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I used to see those menu plans in women’s magazines and scoff at them. I believed that I didn’t have time to plan a menu. I believed it would be expensive to shop in advance for a menu plan.
I was wrong. Having a menu plan is a huge money saver! It allows you to create meals based on what you have on hand and what’s on sale. Having a plan means you don’t have to order in takeout when life gets busy. It means fewer trips to the store to make dinner.
Menu planning isn’t all that hard or time consuming once you get the hang of it. Just follow these steps:
Know what you have on hand and use it. Take a careful inventory of what you have on hand in your cupboards and freezer. Then work these items into your meal plans. Often we find ourselves staring at a full pantry saying “there’s nothing to eat.” It turns out, there’s plenty in there, and you just need to get creative. Use it up before you throw it out!
Know what’s on sale and put it to use. Watch the grocery sales flyers and stock up on the really great deals as you see them. Include fruit and vegetables that are in season to save money on meals. Is there a great sale on eggs this week? Plan on breakfast for dinner one night or make up a batch of breakfast burritos for the freezer. Use the sales to bolster your pantry as you plan.
Know your schedule and plan accordingly. Make sure you have your family calendar with you when you plan your meals. Plan quick, simple meals for the busiest days and slow cooker meals for those days when everyone ends up eating at different times. Any recipe that requires intense prep work should be saved for a day when you have the time to make it.
Know where to find new recipes. Boredom is a big threat to your budget. If you find yourself getting tired of eating the same old things, it’s time to find some new inspiration. Ask your friends and family for their favorite recipes, or search the internet or library for some dinner inspiration.
Make friends with your slow cooker. A slow cooker is an excellent way to throw together a meal on busy days. You can create a one-dish meal in the morning, and it’s ready for you when you get home.
Do the prep work in advance. Brown a large batch of ground beef, Grill up chicken breasts, or slice up vegetables early in the week. You’ll make it easy to throw together a healthy, quick meal by doing as much work as you can in advance.
Plan for changes. Even the best plans get derailed, so plan for some easy dinners. One of the best ways to do this is to make a bunch of dinners you can freeze and pull out on those busy nights. If that doesn’t appeal to you, be sure you always have the ingredients on hand for an emergency dinner. It could be something as simple as soup and sandwiches, pancakes or a frozen pizza. These quick meals will keep you from hitting the drive-thru and save you money.
Plan for leftovers. Make extra so that you can coast one night a week. For example, when I make spaghetti, I like to make enough so that I can get two meals out of it for the week. And remember, leftovers don’t have to be boring if you re-invent them. You can turn leftover barbecue chicken into a barbecue chicken pizza. You can turn leftover vegetables into a fabulous soup.
Plan for a break. Everyone needs a break from the routine now and then, and it’s no different when you’re cooking meals. Plan for your spouse to make a meal or get yourself invited to a gathering. Plan for an occasional dinner out.
Involve the family. Post your menu where everyone can see it, and make sure your family has a say in what meals are on the plan. They more they buy in to your menu, the greater your savings will be!
Start small. Start by planning one week at a time, and then move to two weeks, and eventually to a month. You’ll find that as you get better at knowing your pantry inventory, your recipes, and the sales cycles, you’ll be able to make fewer trips to the store, which will help you save money.
Menu planning is one of the simplest ways you can save money on groceries, save time in the kitchen, and save your sanity.
Read more frugal living tips and money-saving ideas at http://www.northerncheapskate.com.