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This post was updated and republished August 1, 2019.
I never used to meal plan, but since I started a couple of years ago, it has been a total game changer for me!
Meal planning simply means planning out all of your meals in advance. It can be a week, two weeks, or even longer in advance. It can also mean prepping meals to freeze so you can cook them far down the line.
Here is how meal planning helps me:
Saves me time
I was spending a lot of time running to the store to shop for food. All that time in the car plus running around the store really took up a lot of my day. It has been such a time saver to not have to do this so often. Of course there are days that I need to pick up other items here and there, but being able to run in and out of the store rather quickly in these moments is so helpful. Now I have time to get other, more productive things done and to do more things I actually enjoy 🙂
Saves me money
Since I have a meal plan and a shopping list that I don’t veer off of, it makes it much easier to stick to my budget. Plus, I can look for sales and deals ahead of time to help save money. If I am planning a more expensive meat one night, then I will plan some less expensive options around that. And because there is a plan, we’re not taking the easy option to spend money eating out.
It helps me eat healthier
When I am thinking of meals on the fly, I tend to eat a lot less healthy, because for me, eating healthy takes work. This doesn’t mean with meal planning everything I eat is super healthy. Sometimes it is difficult to eat as healthy as I’d like with a small budget and short time to cook, but I do a lot better than I did before I was planning. Also, without a plan, it is so easy to run out to the nearest fast food restaurant and pick up something to eat. So not healthy!
How to plan
It is one thing to want to meal plan, but having a strategy in place to actually get it done is a whole different story. After all, wasting time, energy and money meal planning does not make it worth it!
Meal planning isn’t a new concept. On the contrary, you can find tons of ideas on how to plan. What I am going to lay out for you is the method I have found to work best for me. If you are not currently meal planning, I hope it will be a starting point for you to begin.
Here is how I meal plan:
I look for what we have on hand
A day or two before a new meal planning period is approaching, I take a look through our fridge and cabinets and jot down items we already have that I can use for meals. Maybe we have forgotten leftovers we can eat up or chicken in the freezer. Using what I already have on hand is a great way to save money and not waste food. I don’t know about you, but I absolutely HATE to throw out food!
Look through ads
When I have time, I look through ads at the grocery stores I like to shop at and see if there is anything on sale I would like to make. (Be willing to go to )the discounted stores to shop so you can save money!)
Create a list of meals
I pull up my trusty old spreadsheet and list out all the days and dates for the upcoming meal period. Then I make a note of events we have going on that may interfere with dinner. Once I finish that, I quickly fill in meals on specific days by brainstorming on my own. These are meals that I have done in the past and that just come to me or that I thought of based on ads. Some days we have a lot going on so meals are short and sweet like BLTs. If my husband and I are both going to be gone most of the day, I may consider a slow cooker meal (aren’t slow cookers the best?). On Fridays, we usually keep it simple and have frozen pizza so that gets filled in right away.
Once I am done just simply brainstorming, I look at previous months to see if there are any meals that stand out that I would like to add. I will also usually search for a new recipe or two to try or search for ideas when I run out of my own. I also pay attention to what meals would most likely give us leftovers for another dinner night and will often put that down for two different days during the week (that is if we don’t plan to have those leftovers for lunch).
Here’s an example of how I record the first half of the month’s meals:
As you can see, it doesn’t have to be anything super fancy. You can even take out your phone and record something in your notes section. There is no right way so use whatever method works best for you and helps you stick with it! In fact, my husband bought me a meal planning magnet for our fridge and so I will often just record our planned meals on that.
Create a shopping list
I create a shopping list of all the grocery items I need. For some items, such as produce, I may wait to pick up until later so they don’t spoil before it’s time to cook the meal (unless of course you like to prep meals in advance and freeze them – always a wonderful idea!). Meats can be frozen so I pick those up on my large shopping trip, unless I am waiting for a sale. Some people love to keep a paper shopping list. I like to record it on my phone.
It’s never a bad idea to keep food around that is easy to cook (for us this is frozen pizza, breakfast food, cans of soup, etc) that allow you to put something together quickly for last minute appointments or errands or for when you don’t have as many leftovers as you originally thought. If you don’t already have these types of items on hand, you will end up eating out so make this a priority!
To be clear, when I say I plan meals out in advance, I am talking mostly about dinner ideas. For lunch, I have a plan but it’s not as detailed. I keep lunch meat and bread on hand or bring leftovers to work. Sometimes I may even make something ahead of time, like soup, that I can bring for most of the week. Maybe you need to have a much more specific plan. If you work somewhere where most people go out to lunch everyday, then you must have a plan in order to not fall victim to doing the same! I have worked at places where I am the only one that brought lunch everyday. It was tough but I know I saved so much more money than my co-workers.
You may even do better planning only a week at a time instead of two weeks or fifteen days or so. Just as I did, experiment with what is going to help you out the most and then be willing to adjust where necessary.
Taking just ten or fifteen minutes to think about and jot down meals ahead of time can be such a time saver, which helps me get a lot more other important things done in a day. Sure, I still have to go to the store a couple of other times throughout the month for items to fill in, but these trips are much shorter and rather infrequent so my time is much more free. Meal planning also saves me money and helps me eat healthier so it is a no-brainer for me!
I am a planner by nature so I look forward to getting a meal plan in place. If planning is something that doesn’t come as easy to you, I would suggest giving it a try anyway and see how it goes. And then let me know what you think!
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