Money-Saving Mealtime

One of the most money-saving things I’ve ever done is when I started meal planning for our family. Getting started was hard… My mother was anything but domestic, so I’d never learned to cook anything more complicated than Hamburger Helper. I’d done some experimenting with making meals when my husband & I were engaged, but I was a long way from having a menu’s-worth of recipes to choose from on a weekly basis… and, in case you were curious, at 5 o’clock when you’re exhausted with 2 hungry kids and a husband coming home from work is NOT the ideal time to learn how to cook.
So in my days of experimenting with extreme couponing (which was way stressful, not worth the time, and I’ve since found much more effective ways to save money… but we’ll save that for later!), I came across a Moolala email advertising 6 months of eMealz for super duper cheap. I decided it would be worth a try and, at the very least, the recipes from eMealz would give me the recipe repertoire I had been lacking.
It was a success! Sort of. Most of the recipes contained ingredients I’d never heard of or didn’t like and, without photos I felt like I didn’t have a picture of what I was doing, plus the grocery list thing was more complicated than necessary. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. After 3 weeks, we were done trying to do things that way. We did discover one thing, though: meal planning is amazing. The same way budgeting our money had changed our finances, planning our meals made life so much easier.
Enter: Pinterest. You may or may not have heard of Pinterest, but it is the creative’s muse, the procrastinator’s nightmare, and the budding chef’s dream come true! If you don’t know how to do something, hop on Pinterest – you’ll figure it out pretty quickly. I noticed as I browsed the boards that food was a very popular thing to pin. In no time, I had an entire virtual tack board of recipes that looked good, sounded good, and were explained in detail for cooking noobs like me… with the added benefit of having a blogger’s experience with the recipe for my reference.
I hopped on the computer and made a cute chart for my meal plan and another for a grocery list… and, being the super-frugal person I am, ran those pieces of paper to get them laminated, because how does it save me money if I’m using pricey ink & paper every week??
I did this for months and months. And it took about an hour per 2-week period to make a meal plan with grocery list, being sure to cross-reference ingredients to get the most use out of each. (See, I’m what Dave Ramsey would call the financial “nerd”… but it’s not just with our money, it’s with everything!) It was kind of fun, and worth the time investment because it enabled us to save so darn much on groceries.
Then came 2012 and all it brought. This is going to be one of the BEST years and I know it is because it has to be after the way it started – with total insanity! I took over as the bookkeeper at Collin’s company, one dental procedure turned into 8 dental appointments (and a pain-free mouth, I might add!), and everyone was sick on and off for the entire month of January. It was nutty! And with lots of time away from home, I realized the only thing my plan was missing was being able to take it with me.
I started checking out apps to see what was out there. I had tried Food on the Table, but frugal me couldn’t stomach the idea of a monthly subscription. I saw MealBoard, but the AppStore’s FREE apps have made it seem like a leap to spend even $2 on an app. I waited a day or two, read lots of reviews, checked out their website (mealboard.com) and finally decided to take the plunge. (The fact that we had a ton of iTunes gift card credit in our account from Christmas didn’t hurt. Thank you, in-laws!)
After exploring the site some, I started to get excited. Basically, you enter a recipe, save it, and it adds it to the pool of recipes you can choose from each week for your meal planning. But it does so much more… like, there’s an import button for ingredients, so you can copy/paste them and it takes very little tweaking to get it to look right afterwards. You can also tell it whether or not you want it to add those ingredients to your grocery list, and what section that ingredient is in in your favorite store so it can smart-populate your grocery list. Yes, it does that for you!
I must be honest and say it is a time investment up front – but it has been worth every second I spent putting in recipes… especially because it’s so simple. The app is super-customizable – you can pick when your week begins, how many weeks you want to plan at a time, pick your category names (I added a Crock Pot category, for example, because some days the schedule just dictates that if we’re going to eat dinner, it needs to be made at 10 am…), sync across platforms, even change the color of the app!
So this week, I spent 10 minutes picking the recipes I wanted to make from Pinterest, went to the blog sites, copied the data over to MealBoard (I was even able to give credit to the bloggers & put photos in the recipes… but you don’t have to. I’m just a nerd.), then spent less than 5 minutes placing them on the proper day in the app… It even let me pick the dates for my grocery list so I could make sure we have everything we need in our kitchen for the next several days’ meals! Folks, this app has been so life-changing, I wrote an unsponsored review on it on my blog! For no reason other than that I HOPE it can help someone else plan meals more effectively!
Seriously, iPhone-using friends – get it!
At the very least, I think everyone should start a meal plan if you haven’t. Save yourself some time, stress, and grocery budget, and thank me later!

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