Three tips to make your monthly meal plan work for you and your busy family.
Before we dive head first into my recipe book (like I actually use one of those ;)), I wanted to share a few more tips I’ve learned along the way in making this monthly meal plan work. There is a lot of information out there and sometimes we get sucked into believing things that may be true for some but don’t typically work for the average Joe. For example, I have always lived on some sort of budget. I don’t mean this nice and neat pie chart thing that tells me I have x amount of dollars to spend on groceries that month. I mean the type of budget that I think many Americans live on these days; the type of budget where you aren’t a hundred percent sure you will be able to pay your electric bill and your car payment and go grocery shopping all in the same week. We aren’t exactly poor but we still have that looming worry over our heads that prevents us from making financial decisions without considerable thought. Not to mention if any unexpected expenses arise along the way and put a huge hiccup in our plans.
I’ll be the first to tell you that monthly meal planning is not for everyone. I, by no means, want to persuade you to do something that you have no interest in doing or feel isn’t right for your family. I only recently discovered monthly meal planning myself and I am always looking for new ways to provide for my family and save money.
1. What’s Important
Decide what is most important to you and your family. Are you looking to save money or are you looking to create your meals from all organic material? Do you have the space to buy in bulk or are you willing to travel in order to get specific ingredients?
In my family, I look for the best deal. However, I hate the stress of the store and being in a new town, I don’t like to travel outside of a 15-20 mile radius from home. I also can’t stand to go to too many stores so you will not find me sale chasing. In fact, I don’t even look at sale papers or coupons anymore. What?! I know. I know. But here’s the thing, I did do that for a while. I had six sales papers laid out in front of me and I used to find solace in the actual cutting of the coupons. I get it. I love the rush of getting a “deal” or “bargain”. But unless you are an extreme couponer and have the space to store all of it, coupons typically only save you about 25% off of your regular grocery bill. I didn’t grab those statistics from the internet. I went on grocery trips and calculated it each time. I even used coupons at the dollar store and the result was still the same.
I shop at Aldi and will sing their praises all day long. I do not get the excitement of finding an unbelievable price in a sales ad or opting into a buy one get one at Publix. I don’t clip the coupons and try out products I never knew I wanted until I had a coupon for them. I just shop at a store that has exactly what I need at a minimal price. Could Wal-Mart have better prices? Maybe, but the change I might be spending at Aldi is far less than the impulse purchases I would make at Wal-Mart. I have to know myself. I have to know that I don’t like stress and I don’t like temptation. If you have the will power for it, more power to you.
Though Aldi is my primary store it is not my only store. I also shop at Sam’s Club for meat and tortillas. Aldi has both of these but not exactly what I am looking for. Both breakfast burritos and lunch burritos are made in the monthly meal plan and regular old flour tortillas just weren’t good enough for me. Sam’s Club has a pack of tortillas that have added fiber and protein and make me feel like those breakfast and lunch burritos are more like meals.
Sam’s Club also has fantastic prices on meat. Since I have a monthly meal plan and know that if I need the meat for this month, I will also need the same type and portion next month, there is never a question of how or when it will get used. A large skinless salmon purchased at Sam’s Club is enough to make four full dinners. That is potentially four months worth of salmon. However, buying in bulk like this does require a place to store it, which brings us to number two.
2. Where To Store It
Find a way to store your food. Obviously making food last for a month in a place as hot as Florida is not always an easy task. Your deep freezer will be your best friend. All the meat goes in the deep freezer almost immediately except for the hamburger meat. The hamburger I will portion off into one pound increments or make into patties as needed for the month’s recipes. Fresh vegetables like onions and green peppers get diced and put into one cup increments in Ziploc baggies. These I keep in my kitchen freezer for easy use while cooking. Now, in our family, sometimes milk doesn’t get used quite as frequently as expected either so I will portion that off into recycled plastic jugs (mayonnaise and peanut butter jars work great) and freeze that as well.
The freezer isn’t just good for the raw materials. I also freeze leftovers or go ahead and marinate some meat and veggies and freeze those too. Like I said, your deep freezer will be your best friend.
What to do with all the non-freezable stuff? I am very grateful that Captain Cupcakeasaurus built me a large shelving space in the hallway that we call our pantry. I hope you have a large pantry or shelving space or hallway (though pantry is preferred) as well. Remember that thrill you got when finding a sale in the ad paper? Well, a similar thrill rolls through you when you see your pantry at the beginning of the month. All the shelves fully stocked and awaiting my use remind me of the pantries they show on Top Chef or Chopped.
Whether you are buying in bulk, monthly meal planning, or couponing, you will definitely need a place to store it. There is nothing worse than buying a month’s worth of food and then not having room to fit it all in your refrigerator or have half of it left out on your counters.
3. When To Shop
Make your shopping day and your prep day two different days. Some may think this is a no-brainer. Well, I didn’t. I thought that if I could get all my shopping done in one day, then I could also get all my prep done in the same day. Voila, I would have everything done in one day and not have to worry about it for another month. I must be delusional. Trust me, you will want these to be separate days. The idea is to reduce stress. You save money to reduce financial stress. You only shop once a month to reduce social anxiety stress. You prep on the second day to reduce… well, I’m not sure what that stress would be called but we are reducing it, dang it!
Also, prep day can be fun if you make it so. I have had prep days where I laugh with my fiancé while chopping onions. I have had prep days laughing with my bestie on speakerphone while chopping green peppers. I have had prep days watching Netflix on my phone and drinking Moscato while precooking ground beef. Please notice that my prep days include laughter with those I love, Netflix and wine. What could be less stressful than that?
Those are my tips to help you stay sane as you start out on your monthly meal planning journey. Let me know if there are any other hurdles you’ve faced while meal planning or any additional tips you’d offer to others starting. Thanks for reading and helping make life taste sweeter.