i’ve shared it before, and i’ll say it again. i’m a big fan of emeals. i love that i can choose the type of eating plan our family wants to follow, click a button, and each week, i receive an email with a downloadable menu plan full of simple, healthy and delicious recipes and an accompanying shopping list. emeals even lets me choose the grocery store close to me that i prefer, and it sends recipes that utilize what’s in season or well priced. (the paleo plan we use doesn’t have this option yet.)
the thing is, i’m also pretty attention-deprived when it comes to planning menus. i like to switch it up by the day sometimes. i also get giddy when i hit the local produce stand or flea market and find delights for the senses like fresh strawberries, in season and warm from the sun, or local cucumbers without that awful waxy coating they have in the grocery.
i’m also known to get a craving in a hot minute from something we’ve discovered on pinterest, and need to make it NOW. to complicate matters, we’re in a season of trying to pare down and streamline our budget, which means (and why haven’t i always been more diligent about it?!) that i’m looking for lots of ways to save cash. and we also happen to have five very busy and athletic kiddos and a business to run, so of course, there’s rarely time to spend a leisurely afternoon creating. so i’ve created a hodge-podge method of menu planning that seems to really work for us, and using it we save money, waste less, and most importantly, we eat great.
here’s how it works:
each week, take a quick peek at what activities we have planned that will affect our meals. for instance, for track meet nights, i might want to pack a grab-and-go dinner, or have a hot meal waiting in the crock pot. most sundays, we do rotisserie chicken over salad and dinner is with friends or on-your-own-leftover-free-for-all. i fill significant events into my menu plan calendar.
then i look at my blog calendar and decide with my a-girl if there’s anything we need to create for our blog sponsors or planned blog posts, or any new pinterest ideas we’re dying to try or recipes to create. if so, we choose our best day(s) to bake-or-cook-and shoot, and fill in the recipes for those days.
i really like to hit up the local produce stand or flea market and start with what looks amazing to me. it seems like such indulgence to hand-pick our produce from primarily local growers, and i love taking just one or two of my crew to help choose. once i have these goodies in hand, i’ll begin my planning in earnest.
next, i grab the sale papers that come in our mailbox for our local grocery stores along with the coupons that may have come my way; i am not by any means a coupon junkie. i have a few stores i can’t stand and a few i love, so i just work with the ones i enjoy visiting. (i have pushed myself to visit a few i don’t care for, which is a subject for another post.) i go through the papers quickly (ten minutes, tops!) and jot down items for each store that we use on a regular basis that are very low-priced. (if it’s not a huge savings, it isn’t worth my time/gas to drive there.) some of these items might be high-quality meats we can freeze, staples like nuts and frozen veggies, and organic milk and eggs. oh dear me do we eat a lot of eggs in this house!!
i then hit my weekly emeals email/phone app and decide if i will use all of the meals/recipes sent, or just a few, keeping in mind items i’ve just seen at great prices in the sale flyers that will either fit the emeals plan, or can be easily substituted. for example, there might be a great turkey recipe posted that can easily be substituted with the chicken that’s on sale at aldi. (click the link below to check out emeals for yourself.)
i fill the selected recipes into my printable menu planner (which i’ve laminated and hangs on the fridge with magnets) – get yours here. i may fill in missing meals with old standbys (spaghetti squash with meaty red sauce, taco night, or “breakfast for supper” are always favorites). i finalize my list of need-to-buys, and i’m off to the store!
a couple of helpful hints:
i usually plan a crock-pot meal and/or an empty-the-fridge free-for-all on the day i shop, so i don’t have the added pressure of having to cook a meal the same day i organize the pantry and fridge and bring home all the food.
i also usually assign a kiddo to clean the fridge/pantry for me before i get home. they eat it – they can help prep for it!
if i have additional time, i like to prep most of my “mise en place” produce at the beginning of the week, as i’m putting the groceries away. this helps me avoid wasting anything because i
got too lazy ran out of time or forgot it was there.
how do you plan and save to eat great? leave a comment below – teach me somethin’ new!