Menu planning not only saves time, but it can also save you money. This is because you are eating out at restaurants less frequently, planning meals around what’s on sale, and cooking with less expensive seasonal ingredients. Plan meals at least one week in advance, but more than a month of planning can make it overwhelming.
Set Your Budget First
Create your budget before creating your shopping list, instead of the other way around. This will help you stay in your budget while at the grocery store. Determine how much money you have for food in one month, and then divide that number by four. Include the money for household items, such as soap. When you go to the grocery store, bring a calculator and add up each item you buy. If you go over the predetermined number, put something back.
Shop the Circulars
Before you plan your meals, sit down with circulars from your local grocery stores. Compare what’s on sale and which store has a lower price on items you commonly use. Then choose recipes to make that week based on what’s on sale. As you continue to shop the sales, you will quickly learn what constitutes a good price. There’s no need to pay $4.99 for a carton of strawberries, if you know that the store regularly sells them at a price of two for $4 during the summer months.
Cook Once, Eat Twice
If you find a really good sale on the ingredients to make lasagna, buy enough for two. Make them both and put one in the freezer. Next time you need to put a quick dinner on your meal-plan schedule, just pull it out and pop it in the oven. It’s easier and cheaper than if you had bought all the ingredients for the second lasagna at their regular prices.
Plan for Leftovers
Throw away leftovers, and it’s like throwing away the money you spent on the ingredients. When making your meal plan, incorporate leftovers into the meal plan. This could be by scheduling leftovers for lunches the next day, or using pieces in another meals. If you don’t like leftovers, then plan that accordingly, too. Adjust the recipe for the amount of food you and your family will eat, such as reducing a casserole so it fits in a 9x9 pan instead of a 9x13 pan.
Kelsey Casselbury has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Penn State-University Park. She has a long career in print and web media, including serving as a managing editor for a monthly nutrition magazine and food editor for a Maryland lifestyle publication. She also owns an Etsy shop selling custom invitations and prints.