I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve been meal planning for 6 years now, so I think it’s safe to say that I do have some insight. The day that we (or I) sit down and meal plan is probably my favorite day of the week. I’m a planner/list maker fanatic, so for me it is a fun task to complete. I love finding recipes, figuring out when to have them, and then making the grocery list.
I don’t have a lot going on in my life, okay?
I’ve mentioned to several people that I meal plan, and I’m more often than not met by confusion and asked “why?” when I do so. Aside from the why though, the most asked question I get is:
“But isn’t meal planning hard?”
I’m here to tell you that NO it is not!!! It might seem daunting at first, but once you figure out the best system for you and your family, it’s incredibly easy. So, what wisdom do I have to impart to you? Here you go!
1. Your schedule. Take a look at the week(s) you’re planning for – are there any late nights? Family events? Planned meals out? Look at the schedule and figure out how many meals you will need.
2. Decide how often you want to go grocery shopping. We do a weekly meal plan, because we shop weekly for fresh produce that just doesn’t last as long when purchased in advance (bananas, lettuce, grapes, berries, asparagus, fresh green beans, etc.). Some people I know shop monthly, and others every two weeks. Figure out what works best for you. It’s not a one-size fits all type of thing.
3. Figure out what you have one hand. If you’re like me, you have staples on hand. This is how we keep our grocery budget slightly lower, too. We stock up when something is on sale for a good price (but only if we need it), and then as we get low, watch for sales. This also helps in figuring out what you’re going to make, because you can “shop” from your pantry/freezer. Have a large amount of black beans and brown rice? Make some burrito bowls! Frozen veggies and chicken broth a’plenty? Try your hand at chicken pot pie.
4. Recipes! Pinterest, fellow bloggers, and cookbooks are your friends! Some people find it easier to just search for recipes containing whatever meat they have on hand; others find it easier to flip through their stash of cookbooks.
5. Figure out what day you’re going to make what. Maybe you have a late Tuesday night, so that’d be when you’d want to maybe go for a slow cooker recipe or something easy. I personally save my weekend meals for the more intricate meals I might want to make, such as smoking some meat, or making sous vide anything. Okay, the husband does those things, but you get the idea. I have a standing appointment on Monday evening, so those are the nights we pick something easier to make. We make something more intricate Friday-Sunday, because we have more time and we won’t need leftovers for lunch the next day.
6. I don’t plan lunches or breakfasts. We’re pretty simple here, because it’s just my husband and I. For breakfast, Monday through Friday, we each have two hardboiled eggs, and Kalen has a banana while I have a variety of fruit (typically 1 kiwi, and then two other fruits such as berries, clementines, grapes, cherries, or plums). Lunch can be leftovers, or sandwiches (we just get ham and turkey, and I have tuna, and bread/crackers/carb-free, plus cheese). Weekends we tend to have a later, bigger breakfast (bacon and eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy – you get the idea), so lunch is something snack-y like cheese or fresh vegetables. If you DO plan either of these meals, keep it simple. Oatmeal, egg muffins, frozen waffles/pancakes, muffins, sandwiches, etc. If you’re making something intricate for lunch, you’re more likely to get burnt out on the prospect of meal planning.
7. Make a shopping list – and stick to it! This is a hard one for me. More often than not, I want to stock up on sale items, and I want to buy things that sound/look good that weren’t on the list. We have a budget set for our monthly groceries, and if I don’t stick to the list, guess who goes over that budget? Me. Eat before you shop, or you’ll be more likely to shop with your stomach not your list. We have standing items that we buy each week (this would be the fresh produce mentioned earlier), so those are just a given. But otherwise, we look over the recipes, and see what they call for, which I know is obvious sounding, but you’d be surprised! We have a plethora of spices, we always have oil on hand and various sauces (soy, teriyaki, fish, Worcestershire, hot, taco, buffalo, barbecue…haha), so those are usually items we do not need (they’re things we buy as we get low, even if they’re not being used that week). We keep our freezers stocked well with meat, so that’s usually not a weekly purchase (unless it is on sale, or we’re out). Our first list is a rough draft – I’ll make marks next to the items that we need more than one of (this is usually a veggie or a cheese variety). Once we’ve gone through every recipe and figured out what we need, we write the list out in a way that makes sense for that store/those stores.
8. If you’re able to, shop sales. We have multiple nearby grocery stores, all the same distance from the house and minutes from each other, so I’ll look at the ads for Meijer, Aldi, and two local grocery stores to see who has what on sale. This is hand when stocking up, or when buying multiples. One week a local store might have cream cheese for under $1 each, or chicken thighs for $0.59/pound, so we’ll go there. Other weeks, we might only shop at Aldi. There are weeks we go to all four stores because of sales (this is usually a stock-up week). If this sounds like too much for you, shop at the store you like the best! Again, it’s not one-size fits all. And like I said, we do have a budget, but we also go over it when we stock up, and we’re okay with that hike in spending when it’s for that purpose.
9. Even if you’re not planning lunches and breakfasts, or if your “plan” for those meals is similar to ours, I would go ahead and prep what you can as soon as you get home from the store. Since the two of us go through so many eggs each week, we will use our Dash Rapid Egg Cooker (heads up, that’s an affiliate link) to hardboil two dozen eggs on Saturday/Sunday (it depends on our weekend plans for which day this is done). We also will pre-slice apples for the week (Kalen takes an apple to work each day for after he works out), usually on Sunday, and we store them in a little basket I found at the Dollar Tree around Easter time. If I buy bell peppers or cucumbers, I will slice them up and store them in my Pyrex containers (yep, that’s another affiliate link) to either grab and snack on them while at home, or take with me to work. This is also when I’d mix up any dip (ranch in sour cream, season salt and minced onion in sour cream with a dollop of mayo, Italian dressing seasoning in sour cream…you get the idea) and store that in a Pyrex container from that same set or from this Pyrex set (there’s a trend here – that’s another affiliate link). Prepping produce like this makes it easier for us to eat it, and for it to not go to waste.
10. KEEP IT SIMPLE!!! I cannot stress this one enough. If you are picking a week’s worth of complicated recipes, there’s a higher chance that you will get burnt out and end up eating out. Like I said, we save our more involved recipes for the weekends, which is when we have more time because we’re off on the weekend, but during the week we both work, so it just makes sense to make something easier.
So those are my top 10 tips on how to make meal planning work for you! Drop a comment below to let me know if you have anything to add, or if you found this list helpful at all! And if you have a meal plan up on your blog, share it! I’d love to see what you’re eating!