Taking a few minutes each week to plan a menu for the week will help you save money. It does for me. If I don't plan a menu I will tend to run out and grab take out for dinner, throw the kids in the car and eat out, or run to the grocery store and grab fresh meat (not frozen in my freezer at 5 pm) and other items that I may already have in my pantry for dinner, thus costing me more money than necessary.
We try to keep a budget in our house but usually our budget goes like this: spend until there is no more money in the checking account. This can make my body panic when we get close to the end of the month or a payday when we have no more money but several more days before we get paid.
In order to keep this panicked feeling from arising I menu plan. It is simple and if done consistently can really save you money.
A pen and paper is needed so grab that first.
Make a quick chart with days of the week and the meals you will need to fix for your family. It can be as simple as just planning for dinners, or as complex as planning for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and an afternoon snack or evening dessert (or both).
Fill in your chart with the meals you plan to fix.
Mine for this week looked similar to this:
B: Cereal, fruit
L: PBJ Sandwiches, chips, grapes
L: Buy lunch at school
D: Pizza, salad
B: McDonalds Drive Thru
L: Turkey Roll-ups, crackers, applesauce
D: Hamburgers, fries, carrots and ranch dip
B: Eggs and Hashbrowns
L: Ham and salami sandwiches, chips, banana
D: Pork Chops, pasta, veggie, rolls
B: Cereal, fruit
L: Buy lunch at school
D: Tacos, salsa and chips, rice
This was pretty general for our family as we typically also include in the menu a dessert a couple times a week and an afternoon snack when the kids get home.
I usually make the menu just prior to completing my grocery shopping list for the week. I scan the newspaper flyers for the local grocery store and create a menu using the foods on sale that week. I also include the kids in this process and ask them if they want to add any meals to the menu. With them helping me create the menu, they feel involved in the process. Then I add additional items from the menu to my shopping list so have all the ingredients to make the meals. I also check my pantry to make sure there is no overlap and add any other items I am lacking or low on from my pantry to my list.
Benefits of Menu Planning:
1. Kids are involved so they don't complain too much about what we are having for dinner. If they don't particularly want what we are having tonight they know that the meal that they requested is coming the next day or later in the week so they don't tend to complain too much.
2. I can save money by buying items that are on sale that week when I use the newspaper flyers when planning for the week. I can also add coupons I have as well.
3. The menu is posted so everyone know what we are eating for each meal.
4. I am not as stressed about planning the meals during the week because it is already done.
5. I am rarely without an ingredient for our meal becuase I planned prior to making my shopping list and included everything I needed on the list.
6. My pantry remains stocked and I rotate my food storage because I use it in my meal planning.
7. I don't panic in the afternoon when my kids say, "I am hungry!" about what I will be fixing for dinner. I know what I am fixing and thus no panic.
8. We don't eat out at often because of lack of planning or preparation for meals.
Then entire process of meal planning takes us about 15 to 20 minutes a week. The first time you do this you may find it can take up to an hour depending on how detailed you get. Some people only plan their dinners as their breakfasts are usually the same every day. Others like me, plan every meal. You may want to begin with one meal (like dinners) for a week and see how it goes for you.
Once we complete our menu it is written on our blackboard that is in our kitchen. We love this board because it is our "control center". Not only do we have our menu but we also have the kids' activities and schedules written on it along with emergency phone numbers and other information we use often. It is easy to glance on the board and see what is going on for each day.