“Meal planning is great!”
“It’s a timesaver!”
“It saves money!”
Have you heard these things about meal planning? I know I have. But often it ends there, kind of leaving you hanging, wanting to do it, but a bit overwhelmed as to how to do it.
So I decided I would share how I personally meal plan and my 11 simple steps. I actually don’t know too much about how other people meal plan. I would be interested in knowing this, but I do want to share how I do it, because I feel like it’s working pretty well for me, so it may very well work good for you too, or at least give you some ideas.
So here it goes..
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I do just want to state this, because part of meal planning is indeed shopping, and some recipes will definitely cost more than others to make, so it is something to keep in the back of your mind when you are planning out your meals and list.
Personally, I usually go shopping every 2 weeks for my family. Why every 2 weeks? Because once a week is too much for me, once a month is not often enough, and we generally get paid every 2 weeks. But whatever works for you, do it.
Also, just a side note, I combine both groceries and household items on my shopping list and grocery budget. Usually for 2 weeks, I will spend $200 or less. This amount includes non-food items we need, such as diapers and paper towels. Our budget is for our family of 5, although to be fair as far as groceries go, I feel we average out to be around a family of 4 because for part of the week we don’t have my step kids.
If you are trying to stay within a budget, (which is a good idea even if you have extra money to toss around- so you can continue to toss around extra said money,) you might want to consider picking some moderately priced meals along with some less expensive meals to make.
Before I pick out what meals I want to make, I quickly browse through the pennysavers and weekly ads we get in the mail for the current deals and see if I can pick out some meals based on good sales on produce or other food items. I say the ‘good sales’ because some sales still aren’t much of a sale.
I personally don’t use coupons often (although I do like using them), but if you use them, this is the point where it would be good to look at what coupons you have that you can use.
I find a lot of recipes on Pinterest, and I also have several cookbooks, and I google things. If there are sales I want to take advantage of, I search out recipes that include sale items as ingredients. Plus I find it fun to come up with my own recipes, sometimes based on sale items or food we already have that needs to be used.
On Pinterest, I pin any recipes for my current meal plans to my separate (and secret 😉 meal plan board. In my agenda I make a note of all the recipes I am using for the next 2 weeks and if I’m doubling them or using the original recipe. I often will double recipes because leftovers are awe-some (note: when saying awe-some, I emphasize the syllables with a singy voice 🙂
Leftovers mean I don’t have to cook every day and my family eats them. Plus if it’s a recipe we love, then it’s a win-win. That means more yumminess for us..and less cooking for me!
We try new recipes all the time, and I keep track of what I make. I make notes about how I followed the recipe or didn’t, if it was pretty good or we loved it, and so on. I make pencil notes in my cookbooks for any recipes in them that I’ve made.
Also, if you are getting your recipes from online and haven’t tried them yet, read any posted comments to see what other people thought who actually tried it. (Try to scroll past the ‘wow that looks good’/ ‘I can’t wait to try it’ comments, since they obviously didn’t make it yet.) I like doing this to see if most people like it and if they changed anything to make it better.
If you don’t plan on cooking every day, you will want to estimate how long the leftovers of your meals will last you, so that you know how many meals you need to plan for your shopping trip.
I try to make sure I don’t plan all meals that have ingredients that will only last a week in the fridge, because I go shopping every 2 weeks. Many foods freeze well, but not everything. I personally don’t freeze things like lettuce or vegetables that I plan on eating raw (like for a green salad.)
So I will figure out which meals have ingredients that would go bad the fastest. If I have a meal that has fresh veggies, I will make that before a meal that has ingredients with a longer shelf life, and make sure that my second week of meals have ingredients that last that long.
After I go shopping, I will sometimes prepare then freeze ingredients so they last until I make a recipe. I have done this with mushrooms, green peppers, onions, celery, carrots, and other items. I always research about freezing the food first. So far, it has worked out rather well. (Note- I usually just freeze the ingredient that could otherwise go bad, not the full meal.)
Take a glimpse in your fridge and open up the cupboards. It’s important to know what you already have and need before you go to the store. Any staples you have in stock should be enough to carry you over till your next shopping trip. Make a note of any staple items you don’t have enough of or are out of. Don’t forget to check on things like spices/salt and oil.
