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If you don’t currently plan your meals weekly, bi-weekly or monthly then the idea of it can feel very overwhelming. It certainly did to me when I first started a few years ago. I would sit and stare at a blank calendar for what felt like hours. Some weeks I would just give it up, not wanting to make the time to try and sort it out. But not anymore. I’ve seen how much money and time I save and it’s a practice that I intend to keep.
I highly recommend starting with weekly, even if your intention is to eventually plan for the month. Once you’ve mastered your weekly process, as well as have a few weekly meal plans under your belt that you can reuse, monthly isn’t much more time at all. Because let’s face it – almost all of us recycle the same 15-30 recipes over and over.
I plan monthly mostly for the purposes of creating freezer meals. Like you, we are limited on time in the evenings. Because of this, I purposely plan quick meals (under 40 minutes), slow-cooker or instant pot meals (I own this slow-cooker and this instant pot), and freezer meals for the weekdays.
Why Meal Plan?
1. To Save Money
I can’t even begin to tell you how much money I’ve wasted (WASTED I tell you) in the past because I didn’t have a plan when grocery shopping. Honestly, we went from spending anywhere from $150.00 – $175.00 per week (2 people) to $60.00 – $115.00 per week (2 people). And I definitely over-purchased which means I also threw things away. Every. Single.Week.
With meal planning you save money in 4 ways:
- You’re buying only what you’re going to use = no more throwing rotten veggies, fruit, etc. away that you didn’t fit into the week’s meals. You aren’t purchasing random items that will sit in your pantry or freezer for days or weeks on end. (have you thrown away expired cans or boxes because you didn’t shop your pantry first?)
- You will grocery shop once a week. Because you have a full menu you are able to complete a comprehensive grocery list which means your one trip to the grocery store will be your only trip to the store that week. A win-win – saving time AND money.
- If you buy any expensive ingredients for a recipe you want to try you can plan enough meals to use them up in the week. i.e. you want to try a recipe that uses truffle oil, you can plan more than one recipe to try over the course of the month to ensure you use it up so it’s not thrown. Same goes with more ordinary ingredients – you use refried beans in a recipe but you only need ½ a can. You find another recipe to include in the week that also uses a ½ can and you don’t throw any of it away.
- You will likely go out to eat less. Before meal planning I would not have any idea what I was making for dinner which meant I didn’t thaw out meat or I was without a few ingredients to make what I could come up with. Also, we would go out to eat just out of sheer frustration over not knowing what to cook.
2. To Save Time
Yes, it takes time to start the process of meal planning but I promise you, in the end, you truly do save time. No more staring at the refrigerator on a Tuesday night trying to figure out what you can make for dinner based on what you have……
3. To Rotate Your Meals
We all have a nice handful of meals that our family loves. And that’s great! But if I don’t write them into a rotation I often forget a meal or two for months at a time. Additionally, this is a great way to begin planning a new meal you’d like to try. If you have a folder full of recipes that you would like to make someday but always forget when you’re grocery shopping, this is how you can begin incorporating them.
So you’ve read all of the pros to meal planning and you’ve decided to consider it. But how do you actually do it? We’ve got you covered!
How To Meal Plan
1. Create A List Of Favorite Meals
Start with creating a list of your family’s go-to meals. I divide mine out by breakfast, lunch, dinner main, dinner side and dessert (you can further divide out by protein type if you desire, i.e. dinner main – seafood, dinner main – poultry, etc.)
2. Create A Folder Or List Of Recipes You’d Like To Try
You certainly don’t have to go through cookbooks and list them all, but maybe select 4 (1 per week for 1 month) that you would like to try. Include page numbers and cookbook name if they are from a cookbook.
3. Create A List Of Your Freezer & Pantry Inventory
This seems like it is quite time consuming, and it certainly does take a bit, but it’s the best way to ensure you’re shopping your pantry, freezer and refrigerator first. No more throwing expired food away!
4. Look At Weekly Sales Flyers
This step is entirely up to you and the time you want to give to meal planning, but an additional way to save money is to plan meals that have ingredients on sale this week. An alternative is to purchase expensive ingredients (meat, cheese, etc.) when they are on sale and add them to the meal plan the following week.
5. Create Themed/Designated Meal Days
Another optional step, but one I find useful, is to create designated protein and/or themed days. For example, here’s my typical meal plan week:
Sun = Beef or Pork, Mon = Seafood, Tues = Poultry, Wed = Pork, Thurs = Beans, Fri = Beef, Sat = Poultry or Seafood; this is my guideline only – it’s not set in stone.
You can also create taco days or soup days, slow cooker days, new recipe days, etc.
6. Recycle Your Meal Plans
Keep your weekly meal plans and reuse them! If a new recipe didn’t make the “make it again” list, cross it out. You can at least use the remainder of the list and plug another recipe to try into the now empty slot.