This guest post is in response to a question I had for Brenda, the meal planning expert. Brenda is a mom, freelance writer, and self-taught meal planner. Her blog, Meal Planning Magic, provides ideas on how to get organized in the kitchen, save a little money, eat healthier (and family-friendly) and have a little fun along the way. She shares free weekly sample meal plans, cookbook reviews, forms for keeping it all straight, ideas, and inspiration!
The message seems to be everywhere. If you want to save money, eat healthier, and feed your family right, you need to plan your meals before you head to the store. It seems so simple. Just grab your calendar, a few cookbooks or recipe box and your grocery list and you’re on your way, right?
Not so fast. There are a number of factors to consider when choosing the when, where, and how of meal planning. By answering these 6 questions, you’ll discover whether your meal planning efforts are flourishing or failing (and how to change things).
1. Is the extra work worth the cost-saving?
First ask yourself, is cost savings on a particular item worth it to drive out of the way to purchase it? Is walking an option or do you have to get in a car to go to a preferred store?
Do the math and you may find that making a special trip may not be so good for your budget. Sometimes simplifying the process can make a big difference.
2. Does it fit your lifestyle and preferences?
Coupon clippers and sale shoppers can save a lot of money on items they may normally purchase, however, others find that the whole process time-consuming and cumbersome. Still, some people like to buy what’s new or different no matter the price while others are impulse buyers willing to change their menu based on in-store samples.
Figure out how you like to shop and make that part of the process. All of this can work into your meal planning if you know and understand your style.
3. How close are the grocery stores?
Does a trip to the grocery store require a day’s outing to the next town or are your options just minutes away?
The key is to shop in a way that fits the options that surround you. If you live in a small town, being efficient when you shop is key because if you forget it, it may be a few weeks before you can go back to get it. But if you are walking distance to a store, last-minute visits may not be a big deal.
4. What’s my ability to store food?
Consider your storage space before you start stocking up on items. If you have ample pantry and freezer space, shopping at a wholesale club may be worth it to you. If the luxury of storage is not yours, more frequent trips to the store work better.
5. Do I really have to sacrifice health for the budget?
The decision is not so black and white, but often items that are less expensive are not always the healthiest. There is a perceived notion that healthier foods cost more.
For many, the bottom line is what drives their grocery shopping. While others may be willing to pay a little more for higher quality ingredients that are also produced locally and are sustainable.
The good news: these days more food producers are taking note of public demand and are providing healthy foods that are also budget-friendly.
6. Am I using my time wisely?
When it comes to food shopping, it may seem as though you’re running all over town going from the traditional grocery store to the farmer’s market to the organic grocery store to the wholesale club. It’s enough to make you feel like you’re running in circles!
It doesn’t have to be this way. Check your farmer’s market website for updates or get on their email list so you’ll know what types of items and vendors will be at the market each week. And then decide if you really need to go each week. Additionally, consider starting a co-op with some friends or neighbors where you take turns going to the market or store each week. This works especially well for wholesale clubs that may not be conveniently located.
Meal planning really can be an easy way to help you get good tasting, healthy food on the table for your family. It just takes a little thinking ahead to get you started and before you know it, you won’t remember any other way!
So tell me, what is the biggest barrier you face when it comes to meal planning?
I perfected family meal planning and show others how to do it in my book, The Family Dinner Solution.