YAY! We are at an AMAZING point in our Take Back Your Finances Challenge. This is going to be a GREAT week to implement an incredible change!
If you are a menu planner, then you know just how important and life-changing it could be. Your budget, time and life will be so much better. I know it sounds like I am being quite dramatic as if I just discovered a cure to the common cold, but menu planning is so super important.
Well, we want to help you take your menu planning to the next level, whether you currently menu plan or even if you don’t. We have shared a number of resources for effective and practical menu planning, but what we want to do is make it an official part of the Take Back Your Finances challenge so that you can “challenge” yourself to start this task this week.
As you may have remembered from last week’s challenge, we shared free freezer and pantry inventory sheet printables. If you have not grabbed those yet, be sure to do that task before this to make it even more efficient and a much smoother, more money-saving step.
Next is planning your menu. First, we have shared the following articles to help you decide and gain tips for efficiency and ease in menu planning. Browse through these articles and then read about the highlight of this task that has become a super popular feature on our site.
Menu planning articles
- Our Top 5 Tips For Stopping Food Waste with Lots Of Odds and Ends Meal Plans
- We Challenge You To Save $4,068 This Year With These Food Tips! Will You Join Us?
- Additional Tips Regarding Menu Planning
Next is utilizing our signature printable the “No-Food Waste Menu Planner.” This is a straight forward, no-fuss, easy and practical menu planner that helps you to utilize every bit of food in your home. According to many sites and surveys, in America alone, we waste millions of tons of food every year.
Here’s some interesting information from the Washington Post regarding food waste:
“In 2012, the most recent year for which estimates are available, Americans threw out roughly 35 million tons of food, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s almost 20 percent more food than the United States tossed out in 2000, 50 percent more than in 1990, and nearly three times what Americans discarded in 1960, when the country threw out a now seemingly paltry 12.2 million tons.
In 1980, food waste accounted for less than 10 percent of total waste; today, it makes up well over a fifth of the country’s garbage. Americans, as it is, now throw out more food than plastic, paper, metal, or glass—and by a long shot.”
We wanted to share that since our most favorite category of fruits and veggies are wasted most, here’s some ways that we use up ours in some fast and tasty ways.
Also, National Geographic wrote an article regarding food waste in America and here’s a very reasonable and interesting observation:
“Consumers are also complicit: We overbuy because relatively cheap and seductively packaged food is available at nearly every turn. We store food improperly; we take “use by” dates literally, though such stamps were designed to communicate peak freshness and have nothing to do with food safety. We forget to eat our leftovers, we leave our doggy bags in restaurants, and we suffer little or no consequence for scraping edible food into a bin.”
Speaking of food expiration dates, most things are safe after these dates. Read our previous article on “Food Expiration Dates: What Do They Really Mean.” Also, it can be difficult to know when fresh foods are no longer safe to eat. So, we have another article on “how to know the fresh food expiration dates and shelf life.” Both of these articles will help you to save and not waste food.
In the end, it is roughly estimated that Americans waste 20 lbs. of food per person per month. This comes out to be approximately $400 worth of wasted food per person per year. I don’t know about you, but that is money I do not want to waste and that I hate to see wasted in light of tight budgets, saving money and the starving people in the world. I don’t want our family to be one of these statistics for many reasons, including the above reasons.
So, when it came to refining my budget, grocery shopping and menu planning, I decided I needed a tool that could help me find ways to using every bit of fresh, frozen and staple foods in our home.
And that is when and where our “No-Food Waste Menu Planner” was born! We shared this a few years ago and it has been so super popular because many are like us and wanting a much more efficient and effective menu planner, that also allows you to nab great deals when they come up at the stores.
I use to use the same menu plan for each day of the month, but when those items are not on sale at the store, it was not helpful to our budget and got quite boring. That type of menu is super easy and helpful, but not the most efficient for the budget. It is more time friendly than budget friendly.
