Lately I've been seeing – and hearing – advertisements for services that, for a price, will help you plan healthy and tasty meals for your family, all the while preserving your grocery budget. Frankly, I don’t see what all the hype is about. I've been doing this for over 30 years. Wow – if I had had the foresight to put my system online and market it 30 years ago, I might be the one raking in the bucks. Oh, wait – there was no “online” 30 years ago. I guess I was ahead of my time.
My system is very simple. Once a week, I take an 8 ½ by 11 sheet of lined paper, write the days of the week at the top, and plan my lunch and dinner menus. The remainder of the paper becomes the grocery list.
Input to the meal planning includes:
1. The ad for my local grocery store. I try to plan my menus around what’s in season and what’s on sale.
2. What’s in the freezer. We buy all our meats in bulk at Costco. I repackage them into meal-sized containers and label them with the date. The rule is “nothing in the freezer beyond 90-days.” If something is coming close to violating the 90-day rule I put it on the menu.
3. My notes from the previous week – written down on the back of the meal plan. I’ll explain this in the next paragraph.
4. The recipes. I always check to make sure that all the ingredients I need for the week’s meals are either a) in the fridge/freezer, b) in the pantry, or c) on the grocery list.
I go to the grocery store once a week – for the most part. Yes, sometimes I forget something or run out of something, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. After the groceries are put away, the top of the list goes in the kitchen as my plan for the week; the list is recycled.
As I go through the week, if I run out of something I keep around the house, I write it down on the back of the meal plan. If I think of an idea for a meal, I write it down on the back of the meal plan. If I find a new recipe I want to try, I write it down on the back of the meal plan. If I find a new restaurant I want to try, I write it down on the back of the meal plan. You get the idea.
Does it take organization? Absolutely. Does it take time? Yes, but not nearly as much as you might think. In fact, if you add up the time you spend going to the store or to the local take-out every day, you might find that the time you spend up front in planning saves you twice the time in execution. Happy planning!