Menu Planning: The Ins and Outs

I first started to plan out our family’s meals a few years ago after hearing Jonni McCoy speak about her book Miserly Moms on Moody Radio. I raced home to order the book, and, once it arrived, I devoured it in a matter of hours. Inspiration flooded over me! We had been spending over $100 a week on groceries just for my husband and me, and we both knew something had to change and quick!

Menu planning is one very basic tool that has significantly changed the way I run our household. It has not only positively affected our budget, but implementing a menu plan each week saves me considerable time and energy that I can expend in other areas.

What is Menu Planning?Quite simply, menu planning is deciding in advance what meals you will prepare each week. To take it a step further and save money, it involves reading the weekly sales ads for your local grocery stores and planning meals around what is on sale that week. For example, if chicken is on sale but ground beef is not, you forgo beef that week (unless you have some in your freezer) and buy the chicken. Then, you come up with meals your family will enjoy using chicken and other ingredients in your pantry or freezer.

Why Create a Menu Plan?For our family, menu planning is a way to save time, energy, and money, three things this mom needs and loves.

1. To save time:
When you create a weekly menu plan, you know exactly what ingredients you have and what you will need to buy at the store. That means only one shopping trip during the week. Before I created a menu plan, I would find myself at the grocery store three or four times a week because I didn’t have all the ingredients I needed. When you have kids, you just don’t want to make that many trips to the store!

Also, with a menu plan in place, when 4:00 rolls around, I don’t find myself standing in front of the pantry or refrigerator, fretting, “What will we have tonight?” I simply consult my menu plan and I know exactly what we’re having!

2. To save energy:A menu plan means fewer trips to the store (i.e. less fuel consumption and less wrangling with kids), less worrying about what we’re having for dinner, and more time to spend playing with the kids or doing something else I enjoy. With a menu plan in place, I know exactly what prep work I need to do and use time throughout the day to get it done so that many times I will have a meal fixed and ready to throw in the oven so that I can avoid cooking during the dreaded “witching hour.”
3. To save money:The most important part of menu planning for me is that it saves our family money. Typically, I only buy foods that are on sale. When pork loin is on sale, I stock up so later when my family wants pork, we don’t have to rush out and pay full price for it. Instead, I just pull it out of our freezer.
Also, when I plan our menu in advance, I can utilize what we have on hand already. For example, if I have 5 boxes of pasta, chances are we will probably be having spaghetti or fettuccine one night that week. And if we have a lot of produce that will spoil soon, I find ways to incorporate it into our menu so that nothing is wasted.

Wasted food is wasted money.
How do you get started?For me the easiest way to start menu planning is to first take an inventory of what foods you have on hand–in the pantry, the fridge, and the freezer. I make a list that I keep on the fridge so that when I use something up, I can mark it off. That helps me know what foods I need to stock up on.
Then, consult grocery store ads to see what’s on sale and plan your meals around those items. As I’ve already discussed, you don’t typically want to spend top dollar on foods that aren’t on sale. If chicken isn’t on sale, skip it that week. Next week it may be at a price you can stock up on!

Next, make a list of meals your family likes. Consider what foods you already have as well as what is on sale and incorporate them into your menu plan. Our family has some tried and true favorites like chicken parmesan and pintos with cornbread, but I am always looking for new recipes to add to our repertoire. I like to search my cookbook indexes for ideas. But there are also some great cooking websites that I use quite frequently for inspiration: All Recipes.com, the Food Network website, and Epicurious.
The easiest way to save money is to only buy what is on sale.
And if you have a coupon, even better!So, menu planning very simply:
*Use what you’ve got.
*Buy only what’s on sale.

Do you menu plan? If so, what tips would you offer someone new to menu planning?


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