It’s summer and temptation is strong to eat out…all the time.

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Food is a major expense for many people and proceeding with caution is a great idea. In this series–3 Ways to Reduce Food Costs–we will explore food expenses and 3 easy ways you can watch your pennies. With such busy lives it’s very easy to pick up a sandwich here, a latte there and before you know it, your food expenses have increased by $25-$50 a week outside of a planned grocery trip!

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Fortunately with a little pre-planning, you can put comfortable controls in place to limit the impact on your purse. Let’s begin this series with Dinner.

A few months ago I began exploring the concept of pre-planning my family’s dinner meals. Over the weekend and before heading to the local market, I assess what we have in the pantry and use those items as the catalyst for this week’s meals. My meal plan has to be simple.

Here are the Rules:

1) Sunday dinner produces leftovers, always
2) 2 to 3 easy and healthy meals
3) 1 Free meal, i.e, you are “free” to eat whatever you’d like

The plan has worked well and here’s why:

1) It has eliminated the 5:30pm panic question…”What’s for dinner tonight?”

2) It has stabilized our grocery costs. When I first began, I was challenged to keep each weekly grocery trip at $80 for 3 people-2 big adults and 1 little adult. Some weeks I was right on target and some weeks, I wasn’t–Congratulations, that’s life.

3) Waste not, want not. The biggest benefit has been completely using what we already had as opposed to always starting over each week. This is important–plan your meals based on what’s in your pantry or freezer. If you have one pack of lean ground beef in the freeazer, what 2 meals can you prepare this week–spaghetti and burgers…tacos and nachos? Tilapia is a versatile choice–sandwiches one night and fish tacos the next. You get the point! Minimize the variety of meats to control costs. Try the same with veggies—sweet potatoe fries one night and baked sweet potatoes with the trimmings another night. The options are endless and creativity is strongly encouraged!

Get started this week by using the My Weekly Meal Planner and be sure to share your results!

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