether you use new recipes--I use mostly things I've made before but I try to include one new recipe per week. That way I'm trying new things, too! As long as I buy the ingredients ahead of time, it's no biggie to try something new. I never used to try new things this regularly before I started meal planing, because I never had all the stuff and didn't want to make a special trip. I would only make things that were in my ordinary repertoire because those were the things I always had the ingredients for.

So, not only are we saving money and time, we're branching out!
post #11 of 19
You have gotten great advice so far. Here are a couple of additional things I'd like to add.
-Are you planning for leftovers? If you planned a meal for each night there is a good chance you will have some of that left to eat another night or for lunches at least. You can also actually PLAN to have leftovers and that makes things cheaper. LIke I will roast a whole chicken with potatoes and carrots on night and we will have chicken pot pie the next, with minimal additional ingredients.
-Are you incorporating ingredient shares into your meal plans? By that I mean say one night you are using green onions in something and you know you will have half a package of them left, make sure you plan something else that will use them, too.
-Do one soup night a week. This often will make a ton fairly cheap and leave you enough for either 2 nights or lunches throughout the week. Bake your own bread to go with it and it will last even longer.
-Make everything you can from scratch.
-Utilize buying in bulk.
-Cook double of something and put the second one in the freezer for next time.
-If you find something you use often on sale, stock up!
post #12 of 19
i shop one week at the time. i buy a combo of frozen stuff (chicken, ravioli, veggies, pizza, meatballs, etc) milk, yogurt, bread and fresh fruit. we have staples like oatmeal, spaghetti, cereal, pb, pasta sauce. that way it cuts down on waste and make for quick meals.
on the weekend i been using the crock pot to make large meals depending on your budge, like curry, pot roast, various chicken dishes, etc and freeze leftovers.
post #13 of 19
I plan out my meals for the week using this meal planning chart. http://www.thelucastribe.com/ForMoms.shtml

It really helps me get organized.
post #14 of 19
Wow - there is some terrific advice on here!

I've been researching this very topic since the beginning of the summer. I have always striven for $100/week grocery bill, but usually end up with about $175-$200 for two adults and a one-year old (and that includes diapers, household products, and other non-food items).

(As an aside, it made me feel good to know that a single friend of mine, who is very health conscious, rarely spent less than $500/month on his own groceries. And he was pretty frugal, so my $700-$800+/month bill didn't seem too bad (plus, we have people over to eat on average 2 times a week, so we're often feeding a few extra mouths).)

Anyhoo, I felt much the same as the original poster re: coupons, and in addition, I don't like buying the store brand things that they always have coupons for (too many additives, etc. for my liking).

So I found this terrific website with lists of just about every organic and natural food company that offers specials and coupons via their websites.

And here are some of my favorites off of it:
Seventh Generation
Mambo Sprouts
Earth's Best
Horizon Organic
Organic Valley

I check for coupons on the sites and in the newsletters they send and do my meal planning each Sunday/Monday for the week. I'm still getting my sea legs, so I'm not sure if it's making a huge difference, but I am trying and that feels good all in itself.

Good luck!

post #15 of 19

Meal Planning

Some great advice there wife&mommy
I suppose I've done meal planning all along - I just didn't know it had a name :-).
I shop once a fortnight and my beloved shops once a fortnight and we try as best we can to stick to our grocery budget.
The first time I shopped when we got our own place, I like another poster took note of all the items and prices I bought.
I wuld gnerally do a rast chicken on Sunday and so leftovers on Monday.
I keep a stock of stables in the freezer such as veg. I do home made soup and freeze that also. I keep a 'backup' ingrediants such as pasta, bacon pieces, tomatoes, courgettes, red onions, cheese - which makes a great cheap pasta dish which y9u can freeze a batch of.
I also batch cook - bolonaise, chilli, korma, curry, turkey mince burgers - basically whatever there is spcial offer on - and I do this in such a way as there is a "leftover" portion which comes in handy for lunches at work.
I also sap in cheapr ingredients when its appropriate, such asinstead of inreasingly expensive chicken fillets, i use part boined chicken breasts in the same menu - I just skin them first.
Whwne turkeyt mince becoms expense, I swapin tinned fish to do a fish roisotto instead of a turkey one - you cna freeze this as well.
post #16 of 19
Oh, and a couple more things I've learned that I haven't seen said explicitly on this thread:

1. Let's say you love Diet Coke and typically get a 12 pack case. Wait to buy it until it's on sale 3 for $10 or something and stock up. It'll increase your bill that week, but you'll save in the long run. Don't buy it when it's full price. Things like that typically go on sale at least once or twice a month.

