Food is one of my family's biggest expenses. I am a firm believer in eating whole foods whenever possible and would love to buy all organic and make absolutely everything homemade. But life gets in the way of that goal and it just isn't practical with two young children and our busy lives. Several years ago, I discovered that a little planning goes a long way with both saving money on food and eating better. Sadly, I got out of the habit a few weeks back when I was super-pregnant and too exhausted to cook every day. But I have been gradually getting everything back on track (hello blogging!), including our meal planning.
I know there are lots of fancy tools out there to help plan meals but I have always found my old-school methods to work pretty well. First of all, I have a list of meals which I maintain. Basically, if I try a new recipe that we like, it goes on list. When I'm planning meals and drawing a blank, I consult the list. I have a second list of budget-friendly meals that I try to rotate in consistently. These include meals like soup and sandwiches, ham and beans and my husband's least favorite, breakfast for dinner. Perhaps it is odd, but I like to look at the weather when planning meals. If it is cold and rainy, I know I will want a warm soup or chili. If it is unseasonably warm one day, I probably won't want to turn the oven on. And no one wants to grill in deluge rains.
So from there, I start working around our calendar and plugging in meals for the week. The benefit of looking at the whole week at once is that I can eliminate (or minimize) waste by coordinating veggies and perishable ingredients.
What is your strategy for meal planning? Do you use a service or go at it on your own?