Do you want to meal plan to save time, stress, and money, but don’t know where to start?
Maybe you feel overwhelmed at the idea of planning meals. Or you don’t know where to get new meal plan ideas. (Because really, who wants to eat the same old, same old every week?)
In this 2nd episode of the House Gone Sane ‘Podcast or Post’, we talk about simple meal planning strategies that won’t overwhelm you.
We share 5 ways to find new meal plan ideas. And we’ll discuss tips on 2 obstacles that may affect your meal plans.
You can find our PREMIUM RESOURCE LIBRARY here (this includes our 10 page meal planning printable packet.)
Related Posts Mentioned this Episode:
Last time in our ‘Podcast or Post’, I talked about a big cleaning mistake I was making with my home for years, and the 3 steps I took to fix it.
But today I’m going to talk about a totally different home management topic- which is simple meal planning strategies.
Believe it or not, the meals you make can have an effect on keeping your home clean. And vice versa, when you have a home that’s clean and in order, it’s a lot easier to cook and prepare food.
I know there’s a lot of info out there about meal planning. Sometimes that word ‘planning’ makes it sound complicated, and it’s really not, when it’s done right.
So I want to go into detail about how I meal plan. It saves me time and even money- so hopefully it can help you too!
When I first started planning my meals, it was during my first pregnancy. At this point I wasn’t that great at managing my home. So I was really just looking for ways to make things easier.
Meal planning was one of the first changes I made that actually made a difference.
We had been basically eating the same things over and over every week. At the time, (not that there’s anything wrong with this,) it was mostly chicken and broccoli alfredo. But literally it was every week, the same thing.
I was in the bad habit of getting things at the store without really using a list or budget. And I failed to plan out what I was going to make each week.
So, I would end up buying the same things over and over… and over.
Then after I came home, when it was time to cook, I’d look through my cookbook trying to figure out something to make that was new. But because I bought the same things I always bought, I never really had the ingredients to make new things.
So I thought to myself, ‘this is silly.’
‘What if I just look through the cookbook before I go shopping and find a couple of recipes that I want to make? Then I can make a list of the ingredients we don’t have.’
Once I got to the store, I’d know what I needed for those meals. And we could then eat something new, that we hadn’t had a million times already.
And that right there, what I did, is a very simple example of meal planning.
Because all meal planning really is, is deciding what meals you want to make before you make them. And preferably before you go shopping, so that you can have what you need to make them, before you start cooking.
Instead of taking 30 minutes before you cook every night figuring out what you have & want to make, you can take the same amount of time or less to meal plan several meals in advance.
Before you go shopping, you figure out a few meals for the next few days, or week, or 2 weeks, or month. For whatever amount of time you want to shop or meal plan for.
If you’re new to meal planning, I suggest planning and shopping for maybe a week at a time at first.
Then you can get used to it, and it won’t feel overwhelming trying to plan too much at once.
Sometimes people want to try new things, but don’t know where they can find new ideas they’re guaranteed to like.
And honestly, when you’re trying new things and cooking new things, there are going to be times when you make a meal that’s a bust. Maybe it won’t turn out, or maybe it ends up looking just like the recipe but doesn’t taste very good.
So sometimes people stay within their food ‘comfort zone’. But then they start to get sick of the things they’re eating, because they’re eating them so often.
And when you try new things in life, including with food, there is some level of risk involved.
I try new recipes all of the time, just about every week. And so sometimes there are things we aren’t wild about.
But most of the time things turn out relatively decent. And we enjoy mixing in new recipes with things that we love.
But where can you find meal ideas that you’ll have a good chance of liking?
Sometimes we forget about physical cookbooks with the online world. …But they still exist, and chances are you probably have one or more.
So just browse through the cookbooks that you have. Pick out maybe one or 2 recipes (or more if you’re feeling ambitious,) before you go shopping.
Pay special attention to the ingredients in the recipe, and where the flavor is coming from.
