I have been meal planning for years in some capacity. I’m a nerd, and I love grocery shopping. About 2 1/2 years ago though, when we switched over to a mostly organic diet, I quickly realized that I needed to rework our grocery budget to not spend thousands of dollars at the grocery store. My main culprit was going to the grocery store on the weekend, picking up what we needed, but then realizing during the week that we wouldn’t have on hand what we needed for dinner that night, and stopping at the store again 2-3 times a week.
This quickly added up, and so I started making grocery lists. Every week, I planned out 5 -7 meals at the beginning of the week, and make a list of what we needed. It worked out great. I eventually started adding lunches as well. Now that I have a little one in tow to complicate grocery shopping and cooking dinner even more, I have developed a system that has worked for our house very well!
- I plan/shop at the end of the week/weekend for the week ahead (Friday-Sunday), and then plan for the next 7 days.
- I know some people say that they don’t like planning, because it takes away creativity. Make meal planning work for you. We don’t mind eating the same thing for breakfast and lunches most days. But I also don’t like planning “We’ll eat chicken picatta on Wednesday”. But if you do-go for it!
- My biggest piece of advice and something I always stick to: I NEVER go shopping without my list. I will sit in my car and scribble it on the back of a receipt if things are really last minute.
- Make sure you have some time to get this done in one sitting. It takes like 10 minutes.
- Get out a piece of paper, a fancy sheet, or (see above), the back of an envelope or receipt.
- Plan out a general idea of what meals you will need for the week ahead:
- Breakfasts: I generally make breakfasts for the week ahead on Sunday, and we freeze them and defrost. Otherwise, I would probably never eat breakfast, or I’d stop at Whole Foods every morning. We always plan for milk and coffee in addition to whatever we are having (usually some sort of egg dish). I always plan for only M-F. We like to make pancakes or something on the weekends.
- Lunches: I plan for my husband’s lunch everyday (usually sandwiches, a fruit, Cliff Bar & Seltzer). If I am working, I also plan mine, which is usually a week of salads, or something similar. I don’t plan for them for the weekends, because we usually do brunch or leftovers.
- Dinners: Have a general idea of how many meals you will need for the week. Do you have a birthday party or night out on the weekend? Also, think of what your plans are: do you have to work late 2 days, so you will need something quick on those? I generally plan for 5-6 meals because we always end up with 1-2 days of leftovers. For dinner ideas, I have lots of Pinterest boards saved I will browse, and I often have a good idea of what we eat on a weekly basis. I will typically plan one meal with pasta, one with chicken, a red meat, etc.
- Snacks, etc.: If I don’t write it down, I forget it. Therefore, I also make sure to include snacks/sides on all dishes, and also write down whatever else we might need, like M’s baby food meals, cookies if we are making them, granola, etc.
- Write down EVERYTHING you need for those meals. Drinks/sides included.
- Make your grocery list from this list (of course, taking off what you already need).
- Then, I head to the grocery store, and buy ONLY what is on my list here, and what I have added from my Wunderlist grocery list during the week (butter, protein powder, things like that). I really try not to vary from the list, and it really helps with budgeting. There are of course, things I forget and when I see almond milk, remember we are out, but for the most part, I stick to the list.
- I do not go shopping during the week. This was something I really had to get used to. I loved going to the store after work and shopping for dinner. But it adds up-time and $$$. There are definitely days where I am tempted…someone talks about pizza, I have a sudden craving for cheese…but I really resist those, and it’s made this so much easier.
- I try to set some time aside on Sunday to make breakfasts for the week, and snacks, baby food, etc. I store breakfast sandwiches and baby food cubes in the freezer.
- I keep my meal prep list on my fridge, and cross the meals out as I make them. Then, on Friday, I start the process over again!
- I try to keep my pantry stocked with the staples we use all the time, only. We don’t have a ton of room, and I’m not good at using things in the back of the cabinet before they expire. Here’s a list I made for myself!
What are your meal planning tips?