Many, many, many moons ago when our grocery budget was $100 a month (I kid you not), I was an excellent meal planner. Back when we were in graduate school, our money had to go a long way. One of our very first arguments was about how we spent our money on food.
You see, Scott’s dad owned a small chain of grocery stores in North Texas. They never really grocery shopped like other people. His dad would call home, asked what they wanted for dinner, and he would grab everything he needed off the shelves (and out of the meat counter) for his one-minute drive home. Two weeks after we got married, Bryant took us up to the stores long after they closed, gave me a shopping cart and told me to load it up with whatever we needed.
Looking back at our now $600 monthly grocery bill, I just might have to chalk that up as the coolest thing I’ve ever done. It’s what stay-at-home-mom’s dream of, right? Well, back to reality. The stores were sold off many years ago and Scott and I have to shop like regular folk at the big ‘ol H-E-B. In September, we decided to get a better handle on our eating and spending habits. We weren’t horrible, but we were spending too much on quick food rather than planning ahead and making healthy meals.
Enter: the meal calendar. Here’s how we do it.
1. I have several ‘go-to’ cookbooks (almost all Southern Living related) and a fair amount of family recipes to pull great meals from each night. My problem wasn’t meals, but it was planning them. I was inspired by a post on one of my favorite organizing blogs and made it my own.
2. The dry-erase board was purchased at The Container Store, aka “The Mother Ship”, and then engineered to fit our needs.
3. Did you know the office supply store sells magnetic paper? I know! I freaked out, too. You can print on it, cut it (like butta) and it works amazingly well.
4. I pulled some of our most favorite recipes (plus a few new ones), color-coded them by category, added the sides and got to work. That little divider I found at Container Store, as well. A few comments about our categories: we’ve left room for leftovers and new recipes and we usually do desserts a couple times a month. Neither Scott and I are big sweets fans, so that helps. My weakness is chocolate, so there’s that. For sides, I coded them like so: PO (potato), SA (salad), PA (pasta), RI (rice), VG (vegetable).
5. Once a month, I hand the calendar and the magnets to Scott and he and the boys decide on the meals. We take into account Pizza Fridays, special events (like date nights or dinners with friends/family) and sports/after school activities.
6. I head to the store for the big grocery trip once per month, then I usually have a weekly or ten-day run for perishables, like fruit.
7. We have an upright full freezer that we use to store several loaves of bread (6-8), frozen vegetables, quick grab/go meals in a time crunch, various types of meat and of course, Blue Bell ice cream. Priorities.
8. And, for bulk items (like milk and kids’ snacks) I head to Costco. Post coming up on that HDYDI soon, at the request of my sister-in-law.
9. I now plan for zero leftovers. We’re getting to the point that I can’t just “whip up a meal” for seven people. I mean, I can whip up goldfish, moldy cheese and some Dos Equis from the garage fridge but some might argue that’s not totally in line with CPS or My Table recommendations.
10. Total cost for the project was $30. The calendar was the biggest expense, with the magnetic paper and containers taking the rest of the change. Well worth it.
To answer the question you all want to know: is it working? Yes and no.
Yes, because September through mid-November it rocked. I found that even though a spent a bit more time upfront (grocery shopping, laying out food, prepping some the weekend before the week), I was less stressed come 4pm everyday. I was able to get dinner going and help the kids with their homework and after school activities. It made for a much less yelly after school two hours. Winning.
No, because once we had Luke’s heart surgery the wheels fell off. Some friends brought meals over (hooray for no cooking), then it was Thanksgiving and all bets are off then. We got back on the train for a couple of weeks in December and then Christmas came. I finally gave up and said, I’ll pick it back up in January. We got it going this week and I am already breathing a sigh of relief. A system is back in place.
Bottom line, it is a great tool for us and we can add, or delete, recipes as our tastes and needs change fairly inexpensively. Bon appetit!