Should you be a new reader of "Not Your Mama's Martha!", I do a segment every Saturday called Meal Planning.
Meal Planning is an excellent way to ensure you have little to no food waste, save money, and never again stand in front of your refrigerator and ask; "what am I going to make for dinner tonight?".
For a Step-By-Step example with photographs and detailed examples of the steps below, view my Meal Planning 1/21-1/27 Post HERE.
I started Meal Planning years ago by first making a Master Meal List: a list of all the recipes I love to cook and that my family loves to eat on a regular basis. You can view my Master Meal List here. I printed out my list and keep it on the side of my fridge as I often need visual inspiration when deciding what I am going to cook the upcoming week. Once I've made a new recipe a few times and adjusted it to fit my personal taste, I post it here on my blog and update my Master Meal List so be sure to check back often for new recipes, which you can find alphabetically listed on the sidebar (on the right-hand side of my blog, at the bottom).
Next, I took Inventory of all the meats, poultry, and fish that I had in my deep freezer so I know exactly what I have to work with on any given week without needing to go dig through it. Once I get food home from the grocery store, I portion it into freezer bags and label them accordingly. This is why my Inventory sheet is labeled in portions instead of pounds or ounces.
For example: I place two boneless skinless chicken breasts into a freezer bag and label it Ceasar Salad, Chicken Piccata, or even Chicken Parmesan.
Another example: I place 1/2 pound of ground turkey into a freezer bag and label it Chili, Turkey Mac, or Tacos. This helps me immensely when pulling things out to thaw as I no longer have to guess how many pieces or how many pounds of something is in those bags.
I have recently begun to make two or three portions of a favorite make-ahead dish (like chicken enchiladas and meatloaf) to freeze for a later date, which I also include on my Inventory list. I also printed this list and keep it next to my Master Meal List, making sure to reduce my Inventory count each week.
2 portions ground turkey
4 portions pork spareribs
2 portions ground turkey
4 portions pork spareribs
1 portion bone-in split chicken breasts
6 portions ground beef
5 portions boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 portion stew meat
1 chicken enchiladas
2 turkey lasagna
Every Wednesday, when the new grocery store sales ads come out, I flip through them, marking what is on sale and in season, mainly focusing on produce, dairy products, and pantry staples. I match up these sale items with my Inventory and then, check recipes from my Master Meal List to see what I can cook based on what is on sale for the upcoming week. I plan my meals for Saturday through Friday and do my shopping super early on Saturday mornings because my local stores stock up on Friday nights and I can leave both kids home with their dad. I also do what I call stretching, which means using the ingredients I'm buying over more than just one meal and planning my meals in such a way that there's no waste.
For example: Fresh organic thyme (I have had zero success with growing my own!) costs about $3 and only lasts about a week so, if I'm planning to make my meatloaf, I will also make meatballs, my herb biscuits, and the rub for smoking/BBQ a whole chicken so that I can use up all that very pricey thyme.
Yes, it takes a little bit of time and patience to be this familiar with all your recipes but until then, you can always just take the time to flip through your recipes to seek out similar ingredients.
Once I choose the recipes, I begin to take inventory of all my fridge, freezer, and pantry to ensure I have all the ingredients for each of these recipes. No one likes repeat trips to the store! I pretty much know all my recipes by heart; however, should you not, just pull the recipe cards, open up your cookbook, and/or print out the online recipe, and check off the ingredients as you find them. Add what you don't have to your shopping list. During this step, should your grocery list become lengthy, you may want to re-evaluate which recipes you have chosen and pick some other recipes that require less ingredients or more of the ingredients that are on sale. This step really helps to keep your weekly costs low!
Add any additional items to your grocery list that you'll need for the week's breakfasts and lunches, like bread, yogurt, apples, lunch meat and cheese, lettuces for salads, pasta for side dishes, and snack items like popcorn and pretzels. Check the sales ad for any of these items and buy the things that are on sale and only buy what you need for the upcoming week! The only exception: stock up when things are on sale, at a discounted/clearance price, and when things are "Buy 1, Get 1 Free".
How do you know if something is a discounted/clearance price? How do you know when to stock up?
This is when reading the weekly ads really counts and it will only take about six weeks to figure it out as sales typically occur every six weeks. You don't have to know the price of every single item in the store, only the things you tend to purchase every week and on expensive, larger items like meat and poultry. It's also very helpful to know when things like crab and fruits are in-season as they will be cheapest then. The best place to start is with your Big Box Store, like Sam's or Costco. Buying in bulk typically comes at the best discount but not always!
For example: boneless skinless chicken breasts are $2.99/lb every single day at Costco. Safeway and NobHill, my local grocery stores, frequently offer them at $1.77/lb. Whole Dungeness crab when in-season runs $5.99 each at Coscto. Safeway and Nobill had them $2.99 each last season. I know it sounds cumbersome and extremely time-consuming to do so, but if you will just take an hour to go to Costco and jot down the price per pound or per ounce of the meats, poultry and seafood your family purchases then, seek out the price of each when the weekly ad comes out from your local grocer, you'll know immediately where to get the best price.
Set your grocery budget before leaving home and shop for only what is on your list! I suggest a budget of $150 per week for a family of four, which includes you making breakfast at home, packing lunches, and making dinner all seven days of the week. The fun part will be to see how you can cut that back to less than $100 per week! Be sure to weigh your produce and keep track of the cost of what you are putting in your cart as you go along to ensure you are staying within your budget. Again, it may take a few weeks of trial and error to figure out what your average weekly grocery budget should be so, don't get discouraged if you are spending more than you expected. It's also important to average the $150 per week as some weeks, should you be stocking up on great values, will run higher which usually leads to the following week running much less.
Write up your weekly meal plan and put it on your fridge or somewhere else visible for the whole family. Every morning, before leaving for work or going about your day, look over your list of meals and pick what sounds good for you to make that evening. Should Tuesdays be the day of the week that no one is home at the same time for dinner, make Tuesdays "leftover night". If there are soccer games or dance recitals on Thursdays and you have to literally eat and run, make something in the Crockpot that will be ready and waiting for you when you get home or choose a made-ahead freezer meal. Having the list of meals visible will absolutely reduce your stress over what to make for dinner as you know you have everything you need to cook what's on that list due to your careful planning and shopping in Steps 1 thru 6 and because you aren't assigning meals to specific days, you have the flexibility to cook what's most convenient for that day.
Do you have any questions?
Please contact me at: email@example.com and follow my meal planning posts each week to see these steps in action.
To see all my weekly meal plans to date, click here.