It took me a long time to start meal planning. It sounded so painfully dull, and I hated the idea of being obligated to make a particular meal for dinner. I mean, what if it didn’t sound good that day? No, I wanted to decide each day what sounded best to me and make it. Who needs a meal plan?
Then, I realized we had a few problems.
The problem was, when we bought food, we had no idea how we were going to use it. We’d buy stuff and say, “Oh that sounds good!” or “I’m sure we can find a use for that.” So we’d just have a mishmash of different items that might or might not go together. As a result, we went to the grocery store far more than necessary and thus spent way more than we needed to. Or, we would give up and get fast food, which, of course, would completely blow our budget.
I realized I needed to suck it up, put on my big-girl pants, and embrace meal planning.
When I first turned to Pinterest for ideas for meal planning, I’d find plans that detailed everything: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Yuck. That left me feeling completely overwhelmed. I still wanted a little spontaneity to my food choices each day.
As a result, I only meal plan for dinners. I’m sure I could save more money planning the other meals, but dinner is the most important meal for our family each day. If that’s taken care of, the rest sort of falls into place and I’m fine with that.
Okay, so you’re on board with me. You want to start planning your dinners. Now, where do you start?
Because the Hubs is paid on a bi-weekly schedule, I plan meals for 14 days. So I take a sheet of paper and write out the dates for that time period.
At this point, I look at my calendar and mark days that we have plans to eat out or eat at a friend’s house, because I don’t need to plan dinner those days.
Then I decide which meals I’d like to make. There are several factors that go into this.
To make meal planning easier, I also highly recommend doing a lot of crockpot meals that can be prepared ahead of time and frozen. That way, you thaw it in the refrigerator the night before, dump it in the crock pot, and you don’t have to think about dinner again until it’s time to eat. Seriously, it’s life-changing, and it’s enough for its own post.
I also recommend making enough of each dinner that you’ll have lunch the next day, especially since with this plan you’ll be “seat of your pants”ing it. It’s easy for us since we’re only a family of three, but if you have a bigger family, this might mean doubling or even tripling recipes.
So now, go ahead and start writing meals on your date sheet. You can also write 14 meals on a separate sheet of paper and transfer them, but that’s up to you.
As you do this, write down the ingredients you’ll need. You’ll notice that if I need multiples of something, I use tally marks instead of re-writing it. It helps keep me more organized while I’m shopping, rather than writing “1-2 lb chicken” several different times, for instance.
Keep doing this until it’s all filled out.
Woohoo! Now don’t you feel proud of yourself?
At this point, I add a few breakfast and lunch related purchases to the bottom of my list: lunch meat, milk, eggs, juice, snacks, etc. Just things that we’ll need over the next few weeks for breakfast and lunch (that is, if there aren’t leftovers.) I also give us an allotment for fruits and veggies (say, $25 for a week.) Sometimes we go over that amount, but it’s nice to have a rough estimation of what we’d like to spend.
When I’ve finished the meal plan, I reorganize my shopping list by where things are found in the store. Don’t judge me, here. It’s not as obsessive as it sounds. It’s just a straight-up necessity when shopping with kids. I usually divide it up by dairy, produce, meat, pantry/canned, and other. It saves so much time in the grocery store to take the extra minute or two to do this.
Sometimes my meal plan gets changed around and I make meals on different days than expected, but, for the most part, we stick to it. The important part for us is that we have the ingredients for meals for the next two weeks set aside and ready to use.
Meal planning has saved us so much money. Where we used to spend $200 or more in a pay period on food, we now spend under $140 per pay period. Now that we’re on a lower income than we were before, it’s even more necessary than before and I’m grateful to have learned to do it before we needed to figure out how to work with a smaller budget.
PS. If you need more help figuring out how to reduce your grocery budget, there’s a great course called the Grocery Budget Makeover. It’s only open for a limited time, but you can join the waitlist here: I hear they’ll be opening up for enrollment for a brief period in early 2017 🙂
Let’s hear from you guys: How do you meal plan? Or is this your first rodeo?
I’m a twenty-something LEO wife and stay-at-home mom to a one-year-old little boy. I enjoy writing, reading, taking my son for walks and runs in the stroller, and crafting. My goal is for Love and Blues to be a resource for first responders and their families. I write about marriage and family topics, as well as about the quirks that come with being married to a man in law enforcement, firefighting, or emergency medical services.
Our friend Paul is a great guy. The Hubs doesn’t have a…
It’s no secret I love freezer cooking. Especially when the Squish was…