One way to not only save on grocery expenses, but to reduce meal stress is to have a pre-planned meal schedule.
You can do this in a way that works best for your family. Some like to plan weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. I personally prefer to plan based on whatever our current payday schedule is. If we get paid every other week, then I like to plan 2 weeks at a time...if we get paid once a month then I like to plan by the month, and so on. I do it this way because it helps to stay within our grocery budget, and it assures that we not only just have food in the cupboards, but it guarantees that we will have all the ingredients to make a complete meal.
Here are some of the things that I do when preparing to complete a meal plan:
- Decide which meals to schedule - This is totally up to you, but you will want t decide before beginning this process if you want to plan breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, or if you just want to plan dinner. To be most efficient you would plan all 4, however I must confess that I usually only plan our dinners. I am considering planning all 4 because I know the value and this also helps to ensure that we aren't just eating 'junk' for our other meals or snacks. Again, this is a personal preference.
- List Favorite Meals - Most families have some favorites, whether you eat them multiple times a week or just once a month, you likely have some standard meals that you know your entire family will eat.
- Review New Meals - Our family got out a couple of cook books and we each marked several new recipes we would like to try. We looked them over together and added a few that once reviewed we decided that we were all willing to try. Once this is done, add these new meals to your list.
- Begin making your list - Depending on which sort of list you're making (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly), you will need to have the correct number of meals ready to be entered.
- Make note of similar ingredient meals for scheduling purposes - For instance, if one of your meals it turkey, and another is sweet and sour turkey, be sure to schedule them either one or two days apart so you can cook the turkey just once and use the leftovers for the corresponding meal. Be sure not to stretch your time frame too far as many meat items will spoil after a few days. I have Lupus and because of this my immune system is compromised but my Dr has advised me never to eat left overs older than 3 days old. (I've read similar instructions, especially when referring to poultry... however my Dad has probably broken records for eating leftovers way longer than that and doesn't ever get sick! I try not to think about that.*smile*) Here are some things that are good new meals to make with leftovers:
- Chicken or Turkey - Salads, Soup, Stir fry, Sweet and Sour, Chicken/Turkey Salad for Sandwiches, Casseroles, Enchiladas, Taco's, Chicken Pesto Pizza....just to name a few.
- Salmon or other Fish - Make Salmon Patties/Cakes (mixing fish with onions, eggs, bread crumbs, and seasonings to form into patties and fry to eat alone or on a sandwich) Salmon Patties are a HUGE favorite in my family. We used to make them from canned Salmon, but with that in short supply...left over cooked salmon works perfectly! Of course left over fish is great on Salads, or in Fish Tacos!
- Chili - Chili dogs, Nachos, Taco Salad, or mix with cheese for a chip dip.
- Spaghetti - Spaghetti Casserole, you can rinse and fry the noodles (if they were kept separate from the sauce) until brown and add ingredients for a noodle stir fry with soy sauce, Thai peanut sauce, or whatever sauce you prefer. Marinara Sauce can be used to make Lasagna, Chicken Parmesan, or any variety of Pasta meals with added Veggies.
- Meatloaf - Meatloaf Sandwich, Spaghetti Sauce, Shepherd's Pie, Sloppy Joe's, Biscuits and Gravy.
- Steak - Steak Salad, Fajitas, Stew, Stir Fry.
- Mashed Potatoes - (I find it hard to believe anyone would have leftovers, but if you do....) they can thicken soups, Perogies, Shepherd's Pie, Potato Pancakes.
- Taco Meat - Southwest Omelet, Spaghetti Sauce, Lasagna, Nachos.
- Make Grocery List - You will find that you probably have certain ingredients that you will need for multiple recipes, here is where you can save by buying in bulk for things like (tomato sauce, hamburger, veggies, etc.)
- If you are really a person who loves organized lists (Which I am! I'm convinced that in Heaven God will hand me my job duties on a list with check boxes. Ha!), you can organize your shopping list by store sections (produce, frozen foods, bakery, canned goods, etc)
- Food Prep - You can prep one day at a time or you can take your meal preparation to another level by using a day or two (weekends are good for those who work) to prep things that can be made in advance. You can cook a large amount of hamburger and split it, taking some for chili, some for spaghetti, and then leaving the remaining in the pan and add taco seasoning for taco's. If it will be several days or even weeks, just place it in freezer bags or freezer safe containers and write your date on the container and keep in the freezer until you need it. You can do this with your steak, chicken, turkey, and even fish (although I prefer fish fresh but it is ok to freeze and eat). You can chop onions and other vegetables in advance for your multiple meals. You could use pre-chopped frozen veggies also if they are not in season or if you just want to save. With the price of produce on the rise, this may become a more interesting option as time goes by. You can prepare things like lasagna, chili, and other dishes in advance and just freeze them for easy removal and cooking or re-heating (depending on whether you fully cooked your meal in advance or not).
- Bring a Friend -You can make this a little more fun by doing it with a friend. Plan your meals together and help each other by cooking in bulk. You can prepare larger portions and split them up between the two families. So you might work on chopping while your friend is cooking and take turns. It has been many years ago but when I lived in a very small town in Alaska, I did this with a friend and not only did it provide many easy to prepare meals for both of our families, we were able to make it much more enjoyable by visiting during the process.
I have found many free templates for meal planning online. It is as easy as a quick Google search.
I have recently found a free weekly meal planning template that I like and am trying out. This site has 2 week plans as well as monthly planners. Here is the link:
Happy Planning! Let me know if you have any suggestions or if you have any favorite new meal leftover ideas!