How to Save Time and Money With Meal Planning
Part of living an organized life is not stressing about what you and your family are going to eat next, plus making sure you eat (mostly) healthy and nutritious food. The easiest way to do this is with meal planning.
Meal planning will also help you manage your time and budget more efficiently – if you do it right. You can waste tons of time planning and not even save a dime if you don’t do it systematically.
I spent 13 hours in the kitchen to plan and prepare 7 dinners the first time I tried meal planning! I chose recipes that didn’t have overlapping ingredients, they were recipes I’d never tried before with exotic ingredients, and some were just too time-consuming involving (what seemed like) hours of peeling and chopping.
Once you get started and have done it few times, you’ll find what works best for you and your family and it will become routine. In the meantime, I’ll set you up with the basics to get you started mapping out your next week’s worth of meals as quickly as possible.
1. CHOOSE YOUR RECIPES
Grab a pen and paper and jot down the recipes that come to mind based on the following questions:
HOW MANY MEALS DO YOU NEED?
The amount of cooking you need to do can vary greatly from week to week. Take an assessment of your family’s activities and appointments so you can get a rough idea of how many meals you’ll need throughout the week.
Sketch out how many breakfasts, (packable?) lunches, (quick) dinners, and snacks you’ll be needing throughout the week.
HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU HAVE?
If you have a crazy busy week coming up be sure to plan for make-ahead, slow cooker, and freezer meals.
Since I’ve been working day and night to build my online business, I haven’t had much time for cooking. We would get take out far too often, which is not only unhealthy, but also put quite a hole in our wallet. So I purchased a MyFreezEasy membership. Their freezer cooking meal plans help me prepare 10 delicious meals to load into my freezer in less than an hour. They have meal planning down to a science – it doesn’t get more efficient than that!
Another time saving tip is to have your groceries delivered. I’ve been doing it since I was 6 months (hugely) pregnant (with twins) and haven’t gone back since!
WHAT ARE YOU IN THE MOOD FOR?
Is the weather making you crave a savory soup? Are those beautiful seasonal vegetables at the farmer’s market inspiring you? Go with it! This will make planning your meals even easier and those cravings will motivate you to cook.
WHAT DOES YOUR GROCERY BUDGET LOOK LIKE?
If you’re like me, you want to eat healthy food on a low budget. Here are some things you can do to save money on food:
- Make sure the majority of the recipes you choose are ones you’ve made before. This way you won’t be buying many strange new ingredients.
- Check out the circulars (or website) from your favorite grocery stores to find out what’s on sale. Plan your meals around those ingredients.
- Select recipes that include ingredients you already have in your fridge, freezer, and pantry.
- Select recipes that have overlapping ingredients to avoid buying lots of different ingredients.
- Plan for leftovers. A “free” lunch or dinner that you don’t have to cook from scratch is always a win!
STILL LOOKING FOR INSPIRATION?
- Let everyone in the family choose a dish.
- Have fun looking through your cookbooks. This is my all-time favorite cookbook – it has never failed me and even has pretty pictures to boot! The recipes are not only delicious & elegant, but crazy-easy to make. Most of them are recipes with ingredients you usually have on hand and can quickly put together on-the-spot. I love to collect and use cookbooks and have had up to 50 on my self at a time (I read them cover-to-cover like a novel.) So believe me when I say – this cookbook is truly fabulous!
- Create and grow a meal catalog. Write down your favorite go-to meals and every time you find a new recipe you love, add it to the list. You can do this on paper using my free menu planner or keep it as a note on your phone so you always have it within arm’s reach.
- Search with Pinterest!
- Check out some of these websites:
2. FILL IN YOUR WEEKLY MEALS CALENDAR
Now that you know how many meals you need and which recipes you want to use, fill them into your meal planning calendar. This could be your personal planner, a sub-calendar on google, or you can use my free menu planner.
Don’t forget to plan for leftovers!
If life catches up with you and you have trouble motivating yourself to stick with your plan, hang it up in the kitchen so that everyone in your family can see it. This will hold you accountable and you will be more inclined to just jump in and get cooking! One of my good friends does this. She has a large restaurant-style chalk board hanging on the wall in her kitchen. She uses colored chalk to write the recipe names in a pretty script and even gets fancy by drawing illustrations like carrots and apples so even her toddler can understand what’s for dinner.
3. CREATE YOUR GROCERY LIST
Each time you write down a recipe in the calendar, make sure you put its ingredients on your grocery list. There are some excellent list-creating apps out there, but if you’re an old-fashioned paper list girl like me, you may want to use the template in my menu planner.
I prefer organizing my grocery list in categories so that I don’t miss anything or wind up back tracking through the store because I forgot something.
4. PICK A TIME TO SHOP
Once your shopping is done, it’s time to tackle food prep. I’ve even included a template for that in my menu planner. All you do is write down the names of your recipes for the week and list all of the tasks you can do ahead of time for each recipe . Then go back and see if you can do some of those tasks in batches. For example: mincing garlic, chopping onions, making salad dressings, marinading meats, etc. This will save you tons of time!
5. SAVE AND ORGANIZE YOUR RECIPES
FOR ONLINE RECIPES
- Add them directly to a folder on your google drive. This way you can access them anywhere on any device.
- Create a recipe board on Pinterest. You can check mine out for inspiration.
FOR PAPER RECIPES
- A simple, three-holed binder with some plastic sleeve inserts is great for organizing recipe cards, online recipes you’ve printed out, and meals pulled from magazines. I divide them up into categories for easy access (soups, salads, meats, baked goods, etc.)
- Use bright colored tabs to flag favorite cookbook recipes (or recipes you want to try.)
I hope this step-by-step guide has made tackling the task of planning your family’s meals a little bit easier. You will soon realize how much time it will save you coming up with “what’s for dinner?” and will save you from wandering aimlessly around the grocery store. By sticking to your carefully planned grocery list, you will also save money because you won’t be tempted to make spontaneous purchases.
Now all you have to do is get cooking!
Got some meal planning tips and tricks of your own to share? Leave them in the comments below!
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