Sunday, February 23, 2014

Meal Planning for the lazy

Part of my Year of Food challenge is coming up with dinner ideas, staying on budget, and then actually getting things made each night. It's not as easy as just whipping up dinner every night. Those dinners take time to plan. Part of my previous no-cooking problem was that I never had a plan. I never shopped with a grocery list or planned what I was going to eat more than a day in advance. It was very unproductive. 

But I am proud to say that I have been successfully meal planning this year. I know a lot of people can go hardcore on the planning, but I'm too lazy to go to 3 different stores looking for the best deals or try to shop for one month of groceries at a time. Way, way too lazy for that. So here is what I do and what works for our family. I hope it helps someone like me who thought meal planning was overwhelming and time consuming. 

1. Make a budget. This is where I always start. My husband handles our money, so each week I ask him what my budget for the week is. It's usually around $65 but some weeks he says "go wild" or cuts me back to $50.  I like to think of the budget as a challenge. The tighter it is, the more I have to work. But I refuse to cut back on quality or tastiness even with a tiny budget. 

2. Go shopping on the same day each week. We go shopping either Sunday or Wednesday. No other days. It just keeps us from making 100 little stops throughout the week. Those quick stops add up quickly and usually include some impulse purchases. No good. 

3. Plan your meals. Duh, right? I search food blogs, the cooking channel, and the food network looking for things to eat. Sometimes I have something particular in mind, but often I just scroll and browse until I find something I like. 

4. Pick your recipes wisely. Keep in mind how long the recipe will take, if it has any expensive ingredients, if it will make leftovers, etc. If a recipe calls for 20 speciality ingredients, it's probably not going to work if you're on a budget. But, one trick I use is that if it's just one or two expensive things, I'll find two other recipes that also call for that ingredient so it gets used up. 

5. Use technology. I create a book mark tab for each weeks' recipes. That way I can easily add to it and access it throughout the week. Also, copy and paste all ingredient lists into your phone and use that as your grocery list. Super easy. A new trick I discovered is to group like ingredients together on the list and then arrange the list in the order you usually go through the grocery store in. For example, my list goes fresh fruit and veg, meat, canned items, baking goods and spices, frozen, dairy, deli and bakery. 

6. Stick to the list. It's so tempting to throw in junk food and impulse buys. But if it's not on the list, I try not to buy. No only will it increase my total cost, but it may not even get eaten. Waste of money. I try to avoid even going near the potato chip aisle. It's my weakness.

7. Use fliers and coupons. Now, I am not a couponer. I don't clip coupons at all. Mostly because we always buy store brands or generics and they usually don't make coupons for those things. But I love Kroger because they will sometimes give coupons for their store brand products. By signing up for a (free) Kroger card, you automatically get discounts. Then, use the Kroger mobile app to download coupons directly to your card. And then use the same app to browse their circular for that week. If frozen chicken is on sale that week and I have a digital coupon, then I buy several bags. It's good to know of it's going to be on sale so I can plan for that in my budget. 

8. Review your receipt. I like to look at how much each item cost and where the bulk of my money went. Usually it's on met and dairy, but sometimes I'll find myself going over board on something else. Kroger also breaks down how much you saved by dollar amount and percentage wise. I usually save 15% but have saved as much as 40%. 

9. Use all of what you buy. Stretch as far as you can. Freeze anything you don't use for later. The freezer is your friend. Freeze unused items or freeze leftovers. 

10. Keep your "pantry" stocked. About one a month/every 6 weeks, I need to restock my pantry. That means I buy staples like oil, butter, canned tomato sauce, flour, sugar, canned beans, spices, rice, pasta. All of those things last pretty much forever and you can make quite a few meals from them if you have to. It's good to have the basics on hand just in case. 

So that's how I do things. It's really not hard or time consuming. Most of this is common sense to anyone who has been running a household for any amount of time, but I know there are lots of newbies like me out there. Meal planning and budgeting don't have to be a chore. I actually look forward to planning my meals and my weekly grocery trips. 


  1. I need to get back into it! It was so nice when I had weekly meals planned out, I've just been slacking! Thanks for sharing on Sunday FUNday!