I'm going to do two tips in this edition of our series. They go pretty well together and I'm feeling like skipping ahead. :-)
Plan your menus a week at a time. Look in your pantry and freezer to assess what you have on hand. Look at the grocery ads to see what is on sale for the best price. Plan your meals so you can buy mostly sale items, and only buy what you need.
Keep a list in your kitchen of simple meals you can prepare in 10-20 minutes (i.e. spaghetti, chicken tetrazzini, casseroles, burgers and fries). Keep the ingredients on hand for these. On especially busy nights, or when you just feel too tired to spend an hour cooking, pick something from the list and you'll have dinner quicker than the wait in a fast-food drive through, and won't have spent $25 on a "cheap" dinner out.
Menu planning is a wonderful thing. If you've been reading my blog for long, you've probably seen many "Menu Plan Monday" postings. Literally hundreds of bloggers participate in the meme every week, outlining what they plan to serve for meals that week, and often including recipes or links. It's a great way to find new recipes to try out to keep your menu fresh. I start my menu plan by assessing what I have on hand that needs to be used. I look at what nights DH will be available for grilling and when I have crazy days where a Crock Pot meal will be a blessing. I have a master notebook I use for menu planning. In it, I have pages of ideas for meals using specific ingredients, as well as recipes I found in cookbooks that I want to remember to try.
It does take a little time to get a menu all figured out for the week, but it is a major timesaver all week long! It also saves money because you aren't faced with the "I don't know what to make for dinner" dilemma that results in going out and spending money on something that is convenient and sounds appealing at the time. Making a plan gives you the freedom of knowing what you're going to prepare for each day of the week so you can plan your other daily activities accordingly. It also gives you flexibility, though, as you can always tweak it as you go along. I frequently do this if I find a great sale on something that I need to incorporate or if something just didn't sound good or I forgot to thaw an essential element (this happens quite often, unfortunately!)
If you don't meal plan, start by making a list of the meals you eat most often. This is a great way to start, because chances are you have many of the ingredients on hand. As long as you are making a list, let's visit the other tip. Make a list of meals that you can put together in a matter of minutes, either quick-prep items that then get popped into the oven for a time (ham and scalloped potatoes, chicken and rice casserole, bbq chicken packets) or that are very quick and easy to assemble and cook for when you get into a time pinch (spaghetti and meat sauce, beef stroganoff, tuna casserole).
I keep my quick meal list on the side of my refrigerator and it has come in very handy. I always have the ingredients for most of these meals in the freezer and/or pantry, and if I have something that messes up my plan, I turn to this list. As a rule, I can have these on the table in less than the time it would take me to get in the car, drive to a fast food chain, wait in line, get my food, and drive home. And it's definitely cheaper and healthier, too!!
I had surgery earlier this year. My easy dinners list was what we lived on for the weeks of my recovery. They were meals my husband could put together without difficulty and eventually meals I could actually make without being on my feet too long. And they are family favorites, too, which made it easy for someone else to feed them. So menu planning helps out in more ways than you even realize!
If you decide to jump in and start planning, and you're a blogger, please come over to Org Junkie's Menu Plan Monday. And then leave me a comment to let me know you joined. I would love to know how much menu planning helps you!!