You are about to enter a dangerous world…the inner workings of my brain! I plan, I scheme, I plan again. It works well for me, but I realize that this is going to look insane. Bear with me.
I have been making weekly meal plans for years. I do not have research or specific figures, but I estimate that I save at least $100 per month by living this way. My reasoning is simple: when you go to the store with a plan you are never buying things that you do not need or that which will not be used. I waste very little this way, and I’ve been happy with it. I plan meals so that I can use all of a given ingredient. If I am making a panini with tomatoes and basil, I could plan a caprese salad for later in the week to use the rest of the bunch of basil I purchased. I also keep staples on hand at all times. I always have at least one vegetable I can serve at dinnertime. Typically carrots. They last forever in the refrigerator. I try to keep potatoes on hand as well. I always have onions. I typically have garlic and shallots. I always have frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts which I can de-thaw and cook. I try to keep parsley on hand. I always have milk and cheese. I freeze leftover baguettes or other nice bread so that I can always quickly de-thaw and make croutons or bread crumbs (for, say, meatballs). This makes things easier. Other items I didn’t mention but you can assume I have, like butter. Who doesn’t?
I would sit down on a Sunday with my cookbooks and a pad of paper and plan meals and jot down ingredients I need from the store. I have now “stepped up my game” and planned an entire month at a time. It took a long time, but it is so worth it when it’s done. Now I have an entire month+ of meal ideas to save and each subsequent planning session will be easier!
Here is how it works. I work one week at a time on a blank calendar so that I can balance the type of food I’m making to avoid repetition and use ingredients efficiently. As I find a meal in a cookbook and write it on the calendar I also add it to a weekly list (see below) and write any ingredients I will need to buy to the right. This is why I mentioned how I keep the house stocked with staples; you don’t need to go searching for items or buy one onion per week. This cuts down tremendously on what I buy and the amount of time it takes; I am typically buying only fresh items.
Toward the end of the monthly calendar I did fill some gaps with meals that were planned in the weeks before, but this is fine. There are weeks that we do not eat as many meals as I have planned for. This happens, and we adjust. You may be wondering how many meals per week. I plan five. This assumes that twice per week we will either eat out, eat at someone else’s house, or just be inundated with leftovers that we want to make sure and consume. If a lot of plans come up in a week I will circle a meal and its ingredients and wait to see if I will need/want that one at the end of the week. If so, I just need to run to the store for a very few items.
When a week starts, I pull out the weekly plan and ingredients list and a blank shopping list grid. This is a piece you probably will not want to do, however I am crazy and I like to separate the sections of the store. I do not enjoy making it to the deli/cheese aisle and having to return to produce! (Oh the horror!)
Questions? Concerns? Need inspiration?