But, with the no-food waste menu planner, you get both time and money friendly and you don’t have near the food waste that the average household has! How awesome are all of these factors??
It is a pretty straight forward menu planner, but I will walk you through how to use it!
Please note: this menu planner has been professionally redesigned for you since our original version (no longer available) several years ago. So the actual planner you will be receiving is a little different design than the sample pictures below, but all of the information and sections are still on the printable and so the instructions are the same.
Step #1- Go to your fridge and write down the foods you need to use this week – the ones that will be expiring soon, the fresh foods that have a shorter life (like fruits, veggies, salads, sour creams, etc. ).
My real life example this week: Broccoli stems, grapes, chives, mangoes, Mexican cheese, hot peppers, fresh vegetable medley, carrots, 5 Fage yogurt, Cauliflower, sour cream, brussels sprout, lettuce, pears, peaches, ginger sesame dressing, avocados, tomatoes, veggie dip
As a note, almost always do pretty much all fresh produce go on the list so I can ensure I am using it all and so this is most often the longest list!
Step #2 – Now do the same thing for your pantry foods. What do you have in abundance, or that will be expiring the soonest or that needs to be used for whatever reasons. Write those foods down.
My real life example this week: Loaf of bread, BBQ Sauce, garlic bread, chicken broth, Dijon mustard, veggie chips, wheat tortillas, quinoa
Step #3 – Finally, do the same in your freezer. Meats, cheeses, or other foods that you need to eat and use up soon before they expire or that you have in abundance.
My real life example this week: Mushrooms, Saute Express, peppers, rib steak, roast
Once you have identified the foods you need to use up, then it is time to create your “no food waste” menu!
In the past we’ve shared an article to create a no-food-waste menu and we encourage you to check it out? If you are like me, this is also going to be a lot of fun to even create new recipes. One recipe that I created was because one week we had a lot of cottage cheese. We usually eat it as a side, but it was on sale that week and we had a lot of it and being a side for most meals became quite boring. So I decided to make what I now call “lasagna casserole!”
I can make this with any pasta, any pasta sauce, it can be vegetarian or include meat. In the pasta sauce, I mix cottage cheese into it and it turned out so well and has become a favorite! It changes slightly every time I make it depending on what foods I need to use up, but every time it is really, really good! This is just one example, but to help you in making up recipes to use all of your foods, you need to have the other two articles we wrote near at hand to help with that!
Now it is time to plan! Please note, you can use any foods in your house to plan, just make sure to incorporate the foods on your list as the “need to use” foods too, but your menu is NOT exclusive to these items Just thought I would make that clear!
Step #4- Plan out your breakfasts (use our Breakfast Ideas HERE) and cross the items off the list once you have incorporated that ingredient into your menu!
You can plan out your breakfasts based on foods on your list, you can also get ideas from our Building Better Breakfasts page. Many of the recipes will allow you to create concoctions with items you have on hand. I would recommend paying close attention to building breakfast casseroles (using many different items for the crust, and for the actually base), the homemade pre-made muffin mix that allows you to make any muffins or breakfast cake and the article on building fruit and veggie smoothies that taste good every time!
My real life examples from this week: S =Oatmeal and fruit, M = Peach Breakfast Cake (using thepre-made homemade muffin mix), T= Breakfast Casserole, W = Banana Breakfast Cake (using thepre-made homemade muffin mix again), TH= Oatmeal and Fruit, F = Fried Eggs and Toast (fried in coconut oil for health!), S = Grits Casserole
Step #5- Plan out your lunches and cross the items off the list once you have incorporated that ingredient into your menu! Again, our lunches are quite flexible because I might plan something, but realize we have a lot of left-overs from the night before, etc.!
Lunches are VERY low key in our house! I usually cycle through the same foods and don’t put much extra thought or effort into lunches as we have a quick lunch break during our homeschool days. It is also very flexible because if we have leftovers, than that is what we are eating! Whole Wheat and gluten-free pastas are also a common lunch as I can make almost anything out of it, especially with my SOS mix!
