Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Putting Together A Meal Plan

Putting together a meal plan seems daunting to some people. It's time consuming. There are so many methods. Things come up that make it hard to stick to.

I get all of that. In twenty years of being a housewife, I have tried every method known to man to meal plan. To make it faster, easier, less of a time suck. It's something that I have to do, every week, without fail. Because the results of me trying to handle meals without one are disastrous. Meal fatigue, last minute trips to the grocery store where I end up paying full price, and frustration.

I use a meal plan because it saves my sanity. And stops my family from saying "Really? Goulash again?" There's nothing worse than walking into your kitchen when you've had a hard day of whatever you have been doing, having nothing thawed out, and no idea on earth what you will cook for dinner. Bringing home takeout gets expensive, and while I do use some convenience foods, I try to limit them. They are often full of fillers and not as healthy as home cooked meals. Plus, when you're using them often, the price adds up.

Using a meal plan also helps me to effectively build and use my stockpile. In fact, the first step in creating my meal plan is to go through my pantry and freezer and put together meals from there. This way my stockpile isn't just sitting there looking pretty. By buying cheap and using later, I have truly made my grocery investment pay off. While it would be nice to look into my pantry and see thousands of dollars worth of food that I paid a lower price for, the purpose of a stockpile is to use it. By actually using your stockpile, you are either lowering your overall food cost, or improving the quality of food you can afford. That's not to say that I don't store food for a rainy day, but that's another post.

Photo Credit: LizMarie_AK
Step two in putting together a meal plan is to go through the sale ads for the stores close to you. Put together any meals you plan using the sale ads. It also helps if you have a rotating list for meals that you have often. We have beans once a week, and I use a rotating menu for breakfast and lunch, giving us thirty or so meals that makes it easy for me to stock up. When bagels, for example, are on sale, I buy four packages. That gives me one each month for three months for bagels and cream cheese for breakfast, and one other one for bagel pizza. If cream cheese is on sale, then I move bagels and cream cheese into the breakfast plan for that week. If it doesn't go on sale at the end of three weeks, we have bagels and cream cheese for breakfast that last week of the month.

Step three is to use items that you might have coupons for, but which may not be on sale. Buy only what you need of these items. At least, with the coupon, you're getting them for less than full price.

Finally, fill in the blank spaces of your meal plan with anything you will have to buy at full price. If you're just getting started with using a meal plan, this may seem like most of your meals. But make sure that you check everywhere. A few weeks ago, we got unexpectedly invited over to dinner with friends. The food I had purchased for that meal was then used the following week, so that I had one dinner I didn't pay anything for. Those blank spaces are good spots for beans, soups, or casseroles-any meals that won't cost much to make.

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