Now that I have my recipes picked out and noted on paper or electronically somewhere, I can list the ingredients I need on my list.
Also, when I go shopping, I go to about 3 different stores. This way, I can get most of my items for the least expensive price possible. I list the items I need under the store I plan to buy them at.
Now, when buying 2 weeks worth of food, it’s important to make sure I don’t miss any ingredients or miss the proper amount that I need. This can get a little complicated when there’s more than one recipe calling for the same type of food, or the recipe has the amount of an ingredient listed in a different measurement than how you buy it.
If a recipe calls for 3 cups of black beans, I would calculate how many cans I need in advance, and write it as ‘cans’ on the list, so I don’t have to stand in the middle of a store doing math. In this case, I think I would need 2 average-size cans and I would get a little over 3 cups. (I usually google equivalent questions and can find the answer pretty quickly.) So, then, I would write ‘2 cans black beans’ on my list.
Sometimes I use pencil and paper, other times I type up my list and print it out- whatever works for you. Lately I have it typed and then just update it each time I go shopping.
After I mark an item on my list, I note my estimated price (rounded up in a dollar amount) for each item. Then I keep track of the total I would be spending as I go. For example, if I add 1 container of sour cream to my list, I would write $2 next to it, as this is my estimate of its price rounding up. I also add up the estimated total as I go.
Just a note, if you do this, don’t get caught up in taking too long with your estimated prices. It doesn’t have to be exact, and once you do this for several shopping trips, you’ll start to get a feel for how things are priced. Prices will change sometimes, and your estimate may be a little off sometimes; that’s ok- it usually evens out or in my case I will often end up several dollars below my budget (extra money = yay!)
I go through each planned recipe at a time and check each ingredient. If it’s something I know I need, I write it down, and if it’s a staple item, such as peanut butter or garlic powder, I mark these down and check at the end if I have enough to last me for my recipe(s) and until my next shopping trip after the current one.
After I add any needed ingredients for a recipe to my list, I then look at that recipe’s ingredients again, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything, that I doubled the ingredient on my list if I’m doubling the recipe, and that I added the correct amount to my list.
After I list all the ingredients I need, as well as other grocery staple items I may need, I add everything up and to make sure I calculated my estimated total correctly, then compare this to my budget.. If I am over my budget, I look over my list again, and see what I can do without or substitute.
If I still have some extra room in my budget, I will add some more staple items or supplemental items to stock up on.
Now I head out for my shopping extravaganza. I usually go to 3 stores for all my shopping needs- lately it has been Dollar Tree, Aldi, and Walmart- in that order. I will get things at each store that are good deals so that I can save the most money possible. These are the stores in my area that work the best for me personally with where I live and for what I need to buy. I do also go to Tops when they have good sales or to get items I like from there.
Whether it’s because I can’t find something in the store, or because I would otherwise go over my budget, I do at times substitute ingredients in my recipes. (I keep an eye on actual prices versus my estimated prices as I’m shopping.)
A couple of examples where I have made substitutions: using dried spices instead of buying fresh, since I already had the dried, or mixing up my own spice mix instead of buying it- I have done this with things such as Cajun spice, Chinese 5 spice, and garam masala. Actually with all the spice mixtures I made, I did that not only to save money but because I also couldn’t find them in the stores at the time.
Ahhhh… we get to sit down to a nice meal, without my having been stressed out about making it. I write down anything I adjusted in the recipe or should adjust for the next time. It’s quite wonderful. And during my 2 weeks of planned meals in between my grocery shopping trips, I am casually on the lookout for recipes to try out for my next 2 weeks.
Since I started meal planning, we have tried many new recipes. Dinner each week is no ‘deja vou’ from the previous one. I only repeat meals occasionally- and only ones that we really like.
I will never plan on not meal planning again.
From the first week I started, I have done this every week. I am a procrastinator at heart- but I’m telling you it’s worth it. Our food is better, I save time, I save money, and minimize my stress as a mom. It’s a win-win-win-win. 🙂
P.S. Don’t forget to download our FREE Printable Flavorful Meal Plan Guide.
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