Meal Planning–8 tips to get you started

I meal plan every week. I’m not crazy, and it doesn’t take me hours. You should too. Here’s why:

  • You save money. Your  grocery list for the week will be created simply by thinking through the meals you will eat this week, and then adding any other staples you use regularly. Your list will help you avoid impulse shopping-dumping whatever you think you might need into your cart as you walk through the aisles. Plus, think about all of the nights you’ve had takeout, simply because you had no food in the house, or hadn’t thawed something in advance.
  • You save time. You will be able to shop once a week or once every two weeks, instead of wasting your time running to the store several times a week to pick up that one thing you still need for dinner tonight.
  • You eat healthier. You will be able to eat healthier, fresher meals, as you won’t be relying on the dry goods in your pantry to toss something together at the last minute. This means you will eat more fresh fruits and veggies, and less pasta, boxed dinners, and canned foods.

Since it’s just the two of us, I only plan for our main meal of each day. For breakfast foods, we usually have eggs, a loaf of bread, bananas, peanut butter, and oats on hand. This allows for variety in our breakfast, and all of it is quick and easy.  For lunch, we eat leftovers or make a sandwich. For dinner, it’s whatever we have planned. If you have kiddos in the house, you might have to put in a bit more effort than I do to account for packing lunches.20140114_084943

Are you with me? Great! Now, the How-To of this all.

  1. Get the big picture. One day a week, preferably before you go grocery shopping, sit down with your calendar. What’s going on next week? Are there any nights you won’t be home? Are there any nights that dinner will need to be quick, because you have somewhere to be? Knowing this in advance will shape the meals you plan for those days.
  2. Figure out what’s already in your freezer and cupboards. Anything on the verge of expiring? Do you already have chicken in the freezer? Plan meals around what you have on hand so you aren’t buying whole ingredient lists for each night of the week.
  3. Be realistic with your time. How much time do you REALLY have to cook dinner? Plan accordingly, and maybe save the risotto for the weekend, when you have to stand over the stove and stir for an hour.
  4. Look for ways to prep ahead. Are you dicing an onion on Monday, and know you’ll need another onion diced for Tuesday? Dice two at once, and store the extra in the fridge. Your Tuesday self will thank your Monday self for being so foresightful.
  5. Embrace theme nights. Bob and I do homemade pizza most Friday nights. During the winter, I usually make a weekly pot of soup. Have a pasta night, or a salad night, or a taco night. These dishes are all versatile, and give you one fewer night each week to plan something new for.
  6. Think through the whole meal. On Wednesday, we’re having chicken. Chicken is on the grocery list. Check! But wait–do you want anything to go with your chicken? Maybe some potato fries? Roasted broccoli? Those items may need to get added to the grocery list as well.
  7. Write that grocery list. But do it in stages. First, write down all of things you’ll need for the meals on your meal plan. Next, think about any staples you might need–milk, bread, eggs, and bananas always make our list. Then, what grab and go snack-type items do you want to have? Add some healthy, portable fruits and veggies to your list so you’ll grab an apple instead of a handful of chips when you get the munchies mid-afternoon.
  8. Put it somewhere you’ll see it. On your fridge. On your wall. Pinterest some ideas for meal planning boards. There are some great ones out there!

Meal planning takes, well, planning. And in order to plan, you have to remember you were going to make a plan. It can be hard. I get it. But in the long-run, it’s worth it. Your bank account, your schedule, and your health will thank you!