Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Adventures in Meal Planning

About two months ago in an effort to help us reduce spending and shop smarter we decided we were going to take out our grocery money in cash, and only make 1 big shopping trip per pay check.  We would do our shopping and when that cash was gone, we were done spending.  I realize this concept is a pretty basic one, but for us, with the convenience of being able to magically swipe and its paid for, we had a hard time grasping it.  It was too easy to impulse shop.  We would walk into the store, walk all around the store (usually Wal-Mart, so this included toys, clothes, electronics, home stuff, craft stuff, etc.) and shop.  No list.  No idea what we were in there for, except for a few basic things. We would walk out with a full cart, a long receipt, and enough food for maybe 3 meals.  When that food was gone, Lather, Rinse, Repeat. 

After we made the decision to use cash and only do 1 big shopping trip I knew I'd have to figure out some way to get enough food to last us those two weeks.  I knew I would need an actual list to keep me on track and make sure I didn't forget anything.  For a list I would need to know what we were having for dinner.  I decided I would do a menu for those two weeks.  I went online and found a weekly meal planner.  Then I sat there at stared at it for a few minutes trying to come up with dinner ideas.  This was going to be harder than I thought. 

I decided we would start with broad categories first.  Chris and I sat down and picked a "theme" for each night of the week.  We came up with Chicken/Pork, Mexican, Italian/Pasta, Casserole/Soup, and BBQ/grill.  Yes I know that is only 5 categories.  We also factored in a night for leftovers, and a "quick meal" night.  Quick meal consists of maybe those frozen stir fry packets, or Chris is really fond of "Homestyle Bakes", $3 for a dinner for two (Chicken and biscuits, Chicken and Mashed potaotes, etc) all in a nice little box.  It's not fancy, but its quick and He can cook it. Quick meal can also be used as an Eat Out/Order in.

After that we sat down and thought of all the meals that fit into those categories.  For example-
Chicken/Pork- steamed chicken packets, pork chops, sweet n sour pork, shake n bake
Mexican- tacos, fajitas, burritos, mexican lasagna, quesadillas
Italian/Pasta- lasagna, spaghetti, manicotti, fettucini alfredo
Casserole/soup- tuna cass., mac n cheese, chili, chicken soup, chili, beef stew
BBQ/grill- burgers n hotdogs, chicken, country ribs, meaty sticks (chicken and steak shish-ka-bobs)
Our lists have more items, these are just for example.

After we had those lists we opened up the meal planner again and assigned each day a category, then picked the meal for that category. After we had two weeks worth of meals plans, I set to work on the shopping list.  To help with that I found a shopping list template in Microsoft Word that had everything broken into categories (meat, frozen, canned/dry, produce, etc.).  Then I went through each meal and wrote out the ingredients on the list in their appropriate categories.  Menu and shopping list complete.  The first attempt was pretty mentally exhausting.  It took several hours and by the time I was done I wanted to collapse in a heap and never think about dinner again.  But I also felt accomplished and proud of myself, and was looking forward to our big shopping trip.

Fast forward to shopping day- Super excited and eager at first.  We started our trip at Costco, walked around, bought our items, enjoyed a hot dog.  Then headed on to the next store for our Non Bulk items.  By the time we were halfway through our list I was back to feeling tired, cranky, and ready to collapse into a heap.  It was a bit frustrating trying to deal with a toddler, hold the list, locate our items, navigate the aisles, cross items off the list, and also try to keep a rough running total so we didn't go over.  But, when we got to checkout with a cart full of JUST groceries, and only things that we were on our list, AND coming in under budget (sure it was only a couple bucks, but still!)  I was back to feeling proud and accomplished.


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