Mom Hearts Meal Planning

Back in June 2011, I wrote the post Dinner is Served in which I explained in step-by-step detail how I shop for all my food monthly.  I have received so many wonderful responses to that post, so I decided to create this new page to share the original post along with any other new meal planning tips I learn.


I invite you to share your tips in the comments section below.  If you're a blogger, you're also welcome to post a copy of the link to any post you may have written on meal planning.


Thanks for stopping by!


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You should know by now that one of my favorite things about this blog is sharing Time- and Money-Saving Tips.  And if you don't know, now you know, Mommies.  So let me divulge the info regarding my latest obsession.  I'll start with the inspiration--- my lovely friend Cortney...

A few months ago, my girlfriends and I went to visit Cortney and her brand new second baby.  She had only been home from the hospital for about a week, so we came bearing dinner and assumed her house would be in the typical shambles and disarray that comes with a new-infant... but alas, it was not.  I knew that Cortney was an organized mama, but I didn't realize to what extent.  On her fridge she had posted several lists, including schedules for anyone coming to help with the new baby, schedules for her first son, and general activity lists.  But the list that caught my eye was the Dinner Schedule.  This was a list for the entire month with dinner planned for every single evening!  My girlfriends and I began to excitedly attack her with questions.  Ok, I, in particular, was the one attacking... I was amazed with her mad skills, yo!  And I simply had to learn the method to her madness.

Cortney explained that every month she plans all her dinners at once.  She takes inventory of her cabinets and refrigerator before making a mass shopping list.  Then, she spends a day shopping for everything at once--- A stop at the grocery store, a stop at the bulk warehouse, and a final stop at the local produce market.  Since she shops for many items in bulk, naturally she saves money there.  She's also able to use fresh produce in most of her meals because she is always keeping the shelf life of her fruits and veggies in mind as she plans the schedule.  For example, potatoes and onions can last an entire month, but tomatoes and zuchinni spoil more quickly so she uses them in her earlier meals.

Of course, she does need to make small stops throughout the month to refresh certain items such as milk and bananas for her son, but she barely needs to step foot in a grocery store for the remainder of the entire 30 days.  This was music to my ears!  I loathe food shopping.  See, I'd love to use one of those services where you order your groceries online and then pick them up in the store, but I'm very picky about my meat and produce and expiration dates on everything in between so I need to shop for these items myself to give me peace of mind.  Anna, unfortunately, hates being in a shopping cart for more than 2 minutes, so our weekly food shopping trips had become a miserable routine.

I decided I owed it to myself to at least give The Cortney Dinner Schedule (as I am now dubbing it) a shot.  I left her house enlightened and excited to get started.  When I got home, I sat down to write my first meal plan.  The first month I kept it very basic--- luckily, Dave is a very picky eater (think Five-year-old-child-sort-of Picky) so it's easy to keep it basic.  My first plan consisted of things like Shake & Bake Pork Chops, Spaghetti with Meatballs (for him) & Shrimp (for me), Breaded Chicken, and Grilled Steak.  I then took complete inventory of all food in my kitchen, from freezer to fridge to cabinet.  Using this, I made a massive checklist of what I needed for the month and crossed off what I already had. 

The next day I hit up all three stores just as Cortney instructed.

The first thing I noticed was how relaxing my trip was because I didn't have Anna with me.  I explained everything in detail to Dave, and with one incredulously raised eyebrow, he acquiesced to the plan and agreed let me head out on my excursion sans toddler.

The second thing I noticed was how quickly everything went!  Since I had a list that covered all meals and snacks for the entire month, I thought that I'd be shopping for hours--- but because I had everything I needed for the entire month on my list, I had no reason to waver from it and thus was in and out of each store fairly quickly!

The third thing I noticed was how few items I actually purchased!  Do you ever notice at the bottom of your receipt most stores now tell you the number of items you bought?  My number was remarkably low because, again, I was sticking to the list and also buying as much as I could in bulk.

And the final thing I noticed was how much money I saved!  I typically shop weekly and will spend anywhere from $80-$130 on each trip (not to mention all the small shopping trips that Dave and I each make throughout the month to pick up a couple of items, which probably adds up to another $80 or so.)  I tallied all three receipts when I got home and found that I had spent just a little over $300!

Like I said, that first month I kept all my meals very basic and I didn't buy much of the meat in bulk because I just wanted to get a feel for how this "program" worked.  Every evening after dinner, I'd check the calendar to see what was on plan for the next day.  I moved any necessary ingredients from the freezer to the fridge so it was defrosted and ready for me the following night.  

