Easy tips to start meal planning.
“How do I make a meal plan?” is a question I receive regularly. Meal planning is something I have been doing for over 15 years, and it has become second nature to me. I meal plan every single week, without fail. But…
I actually hate meal planning. There, I said it! I really don’t like to meal plan. I feel like I plan the same things every week. It feels impossible to ever find something that everyone in the family will be happy with (there is always a complaint from someone). Meal planning feels like a chore, trying to come up with quick meals for the nights we are busy, cheap meals to help our pocketbook, and everything else in between. It’s a hassle.
But, I continue to plan our meals regularly, and I will keep doing so probably until the day I die.
So, if you are new to meal planning or feel like it is stressful, you are not alone! I get it! Let me teach you the tricks I have learned to help make meal planning a little easier.
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How Does Meal Planning Save Money?
It’s no secret that if you want to save money on food, cooking at home is the way to do it.
However, cooking at home does not mean you randomly put food in your grocery cart and then come up with a new recipe each day. Cooking at home takes thought, planning and some prep work. When you meal plan correctly you will find you save money in multiple ways.
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1. Meal Planning Prevents Impulse Shopping at the Grocery Store
When you plan ahead each week you are able to know exactly what you need to buy at the grocery store. This prevents buying “this” or “that” completely on impulse….just because it looks good in the moment.
2. Meal Planning Prevents Stops for Take Out Food
If you have already planned your meals for the week and you know that you have ingredients at home waiting to be cooked you will be much less likely to stop on your way home from work to grab quick take out food. Cooking at home is much cheaper than eating out and the less you stop at a restaurant the more money you will save.
3. Meal Planning Reduces Waste
A good meal plan will help you eat up the food you already have in your home to prevent any food going to waste. When food is thrown out, it’s the equivalent of throwing money out and meal planning will help you reduce this waste.
How Do I Begin Planning Meals?
When you are new to meal planning, it might feel a little stressful or confusing. Don’t worry! This is normal! Follow these simple steps for a successful meal plan.
Step #1: Shop Your Pantry First
Before you sit down to plan out your weekly menu, take a quick inventory of your pantry, your fridge, your freezer and your cupboards. Take note of what foods you already have in your house. Figure out a few meals you can make with the foods you already own.
For example: If I see chicken, rice and beans in my freezer and pantry than I might plan chicken and rice casserole one night and chicken and bean burritos the other night.
Step #2: Look Through Weekly Ads To Find the Best Deals
Use the free Flipp App to browse the weekly ads in your area. Plan a few meals based on what is on sale for the week. For example: if I find Zucchini on sale than I might plan to make zoodles sometime during the week.
This might require you to stop by a few different stores, which I once avoided because it felt to time consuming. Now that I take the time to shop sales at multiple stores I have found a huge decrease in the amount of money I spend on groceries.
Step #3: Make The Plan
Now that you have a few meals based on your own food inventory and the current sales, it’s time to fill in the blanks. Look through pinterest or your favorite cook books to plan the rest of your meals for the week. To decrease your weekly expenses even more try to choose recipes needing ingredients that you already have at home.
If you are struggling finding the time or motivation to begin meal planning consider subscribing to Emeals. With a very affordable small fee Emeals will do all of your weekly meal planning for you! I tried it last year and was seriously impressed, you can read my full emeals review here.
Their service is complete with shopping lists, recipes and instructions. They offer a variety of plans so you can choose the diet and taste preference that works best for you! Subscribers have been able to save over $100 each month and at least an hour weekly in not having to sit down and plan. Try the Free 14 Day Trial to see if Emeals is right for you!
Step #4: Make The Grocery List
The next step is to make your grocery list. Look through what you planned for each day and make a grocery shopping list based on the meals you will be cooking throughout the week. Don’t forget to include any snacks your family will want!
I personally do my grocery shopping at the same time that I make my shopping list. This is done by using Walmarts Free Grocery Pickup. I simply open the app, type in what I need for the week and then press check out! All that’s left is to pick it up the next day. It is a huge time saver!
Step #5: Grocery Shop While Sticking To Your List
If you choose not to use Walmart’s Free Grocery Pickup your next step will be to go shopping at the grocery store. This is an important part of meal planning.
As you shop make sure you are sticking to the shopping list that you made in step #4. Do not buy items just because they look good or are on sale. You have made your meal plan and only need to buy the items that fit into the plan.
