Some of my FB friends have already seen most of this blog. I wrote it in response to some posts on Extreme Couponing and Meal Planning. So I guess you could say it is a repeat. I have added some additional information (just a few things) that you still might find interesting if you have already seen this. I have been couponing, meal planning, once-a-month cooking and frugal cooking for most of my adult life. I actually started couponing in college when I lived off campus and had to make all my own meals. Meal Planning is a way to seriously save money: if you have a plan, then there isn’t any need to stop last-minute to get items for dinner or fast food because you didn’t plan. It is also a good way to ensure that you are eating healthy foods.
There are a number of places that you can get meal plans for a week or a month. I like Saving Dinner (http://savingdinner.com/) it is a service that you pay for, but you can try free samples. Also, she has published several cookbooks that you can check out of the library. If you get the cookbooks, you can print the shopping lists from the website. That is a bonus for having a plan that is ready-made. I have picky eaters (my boys don’t eat many veggies) so it makes it much more difficult to use a “plan” that is already designed.
I did find that there were a large number of weekly plans on the Kraft Foods website (http://www.kraftrecipes.com/recipes/dinner/1Bag5Dinners/main.aspx) called 1 bag 5 dinners. For me it is more like 4 dinners as the 5th night is Mac and Cheese or flatbread pizza and those won’t fly for dinner in my house. I will be trying these menu plans during the next month. They do have shopping lists, and again that is what I like about it.
I just discovered this free site (http://www.mealbank.net/) and it has a free application for my droid. This site has recipes that you can pull from or enter your own. Then you pull the recipes into a calendar. The shopping list was tough to use though. You are able to print your meal plan for the week and the recipe and ingredients are all listed there. The premise for this site is that we generally eat the same meals over and over, so you can enter a month’s worth of meals and repeat it. It is a good application.
I am also using Cozi (www.cozi.com) another free site that is an online calendar and allows to you link to your droid or iphone. For the Kraft dinners I was able to type the shopping lists into the Shopping Section and then save them for each week. This past week I entered a month of meals. I used a separate color code for meal planning in my calendar. I can use my phone and access my calendar and my shopping lists, so if I stop at the store on the way home I can get the items I need and don’t have to try to remember. Cozi is trying out a new application for their site that allows you to input recipes and drag and drop them to your calendar. It also allows you to add the ingredients to your shopping list. It is still in beta testing (I was lucky enough to be chosen as a “tester”) but it looks like it is going to be a VERY useful application. And since I’m already using Cozi, I’m really liking it. I’m also finding that this is very similar to Meal Bank, but since it links to my calendar, it is easier for me to use.
The idea with meal planning is to be able to quickly put things together. You know what your family likes to eat and what will work for you. I try to plan at least 1 crockpot dinner each week because I tend to be tired and don’t want to cook.
There are other strategies for meal planning – one is to take the ads from the paper and the coupons and plan your meals for a week around the sales. I don’t do that because I don’t usually end up spending the time on Sunday and then I don’t end up cooking because I didn’t have a plan. But it works really well for some people. But this strategy takes time every week rather than planning for a whole month.
I tend to know what we will need over the course of a month and have my shopping list handy, so if something is on sale and it is a pantry item or something I can freeze, I will buy it and save it for when the meal comes up in the plan.
Another strategy is once-a-month cooking. And I have done that successfully several times over the last 20 odd years. First cooking for 2 and then cooking for 4. There are a number of resources on the web for people who are interested in once-a-month cooking. One site that I like is www.once-a-monthcooking.com/ There is also a cookbook by that name that you can check out of the library.
A simpler way to do once-a-month cooking is to double batch meals that you know your family will like and eat. It usually doesn’t take extra time to make more and then you can freeze the extra and add it down the road to your meal plan. I do this whenever I make pasta sauce. Or put together meal “bags” (Saving Dinner has some of these with crockpot cooking) where you assemble all the ingredients for a meal and then freeze the bag and only need to defrost and pop in the crockpot.
One of the important things to remember is that you need to pick meals that your family will like and eat. As much as I would love to include more veggies in our meals, my kids won’t eat them and we end up throwing food out. That defeats the purpose of meal planning. If I am unsure if we will like a meal, I only plan it once and see how it goes. Then I will know if I should make it again. I like a lot of variety in our meals, but if I get too exotic no one will eat it. When I started meal planning I used a free printable calendar (try www.organizedhome.com) and a pencil with my cookbooks and recipe cards. Now I use Cozi and find that it works well because the kids can look up what is for dinner and they don’t have to ask me. However, you have to find what works best for you. If a system isn’t working you aren’t going to use it and then you aren’t getting the benefits. I’ve tweaked my system for a long time and I think that I have finally found something that works really well for us.
If I get a lot of feedback on this post, and there is interest, I will plan to write more about Meal Planning. So if you are interested, please make sure that you leave comments.