When you’re watching your grocery budget closely not letting food spoil is important. Some people find making a detailed menu plan works well for them. Others even plan breakfast, lunch and dinner for the week. I have found for our family too much planning leads to more waste.
Obviously I take into consideration what is on sale for the week. I may find clearance meat close to expiry that I could freeze right away or I could use it that day, but I do like to vary our diet and not have a hard and fast menu.
On Sunday night I look at our week. I glance at the kids’ activities and any busy days that will leave little time for cooking and see if there are nights that require a quick meal. Maybe a crock pot meal is needed since everyone will be eating at different times.
I will pull out 3 kinds of meat from the freezer and put them in a tray in the fridge. I always have a good variety of frozen veggies, fresh produce, pasta, rice, sometimes potatoes, sauces, marinades and one step seasonings. I will decide in the morning what we're having for dinner and start in the crock-pot or gather my supplies and make sure I have everything I need. The key for me is I need to know before noon what is happening for dinner. I also have a foodie 10 year old who asks me the minute she gets into the van after school! She needs to know, what is for dinner?!
The reason we were wasting too much food by planning every meal in advance is two-fold. For one, we are not over planners- we like to be spontaneous and cook what we feel like eating that night. Usually once a week or more we can get a dinner invitation from my in-laws, and who's going to turn down a fantastic meal cooked by someone else? ! The second reason is weather – who doesn't want to eat homemade stew and biscuits when it’s freezing outside? Our summers in Alberta are short and when we get a nice day, you can bet were outside using the BBQ.
Now every household has a busy evening or the flu hits the house or dinner didn't get planned in the morning for whatever reason. I prepare for these nights as well. If I cook spaghetti sauce or make a homemade soup, I double or triple it and freeze the leftovers right away. This makes it easy to pull out sauce and cook some pasta or make some biscuits and heat up a homemade soup. I also like to keep cooked sliced chicken in the freezer ready for fajitas, Caesar salad, or a quick stir fry. Sometimes if we cook some ground beef for a meal, we set aside half of it for the freezer and we have a base for chili, tacos or a casserole.
For breakfast and lunches my kids appreciate variety in their meals and so do I. Some days they want oatmeal, or eggs or a homemade muffin for breakfast. For lunches I make sure to always be fully stocked on canned tuna, frozen lunch meat, boiled eggs, granola bars, cut up veggies or fruit, yogurt tubes/cups, cookies and crackers. Two of my kids have access to a microwave for lunch so if there are leftovers from dinner (rare with 2 teenage boys!) then I will send them. Often I will freeze the leftovers like spaghetti and sauce or chicken and rice in see through containers so they just pull one out in the morning.
For the spontaneous, learning to plan meals is tough. We don’t like to think about dinner at breakfast time. To truly save money on groceries though, I have learned to come up with a plan that works for our family – and if all else fails, there’s always pancakes and bacon for dinner, who doesn't love that?