I know I seem to be blogging about my list for 2012 a lot so far this year, but I hope that you all see that that just goes to show how diligent I've been about working on my goals. One of the big changes to both of our lives as a result of my list has been that I started meal planning. It for sure takes more time out of my week, but the results have been great for both of us!
First, I created a calendar that attaches to a grocery list and I'm able to plan out which meals I want to make on which days and what groceries need to be purchased. Each week, I peruse magazines, the web, and blogs to find different meals I want to make. Then, I plot and plan. In general and even before meal planning, I almost never make the same thing twice. A.P always jokes that when he likes something I've made, he can expect to have it again in a couple of years. I don't like repeating meals and I like a large, varied diet. We like to eat all types of cuisine, too. This means that planning the week's meals are not always super simple. I look through a ton of recipes before finally deciding on the week's meals.
Then, I peruse the grocery store's weekly ad. I align things from my list with what's on sale. I also add any additional things that we might want, but aren't reflected in the week's meals (e.g. coffee, tea, beverages, snacks, etc.). Then, I hit the stores!
Part of why I wanted to meal plan was that I was sick of having to think about what I was going to make for dinner each night. A lot of times, I wouldn't know what to make and we would end up eating out. Now, we eat rarely eat out or if we do, it's one day on the weekends (like a Friday when, if there aren't any leftovers, I almost always order out). And, we eat a lot more things like salads, which we love, but wouldn't always have the ingredients for on hand.
The other reason I wanted to meal plan was to save money. We budget $450 a month for food (that includes groceries and takeout/eating out), but we were often grossly exceeding our budget. Luckily, we live pretty frugally otherwise, so we weren't blowing tons of cash each month, but it seemed like if we could just lighten up on our food bills, we could save so much more money each month. Plus, I wouldn't have such a heavy heart each month when I threw away tons of things that didn't get eaten.
I'm happy to say that after meal planning for a month and a half, we've been LOVING it. All the extra time is totally worth it! Here are some of the benefits we've noticed:
- I'm not so damn lazy about cooking anymore. I love to cook and now that I know what I want to make (and how long it will take me and that I have all the ingredients on hand), I find myself less reticent to do so.
- We're eating much healthier. Eating all that takeout was weighing me down. I eat pretty healthy otherwise, but even one meal of eating out takes its toll. Now, I make a point to eat salads or some kind of light veggie side with every meal. I can plan on having the ingredients on hand. And now, whether A.P. likes it or not, we eat more veggies.
- We eat a large variety of foods. This ties into the one above, too. And I'm not just talking about cuisines. Before, I would reach for pantry staples a lot: pasta, canned beans and veggies, etc. That meant a lot more carbs and a lot less fresh stuff. Now, it's the opposite.
- We're cleaning out our pantry. When I make our grocery list each week, I check to see if we have things at home already. After the first couple of weeks, I started trying to use what we already have. The result? Our pantry and freezer have been emptying, giving us room for new, yummy things and using up things we've already spent money on...which leads to the last thing:
- We're saving money. At first, we weren't. We weren't at all. In fact, we blew our monthly budget in the first two weeks! But we were stocking up on pantry items that we won't replace for a while (e.g. olive oil), and we were not looking through the pantry to see what we could use that we already have on hand. Now our pantry is better stocked and we check to see what we have that we could use and get rid of. I also try to use ingredients two weeks in a row. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I needed fresh sage for a recipe. I didn't use a lot and had a ton leftover. So, for the next week, I searched for recipes that required fresh sage. The result is that each week the amount we spend has dropped. And I still stray from the list for snacks sometimes! The first two weeks we spent about $200, this week I spent $115! It goes down more and more each week, so I can't wait to see where it will be when we've been doing this for a while. I'm thinking under $100.
The point is, we are loving this and wondering why we didn't do it sooner. Part of me misses the randomness of my life before, though. Nights where I would eat half a loaf of good bread and goat cheese, with a side of olives. It felt representative of my years when I lived alone and was single, and I do think there is a sadness in giving that up, if that makes any sense at all. But now I'm healthy, happy, and saving money, so guess what? Predictability rules!
Do you meal plan? Do you like it?