Next to creating and sticking to a budget, which I discussed in this post yesterday, menu planning is the greatest recommendation I have when people are looking for ways to cut their spending.
I started getting serious about menu planning about two years ago. It took some time to get used to in the beginning, but it has definitely been worth it. Before I started menu planning, I would often get home from work too tired to even think about cooking and since I didn’t have a plan in mind, it was easier to just resort to fast food. Now that we’re menu planning, I am spending less money overall because we are not eating out as much and because we are using the food that we have. I’ve cut my spending for eating out and grocery shopping to 1/3 of what it was when I was starting out! I also love that we have time together as a family each night to talk about our day. Research has shown the kids who eat with their families on a regular basis have higher grades in school and are less likely to take drugs. It also is an important contributing factor in younger children’s language development!
Here are some times to help you get started with menu planning:
1. Make a list of your favorite family meals ~ Sit down as a family and let everyone share a few of their favorite meals. Make a list of everyone’s ideas so that you have something to start with! You’ll be amazed at how quickly the ideas come.
2. Don’t be afraid to try new things ~ Since I started menu planning, I have really enjoyed trying new recipes and finding things to add to our list of favorite meals! I like to try at least one new recipe each week to avoid getting in a cooking “rut.” Browsing recipe blogs, cookbooks, and other online resources really helps with this.
Here are some of my favorite blogs for dinner inspiration:
All Recipes – You can search for recipes by category or search by the ingredients you have. When I need some inspiration, this site is always a great resource!
A Year of Slow Cooking – I would be lost without my crockpot and this blog has some great recipes! She spent an entire year cooking every day in her crockpot! If you’re looking for gluten free recipes, so has tons! I got her cookbook for Christmas and love it!
Favorite Family Recipes – Lots of great family friendly ideas!
On My Menu – When I get in a “rut” and am looking for new ideas, Marci’s blog is always an inspiration for me. Plus, there are great pictures and our kids are similar ages, so I figure if her kids like a recipe, mine will probably like it too!
Our Best Bites – Our two favorites so far from this site are the Cashew Sweet and Sour Pork and the Spicy Honey Chicken. These recipes are practical and family friendly!
Here are some of my favorite cookbooks right now:
The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook: 200 Recipes for Quick, Nourishing Meals that Are Easy On the Budget and a Snap to Prepare (I love this book because the recipes are practical and she makes suggestions for side dishes, too – she has a new book: The $5 Dinner Mom Breakfast and Lunch Cookbook that I want to check out, too)
3. When planning for the week, consider what you have on hand and browse your weekly grocery store ads to see what is on sale ~ I meal plan one week at a time using this method, which helps to cut down my grocery expenses. I usually sit down and plan for the upcoming week on Friday nights or Saturday mornings before I go grocery shopping so that my shopping list is based on the meals we are having during the upcoming week. Using this method helps me to rotate my stockpile and since I’m using items from my stockpile, I’m also spending less at the grocery store.
4. Plan a variety of meals ~ Plan a variety of meals each week rotating beef, chicken, pork, and pasta. Sometimes, we also have “theme” nights such as taco bar, potato bar, or breakfast for dinner. Planning a variety, keeps meal planning fun and helps you to avoid burn-out.
Here are some printable worksheets to help you with your menu planning: (all are free!)
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu planning form (includes room for a grocery list)
Printable Excel template menu planners (includes weekly and monthly worksheets)
Printable Weekly menu planner (includes room for a grocery list)
5. Be flexible and figure out what works for you ~ Your menu plan is just a guide. It doesn’t have to be an absolute. Sometimes what you have planned for Thursday sounds better on Tuesday and that’s OK. Some people don’t even menu plan for specific days. They just come up with options for the whole week. I usually do all of my meal prep work before I go to work (putting everything in the slow cooker if I’m using it that day or cutting up meat, veggies, etc. so I just have to cook it all when I get home), so things go quickly once I get home. Even during the summer, I like to do my prep work early in the morning, so I’m not as stressed trying to put dinner together in the evenings since that’s the time of day when my kids seem to go crazy!
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