When I first started taking a look at our family’s budget and how I could cut down on the amount of money we were spending, one of the first places I started was our food budget. We were desperately trying to get out of debt and save money.
I started staying at home more with our children and working less. I wanted to figure out how I could be at home and continue to save money on our debt-free journey. I couldn’t change our mortgage payment at the time, or how much we had to pay on our cars but I COULD change how we were spending money on food!
That’s where meal planning came in. I figured out how to meal plan as a busy mom.. It reduced the amount of money we were spending on groceries and eating out because of convenience. It took a HUGE load off of my shoulders as a wife and mother who was responsible for most of the shopping and creating/prepping the meals.
No longer was I panicked and frazzled at the dreaded question from my family “What’s for dinner?”. We stopped wasting so much food because there was a plan for each meal. I wasn’t aimlessly wondering in the grocery store buying random food items, buying things we already had at home but didn’t realize it or spending unnecessary money on junk food filler items.
What is Meal Planning?
Meal planning is asking yourself “What is for dinner?” for the whole week instead of every night. Some people find it easiest to meal plan for a week at a time, every two weeks or a whole month. I tried all of those ways until I found what worked best for our family.
Regardless of how you meal plan, the rest of the process is relatively the same.
You find the meals you want to cook.
You choose how often you will meal plan.
Write down the ingredients you need to make your meal.
Go grocery shopping and then prepare your meal! Easy right?
What Meal Planning is NOT.
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Meal planning does not mean every meal has to be home cooked. You may decide on Thursday you want to make a frozen lasagna ( I LOVE the frozen lasagna from Costco. It’s tasty, easy and leaves leftovers for my family of 5!) so include that on your meal plan.
Your family might be involved in sports – like my kids – raise your hand if your at the ballfield every night during the week during the spring!! You might decide those nights it fits your schedule better to eat out.
Meal Planning does not have to be hard or complicated. I stopped thinking that every meal had to have a meat and 2-3 sides with a bread or dessert to go with it. That’s how I grew up. I automatically thought that’s what I WAS SUPPOSED to do for my family.
That’s not what works best for our family unless it’s a weekend usually. I was trying to kill myself planning these elaborate/healthy meals for my family but I didn’t realize there was an easier way to do that. Hello, pan sheet dinners, one pot skillet meals, the crockpot/instant pot https://amzn.to/2CPNgpX or batch cooking!
Meal planning does not have to be expensive. I was trying to create these yummy meals that I found on Pinterest but they ended up being time consuming and having a lot of ingredients that I don’t use all of the time. I was buying ingredients that I might use 1-2 times and never touch again. Choose simple meals that you know you and your family will eat time and again.
Meals that use pantry staples instead of specialty ingredients will be much easier to make for busy families and mamas. I don’t know about your family, but a lot of those meals I was making to try out because they looked good on Pinterest turned out to be a flop that my kids turned their noses up at. Me and my husband would eat them, but we ended up with a lot of wasted food because the whole family didn’t enjoy them. Wasted food = Wasted money I stopped trying to re-invent the wheel and only included those meals every once in a while.
How to get started with Meal Planning.
- Choose how often you want to meal plan. Through trial and error I found it works best for our family if I plan our meals once a week. I sit down on Sunday and spend about 15 min deciding the meals I want to cook for the week. I ONLY meal plan our dinners. It saves me time to be more flexible with our breakfasts and lunches.
- Find your recipes. I find the most success in finding simple recipes on Pinterest and Facebook. I can search specifically for what I want on Pinterest. On Facebook I may find interesting ideas for meals that I will save to my profile to search for later. I will also utilize Youtube. I can search various channels for easy weeknight meals, simple recipes, easy kids school lunches, meals you can batch cook ect… every now and again I will pull out a cookbook.
- Check your freezer/pantry/fridge. Plan your meals around the things you already have on hand. Make sure your not buying things you don’t already have. Make your list of items you will need in the next week.
- Post a schedule of what you will make. It helps to keep you organized and let your family know what is on the menu. I bought a cheap 8 x 10 picture frame, cut cute decorative scrapbook paper to fit and inserted it. I hung it in my kitchen and VIOLA…instant cute dry erase board.
- Organize your recipes so you can find them later. On Pinterest I have created a board specifically for meal planning. It is easy way to keep all of the recipes in one place because you can go back and look up what you need to buy and the instructions for cooking it. I recommend once trying a recipe and knowing it is a hit, WRITE IT DOWN. This is a really cute recipe box that I love from Amazon https://amzn.to/2WHj1cv. You could also just get a blank notebook the keep handy and write it all down there. This is to make it easy so next time you sit down to meal plan everything is in one place.
Tips for Success in Meal Planning.
- Ask your family what kind of meals they like. What are their favorites?
- When you make your grocery list make specific groups like dairy, meats, shelf items, household items ect…to make shopping quicker and easier.
- If you pin items in Pinterest, make a specific meal planning board for your go-to recipes to save time searching for them. I used to have a board labeled ‘Yummy’ where any food item or recipe got pinned because it looked good, but it took me FOREVER to find.
- Once you have tried the recipe and it is a success, find a way/place to store them so you can use them over and over again. That’s how this process can save you time. It is a little work up front but gets easier and quicker over time.
- Once you have created a few weeks of great recipes…RECYCLE! You can use these plan over and over again.
Common Questions/FAQ About Meal Planning.
- How often should you meal plan?
- I meal plan every week. I used to try to meal plan for the month but I found it was very overwhelming to try to plan that many meals and a lot of food was wasted. It was very hard to keep fresh produce. I tried to meal plan monthly so I could cut down on how often I had to go to the grocery store. (I HATE it) Then I tried every two weeks which was better but eventually found every week was best for our family. You have to do what works for YOU!
- When should you meal plan?
- Do it all on Sunday so that you are prepared to go shopping on Monday…however…LIFE. So if you have to do it on Monday or Tuesday it still gets done. I try to keep some quick easy meals on hand for the days I don’t have anything planned for tis purpose.
- What are the best ways to keep track of your meal plan?
- Use a planner that includes a sheet that you can write your grocery list on and then you just write out what days you are planning each meal to reference back to. You could also write it in the monthly calendar to keep track. If you don’t have a planner a good old fashioned notebook is just as good.
- Do you need to meal plan every meal?
- Like I said, I only plan our dinners which makes it easiest and quickest for me. For breakfast and lunch I include our staples that I know our family will eat and enjoy. Such as for breakfast a few boxes of cereal, instant grits or oatmeal are our “quick get out the door items” or eggs, premade/precooked waffles, pancakes sausage links. For lunches I have sandwich items, salad kits, hot dogs, pasta salad ect… OR I cook double what I know my family will eat for dinner and use those leftovers for lunches for us.
The Last Thing You Need to Know about Meal Planning.
Meal planning does not have to be hard or confusing. I finally figured out what worked best for our family through trial and error and it saved my sanity!! Just start somewhere. I found that when I am consistent it saves me time, money and helps my family eat WAY healthier. When I don’t have a plan in place we visit alot of fast food joints for convenience. My kids are in way too many sports, I have to many loads of laundry to do and dishes to wash to spend hours wondering what to prepare for dinner or time to spend making it.
Hope you guys enjoyed this post, I would love to hear your about your best tips for meal planning here!