Friday, September 09, 2011

What, Why, How: Meal Planning

I need to first start by saying that I love cooking, baking, and eating. It's tough to make the things I want to eat on a budget. But, for right now...I have to.

One of my favorite stores. photo: Adventures in Midwestern America
I also thoroughly enjoy grocery shopping. Even now, with a baby, I peruse the aisles like they're Rodeo Drive. I like looking at all the options for cereal (I love it), bread, meat, & produce. I even like looking at the packaged food aisles to see what they come up with next. I look at the price differences. I snag good deals. I go slow. Even a "10 minute" shopping jaunt can turn into 30 minutes, easily. The grocery store employees often ask me if I need help finding anything, simply because I may-or-may-not have a 'lost' look on my face as I stare down each aisle deciding if I missed anything on my first trip around. I know. I am C-R-A-Z-Y.

So it was pretty easy for our food "budget" to get a little out of hand. I've read about families of 3 that can eat on $200 a month. We are not that family. I don't think we will ever be. I refuse to eat crap and I have certain standards when it comes to food, especially produce. I'm not trying to get all "high and mighty," I just know that what goes into our bodies really affects our quality of life. Although, because we have a lot of student loan debt, and want to buy a house sometime before we are 50, we are trying to really stick to our budget.

Enter Meal Planning. I don't really remember what I did before it, and I've not even been doing it that long. I guess I just went to the grocery store, bought a lot of random stuff, and then cooked something from that.

The premise of meal planning is:
  1. figure out what you will be eating each night of the week
  2. make a grocery list based on the things you need for that (and lunches/breakfasts)
  3. buy nothing else (unless you are like me a usually walk away with at least 2 good deals that weren't on the list, no matter how hard I try)
It's supposed to take away the stress of "what's for dinner," while also helping you reduce random trips to the store and spending less money.

This is how I usually do it:
  • I ask my husband what he wants to eat next week. He usually comes up with one idea.
  • I figure out what I want to eat next week. I make a list of the days of the week. 
  • I fill in any days that we may have other dinner plans/be out of town.
  • I organize our other meal ideas into the days by what would need to be eaten/cooked first. I also sometimes base the order on what would be easier on a certain night versus what I need longer to prepare (and save those for times my husband would be home to wrangle the baby). 
  • I look at the sale bills for the grocery stores around our place, and write down what's on sale that we may want to eat/need. 
  • I make our grocery list based on the meal plan/sale items/what we do not have already.
I started out planning breakfast and lunch too, but have since decided that's not really necessary. I just make sure to buy sandwich stuff and a variety of breakfast items to fill in the week.

It's not an exact science, and I've only recently gotten pretty good at it. Cooking for two people is kind of tough. I like to make full recipes, which leaves us with a lot of leftovers (or we eat too much, as is sometimes the case). The positive thing about leftovers is less prep work on other nights, the negative thing is that we may get tired of something before it's all gone. I've found that I really only need to cook 3 or 4 full recipies each week, as leftovers and sandwiches get us through the rest.

I did okay with our food budget last month ($320, spent $350) and I hope to get even better this month!

You can find GREAT meal planning tips and options at OrgJunkie.com


  1. Our grocery bills are skyrocketing, even though I start every single trip by getting everything I can at Aldi and filling in elsewhere. We're up to $130-150/week. I keep looking for ways to cut it, but finally I realized last week: with three kids growing and a 4th about to make his/her big entrance...it's not going down, it's going up. :(

    Incidentally...saw your guest post at Catholic Newlywed and was startled when I saw the columns in your graduation pic. I've been blogging for years in the town you went to school and we never ran into each other till now??? :) My husband works in Jesse Hall and we just went to Tiger Walk with the kids a few weeks ago. Just needed to say hi.

  2. I am obsessive about making budgets and often can find ways to be under in most categories, except for groceries. We spend so much! I use coupons and shop sales as much as possible, but coupons and sales tend to be focused on processed foods and like you, I am really careful about what we eat. Fresh, whole food is just so expensive!

    I haven't really tried meal planning, because half the time, something seems to come up where we end up not even being hungry for dinner, or just wanting to eat cereal, and then the food I bought ends up going bad before it can be cooked. But it may really help with budgeting, so I'll give it a try.

    I'm so glad someone else loves grocery shopping - I could be there all day!

  3. I don't know how to shop without a menu plan first! Especially now that our pay periods are all messed up, we really have to budget our food. I could only imagine what would happen if I went in there without a meal plan! Great post!

    New follower from Wednesday's blog hop! gotomommy.blogspot.com

  4. I have to shop with a meal plan as well, otherwise I get stuff we don't need, or I forget stuff and groceries are so expensive! I'm a new follower from the hop.

  5. I love these tips and with my grocery bills up WAY TOO HIGH, I'll be trying this.

    Found you from a hop. Hope you come over to Tales of an Unlikely Mother, too! Following.


  6. I love meal planning! These are some great tips too! I started it a few months after I got married and it made a huge difference in how much we spent. Also, I'm happy to see someone else likes to walk to aisles at the grocery store just to compare prices or look for good deals. My husband thinks I'm crazy but I love it.


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