Moms should be awarded medals for all that we keep track of and manage through the week. Schedules, appointments, homework - we've got to keep a handle on everything our loved ones are doing to make sure nothing gets lost in the mix...so can we really take on one more planning task?
The truth is, to shop smarter and make the absolute best use of the stocked pantry we've built, we can't afford NOT to plan! How many times have you found forgotten veggies in the crisper? How many science experiments get cleaned out of the back of the fridge? Planning your meals is an indispensible tool in your arsenal to prevent unnecessary waste...so add this brick to your wall:
Brick #6 - Planning smarter means less waste and more savings!
It might seem daunting, but planning your week's meals will become your best friend in a hurry. Imagine never EVER having the dreaded "what's for dinner" conversation again! Imagine preserving your great savings and hard work in the kitchen by using EVERYTHING you make and wasting nothing.
I've heard from so many readers that "I really need to start planning", or "I don't know if I have time for that"...but it's much easier than it seems at first! As with anything (including this series), you need to start small and take baby steps:
BEFORE YOU START - Clean out your fridge! Get rid of the rotten produce, science experiments, and expired foods! If you can time this out for the night before trash day, even better :) You will have a better handle on what you really have that is edible and what you need to buy for the week.
1. Choose two meals for next week that you will plan before Saturday. Take a look at what you have on hand, and pick two easy dishes that use mostly ingredients that you have on hand. If you did the food list exercise in Brick #1, you've already got a handle on what your family uses regularly and can choose recipes that make the most of that list. You don't necessarily have to pick the day you will make those dishes, though it's a good habit to get into! When you do your weekly shopping, make sure you check the recipes and add to your list just what you need to finish those two dishes.
2. The following week, plan three dishes ahead of time, using the same method (check your stuff on hand, work as much with that as you can). This time, choose the days. Write the game plan on your family calendar. When you make your grocery list, this time START with what you need for your planned meals, then flesh out your list with the other stuff you need for the week.
3. To maximize your savings - stick with 3 planned dishes the next week, but before you plan check your stockpile AND the sales flyers. Try to work in dishes that only use what you have and what's on sale (or what you can get cheap with coupons!). Use recipe sites like Allrecipes.com and Supercook.com to search out at least 1 new recipe by ingredients. You can also check my Recipe Blog for recipes I've tested!
4. Add one day to your planning each week until you can comfortably plan your entire week's meals before your weekly shopping trip! Don't forget - not every night has to be a brand-new dish....many folks (including myself) are sure to include one "leftover night" or "CORN" (Clean Out Refrigerator Night) in the weekly plan. Check your family activities - are there nights you plan to eat out, or share a meal at family or friends' house? That's one less night you have to cook for!
Eventually, the more you do it the easier it becomes. Knowing what you REALLY need before you shop will help you shop smarter and reduce the waste in your fridge, and money in the pocket is always a great motivator for me! If you need additional motivation, try participating in I'm an Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday meme! I post my own menus there and it really helps keep me on track! It's also a FANTASTIC resource for recipe and meal ideas - with over 300 participants each week there's no shortage of help!
Next time, I'll talk a little bit about four kitchen letters that kinda freak me out :)
Some recipe resources that I have found VERY helpful when planning:
My trifecta of recipe sites: Cooks.com, Recipezaar.com and Allrecipes.com - I can almost always find good recipes with short ingredient lists (meaning they don't cost a lot!) on these sites.
Supercook.com - I recently found this one - it's a meta-search engine for recipes...but what makes it great is that you enter the contents of your kitchen, pantry and freezer, and it lists recipes based on what you can make with what you HAVE. If you're missing something it will tell you what it is before you get to the actual recipe.
$5 Dinners - the bloggy maven of good, cheap eats! I love her site, who wouldn't when every recipe can feed a family for five bucks? Great for folks with dietary restrictions too - her kids are GFCF.
A Year of Crockpotting - See your crockpot. LOOOVE your crockpot. Visit her site for every recipe under the sun.