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Food can easily be your largest monthly expense behind your housing costs. Factors such as location and family size play a role in how much you spend in this category. That’s why meal planning is an extremely important system to have to keep your grocery budget intact.
Going grocery shopping without a plan is a recipe for disaster. You’ll end up picking up random items just because an item was new or on sale.
You may also be tired, busy, or overworked and decide to just stop through the drive-thru line because there’s no way you can stand at the stove when you get home.
To help you solve one or both problems, today I’ll be teaching you everything you need to know to become a master at meal planning.
First, what is meal planning?
Meal planning is asking “What’s for dinner?” once for the entire week. Nope, that’s not a typo. Instead of figuring out what you should eat every single day, you select your meals and shop for the ingredients once per week.
Now, meal planning isn’t the end all be all. It does solve many problems, but you must tailor your meal planning strategy to fit your needs and give yourself lots of room to experiment when you’re just getting started until you find a system that works for you.
To combat some of the misconceptions about meal planning, meal planning is not:
- A huge binder full of meals for the entire month
- Entirely home-cooked, but you are prepping the meals at home
- Just for large families
- A lot of work
With meal planning, you may feel like you need to do and have it all, but take things slowly at first so that you don’t burn out.
Why should you start meal planning?
Are you struggling with keeping your food budget under control?
Are you consistently going grocery shopping, but leaving with barely enough items to make enough meals to get you through the week?
Do you know that #YouHaveFoodAtHome but are too tired when you get home from work or after your kid’s extracurricular activities to prepare dinner, so you rather just go through the drive-thru and be done?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, meal planning is the answer to help you save money on groceries, reclaim your time during the week, and choose healthier options.
Meal Planning Saves You Money
Let’s do a little exercise. Print out your bank statement from the last 30 days and highlight every time you swiped your debit card to purchase food whether that was at a grocery store, restaurant, or a fast-food joint.
Surprising right!?! In May of 2018, I completed this exercise for the first time and I found out that we were spending nearly $1,000 a month on food for a family of three. Unbelievable, I know.
Meal planning will help you save so much money because it’ll eliminate all the random grocery trips for that one thing you needed but ended up costing you over $50, prevent you from stopping through the drive-thru since you didn’t have time to prepare breakfast and coffee, and you’ll have about $30 extra a week just by bringing your lunch to work.
Meal Planning Saves Your Time
We all have the same 24 hours as Beyonce, so let’s reclaim some of our time by meal planning in advance. I’m pretty sure Beyonce herself doesn’t meal plan, but I can almost guarantee that she has someone on her team that does so that she’s not sitting around twiddling her thumbs waiting for dinner.
You’ll be surprised how much time you’ll have during the week to finish that book you started months ago, take your kids to the park, or even watch the Netflix series that everyone is raving about.
The goal is to meal plan and grocery shop once a week so that you can spend the other days doing things you love the most.
Meal Planning Allows You to Eat Healthier
Eating at home is way healthier than eating out and that’s a fact. You’ll have way more control over what’s added to each dish and you’ll eat much more nutrient-dense food, which is important for your overall well-being.
Meal Planning Limits Food Waste
By planning out what you’re going to eat for the week, you’ll be less likely to purchase excessively and items that you think you may want to eat. You’ll buy just what you need for the meals you plan to create, which limits the amount of food spoilage and waste you create.
Guide to Meal Planning Effectively
Meal planning should be simple, easy and stress-free. But for many of us, we’ll meal plan for a week and give it up because we don’t have a strategy to make meal planning effective or a part of our natural weekly routine. We view it as a chore.
That ends today.
Keep reading to learn the 11 steps you can begin to become a master at meal planning today.
Get the tools needed to help you succeed
Planning your meals on the back of a receipt you found in your purse is a recipe for disaster. The key to meal planning effectively is being organized. You can use the Notes app on your phone, an app such as Mealime, or a printable to insert in your planner. This will help keep you inspired and meal planning front and center.
I love meal planning printables because they are so easy to punch and add to my planner. That’s why to make meal planning easier and more effective for you, I created a free meal planning toolkit complete with themed dinner ideas, grocery list, and meal planner. Meal planning doesn’t have to be complicated. Once you have a routine, everything else will fall in place.
Have a go-to list of your family’s favorite meals
Having a go-to list of your family’s favorite meals makes meal planning so much easier. Ideally, you don’t want to cook the same exact meals every week, but this will help if you’re stuck on what to add. You already know your family loves it and adding tried and true recipes make planning meals that much faster.
I recommend making a list of up to 20 meals to keep in your meal planning rotation and refer to it often. It’s so important that you pick meals that you know your family will eat.
Create a master list of your favorite items
Are there any items that you like to have every single week? Make a list of those so that you won’t forget to replace them while you’re at the grocery store.
If salads are your go-to for lunch, add lettuce and all your toppings to your list. If your kids love chicken nuggets, add those too. If there’s something that your spouse can’t live without, make sure not to forget to restock it.
You can also include your favorite seasonings and dressings, snacks, drinks and whatever else you enjoy. The more items you have at home that you love, the more likely you’ll eat at home.
