With the cost of food going up, Up and UP, more people are hitting me up for ways to cut costs. I worked with a family recently that was spending almost $1,200 a month on food for two adults and a baby. That's a lot of money going to food. So are there ways to make your food budget go further? You betcha.
Meal planning is one of the best ways to stretch your dollars.
When some people hear the term "meal planning" they want to run screaming from the room. They imagine boring meals, tedious amounts of time spent juggling lists, and the spectre of eating the same thing week in and week out. Hey, it'll only be like that if you're really bad at it. Get good at it and you'll have a fabulous way to feed your family well and keep your budget on track.
There are all sorts of online meal planning services. Some cost. Some don't. Make sure you know what you want and choose an appropriate tool. Don't sign up for a shortcut meal planner who tells you to use 2 cups of Bisquick in your recipe if you prefer to cook from scratch. Some get far fancier than you may want to get with your family's diet, so you have to choose carefully. Look for a meal planner tool that focuses on your needs and will let you input your choice of ingredients, as well as produce a printable shopping list.
SOScuisine.com let's you choose weekly menus tailored for all kinds of special circumstances: gluten-free, lactose-free, nut-free, along with tips for if you're cooking for one, for kids, or on a budget. You can choose the number of people you're cooking for, modify slightly and get a grocery list. For the more adventurous, Epicurious.com puts together recipes and menus. Also check out the U.K site, NHS Choices.
If you want to do this manually, start by grabbing a month at a glance calendar. You can also do this online at a site like saymmm.com. Or you can use Google Calendar and rotate your menu plans every three weeks so you have loads of variety.
Decide what you're going to prepare for each day of the month. You might decide that Fridays are pizza nights, or that Tuesdays are soup 'n' sandwich nights because you're schlepping the kids hither and yon.
Once you've decided on your two or three meals each day, you want to look for ways to use ingredients all through the week to cut down on your shopping list and time spent cooking. Roast a chicken (or two) on Sunday for dinner, then use the left-over meat to make chicken salad for sandwiches on Wednesday, and boil everything you haven't eaten to make soup, either for the freezer or to take for lunch at work. Throw in all those bits and pieces of veggies and some noodles or rice and you've got a meal that's not only healthy but costs just pennies a serving.