Learn How to Meal Plan Like a Pro
Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom or have a career outside the home, meal planning can easily become your best friend. With a little bit of preparation, you can plan meals for a week, a month, or, if you’re really ambitious, even a year.
There are no rules, just whatever works for you. By setting aside some time during the week to plan and prep, you can save yourself valuable time and money.
And since you’ll be eating out less, you’ll have more control over what’s going into your family’s bodies — keeping them healthy, but still satisfied.
Budget & Plan
In order to successfully meal plan, you’ll need a budget to start with. How much can your family afford for groceries every week?
Whatever number you come up with, make it work for you. Figure out a breakdown per meal and keep that in mind once it’s time to actually go shopping.
If possible, budget for some pantry staples that can be used at any time. There may be a day or two during the week when the fridge will look a little empty or you won’t have a lot of time, leaving you to throw together whatever is available.
It’s also a good idea to figure out ahead of time whether you’re shopping for three meals a day, seven days a week, or if there will be a day or two that’s open for eating out or at a friend or family member’s place.
Additionally, the time of year and weather will influence both what is available and possibly what you or your family are in the mood for. Utilize seasonal vegetables, which will likely be on sale, in addition to weather appropriate foods to prevent waste and keep your family happy.
Probably the most fun part of meal planning is the actual collecting of recipes. Go crazy and browse all your favorite food blogs and pin recipes on Pinterest.
Break out your grandmother’s recipe box and dust off all those old cookbooks you haven’t touched in years. However you intend to collect the actual recipes, keep them all in one place.
Whether it’s by writing them down on index cards, putting them in a binder or notebook, or scanning them digitally, keep them together so you can find them easily.
Map out Your Calendar
However many days you are planning ahead for, fill your calendar in with specific meals. Post a list of the days of the week on your fridge and write each day’s meal next to it.
To make it easy to change out the meals every week, write on a dry erase or chalkboard. This way you’ll get a visual reminder of the meals and your family will always know exactly what’s for dinner.
As you plan your calendar, write down your shopping list, double checking that you don’t already have certain items. When mapping out your meals, choose recipes that go together.
By picking recipes that use a lot of the same ingredients, you can buy those items in bulk and save money. It will also allow you to use up any leftover ingredients so nothing goes to waste.
Additionally, planning your shopping around advertised sales in grocery store circulars will allow you to save more money. While you can certainly adjust your meal plans around what’s on sale, also take advantage of the saving by stocking up on items you can freeze or utilize in next week’s meal plan.
Shop, Cook, Freeze
Now that you have your plan, it’s time to shop! Although you have your meals planned out, take a look at what kinds of deals are available in store, adjusting accordingly.
If chicken breasts are marked down significantly, your beef tacos can now become chicken tacos. If you have time when you come home, prep as many ingredients for the upcoming week as you can: chop vegetables, prepare a sauce, or grate cheese.
Next, it’s time to cook up those meals. For some, cooking everything ahead of time is the most efficient way to meal plan so all that’s needed is to warm it up the night of.
However, if you’ve prepped your ingredients ahead of time, that’s a big time saver as well. This is also why you should choose recipes that go together.
If more than one recipe calls for chicken, you can make it all ahead of time and just combine with the other ingredients for each recipe.
Try and also make enough of a meal to have a little bit of leftovers. Whether you eat it for lunch the next day, or freeze it for later, the important thing is not wasting any of your delicious cooking.
Items like sauces, meat, chopped vegetables and pre-baked casseroles all freeze well and can last for a couple of weeks.
No matter what kinds of recipes you plan to make each week, nothing has to be set in stone. Stay flexible depending on your family members’ schedules.
Things will come up that may compete with your time, so having some quick and easy options in your arsenal is always a good idea as well.
My Fitness Pal (A Beginner’s Guide to Meal Planning)
Money Crashers (10 Family Meal Planning Tips & Ideas on Budget)
Organized Home (Menu Planning: Save Time in the Kitchen)