I personally like really flavorful meals. So if I want to make a recipe that seems like it should have a lot of flavor, but I don’t really notice any ingredients in the recipe that will give it a good flavor, I might pass it up.
Or I may make it, but then I’ll add additional seasonings to enhance it.
As you cook more and more new things, you’ll start to discern when looking at recipes, approximately how flavorful they may be, or potentially how some things will turn out, before you even make them.
If you have a cookbook you’ve tried several recipes from and none have really turned out, try a cookbook by another person/company. Because everyone has different tastes, so not everyone’s recipes are going to be right for you and your family.
If you have certain dietary or health restrictions, you want to find cookbooks designed for that specific restriction or diet. And you can usually just do an online search for a specific type of cookbook, a specific recipe with a restriction, and/or a group of recipes with the restriction.
So, for example, you can do a search for ‘gluten-free cookbooks,’ for ‘vegan lasagna,’ or ‘paleo recipes.’ And I bet you’ll find several recipes or cookbooks, depending on which exactly you’re searching for, that you can use with whatever allergies/restrictions you have.
Chances are there are at least a few occasions you can think of when someone has cooked a dish that you’ve absolutely loved- whether it was a friend, family member, coworker, or neighbor.
So ask them for the recipe! They’ll be flattered, and you’ll have something new to add to your family’s dinner table.
Now, granted, there are occasionally people who won’t give away their grandmother’s secret recipe. Or there may be people who can’t give you an exact recipe because they don’t measure the ingredients. But it can’t hurt to ask!
If you’re in the mood for a certain dish you don’t already have a go-to recipe for, search online.
Personally, I have found a lot of recipes searching on Pinterest, that I’ve tried and loved. And I’ve also found some good recipes by doing a Google search.
There are many search engines and social media platforms you can search for specific recipes on.
Even if you have some sort of allergy or dietary restriction, there are likely WAYYYY more recipes online that meet your needs than you would ever even have time to try.
Just make sure that you either save the links or pin the recipes that you want to try. That way you can find them later when it’s time to make them.
Some people also print out recipes if they’re able to. I personally don’t print recipes I’ve found online, but it’s a good idea. Then you can keep it in front of you.
And also you won’t have to worry about your internet connection or even potential problems with the website the recipe is on.
I’ve never personally had a website I’m using a recipe from go down while I’m trying to make it. But it is possible, so that’s something you may want to think about.
A lot of recipe bloggers and websites with recipes have an easy section to print it from, so that can make it easier too.
Many bloggers and food-based websites will put out new recipes every week. So if you have recipes you’ve tried online that you already love, there’s a good chance that same website has other things you’ll like as well.
You might already do this. But some people feel intimidated by the idea of trying new things without an actual written recipe.
Trying your own recipes or ‘concoctions’ aren’t as hard as some think.
For example, have you ever tried someone else’s recipe for something, and there’s a part of it you that like- maybe the sauce or seasonings- but you don’t like the texture or the other flavors it’s mixed with?
Maybe you could try using part of that recipe- the sauce or flavor that you liked- but on something else.
For example, in one of my cookbooks, there’s this pasta salad with a creamy curry dressing. I really liked the dressing, but I felt like the salad ingredients themselves were a little odd.
So I took that same curry dressing and put on a potato salad, and it turned out pretty good.
Granted, I didn’t come up with the whole idea or dressing recipe. But I took parts of 2 different recipes and combined them in a creative way.
So if you’re new to being creative with food, and you are more of a recipe ‘by the book’ person, taking part of a recipe and tweaking/changing it is a good way to start going outside your recipe comfort zone. You won’t be doing anything too drastic or have to come up with an entire recipe from scratch.
You can also experiment with adding more seasoning or an additional flavor/spice to recipes when you try a recipe by the book that lacks flavor.
Just be sure to start with smaller, more subtle amounts of seasoning and add more to taste if needed.
If you’re new to the whole idea of experimenting with creativity and going beyond a written recipe, start this with recipes you can taste as you flavor them.
