Brian and I are foodies. But y’all knew that, given that we catered our own wedding! Funny story about that! I was reading an old journal from 2005-ish and I was writing about how I would totally DIY my own wedding if I could, even doing the food myself! Past Erin knew Future Erin would totally be down with the idea.
But I digress. A few people have asked us about our meal planning system so I thought I would write a post about it. It seems a little exhaustive but I promise you it’s really simple.
First I should explain the budget. We have a weekly food budget of 125$. This doesn’t cover things like laundry detergent and garbage bags (or plastic wrap, freezer bags, etc). It also doesn’t cover meals out. (The things not covered in the food budget have their own weekly budgets but I’ll explain that another time.)
Second, we shop weekly. For us, we’ve found that this helps us reduce waste and save space. Our condo isn’t small but it does lack storage, so buying in bulk isn’t always a great option for us. We’re the type of people who, if we buy a lot of something, will tend to forget that it’s in the freezer (usually buried at the bottom) until it’s so freezer burnt that we can’t eat it. Which doesn’t save us any money at all. We’ve found the best way to get the most bang for our grocery buck is to make a meal plan for the week and buy what we need for those meals. Every now and then we’ll buy a bulk pack of chicken or pork tenderloin or steaks and put them in the freezer. It’s become part of my routine to check the freezer every couple of weeks and try to use what we’ve got in there.
Third, we figure out what we want to eat that week. This is the funnest part for me because I like planning and I like experimenting with new recipes! Now I wish I was exaggerating but our meal planning conversations often go a little something like this:
E: Hey babe, what do you want for supper this week?
B: Hmm, I dunno…
E: Well give me an ingredient. Like…chicken. Or beef. Or pasta.
B: Pasta’s good.
E: Okay, what else?
B: I don’t really know sweetheart. Can we decide later? (Goes back to video game)
Since I check the mail everyday, I read the flyers and I check to see what meats are on sale. Then I use my favourite spots on the internets to check for recipes, if I don’t already have something in mind. I’ll open a new document on my computer and enter in the day (ie: Monday) and the recipe (ie: Mexican Taco Stew) and then list the ingredients. When all the days and meals and respective ingredients are listed, I enter all the ingredients into the iPhone app I downloaded call “ShopListFree”. It organizes all the ingredients into categories such as “Dairy”, “Meat & Fish”, “Tinned Food”, “Fruits & Veg”, “Drinks”, “Frozen Food”, “Baked Goods” and “Candies”. I wish it would accommodate adding our own categories (I would like one for “Beans” and one for “Soups”) but since the app was free, I just make do with “Tinned Food”. When B & I shop, we stick to the outer limits of the grocery store anyway, only straying into the center aisles for things like canned beans, canned diced tomatoes and chicken stock.
Once the shopping list is entered, we grab our reusable shopping bags (normally about 4) and head out! The two places we hit are H&W Produce and Superstore. H&W sells wholesale veggies from local farms at inexpensive prices and always has a great selection. Superstore also has great sales on meats, fish and we love their Blue Menu canned foods and stocks. The Blue Menu selections have no salt for the veggies and under 100mg of sodium per cup for the stock. For healthy heart conscious people like us, it’s perfect! And even better, the Blue Menu selections are often cheaper than their Big Name Brand counterparts which have higher amounts of sodium!
While we’re shopping, we each have a phone (though Brian’s been known to have mine and his so I can be hands-free) and a role. At H&W, Brian mans the shopping list from my phone, while I bag the veggies. (He also carries the basket.) At Superstore, I man the shopping list from my phone, while Brian keeps track on the calculator. (He also carries the basket or pushes the cart.)
When we get home, we figure out which meats have to go in the freezer (for later in the week) and which can stay in the fridge. Veggies are then put in the crisper (after I take my weekly H&W Produce picture). Once groceries are put away, I write the meals for the week on our menu board, which hangs on one side of the pillar in our kitchen. (A tutorial for that will be coming soon!)
Meal planning has helped stop us from asking, “What should we make for supper?” or “What do you want?” “I don’t know, what do you want?”. I’m usually first to get home (since my commute is shorter), thus cooking supper mostly falls on me. But I don’t mind because I put on a tv show in the background (or Gossip Girl on my laptop sitting on the counter) and by the time Brian comes home supper is ready and we can just enjoy the evening.
Meal planning has also stopped us from wasting food. Two years ago we did some calculations and realized we were spending upwards of 1200$/mo on groceries! We would clean out the fridge once every couple of weeks and would end up throwing tons away. It was terrible. So we changed our ways and now we waste next to nothing.
Things to note:
- When we choose meals, we pick ones that will provide at least one meal as leftovers for Brian’s lunch the next day. My lunches are easier to make, so it makes more sense for him to have the leftovers. Sometimes though we end up with more than two meals for leftovers. When this happens, we freeze the extra meals in aluminum containers from Dollarama (3 for 1$!). They have a paper lid so we write what’s inside, plus the date. They end up becoming a lunch for Brian when no leftovers are to be found, or a supper for me when Brian’s not home and I don’t feel like eating eggs.
- This system will really only work if everyone’s involved. Both partners (kids can be included too!) have to agree on the meals and agree to eat what you’ve planned for that night. Not everyone needs to be on a budget like we are, but having a set limit for the shop will help curb impulse buys and buying more than you need, which will cut down on waste. If you’re the type who buys in bulk (like at Costco), make sure to check your freezer every week to see what you’ve got on the shelves and incorporate it into your menu for that week. Otherwise it’s just wasted moola.
- If you’re busy bees on the weekend, don’t meal plan for that day. You’ll often see our weekly menu board blank on Saturday & Sunday. It’s because we find it more hectic to decide what to eat on a weeknight rather than on a weekend when we’re more relaxed and have more time to prep and cook. Plus every now and then, we do splurge and enjoy a dinner out!
For us meal planning has become a way of life. Some couples read the Sunday paper together; we sit in our office with tea and toast and figure out whether we want to try something new or go with an old standby for the week. We get to spend some time together doing something we both love while saving time and money and to us that just makes cents.