Before I started meal planning it seemed foreign to me. My mom didn’t plan specific meals ahead of time, except for special occasions. It was so normal to just get home and dig through the fridge to figure out what I could eat.
But that gets old and frustrating. The chicken isn’t defrosted. The broccoli went bad. It takes way too long to cook brown rice and I’m hungry now.
I decided to start meal planning because I heard about how much money you could save. Not only am I saving money, but I don’t have to worry about what’s for dinner throughout the week. And we’re able to eat healthier. Now, it just feels like a habit and I can’t imagine living any other way.
So let’s jump straight into it. Make sure to get your free meal planning printable below that uses these 4 steps!
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Here is my approach to meal planning:
I plan dinners. One week at a time.
Our breakfasts are “standard”, in that we always have oatmeal and eggs on hand, so I never have to worry there. For lunch, we have leftovers or make something from our staple foods. If our dinners for the week aren’t meals that will make enough for leftovers, (or just aren’t good reheated) then I’ll buy lunch meat for sandwiches. Otherwise we usually have canned soup or stuff to make PB&J’s.
Step 1: Brainstorm
On Fridays I start brainstorming—I usually like to take some time to think about my meals. I have a little notebook that I do all my meal planning in. I jot down any meal that sounds good; I’d rather have a surplus of meal ideas than not enough.
It’s great to have a notebook or some sort of hard copy of your weekly meal plans. Then, you can look back at previous weeks to remind yourself of dinners you loved or of meals. Or at least use the meals as ideas to get the brainstorming going.
Step 2: Use What You Have
On Saturday morning, I finalize my meals. I go through the fridge and figure out which veggies or other leftovers need to be eaten. I’ll match those up with meals that I’ve already brainstormed or create a meal from them. I usually ask Alex for his input; he needs to be excited about what we’re eating that week, too!
I like to plan each meal for each night, but this isn’t necessary. You could also plan 7 meals for the week and figure out what you want from that list each night. Planning each night at the beginning of the week helps me reduce food waste—foods that will go bad are incorporated into meals earlier in the week. It also allows me to take foods out of the freezer the day or two before so that it can defrost by the time I need to use it.
Step 3: Grocery List
After I’ve completed my list of meals, I make my grocery list. I’ll flip through my recipes and add the necessary ingredients to the list. For foods that I need multiples of for different recipes, I keep tallies. For example, I use a lot of onions, so each time a recipe calls for an onion, I’ll put a tally, and if the next recipe calls for two onions, I can put two more tallies. If I already have one onion, and I need three for the week, then I know I only need to buy two at the store. I hate wasting food or having it go bad, so I try not to buy more than I need each week unless it is a really good sale.
Before I go grocery shopping, I go through the kitchen one last time to make sure I have all my staple items. For us, this includes eggs, oatmeal, bread, soy milk (I have a dairy intolerance), creamer (for Alex’s coffee), and fruit. With fruit, we always have bananas on hand because they’re cheap, and then we buy whatever else is cheapest or in season.
On our fridge, I keep a notepad that has our list of meals for the week. At the bottom, there is a section where, during the week, we can write any of the foods we’ll need at the grocery store. So on Tuesday when you use the rest of the ranch dressing and think “I need to get more ranch at the store this weekend” and then completely forget about it, you can just write ranch on your list. Then when you’re writing up your grocery list, you can refer to the list of those staple items, so you won’t forget anything. (I love lists if you haven’t noticed!)
Once I have my grocery list ready, I flip through the Ibotta app and see what rebates they have for the week. I make note of the rebates for items I’m already buying, so I know if I need to buy a specific brand. They often have a few produce items, so I’ll just add those to the list. (We go through a lot of produce and are always happy to toss some extra mushrooms or squash into a dish, so I’m rarely concerned with buying a little extra.) I always double check the prices once I get to the store to make sure that I’m getting the best price.
Are you interested in trying out Ibotta? Click here! Once you redeem your first rebate, by buying one of the items and taking a picture of your receipt, you’ll get a $10 bonus! It’s as easy as that.
Step 4: Grocery Shopping
Now all you have to do is go to the store and you’re done for the week! Be sure to follow your list and don’t buy items not on your list. I will make an exception when something that I frequently use is on sale. But be careful if this is a perishable item—you don’t want anything going to waste!
Now, that doesn’t seem too bad, does it?
If you’re not sure where to start, follow my steps and see how they work for you. Then, adapt my steps to fit into your lifestyle. Use this FREE Meal Planning Guide to help you get started with meal planning.
Ready to start meal planning? Check out this post on tips to make meal planning easier.
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