Dinnertime can be a super stressful time of day, especially for those with hectic work and home lives. But meal planning can help with that!
Meal planning is just what it sounds like: planning meals ahead of time.
How does this help make my life less chaotic? Let’s look at some of the benefits of meal planning:
Benefits of meal planning
- Low or no food waste
- No stressing about what’s for dinner
- Less temptation to spend money on fast food
- Less brain power expended on what to make every day
- Fewer trips to the grocery store
- Save money by planning meals around store sales
- No “What do you want for dinner?” “I don’t know, what do you want for dinner?” endless loops with spouse 🙂
Sounds pretty good, right?
You’ll need three things to get started:
- Grocery list or grocery list app (recommendations below)
- Separate list for items you want/need to use up
- Calendar or app to keep track of your meal schedule
Or…you can use my comprehensive meal planner! Click the link below to download your free PDF!
Follow these 7 steps to become a meal planner extraordinaire:
1. Pick your planning days and stick to them
You will need to set aside a few minutes to plan the meals, and then time to go grocery shopping. I personally like to plan my meals on one day and go shopping the next day, but you can definitely do both on the same day if you have time. Just make sure you have every meal planned until your next planning day, or you may be tempted to spend money on fast food.
Here’s what this looks like for me:
Thursday night I plan dinners for Friday-next Thursday. Friday I go shopping for all the groceries I will need until the next Friday.
2. Add the everyday necessities to your shopping list
Don’t forget things like milk, bread, eggs, and cereal! These are essentials that you may not think about when planning meals. It’s good to get them on your list at the beginning so you don’t forget them later.
I like to use apps for my grocery list. When I had an iPhone, I used Anylist and loved it. Now I use Listonic so my husband and I can share lists between Android and iOS. Whichever app or list you use, make sure your other family members can add to it too.
3. Make a list of any perishables you need to use before they go bad
If you let your produce go bad, you’re wasting money (not to mention food!). Make sure you keep a list of produce, dairy items, meat, and even pantry items that need to be used up in the next week. Then you can make sure you plan meals that use these ingredients.
4. Look at your weekly grocery ad for sale items and coupons
Plan your meals around meats, cheese, produce, and other items that will be on sale when you go shopping. Feel free to stock up on everyday essentials, snacks, and pantry items too, as long as you don’t overdo it! Buying 100 cups of yogurt on a great sale will probably end in a lot of food waste because they’ll go bad before you can eat them.
If your local grocery store has an app, take advantage of it. I shop at Smith’s and use their app. I can save coupons from the app straight to my loyalty card, so I don’t have to store paper coupons or remember to bring them with me to the store. They’re already linked to my card!
5. Find recipes that include your perishable or “on sale” ingredients
Before meal planning, I didn’t really cook, so I don’t have a billion tried-and-true recipes in my head. Instead, I have a collection of recipes on Pinterest, Facebook, allrecipes.com, in my Evernote, and in a physical recipe book. Many of these give me the ability to look for recipes by ingredient, so I make sure to pick recipes that will use up the remainder of my perishables.
Some meal planners make the same meals every week or month. No doubt this saves them time and money. I personally like a variety, since we have the same meals for breakfast and lunch every day. But meal planning isn’t about being Julia Child and creating elaborate meals every day…it’s about saving you time and stress. So if you want to have the same tacos every Tuesday, absolutely do it.
6. Add any additional ingredients to your shopping list
If those recipes will be using ingredients that you are out of or running low on, make sure you add them to your shopping list while you are looking at the recipe.
7. Assign a recipe for every day of the week
Make sure you have recipes for every meal that you want to plan. Some people plan all 3 meals for every day. Others plan all meals except for Saturdays, which is their day to eat out. And others plan only 1 meal every day, and have easy, make-it-yourself stuff around for the other 2 meals.
I don’t plan breakfast or lunches, because they are pretty much the same every day. We have cereal every day but Sunday, when we make pancakes and bacon or bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches. For lunch, we have sandwiches Monday-Saturday and frozen pizzas on Sunday.
Optional: Plan for leftovers
A lot of meal planners will make enough dinner to have leftovers for lunch the next day. I am 100% behind this because I love leftovers and love that people actually eat them, instead of letting them sit in the back of the fridge to collect mold.
However…leftovers are rare at my house. This is purely a money and time-saving choice for us. Because we make simple sandwiches for lunch most days, our lunches cost a few cents. However, if I was making double the chicken parmesan dinners every time, those leftover lunches would cost considerably more. Eating leftovers is a frugal choice, but we’ve just chosen to be even more frugal. You do what is best for you.
Meal planning takes a while to get used to, but your life will be so much easier when you do!
To get you started with some meal ideas, here are a few of my favorite frugal, easy and delicious recipes:
BBQ Chicken Tortilla Pizza – This is so easy to make and I actually prefer it to many of the delivery options.
Chicken Fajita Quesadillas – Fajitas inside of a quesadilla? How could you go wrong?
Baked Honey BBQ Popcorn Chicken – We had a bad experience with the corn flake breading in Colombia, so I just do a double layer of the flour breading. But the chicken is really just a way to get the delicious BBQ sauce into my mouth anyway.
Creamy Tomato Italian Parmesan Chicken – I use this sauce recipe ALL THE TIME. It is a fast and easy alternative to regular marinara.
Loaded Mashed Potato Casserole – These mashed potatoes are flavorful enough that you don’t need to worry about making gravy.
Hm…seems I really like warm BBQ sauce, tortillas, and bacon. Guilty as charged.
Meal planning has reduced my stress levels by about a billion. I no longer dread going home to open the fridge, cupboards, and freezer 16 times before settling on frozen pizza rolls. Now I gleefully anticipate whatever delicious meal I have planned for that evening. If you are looking to change your stressful dinner routine, give meal planning a try.