When I was in college, I lived in an apartment with 6 other girls. Though many of us had limited skills in the kitchen, we decided to set up a cooking schedule. This was my first experience with menu planning for a household. Making the necessary preparations to cook a meal once a week for a group of college students is not quite the same as planning a meal every night for a family of six, but it was a good starting point for me. Even now, I’m still learning as I try out new recipes, introduce new foods, and save money along the way.
I would say that we are spending less on groceries today than we did 10 years ago when I was just cooking for two. One of the ways we’ve been able to reduce our expenses is by menu planning. But frugal menu planning isn’t just picking recipes out of a hat. If your goal is to save money and reduce waste, you want to plan your menu in conjunction with current sales at your grocery store and a quick inventory of your pantry and refrigerator.
Every Friday, I plan my menu for the next week and write out my shopping list at the same time. Here’s what I did last Friday.
After a quick look in my fridge, I noticed some heavy cream and parmesan cheese that will soon be tossed if I don’t find a way to use them. In my freezer, there’s a package of meatballs and pork ribs. The store ads showed that chicken breasts are on sale. So, by checking these first, I was able to come up with a menu for the week and just needed to get a few items at the store.
Monday: Pork Ribs – I found this recipe online and decided to try it because I already had all the ingredients on hand.
Tuesday: Chicken Makhani (Indian Butter Chicken) – I will use the cream for this.
Wednesday: Fettuccine Alfredo
Thursday: Leftovers – At this point, I will not cook another dish until we finish all our leftovers.
Friday: Teriyaki Meatballs – If we don’t finish our leftovers on Thursday, I will hold off on cooking the meatballs. By finishing everything before making a new dish, I can eliminate having to throw out spoiled food.
When you plan out a menu for the week, you will less likely eat out. Let’s say we’re out, running errands, our stomachs are saying “feed me”, and my husband turns to me and says, “You wanna grab something to eat?” As much as I want to sink my teeth into that Bacon Insider at Jack in the Box, my response would be, “I already have something planned to cook tonight.” After all the effort you put into planning, shopping, and cooking that meal, you wouldn’t want it replaced by some greasy, over-priced burger, would you?