If you are serious about saving money on your food expenses, the first place you need to look is your menu planning. Without a plan you will end up going out to eat more often and that will more than eat up any savings you will experience using coupons. Through the years I’ve listened to friends as they (and I) talk about the difficulties of dinner time. What I’ve noticed is not so much that any of them hate to cook, but more that they hate the feeling they get when 5:00 rolls around and the children have that look in their eyes (“You mean I have to feed you again?” you ask) and you’re pretty sure that your husband hasn’t changed his mind about needing some nourishment at some point in the evening.

Desperate to get through the evening with some sanity, and to eat before 8:00, you head out to eat. Again. If only you had taken just a few minutes to plan meals for the week and to check your list in the morning to see if something needed to get dropped into the crock pot. You could have been sitting down to a wonderful home cooked meal that took you almost no time to prepare, will be easy to clean, is probably much healthier than what you would have settled for eating out, and cost a whole lot less! Probably to the tune of $15 to $50 less depending on where you might have gone.

And that’s just one night. How many nights in the average week does this scenario play out? If you could eliminate this scene one night a week you would save your family $60-200 per month over what you are currently spending. Add to that the fact that now, you likely have enough leftover for your husband to take to work for lunch, saving you about $6-$12.00 if his other choice was to go grab a bite at a drive up. How much could that save you in a month if you were to go from eating out a lot to eating in, simply because you have a plan? It doesn’t have to be hard at all, and it can bring great peace of mind knowing that supper is under control.

If you already do a fairly good job planning weekly meals and following your plan, congratulations, you’re ahead of the game.  If not, lets go through a few simple steps to get a plan that will work for you.

Making a meal plan

Take a few minutes to sit down and write out 7 meals that everyone in your family likes to eat, or at least will eat without a meltdown. If you need help getting started, try planning a meal for each of the following categories; fish, chicken, beef, soup or salad,crock pot, and “fun” like tacos, etc.  The more meals you can think of that will use items that are already in your pantry, the better. That will free up more of your budget to start buying your sale items. From there, write a list of every ingredient you will need to buy in order to make all of those meals.

Some people plan their meals around what’s on sale that week.  That is a good way to save some money if you are not stocking up on food when it’s at its lowest price. Stocking up while prices are low allows you to plan whatever meals you want to eat because you will have most of what you need in the freezer and pantry. It’s much easier to write a meal plan based on what you want instead of what’s on sale. Not having to plan around the sale may make the difference in you making a meal plan or not. (For help in learning how to save money using coupons, see www.itsmeorthecoupons.com

When you are working out your meal plans, consider the cost of the meal as a whole. Some people only use ground beef and dark chicken because they feel that using chicken breast, fish, or a roast (or even steak, dare I say it) is just too much money. They also skimp on the fresh vegetables because produce seems expensive. Stop and add the cost of making a dish like lasagna (not to knock lasagna, who doesn’t love a good lasagna? And its perfect for bulk cooking) with all the cheeses and sauces, etc. Yes, your meat was cheap but the cost of the whole meal was probably no less than a good roast with carrots and potatoes. Why? because the money you spent on the roast, you saved on the fact that the rest of your meal was very inexpensive. How much do a few carrots and potatoes cost?  Produce can seem expensive until you start looking at it as a high percentage of your meal instead of as a side item put there to make mom feel like she’s doing a good thing.

You may want to take a few minutes and decide which meals will be better for which days. For example, I always try to make a quick clean up meal for Wednesday so we can get the kitchen all cleaned up before we head out to church. Is there a day you will be gone all day, or really busy at meal time? Make that day a crock pot day. Is there someone who will need a meal brought to them this week? Whatever you bring to them, make two, now your family has supper too.  You can write your meal plans on a calendar, making notes regarding tasks that need to be done ahead of time such as defrosting a roast or getting the crock pot started. Having this written out at the beginning of the week will help you stick to your plan.  It may seem like a lot of work up front but it really does only take a few minutes and it really pays off. You’ll be surprised at the peace of mind you’ll have simply by knowing what’s for supper.

Be sure and keep a copy of  your weekly menu. When you have created several weekly meal plans you won’t have to plan as often.  Just grab one of your previous weeks and you’re all set. You can make up new weekly plans as you have time and as you try new recipes.

Planning your meals will put you well on your way to not only saving money but also to having more peaceful evenings at home.