Meal Planning

23 July 2009 · 11 comments

I do a lot of writing — and a lot of reading — for my personal finance blog. During the process, I’m exposed to all sorts of ideas: some old, some new.

One new idea (to me) that Kris and I have adopted is once-a-month shopping. According to Steve and Annette Economides of America’s Cheapest Family, their family has gone grocery shopping only once per month for the past 25 years. When Kris and I read this last fall, we agreed to give it a try, but with a slight alteration. We’ve been trying twice a month shopping. Now that I’ve finally broken my habit of “quick trips to the store”, it seems to be working well.

Meanwhile, I recently read Tracy Rimmer’s free e-book, More Month Than Money: Tightening Your Food Budget While Feeding Your Family Well [356k PDF]. One of Rimmer’s tips is to devise a meal plan. She writes:

Meal planning is becoming a lost art…But planning can take a little of the rush out of the equation. Having a planned menu that we can work from can streamline our meal preparation time, and save us money at the grocery store checkout.

Kris and I have been talking about the notion of meal planning for the past couple of weeks. It appeals to us, and for a variety of reasons.

  • First, meal planning could help us actually eat the food we’ve already purchased (or grown). We have a huge pile of beef in the freezer, and we don’t use it often enough.
  • Second, meal planning would help us save money by fitting well with our already-practiced twice-a-month shopping plan.
  • Next, meal planning would help me to eat healthier meals. I’m a creature of habit, and I tend to just do what’s easiest. Easiest is rarely healthy. With meal planning, I could thwart my bad habits.
  • Finally, meal planning would allow us to try more recipes. We both like to cook, but we don’t do it as often as we’d like. Again, we’re creatures of habit. We tend to make the same things over and over. Meal planning would allow us to explore a little.

Last night, Kris and I spent ten minutes drawing up a tentative meal plan. We’re sure that this will change as we test it, but this is what we’re going to start with:

  • Monday: Beef (tacos, hamburgers, steaks, roasts, etc.)
  • Tuesday: Italian (pasta, pizza, etc.)
  • Wednesday: Crudités, by which we actually mean fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, cheese, olives, etc.
  • Thursday: Dining out (it’s Kris’s Friday!)
  • Friday: Chicken or fish (we’d both like to eat more fish than we do)
  • Saturday: Dining out
  • Sunday: Soup or salad

We intend to be flexible, of course. If we get an invitation to dine out on Tuesday, we’ll dine out on Tuesday. If we have leftover tacos from Monday, we might eat those on Thursday instead of going out. And I forgot it last night, but we need to try something Asian at least every two weeks!

Anyhow, it may be that many people already do meal planning, but I get the impression that it’s not very common. I know Mom used to do it when we were young, and so did many of her friends, but that may have been something encouraged by the Mormon church. I’m not aware of anyone our age who does it. (Although, again, I wouldn’t be surprised if some families did.)

Will meal planning save us money? Help me lose weight? Become an incredible bore? Only time will tell.

1 Pam July 23, 2009 at 17:47

Are you expecting the readers of your new blog to be retards? I was all excited for the crudites link, and then I saw it was just a definition. Couldn’t we get a cool recipe for what to do with all of our garden cucumbers or something??

2 jdroth July 24, 2009 at 10:53

Ha! :)

It’s difficult to come up with new recipes for raw vegetables. Tell you what, though. I think Craig and Lisa are coming over on Monday night, and we plan to do our version of crudités. I’ll take some photos.

3 Amy Jo July 24, 2009 at 23:21

Oh, yes, meal planning. I have lots and lots of notes about how I’d like to go about doing it, the types of foods I’d like to make, etc. I even have, and you are going to love this, spreadsheets . . .

But, life seems to get in the way of my best intentions. For a while, before taking on the new contract and before summer hit, I was quite regular in my shopping–once a week (unless we ran out of something critical like milk) and spending a set amount of $$$.

I hope you write about this more–hopefully it will inspire me to be more vigilant in my efforts.

4 Nikchick July 25, 2009 at 11:58

Funny that you’re moving in this direction. I’ve often done my shopping in very large once a month (or so) batches and I’ve got a whole system worked out for meal planning but lately I’ve been moving in the other direction. I’m doing smaller shopping trips, visiting the farmers markets, the local bakery, the local butcher shop. The other night I decided I wanted to make pork chops on the grill so I walked down to the light rail, took that to the neighborhood butcher, bought the pork chops, and came home. Fresh food, plus a little exercise, plus an excuse to use the newly opened light rail. In the winter months I’ll probably go back to my once every couple weeks shopping routine but it seems a shame not to get the most out of the bounty of summer.

