Friday, January 16, 2015

Menu Planning: How it got me two marriage proposals and saved me 30%!

Recently, I finished a year's worth of meal plans. That's right, folks, I have 52 weeks or 365 dinners planned. I am RELIEVED. It's a huge weight off my shoulders. While I enjoy cooking, I do not enjoy meal planning.

The results of my labour of love? Two marriage proposals, a few (indecent) solicitations for copies of my menus and oh, an annual savings of 30% - (this includes our grocery and our dining out budget)!

When I thought about how and what we eat, it became clear that we have several "family favourites" and those meals are repeated frequently but we also like variety so I'm always trying new things (like "It Looked Pinteresting" - a collection of new meals curated from Pinterest).  When trying new recipes, there are always winners and some BIG losers. I've done two 'big cooks' with friends so there will be meals that won't be repeated (like "Coconut Thai Chicken") and although I love the idea and will likely repeat a 'big cook', the recipes from the books we used were frequently bland and tasteless.

My meal plans have areas to add new recipes and the plans, being organized by month, are also seasonal (we don't BBQ in November, for example). Additionally, our meal plans have a less than every six week repeat (meaning, save for "Taco Tuesday" on piano day, we don't eat the same meal more than once every six weeks), more often, it's more like eight weeks between repeats. Some meals never repeat and sometimes we have theme nights like "Meatball Monday's". Dinners out are pre-planned based on the month's activities (piano recitals, birthdays & anniversaries are 'given' dining out events).

All that said, the biggest reason I started the annual meal plan is to save money. Food is expensive - no matter where you live. With milk approaching $5 for 2 litres and peppers at $3.99 pound, meal planning allows me to buy what we need and reduces waste because I know what I need before I go to the store to shop. It is convenient and allows me to plan healthy and balanced meals. It also reduces our impulse to order in because we know what's for dinner!

As I said before, we managed to save 30% on our annual food budget since I commenced the monthly menu planning in February 2014. By having a clear plan, with scheduled dining out events, much more organized shopping trips (and grocery lists) and with no "what's for dinner tonight" questions bringing about impulse shopping trips, has helped our bottom line immensely.

While 30% is a huge sum of money, I hope to shave an additional 20% this year.  Recently, a friend asked how do I know that I want what's planned for November 17 (which was meatballs & gravy)? Knowing my meals are pre-planned and the shopping is complete, I have seven meals to chose from on any given night. By now having it all organized before the beginning of the next month, I am able to take advantage of the store loyalty discounts that happen the first Tuesday of the month. Which, starting this month, meant that I was able to stock up on all the staples required for the month so I, in essence, have 30 meals to chose from this month. I am also watching store sales more carefully and stocking up on staples we use frequently. Just this past week, I bought three pounds of our usual coffee - because it was $5.92 cheaper per pound than it usually is!
, by the way)? The fact is, I don't always feel like what's planned but because my meals are

We still impulsively order dinner and we don't always eat what's planned but I have a plan for that too - I carry the meals forward to another evening and ensure we don't dine out too often if there has been impulse meals out. I can tell you doing a 'big cook'  is like having take-out in your own house. It is something I will do again because the convenience of it can't be beat.

Since I first started planning meals way back in 1995, I've finally found a method that works for me. I've tried many different ways of planning but the annual plan totally suits me and provides the flexibility we need.

It may not work for everyone and it may take time to find your groove, but after many years (and many failed attempts), I've finally figured it out and I never have to think (about cooking) again!

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