Thursday, February 28, 2008

Laying down the skillet

I resisted meal planning for so long. Below, an evolution of my budget menu plan:

  1. Improvise with loss leaders and perishable foods. Catherine at Wise Bread shares her techniques for freestyle frugality in the kitchen.
  2. Realize that the freestyle plan was entirely dependent on my whim and energy level. It was too easy to fall back on PB & J or frozen pizza.
  3. Develop a dinner plan loosely based on sales flyers. But lunch, oh lunch, how weak my will! We are running errands, and everyone is hungry!

  4. Lunch at home, even if it's the same thing every day. Jeana's in-for-lunch series nudged me back into the frugal zone.
  5. Cook like a 1950's woman and realize that more planning = less thinking, less temptation.
  6. Sketch out 3 meals a day based on seasonal produce and sales.

Sales-based menu + no thinking = I can do this!

--My friend Christy eats well on less by cutting nonessentials.
--Barb tells how she feeds a family of 6.
--Money Saving Mom on balancing health and frugality.
--Kim C.'s children calculate the cost of their favorite meals.

(Have a post about healthy budget menus? Leave your link in the comments!)


Shannon said...

I have to do the meal plan for the discipline, too. It works pretty well for me, but I've been out of the habit for so long - well, I still make a plan, but I haven't been sticking to it. I've been taking baby steps the last few weeks, but I think I'm going to sit down this afternoon and make a real plan for all 21 meals next week! WIsh me luck:)
BTW, how do Andrew and Elise like lentils? I've been dying to try them, but sometimes the kids take a little convincing:)

Deborah Stanish said...

A long time lurker here. *waves* I am a firm believer in meal planning, just for the reasons you state - busy schedules can throw a freewheeling strategy out of whack. I'm a disciple of The Tightwad Gazette's "Pantry Principle" and stock up on items when on sale. When planning a menu I always "shop" my pantry first and sales second. Because I'm starting with a full larder and freezer( all purchased on sale) my trips to the grocery store tend to be for fresh items and re-stocking with more "on sale" items rather than immediate menu needs. The system takes a bit of time to ramp up but it has saved this family of six money and, almost as important, time. Plus, there is a certain peace of mind knowing that the hard part of feeding my family - the planning - is done in one fell swoop.

Amy said...

I did menu planning for years and now I finally feel like I know my pantry and my meal plans well enough that I can start the stockpiling and meal planning from pantry items. I am working on that this month and this is very new to me. I am very much a planner, but I am seeing the potential savings from working towards the other end of the spectrum.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

"Doesn't everyone know that shopping for specific recipes always costs more than shopping from the sales?"

I found the opposite to be true for me. Buying ingredients just because they were on sale always added up for me in the long term. (Items that ended up sitting in cabinet/fridge and not being used/consumed.) I do much better budget wise and kitchen/pantry wise when I plan menus for the week and shop from that. I do grab up a few things because they are sale when I see them. But those are things (like ketchup for instance) that I know will get used. :)

Anonymous said...

Visit my blog The Full Table. It's full of frugal, from scratch meals for the large family.
Our menu is normally based around what meats are available- from the store or in our freezer. I try to plan our dinner menu 2 weeks at a time so that very little will go to waste.

Meredith said...

I should add that I pared down this post for easier readability AFTER it went out on Bloglines, hence Live Laugh Love's comment.

I agree--you can't just buy everything on sale and hope it all works out!

Instead, I would look at what is on sale (chicken? broccoli?) and select recipes based on that (chicken divan?).

This method is almost guaranteed to be cheaper than heading to the grocery to buy ingredients for lasagna, only to see that both ricotta and lean ground beef are full price. If only you had made lasagna last week, when you could have saved over $1 on both!

Julie said...

I just finished my menu plan for the month of March. I base my dinners on food we have on hand. Then I shop at the beginning of the month for the items I need to round out the menu. I also shop for fresh produce and sale item during the week. I find that I save money by staying out of the store.
Since there is only two of us, I do not plan breakfast or lunch. We eat leftovers for lunch. For breakfast, we have eggs, pancakes, or cereal. I make my own pancake mix and buy cereal when it is on sale.
Menu planning may cost me time, but it saves me money and sanity.

Edi said...

I am NOT a meal planner. I know I should be - but every inch of me resists the idea. I could physically do it - but I think "Well what if I don't feel like having chili on Thursday once Thursday rolls around."

Well I know we all have to do things we don't like - but it's one of those things for me that I'm not quite ready for. But I'm gonna read the links you posted and see if that will convince me to give it a shot.

TracyMichele said...

I try not to be running errands around lunch time for that very reason. I am weak and will pop into Panera and grab some soup, I'm just sure of it. Instead, if I happen to know I won't make it home in time for lunch, I pack it and bring it with me. The Littles love when I pull out a picnic basket in a parking lot and they get to eat in the car!

Anonymous said...

If your children don't like what you have prepared do you fix them something else - like a PB&J sandwich and glass of milk maybe?Also, do you practice portion control in order to stay within such a small budget? I think $50 per week to feed a family of 4 is just amazing. I try not to waste food but my philosphy is if the bowls are empty, maybe someone would have liked a bit more. I don't know how you feel about portion control and making kids something they don't like and was just curious.

Anonymous said...

I have just recently been very mindful of waste (thanks in part to Crunchy Chicken). I started pouring way less milk into the kids' cups and I find I waste much less. Dishing out smaller portions at meals, too. Today my 7 yo asked for seconds 3 times because my portions were smaller. My 4 yo asked for seconds once and my 3 yo finished most of what was on her plate. If I'm not scraping much off plates, I consider it a personal victory.

Anonymous said...

I do a meal plan but didn't assign specific meals to specific days until recently. I actually don't like doing the whole days thing, so I'm going to stop. Having a running list of potential meals I *could* make from what I have on hand allows me to work from a pantry of sale items and also enables me to be flexible - I can make any one of those things on a given day because I've already verified that I have the stuff. Having a list of "X on Monday, Y on Tuesday" isn't working for me the way a list of "I can make X, Y, Z, 1, 2, 3" lets me respond to the circumstances, my mood and the family schedule as they develop.

Amanda said...

A great conglomeration of good information. I struggle in this area. I generally shop from my pantry, coming up with meals based on what we have, but I find that probably leaves me spending more than I could or should. I think I need to be more diligent about planning out a menu based on what we have instead of winging it everyday.

Also, thanks for all the great links. I'm enjoying them a great deal...

Heather Anne said...

I used to plan a monthly menu every month and it was very freeing - I'd get up in the morning and know what we were having and it just worked for me. Much better than the 4 o'clock panic! What's for dinner MUM????? I need to get back to faithfully planning our meals, soon! My energy levels are not great, but really, even chronic illness isn't a good excuse, since I know it will ease my stress! For me, it's not even so much about saving money as it is about saving my strength and eating healthfully! Thanks for the encouragement and the great tips and example!

Kelly said...

I always read the labels and am finding that a lot of the food I normally buy is packaged or grown in China and other parts of the world. This did not concern me as much before the dog food and lead paint problems. I was wondering how other shoppers feel about where there food comes from?

Guitar Widow said...

Back to the The Tightwad Gazette's "Pantry Principle" - although Amy does chose her meals out of her pantry the extent of meal planning done is the night before. I am currently reading her second book so it is fresh in my mind.

Amy and her husband swap dishes at dinner every night. Whoever is not doing dishes must plan the meal for the next day. I find this brilliant.

I plan our meals weekly and purchase weekly for them. Schedules can get hectic causing me at some rare times to throw out bad produce. Her system eliminates this problem.