Reverse Menu Planning
by Mrs. Roy
Make your grocery dollars go farther
Mrs. Roy was asked recently how I fed my family of four and
maintained a frugal lifestyle. We all know that food takes a
big chunk out of our budget and we've all read that the family
food budget is a great place to cut expenses. So Mrs. Roy,
like a lot of you, clipped coupons, dusted off the slow
cooker, made lists, bought in bulk, bought store brands and
tried lots of other suggestions along the way. What Mrs. Roy
found was that there truly are lots of ways to save money on
One nearly universal tip is to plan, plan and plan some more.
Whether it's a daily menu, a weekly menu, or a monthly menu,
just make a menu. Some folks suggest you come up with a list
of menus you know you will eat and just rotate them. If you
have the time, you can match the weekly grocery specials with
coupons, then make a menu that uses those items. Mrs. Roy can
testify that this is a time-consuming process, but you can
really save money that way. One down side is that I tend to
buy stuff I'm not going to eat that week just because it's a
great deal. In other words, Mrs. Roy was constantly stocking
up while the price is right.
Stocking up is great so long as you remember to use the food
you've bought. That's where a lot of folks get into trouble.
They simply forget to use the stuff they've stocked up on. The
best deal in the world is no deal at all if you end up
throwing it in the trash. That's why reverse menu planning is
one of the best ways to really make your grocery dollar go
What is reverse menu planning? Instead of planning a menu and
then shopping, you first take an inventory of what you have on
hand, then plan a menu using those items. This method also
takes some time, but it's well worth the effort and you save
the time you would have spent matching the specials up to
coupons and shopping at the grocery!
First of all, you are going to spend a lot less money, maybe
nothing if you use what you have on hand instead of making
your normal weekly shopping trip. Call me crazy, but every
penny Mrs. Roy doesn't spend goes to the bottom line at my
house. If you have been in the coupon-clipping, match with a
sale, buy the loss leader mode for a while, it is going to be
hard to break the habit and stay home this week. Try to
remember that all sales are on a cycle; it will come on sale
again. And no matter what is on sale this week, free is
With reverse menu planning, you don't have to worry about
freezer burn burning up your good bargains. I don't know about
you, but sometimes Mrs. Roy forgets what is in my freezer. We
actually have three freezers, so that makes it even harder.
Other than the Skinny Cow ice cream (Mrs. Roy always knows
exactly where that is!), some things have a tendency to hang
out in my freezers longer than they should. A periodic reverse
menu inventory helps me keep food from getting too old to use.
Taking inventory of the refrigerator means you are going to
have to take a hard look at the types of things you stash and
forget. Hopefully, there won't be too many science projects
growing in there and you will be able to figure out how to use
the last piece of that chunk of cheddar, half a head of
cabbage, and that little dab of tomato paste. Be honest with
yourself; if your family doesn't eat leftovers, don't wrap
them up and stick them in the refrigerator to die a slow,
painful death. Just toss them after dinner. It may be
wasteful, but at least it's honest. Or start a soup bucket in
your freezer. That's an airtight container where you dump the
extra green beans, macaroni, tomatoes, etc. until you have
enough to make a big pot of vegetable soup.
When Mrs. Roy inventories the pantry, I always find things
that I don't remember buying and don't like to eat so those
things go in a bag for the food pantry. In other words, my
family and someone else's family benefit from this reverse
menu planning process.
Once you know what you have on hand, the next step is really
fun. You start making menus based on what you have! Mrs. Roy
usually ends up with at least a dozen or so meals that require
little or no supplementing from the grocery store. I post the
list on the refrigerator and then mark them off as we eat our
way through the list.
This is a great way to try new recipes, too. If you aren't
sure what to do with those pork chops in the freezer, just use
your computer. Type "pork chops" into your search engine and
more recipes than you will ever need are right at your
fingertips. Even better is a website that lets you list the
ingredients you want to use and it will match recipes to your
ingredients! Check it out at
perfect complement to reverse menu planning.
Reverse menu planning is always a learning experience for me.
When I see the store brand pudding we tried but didn't like, I
learn to stick to the other brand. If there is half a head of
cabbage melting in the bottom of the produce drawer, Mrs. Roy
will remember to buy less next time. There's no sense going to
the bread store and stocking up if the extras get freezer burn
before we can eat them. Half a bag of onions or potatoes with
sprouts coming out of the eyes means Mrs. Roy bought more than
we could eat. I'll take those lessons with me the next time I
shop for groceries.
Reverse menu planning is a great habit to have for when there
is more month than money. Reverse menu planning will give you
a real sense of accomplishment. You will be saving money. You
will be making good use of the things you've already spent
your family's money buying. And you will be a good steward by
using what you have instead of buying more.
Living a frugal lifestyle takes patience, knowledge, and
skill, especially when it comes to food. It will always be
easier to just run through the drive-thru or order pizza to be
delivered. Convenience foods are always going to be easier
than fresh produce and meats. That's why they are called
"convenience foods." Reserve menu planning is a tool you can
use to make frugal living easier and more profitable.
Mrs. Roy is a wife, mother, paralegal, and Sunday School
teacher who has been living the frugal life since long before
it became fashionable. She is most proud to be a new
grandmother, the wife of a decorated war hero, and an award-
winning quilter. She writes about her faith, family, the
environment and the frugal life at www.mrsroysway.blogspot.com
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