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In The Trenches: Cutting Costs In the Kitchen, Part 3

Missed the beginning? Here is Part One and Part Two.

Part Three – “Know Thy Family” Meal Plan.

When I first started couponing, I was a weekly meal planner. I would base my meals off what was on sale that week. This worked great as long as I only bought what was on sale. My problem – I picked recipes that called for three things on sale and five things that weren’t.

In an effort to get our grocery budget even lower, I looked into monthly meal planning. But honestly, the more I read, the more intimidated I felt. These crafty-meal-planning women were more organized, creative and disciplined than I could ever be. They used charts like the picture above and I liked scrap paper. I also knew “me” and “me” has a tendency to say “I don’t feel like that tonight” or “I’m going to channel my inner-Julia Child tonight” regardless of what a laminated board with the title “Meal Plan” says.

So, I made my own system – the “Know thy Family” meal plan.

“Know Thy Family” Meal Plan – a monthly meal plan that incorporates Lesson #1 and Lesson #2 from items in the stockpile while allowing flexibility and staying within budget and isn’t written on anything laminated.

Step 1: Divide your meal plan into four weeks (I know some months have five – but I like even numbers.) If you want some pretty meal planning worksheets – check these out from Money Saving Mom.

Step 2: Make slots under each week. Slots are determined by number of meals at home vs. away and amount of leftovers. Assign each slot a “know-thy-family” name. In my house we have seven slots and they are named : Meatless Monday, Children’s Favorite, Soup, Dad’s Favorite, Mom’s Favorite, Homemade Pizza and Leftovers.

Step 3: Evaluate your pantry, stockpile and freezer. Write major ingredients down. Pick recipes from items you have on hand and place them in your “family” slots. Got a hodgepodge of stuff – go to allrecipes.com and type in ingredients and see what recipe comes up.

Note: It’s okay to need one or two things to complete a recipe – but not five or six. The goal is to shop from your stockpile – the place where you bought everything at rock-bottom prices.

Step 4: Make a shopping list of ingredients you need to purchase. Watch circular/sales/etc. for these items and buy on sale (and with coupon) if possible.

Step 5: Place meal plan in a highly visible place. (So “thy family” can see it.)

Step 6: Feel free to interchange different recipes for different days. Kids favorite is pancakes and eggs on Week 3 – but you’ve had a busy week and want to move it to Week 2 – do it. Want to cook like a banshee for five days and take the last two off – do it.

Step 7: Discipline yourself to only buy “rock-bottom” priced items for the rest of the month because you don’t “need” to buy anything. Remember, you have a meal plan in place – enjoy the peace of mind and less hectic 5:00 scramble because of your plan.

Next Week: Tricks of the Trade

What about you? What kind of meal plan works for you? 7-days, 2-weeks, a month? Do you have a cool online tool that you use? Share with us – we’d love to know.