My real life examples from this week: S = left-overs/sandwiches, M = pasta salad, T= Pizza at Co-op, W = Baked potatoes, TH= Sandwiches, F = Cowboy Chili (using leftovers from steak in dinner menu) , S = Cowboy Chili again from making a double batch
Step #6 – Write down foods that are the “approved” snacks for the week! This is mostly for your family’s reference. My kids need snacks and if I don’t have a plan, this is where I feel like we are getting eaten out of house and home! So I write down snacks available to them that week from foods that need to be eaten and they are free to pick from the list of these foods before we need to plan on any other snacks! This is good for older kids too so that they know what they can have and get it on their own!
My real life examples from this week: Fage yogurt, veggie chips, peaches, pears, pretzels, carrots and dip
Step #7– Plan out your dinner menu complete with sides!
Dinners are where the magic is in our house! This is where I put the most time and creativity, but I still try to keep dinner prep in under 30 minutes using the foods I have on hand!
With that, most households tend to put the most effort into dinner, and that is why the dinner section includes room for more details, including side dishes.
My real life examples from this week: S = Roast with carrots, celery, potatoes and onions and 60-min dinner rolls, M = Peach Chicken with garlic bread, brown rice, Italian salad and Best Brussies (roasted brussel sprouts a lot like our Roasted Broccoli), T= Chinese Chicken Salad made with the Ginger Sesame Dressing, lettuce and shredded broccoli stems, W = Enchiladas with mangoes and avocados and homemade salsa with chips, TH= Crock Pot Ribs with fruit salad, steamed veggies and 60-min dinner rolls, F = date night in: take-out , S = Dijon Chicken with Mediterranean Quinoa, remaining fruit and Roasted Cauliflower (like our Roasted Broccoli)
I needed an idea for Dijon mustard this week for a gourmet one that I bought on markdown and that is nearing expiration. I love this next step! It is utilizing the search feature on AllRecipes.com. They allow you to search by ingredient, other ingredients to include and ingredients to exclude. Then also by dish type, time to make and the meal it is for. This allows you to quickly find recipes that will match the ingredients you have on hand.
The sample search….and
the sample results… 38 possible recipes that meet my criteria!
How cool is that! It also means that I can get the mystery produce boxes from Bountiful Baskets, I can shop the sales and the markdowns and still have a practical, quick, no-food waste menu that is often unique each and every week!
In the notes section of my menu planner, I write a note to myself about where the recipe is located as well as any other notes (guests one night, etc). Also, there is a shopping list section at the bottom. I often find that as I am cooking or menu-creating, I see things that I am out of and add to the list. This list can be torn or cut off the bottom without affecting your menu!
So How Do I Get The Newly Designed No-Food Waste Menu Planner
You can purchase the planner for only $1.99 (normally $2.99) by using the coupon code MENU when you check out. If you consider how much you’ll save in your first week alone we hope you agree that its well worth the price. 🙂
Remember to use code MENU
to get this special $1.99 price.
Coupon code: MENU
We hope you find this planner just as useful as we have to help you cut your budget that much further and gain more organization and simplicity in your kitchen. Your challenge for this week is to download the planner and start using it in your kitchen this week!
Need to catch up? Come join us on this challenge from the very beginning by clicking on the 52-Week Take Back Your Finances Challenge and sign up to start receiving your automated challenge from the very beginning!
One final thing…we also have a Facebook Group where you can engage in discussions, receive encouragement and talk to others that are participating in the challenges too for more ideas! Head to the Be Intentional with The Thrifty Couple Facebook Page HERE and ask to join us there! You can also invite friends and spouses too!
Disclaimer: We are not licenses financial planners. We are only a couple that have been just a hair-breadth away from bankruptcy and found our way out of debt with a goal to now help others. Please make sure to consider any advice given on our site and in this challenge as tips we have used ourselves; they may not work for everyone. If you have questions please make sure to contact a licensed professional.