About 8 months ago I started a monthly grocery budget and began meal planning. Over the next few days I’d like to share with you some tips on buying groceries, meal planning and grocery budgeting.
When I started this process my goal was to spend $250.00 a month on groceries and household items like shampoo, cleaning supplies, etc. This was pre-baby and pre-healthier eating and I was successful in spending only $250.00 each month. Now, with a baby on the verge of eating solids and a whole new appreciation for “real food” $250.00 is not enough for a month. Our new goal is $300. I know that sounds slim but I think we can do it. We may need to increase to $350 as I eliminate more processed foods from our diet but January, February and March we will be sticking with $300. So how do I stick within the budgeted number? Glad you asked! Here’s the first step.
I believe that you cannot shop efficiently if you don’t know what your shopping for. I don’t just mean shopping for what you’re out of or what is on sale. I mean purposefully shopping for stuff that will make meals.
I plan out our meals for the entire month. Before you skip ahead thinking “I can never take the time to do that!” let me explain my process. It takes me about 15 minutes, maybe 20 each month. When I started I was only planning weekly and that took 5 minutes. It really does make a difference as you’ll see throughout this post. I encourage you to start with a week and do so for four weeks.
Where to start?
Like any good system it takes some upfront time to get things in place and then the day-to-day (or month to month) tasks are much simpler. If you have never meal planned I suggest you start by making a list of the meals your family likes. Spend a few days going through your cook books and recipe boxes and write down what you like. Make note of main courses, veggies, starches and even desserts if your family like to have a dessert with your meals.
When I started my list about 22 meals on it. That meant in a 31 day month there were duplications and we were fine with that. No one says you can’t eat the same thing twice a month, or even once a week. It’s your family, it’s your dinner time; do what works for you. My list has grown as I try new things and some items have taken a back seat because we just get tired of eating them.
I have my list hanging on the inside of a cupboard door in the kitchen. This way it is handy when I begin to plan our month’s meals.
At the end of the month I sit down when I have a quite minute (ha!) and I plan what I’m making each day. I look at our calendar to see what days we have activities or events that might mean we will need a quick meal or we won’t be eating at home. For example, one Sunday a month we have a special church service so that night I would plan something quick or something crock pot style. In our house, my husband works a rotating schedule so I also write down the days he works as well. The days he works I pan a meal that can be taken as leftovers for his lunch the next day. I plan smaller “not so good warmed up” meals the days he is off.
Now that I have my month ready to go I start filling in each day with the meals. As you can see in my partial February menu below I use my leftovers from one meal in meals the next day or so. For example, I knew there would be plenty of pork left from the second’s meal to make pork BBQ on the 3rd. Waste not, want not. In January I started not only listing the “meat” part of the menu but also veggies and starches so I could plan my shopping list more accurately. I would find that by the end of the month we had corn, corn and maybe some corn left. So now that I plan for peas and carrots, etc I can buy enough for each meal.
That’s it! Now my meal planning is complete. As always, be balanced not legalistic. If Tuesday rolls around and you can’t bring yourself to make lasagna, if there’s money in your budget, order a pizza. Meal planning is not meant as a rigid routine, it’s meant to make life easier on the cook and give you more time. I do encourage you to stick with your plan at least 6 days out of the week otherwise there is no point.
Next, we’ll look at preparing the grocery list In the meantime grab your cook books and recipe box and jot down your list of favorite meals. Now is as good a time to start as any!
Until next time, be blessed!