There is one sure-fire way to save money on the groceries week after week and that is menu planning.
All the other grocery savings tips fall second to planning meals in advance. In fact, without the foundation of a good menu plan, you won’t get the full benefit of other tips like eating in season or shopping at Aldi.
Here’s an overview of why menu planning is so super and how to do it easily and effectively.
5 BENEFITS OF MENU PLANNING
1. MENU PLANNING SAVES YOU MONEY. Up to 20% of household food ends up in the bin! Avoid waste by planning your meals and you could save hundreds of dollars every year. You can also use menu planning to save money by planning around supermarket specials, what’s in season, what’s in your pantry or how tight you budget is.
Menu planning also reduces your trips to the supermarket and trips to the takeaway store, saving you money on petrol and reducing the temptation to impulse buy extra food.
2. MENU PLANNING SAVES YOU TIME. Not only does menu planning save time by reducing the number of times you run to the shop, you can also use it to prepare food in advance and batch cook meals – maximising efficiency.
You also eliminate the “what’s for dinner” dilemma, reducing brain-drain at the end of a long day.
3. MENU PLANNING REDUCES WASTE. Use food up before it expires by planning meals based on what you have on hand. If you’re planning a meal that uses cream, plan another meal to use up the rest before it goes off.
4. MENU PLANNING IMPROVES NUTRITION AND DIET. Planning your meals can help you ensure you eat a balance of foods across the week. If you’re on a diet or trying to change your diet, planning will make you more successful because you know what to cook and eat in advance and your pantry is stocked full of the right foods.
5. MENU PLANNING INCREASES CREATIVITY. It’s easy to cook the old mainstays week after week. But trying something new requires new ingredients and extra time. By menu planning a new meal each week, you’re exercising your creativity and expanding your skills and repertoire and you’re making sure you’ve got all the right ingredients on hand to make cooking your new dish as easy as possible.
5 STEPS TO MENU PLANNING
1. WRITE A LIST OF FAMILY FAVOURITES. If you want to make menu planning as easy as possible, write a list of family favourite meals first so that you can refer to it when you plan.
2. CHECK YOUR SUPPLIES. Use up food in the fridge and the pantry before it goes bad. Check what foods need using up before menu planning and plan meals around what you have.
2. THEME YOUR DAYS. Give each day of the week a ‘theme’. Wednesday might be pasta night, for example, and Friday might be fish night. Now all you have to do is plug your one of your family favourite meals from that theme into your menu plan for that day. It’s super easy and it still allows for lots of variety. For more information, check out the article on Using a Meal Rotation.
4. CHECK SUPERMARKET CATALOGUES. Let’s say Tuesday is meat and veg night. Check your supermarket catalogue to see what meat is on sale and save. Also, check the catalogue for pantry items that you can bulk buy at a reduced price.
4. CHECK YOUR SCHEDULE. Plan easy meals for nights you know you’re going to be busy. One of the best ways to do this is to use your menu plan to double batch meals to freeze for those busy nights. You can also use your menu plan to do prep work in advance, saving you time during the week.
5. WRITE YOUR SHOPPING LIST. As you’re planning your meals, write your shopping list to make sure you’ve got all the ingredients. The aim is to shop only once! Don’t forget to check your pantry, bathroom and laundry for staples that need replenishing. Now you’re ready to go shopping. Throw your green bags in the boot and remember the golden rule: STICK TO YOUR LIST.
5 EXTRA TIPS FOR GETTING THE MOST OUT OF MENU PLANNING
1. RECYCLE YOUR MENU PLANS. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel each week – reuse your plans! If eating the same thing every week is too boring, recycle your plans by season and have a couple of Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn menu plans.
2. KEEP IT VISIBLE. Keep your menu plan on the fridge to remind you to defrost food as necessary. Having your menu plan visible also reduces the nag factor from family and can even encourage them to take charge and cook dinner for you!
3. PLAN A LEFTOVER NIGHT. Even with the tightest planning, there’s going to be leftovers and food you don’t use. Plan a night each week or fortnight to use up these leftovers so they don’t go to waste.
4. PLAN A NIGHT FOR NEW RECIPES. If you’re anything like me, you have a whole bunch of recipe books and magazines but you’re still cooking the same old meals week after week. By planning a new recipe ahead of time, you make sure you’ve got the necessary ingredients on hand, making it easier to be creative in the kitchen.
5. HAVE A ‘CAN’T BE STUFFED’ STANDBY. We all have a moment when we don’t feel like cooking or don’t feel like eating what we planned to cook. At these times it’s good to have a quick and easy standby like toasted sandwiches or a frozen pie and veg that you can slap on the table with little effort but you’re still saving money on takeaway.
You could save hundreds of dollars a year on your groceries and hours in the kitchen with just 5 minutes of planning. What’s on your menu plan for the week?
Article and Photo by: Melissa Goodwin | Frugal and Thriving Australia