Meal planning is a skill that’s totally worth learning. There are two major benefits. It will save you money (guaranteed!) and you’ll be less stressed when it comes to mealtime.
Initially, meal planning can seem like a daunting task. I used to think that planning a whole week’s worth of meals would be time-consuming and difficult. When I first started meal planning years ago, it took me over an hour because I didn’t know where to start and how to plan efficiently. After a few weeks, I was able to get the hang of it and it’s so much easier and faster now!
Meal Planning Will Save You Money
How many times have you been caught up at work trying to finish up a few last things so you can hurry home? When you finally leave, you get stuck in a ton of traffic that puts you in a less than pleasant mood. As you’re fighting traffic, you realize that you don’t know what you’re going to make for dinner. But whatever it is, you’re going to have to stop by the grocery store. Ugh!
So what do you do? Well the old me would end up ordering take-out from my favorite restaurant. Which would cost me at least $25 and that was just for me and my husband! Doing that multiple times a week cost me at least $1,300 a year but probably more! It was an expensive habit that was just not sustainable with our budget.
Then I started meal planning. Having a plan in place has helped me avoid impromptu trips to get fast food or take out after a stressful day of work. Unplanned trips to the grocery store became infrequent. And I started buying groceries with a purpose and now we hardly waste food. Which definitely was not the case before.
That’s hundreds, if not thousands of dollars saved thanks to meal planning.
Meal Planning Will Reduce Your Stress
Life happens. Stress is unavoidable. But eating shouldn’t be stressful!
Planning in advance will take a huge load off your shoulders. How? Because you already know what you’ll be eating for every meal and you’ll already have everything you need. No more running to the store to pick up a few things after a long hard day at work. No more trying to figure out what you can throw together for your hangry family. Because you’ll be ready for anything that comes your way. At least for meal time!
Easy Step By Step Instructions
Step 1: Start a recipe bank
You can get recipe ideas from all over the place. Cookbooks, Pinterest, magazines, and even your family and friends. It can be hard to keep up with them all. And the last thing you want to do is spend your time searching everywhere for that one recipe that you thought looked delicious on Pinterest a few weeks ago. So having a simple recipe bank will save you time and help keep everything organized.
I have a list of all of my family favorites, quick 15-minute meals, cheap meals, and new recipes I’d like to try. Having a list of go-to meals will come in handy as you’re meal planning. Download the free recipe bank and meal planner below.
Pro Tip: Limit trying out new recipes to only once a week or less. New recipes tend to take longer to make because you’re unfamiliar with the recipes and there’s always a risk you won’t like what you’ve made.
Step 2: Look at your schedule
What does your schedule look like for the week? Are you coming home late from work or taking your kids to practice? Are you going out to eat to celebrate a special occasion? Taking your upcoming week’s activities into account will help you create a realistic meal plan that you’re more likely to stick to. If you know you’ll be pressed for time one night then you can go ahead and plan to make an easy 15-minute meal. Follow our Pinterest board for some quick and easy meal ideas. Or better yet, you can plan to eat leftovers. And if by some miracle you’re free one night you can plan on making a new dish you’ve been dying to try.
Step 3: Write it all down
This step is a must! No ifs, ands, or buts about it. As you’re planning your meals, write it all down along with the corresponding grocery list. This way you and your family will not forget the plan and you’ll be less likely to stray away from it. Make sure to download the meal planner if you haven’t already to help you start successfully planning your next meals.
Step 4: Plan to cook with the things you already have first
Look in your pantry, fridge, and freezer and see what main meals and/or side dishes you can create with the things you already have. Make it a part of your weekly routine and you’ll drastically cut the amount of food and money you waste. Right now, I have ground beef in the freezer, soon to be expired tortillas in the pantry, and cheese in the fridge. Therefore, I’m planning on making my famous Crunchwrap Supreme next Tuesday. So as I’m creating my meal plan, I’ll write Crunchwrap Supreme on my meal planner under Tuesday and write down the rest of the ingredients needed so I won’t forget.
Pro tip: Write down the needed time to prep and cook. This will help you figure out what time you need to start to have dinner ready by a certain time
Step 5: Then plan around the proteins that are on sale
If you eat meat, I’d recommend planning your meal around the meat that’s on sale. Why? Because meat is usually the most expensive thing in any recipe and can be really expensive if not on sale. Therefore, I try to stock up and freeze our favorite meats whenever it goes on sale.
Related: How to Save Money on Groceries
Step 6: Plan for a leftover night or two
This may not apply to you if you absolutely love to cook every night. But if you’re anything like me then you absolutely love leftover nights! If that’s the case, make sure to double up the recipe one night so you’re able to enjoy leftovers. Lasagna is one of my favorite go-to meals for leftovers because it’s easy to make and it’ll last us three meals.
Step 7: It’s okay to eat out
My husband and I enjoy eating out. We just don’t do it every day because it can get really expensive. We do however enjoy a nice dinner out every Saturday and we don’t feel guilty about it. Eating out once or even twice a week is totally fine as long as you make it a part of your plan and your budget.
Step 8: Hang it in plain sight
Put your meal plan somewhere your whole family can see, like your fridge. You need to keep it visible for a few reasons. First, it’s a great reminder to thaw any frozen items you’ll need. Second, you’ll easily be able to see the prep work that’s ahead of you. Third, you’ll no longer hear, “What’s for dinner?”.
Pro Tip: After the week is over, save your old meal plans so you can reference them in the future. This especially come in handy when you don’t have much time to meal plan
Step 9: Always have a backup meal
We all have good intentions to follow our plan. But sometimes plans don’t always work. Crazy life gets in the way and for one reason or another, you may not have time to cook the meal you planned. That’s why it’s important to always have a backup meal. Even if it’s something as simple as a frozen pizza or keeping leftover soup in the freezer that can be thrown in a pot and be ready in minutes.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be stressful or time-consuming. By following the simple steps above, you’ll be able to create a meal plan in 30 minutes or less instead of an hour. It’ll also save you a ton of money because you have a plan in place and no longer need to make a last-minute swing through the drive-thru. Happy planning!
What are some of your tips and tricks when you’re meal planning? Share your favorite go-to recipes.