Thursday, January 26, 2012


January 26, 2012

Some folks think I’m certifiably crazy. I announced at the first of the year I was going to do a year’s worth of menus all three meals a day and in doing so I would save hundreds if not thousands of dollars out of our grocery budget doing so. The idea grew out of my success with going without a freezer in December.

Learning to plan my menu without depending on a free standing freezer has made it where I can see the big picture of the value of long term menu planning not only for money savings, but for nutrition and food storage.

I’ve been doing it since the first of the year and it is really working out nicely for us. It has pretty well done away with the annoying nightly “What’s for dinner” discussion. A huge plus.

I’ve mentioned on various yahoogroups I’m on that I am doing this and there have naturally been a lot of questions about how to do it. I’ve also been asked to post my year’s worth of menus. After much thinking I’ve decided rather than clog those lists up to post the journey through the year here, along with the how to’s and recipes to do it.

So this first post is about the “HOW TO”, “HOW IT WILL SAVE YOU MONEY” and. “HOW ABOUT WHEN LIFE HAPPENS?”


I have to admit that when I first decided to do a year’s worth of weekly menus for three meals a day, plus snacks I thought it was a huge mountain to try to climb. Then I remembered the old joke “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer of course is “One bite at a time.” So that’s the way I moved forward.

I started with planning my dinner menu for the first week of the year. I did this because then I could schedule leftovers for breakfasts and lunches for the same week.

I also decided with our grocery budget I could only afford to purchase one meat a week. That was a scary realization. As the regular readers of my blog and list posts know we are on the Dave Ramsey Financial Freedom plan and that means we have a zero dollar based budget with a set in stone amount for groceries each week.

Unfortunately we’d got away from our established $100 a week for our family of three over the last few months of the year and in November I spent over $1,000 rather than the scheduled $400. This was a serious lack of control on my part. A mistake that slowed our gazelle way down on its race to avoid the debt cheetahs.

So with the beginning of the new year I was determined to stay at or below that $100. This meant one bulk meat purchase a week, and a lot of planning to keep variety in our meals, especially as grocery prices are escalating.

The idea was a follow up on my previous post of living without a freezer. Buy one meat, use it for 2-3 meals during the week and then can the rest for future menus. This would build up my food storage, while feeding us well on a small budget.

We eat a LOT of ground beef, so I determined that doing a ground beef menu every other week would be the best pattern for us, at least in the beginning. That first week we started with ground beef and our favorite Many Way Meatballs Master Mix.

I put the menu together for dinners first. Then in my Master Cook program I entered the recipes for EVERYTHING we’d need to eat that menu for the week. This gave me the exact measurements I’d need of each ingredient.

I then constructed my grocery list, including the exact measurements needed, from those menus. From that grocery list I then put the same measurements in a spread sheet to be totaled to show how much I will need for the entire year for each ingredient. This is important for the “How It will save you money” segment.

I then repeated these steps with the breakfast and lunch menus. I now had a complete grocery list for the week and it was time to “shop”. I started with my food storage. I checked every single item, not trusting my memory for anything. I verified that I had the required amounts for the week on hand. If not then it went on the “to buy” list.

Once the “to buy” list was built I checked the sales ads and my price book to find where it would be best to purchase those items AND anything that was a true loss leader that I would need for future menus that I could afford in my weekly budget. (more on this later.)

Next stop was my coupon box. Where I pulled the coupons I needed for those purchases.

Armed with the list and my coupons I did all my grocery shopping for the week, my ONLY visit to the grocery store for the week.

Once home things were prepped and stored properly. It was nice to know I had everything I needed on hand for well planned out meals for a week.


First of all if you have a menu plan you KNOW what is for dinner and there is no rushing out for fast foods. You can cook far better burgers and pizza at home for less than half the price and with pre-planning you can actually get the meal faster than loading the family up, driving to the restaurant, waiting for them to cook it, listening to other people’s kids screaming and then driving home. Oh and you aren’t tempted to stop and shop somewhere along the way. This can add up to huge savings right there.

By hitting the grocery store only once a week you save fuel, time and money. Yes money because you aren’t tempted to do impulse buying if you aren’t in the store.

