Easy Meal Planning Ideas That Won't Make You Tear Your Hair Out
I never used to meal plan. In fact, it was only about a year ago that I really started getting into it.
My biggest fears and limiting beliefs about meal planning were:
- That it was two time consuming
- That I wouldn't want to eat what I had planned on the day I planned it for
- And that it was just easier to go to the grocery store and buy things we liked
I'm guessing you probably feel this way too, and that's why you're reading this post now.
Well get ready, because I'm here to tell you that meal planning is back! It's awesome, it's easy, and it works.
And I want you to do it too!
Why should I spend time meal planning every week or two?
Okay, so let's address the biggest limiting belief- That meal planning takes too much time. You already don't have enough time! Why should you waste more of it?
#1. Meal planning takes about 5 minutes once you've done it a few times.
Can we let go of this meal planning takes too much time thing? It's just not true! When you do it right, meal planning really shouldn't take more than 5 minutes or so each week.
If you want to plan two weeks to a month of meals, it'll probably take you a little longer. Well worth the time!
#2. What if I don't want to eat what I planned for that night?
Let me let you in on a little secret. The key to making sure you want to eat what you've planned for, is the plan for some really freaking tasty meals.
If you are planning meals that you feel pretty meh about because they are quick and easy, chances are you won't want to eat them.
This is kind of a fun 241, because not only will you be saving a ton of money, but you're going to start eating better Then you were previously. Excited yet?
#3. It's easier to just go grocery shopping and buy the food we like.
Girl no it isn't! It might seem like it at first, but when you are three days in from your last grocery shopping trip and you can't figure out what to make for lunch and the kids are starving, and dinner is the last thing from your mind but you need to have it ready in 2 hours… That’s not easy.
It's stressful, it's crummy, and it isn't a good way to live. Creating a meal plan will not only become easier and faster each time you do it, but it's going to help you make sure that you have good meals on the table at the right time with less stress.
So how exactly do you create a meal plan that saves money and that you want to stick to?
1. Write down all the foods you need to use up this week.
The first key to reducing food waste and saving money is to make a list of everything in your fridge that needs to be used up this week.
That half used box of chicken broth, handful of peppers that are beginning to turn, and leftover ground beef needs to become part of your meal plan for this week!
My favorite way to use up meat and veggies that need to go is to simply throw them into soup. It's super easy, and it always tastes great if you get the flavoring right.
2. Make a list of all the meals you'd like to eat this week.
Once you've got a list of foods that need to be eaten, the next step is to make a list of other meals you'd like to eat this week.
Most people will want to map out 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, 7 dinners, and a few snacks.
Don’t forget that leftovers count as a meal!
In order to save time I will often make a big pot of soup for one of my dinners that also counts as lunch for the next day. So instead of planning 21 different meals for the week, I’ll plan two different breakfast meals to be alternated throughout the week, and three different meals that double as dinner and lunch for the next day.
You might plan for a bit more variety if you’re a family of “foodies”. For us, we like stuff that is healthy and simple, and we don’t mind eating the same meal a couple times throughout the week.
3. Make a master list of the ingredients you need.
Now that you know what you’ll be cooking this week, it’s time to make your shopping list!
Leave out the ingredients you already have at home, and just make a list of the things you need to buy. You can do this on pen and paper, or using an app on your phone.
After one too many times of forgetting my grocery list, I now just write down the items I need on my phone.
The secondary benefit to planning your meals this way is that you can cut your grocery bill substantially.
A few months ago I set a rule for myself that I would only go grocery shopping once per week. Each week I would plan my meals, make the list, and then buy those items. And then I wouldn’t go to the grocery store again until next week.
Let me tell you, I started saving SO MUCH money this way.
Previously my husband and I would take almost daily trips to the grocery store where we’d spend $20 here, $30 there. And some months our grocery bill topped $1,000 for two adults and a baby.
Now we’re able to easily stick to a $500 per month grocery budget in the middle of an expensive city (link). We also tend to only buy organic and grass fed options, so to me this number is even more impressive.
Shopping once per week with a meal plan is absolutely key here!
4. Go grocery shopping without overspending.
You’ve got a meal plan and a list. Now it’s time to buy your groceries and get to cooking!
The important thing to remember here is that you want to stick to your list. I usually give myself the leeway to buy one extra item I hadn’t planned on, but that’s it!
If you see some cinnamon bread or some delicious looking shiitake mushrooms you really want to add to one of your meals, by all means throw it in the cart. But make it the only extra you let sneak it’s way in.
I love using this rule because it gives me a little bit of flexibility and spontaneity, and I don’t feel deprived. But it also keeps my budget on track, and I don’t end up with extra food that goes bad because I didn’t have a plan for it!
Having a weekly (or monthly!) meal plan is absolutely essential to keeping your grocery bill low. It’s just about impossible to remain on a budget without it!
And not only that, but a meal plan will make your life less stressful as you can always get meals on the table when you want them.
Here are my top tips for successfully sticking to a weekly meal plan:
- Write down the pantry, freezer, and fridge foods that need to be used up this week.
- Make a list of all the meals your family would like to eat this week.
- Create a master list of ingredients for those meals.
- Go grocery shopping, and only allow yourself one “extra” goodie
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