Monday, July 30, 2012

Meal Planning Newb

I still don't know how I was in the dark about meal planning, but boy am I glad it's now in my life! There are varying degrees of meal planning: the simpler end of the meal planning spectrum is to plan out meals one week at a time. The more complicated end of the meal planning spectrum belongs to those folks who plan out an entire month of meals. It boggles the mind, right? I don't think I'll ever get to the latter, so for now I'm sticking to the weekly meal planning level.

I prefer weekly meal planning because:
a) It's been a very easy transition from absolutely NO meal planning to weekly meal planning
b) I like anticipating the Sunday grocery deals, and using those as my inspiration
c) I like going to the grocery store(s) in general, so I like being able to go every week
d) I have visions of me and a grocery cart full of a month's supply of food and other stuffs, and it scares me

So how do I form a plan of attack? Thought you'd never ask!

Analyzing Sunday Deals
I now get reeeeeally excited for the Sunday paper. My husband now also gets excited for it, and we usually "fight" over the ads. He wants to quickly get his foods added to my list for consideration (usually items like Pop Tarts, pizza rolls, and Coca Cola :) ). I read through all the grocery ads and start writing up a list of stuff per store by hand, including the prices. At this point I usually don't know what I want to make for the week, but the deals serve as my inspiration later on.

Getting Nerdy With a Spreadsheet
Once I have all the items written down that piqued by interest (due to good prices and/or something seasonal that looks great), I turn to le computer. I created a very simple spreadsheet (thanks, Open Office!) that I use to keep track of the week's meals, and it includes a section where I list out all items per store and their prices. This lets me see the potential grand total, and tweak items if they don't work with the desired total. Let me emphasize that this spreadsheet is SUPER simple. It's just meant to help me develop and stick to my "food schedule". It keeps me sane, for reals. Want to see it? Mk, here's a simple template version!

Fun research, I swear! After starting to add to my simple spreadsheet, I give my pantry, freezer, and fridge a once-over to figure out what I already have. Then with that knowledge, and the deals I've written down, I go to the internets to look up recipe inspiration. That lets me finish my list of items that I want to buy for the week, and it lets me fill out my meal schedule for the week!

Money Cap
I mentioned desired total. This is obviously going to be very different for me. Regardless of your financial situation, setting an amount you will spend (whether it's a total per week, per month, total per category - food, gas, etc....) really holds you to a number, and helps you save so much more money. I really wish we had been doing this even when I was working and our combined salaries were very comfortable. We would have a lot more money in the bank! Alas, hindsight. Aaaaanyway, the way I have set my desired total is a more complicated explanation than I'll go into at this time, so I will simply say that I have decided how much I want to spend TOTAL per week. This includes food and other household stuffs.

Making a Shopping Date
I henceforth declare Monday as: The Day to Shop. Well, for me anyway! :) I just decided that I'd make Monday the day to haul my daughter off to a few stores in the morning after breakfast, and we get 'er done for the week. It feels great to get it all done in one day! Every now and then, I have to run out later in the week to get a few supplementary items, but I try to avoid that as much as possible.

Coupons. Argh.
I should also mention the coupons. I love coupons, and hate them. They honestly stress me out a little bit, which I think is partly to due with the fact that I can't figure out a good way to organize them so that it's easy to go through them on demand. I don't rely on coupons to make the weekly meal plan; for now, I see them as a bonus. After I have my list of things to buy, I go through the coupons to see if anything matches up to my list. Or if I have time, I'll see if any of my coupons match up to anything in the weekly ads. But I don't spend loads of time on this, because it's pretty darn time consuming, and there's lots to do, y'all!! If anyone has any good couponing tips, please share!! I don't know how those Extreme Couponers do it. :S

That's what I feel like sharing for now... I hope this is inspirational / useful for at least one person. :D

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