Menu Planning: How to Save Money and Sanity

Do you menu plan?  By that I mean, do you make a written list of what you’ll be eating/serving for meals throughout the week or month?  Many frugalistas swear by this as a means to keep a handle on your budget, your pantry and freezer, and your sanity.  I’m one of them.

I have been menu planning since I had my first apartment in college.  It was the only way I could keep track of where my meager groceries were going.  Now, I love menu planning because I can point to the calendar and not have to interrupt my concentration to explain what’s for dinner.  It’s a way for me to be sure we’re eating a balanced diet, accommodating schedule glitches, and enjoying new foods.  I only plan dinners, because breakfasts and lunches won’t fit on the calendar!  Ha!  It’s also because I don’t want my fam members to feel too regimented.

How to menu plan?  If you’re just starting out, begin by taking a quick inventory of what you have on hand, and trying to remember what meals you planned to make this week.  Take a piece of paper, or a blank calendar page, and use a pencil to create menus in each of the boxes.  (If you need a blank calendar grid, try this one.  Each month, fill in the dates, and create your menus — print as needed.)  Erase and rewrite as necessary.  Try to fill out your calendar through your next shopping day.

When you have your menus planned out, you won’t have to scramble each day, frantically trying to put something nutritious on the table.  You know to take out tomorrow’s ground beef after dinner tonight.  You can set out the spaghetti and sauce in the morning to make throwing that in the pot quicker in the evening.  You can relax about dinner each day of the week.  You can plan for that birthday dinner, the evening soccer games, and whatnot.

Me?  Oh, I’ve got my menus planned out through mid-October!  This is because I know I’ve got bursting pantries and freezers, and that’s because I have some massive schedule changes coming up this very week.  I’ve planned ahead.  Don’t try this at home unless you’re an experienced menu-planner!  What’s coming up for Cheap Thrills?  Take a look at this week’s plan.  I like to plan Sunday through Saturday, and big cook days are usually Saturdays, or a slow (planned) week day.

Menu planning will save you money because you will be using your specific purchases for specific meals.  You’ll be planning to use food before it goes bad.  When you fill out your plan, you will see that you should probably plan to have that lettuce earlier in the week, so you can figure that in.  You’ve got pizza and spaghetti planned back to back — which works if your family loves that.  You can spread out those great chicken deals over several days (or weeks), and have a plan for them.  See where you can make substitutions with what you have — no salad?  How about that broccoli?  And plan to use up those leftovers you stashed in the freezer!

When you plan to use what you have, you are less likely to end up with 32 forgotten cans of whole kernel corn.  Or 10 pounds of boneless butt roast.  Or a few pans of chicken enchiladas.  Plan it out to use it up.  Your wallet will thank you.  Your cupboards will thank you.  Your mind will reward you by working sharper. 

Life is good.  Let’s help keep it that way.  Try menu planning and see how it works for you.

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