I know you have all heard the term meal planning but you may not understand exactly what it is. Meal planning is when you plan your meals in advance. Sometimes this is done weekly, bi-weekly or even a month at a time. It is very important to do when trying to save money and valuable time for yourself!
When you plan your meals in advance you will avoid impulse purchases, extra trips to the store, and save yourself from having those frantic moments of trying to scrounge around and figure out what is for dinner. When you create a weekly meal plan, you can save yourself not only time but money too. Creating a weekly meal plan doesn’t have to be tricky, in fact once you get the hang of it you will find it to be quite simple. It can be a little scary sounding for a beginner so I am going to break it down for you into a few easy steps.
How to Create a Meal Plan
1. Decide how long you need to meal plan for
When deciding how long to meal plan for you will want to keep in mind your pay periods and how many times you want to go to the store. If you get paid every two weeks then planning a bi-weekly meal plan would probably work best for you. That will keep your shopping trips down and free up valuable time that you can spend with the kids or relaxing in your own back yard. If you get paid once a week then you will need to decide if a 7 day meal plan would work better. Sometimes when first starting out the longer meal planning can seem a bit overwhelming so feel free to start out small and work your way up.
2. Planning your meals
Once you have the amount of time figured out you will want to start a list of days for the amount of time you are shooting for. Make this a simple list on the calendar showing what you are having for dinner every night. Don’t worry about ingredients at this point, just keep the list very brief. Here are some examples below.
- Monday – Pot Roast with potatoes, carrots, gravy and corn
- Tuesday – Vegetable lasagna with garlic toast
- Wednesday – BLT sandwiches with chips
- Thursday – White bean turkey chili
- Friday – Eat out
- Saturday – Kabobs with roasted potatoes and corn
- Sunday – Taco Salad
These are just ideas of course but it gives you an idea of what you list should look like. I love having them on the calendar in the kitchen so the family can look and see what we are serving for the week. If you don’t want to clutter up your calendar you can grab yourself another one just for this purpose or even keep a list on the refrigerator.
3. Start your grocery shopping list
Now that you have your planning done it’s time to start your grocery shopping list. Go down the list starting with the first meal and write down everything you need to buy. This may take a bit of time checking to see what you have on hand but it will end up saving you time and money in the long run. I find that on items like hamburger that I may need for more than one meal that it is much easier to keep a tally next to the item on how many pounds I will need. This keeps you from trying to guess at the store when it’s busy and the kids may have you feeling distracted. Make sure you add any breakfast or lunch items to your store list before you head out shopping.
4. Survey your family.
Start by finding out what your family’s favorite meals are. Talk to them about favorite breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even snack and beverage ideas. Write these ideas down and try to see where some commonalities are. This will give you an idea of where to start.
5. Invest in some organizational supplies.
A notebook, good pen, calendar, and calculator will all come in handy. Your notebook will be essential in writing down your ideas and shopping lists while your calendar will keep your weekly menu organized. The calculator of course is great for adding up deals and staying on budget.
6. Start “grouping” food items.
Take a look at how you can use one food item for various meals. For example, if you buy a green pepper, it can be used is both omelets for breakfast, salad for lunch, and meatloaf for dinner. The ground beef you buy can be used in a breakfast scramble, tacos for dinner, and in spaghetti a second night. Pick food items you love and find ways to use them in multiple meals.
7. Create your shopping list around sales.
You now want to create your shopping list. Do this with local store flyers on hand so you can choose items that are priced at their lowest that week. Consider the items you brainstormed above when you were grouping items.
Staying on this menu plan will help you avoid running out for carryout or for last minute store purchases. You will instead be prepared and ready to cook the perfect meal each night!
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Shopping for a Meal Plan
Now that you know you want to try meal planning, you will need to get shopping. Shopping for a meal plan is easier than you may think, it just takes a little preparation. Take a look below at some helpful tips that tell you how to shop for a meal plan easily and effectively.
1. Consider Your Menu for the Week
What is your menu for the week looking like? Does your family want tacos? Salads? Pizzas? Create a list of meal options to help inspire your shopping list. From this menu, you can get a clear idea of the ingredients you will need for the week.
2. Gather Your Sales Flyers
The next tip is an important one. Gather store sales flyers or print them out online. This is what you will use to pick your menu items for the week. This way, everything you purchase is on sale and you are getting it at the lowest price possible.
3. Create Your List
Create a shopping list divided up by store aisle. For example make a list of produce you need, dry goods, dairy, meats, etc. This way you aren’t running all over the store. These will be the items you use for your menu planning, so be sure you are thorough and get all of the items you need.
4. Price Match
Don’t feel like you need to run store to store to buy your ingredients. All you need to do is shop at a store that will price match. Walmart is a great store to price match at. That way, you save gas and time and still get all of the ingredients you need. Your sales flyers will come in handy when you are ready to price match.
5. Use Coupons
Don’t just shop sales, shop those sales with coupons. This will help your food budget go even further and really get you more bang for your buck. Shopping at stores that offer fuel rewards on your purchase is even better!
You might be wondering how on Earth meal planning can save you money. Well the truth is, it certainly can. You can save hundreds of dollars a month when you meal plan, and below you will find out exactly how. Just think, what could your family do with an extra hundred dollars a month? Take a look below and be inspired to get started meal planning today!
