“What’s for dinner?”
Do you have any idea how many times I’ve been asked that question in my life?
That one question can lead to staring into freezers looking at what you wish was already defrosted, opening cabinets and staring blankly, or worse, getting into the car to go pick something up.
The “What’s for dinner?” question can potentially blow your budget.
But it doesn’t have to.
The Menu Solution
At the beginning of the month I decided to create a menu. By the time I finished, I actually planned out two whole months of meals! I don’t do this every month, but I always love it when I do. I especially like that my kids can look at the menu and answer their own question.
If you’ve never made a menu plan, you should give it a try. It’s so nice to not have to think about what to have for dinner every day at the last minute. A menu can keep you from getting in a rut of having the same things all the time, too.
Save Time and Money
- Menus save time every day trying to decide what to make for dinner with the ingredients you have on hand. Without a menu you won’t have everything you need, which either means you have to decide on something else or head to the store again.
- They save time because you won’t need to go to the grocery store as often. You’ll be able to get everything you need for a week, two weeks or even a month at a time.
- Fewer trips to the store means less money spent. It’s amazing how it works. If you don’t go into the store, you don’t spend money.
- A menu will save money because it is less tempting to get take out since you have a plan in place.
- You’ll be less likely to eat a lot of overpriced convenience foods like frozen pizza or microwave meals.
- With the time you save deciding what to make, you’ll be able to make more items from scratch, which is cheaper, healthier and tastier.
Much like setting up a budget, the initial investment of time to plan a menu pays off in savings in the long run. Plus, it gets easier to create new menus by just rearranging the meals on a new calendar. You could just repeat the same menu over. I don’t like to eat the same meals all the time though, so I plan a lot of new recipes to try.
Creating a Menu & Shopping
To prepare my menus I first make a list of meals I know everyone likes. Then I take a look at my Pinterest boards for recipes I pinned to try and some favorites we’ve already tried. I also pull a few favorite cookbooks out to find a few things. I add the recipes from Pinterest and the cookbooks I want to make to the list of meals I know we all like. I make a copy of the month from my wall calendar to write them on so I can put it on the refrigerator.
Next, I take a look at our calendar for dates the kids will be gone and when we have activities so I know not to plan big meals if they will be gone at a game or will need to eat something quick before leaving. Then I just start plugging in the meals into the dates on the calendar. Beside the name of the recipe I write where it is located and the page number if needed so I can find it quickly.
Sometimes, to not to end up having chicken three nights in a row and make it easier to plan, I will make certain days be for certain foods. For example, Sundays are for chicken, Mondays are pasta night, Tuesdays are for salads, Wednesdays Asian, etc.
Now you can make out your grocery list based on the menu for however long you want. I usually don’t do more than two weeks at a time so I can get any fresh vegetables I need without them going bad before I’m ready to use them. I will also plan it so recipes that require ingredients with a shorter life are made first.
Don’t forget to add all the other things for breakfasts and lunches to your grocery list if you are only planning menus for dinner.
After planning out my two months worth of menus, I made out my shopping list for the first two weeks and headed to the store. All of the groceries for the three of us came to $135 and I won’t need to go shopping again for two weeks! Since my grocery budget is $300 a month for myself and my two teens, plus an extra teen or two here and there, this worked out perfectly.
I only write down the dinner meals on my menu, however, the $135 also included food for breakfast, lunch and whatever other foods my kids consume during the day. It’s summer, so they’re here all day. . . eating. 🙂
During the week, we usually just have sandwiches or leftovers for lunch and cereal or something I’ve baked on the weekend, for breakfast. I don’t worry about planning those out, I just keep them stocked.
Why so cheap?
No coupons. I rarely use them. When I do take the time to clip them, I find the branded products with the coupons are still more expensive than the cheaper brands, so it’s usually not worth it for me. Instead, I just shop at Aldi. Probably 90 percent of our groceries come from them. I’ve shopped at Aldi for years and could probably be their spokesperson or something, but that’s another post. I go to Walmart for whatever I can’t get at Aldi.
I didn’t need to buy every single item to make these meals because I already had some of the ingredients. I did have to buy almost all of the meat, which is the most expensive part. I’m not afraid to buy items that have been reduced, especially meat. I lucked out on this shopping trip at Walmart and found a lot of the meat and chicken I needed had been reduced.
There’s nothing wrong with buying reduced meat! If you look at the date on the package it will tell you “use or freeze by” and the date. The date is usually in one or two days. The meat goes in the freezer as soon as I get home, so it’s perfectly fine to buy and saves a lot of money, usually 40% where I shop. I do look at the meat to make sure it’s not a strange color, but it usually looks just as good as the rest. The date does not mean the meat will instantly go bad on the date of the package. You can freeze it and use it long after the date.
More Prep to Save Time & Money
To save even more time and money, I cooked two whole chickens in the slow cooker, one after the other. I just rinse the chicken off, stick about half an onion inside it and sprinkle with salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and paprika. When the meat registers as done on a meat thermometer I let it cool and remove all the meat, chop it up and freeze it in 2 cup portions for later use. I usually get five cups from one average size chicken. The next day I made chicken stock out of the scraps and bones to freeze also. I try to always keep it on hand. I freeze it in 2 cup quantities so it’s usually the right amount for soups and doesn’t take too long to defrost. It’s so easy to make and of course, saves money.
There’s nothing fancy here, quite a few sandwiches and salads which we like in the summer. I’ve linked to the recipes I could. You’ll notice several are from Chungah at Damn Delicious. We like a lot of her recipes. I make changes to suit our tastes.
I don’t usually write down side dishes as the main dish is the hardest to come up with for me. I keep a stock of fruits, vegetables and Romaine for salads on hand so I can just pick one of them to make with the main dish.
Here are the meals I planned for two weeks.
Chicken Pot Stickers (I omit the mushrooms.)
Fajita Salads (with leftover fajita meat)
Chicken Salad Sandwiches
White Garlic Chicken & Bacon Pizza & Cheese Pizza (Extra teens night)
Italian Beef Sandwiches on Homemade Rolls
Chicken Biscuit Bake
One or two leftover nights
The meals without a link are either things I don’t really have a recipe for or they are not from a website. Let me know if there is a particular recipe you’d like and I’ll try to post the recipe in the future.
Do you plan your menus ahead or are you going to give it a try? Would you be interested in seeing more menus? Let me know in the comments!