I was recently talking to a friend about how to add more vegetables to her family’s diet. She tends to feed her family a lot of rice, noodles and potatoes. As I was giving her some recipes, I also stated that she should include vegetables in her meal planning. She then admitted that not only does she not menu plan but she isn’t really sure how to do that.

Hence, this post.

How to Menu Plan to Save You Time & Money

Menu plans should be created for the same length of time you have between grocery trips. If you shop every two weeks, then you’ll want to create a two week menu. I shop every week therefor my menus are for one week at a time.

Menus should be created before you shop, not after you’ve gone to the store and bought a ton of food. This method will cause you to buy more than you need, stocking your pantry and fridge with items that may go unused and wasted. If you wish to save yourself money and prevent as much waste as possible, plan your menus before you shop.

1. Assemble your supplies.

You are going to need the flyers or websites for the stores that you shop at, your coupons and any coupon sites that you utilize (don’t forget your grocery store’s own site, you can find a lot of digital coupons there), your family’s calendar, a pen, a pencil, highlighter and a notebook. You will need to decide how you want to write out your menu out whether it is on a blank calendar page that you print off, a board hanging on your fridge or just a piece of notebook, find what works for your family and use that.

Organizational Tip: write your obligations in pen but write your menu in pencil, at least initially. You may make changes as you are working through it.

2. Fill out events and obligations on your menu.

What I mean by this is write down any days that you will be away from the house at dinner time or have to be somewhere late, making dinner difficult to cook. Some weeks this might be 3 or 4 days, some it may just be one. Planning ahead for times when you can’t spend a lot of time will save you from eating out or wasting food in the fridge.

3. Evaluate your schedule and plan accordingly.

For this step you are going to take a look at any days that you or your family is going to be busy during or close to dinner time. If you will be home but then have to leave around 6:30, maybe you plan for quick sandwiches for dinner. If thee’s a night when you know you’ll have a late meeting and won’t get home until 6:00, that may be a great night to have an easy “Breakfast for Dinner” or a Baked Potato Bar. Maybe you can make a casserole ahead of time and ask someone at home to pop it in the oven before you arrive. This is a good time to see when you can utilize your crockpot or a meal made in advance. Really evaluate your days and nights to decrease your desire to dine out and your frustration in the evening.

4. Shop your pantry.

Before you add anything else to your menu, look in your pantry, freezer and fridge to see what you have that can be eaten in the next week. Did you make a lasagna last week but ended up freezing it? Serve that this week. Maybe you bought all the ingredients to make a great Mexican dish but something came up and it didn’t get made, add that to the menu for the coming week. Is there any meat that you bough on sale a few weeks back that hasn’t been used yet? The key here is to reduce what you buy at the grocery store which will save you money (Tip: Any money you save under your weekly grocery budget should be moved into your Emergency Fund if you are building it or towards debt repayment if you are working on that.).

5. Check the grocery store sales.

Check for any great deals that you might be able to take advantage of. It could be a great deal on boneless-skinless chicken breasts and you’ll want to plan a night or two that utilizes those. The idea during this tip is that you don’t want to be buying something that is not a great deal when there are other things you can have that will save your family money. Save a beef night for when beef is on sale, roast a whole chicken when you can find it at a reduced price. Pair your menu with the places that will maximize your budget.

Just yesterday I was doing this and saw that pineapples were going to be $1 each. This is an amazing deal as I typically pay over $3 for a pineapple. If you have a recipe that uses pineapple (Teryaki Chicken, maybe?) this would be a great week to make it. For us, we LOVE fruit smoothies any time of day so we’ll be having breakfast for supper one night this week which will include smoothies that have pineapple in them!

6. Plan your menu based on the sales.

You have the days when dinner will need to be quick and easy filled in, you’ve filled in nights when you can use things from the pantry, it’s time to add in items that you will find on sale this week. Your menu should be pretty filled up by now but if it’s not, it’s time to check out Pinterest for some new recipe items. I challenge you to add in a Meatless Monday (or Wednesday, Friday, or heck go crazy and do it every day like I do!) Meatless meals will save you on your budget, especially if you make your meals with things like rice, dried beans, and potatoes which are very budget-friendly.

7. Examine your menu closely.

Now is the time to use that eraser on the pencil you’ve been writing your menu with. It’s time to evaluate what type of a plan you have in place. Are you spending too much time in the kitchen? Swap out a meal or two that has you in the kitchen every night. Plan for leftovers. I will generally cook two nights in a row and then call for leftovers. The rule in my house is that you can have leftovers that night like the plan says or you can make yourself a bowl of cereal. (Tip: This is a great plan for nights when you won’t be home until late.) Also, during this time you should be evaluating how much you are potentially spending during your menu. If you have too many beef nights planned, then you may need to make adjustments to accommodate your budget.

Organizational Tip: Use your highlighter here to draw your attention to any meal that needs advance preparation. If rice needs to be cooked the night before or beans need to be soaked, write that on your menu somewhere for the night it should be done.

8. Create your grocery list.

Check your pantry, your freezer and recipes then write down the items you’ll need. As you are doing this, check for coupons and pull them out for when you are shopping. I always put a star next to items on my list that have a matching coupon to make sure I don’t forget them.

9. Shop, cook, eat and enjoy!

You’ve created a great menu, you’ve planned, shopped and cooked. It’s time to eat dinner with your family and enjoy the reduction in stress and the decrease in your budget.

Congratulations, you are a now a menu planner!

What do you think? Could you do this? Do you menu plan? How would it work for you?

Image Credit (Before text was added) to: Liz on Flickr

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