Thursday, August 24, 2017

Menu Planning 101: Part 1

We all fall into one of three categories when it comes to meal planning:

We love it, hate it, or don't care either way.

Those of you who love it probably make a menu plan weekly, in fact, I know many of you have a special time set aside each week dedicated to planning the meals you and your family will eat for the next week.

Those who hate it probably don't menu plan... like ever. Okay, you may if you're the one cooking for the holidays, but otherwise, you avoid it.

Then, there are those who don't really care either way, you may plan your meals weekly (or plan to plan your meals, then never get to it, like me at times) or you menu plan, but don't really follow it. Basically, you can do with or without it.

Why should you menu plan?

I could list ten thousand reasons here, and it may or may not convince you that it is important to meal plan. However, here are the top 3 reasons that I began to meal plan.

1. It saves money.

No, I'm not saying I don't grab junk food or extras or impulse buys, but what it does mean is that menu planning helps ensure that I don't grab more perishable food than we will eat before it goes bad. It means I won't open my fridge next week to find a bag of salad mix that has turned to slime or a zuchini hidden in the back of my crisper drawer that has grown its own fur. Forgotten perishables equals money in the trash, with a menu plan, I have a plan for those perishables, so they don't go to waste.

2. It saves time.

I hate staring into my fridge or freezer trying to decide what to fix for dinner. With a menu plan, I know what I'm fixing. Sure, some days I may have to move things around on my menu because of unexpected guests or whatever, but I still know what I can fix that week. No more trying to decide at 5 PM what we should eat for dinner!

3. It means we don't eat the same thing over and over again!

Honestly, this is what sold me on menu planning. I get so tired of eating the same thing week after week. I know there are lots of things I know how to cook or want to try, but without a menu plan, I tend to pick up the ingredients for the same meals over and over again.

My menu plan has 6 weeks worth of meals. Yes, some of those meals repeat, but only once in those 6 weeks. Many of them don't repeat, and my taste buds, as well as my family's, thank me for that.

What are you really spending at the grocery store?

No matter which category you fall into, when trying to cut expenses, meal planning becomes essential. It's eye opening to really see how much of your budget goes into feeding your family!

 According to the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, the average cost of a family of four (that's 2 adults- male & female, and 2 kids ages 6-11) is $838.50! And that's the "low-cost" meal plan! For those of us in the middle or lower class, that's almost half or even more of our income for the month! It's no wonder so many of us live paycheck-to-paycheck!

Now, depending on where you live, your mileage will vary of course. Two families from different parts of the country could buy the exact same brands and quantities of groceries and compare their receipts. One of those families is guaranteed to have spent more money on the exact same items. It's not exactly fair, but such is life.

For the next month, keep up with all  of your grocery expenses. That includes that Oh-no-we're-out-of-milk run almost at the end of the week. At the end of the month, add those receipts up and find out where you stand.

Next time, we'll discuss what a menu plan is, how to make one, and how to use it!