This post may contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission at no cost to you. Please read the full disclosure here.Meal Planning. Just the thought of meal planning brings an internal grr. It takes just that – PLANNING! In our society, we are go, go, go! Always on the go and, as a result, not wanting to slow down to meal plan. I understand 100%. However, I know deep down how much better it is to meal plan for our family. We eat healthy meals, stay within our grocery budget, and are less stressed about the looming dinner question – “What's for dinner?”
Why Meal Planning 101?
#1 Reason – Eat healthy, home-cooked foods.
#2 Reason – Stay within your grocery budget (more than likely, lower it).
#3 Reason – Dinner will always be served on time.
Afternoon and early evenings are the busiest time of day in our family. Kids are coming home from school. Everyone is getting off work. Personally, I prefer to sneak off to the gym before dinner (yes, right when dinner needs to be cooked.) Kids have practices. Homework to complete. Papers to sign. All in all, it is BUSY! Who wants to think about what is for dinner?!?!
Even before kids…once I got off from work, the last thing I wanted to think about what is for dinner. Let alone – cook dinner.
Here is the process I use each and every week to meal plan for our family. I have taught others this same process and the simplicity of meal planning. Challenge yourself to plan meals for 4 weeks. It will become a habit – I promise. Just stay consistent!
How to Make Meal Planning 101 Work:
1. Set aside 10 minutes a week
For me, I set aside time on Tuesdays. This is purposeful time to plan healthy meals for our household. I only plan meals for 6 out of 7 days of the week. Simple reason because something may come up, plans change or leftovers that need to be ate (so food isn't wasted). Then, complete steps 2-6 below.
2. Look at your week and what is going on
First, I review what is happening each afternoon / evening. If my kid's have practice, I put “Crockpot” on that day. If it is a day where I am gone, I make sure the dinner is something my husband can cook.
Side note…Yes, you can teach your husband and older kids to cook. Typically, these dinners are something that have been prepped by me ahead of time or a freezer meal that needs to be cooked in the oven. An example is meatloaf muffins, diced sweet potatoes, and asparagus. The meatloaf mixture was mass prepared to be frozen into 6 smaller packages. Same amount of work and mess once, but enough prepped for 6 meals. The sweet potatoes and asparagus were prepped earlier in the day and were ready to go in the oven. All that was needed to be done was put it in the oven to cook and taken out. The HUGE benefit of allowing others to cook is they expand their horizons and will learn and want to cook more often.
By taking time to review what is happening that week, I am able to plan our meals around our schedule. Instead of the opposite, letting life determine your meals, and more often than not, the convenience of eating out. Thus, paying the higher price of convenience.
3. Review your fridge, freezer, and pantry
Why? First of all you want to eat what is in the fridge, freezer, and pantry. Therefore, you save money by not wasting food. Interesting statistic…25% of food is wasted in America?!?! This is also a great time to clean out what is hiding in the fridge. Make a list of what needs to be ate first. Seems like, the freezer turns into a deep, dark hole of stuff that is long lost and beyond its prime. As a gift to my email subscribers, I provide our personal freezer inventory spreadsheet.
Related Post: Grocery Budget Hurting Your Pocketbook
4. Look at the sales ads in your area
Most of the stores in my area post their ad before the sales cycle starts. Take advantage of this to save money!! The big key is knowing what is a good price to buy your groceries. Hence, this one step can save thousands of dollars a year. Not everything on the front page is truly a “sales” item or a “buy” price. Rather, the best sales are many times hidden in the middle pages of the ad. Get your grocery stock up list here.
5. Decide what recipes to cook
Now, you determined what needs to put cooked in the crockpot or instant pot, cooked by another family member, and what is left for you to cook based on your schedule. Personally, I have a binder of our favorite recipes. Digital? These are great options – Cook'n, Paprika, Pepperplate, Basil, AnyList, or Evernote. I flip through my paper binder or my digital app. Then, I decide what looks yummy based on what we have and what is on sale for the week.
Not a fan of cooking?
That is okay. In today's digital society, there are a ton of ways to find inspiration for dinner recipes. Enter…PINTEREST. Amazing resource! Type in two keywords of what ingredients you have and hundreds of meal ideas pop up. Last week, I needed to cook with chicken and eggplant. So, I turned to Pinterest and found a yummy recipe, which I pinned for later.
Want your meal plan given to you?
Check out eMeals. They offer weekly meal plans with variety and flexibility allowing you to pick the recipes that best fit your needs that week. Yes, it is a monthly subscription ($5 / month). However, the monthly fee is smaller than picking up one combo meal at a fast food joint one time. Some of the Meal Plans they offer: Budget Friendly, Clean Eating, Gluten Free, Kid-Friendly, Paleo, Crockpot, Vegetarian.
Curious about freezing meals?
Time is precious. I wish I had an hour to cook a fabulous meal for my family each and every night. Hello, reality – not going to happen. Many days I turn to my freezer for previously prepared frozen meals. Family favorite? Double or triple it for next time. Simple and easy. Less time spent prepping. Want to learn more, but not sure where to start. Check out MyFreezEasy. Their goal is help members create their own meal plans so they can make 10 to 12 meals for your freezer in less than one hour. Yes, please!
6. Create your grocery list & shop
Next, grab a pen and paper to write your grocery list. Digital fan? There are plenty of apps out there to fit your preference. Personally, I use Grocery IQ because it was one of the first on the market. Other digital options include AnyList, Shopping List & Grocery Pal, or Buy Me a Pie. Pick a day and time to grocery shop (or pick up groceries / use grocery delivery). Stay consistent on your grocery shopping day and time. This will help you determine how much your household eats, and thus, eliminate wasting food.
7. Implement your Meal Plan for the week
It is great to create a meal plan; now, you must put your meal plan into action. As with starting anything new, it will take a couple of weeks for meal planning to become a habit. Each morning, look at your meal planning calendar to see what the meal is for today. Stick to your meal plan. Enjoy eating healthier meals with less stress about getting food on the table!
Related Post: Kitchen Tools and Gadgets to Save Time & Money
Bonus Meal Planning Tips:
* Bulk cut your vegetables.
* Double a meal to freeze for another day.
* Prep your dinner at breakfast time.
In conclusion, here is how to make meal planning 101 happen in your household. It will take under 10 minutes each week. Consequently, you eat healthier meals, stay within your grocery budget or lower it plus dinner will consistently be served at the same time. Stay committed to the challenge to plan meals for 4 weeks. It will become a habit – I promise. Just stay committed to meal planning!
Make sure to grab a copy of the Grocery Stock Up Price List!
Just for reference, this list does not include the use of coupons.