Friday, August 8, 2014

Menu Planning: Step by Step Part 3 (Using Mealboard)

If you haven't already read the first part of this 3 part series, click here to check it out. This is a very basic, step by step instructional for how to be a successful menu planner. Part 1 covers the first steps (using both paper systems and MealBoard), part 2 covers how to set up your paper menu planning system, and part 3 tells you how to set up MealBoard and use it if you would rather have an automated ios program do all the hard work for you. 

The reason why menu planning is so important is that you can save an enormous amount of money without actually sacrificing the quality of your life. Let's say you eat out 3x per day for every day on a week. We'll assume an average of $4.00 for breakfast (bagel and cream cheese with a coffee), $7.00 for lunch (sandwich, chips and a drink) and 12.00 for dinner (chipotle or diner). You would spend $322.00 in a week to feed two people, or $483.00 to feed three people. Through menu planning, I can feed everyone great meals that they love for between $100.00 - $120.00/week. For two people, that would be a savings of $10,504.00 per year and for three people, that would be a savings of $18,876 per year. Now likely, you don't eat out for every meal. But if you really track your grocery spending carefully, unless you're menu planning, I bet you'll find that it's easy to spend $200.00 or more per week to feed your family.

This doesn't have to be hard though! It's actually really easy! Click here to complete the important first steps (#1-4), then come back to finish your system on MealBoard!

Step by Step Menu Planning Using MealBoard:

5. Download MealBoard (only available on apple products at this time) for a price of $2.99 (if you don't have that money budgeted, consider doing your meal planning by paper- it takes longer and I think MealBoard is well worth the price but you should never spend money that you don't have, even if it's just $2.99.

6. Start adding simple meals! For simple breakfasts, create your own recipes... Bagels and cream cheese, milk and cereal, yogurt and granola, oatmeal and raisins. If you work, plan simple breakfasts for the morning and save the eggs and pancakes for your days off. When you create a recipe, add the ingredients for that recipe (I.e. milk and cereal would list ingredients as milk and cereal) add a recipe for leftovers with no ingredients listed so that if you plan to eat last nights dinner for lunch the next day you can add that to your calendar without adding anything to your shopping list.

7. Start collecting recipes. Now the fun part starts! Head to the recipes section and then the import button. It will give you several choices for recipe sites (almost all of the popular ones are there and they're always adding new ones. Taste of home, Kraft, Martha Stewart, Spark Recipes, and Allrecipes are my favorites.
Browse for a bit and import any recipes you like the sound of. When you import a recipe, the entire recipe will import. It will add the photo, ingredients, and directions to your menu board. It will ask you to choose a category to file it under and you can clarify an aisle for any ingredient it doesn't recognize (I.e. If it says Philadelphia cream cheese instead of just cream cheese it won't recognize it as a dairy product. 

8. Figure out how you're going to handle lunch. Will you take leftovers in from dinner? Make sandwiches or salads to bring in? Will you buy lunches? Buying lunches out is still menu planning if you're making the conscientious decision to do that. For instance, if you pack a drink, trail mix and an apple and make the decision to buy a $3.00 six inch subway sandwich every work day, you'll be spending about $15.00 out per week in lunches. Likely that's about what you spend now on one lunch. 

9. Create a recipe for whatever you decide for lunch. Don't worry about directions, just enter ingredients. For instance- turkey, muenster and pickles on rye. Then list "lunch snack #1", and "lunch snack #2" as an ingredient. This lets you know to pick up two items at the store that you can use for lunch snacks all week. Word to the wise, if your new at this or on a budget, don't plan 5 different lunches for the week. Plan 2 with three interchangeable snacks (yogurts, granola bars, trail mix etc). You can repeat the lunches and save on ingredients. You can also fill in with leftovers if they fit into your plan. If you drink something other than water, don't forget to add that to your ingredient list. Don't worry about making a side dish and dessert for each meal. We just keep the freezer and pantry stocked with veggies (.49 for cans at Wegmans, and .99 for frozen bags). We usually add a salad to a day, and the ingredients are listed with enough ingredients to make salad for 3 days.

10. Take a look at your schedule and start assigning meals or recipes to different days. Make sure that most of your recipes are quick and easy unless you're a seasoned cook. 

11. Add preparation into your schedule book. Note the day you need to prep the slow cooker, the day you need to make ahead the freezer casserole, and the days you need to thaw meats. I freeze any meat I won't be using by the next day and then follow a thawing schedule. 

12. Once you're done, switch to the shopping list tab and ask it to sync your list for the week you want. Go through your kitchen and check off anything you already have. Delete all checked items.

13. Go through your list and add estimated prices (round up to the nearest dollar), while you're adding prices, ensure that each ingredient is listed in the right aisle for your store. Once you assign a price and an aisle to an ingredient you won't ever have to do it again. This is a program that gets better the more you use it. The first few weeks, menu planning still took two hours. Now it takes about 10 minutes. It's rare that I have to add prices now. Check out the top of the app- look at the total price for all groceries. Is that number workable for your budget? If not, figure out if you can substitute ingredients for store brands, eliminate unnecessary ingredients, or buy in a club pack to share with next week's menu. If you still can't make that number what you want, eliminate one of your recipes and switch to a cheaper one (it doesn't get cheaper than homemade macaroni and cheese with steamed broccoli or rice and beans... actually, pretty much anything meatless). 

You can then email your menu and shopping list to family members (add it to your blog, whatever...) or print it out for the fridge.

 Before you get to the store, you can go into settings and arrange your aisles so that they are listed in the order that you would hit them in your store. Head to the store and just check things off as you grab them.

14. Tips and Tricks: If you're packing lunch, you need a small cooler and at least 2 ice packs. It's imperative that you remember (or your husband!) to bring in your cooler at the end of the day, put your ice pack back in the freezer and empty your cooler. I would have a minimum of 2 ice packs per person available in case you forget one day. 

For the first week weeks, utilize post it notes to remind you to thaw food, prep food and take your lunch to work. (To this day of I don't leave Jon's lunch hanging on the door knob or leave home post it note reminding him- he won't remember to take it).

Good luck! Come back and tell me how much money you saved!

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