For example, try this with a soup or stew that’s safe to taste-test as it cooks, versus something like meatloaf, where you have to mix in the flavors with the meat when it’s still raw.
To make it more likely that you’ll like the online recipes you try, read reviews and comments from others who’ve already tried them.
Now, keep in mind there are sometimes people who give 5 star reviews for recipes they haven’t even tried. They might do this because the food looks good or because they’ve tried other recipes from that person that they’ve liked.
So scroll past any reviews/comments that say things like, ‘That looks so good,’ or ‘I can’t wait to try that.’
Instead, you’ll want to pay attention to comments that say things such as, ‘I made this tonight. And my husband who doesn’t even like eggplant raved about this.’
Or read comments that make note of adding more or less of one of the ingredients. Sometimes a recipe is overall very good, but there will be multiple comments on it about how it needs less sugar, or more salt, etc.
So a quick look at comments and reviews can help you decide if you want to make a certain recipe or if you want to make adjustments to something.
After you’ve found new recipes you’ve actually made that are worthy of making again, make sure you save either a physical or electronic version of the recipe or the link. And then keep some sort of list you can reference of meal ideas worth repeating. Then you won’t forget about the new recipes you’ve tried and loved.
In the Printable Meal Planning Packet in our Premium Resource Library, there are pages to jot down a brief description of recipes (and the recipe source- cookbook name & page, url, etc.) for recipes you want to make again.
When I personally meal plan for a week or 2 at a time, I try to do a mix of recipes I’ve already made that our family loves, and then I’ll add in some new recipes we haven’t tried yet. I might find them in a cookbook, online, from a friend, or it’s just something new/creative I want to try.
So this way we’re eating things we already know we like, but we don’t have them every week or even every month. Because we’re mixing in new recipes with the favorites. And we’re adding to our list of favorites as we keep trying new things. So it’s a good balance.
At this point, our meals are pretty simple. They aren’t super fancy or anything. I generally opt for meals that are either fast to make or not complicated with too much prep/steps.
At the same time, I pretty much only remake flavorful meals we love or try new recipes that seem promising.
So by being picky, kind of, about the types of things that I make, it’s easier for us to resist the urge of going out to eat all the time and wasting money that way.
If there are specific things from restaurants or fast food places you find yourself craving, do an online search for a copycat recipe. Or keep trying different recipes for that type of food until you find something you enjoy enough to resist going out.
Not that there’s anything wrong with going out to eat… And we still do occasionally with our family. But by meal planning out tasty meals we look forward to, it helps us to avoid fast food spending outside of our budget.
So we’ve talked about finding meal ideas for meal planning. And really, that’s the first step in meal planning, because you need to know what you’re going to make.
After that, you want to see what ingredients in those meals you already have.
Then make either a physical or electronic list of the ingredients you need to buy.
In the free resource library for House Gone Sane, I have a video showing how I personally use the free version of Trello to make out my grocery list.
After you have the list of ingredients you need, simply go shopping.
When I personally make out my grocery list for my meal plans, I also put down other staples or things I need for the house. And I just get everything in one trip when I go shopping.
I’ll also take into account when deciding what meals I’m going to make for the week, as far as following others’ recipes, if I’m going to follow them exactly as written, or if I would halve the recipe, or double the recipe. And I make sure that I list the amount of ingredients that I need accordingly on my grocery list.
For our family, I personally double recipes a lot. I’ll sometimes triple, occasionally quadruple them, because we have 6 people in our family that I’m cooking for. And I also like to make enough for leftovers too.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to cook every day or for every meal when our family will eat leftovers. It’s a time-saver, and I feel like it also saves money too.
So basically all that you need to do to meal plan, to sum up what we just talked about is:
Now, that’s really all you need to do to meal plan.
There are a couple of challenges I want to talk about, though.
The first one is particularly important if you want to meal plan for longer periods of time.
Now, a lot of things you can freeze. And most things do freeze well, but there are some things that don’t.