Pick a day to meal plan and shop
Do you like to meal plan and grocery shop on the same day? Or would you rather meal plan one day and grocery shop the next? This may require a bit of trial and error to determine the best schedule that works for you.
Friday nights after the kids have gone to bed maybe your ideal time to plan so that you can head to the grocery store first thing Saturday morning before the crowd heads in. Do what works best for you.
When I was working from home on Fridays, I would get my meal planning and grocery shopping done on Friday mornings. My husband was at work. My daughter was in school. The stores were empty. I don’t think there could be a better scenario.
Shop your freezer, fridge and pantry first
Want a tip to help keep your grocery budget down? Shop your freezer, fridge, and pantry first. Not only will this help you use up what you have, but it’ll prevent you from buying duplicates. This will help you save so much money and time.
You may even be able to put together a few meals from what you already have on hand. The SuperCook app is a great resource to have. Just enter the ingredients you have, and it’ll recommend recipes based on the items you already have on hand, eliminating a grocery trip.
Have themed dinners to make it fun
Eating dinner at home can get a bit dull and boring if you have the same meals over and over. Use themed dinner nights to make meal planning fun for the entire family. It’ll also make things a lot easier and faster for you because there’s never a shortage of things that need to be done around the house.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Slow Cooker or Seafood Sunday
- Meatless or Mexican Monday
- Taco (my family’s favorite) or Try It Tuesday
- Italian Night or Leftovers for Dinner Wednesday
- Breakfast for Dinner or Throwback Thursday (make your favorite childhood meal)
- Pizza or Burger Night Friday
- Grill Out or Stir Fry Saturday
Use Pinterest to find quick and easy recipes
Pinterest is the absolute best place to find quick and easy recipes your entire family will enjoy. I don’t know what people did before it.
Okay, okay. I know there are many cookbooks on the market today, but it’s so much easier to just grab your phone and search for a meal idea. Also, with Pinterest, you don’t have the worry about the cookbooks taking up your counter and storage space. Hashtag minimalist.
If you don’t already have a Pinterest account, it’s so easy to create one. Be sure to make a board so that you can save your favorite recipes for later. You can even create individual boards for your themed dinner nights to keep things nice and organized.
You’ll discover thousands of easy and budget-friendly recipes at your fingertips in seconds and all for FREE. You know that’s my favorite word.
You can thank me by following me on Pinterest here.
Don’t forget about meals and snacks outside of dinner
Meal planning is a huge help when it comes to figuring out dinner, but you can meal plan breakfast, lunch and snacks as well.
Forgetting to account for these meals will mean extra trips to the grocery store, which is the easiest way to go over your grocery budget. You’ll almost always spend extra when you go into the store multiple times in one week.
This will also help ensure you’re taking your lunch to work daily aka saving money and eating breakfast which research says is the most important meal of the day.
Finally, since you’ve prepared for your love of snacking in advance, you’ll limit the number of times you’re headed to the vending machine and stopping at the gas station because you got the munchies. Every little bit adds up.
Have backup meals ready for lazy days
Be ready so you don’t have to get ready is my motto when it goes to meal planning. Yes, you’re going to have those moments where you have the meal plan and the groceries, but you are not going to want to put two plus two together.
And, that’s okay. That’s why having backup meals for those lazy days are key.
We like to keep frozen pizza on hand for this exact reason. You can also prepare meals in advance and freeze them for later. Freezer meals are awesome and can be prepared at the same time you’re preparing your dinner by creating just a bit more.
Post your meal plan where the whole family can see it
Your meal plan will be much easier to follow if it’s somewhere that everyone can see it.
You can post it on the fridge. Create a whiteboard command center near your kitchen. Write it in your planner or bullet journal. It doesn’t matter where it is; just make sure that it’s in a location that will help you keep your meal plan top of mind. That way you’re not left scrambling, trying to figure out what you’re going to eat.
In a perfect world, we’ll create a meal, go grocery shopping, and cook the meals exactly as we planned to.
Can I tell you something? A perfect world doesn’t exist, so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t stick to your meal plan or follow it just as you created it.
Maybe you made enough on Monday to last you a few nights or on Wednesday you’d prefer Thursday night’s dinner instead. Do what you need to do to eat today, but don’t let that make you through all your hard work out the window.
There’s no right or wrong way to meal plan. This is just a guide to help get you started. The most important thing is that you make your meal plan work for you. That’s the only way you’ll succeed at it.
Meal planning will help you grocery shop more efficiently, spend less money on food, limit how much you eat out, and help you gain so much time back.
Hopefully, these 11 tips will help you create an effective meal planning strategy for your family so that you can get back to doing the things that you enjoy the most.
Remember, meal planning gets easier over time, so don’t give up the first time you fall off track.
Create a plan and work the plan so that you can stop making random runs to the grocery store or the drive-thru due to lack of planning and so that you can feed your family three meals a day plus snacks without sacrificing your time and a bunch of money.
Your grocery budget will thank you.
Do you have any meal planning tips that’s helped you stay within your budget? Share them below.