Taking the time to plan meals each week can save you so much money buying random items at the grocery and later throwing away spoiled food, time spent running out for last minute grocery items or take-out, and stress at the end of the day when you are hoping for dinner inspiration as you open your cabinets.
It has been said that for every hour you spend in planning, you save four hours in your actual day. That’s a pretty impressive return!
While we know that meal planning is a great idea, I find many people don’t quite know how to get started…or they think it is going to be too restrictive. I’m going to debunk that myth and share my streamlined method for realistic meal planning.
1. Pick a time each week that is least stressful and most reliable. For me, this is on Thursday, since I do my grocery shopping Fridays. Come armed with your calendar of the upcoming week’s events + any store ads and/or coupons you’d like to use + any recipes you’d like to try. Caution: Don’t try to pack in too many new recipes into the week’s plan, especially if you are a novice in the kitchen or are strapped for time.
- Your calendar – you need to know what nights you are going out for business dinners, when you need to plan a special meal, whether you are having company over to your house or whether you need something cooking in the slow cooker while you are at soccer practice.
- Grocery circular – look for meat, poultry or fish on sale and any produce bargains to give inspiration to your meal planning. For instance, if you know that chicken is on sale, you can fill in one of your favorite chicken dishes or go online to find new recipe ideas for chicken. I think it also helps to take a quick glance in your fridge, freezer and pantry for items you already have and need to use.
- Coupons – it helps to pair those coupons with sale prices for the biggest benefit. If you prefer a particular brand of peanut butter and you see that it is on sale this week at your grocery, now’s the time to use that coupon!
2. Once you’ve reviewed your schedule and sale items or possible recipes, start plugging dinner ideas into a meal planner sheet. As you add a meal idea, fill in the grocery list for items you will need to make that meal (obviously omitting anything you already have).
3. I start with dinners, but don’t forget about other meals and snacks too. This is where many other meal planning services and tools fall short. You don’t have to “prepare” breakfast every morning, but you should have a general idea of a few possible breakfasts that you and the rest of your household can eat. Make sure you jot down these ideas and add items to your grocery list. You can ALWAYS move things around. Just because you filled in Monday morning with scrambled eggs, you don’t have to stress when little Jimmy wants a bowl of cereal instead.
4. Be sure you consider leftovers too. You may be able to have leftovers for a dinner one night or use them for lunches the next day. I know many people who have “clean out the fridge” dinners on Friday. It beats ordering a pizza in cost and health!
5. Don’t forget to add any food items that you need to bring to other people – like an extra bottle of wine for a hostess gift or snacks for the t-ball team.
6. In addition to building a grocery list based on meals, I keep a running grocery list in our kitchen during the week for staples and weekly favorites. When any member of the family uses the last of something (such as sliced cheese or mustard), that goes immediately on the grocery list.
There you have it! Six simple steps that will help you to eat healthier, save you time and stress, and help you save money spent eating out or on wasted food. Try it and leave me a comment. I’d love to hear about any additional tips you have to share!