Ah, menu planning. It was my husband who first suggested we start this. My initial reaction: are you friggin' kidding me?! We hadn't been married that long and we'd just decided that it made more sense for me to stay home, since we were about to start trying for kids. I'm traditional(ish), but I have my limits! Actually, it turned out that meal planning worked pretty well for us. We'd sit down together on Sunday night and figure out what we wanted to eat for the next week. We'd build in maybe one lunch out and one dinner out. Then, I'd make a list of all the ingredients we needed for the dishes we'd selected and go grocery shopping.
This is menu planning at it's simplest. Even if this is all you do, it will still save you money. For us, this eliminated all the quick runs to the grocery store for those few items we didn't have but needed to make whatever we felt like making. Average cost of those quick trips? About 10 bucks a pop. And at one point, we were doing this almost every day after the husband got home from work.
If you want to save even more, figure out your menu plan, then grab those grocery circulars and find the specials. Then, pair them with your coupons.
If you really want to save the big bucks, do the process in reverse. Huh? There are several grocery stores near us, but I pick the 2 with the best deals each week. Unless there are just some killer deals, it simply isn't worth the gas to drive all over town. Plus, I'd rather hang out with our kids :) Anyway, I find the best deals out the circulars, pair up with coupons, and schlep it all home. Then, each evening I spend about 5 minutes loosely planning out the next day's menu. Probably not the most efficient way to do things, but it works well for us. We outlawed those "quick trips" to the grocery store (with the exception of milk, eggs, flour) so if I don't have something a recipe calls for, I'll modify it. Speaking of running to the store for eggs, my in-laws were visiting a while back and I was going to make apricot scones for breakfast. I actually make great scones, but there was one tiny little problem: we were completely out of eggs. Adding insult to injury, the recipe only called for one lousy egg. Oh, and did I mention that my mom-in-law was a professional wedding cake baker for most of her adult life? Fortunately, my sweet father-in-law slipped out and came back with a dozen eggs and my scone batter was saved. Mildly Mortifying.
But, I digress. Here's what today's menu looks like:
Breakfast: Whole Wheat toast made from bread bought at farmer's market. "Protein Shake" made of 1 cup plain almond milk and banana. I throw them in the blender with some ice and the husband and I split it.
Snack: veggie-based juice made with our Champion Juicer
Lunch: Leftover roasted veggies from last night's dinner and bruschetta made from the farmer's market bread, fresh cherry tomatoes, garlic olives, and a sprinkle of feta.
Snack: leftover juice
Dinner: homemade veggie pizza. We buy the ready made dough balls from Safeway, so it's a quick process.
The kids basically eat what we eat- you should see Mr. Baby go after roast zucchini. They drink the fresh juice we make, too. The big exception we make with their diet is that their afternoon snack is more substantial- peanut butter sandwich, yogurt, or applesauce typically. Our toddler also drinks cow's milk, which I feel is important at her age, though I personally feel better when I limit my dairy. Our son eats most of his solid food early in the morning, whereas our toddler likes to have a light breakfast, then load up at lunch.
I also drink a ton of hot tea, both caffeinated and decaf. It's so chilly here that I have a real issue drinking cold water. We actually had to turn our heater on last night...and it's June. Here's one of my absolute favorites. If you haven't tried it , you need to! It tastes great plain or with a bit of milk and honey.
I'd conservatively estimate that we're saving a good 30% on our grocery budget by meal planning the way that we do. We could save more if we ate more processed "coupon" type foods, but I really believe that junk food is only cheap until you get the bill for the heart bypass.
Next up, #4 Trade, Swap, Barter and Mooch