Step #6: Implement Your Meal Plan
Now it’s time to put your plan into action! When you are new to meal planning you might feel tempted to stray from your original plan. As life gets busy, you get tired, it’s easy to fall into old habits. I encourage you not to do this! Especially not when you are new to planning your meals. This is an important time to form a new habit!
You will find some trial and error as you are adjusting to meal planning, this is normal, don’t let it discourage you! Maybe you forget to buy a few important ingredients, perhaps you are to busy to fix what you planned. This happens to us all! Be willing to learn from each mistake, adjust each week and through time you will find what works best for you, and what doesn’t work.
- Related: 5 Ways to Earn CASHBACK on Purchases
Meal Planning Struggles and Solutions
I asked Instagram today what a few of their Meal Planning struggles were. Below are a few of those problems and my tips for overcoming them.
Struggle #1: “Too Much Repetitiveness”
It is normal to feel like you are making the same thing over and over again in your meal plan. We have all felt this way from time to time! Here are a few ways to keep variety in your meal plan:
- Daily Theme Nights
Choose a theme for each day of the week. This ensures you are making something different every night and keeping a variety in your menu. Your themes could be:
Meatless Monday: A lot of times this might revolve around pasta.
Taco Tuesday: It doesn’t have to be tacos, fajitas, enchiladas or a big taco salad works too!
Soup Wednesday: Try a new soup recipe until you find a few favorites.
Rice Thursday: Make something with rice today. Perhaps a chicken and rice casserole, sweet and sour chicken with rice….you get the idea!
Easy Saturday: Plan an easy meal for Saturday; such as breakfast for dinner, a can of soup or a frozen lasagna.
Slow Cooker Sunday: Put your slow cooker to use on Sundays, or maybe try a few instant pot recipes.
- Try a New Recipe Regularly
Pick one day each week to try a new recipe. Perhaps Monday will be your New Recipe Day. Some of these recipes you will probably dislike, but over time you will find a few new favorites to add to your regular rotation.
I have a couple of different pinterest boards dedicated to helping me find new recipes. One board is called “Food To Try” and the other board labeled “Food We Loved.” When I want to try a new recipe I simply look through my Food to Try board and pick one for the week. If we love it I will move it over to the Food We Loved board until I am ready to print it out and add it to my recipe binder.
- Plan Meals Well in Advance
Plan your meals 4-6 weeks in advance to guarantee you won’t have any duplicate dinners during that time. A 6 week rotation should give you plenty of variety.
Struggle #2: Sticking to the Plan
Some days you might plan to make a big and fancy dinner, and then the day comes and you just don’t feel like making it anymore. Been there…so many many times I have been there! Here are a few solutions that have helped me to stick to the plan.
- Meal Prep in Advance
Do as much meal prep in advance as you can. If you have a day off from work or a free evening, spend time chopping veggies and cook your meat ahead of time. You can keep these already prepped foods in the fridge until it’s time to prepare the meal. This saves a lot of time and will make cooking so much easier after a long day.
- Be Flexible
It’s ok to change up the plan every now and then. If you are having a hard day and just don’t feel like cooking what you planned, feel free to cook something else! If you planned sandwiches for Friday, make sandwiches on the day you are feeling tired and make the more involved meal on Friday.
It’s helpful to have a few staples in your home at all times so if you need to cook something different that night, you can. Breakfast for dinner is one that I do regularly when I don’t feel like cooking. I am able to make pancakes using the ingredients I already have at home and call it a meal.
Struggle #3: Planning for Different Tastes/Diets
It’s hard planning a menu for people who all have different palates and taste preferences. I get it! Maybe he doesn’t eat gluten, she hates red meat, and the little one refuses to eat anything healthy. This makes meal planning even more stressful than it already was! Here are a few suggestions to help this struggle:
- Provide a Variety of Sides
Instead of trying to find a dinner that everyone in your family will like, provide a variety of sides so that there is something for everyone. If you make chicken and you know your daughter won’t eat it, make a few healthy foods to go along with the chicken so that you know she will be filling up on something good.
- Rotate The Meals
Rotate the meals that you cook throughout the week so that everyone will get a favorite at least once or twice during the week. I usually ask each of my kids for one dinner request for the week. They are always excited for the night when I cook their specific request. This ensures everyone is always looking forward to something!
You Can Meal Plan!
You can read as many articles as you want, but honestly the best way to learn how to meal plan and to find what works best for you is to just begin and never quit. Keep trying, keep planning, keep staying focused on the goal of saving money on food and you will find a way to make it work! Feel free to reach out in the comments or my inbox with any questions! I am always happy to help!
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I hope this article helped you learn how to make a meal plan!