Our method for meal planning

by Karen on September 13, 2008

It can take a while to get the knack of meal planning. We’ve been doing it for two years now, and our method has evolved into something that works pretty well and helps us save money, so I thought I’d share with all of you.

Every Saturday or Sunday morning depending on our schedule, my husband and I sit down with the store circulars for the two grocery stores near us. If we haven’t picked up the circulars, we can find the sale information at MyGroceryDeals.com. It’s completely free and easy. You just enter your favorite stores, and it gives you their sale information.

First, we go through all of the current sale prices to see if anything jumps out at us. There’s usually at least one meat sale every week for beef, chicken, or pork. Knowing which meat is on sale gives us an idea of what kind of meals we’ll be making. If there’s nothing on sale, like this week, then we stick with chicken, because we usually buy it in bulk and always have it on hand.

We also look at the sale prices for produce and dairy. A great deal on certain vegetables or cheese might encourage us to make one of our favorite vegetarian dishes.

If we’re crunched for time or we’re not feeling creative, then we stick to a basic repertoire of quick and easy meals that we make frequently. These include things like tacos, chicken quesadillas, BLTs, & chicken and broccoli. Our repertoire is constantly evolving and growing as we try new things.

If we’re feeling creative or we’re in the mood to expand our repertoire, we search for new recipes that include the sale items we’ve decided to buy. Our favorite website for this is FoodNetwork.com. It has an easy search interface that allows you to enter the ingredient for a list of meals that include it. Other good sites that we’ve used include AllRecipes.com, Elise.com, and Taste of Home. There are many recipe sites on the web based on the same principle, so sometimes all it takes is a simple Google search.

Once we’ve decided on our meals, we plan which nights we’ll eat them based on ingredients we’re using or reusing and other factors. For instance, if we’re having fish, we always cook it the same day that we buy it. If we’re roasting a whole chicken and using the leftovers for chicken quesadillas later in the week, then obviously the roasted chicken comes first. If we know we’ll be pressed for time on a certain night, then we’re sure to plan for a quick and easy meal. Ingredients with a long shelf life are saved until the end of the week, and weekends are reserved for more complicated recipes.

We organize our grocery list based on the layout of the store. All of the items are split up into categories: Produce, Dry Goods, Dairy, and Meat. We go through each recipe and write down its ingredients based on the categories.

Categorizing all of our items streamlines the shopping process, and makes it easier to remember everything on our list. We don’t run the risk of back tracking to the produce section for an item that was written in at the bottom of the list. If we’re shopping the sales at more than one store, then we note on the list where the item will be purchased.

Finally, once our list is complete, I go through my coupon stash to make sure I don’t have any useful coupons. I usually don’t since we don’t buy many processed foods, but it never hurts to check.

This is the method that we’ve found most effective for both time and money management. What methods work best for you?

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