Ken and I have been trying to save money, eat healthy and get organized. (Who isn't these days!?) One of our goals is to make menu planning a habit. He and I both enjoy cooking, but hate the chaos of coming home in the evening and trying to figure out what to cook. I had been doing a lot of reading online and looking at Pinterest for some suggestions. There are a lot of people who have created some really beautiful, colorful and COMPLICATED menu planning systems!! I've seen brightly colored, magnetic calendars that boast hundreds of different recipes to choose from. While that may look nice, it just stresses me out. Besides, with three kids and two full time jobs, Ken and I don't really need or want that much variety in our dinners! We have always ended up choosing from the same meals over and over again. And it has never bothered either of us (or the kids). So...I started thinking about other methods.
My plan was to make three two-week calendars of meals. That equals six weeks' worth of dinner. It works out to be 36 different dinners and I think that it enough variety for us! After six weeks, we will just start over. I planned it out and typed it up last week. It starts today. During this initial trial period we will be taking notes and tweaking things. I want to take note of which meals end up being good, inexpensive, and easy to prepare. We will probably end up switching out some meals, moving things to different days and collecting new recipes to try. If we get enough recipes for another two-week set, we will add that and have eight weeks to cycle through.
So here's what I did. For a two week cycle I planned for 12 meals. I made Sundays a left-over day so our refrigerator doesn't get too full. I am fine with switching which day we eat leftovers, but I put it on the menu for Sundays. I decided that each week we would have one vegetarian night, one fish night and one beef night. I used more pork and chicken for health and budget reasons. My math over the 12 days looked like this:
Then for the entire 6-week period I just tripled everything above:
And then I wrote out a list of the things that my family already eats and enjoys on a regular basis. I put each thing in the correct category and things started to fill out nicely. I used Google and Pinterest to find recipes to fill in the empty slots.
Then I made a planning calendar in Excel. I put two weeks together on one page. I filled in Sundays as leftover day. Then I made "Meatless Mondays" and "Fish Fridays" because they sound nice (and then I can be lazy and not have to change anything during Lent!). Then I just went through in a pattern and assigned Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Each week will have either two chicken days or two pork days since there are twice as many of those recipes.
After assigning all six weeks, I made a chart to go at the bottom of the page. I made categories to go along with the layout of our grocery store. Then I wrote down all the groceries that go along with the recipes above. I left out the things that I know we always have on hand and I figured we can write other grocery needs on here as we go through the week.
I put each two-week cycle on its own worksheet and made the calendar and grocery list on each one. I printed out all three sheets and stapled them together with each of the new recipes I collected. There are some things on the menu that I don't need recipes for and some nights where it might just say "pork chops" and whoever cooks that night can make them however they want. For now I will re-print the worksheet each time that cycle comes around. I suppose you could laminate it and make it more permanent, but I figured that we needed a trial period before we did anything like that.
Sunday morning I took the worksheet for the first two week cycle and headed to the kitchen. I crossed off all the things from the list that we already had, and added in a few other things I knew we needed for the week. After church we went to the grocery store. It was really nice having things on the list organized so I didn't have to go back and forth all over the store or read through the list multiple times while yelling "Get back in the cart!", "Please do not throw those cans in the cart!" and "No. No. NO! We are not buying those!!!"
When we got to the checkout I was pleasantly surprised that our total was about $130. We have been averaging about $100 a week, but this shopping session was for two weeks, so going over is fine with me! I know that we will have to go back to the store next week for eggs and milk (and the lunch meat I forgot) but hopefully we will only make a big shopping run every other week.
I know that we will have some kinks to work out, but I think this is a system that will end up saving us time, money and sanity. I think as we get used to what groceries we use on a regular basis, we will be able to catch them when they are on sale and save some money.
Here's one example that I found fun: I put pork BBQ on the menu because I have really wanted to trying making homemade BBQ. The recipes I found said to use a pork butt (trying not to thing about that.....). I had never bought that particular cut of meat before and when I located it in the meat department I had a bit of sticker shock. The smallest cut I found was still huge and it cost $22!! But since this is an experiment, I went ahead and put it in the cart. When I got to the checkouts I realized that I had a coupon for $3 off any pork product. Then when I got home and looked at my recipe I realized that it called for 4 pounds and I had bought 8. So I cut that butt in half and put one half in the crock pot and the other half in a freezer bag. The piece of meat that I thought was going to be $22 ended up being $19 for what will probably be 4 meals. It turned out to be a much better deal than I thought. And now that I know that I can watch for when those butts go on sale and buy them then for an even better deal! Plus, dinner for Wednesday is already 99% done!!
Wish me luck. I'll try to keep you posted on how it goes. I am excited to try it out!!
What are some of your family's favorite recipes?