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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Meal Planning that saves you Time and Money

My monthly grocery and toiletries budget for a family of four is $325 a month with no coupons and no shopping sales. 

I actually feed them on about $250 because that whole $325 money includes toiletries; like paper towels, tissue paper, and shampoo. I exactly know how much we spend because we use DaveRamsey’s cash envelopes, no credit cards or debit cards for groceries. My husband gets paid twice a month, so I plan about two weeks of meals at a time.

You will see it repeated a couple of times, but the key to our budget is meal planning.  I am not always consistent in exactly  how or what I plan; my meals plans are scribbled on a white board and not fancy at all.  But the key is I PLAN, and then I STICK TO IT. 

1.  Check what you already have!
 The biggest waster of money is food thrown away! Go through your cupboards, freezer, and fridge and see if you have main ingredients like pastas and meats.  If you have 10 cans of beans, then start looking up bean recipes.  If you have fresh spinach that need to be eaten before it goes bad, use it up in Minestrone Soup or Spinach Lasagna.

This may sound strange, but I almost never shop grocery sales.  I have found that I save more money by sticking to meal plan and eating leftovers, no matter what is on sale or not. For example, the meatballs may be more expensive than chicken that week, but if you have every other ingredient for three meatball meals but only 1 chicken meal, then buy the meatballs.  You can save $1  pound on a sale meat, but if you don't plan your meals for the week and end up eating out with money you don't have, you just lost $20+.

I also have a running list on the fridge of items as they run out.  Too many trips tot he store means you will buy things you don't need, so get it while you are there the first time.

2.  Plan your meals and ingredients.
 Use the mental & physical list you made of the ingredients you already have, and plan your meals. 

 Because meat/protein is usually your most expensive ingredient, I make my plan by what meat. I do not plan by the day of the week,  I just  make a list of all the meals I have ingredients for (or will buy ingredients for), then pick what sounds good to me that day.   I try to plan in one meatless meal a week to cut cost.

While I don't shop meat sales, I do buy 2-3 packages meats at a time and put them in a freezer.  If it on sale, I buy 3-4 packages.

This is what my meal plan looks like in real life.  Two white boards on the front of my fridge and dry erase markers. It may not be Pinterest-pretty but it is effective. I just wipe meals off the list as we eat them. 
  Menu Plan Ideas by Meat/Protein 
Cooked ground turkey or ground beef:
Spaghetti with meat sauce and salad
Sloppy Joe's and potato wedges
Tacos or taco salad (salads if you have leftover lettuce from spaghetti night)
Three bean Turkey Chili ( with hot dogs 
Meatloaf (make 3, freeze 2) mashed potatoes, green beans
Sherperd's Pie (with mashed potato leftovers)

Shredded Cooked Chicken (I cook mine in a crock-pot and freeze in ziploc bags):
Chicken Alfredo and Salad
Chicken and Noodles 
Scheuzan Chicken Noodle Toss (page 79 Dinner on Dime Cookbook)
Chicken, steamed broccoli, and Rice
Chicken and Bows – make two and freeze one (page 150 Dinner on a Dime Cookbook)
Chicken Quesadillas
Chicken soft tacos with corn 

Frozen meatballs (I buy 2 or three bags when on sale at Meijer):
Hawaiians Meatballs and Rice
Meatball Minestrone Soup
Spaghetti and Meatballs
BBQ Meatballs
Meatball Ziti  (make 2 and freeze 1)

Meatless- I try to plan in one “vegetarian” meal a week to cut cost:
Noodles Florentine with Spinach (page 171 in dinner on a Dime Cookbook)
Spaghetti with no meat in sauce
Egg casserole and fruit on side
Vegetarian Minestrone Soup with beans
Potato Soup and cornbread
Broccoli and Cheese Soup (
Macaroni and Cheese and broccoli (
Cheese bagel pizzas and carrot sticks

Crock-pot Pork Chops with mashed Potatoes
BBQ on Grill with asparagus 

Ground Italian Sausage
Lasagna (make 3 and freeze 2)
Spinach Rolls
Homemade Pizza
Egg and Sausage Casserole
English Muffins with sausage and cheese and fruit side

Roast (venison when we have it)
Roast with potatoes and carrots
Shredded BBQ sandwiches with corn and fries
Roast and vegetable Soup
Beef and Noodles with Mashed Potaoes and Green Beans

Kielbasa Sausage
In crockpot with potatoes and green beans
Fried with brown sugar, mashed potatoes and vegetable
Baked in olive oil, with crispy potato chips and garlic roasted green beans

3. Make your Shopping List.
Making your shopping list is an art. For a more detailed look at how to make a shopping list that saves you money see another post.  My shopping list is a little different than my ingredients list.  You make you ingredients list while you make you meals list. Your shopping list is made after you have made your meal plan, it is how and where you will shop.

Make Your List By Where It's Located in the Store.
Now this may seem strange, but I promise it will save you time and money! Before I started this I would settle for not buying an essential ingredient or impulse something not on my list when I have spent an hour in the store and I am too tired to walk all the way back to the dairy with a full cart because I forgot one dairy item.   Like I said before,  too many trips to the store means you will buy things you don't need, so get it while you are there the first time.

  • Meats
  • Dairy/Refrigerated
  • Dry/Non perishables/snacks (DO NOT FORGET SNACKS & EASY LUNCH ON YOUR LIST!)
  • Bread
  • Produce
  • Misc/ Toiletries / Pharmacy
List by Store
To be honest, about 90% of what we eat comes from Aldi's, but there are some things at different stores that are just better price (like ground turkey from Sams') Every few months I will shop Aldi's, then run across the street to Sam's for shampoo & enough ground turkey to put in freezer for a few months.
Know what store have what deals, and buy extra to freeze when you are there so that next month you don't have to go to two different stores.
  • Aldi's-great prices on bread, milk, bread, new organic line, and boxed items (cereal, crackers, etc)
  • Meijer- I sometimes get produce here when Aldi's is limited
  • Bread Outlet- Bread and pasta.  I only shop here once every few months and throw everything that we will not eat that week in our freezer.
  • Sam's- Good prices on frozen foods, name brand toiletries, diapers, cheese, milk, and ground turkey (to see tips on how to buy in bulk and save money see another post)

4. Use Leftovers
Keep a running list of what leftovers that are in your fridge (see picture above with meal planning), and put them into clear individual lunch size containers immediately following your meals. My husband take leftovers for lunch almost everyday, and he says he appreciates the list on the door and the fact that he can just grab and go. 

The kids and I also eat leftovers and simple sandwiches for lunch everyday.

Dinner Buffet
Once every few weeks we have "dinner buffet".  This is a fancy way to say we all eat leftovers. We call it a buffet to make it sound fun and the kids get to choose their leftovers.  They may eat tacos while I eat leftover sloppy joes, and my husband gets a bowl of chili. :)

Thanks for reading to this never ending post and I hope this helps someone who may be starting out in meal planning! 

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