2. Look for recipes with a leftovers recipe included if you're not good at making them up (like me). William-Sonoma has a great One Pot Dishes recipe book with two recipes that will stretch out to a total of 3 or 4 other meals. For ex: pork tenderloin one night, Cuban pork sandwiches the next, and pork fried rice the next. And all from one recipe of pork tenderloin.

3. Avoid wasting money on fresh produce when you buy it too soon before you need it. In a typical week, I'll go to the grocery store once for all the main ingredients and staples, and go the day of or day before for fish, shellfish, and meat. I'll restock my bananas, avocados, and apples that day, too, since here in Texas they go bad within 3 days if you don't eat them.

Ok, I think that's about it! Everyone has such great ideas I think everyone will be a meal planning pro by the end of this thread!

post #17 of 19

How Do I Meal Plan

I write out a weekly menu plan either the night before or on market day. I base my menus on seasonal produce as much as possible and sometimes make changes if the bounty of the farmer's market necessitates it. Once I plan out dinners for the week I make a shopping list and that's that. : We always cook enough for leftover lunches to be enjoyed the second lunchtime after the initial dinner. I make large enough batches of soup, chili and pasta sauce to provide leftovers and one frozen dinner for a night when time is short.

It's a good idea to rethink your leftovers so its not the same meal twice in a week. Fish can be broken up and remade as a pasta. Pork chops can be sliced and turned into yummy hot open faced sandwiches topped with cheese. You get the general idea.

My husband and I menu planned before our sons arrival, but now it is even more important. It frees me to just cook during the week and not worry about what were having.
post #18 of 19
I started by making a food list of all the things I could think of that we eat. I divided it by meat / dairy / soups / etc. When I'm in that "um.. what do I want????" I glance at the list and remind myself of something we haven't had in ages we love. I have also started putting all my recipes on the computer so I can just drag & drop them into the meal plan. I do planned overs, but don't always serve them the next day. I also adapt to what I have (someoen gave me tons of cooked rice, so instead of meatloaf as planned I did meatballs stretched with rice & served over rice. I used 1lb of beef and we ate a full meal. I have at least 2 more family sized servings in the freezer.
post #19 of 19

Planning and Saving

My biggest downfall has always been finding a "new" recipe - invariably that requires ingredients I don't have on hand. I have to do that every once in a while or the "usual" economic list of meals gets boring. I've found it helps to stick to some of those grocery store line mini mags for recipes - the ones where you can buy the subscriptions to (but I only buy one once in a while).

It's been a practice of mine lately at the end of each month to evaluate what's stockpiled in the pantry and freezer, and plan meals around those things, if possible. Otherwise, I a list of "usual suspects" tends to work well...especially for the afternoons that I forgot to defrost something in time, etc.

I also found a site I'm still feeling out - couponmom.com - that seems to offer some interesting resources and great deals. I just discovered restaurant.com from the above site, and purchased a local restaurant gift certificate in the amount of $25 for $2 with the newest "sale" code on couponmom.com. The participating restaurants make their own restrictions, but you go to the restaurant.com website, type in your area/region, search from a large list of restaurants (I chose Dream Dinners for a take-home option), and purchase a $25 gift card for $10 or a $50 gc for $20. They have a sale now where the $25 gc costs $2 and (I think) the $50 gc costs $4. The "catch" is that you need to heed each restaurants' restrictions. I saw that many restaurants required a minimum purchase in order to use your gift card. For example, Dream Dinners required a $35 purchase of food in order to use the $25 gc...so I'd be able to take home $60 in their meals for $35. Some restaurants are more lenient than others i.t.o. restrictions, but there are restaurants in all price ranges. Just a way to keep down the eating out budget.

Also, a friend told me about thegrocerygame.com, which is a site that not only offers coupons, but will "shop" all store ads in your area (that you specify - a modest fee for each store) and pair up the best sales with the existing coupons to tell you which items are free, the lowest they'll be marked down, or good deals but can wait for a better sale. They track the stores' cycle of sales and "predict" when the next items will go on sale or be at the best price. This is better than I can do from at home with my weekly circulars, and cuts down on the time for me. Yes, you can do this yourself for free, but I never remember the store sale cycles myself, and you can print out any coupons from their large list - many more are available through them than you'll find in your sunday paper. There are other sites that also offer coupons for printing, but the fees range from exhorbitant to confusing. I took a few hours one afternoon to search 4 sites that I found - 2 out of the 4 were the exact same site (different address), but one charged $99/month to do this, while the other charged $9.99/month. For those who weren't smart enough to find the cheaper one. A hoax for either site in my opinion. I think $10/month + shipping + small percentage of face value of the coupons you choose is too much....for just the coupons that can be found in your sunday paper. Just my 2 cents!
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