So for example, I currently meal plan and shop for a week or so at a time. But I used to meal plan for 2 weeks at a time. So if I wanted to make a salad or something else with fresh ingredients that would probably be spoiled by the second week, I’d plan to make those recipes during the first week, or at least before the ingredients would go bad.
So if you’re meal planning for longer periods of time, when it comes to making meals with fresh, more perishable ingredients you have 3 options.
Of course, this last option isn’t realistic for everyone. Because not everyone has a store near them to make last minute trips for one or 2 things. I used to live out in the country and didn’t have a grocery store even in my town, so I get that. Even if you have stores close by, you may not have extra time to go shopping more than once.
In which case, you may want to just meal plan for shorter periods of time. Or plan meals with non-perishable items for after your first week or first several days of meals, and/or freeze or preserve perishable items when it’s possible.
So whatever works best for you or maybe even a combination of those things.
But what you don’t want to do is you don’t want to plan meals for a month full of perishable ingredients that you didn’t freeze or preserve, and then have everything go bad by the second or third week.
And really, that’s probably the biggest thing you need to look out for with meal planning. You just simply need to plan meals you can make before the ingredients go bad.
This may be because you can’t find one of the ingredients at the store. Sometimes they may not sell something or may be out of it. Or you may not have the budget for everything you’d need to buy to make the meals you plan.
Now, granted, there are some foods that just don’t have substitutions that do them justice.
But there are a lot of ingredients that have some pretty good options if you need substitutions.
If you need to substitute something, you can either ask someone you know who has a lot of experience cooking. Or you can just do an online search for the specific item you need to substitute. If you’re making a recipe from a popular website, there’s a good chance others have commented on different variations of the recipe they’ve made. These often include substitutions they’ve used and how it turned out.
And as far as spice mixes go, there are several you may be able to make yourself with seasonings you already have.
I’ve looked up different homemade seasoning recipes and made them at times when I either ran out of a seasoning, couldn’t find a specific spice mixture in the store, or when I literally didn’t have the extra $8/$9 in my food budget that week.
But I also already have a lot of different spices/seasonings in my pantry. So I usually have the option of substituting if need be.
Don’t let the need to substitute something stop your meal plans if you have the ability to use something else that works just as well or comes pretty close.
Alright, so we’ve discussed some simplified meal planning strategies: how to find new meal ideas, planning out meals in a way so the ingredients won’t go bad before you use them, and how to find substitutions if need be.
And remember, the only 3 absolutely necessary steps for simple meal planning are to:
It’s really that easy!
I actually have a more in-depth post I wrote on meal planning a while back if you want more info on how to meal plan as well as a post on why meal planning is a good idea (if you’re not convinced already.)
I could talk about meal planning all day but I don’t want this post to be too long.
But I will very likely share some different meal planning tips in a future Podcast or Post episode. Because there are even more things you can do to make meal planning work better for you.
I wanted this to just to be a simple walk-through of how to get started meal planning and also where to get meal ideas from. Because some people will get stuck on the ‘planning’ part before they actually get to the ‘meal’ part.
And it’s really not that much planning if you do it right and don’t over-complicate it.
Really it’s just changing the order of how you do things. It’s looking up the recipes or flipping through the cookbook before you go shopping instead of after. So then you can get the ingredients you need for things you want to make.
You can sign up for my free resource library to get access to all Podcasts or Posts once they’re published. And if after signing up, you stay subscribed to our emails, we’ll notify you when the next one is live.
In the free resource library I have a video that shows you how I use the free Trello app to do my shopping list. There are several other home management resources you’ll find in there as well- all for free.
Do you have any comments or feedback?
Or do you want to share any tips that have worked for you for your own simple meal planning strategies? I’d love for you to comment and let me know!
Thanks for reading (or listening) and have a great day!
P.S. If you want to download these handy meal planning printables shown below: sign up for our Premium Resource Library here.
And… if you found this helpful, don’t forget to pin and share this ‘Podcast or Post’! 🙂 You can also follow us on Pinterest at House Gone Sane.
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