Monday, July 18, 2011

Meal Planning: Week One

When Jonny and I moved into our new apartment a couple of weeks ago, I decided I was going to start meal planning. New location + new kitchen + more space = new routine. I've heard about people meal planning before, but it's always seemed a little OCD to me, and not something I would actually keep up with much.

And then a read a blog post by a friend of mine from college. Her meal plan seemed so laid back and flexible, while saving her time and money as well. "I can do that!" I thought. So last week I decided to try it out.

Jon and I started by making a lists of meals we like, just so I had some idea starting points. Then I looked through my fridge, freezer, and pantry to see what I already had on hand and what I could make with just a few more ingredients. I made a two-sided meal list like this (on Google Docs, by the way, so that I could read it from my Google Docs Android app on my phone while I shopped - I'm a geek like that):

Have Need

Beef Cheese
Tortillas Lettuce
Seasoning Sour Cream

Pasta Shells
Leftover Taco Meat

Chicken and Broccoli
Chicken Broccoli
Rice Onion

Pasta Parmesan
Milk Broccoli

Beef Stew
Stew Beef Onion
Seasoning Potatoes

(Ok, so blogger isn't displaying it quite right, but hopefully you can get the idea. The real thing is in a spreadsheet.)

I was pretty amazed to see that I only needed seven more items to make six meals! After I had this list, I looked through the Kroger weekly ad to see what was on special and the Kroger website to see what digital coupons they had. Then I added three more sections to my shopping list: Stock Up On, Coupons, and Staples. For example: Kroger had chicken on sale. We eat a lot of chicken, so I got some to freeze. I also had a coupon for $1.50 off a meat purchase of $7 or more. We got our chicken really cheap last week! There are also just some things we always use, whether on sale or not - like mayo, butter, sandwich meat, etc.

I also discovered that I had a coupon for a certain amount off two bags of shredded cheese. Since I was getting some for tacos anyway, I went ahead and got a bag of pizza cheese too. I picked up a pre-made pizza crust, sauce, and pepperoni (which were also on sale) to make a 7th meal that wasn't in my original plan. I picked up a couple of other staples along the way and headed for the checkout line.

After all my coupons, store card, and specials, I spent only $51! The savings total came to $21. I'm definitely no extreme couponer (and don't want to be - I would rather eat made-from-scratch than stock 100 packages of microwaveable noodles), but I was pretty proud of myself. We've eaten dinner together every night this week (and Jon lunch most days). I have less stuff in my fridge, and I've lost a couple pounds this week already by eating actual meals and not just grazing all day! I also love that I don't have to make these meals in this exact order. I just know I have all the ingredients on hand for any of them. (Ok, so it helps to make some before others so I can use leftovers, but it's still pretty flexible.)

I'm also coming up with other ways to stretch out my ingredients. For instance, while prepping the chicken ahead of time for my alfredo, I realized that the chicken breast I was cooking was *huge.* So I cut it up and made chicken quesadillas for lunch with leftover tortillas and cheese from our taco night. That meal also wasn't on my original meal plan. Freebie!

I knew strict meal planning wasn't for me - I would stick with it for two weeks and then give up, frustrated and demotivated. This is simple and easy, and it has been good for our little family so far. So, that was a long explanation. But just like my college friend inspired me, I hope I've inspired you. If I can do it, anyone can!

Oh, and I'm loving the smell of beef stew simmering in my crock pot today. :-)


I am not very good at meal planning either (partly because Jason is gone so much that it is hard to stay motivated to cook). But I know that when I do plan ahead and have all the ingredients on hand it makes cooking a lot more enjoyable. Also, I have a 'back-up' shelf in my pantry that contains extras of essentials, like ketchup and salad dressing. I finally made a list of everything that should be in there at all times and I posted it inside the door. Now when I am making my shopping list I check the shelf and, with the help of the list, it's really easy to see what I need. It's stuff like this that probably sounds like a no-brainer to an experienced wife and mom, but for those of us just starting out it can make a huge difference.

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