How Meal Planning Saves Money
1. No More Impulse Purchases
When you need to run out for an extra dozen eggs, or sugar, or milk, you tend to make impulse purchases. Your $5 trip may end up being $25 by the time you are done. When you meal plan, you always have the supplies you need on hand. No more impulse purchases because you need to run out.
2. You Save on Fuel
If you aren’t sure what you are having for dinner from night to night, you may find yourself running out for ingredients as mentioned above. This results in burning precious fuel. If you do this 3 times a week at 5 miles per trip, you have burned 15 miles worth of gas. That can really add up! When you meal plan, there is no need to waste fuel as you have what you need on hand.
3. No More Wasted Food
Food in the trash is like money in the trash. When you meal plan, you have a purpose for each ingredient you buy. That means no more ingredients going to waste and ending up in the trash, which is just like throwing away cash!
4. No More Carry Out
Many times we just opt to buy carry out if we are too tired to decide what to cook. When you have a meal plan in place, there is no excuse. Your ingredients are ready and your idea is in place, so you can skip the expensive carry out.
5. You Make Purposeful Purchases
Sure the expensive cheese may be fun and tasty, but does it fit into your meal plan for the week? If not, skip buying it. By skipping purchases that don’t fit into the plan, you are instantly saving cash.
6 Tips that Make Meal Planning Easier
Meal planning may seem frustrating or hard to stick to it first. However once you get into the groove of it, you can find it to be quite enjoyable and frugal as well. Take a peek below at 5 tips for making meal planning easier, so you can use it as an important planning and money saving tool in your house.
1. Keep your supplies on hand.
Use a binder to keep your calendar, pens, calculator, sales ads, and shopping lists in one place. If you aren’t spending time searching for these items, you will tend to feel less frustrated already. Stay organized and the job will feel like a cinch.
2. Find supportive friends.
See if any friends want to join you in meal planning. This will allow you to support each other, share ideas, share recipes, and even help each other work out any kinks you come across. You can actually have a lot of fun together!
3. Use the web for resources.
The internet is full of meal planning ideas and menus. If you want some help in picking menus and creating shopping lists, find free information, printables, chat boards and more online. A simple search for “menu planning” is all it takes to have tons of information at your fingertips.
4. Be kind to yourself.
Don’t beat yourself up if you mess up a day or a recipe doesn’t work out as you planned. Allow yourself to make mistakes and if you need to call it a day and order a pizza, it’s ok. Give it an honest try the next day and pick up where you left off.
5. Let the store flyers be your best friend.
Open up the store flyers to your local grocery store and right before your eyes your ingredients will be displayed. These sale items are in season, fresh, on sale, and perfect for your menu planning. Start getting creative with these items and the rest will happen naturally.
6. Make sure that you check your list often
and thaw out your meat the night before in your refrigerator. There is nothing worse than having the items on hand and not having them ready to go when you need them. Keep in mind that things will pop up in life that may lead your to switch your meals around on your list. The list is by no means sat in stone! If you need to switch Monday with Wednesday because your child has a party to go to it will be no problem. Just switch them out on the calendar and you will be good to go.
Meal Plans to Get Started With
If you still need some ideas to get you inspired with menu planning, take a peek below at how we turned simple ingredients into several different meals. Once you get your mind thinking along these lines, your ideas can be endless. Take a look below, and even print this list off for future reference!
Here are the supplies we are going to use:
- 5 pounds of Ground Beef
- 1 head of lettuce
- 3-4 Roma tomatoes
- 1 pound of bacon
- 1 box of spaghetti pasta
- 1 can of pasta sauce
- ¼ lb of cheddar cheese
- 1 package of tortilla shells
- 1 can of refried beans
- 2-3 avocado
- 1 packet taco seasoning
- Loaf of bread of choice
- Garlic powder
- 2-3 pounds white potatoes
- 1 can of bean and bacon soup
Taco Salads can be made when you brown a pound of ground beef with taco seasoning. Place in a tortilla bowl, created by baking the tortilla upside down on an oven safe baking bowl. Fill the bowl with the ground beef, some shredded lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, and avocado if you wish. Enjoy!
Spaghetti with meat sauce can be made when you brown a pound of ground beef and add it to your jar of sauce. Pour over your noodles cooked al dente. Serve with a small side salad (any remnants you have from the taco salad is perfect) and some garlic bread. Just butter some bread and sprinkle with garlic powder. Bake at 350 until toasty.
Bean and cheese burritos can be made when you lightly toast a tortilla shell on a skillet. Add some refried beans, shredded cheese, and some leftover tomatoes if you wish. Roll up tightly and enjoy! You can even freeze these if you wish to enjoy later.
Bacon burgers are tasty and can be made using the remainder of your hamburger. Just form your patties and sprinkle with garlic powder. Grill until cooked well. Top with sprinkles of cheese and sliced avocado. You can also add bacon cooked crisp. Serve on your bread choice. Serve with baked fries, made slicing your potatoes, adding seasoning, and baking until crispy.
Ultimate baked potatoes can be made when you cook them until soft, add butter, cheese sprinkles, and crumbled bacon. These are great served with bean and bacon soup (canned) and bread and butter of your choice.
As you can see, we were able to come up with these 5 meals from about $25 worth of basic ingredients! That comes out to only $5 per meal. So get creative, and see what you can come up with. Chances are, you can create a menu just like this!
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