Meal Planning 101

Hey guys, sorry its been soo long (months…) :/   Life gets crazy, and I don’t want to just be a rambler on here… Call me crazy, but I want to make sure I have something of substance to write about.  As I was planning out my week yesterday, I thought I might share exactly how I plan my meals, and how I save so much money in doing so 🙂

To start off, I think it might be interesting to look in my refrigerator…

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As you can see, its fairly empty… At least it seems empty to me compared to the refrigerator I grew up with.  I was used to always having tons of food in here.  Most of what is in my refrigerator is condiments, sauces, and the like. We had to shuffle things around every time we had leftovers to try and make room.  Not a bad thing, right? 🙂  I have found that by planning my meals every week and not buying much else, I almost always end up with a near-empty refrigerator at the end of the week.  As you can see, I have a little bread left, we have English Muffins, eggs, strawberries, and cottage cheese… Not a whole lot to really make meals from, right?  It may not look like a lot, but there is plenty in here to get me started with my menu for the week.  So lets get started.

The first step to planning your menu is to look at what you do have that needs to be eaten up.  I write these down in on a notepad so I can reference them while I start my search for recipes.  This week, I needed to use coconut milk (the white liquid on the container by the mayo), heavy whipping cream, tomato, ginger, cabbage, and green beans. Even though I have other fresh herbs and produce (cilantro, green onions, and carrots) I really should be using soon, usually those can be eaten as snacks or are in recipes, so I don’t like to make those “priority items”.  After I get the “fresh” stuff out of the way, I like to look at what meats I have. This week, everything I had was frozen.

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What I wrote down for the week was chicken, shrimp, Kielbasa (smoked sausage), and meatballs.  I ended up not planning for meatballs this week since we had some last week.

Okay!  Now that I have the basics of what I have, the second step is to look for recipes. My mom makes this amazing pasta recipe with Kielbasa and I think it might my husband’s favorite.  That was my first menu item 🙂 This Saturday, we are having a dinner party so I already had that planned out, so I only needed 3 more dinners to plan.  For these, I went to Pinterest.  Here is our menu for the week:

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Here are the links to the recipes I’ll be using this week in case you want to cook along with me:

Shrimp in Thai Coconut Sauce from foodiecrush

Cabbage Sauteed with Chicken from Cooktoria

And one of my personal favorites, Balsamic Chicken & Veggies from Cooking Classy.

I haven’t tried the first two, but they look delish!  Don’t you think?  I won’t be shopping for my carne asada tacos yet for two reasons. First, our parties are always “pot-luck” in that I assign people things to bring after the RSVP deadline, which in this case is Thursday, and if I end up having to get a few more things for it, I’d like to do it all in one stop. And second, I like to pick up my meat from the Mexican Market the day of… It’s delicious, but makes my fridge smell!  Not my favorite thing in the world.

Ok, so now onto the third step in meal planning… Making a grocery list. This may be the most obvious step.  But still, important to mention.  As you go through the list of ingredients on each of the recipes, write down everything you think you might need.  For instance, while looking over the cabbage dish, I noticed it called for chicken stock.  I know I have that in the refrigerator, but I also knew that it was my last bottle from my pantry.  So, I put it on my list and starred it so I knew to go and double check that I have enough. I did this with grape tomatoes and basil, too, since my plants seemed to have died 😦 Sad day.

After making the initial list, check your pantry, and refrigerator to make sure you have everything you need.

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Here is my final grocery list.  If you looked at the recipes, you may notice that avocados, bananas, oranges, blueberries or bacon & bagels (among others) were never mentioned. This is my entire grocery list, which includes my breakfasts, too.  (Those were on my menu written in orange). There are also starred items, too.  Those were things I didn’t really need this week, but I wanted to try another breakfast meal I saw that looked delightful. Those were things I was still undecided on.

Now, here is the magical part of this.  My groceries ended up costing $87.76. Now, that’s more than I had anticipated, but that’s okay.  The really cool thing is that really my grocery list only cost my $46.50!!!  The reason it was high at the end was because I splurged on my starred items which ran up the cost.  Here was the actual breakdown:

  • Rotini Whole Grain pasta: $1.59
  • Diced Chilies x2: $2.78
  • Multigrain Bagel: $3.49
  • Rotel x2: $2.78
  • Chicken Broth: $ 1.99
  • Avocados: $1.98
  • Bananas: $1.55
  • Basil: $2.99
  • Onion: $0.53
  • Oranges: $1.59
  • Orange & Yellow Pepper (1 each): $3.18
  • Red Pepper x2: 1.58
  • Grape Tomatoes: $3.99
  • Tomatoes: $2.50
  • Toilet Paper: $13.98
  • TOTAL for what I needed= $46.50
  • Almond Milk: $2.79
  • Chia Seeds: $9.99
  • Quinoa: $5.49
  • Cheez-It: $1.67
  • Sausage: $3.99
  • Bacon: $7.49
  • Total for what I DIDN’T need: $31.42

Do you see how cool that is?  Not how much extra I spent, but how cheap it really is to shop for a week?  It’s my personal goal to stay under $60 for groceries per week and it’s really easy to do.  The hard part is keeping your cravings in tact… Especially when you go to the store on an empty stomach… or plan meals on an empty stomach (of which I did both this time :))

Just something to keep in mind, those larger staple items, like flour, sugar, quinoa, chia seeds (as I picked up this week) will last a lot longer than 1 week, so don’t freak out too much if you end up using a little more money than anticipated.  That $10 of chia seeds could last me 10 weeks, which makes it WAY worth it in my opinion.

If you have to keep to a budget, I promise you, planning will make all of the difference.  Try to make things that use the same ingredient throughout the week, or use it the next week. Like my shrimp I had in the freezer, I bought that last week, (and was under $60 for groceries TOTAL by the way!) and will use them again this week, and will have some left over, too!  It’s ok to “plurge” on some things when you know they will last a while.  It might just save you money next week.

I hope this was helpful!  I know it can be a daunting task… But my husband and I eat GREAT food and it really doesn’t cost a whole lot. And since you don’t exactly have to struggle with figuring out what to make every night for dinner, you may be able to relax a little bit 🙂 ENJOY!

-Madi

 

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