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One way that I save money on my groceries is to have a very set idea of what we will be eating of the next two weeks (I typically try to grocery shop biweekly). The way I do this is to menu plan. I usually plan for around 10-12 meals, since I figure that in two weeks time we will probably eat those and then have leftovers/figure out what we are going to eat kind of days 1-2 times. We might also go out to eat during that time, so with 10-12 meals it fits right in with my two week schedule.
Here is an example of what we will be eating for the next two weeks in our meal plan.
I do like to leave some room for "fun nights," but planning out the meals in advance helps me to be focused when I go to the grocery store and not just buy what looks good at the moment (it also helps me to have the ingredients available to actually make real meals when dinner time rolls around).
1) Sausage and Pepper Pasta
Make Ahead Butterhorns
2) Spicy Asian Noodles with Chicken
Frozen Veggies - green beans or snap peas
3) Asparagus Risotto
Make Ahead Butterhorns
4) Chicken & Cashew Stir Fry (I had leftover cashews from last week's menu)
5) Ancho Chili Flank Steak
We'll probably eat these as fajitas, so we won't eat any sides
Baked Potatoes (or maybe french fries, depending on my mood)
7) Sweet and Sour Pork
8) Cavatappi Pasta with Bacon
Make Ahead Butterhorns
9) Spice Rubbed Beef
10) Pizza - we buy Kashi frozen ones, or sometimes make our own
11) Pizza - we're big pizza fans, so I usually plan on having it twice
Like I said, these are not in order. We won't be having pizza back to back on two nights, and I usually try to space out the dishes so that we eat different meats and sides on consecutive nights. My husband brings his lunch to work every day, so I also usually try to have on hand some hummus as a snack, and he eats my make ahead breakfast burritos every day for breakfast (he obviously doesn't mind repetition in his meals). He usually brings some of the left overs for lunch the next day, so we don't have too many meals that are exactly like the night before. Our "leftover nights" are usually just throwing whatever we have in the fridge together as a meal. I usually eat steel cut oats for breakfast, and have a salad or sandwich for lunch. Dinner is definitely the main focus at our house - other meals come secondary to our dinner planning.
I've found that menu planning saves us more money that just what would initially strike you. Yes, I am more focused at the grocery store. I am less likely to throw things in the cart just because they look good or I figure that I could probably use them somewhere. I rarely buy convenience foods (pasta sides, hamburger helper, Stouffer's lasagna, etc) because I have a plan in place for the things I am going to serve. However, even more than that, we rarely go out to eat. When we do decide to go out to eat, it is a conscious decision, and not the result of just being unprepared when dinner time comes. This is definitely a change for us, as we used to go out probably 2-3 times a week because neither of us had a plan for what to cook or felt like thinking about something to make. When we figure that probably a meal out somewhere mid-level casual (like Chili's or the like) for two people probably cost around $35, and we usually spend around $200 every two weeks (or about $14 per day, $4.50 per meal total), we are really saving right around $90 a week from not eating out ($35 x 3 (for eating out) - $4.50 x 3 (for eating in)). I'm not saying that eating out never happens - just that when it does it is a decision that we make because we want the treat or are craving something specific, instead of eating out purely for the convenience. On those nights that we just want the convenience and to not have to wash dishes, we usually eat one of the pizzas that I have already budgeted in and planned for in my meal plan.
This is what works for us, but I would love to hear what works for you. Do you menu plan? Have you found certain things work for you in making our your plan? What tips or tricks do you have to share? I want to hear them all!
I'm reading this: Money Mondays - Menu PlanningTweet this! Posted by Lauren on Monday, May 17, 2010