The second month was May, and I decided it was time to 1- use more exciting recipes and 2- buy most of my meat in bulk.  At the end of April I again sat down with my calendar and recipe box to make my schedule:


You can see that I also planned out what I like to call "Fend for Yourself" nights as needed, and I put some TV dinners and frozen pizzas on my list for those.  It's also nice to give yourself the night off every once in a while, and to remind your husband why :-)
I'm big on hints- can you tell???
I hit up the bulk warehouse first because I really wanted to do the research and check out my meat options before I bought anything at a regular grocery store.  Let me tell you- I was pleasantly surprised!  (Before you read any further, let me warn my vegetarian friends: I'm posting a bunch of meaty pics, and I'm sorry if this grosses you out!  However, I'm sure these same lessons can be applied to items like tofu or the like)

Dave and I love to grill as much as we can, and we also love Mexican and southwestern meals.  We do alot of kabobs on the grill, and steak fajitas are a favorite in our house as well.  I came across this package of beef for stew at the bulk warehouse:


When I opened this up at home, I was able to divide it into 4 meals- two kabob meals and two fajita meals.  These stew beef packs have small and large cuts of beef, so I simply fished out the bigger, even sized pieces and laid out my kabobs!


The remaining cuts were all different sizes and uneven, so I pulled out my tiny kitchen scale (from failed Weight Watchers attempts past), and weighed out around a pound per meal.  


Finally, I sealed them in freezer bags and labeled them clearly with the meals they are intended for:


The "strip meat" can also be used for stir fries or stews. You can also see that one of my kabob bags reads "Pair with chicken"- because it was lighter than the other.  I bought the single serving chicken breasts as well, so the night I make those kabobs, I can just pull a single chicken breast out of the freezer and use that for a kabob or two.

That is FOUR meals worth of meat for around 11 bucks!  (Can I get a "Boo Ya"??)

For my pork meals, I picked up this pack of 9 pork chops for around $16 at the bulk warehouse, and I thought "Cool beans, that's a good enough deal."


But when I got home and opened the package, I found I had hit the motherload!!  These chops were so thick...


...that I was actually able to slice them in half and I got 18 cuts of pork!!


WHAT!!!!  I know, right?!  JiggityJackpot!

As I said up there, I buy the single serve chicken because, frankly, the ease it allows me makes the small extra price worth it.  I did see a huge bulk pack of chicken breasts, but Dave and I are not fans of really thick cut chicken.  I might try to break down something like that in a future month.  Baby steps, people!

You'll note on my calendar for May that I didn't fill in the last couple nights of the month surrounding the Memorial Day weekend- because I do keep holidays and summertime grilling in mind.  I try to pick up an extra steak or two to keep in the freezer so I can pull it out if I see some nice weather ahead.  And on that note, although I'm pushing buying meat in bulk, you should really check out the meat for quick sale in the grocery store:

There's nothing wrong with this meat- they just need to clearance it out before it hits it's freeze-by date.  You can really find some good deals this way for back up meals to keep in your freezer!

Another tip- this Press 'n Seal stuff is awesome:

If you wrap your cuts of meat in this before you put them in the freezer bag, everything will last longer in the freezer.

And I'm not gonna lie to you--- Planning, shopping, unloading groceries, breaking down meat into individual meals and packing them for the freezer is almost an entire day's worth of work--- but honey, it is worth it.  Just put on some music so you can whistle while you work and think about all the time, money and energy you are saving in the long run.

I was one of those moms who, around 2pm every day thinks "Crap.  What should I make for dinner??"  so the huge burden of stress that was lifted from my shoulders has been indescribable!  I'm now in my 3rd month of The Cortney Dinner Schedule, and I can't imagine ever going back to another way of shopping.  If you had told me 5 years ago that I'd be this excited about shopping for food, I would have called you crazy.  But seriously?  When I saw this sign:


hanging above this massive log of pork:


I took one look at the price and my heart skipped a beat before I had to stop myself and say "Girl, you are not ready for that just yet!!!"  

And then I smiled to myself and thought, "But soon enough, you savvy mama.  soon enough..." 

*Disclaimer:  No, I wasn't paid to write this post by any grocery store, bulk warehouse, meat distributor or the fine folks at "Ziplock" or "Glad".  All these opinions are my own.  My taking the time to write such a long, informative post is just what makes me crazy like that.  And I hope you're inspired!


  
Make-Ahead & Freeze Meals and Sides:

French Toast

2 comments:

  1. Wow Jeanne, this is Amazing! Everyday dinner is such a pain! I am totally going to try this! Thank you

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! It really has been a life-changing thing for me!

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