Saving Time and Money with Meal Planning

I have been in the practice of meal planing for quite some time now, but in recent months, because of some family issues, I stopped taking the time to create them. So, last week, my husband and I were going over our monthly expense report and noticed that we spent almost double that we usually spend on our groceries. I was completely astonished. I couldn’t believe I saved so much by weekly meal planning.

Meal planning not only helps you save money, but it saves you time and you will eat a lot healthier. Here are some ideas that will help you plan your meals.

Write out a one-time list of your most popular and easiest meals and a list of their ingredients, to make weekly meal planning a simple task. Maintaining a written list of the ingredients for your most frequently served meals means you don’t have to carry all this information in your head. Aim to have ten to fourteen meals to choose from so you never have to serve the same meal twice in one week.

Ask your family to list their favorites. Designate one day of the week when each person gets to have his or her choice.

Write out your weekly meal plan and post it somewhere you check each day, like the fridge door or your calendar, to remind you when to defrost something.

Organize your list by complete meal, by how complicated and time-consuming it is, or break it up into food categories: fish dishes, chicken dishes, pasta, sides, casseroles—whatever way makes the most sense to you.

Keep track of the dinners you make each week in a notebook and refer back to it when you feel uninspired.

If you plan meals a month at a time, leave room on the schedule for leftovers, meals out or take out, and new recipes.

Reserve a few recipes that you rotate in depending on the season: thick soups and chili during the winter, grilled items and fresh, local produce in the summer.

Highlight your favorite recipe in the indexes of your cookbooks.

Give up, for now, on fancy dinners. Cook for main courses that have it all nutritionally: pasta loaded with vegetables, stir fry dishes, stews, and soups.

Put recipes you want to try into a photo album, organized by course or category. Use a five star ranking system to note favorites and throw out recipes that don’t merit a four when you try them. Keep a computerized list of family favorites. Put all of your family’s favorite recipes for holidays on color-coded recipe cards so you an find them at a glance.

Label food that you are saving for use in a recipe with a Post-it note or by putting it in a certain part of the fridge known by everyone in your family to be off-limits for snacks.

Arrange a weekly casserole or soup exchange with one or two neighborhood moms, where each of you makes extra and you trade meals.

On Sunday nights, invite a few neighbors with kids over for dinner, and have them bring their leftovers. You’ll get rid of leftovers, and it makes the of the weekend a little festive.

Cooking Ahead for Meals

Spend a few hours on weekends preparing as much as you can freeze so someone can get a meal started before you walk in the door.

Wash and dry lettuce for the upcoming week, wrap it in paper towels, and store it in a plastic bag.

Cup up raw vegetables for quick snacks or buy them pre-washed and ready to eat.

Make up individual snack bags for day care or school for the whole week.

Using The Freezer

Look in the want ads for a cheap or used second freezer for your basement or garage.

To cut down on frozen containers, freeze soups and sauces in loaf-size baking tins, pop them out when frozen, and cover them with plastic wrap.

Prepare chopped onions, mushrooms, peppers, and other vegetables that you use in small amounts, freeze them in muffin tins, and store them in plastic sealed bags. Use as needed in recipes.

Cook sauce in large batches, freeze meal-size portions, and reheat one whenever you need it.

Make a double or triple batch of any item you cook for dinner, and freeze the extras for dinner another night, ideally within a month or two. This works particularly well with appetizers and desserts that you can pull out whenever you have unexpected company.

Freeze two or three dinner items before a trip to avoid unnecessary stress when you return.

Time Savers

Get your child accustomed to eating fruit, such as apples and pears, with the skin on so you never have to peel them.

Save time and vitamins by using recipes that call for unpeeled vegetables such as potatoes, zucchini, or cucumbers.

Cut up food for your child with a pizza cutter.

Pre-measure ground coffee into filters, and stack them on top of one another in a sealed container in your freezer for quick morning brews.

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