Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How To Make a Monthly Meal Plan, part 5

Yesterday I wrote about the first three problems I thought of that can interfere with successful meal planning, today I follow up with the last three.

-I don’t like cooking or I don’t have time for it and with this plan I’m finding myself chained to the kitchen all the time and I can’t take it!

So plan differently.  No one said you have to make a gourmet meal every night, or even that you have to make a from scratch meal every night.  You are the one who is deciding what kind of meals your are making and how complicated they are, and how often you need to make them.  One woman I know cooks three nights a week and makes enough for two meals each time.  After eating those three meals once, they eat them a second time and then either go out or order pizza on Saturdays.  This works wonderfully for their family and might be something that would work for yours. 

If your family (or you!) don’t care for leftovers then just plan simpler things. It is your plan.  No one is grading it and critiquing it.  I don’t eat or buy most processed foods (often) but that is how my family works.  Your family eats and likes different things than mine and each of our menus will reflect that.

Another tip to cut down on prep is to do some things ahead.  Chop all your peppers/onions/etc. for the week on Monday and put them in containers.  Each night you will use only what you need for the day and you won’t be pulling out the knife and cutting board every night.  If you rely on convenience foods, eating at restaurants and ordering takeout for 95% of your family’s dinners it might be better to start small and gradually increase your nights of cooking.  Who knows? You might discover that having a plan in place with all of the necessary groceries eliminates the part of making dinner that you truly hate and actually cooking doesn’t bother you at all!

If possible enlist help.  If your spouse isn’t home to be any use preparing dinner on a week night, try preparing a few meals in advance on a weekend, or after the kids go to bed one night.  If your kids are old enough to be of any use in the kitchen, use dinner prep as a teachable moment.  I was taken aback when I got to college and discovered how many students were there who had no idea how to do things like cook for themselves or do laundry.  When/if your kids are old enough maybe they can be in charge of planning and cooking dinner one night a week.

-blah! We all got hit with the stomach bug!  We have a house full of food but none of us are well enough to prepare it OR to go and get anything else to replace it with that we might be able to keep down:

This happened to us a few months ago and I learned a very valuable lesson.  Keep sick people food on hand at all times and put it in an emergency place so that you don’t just dip into it when you are feeling lazy.  We now have in a crate in the garage a few cans of chicken noodle soup, a box of saltines, a few boxes of jello, a six pack of little bottles of ginger ale, a few serving size bottles (not the big ones) of pedialyte, and a container of Gatorade powder.  And we aren’t going to touch it.  Most of that stuff can keep for a looong time, but we are going to replace it at the beginning of flu season every year just to make sure none of it is ever expired.

Keep a couple of emergency, totally from the pantry meals on hand so that you won’t feel forced to order pizza when life doesn’t go your way because it is going to happen.  Rather than always keep the same emergency meal on hand in the pantry I sometimes try to plan a couple of new ones for the end of the month.  If I need to use them earlier in the month it is not as big of a deal and I can back cycle whatever meal I’ve skipped.

-I thought this was supposed to save money, why is my grocery bill so much higher?
Well, first off I’d like to ask if you are including your takeout/restaurant spending (including tips!) in that total.  I’m going to pull some random numbers out of the air here but if you used to spend $75 a week at the grocery store and then another $125 a week eating out, then your grocery bill all of a sudden doubling to $150 is not too surprising, as long as your eating out bill is either equally reduced or completely eliminated.  Double check but you are probably spending less. 

However, if you aren’t then what the heck are you making for dinner?  Really, I’d like to know because it is probably fabulous and I’d like to invite myself over.  Are you still buying a lot of convenience items (pre-made pizza crusts instead of a bag of flour and jar of yeast)?  By making some things from scratch instead of buying them premade you will save a little money and usually be eating a little healthier. 

Another option is to surround a spendy item will cheaper items.  Make a nice piece of salmon and serve it with a pile of cheap bulk rice or frozen green beans instead of the costlier asparagus (which you can serve instead with a cheaper cut of beef or some chicken).  It helps to spread out your “gourmet” without making you feel like you are depriving yourself by rotating between rice & beans and beans & rice. 

You are the one making the plan, so if you are choosing expensive things it will understandably cost more.  Think about what your family was already eating on a regular basis. Was it costing you less when you were scrambling around? That's okay because you can still throw some of those options back into the mix (or options in a similar cost bracket) but this time do it without the scramble. 

Also, keep in mind the sales.  If you planned on making steaks and got to the store to discover the price was astronomically more than you had expected, check to see what kind of substitutions you can make.  If there isn’t anything in a similar vein then scrap the meal for a different idea entirely or be prepared to shell out for the steaks.  I find that this is why it sometimes helps to bring your meal plan along with your grocery list to the store, it can help you remember why you put certain items on the list and whether or not they are crucial to any given dish.

If you missed the beginning of this meal planning series, please start here.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the advice. A lot of good ideas in these posts.


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