Guest post by Lisa of Lisa Tanner Writing:
Do you dream of lowering your grocery budget? Have you ever wander aimlessly through the kitchen, wondering what to cook? Are your kids always asking, “Mom, what’s for dinner?”
Yes…I can relate to all three of those questions! But don’t worry, I have a solution for you!
I used to hate meal planning. In fact, I hated it so much I just didn’t do it. Then when meal times rolled around, the kids were hungry and wondering what we were going to eat… so was I!
I wasted so much time looking through cupboards, Googling recipes that use, “whatever ingredients I have in kitchen,” and then doing the actual cooking thing.
My grocery budget was out of control, because I wasn’t sure what I was going to cook — which meant buying a whole lot of everything, just in case. All that food sat in our pantry for who knows how long, and some of it eventually expired or spoiled. What a waste!
My Solution = Make an Annual meal Plan
Thankfully, three years ago, I discovered a better way. I tried an annual meal plan and a corresponding shopping list.
Now I always know what I’m cooking, the kids know what’s for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack on any given day, so they’ve stopped asking me, and I’m saving money because I’m buying with a plan! If I find a great deal on something on my master shopping list, I can stock up.
How to Make an Annual Meal Plan
Creating an annual meal plan isn’t nearly as complicated as it sounds! By using a combination of meal rotations and themed dinners, it comes together quickly.
I typically have my kids help me pick meals, because I’ve learned they complain a lot less if they have say in what we eat.
First, we tackle breakfast. Each child suggests a possible meal for breakfast. I mentally evaluate each of these options, looking for ideas that are:
- Tasty enough to eat once a week for a year
If the idea meets all the requirements, I add it to our list. We keep brainstorming until we have seven, one breakfast for each day of the week.
On a piece of paper or a meal planner, I assign each breakfast to a day of the week. I try to match quick, or make-ahead breakfasts with days that tend to be busiest.
Lunch planning follows the same process, except I always have a day devoted to leftovers.
You can plan dinner the same way. But I don’t.
There’s something about eating the exact same dinner each week that I didn’t enjoy.
I needed a longer rotation period for dinner, so I decided to plan with themes. By picking four or five meals for each theme, I created a monthly rotation.
Wondering what themes to try? Here are some of my family’s favorites:
- Noodle Night
- Soup & Sandwich
- A variety of ethnic themes
- Crockpot Day
For noodle night, we might enjoy these meals throughout the month:
- Beef stroganoff
- Spaghetti and Meatballs
- Chicken fettuccini
- Baked pasta
- Pasta salad
They’re all noodles, but it doesn’t feel repetitive!
NOTE: If you’re making your plan on the computer, I recommend linking to the recipes you find for each idea, to save time.
I’ve included copies of my own annual meal planner below — maybe it will help you get started!
Making Your Shopping List
The real time and money saving magic happens through making your shopping list.
It typically takes me three hours, BUT then I’m finished for the year (except for a quick glance each month before I shop).
I go through each recipe, and write down every ingredient needed. By doing it in an Excel document, I don’t have to worry about writing something down twice, because I just filter out the duplicates.
I determine how much I need to buy each month of each ingredient, and put that on my spreadsheet. Using my best guess, I use another column to record prices for each. Then when I multiply the quantity by the cost, I have a pretty accurate budget for each month.
While taking the first shopping trip with the new list, I make sure to note price differences to update when I get home. I always round up to give myself a little buffer.
Benefits of an Annual Meal Plan
My favorite thing about an annual meal plan is that I only have to do it once every year! Other benefits include:
- Cooking faster. When you make the same thing every week or every month for a year, you learn to streamline each step.
- Less meal time complaining. Everyone knows what to expect, and they enjoy it!
- Fewer decisions to make. I’m all for freeing up brain power for more important things!
- Saving money. I’ve cut out grocery budget significantly.
- More opportunities for kids to master cooking. They help me cook the meals they pick each week, and have lots of practice by the time we switch.
Give annual meal planning a try. It seriously saves time, money, and your sanity!
As a mom of 8, Lisa Tanner is skilled at finding order in chaos. She loves helping other moms find ways to minimize their decisions to maximize productivity and live the life they want. When she’s not homeschooling the kids or milking a cow, you’ll find her blogging at Lisa Tanner Writing, about balancing diapers and deadlines.