5 jdroth July 25, 2009 at 12:30

Nicole, you’ve actually touched on another topic I want to ruminate about: walking/biking/bussing to local merchants.

It makes sense for us to do once-a-month shopping (actually, twice-a-month shopping) because our nearest store is a mile away. We do walk and bike to it from time-to-time, but neither one of us is willing to do that every day. But if I lived in a neighborhood with lots of shopping opportunities, I can see doing the small trip thing.

Next week, I hope to write about my new Thursday afternoon routine: walk down to Milwaukie, go to the comic book store, eat three cheap tacos, walk home. It’s a 4.5 mile round-trip, but done once a week, it accomplished many goals.

I don’t know. Maybe I should get up the guts to do the 2-mile round-trip to the grocery store every day. :)

6 Matt Jabs July 25, 2009 at 14:51

We began planning meals about 4 – 5 months ago. A lot of times we will plan just 2 meals/week and make bigger portions. This cuts WAY down on cost and saves a boat-load of time. Do we get sick of the same 2 meals several days each week? A most resounding NO.

My wife & I (proper grammatical usage I believe) ;-) have lost a combined 60 pounds and it is 90% diet driven. We do some biking/walking/running, but the predominant change is diet.

Eating nutrient dense foods, either home grown or raised w/o chemicals is paramount. We drink whole milk, real butter, homemade ice cream… all the time. I don’t really eat a ton less… just better choices & better ingredients. I have found that WHAT I eat (all local, sustainably raised produce, meats, dairy, nuts, etc) produces far more positive change than any other concept. Falling for the fat-free/low-fat farce will get you nowhere.

7 JoDi July 25, 2009 at 21:54

When I plan our meals, we eat better food, spend less, eat out less, and eat a greater variety of foods than we do when I leave dinner to chance every day. Planning also helps me to try out all the great new recipes I’m always finding! Before my weekly shopping trip, I sit down and look at our supermarket’s circular, then decide what to make each day based on the store sales, what I have in the freezer, and the activities scheduled for each day. It only takes 10-15 minutes to plan and pencil in each day’s menu on my planner and make the shopping list as I go along.

It’s amazing how much easier it is to cook at home, even on a busy day, when you have planned ahead. After I started planning, I realized my prior reluctance to cook had really been about dreading figuring out WHAT I was going to make every night after work and had little to do with the actual time involved in cooking.

8 kel July 26, 2009 at 00:43

if you write about this in the future and run across any good vegetarian & cooking-for-one resources, i’d love to know about them.

9 Ann July 26, 2009 at 06:42

JoDi: so true about not wanting to cook because of not knowing what to make every evening. I recently started planning meals. It does save money at the grocery store & wasting food at home, but also relieves that bit of stress about “what’s for dinner tonight.” Not only that, but with meals planned out anyone, even the kids (teens really), can help with dinner by just checking the menu for that day. It’s great for them to learn how to cook & see how easy it is to do if you just have a plan.

10 Amy Jo July 26, 2009 at 12:11

Paul and I have been talking a lot of about this, and our summer-time model is much like Nicole’s because of all the wonderful produce we greedily consume. As a general rule we don’t buy pre-made or packaged food, except for things like dried pasta, dairy goods (yogurt, butter, cheese), and the occasional loaf of bread from Grand Central, which makes shopping once a month nearly impossible unless you are growing your own food, etc. For most of the year once a week is a good fit for us, but in the summer it is more like twice a week–one trip to the grocery and one trip to the farmer’s market.

Here is an excellent post on a similar topic (be sure to look at the comments they are very informative):

11 Amy K August 5, 2009 at 09:53

Hi JD,

Jenn over at Frugal Upstate posts her menu plan every Monday. That usually kicks me into gear, and I’ll fire off a back-of-the-envelope plan to my husband for approval. Seeing others do it can be inspiring!

For us this week, it’s a lot of leftovers because we went crazy cooking over the weekend:
Monday: leftover grilled chicken, fresh steamed green beans from the garden
Tuesday: Going out to eat
Wednesday: The rest of the grilled chicken, leftover grilled summer squash, salad
Thursday: Leftover Falafal –> prep kibbeh, put in fridge.
Friday: Kibbeh, baked sweet potato
Saturday: Leftover kibbeh for lunch, maybe more greenbeans, dinner with friends
Sunday: To be determined, probably Saturday’s leftovers if they send some home with us.

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