I love menu planning. I’m sure this is partly because I like thinking about food almost as much as I enjoy preparing and eating it! (OK, I should rephrase that: I like preparing food as long as the baby’s not crying and the children are pleasantly occupied.) That said, in no way do I think that menu planning is required in order to be a good homemaker. I have found menu planning to be a tool that has helped me a lot as a wife and mom, but please don’t feel condemned if you don’t feel like it fits you and your household needs. Also, there is no “right” or “wrong” amount to spend on groceries. Our goal as good stewards of our money should be to honor the Lord in how we spend it, not to make sure we’re all spending the same amount on the same things.
Today I want to talk a bit about how menu planning helps me stick to my budget:
1. First of all– and this has nothing to do with menu planning, but I thought it worthy of mentioning– it really helps to decide ahead of time what the grocery budget will be. Whether it’s a weekly, bi-monthly or monthly figure is up to each shopper, but the simple truth of the matter is that there is no money-saving replacement for having a predetermined amount to spend. You may have to track your normal grocery expenses for a bit in order to come up with a workable budget amount, but it’s worth it!
For me, I prefer a monthly budget. This way, if I have a week or two in the month when there is family visiting from out of town or special holidays/events, I can spend extra there and then plan very inexpensive meals the other days/weeks to make up the difference. My goal is not to spend exactly $x.xx per person every single day, but rather to stick to $xxxx.xx/year in groceries.
2. “Mix ‘n Match” meals. In other words, when I plan a meal like salmon, I will almost always insert it between two less expensive meals (i.e. lentil & rice tacos, potato soup, vegetarian chili, egg & spinach casserole, etc.). This way, at the end of 3 days, our average dinner meal expense is fairly low. Once again, an inexpensive meal in my home might be expensive in yours; but I think you get the gist.
3. Keep breakfast and lunch meals nutritious yet simple. I really get away with this right now because my children are young and like repetition. They actually get disappointed when I don’t serve them PB&J for lunch and their absolute favorite breakfast meal is oatmeal (baked or regular)! You may like a bit more variation in your home, of course, but you don’t have to be fancy to make sure you’re eating whole grains (cereal, oatmeal, whole wheat bread), fruit (bananas, pineapple, apples), veggies (baby carrots, celery sticks), protein (peanut butter, tuna, eggs), and dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt) throughout your day.
4. Have a Master Menu List. This is a compilation of all the foods I like to make/my family likes to eat/I want to try, which allows me to salvage some creativity in my weekly planning (personally, I don’t think I could handle a rotating menu due to boredom issues) while still, well, planning! When I sit down on Monday afternoons or evenings to plan my menu, I pull out my calendar and my Master Menu List, which has all my favorite foods broken down by category– beef, chicken, fish, beans, cheese & eggs, sides– and plot through the week, marking down items I need to buy as I go. The money-saving aspect of this is that I can utilize what’s on sale at the grocery stores better than if I had a predetermined menu from weeks and weeks ago.
Regardless of what we eat and how much it costs, I think we all can agree on how great it is to save money, especially at the grocery store. I hope these tips help/encourage you in your efforts to be a wise steward of what God has given you!