Have you seen the photos of empty grocery store shelves that are littering the internet? Today, on CBC radio, they stated that grocery costs have gone up 5.6% in Canada last month and they forecast even higher increases in the months to come. All this discussion and panic over food made me want to share one of my best tips of saving money. Food takes a huge chunk out of the budgets of all Canadians but especially those of us with more than 5 children. The number one way that I have found to save money and reduce food waste is by menu planning. I’ve been doing it for years now so I’ve got lists of menus that I can just copy or switch out a meal or two if needed. Here are some easy ways to start.
- Buy the board. Or you can make one if you’re crafty. The main thing to do is have a dedicated space for menu planning. (See my photo at the end of this post.) I use a large chalkboard that says “Menu” on it. We hang it on the only blank wall left in our kitchen near the fridge. Everyone who sits in my kitchen can see it as it’s pretty huge and I get comments on it all the time.
- Make a new habit. Once a week commit to planning. I do this Sunday nights or Monday mornings. I start by looking through my lists from the past and write down a few meals that are our family favourites. Next I look to my cabinets to see what things I need to use up. Sometimes I’ll have a can of something that needs to be eaten soon so I’ll search through my Pinterest boards to find a recipe so I can use it. This is a huge money saver if you can avoid food spoilage. You already paid for that so might as well eat it!
- Mix it up and try new things. I try and include one new meal that I’ve never made before. Some of the meals are flops but others have resulted in a new family favourite.
- Ask the kids. If I need another day filled out I’ll ask my kids to choose a meal. And every once in a while if I’m stuck on inspiration, I get my teenagers to plan the entire week so all I have to do is buy the food. I’m hoping that this will become a good habit for them when they are older too.
- Use it. The last thing you need to do is get in the habit of looking at your board every morning so you know what you want to eat. Now I just write out 7 meals but I am not that strict; I don’t feel the need to make a specific meal on the day it’s written down but if you do that’s totally okay. Your kids will probably appreciate the predictability you offer. I’m just a bit more spontaneous. If life happens and we need an easier meal than homemade meatballs, then we simply choose from a different day’s option and switch. Sometimes I just don’t feel like making pizza dough so I’ll pick something else from a different day. Generally we do stick to the week as it’s written because I know what happens in our week and which days require an easy meal and which ones I’ll be at home and can make a more time consuming one. My kids often look at the board in the morning too and say what are we eating tonight for dinner. Now that my older kids have moved out some of them happen to come over on certain days when they know their favourite meal is being made. It happened once that my son came on a Sunday just because he wanted his favourite meal but I wasn’t aware and had changed it to a different meal that day. He came over again the next night so he could eat it then! But we got to see him twice in two days so I still win.
- Once you get in the habit of looking every morning at what you want for dinner, you’ll know that you need to take the chicken from the freezer to thaw so it’s ready to cook when you get home. You’ll know that you need to stop at the store and pick up bread if you’ve planned on grilled cheese and you ate all the bread for the week faster than you imagined.
- Stress be gone. Don’t ever stress again over what’s for dinner! That’s the best part. I don’t ever worry or find myself at 6pm with nothing started yet and chicken still frozen in the freezer. That is a recipe for take out and take out costs a lot of extra time and money and calories.
Once you have your menu planned for the week, you can easily look at the ingredients and make a list of what you don’t already have in the cupboards and write that down. I have found since the pandemic, that I order my groceries online right after I make my menu plan and pick it up the next day. I have found this saves me about $100 off my grocery bill a week. That’s $400-500 dollars a month! That’s because I’m intentional about what I actually need and I’m not in the store impulsively buying everything that looks yummy.
Good luck as you try to improve your weekly and daily habits of meal planning. Let me know in the comments how meal planning works for you and how much $ you find you save on groceries.