A useful menu saves money because you can plan ahead and work seasonal fruits and veggies into your daily meals. Changing the menu seasonally provides lots of variety, which keeps things interesting all year long. Foods also taste better when fruits & veggies are in season. Include a variety of healthy recipes and as you find recipes that you and your family like better, replace some of the existing recipes. After all, a menu is only a series of guidelines and not rules.
I use an Excel spreadsheet; one worksheet for each month. At the end of each year (usually in October), I save the menu with the dates next year and revise the days of the week (i.e. in 2012 January 1 as on Sunday, in 2013 it was on Tuesday, and 2014 it was on Wednesday.
My granddaughter and I spent some quality time together and we decorated the months with clipart and pictures, we changed the print font so each month incorporates the color of the holidays, and just had fun decorating the menus. We included some of her favorite foods so that she can have her favorite foods when she comes to visit. Check out an example of my January menu here.
NOTE: build your menu 2 weeks at a time. Start with 2 weeks and add 2 weeks to make a month, making sure to save the previous 2 weeks. Take into consideration what season it is and work the fruits & veggies that are in season into your menu.
Limit the number of processed foods that you build into your menu. Not only do processed foods have preservatives (chemicals) to extend shelf life, they are also high in sodium, and they cost more.
Avoid paying for convenience by cutting and chopping your own fruits and veggies. I bought a mid-range mandoline that makes quick work of slicing, chopping, and grating. It is fun to cut carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, etc., into waffle slices. I also julienne slice yams to toss into stir fries. It literally takes me SECONDS (no exaggeration) to slice, dice, grate, and chop veggies.
By planning ahead like that, you can get the ingredients during sales cycles, thereby saving time and money.
Keep in mind that when fruits (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, watermelons, etc.) are in season, it is much cheaper to freeze them so you can have fresh fruits in the winter months.
It is much cheaper to get cranberries, pumpkins, and yams around the holidays because stores offer sales on cranberries during holidays to entice people to buy other products to complete their holiday shopping.
Although you can freeze these fruits for 3-4 months, they taste much better fresh. Therefore, I create a summer, fall, winter, and spring menu based on vegetables and fruits that are available in those seasons.
A useful menu incorporates all of the above so you do not have to think about all of the above. However, keep in mind that the menu should be used as a guide. On occasion, a sneak sale pops up and in those instances (remember that I know what the regular prices are from the previous tip) I swap out a menu item so I can take advantage of the new sale. If some of the ingredients needed for the menu item that I was going to have before the change, I simply juggle days around to use all perishable items.
Consider building quality family time as you gather the various food items: go to orchards to pick your own berries or peaches or apples (remember to rinse berries with a solution of white vinegar and water in the parking lot so the fruits do not go bad). Or, find Pick Your Own farms. You can also search by entering “pick your own” and add your state.
However, if there are no specials being offered at grocery stores, by using my menu, I save money because I built the fact that certain foods go on sale at particular times of the year at supermarket rotational sales (you will learn that with tip #5). Also, it may be cheaper to go to an orchard and pick fruits and veggies or to farmers markets, which only happens in the summer to get the fruits and veggies.
For those of us who struggle with our weight, this menu helps immensely. I tend to get so busy in my normal day-to-day life that I can get into a rut with foods. Without even noticing it, I may have one item several times in a week and then suddenly start eating outside the boundaries of what is good for me and begin to notice the weight on the scale going up again. When I post my menu for the month, which takes into account the fresh fruits and vegetables, the calories built into a daily menu, recipes that I enjoyed as a child which bring back fond memories, special foods that I have always enjoyed having on holidays, etc., I find that I stick with my lifestyle change so my weight continues to go down with little effort on my part, the menu is widely varied so the boredom factor is eliminated and the foods needed to provide the menu items are naturally on sale. So once again, although it took time for me to initially set this menu system up, it is mindless now. What is more, I put the menus in a tickler file so I can retrieve the menus the following year.
Remember to put your savings in a bank account that you set up for savings. You will amaze yourself at how quickly the savings adds up. Then, consider applying the savings that you accumulated for special items or trips or vacations, etc., so you have something tangible to show for your hard work!
In the Get Organized and Back to Basics sections, I offer tips on how to make holidays, birthdays, and other events very special and yet frugal.
TAKE ACTION #1: Set up a 2-week menu: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Find recipes that your family will like and remember to include snacks.
TAKE ACTION #2: Get the kids involved in finding recipes that are healthy and they will like. Some great places to start looking for healthy kid-friendly recipes are: