Why meal planning? Think about the last time you came home from work too tired to cook. Or, the last time you had roast planned for dinner but forgot to take it out of the freezer. Or, how long that "quick" run to a fast food restaurant took and how much it cost. All of these problems could be addressed with a little meal planning.
There are many variations of meal planning. Some people prefer to plan an entire month, others a week, and others still will plan for just a few days out. Which one is right? Whichever one works best for you and your family. Because we receive our CSA basket each week during the growing season, it is much more feasible to plan a week out. This way we are sure to use or preserve the produce before it goes bad. During the off season, though, it is easier to plan at least a week or two ahead. When I was working full time, it was more doable to plan a few days ahead of time.
Planning your meals around what is on sale helps keep you on budget.
- First scenario--I decide I want roast beef one night, hamburgers, pasta, fish, and pork tenderloin other days. I get to the store and pick up these items. Only the pasta and fish were on sale this week.
- Second scenario--I look at the sale papers for the stores where I normally shop and see what items are the best buys this week. I pick up the pasta and fish that are on sale, but instead of roast beef and hamburger I pick up chicken which is a great buy. Instead of pork tenderloin, I notice that pork cutlets are on sale. I make some simple adjustments to my meals for the week and come out below budget.
- Third scenario--I look ahead on Sunday at the store circulars and notice that chicken is a great buy this week. I pick up 4 packs of it for the freezer. I have roast beef and hamburger meat in the freezer from the last time they were marked down. I use some pasta from the pantry, also bought at a highly discounted price. Because the roast beef is too large for us to consume in one meal, I make Philly cheese steaks on another night for dinner.
None of these scenarios is "wrong", but you can see how the last two can save you more money than the first.
Plan your meals around what needs to be used up.
Each week take about 5-10 minutes to glance through your fridge, freezer and pantry. What have you forgotten about in there? What needs to be used before it spoils? Are there leftovers that could be used in creative ways?
Plan your meals around your stockpile.
Now that you know about a stockpile and have started building it, you will notice how much easier it is to plan your meals. Having an assortment of canned goods (either home canned or store bought), dried goods, spices, and storage vegetables such as onions, potatoes, and apples allows you to make a full meal even without going to the store. You will soon be able to purchase only the items at the store that are on a really great sale, otherwise known as loss leaders, and still be able to serve your family a wide range of food choices throughout the week.