Monday, August 4, 2014

Menu Planning: Step by Step Part 1

Do you love the idea of saving a boatload of money through menu planning, but every time you try, it seems to cost you more money? You've come to the right place! No complicated coupon cutting, you don't even need to shop the ads! This is a very basic, step by step instructional on how to start menu planning. This post will be broken into three sections. Part 1 will be the first planning steps. Part 2 will continue with the next steps for those who would like to create their own paper menu planning system. Part 3 will continue for those who would like to use MealBoard, an amazing iPhone app that does all the work for you. You can find out more about MealBoard here, and we'll cover it extensively in Part 3. 

Your grocery budget has the most potential to reduce your budget and is also the hardest to reduce because it takes an enormous amount of preparation. If you do it wrong, you'll spend $120/week for 21 meals and then spend another $400 in a week eating out every day because you didn't plan appropriately. It doesn't have to be hard though! Follow these steps to do it the right way and make a significant cut in your budget.

You'll notice that many of these steps have nothing at all to do with groceries. That's because meal planning effects your daily life and it's necessary to have organization in other areas of your life before meal planning becomes a possibility. What if you don't have that organization? Don't worry! I can help!

Assess your life. Seriously, this is the most important step. Some lifestyles are impossible to menu plan for, or at least traditionally. If you work 12 hours a day, hang out with friends every day after work and just make it home in time to crash for the night and start again the next day then menu planning may not be for you. Maybe your weekends are different though? Maybe you can plan to eat at home or pack a lunch just on the weekends. Or maybe you're like us, with a pretty regimented schedule and time in both the morning and afternoon. If you're not like us, don't give up! We menu planned when I worked evening shift, Jon worked day shift, we never had the same day off and were seriously overwhelmed. 

Figure out what the toughest part of your day is. What's the obstacle standing in your way to eating at home every day. Do you just not feel like cooking when you get home from work? Consider using the slow cooker and freezer meals that you can plan ahead for.

Figure out how many days you can reasonably eat at home. A number that fits both your budget and your schedule. Figure out where you're coming from. Have you been eating out 7 days a week? Do you know how to cook? Do you have raw meat phobia (don't laugh... I hate raw meat and it took a long time for me to be a full time eat at homer because of that!). If you're coming from a mostly eat out lifestyle, start small. Plan to eat at home 3x/week (mostly on your days off). If you don't know how to cook, start with mostly convenience cooking (my popular post on 15 minute meals would be a great thing for you to check out by clicking here). 


Keep a schedule. Either written or on your phone. As soon as you have an engagement (an invitation to a BBQ, scheduled overtime, even a crazy deadline that you'll be stressed out for), write it immediately in your schedule. You're doing this so that when you menu plan, you'll be able to peek at the week ahead and know what days you need meals for. For example, the day you have a BBQ, you'll just plan to make a side dish to bring. On the scheduled over time day, you'll either pack a dinner to bring with you, or you'll decide to set aside $10 to eat out that day. On the stressed out crazy deadline day, you'll either have a freezer casserole ready to go if you plan to do the extra work at home, or you'll plan to pack a dinner that day (even something that you don't have to make like a can of cheddar broccoli soup, oyster crackers, an apple, and trail mix). If you have a family, keep everyone's engagements together. You can sync schedules with your family using something like google calendars or COZI, a free family calendar.

Have a family meeting and make the decision (or don't) to commit to this for two weeks. This doesn't mean that you turn down last minute invites because you don't want your thawed ground beef to go to waste. This means that when you break down and suggest to your husband that you just call in for a pizza rather than making dinner, he reminds you of your goals and doesn't rush to dial dominos. The reason this is important, is that you don't want to waste $100.00 on groceries if you know you won't commit to eating at home. This is why you start small if you haven't been eating at home at all. Make this an easy to reach goal.


Decide how you will track your menus and shopping list- by paper or electronically? If you choose paper, this will take longer and be considerably more work, but if you enjoy it (like a hobby), that may be the motivation for you to continue. If you want to do it electronically, and you have an iPhone, take a relaxing breath. You're covered. You have MealBoard, which is the most useful app that I've ever seen (and the only reason I refuse to give up my iPhone!) We'll go over the steps for both paper and Mealboard in the next two posts.

Coming up... Creating a Paper Menu Planning System 
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