2009 Challenge: Meal Planning

Meal Planning

A topic hot amongst my Stay At Home Mom (SAHM) friends as well as many others because of the state of our economy (and also because... well, who actually LIKES to throw away money?!?!) is the cost of groceries, cooking/baking, better meal planning, coupon cutting and making our dollars go further these days as prices continue to rise!

I started meal planning last year, something I first learned about from a friend and then, adapted to suit myself a bit better and here is my plan, should any of you not already know:

1. Make a Master Meal List of all the meals I cook and that we actually eat (I have mine typed up and laminated because... well, I'm weird like that!):
  • This helps to give somewhat of a visual of all the possibilities for any given month
2. Pick 1 day each week (my day is Sunday because David can be with Emily while I shop alone and because I get the coupons and sales fliers out of the Sunday paper before I go!) and choose 5 meals from that Master Meal List.

3. Inventory your fridge/freezer and pantry for any ingredients you may need for these 5 meals and make a list for you to take to the store.

4. Flip through the Sunday paper for coupons related to those items and be sure to clip them and take them with you! Also, flip through the sales fliers quickly to see if any of those items on your list are on sale at your local markets and shop at the place they are the cheapest!!!
  • I'm not saying drive all over town to save $0.20/lb on chicken breasts but it's certainly worth a trip to two different markets if several items on your list are cheaper at another store - divide up your list before you leave home so you know exactly what you are getting at which store!
  • Exceptions: items that are on sale that you normally consume during the week that aren't part of your dinner meal planning (cereals, breads, milks, snacks, etc.) that you are low or out of and/or items you can easily freeze that won't perish. Especially if things are "buy 1 get 1 free"!
6. Type up your list of that week's meals and add in one "Leftovers" night (which can also be an understood cereal, leftovers, sandwich, whatever-you-can-find night) and one Eat out/Order In night for a total of 7 meals that week. Put your list on your fridge or on the pantry door so it's right there where you both can see it and be sure to pick from your weekly list each morning what you'd like to have for dinner that night!
  • Having this weekly list really cuts down on the "what are we going to have for dinner?" conversation
  • This list, while limiting in some respects does still offer the flexibility to chose what you want to eat should you not feel like leftovers on Wednesday or Pizza on Sunday since you aren't assigning the meals to a specific day of the week.
  • You can certainly chose a different number of meals you will be cooking should you want 2 or 3 leftover nights! Do whatever works for your family!
7. Each morning, glance over the list, choose what you'll eat that night and be sure to thaw out any ingredients you'll need and dinner will be much less stressful later on that evening since you KNOW your meats are thaw, your fridge is full of whatever produce you may need and your pantry has the necessary ingredients to complete your meal. Worry free dinner!!!

Okay so, now to the point of this post!

I have saved us a ton of money just by doing the Meal Planning I just detailed out above but our groceries category on Mint.com still seems to be too high for my taste and I know exactly why: even I don't stick to the above plan 100% of the time! I get in a hurry or sidetracked and forget to thaw out my chicken for the evening's Chicken Fajitas or David will have to work much later than expected and isn't going to be home so, I don't waste my time & energy to cook and instead, we have leftovers or a bowl of cereal and things get a bit out of whack. We are also guilty of abandoning the week's selected meals and going out to eat instead. Oops! :) Well, I'm human, what can I say?

After taking inventory of our deep freezer, fridge/freezer and pantry, I looked over my Master Meal List and realized I had enough meals for a total of 69 days... 49 cooked meals, 10 leftovers/cereal/sandwiches and 10 eating out/ordering in meals but still, a total of 69 meals! That means If I bought all the meals, poultry and seafood I would need for all 69 of those meals, I would have all the meat from now until April 18th!!! Of course, I would need produce, deli meats and other things like milk, eggs and bread along the way but those items would be part of my weekly inventory when chosing each week's meals and I thought to myself; "surely whatever I might need along the way can't exceed $100 per week!!!", and a new idea challenge came to mind:

  • Stock my deep freezer with all the meats for those 49 meals (easy when shopping in bulk at Costco!!!)
  • Follow my Meal Plan above to only buy what I need for each week's chosen meals
  • AND not spend more than $100 each week (which would require extra careful advanced planning but I know I can do it!)

After visiting Costco and spending $344.71, I had all the meats I would need for my 49 meals!
  • (17) 1lb portions of chicken
  • (2) 1lb portions of lean ground beef
  • (5) 1lb portions of lean ground turkey
  • (3) 1lb portions of stew meat
  • New York Strip Steaks
  • Lobsters for Valentine's Day
  • (2) - Homemade pizzas
  • (1) - 1lb Catfish
  • (2) - Frozen Ravioli
  • 1 - Turkey burger
  • 1 - Fried Chicken sandwich
  • Turkey meatballs enough for 3 Meatball dishes
  • (3) 1lb portions raw shrimp
  • 1.5lb stuffed Salmon
  • (4) 1lb Italian sausage
  • (2) 1lb Sweet Italian Turkey Sausage for Lasagna
  • (10) Leftovers
  • (10) Eating out

I also purchased things I would need and could freeze (helping to cut back on waste!!) for some of those 49 meals including:
* tortillas
* 4 loaves of bread (David takes his lunch every day, I almost always eat a sandwich for lunch every day and we eat sandwiches for lunch at least one day on the weekends)
* french fries
* Turkey meatballs
* hamburger buns
* Ketchup
* Tomato paste, diced tomatoes and tomato puree
* Shredded cheese
* Dried fruit snacks for Emily

So, to begin my challenge, here is this week's meals (beginning today, Wednesday the 11th):
Apricot-BBQ Chicken over Salad
Stuffed- Salmon over Couscous
Chicken fajitas and chips w/quacamole
Valentine's Day Lobster
Spaghetti with italian sausage

I'll post weekly with what I spent, what I bought and what I cooked that week as well as a tally of how many meats I have left from my Master List above so, stay tuned for the follow up and wish me luck!!!


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