I am not a meal planner.
Among the frugal living blog world, I find meal planning to be the norm. I agree with the notion that if you fail to plan you plan to fail. However I don’t think it is necessary, or even wise, for me to plan meals for my family.
I believe that I keep quite a tight grocery budget despite my un-organized-ness. My brand of frugality is more spontaneous and has to do with creativity. Number one in my book is to “Use it up.”
My meal planning is thus: I look in the fridge, freezer, and pantry. Could I invent a meal from these items? We may end up with creamed peas over mashed potatoes, but we are full and happy.
Obviously, some meals require a little bit of planning: thaw the meat, soak the beans, etc. Every evening I have a good idea of what I will be eating for lunch and dinner the next day. But the meal planning toted on other blogs (blogs that I love dearly, don’t get me wrong!) is much more involved. It involves keeping a binder, rotating recipes, assigning certain meals to days of the week, weeks and months of planning in advance, and, frankly, a whole lot of time!
I have tried conventional meal planning on more than one occasion and I just can’t make it work. For several reasons:
First, I cook for only two adults. We are perfectly capable of eating spaghetti leftovers for three days. Likewise, if we are not hungry we may not eat anything. We don’t have children that we are responsible for keeping healthy or happy. In my tries at meal planning I always purchase and cook too much food for us.
I don’t like to have a weekly shopping day. Instead I shop when we need food; about every 2 weeks. I buy Spencer’s lunch food (meat, cheese, yogurt, bananas, chips), milk for Spencer, and then stock up on items to refill my stockpile.
My fridge always has carrots and cabbage because they keep well. Depending on the season I have either apples or oranges. I also keep eggs and butter. The freezer has corn, peas, and broccoli. Sometimes I buy meat at a good price.
I fill in with other “treats” that are marked down, on sale, or seasonal like green peppers, mushrooms, and asparagus.
In my pantry I keep canned tomatoes, dried beans, garlic, potatoes, various whole grains, and various pastas. I also keep basic baking ingredients like flour, sugar, baking powder, etc.
I follow ratios and formulas more than recipes. A meal for us has some sort of carb (potato, whole grain, or pasta), a protein source, and a vegetable. Instead of following a recipe for a fritatta I will saute whatever veggies I have and add seasonings that go well with the vegetables.
I don’t love spending time in the kitchen. Spencer inhales whatever I put in front of him which can take the fun out of a fancy meal. Sometimes I get in a baking or cooking mood and that is when I look ahead and stock my freezer.
Part of the reason the “pantry” method works for me is because it is how Mom plans meals. Growing up we lived 30 minutes from a decent grocery store so we couldn’t run out for supplies when we needed something.
Does it pay off? Over the last three months our grocery spending, according to Mint, has averaged about $200 per month. Spencer also makes purchases that I don’t track, but estimate to be about $100. This includes people food, toiletries, drinks, snacks, coffee shops, restaurants, and pizza. We eat out or order in about once each week. I think this number is decent because this is not a bare-bones budget. Spencer and I both drink alcohol and soda (in moderation), I have a severe coffee addiction, and we make meals out of Reese’s eggs on too many occasions.
Point being: Do what works for you. I, of course, love the saying “Make it do.” If meal planning doesn’t “do” it for you, then don’t do it! Try something new.