Meal Planning. How Hard Can It Be, Right?
"What should we eat for dinners?"
"What are you going to make me for food?"
If any of these sentences sound familiar… you might have been hanging around Husband and me about half an hour after we get home from work. (Yes, that's us, Monkey is not quite so linguistically advanced yet!) We have such a hard time even thinking of something to eat at the end of a long day, that half the time Husband scavenges and I snack (yes, there's a difference… he's getting the equivalent of a full meal and I'm not.) It's not healthy, and it's not particularly cheap either, as scavengable foods are usually preprocessed, chicken nuggets or corn dogs or something. Also, we're trying to put more into savings and debt payment lately, so we need to cut back on our grocery budget. My solution? Meal planning. (I don't remember which article put it in my mind, but I'm pretty sure it was somewhere on wisebread.com.)
Geeze, that sounds so Suzy Homemaker. I'm more like Lazy Suzy than Suzy Homemaker… but we might be able to make this work. We spend half an hour brainstorming foods that we like and are easy-ish for dinners, and also used up foods that need to rotate out of our food storage (cans of stewed tomatoes that expired in '09, anyone?). We got two weeks done, and I went grocery shopping for the things that we didn't have. Instead of paying $50-$100 for a bunch of meat, vegetables that will go bad, random snacks, and frozen pizzas… I spent $25, and I think the only thing we'll need to buy in the next 12 days is milk. (Well, and diapers, but that's not exactly grocery budget. I think it also helps that soda and snacks aren't in a meal plan, so I didn't buy anything like that!)
I'm starting out by making a Google calendar where the title of the event is the meal, and then in the description is a list of any ingredients that aren't exactly staples… Meats, cheeses, fresh veggies, etc. If there's a recipe to follow, I put that in the "location" field. That way, when I'm at the grocery store I can have both my grocery list and I can also reference the meals themselves. I think I'm also going to try to participate in I'm An Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Mondays to try to keep myself accountable.
I also got some execution ideas from this article at simplemom.net. I'm not sure I want to do theme nights, but we'll see if it makes things easier the next time I'm planning. So far I'm pleased with the ideas I've gotten, and relatively pleased with my menu. Here's what I've got for this week since I'm a little late for the Menu Plan Monday thing:
- Monday: Chips and Cheese (Tortilla chips with shredded cheese melted on top [I skip the cheese on mine], with refried beans, sour cream, and salsa in a separate bowl)
- Tuesday: Turkey Stroganoff (Use up some leftover turkey, canned goods, and the only thing I needed to buy was $1.29 bag of egg noodles! Wanted to buy mushrooms, but they were too expensive…)
- Wednesday: Chicken and fried rice (Husband makes this, and it's tasty. Just needed to buy chicken)
- Thursday: Homemade pizza (We'll make the dough in the breadmaker Wednesday, and top it with artichoke hearts and leftover turkey. Just needed to buy cheese, and I had a $1 off coupon)
- Friday: Leftovers/Helpy-Selfy
- Saturday: Turkey Chili v2 (Bought more beans, 2 bags for $3 total, and will make sure to soak them Friday and cook them Saturday morning. Bought $0.69 packet of chili mix because I screwed something up last time)
- Sunday: Chicken nuggets, french fries, corn dogs, etc.
I have no clue what do to for work lunches. I have no clue what do to for most of Monkey's dinners—most of this stuff is too messy and/or wouldn't be done cooking until after he's in bed. All I know is, I spent $10 on food for this week (the other $15 was for next week) and hopefully we won't be frustrated trying to decide what to eat. And hopefully we won't need to go to the grocery store again, except for milk. We'll see how this works out…