With today’s high bills and struggling economy, many of us are trying to tighten our belts a bit. One of the most variable items in many budgets is the food bill. While no one wants to just eat rice and beans, planning out your meals can cut your food costs and provide you and your family with more nutritious food. You can also save time by cooking smarter, using tools you probably already own, and shopping less.
Making your own menus will save you more than money. How many times have you found yourself back at the grocery store because you didn’t have the ricotta for a lasagna or were missing the lemon juice you needed? Maybe you dial that pizza delivery more than you would like. Regardless, a meal plan will allow you to shop efficiently, avoiding extra trips to the store. It will also allow you to take advantage of sales and specials and use your time wisely. Perhaps you can make two of a casserole or dish and freeze one, or do some extra prep on the weekend for busy weekday meals.
You only need a few tools to plan meals and menus. First, make a list of favorite recipes. Add a few that you are interested in or want to try as well. Choose a variety of types of meals, and meals with a wide range of preparation requirements when you make this list. You may want to include take out, dinners out, or quick, convenience foods in your list for nights when time is just too tight to cook. You also need a planner, calendar or printable on-line menu, whichever suits your needs. Finally, your local grocery ads are the last thing you need if you want to save.
Look at what is on sale in your area and any coupons you might have. Keep in mind that you can use coupons on sale products and that some stores will match competitors’ prices, helping you to save valuable shopping time. There is even a service that for a small fee will tell you what to buy when in your area to make the most of your savings, at grocerygame.com.
Another way meal planning can help you save is by allowing you to use foods that are inexpensive, but may be too time consuming without some forethought. Often, tougher cuts of meat work very well for slow cooking, using a slow cooker or a slow simmer on the stove. You might also plan to bake cookies for the kids’ lunches instead of buying treats or take the time to cook dry beans instead of buying canned.
Planning for leftovers is ideal. If you bake a ham or roast a chicken on Monday, reuse the meat in other forms on Tuesday and Wednesday. Monday’s chicken and mashed potatoes can become Tuesday’s chicken pot pie and Thursday’s chicken noodle soup. This will allow you to stretch your food dollars as much as possible thanks to smart planning.
If you often find yourself asking what’s for dinner at 5:30 on Wednesday night, a meal plan can save you time, trouble and keep more money in your pocket. You can even reuse your family menu from month to month to save time, or change it seasonally if you prefer. Taking the time to figure out family dinners before that night will make everyone’s life easier and make healthy meals a joy instead of a chore.