Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Tip for Tuesday: {Menu Planning}

In honor of my love for alliteration, and for my resolution to renew my love for menu planning, I'm sharing an incredible kitchen tip with you this Tuesday afternoon!

Is saving money on your list of resolutions for the New Year?  I'm willing to bet that it's near the top for many of us this year.  I'm also willing to be that I'm not the only one who would rather have a root canal than sit down and clip coupons, or type up a strict budget.  All that extra thinking about money just makes me want to throw my hands up and QUIT!  How about a money saving tip that won't have you running for the dentist's office, begging him to give you a root canal, sans novacaine?

The absolute easiest way I've found to save money (a significant amount of money, too, not just pennies) is by planning a weekly (or bi-weekly) menu.  When we were first married, like most newlyweds, we were living on a shoestring budget.  But, like most young, 20-somethings, we also liked food.  A lot.  I noticed that our grocery bills were eating up more of our monthly budget than any other item on the list.  And yet, it didn't seem like we had that much food at all.  In fact, we were spending almost as much on eating out as we were on groceries. 

In an effort to control our ever-inflating costs, and to decrease the amount of take-out we were grabbing, I decided to make a list of all the meals I wanted to cook for 1 week straight.  I thought that if I had the meals planned out, and ingredients purchased in advance, we'd be less likely to splurge on pizza or Chinese simply because we couldn't think of anything for dinner.  What I found was that this 20 minutes of planning at the beginning of the week not only slowed down our consumption of take-out (and was no doubt singlehandedly responsible for profit losses at every fast food join in a 5 mile radius), but it decreased our grocery bills by almost half.  Yes, half, as in 50%.

It turns out, that just randomly picking up items you think you'll need as you wander up and down the vast aisles (especially while hungry!) is not only inefficient, but EXPENSIVE!  I was picking up tons of items I didn't need, and forgetting many that I did, which would lead to extra trips back to the store throughout the week.  And, really, who goes into the store for one thing, and comes out with only that one item?  Not me.  I went in for eggs, and came out with $50 worth of stuff we might need, or that just plain looked good.  I was buying items I already had, because I hadn't taken the time to inventory my cupboards, or the recipes I would be cooking.  Cutting out these extra trips cut down our grocery bills, our take-out bills, and reduced the amount of food we were throwing away each week.

So, I'm going to walk you through the process, so that you, too, can see some extra money in the bank each week.  Though, I take no responsibility for the failure of any nearby restaurants when you see how successful this method is!

How to Save Money by Planning Your Meals!

First, go through your recipes, cookbooks, favorite food blogs, and any other source you might use to think of the recipes you'd like to make this week.  I usually do this on a bi-weekly basis, so I only have to do this step once every 2 weeks.

Then, make a list of those recipes, and the ingredients that you need for each of them.  

Go into your kitchen, and take stock of what you have, crossing out any ingredients you already have at home, so you won't buy them again at the store.

Add to your list any extras you might need: garbage bags, ziplocs, shampoo, specific snacks, etc.  You want EVERYTHING on your list.  Go through the rest of your house if you have to, the more accurate your list is, the less likely you are to need to make that dreaded second trip, where your one bottle of toothpaste will run you $50 in junk!

Head to the store, and STICK TO YOUR LIST.  Avoid the temptation of picking up things that aren't on the list because you "might need them later."  In my experience, this leads to pantries packed full of items that will never see the light of day.

Once you are home, post your list of dinners on the fridge, so you can refer to it when the terror-inducing "what am I going to cook tonight?" moment hits.  Some people get fancy and list ahead of time exactly what night they are making which dinner.  But, that's too scary for me.  I need a little wiggle room.  What if I don't want chicken on the 13th?  What if I want beef?  If I want beef, I'm going to have beef, dangit!  I just post the list, with no dates, and make whatever sounds good to me that night.  Having my choices narrowed down to 7 (or 14 if you do bi-weekly lists) makes all the difference in the world.

Now, do NOT go back to the store until your list of dinners is done.  If you run out of something, put it on a whiteboard, and get it on your next trip.  Unless it's something you absolutely HAVE to have.  The only thing I will go back to the store for is milk, for the kids.  Everything else waits until my next designated shopping day.  This way, I avoid all those extra trips, and costly extra junk that finds its way into my cart during each trip.

It looks like a lot of work written down here like this, but it's really not!  It also makes your trip to the store MUCH faster.  Instead of wandering the aisles, like a lost puppy, thinking about what you might need to pick up, you can walk confidently, and briskly into each one, picking up only what's on your list.  And if you choose to keep this little morsel to yourself, and take the extra time to hit Starbucks for a quiet cup of coffee or piece of coffee cake in peace, who am I to tell your husband on you?

In keeping honest with you guys, I do need to admit that I usually leave 1-2 nights per week open for leftovers, or dinners out.  What?  I said this saved me money, not that I'm perfect, or that I can resist the perfection that is someone waiting on ME for a change every once in a while.

So, to get you started on this Tuesday's Tip, here is my meal plan for this week.  I'll post the recipes as I make them!

{Godbold Family Meal Plan for December 28-January 11}

Chicken 'n Dumplins
Ranch Pork Chops and Perfect Potatoes Au Gratin
Balsamic Glazed Pork Chops and Mashed Potatoes
Rigatoni and Homemade Meatballs
Homemade Beef and Vegetable Soup
Super Simple Chicken Soft Tacos
Sarah's Lemon Pepper Chicken and Rice
Potato Cheddar Soup
PW Pot Roast
PW's Penne a la Betsy (with chicken instead of shrimp)
Steak and Potato Wedges

So, there you have it!  Feel free to take some of these recipes, and use them to create your own weekly meal plan.  Then, sit back and watch your grocery bills shrink!  Think of all the fun responsible things you can do with the money you save!

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