Meal planning is a great way to help save on money, time and your sanity. I’ve been meal planning for years for the simple fact that 1. I love making lists and it gives my family a visual for our week ahead. And 2., it helps to use up the food you’ve got on hand. Especially that food that gets piled on at the bottom of your freezer or pantry items you’ve been struggling with how to incorporate into a meal.
I don’t have or use anything fancy for our meal plans. Just use a piece of paper in a folder where I keep all of my t0-do, to-buy, to-fix and other notes I may have.
I’ve only ever meal planned for 1 week at a time. There’s always some sort of change during the week to allow for, so this way it keeps the ‘menu’ a bit neater and simpler for the one week at a time. My meal planner isn’t just a a menu for the week. For each day, I write out my husbands shift he’s on, any sports or events for that day/evening and of course, the meal for that day.
Planning doesn’t require a ton of time. Choose a day to do the planning. I always start with Sunday for the fact that it’s the first day of the week and I tend to have more time that day to do it. It takes me about 10 mins from start to finish.
A great starting point would be with your freezer. Bring a piece of paper and a pen with you and write down what you have in there, usually start with meat. Make sure to move things around (if it’s anything like our chest freezer, a lot of stuff at the bottom gets really overlooked). You want to make sure to use up meat that you know has been there for a bit. It’s great to stock up on things when they’re on sale, but don’t forget about them. No one likes freezer burnt steak!
A good suggestion would be to keep a whiteboard or a list right beside or on the front of your freezer. Whenever you put something in, write it down and when you take it out to cook, scratch it off. This will allow you to remember what you have and to get it used up.
Once you’ve done a quick inventory, sit down, get creative (or not!) and decide what you want to make/use for the week. Start with things you have on hand in the fridge and pantry/cupboards. The point is to use things on hand to avoid extra spending.
Also, this is a great time to get your family, especially children, in on the planning and cooking with you. Let them choose a day and a food and have them work with you to come up with a meal together. It’s a great way to get kids into cooking and learning what goes into preparing meals. Not only that, the health aspect of planning and cooking meals is huge. It’s so important to be aware of what we’re putting into our bodies. My boys have both taken in a keen interest in cooking and learning about nutrition and ingredient labels.
My oldest, Reed, has a peanut allergy so we have always had to read labels and ingredients many times before using a product. It’s become a great learning habit. Not only for allergies, but just the sheer fact of being health conscious.
Meal planning doesn’t mean that you have to turn out a meal like a top chef. Just make what you know and what your family likes and maybe throw a new recipe in once a week. Mix it up or stick to the tried and true family favs. If you don’t enjoy cooking or you have super picky eaters, maybe once a week may be too challenging. Give it a try it once in a while though. Remember, your taste buds change every 7 years, so they may surprise you! If you eat out or like to get take-out, leave a day blank for this. I know that Fridays are pretty chill around here and I don’t like to cook much on that day. It’s the start of the weekend, the boys are home and we normally make or grab pizza so take things like this into consideration too.
We like to try and keep at least 2 days meat free, 1-2 days for red meat and the rest for fish and/or poultry. Also factor in leftovers. It’s pretty rare around here that we have them, but there are meals that you know will make quite a bit extra, so take that into consideration. Are you going to use those leftovers for another night, take them to work/school, freeze for another week you know you’ll be cramped for time??
Once you have your week planned out, write your grocery list and grab what you need. This is where it can get tricky. Don’t head to the store on an empty tummy-you’ll end up buying things you don’t really need or want. And try to stick to the list but if something is on sale that you know you’ll use, stock up! I like bringing one of the boys with me and their job is to read me the list and help grab items to help keep it quick. Also, I tend to forget my lists so when they come with, they know it’s their job to keep the list!
Also take into consideration snacks and lunches if that’s something your family will need. I don’t write down my kids lunches, I just know what I need for them and grab the produce at the store. On Mondays I try to bake the ‘treats’ for lunches for that week and sometimes double the recipe so I can freeze and keep on hand for on-the-go muffins/bars, etc.
On days that you have extra time (think crockpot night), look ahead on your menu and give yourself a head-start with any necessary prepping that may need done.
If you feel like you need to plan for breakfasts and lunches, do what you need to do. It can also be a helpful tool to help you with weight loss if that’s something you’re working on. Keep it fun, enjoy the process and you’ll be an expert meal planner before you know it!
If you’re stuck on the same rotating food, check out some great ideas to incorporate into your week here!
Let me know what works and doesn’t work for your meal plans. Have you tried anything new since planning? I wanna know!
Have fun and happy planning!