Because the meal plan is there for the entire week you can also “bulk cook” a lot and save money and time. Because if you need browned ground beef for three meals, or for canning, you can brown it in one pan all at once. It will take the same amount of energy to do it all at once as it would to do a single meal of it. So you save by not having to heat the stove up for that browning the rest of the time.

You also only have to clean up once, thus you save on water, energy to heat the water, wear and tear on your dishwasher, dish soap, and your time. And we all need more time.

With creating your annual grocery list you can clearly see how many of non-perishable foods you need for the year. So if there is a great sale on that item and your food budget has room in it, grab your coupons and stock up at the lower price, so your overall grocery expenditure for the year goes down and your food storage goes up.

A friend gave a good example of this with a purchase she recently made. She serves Hamburger Helper one day a month to her family of nine. She recently found a loss leader sale that when combined with her coupons made it $.49 a box. This is versus the normal $1.50 to $2.00 per box. She verified the “best if used by date” and then picked up enough boxes for the year. This made her savings huge.

At this point there is usually someone that says “but I don’t have room for food storage.” Having lived in a one room efficiency apartment for a long period of time I can tell you there is ALWAYS storage room, you just need to know where to find it. I’ll do another post later on about where to find the room to store and tips on making sure nothing gets forgotten.

A side note on nutrition. I have found that by writing down a complete daily menu for a week at a time it has allowed me to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into our daily diet. This is a very good thing.

Let’s be truthful, when you eat out a lot, be it fast food or a sit down restaurant or you slap something together at the last minute you tend to eat less than healthy. By taking the few extra steps at first to plan your meals you will find that good for you foods will filter more and more into your diet.

This can lead to future savings on medical and clothing bills.

The same friend who purchased the Hamburger Helper decided it was best for her to do a month’s worth of menu plans for her family and then multiply that times 12 to get her annual menu. This works well for her. We like trying different foods too much to be this limited, but for many families this is the best way for them to plan their menus.

She then followed the steps to figure her grocery lists and when consulting her price book for the best sale prices (which generally rotate about every six weeks) she discovered that by doing the annual grocery list and shopping accordingly she would save 75% on her annual grocery bill based on current grocery prices. That folks is a HUGE savings. What could you do with that 75% savings? How many debts could you pay off? She’s using the savings to pay her house off early. Who wouldn’t want to own their home?


One of the most popular questions is “Do you allow for diverting from the menu plan?” The answer is a resounding YES!

Life happens, Suzy has a school play, it’s Joey’s birthday, Mama is sick, Great Aunt Ethel dies, Dad is going out of town on business for a week, the garden produced a million more zucchini this week than planned on or the loss leader of the week is a great buy for a meat that is not on that week’s menu. These and many other things happen, including your hubby just flat does NOT want turkey this week.

In fact I’m not dead on schedule with my menus right now because I sometimes re-arrange the meals to fit what is going on in our life on any given day. The menu is a guide not a dictate. All meals from the menu eventually get eaten, they just might be done in a different order or on a different week. But they all get used as close to the schedule as possible to help keep the domino action of the pre-planning going.

An example: On a recent week we had a ground beef week scheduled and the next week was scheduled to be whole chicken. Only my husband, who really doesn’t care for chicken, was going to be gone for a week for work on the ground beef week. My son and I love chicken, so I moved the chicken forward a week and we’ll have two ground beef weeks in a row. It took moving leftovers around a bit, and doing a little extra canning to keep meats fresh from the previous week, but it worked out well. We stayed on budget and all were happy with their meals.

Speaking of leftovers, this is another way you can save big. There is currently a series of commercials running where it shows the people throwing away half of the foods they purchase because the leftovers go bad, or the meat isn’t stored properly.

With the menu planning you incorporate the leftovers into your meal plan each week, or you can/dry/freeze them for future meals. By cutting that 50% waste from your grocery budget you save big time. Unfortunately little Suzy won’t have science experiments in your fridge for the annual science fair as a result. But then is food mold REALLY that good of a science fair project?

So that is the plan. Posts on the implementing of it, including recipes, storage tips and much more will follow.

Jan who thinks this is going to be a challenge for her family but can really see the long term benefits in OK

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