Before becoming a smart shopper, I would drop by the grocery store on my way home from work. I had no plan and often found myself wandering around the store hoping that some easy dinner option would suddenly come to me. As I walked down the aisle, I often grabbed various impulse items that caught my eye. Before I knew it, I had a small cart worth of food that would hopefully become dinner for the evening. Typically these quick runs to the store would be $25 – $30 and I would get home with just enough food for one dinner.
Today, I shop totally different…I go in with a plan! It takes a little preparation, but in the end I not only save money but I also save precious time!! There are several components to menu planning. You have to know what you have on hand (your current inventory), you need to know what is on sale and you need to have a defined budget!
I have a good idea of what I have on hand so my first step is always looking at the ad. You guys know that I have the Publix ad with matchups posted each Monday…so that is a great place to start. I always check the meat section to see what the best prices are and that will typically be where I start thinking about what to put on my menu. Let’s pretend like you are starting fresh with nothing in your freezer. You check the ad and see that ground chuck and boston butt are on sale. Guess what you should put on your grocery list…yep, ground chuck and boston butt! T-bone steaks will have to wait for another week!
Now that you have your meat choices you can look to see if there are additional items that are a great price (or a great price with a coupon) that will help you build your recipe or your meal. In my head, if I see ground chuck and bell peppers on sale in the same week…stuffed peppers will be on my menu. Portabella mushrooms and beef will mean that I might do salisbury steak , stroganoff or maybe shepherd’s pie. You guys get the point.
Another thing to keep in mind is the quantity you purchase. While I may only need one pound of beef for a specific meal in a week…if I have money in my budget it would make more sense to grab a larger package of beef while it is on sale and pop it in the freezer for another week. That way I will have more options the next week…and more flexibility with my budget. If you are like me and short on time ALL the time…consider prepping multiple meals all at once. Tonight is a great example. I had two pounds of beef. Instead of using one pound and freezing the other, I chose to prep both pounds to save me time later on. For dinner tonight we are having roasted red pepper and feta stuffed burgers. I mixed up the beef based on my recipe and divided it. Half was formed into patties and stuffed with feta and tomatoes and the other half was formed into a meatloaf. I then wrapped the loaf, labeled it and popped it into the freezer. At some point soon, I can defrost the loaf and then just pop it in the oven for a super easy meal without any prep!!
I love to cook once and eat twice. It is a busy mom’s dream come true. Earlier this week I made a roast. We had it for dinner with veggies and the second half will be pulled barbecue sandwiches tomorrow (using the leftover buns from tonight’s burgers 🙂 ) So just this week I have managed to turn two packages of meat into four meals with half the effort!!
Meal planning and shopping the sales is probably the easiest way to slash your budget! It may take a little bit of getting used to, but once you see how easy it can make your life (and how fat your wallet will be) you will never go back!! If you are not creative when it comes to deciding what to make with random items, use the Betty Crocker meal finder or the Good Housekeeping Recipe Finder. You can plug in ingredients and they will give you lots of options and ideas!!
I know you guys have some ideas to share…so let’s hear it. What are your tips for menu planning, shopping the sales and cooking once/eating twice!