Meal Planning 101

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I love reading blogs in my spare time.  It’s my own little personal magazine where I choose the articles that I want to read.  Over the years, I’ve seen several blogs talk about saving money on grocery shopping using coupons and a meal plan.  Well, with our family of six, there’s rarely time to cut coupons or even plan meals around the coupons I have collected and I have NO room to stockpile items when there’s a sale.  Then I read ideas on just meal planning but it got tiresome researching recipes and learning to cook several new things every week.

What I now do takes so little time and it does not require you to become a master chef when you first start out. Here are my 5 steps to an easier meal planning program.

Step 1: Get a 3 ring binder and start putting in all the recipes that you already have and love.  If cooking is not your hobby, this may only be a collection of 5 recipes.  That’s OK! I promise it will get bigger eventually if you stick with this plan.

Step 2: Make a list of all the dinner options that you are ALREADY capable of making.  This would include your 4-5 (or maybe 50!) recipes that you put in your 3 ring binder. But this would also include things like “chicken nuggets and frozen veggies”, “eggs and bacon”, “canned soup and bagged salad”, “spaghetti and frozen meatballs”. Try to brainstorm at least 15-20 options.  Even frozen pizza counts.

Step 3: Print out a blank monthly template.  You can use the Microsoft office template found here:  Use your list of recipes/dinners that you made in Step 2 to fill in each day on your template. On our really hectic months (September and May), I will write in the days that have several activities going on so that I can choose an easier meal for those evenings.

Here’s where your list of possible dinners will grow…. every month leave 1 or 2 days open for NEW recipes.  Make sure they are on a day when you don’t have many commitments so you can focus on learning the recipe.  I tend to keep a pinterest board of different recipes that look good and then pull a couple recipes from it each month to try.  Sometimes that new recipe does not make the cut.  When that happens, the good news is that it’s only one night out of an entire month.  If we had been trying several recipes at a time to increase our list of recipes, we would be potentially not liking several meals during one week, plus lots of wasted money spent on ingredients. I’m reminded of a pretty gross Citrus Quinoa dish that ended in a cereal-for-dinner situation.

My binder, lists and calendar make for easy meal planning

Step 4: Each week, make a grocery list based on your monthly calendar. Steps 1-3 have made this part much easier.  Grab your completed monthly schedule (I keep mine on the fridge door) and your binder of recipes and get to work.  This part requires very little thought so I can usually do it while watching TV. I also have a list of the typical breakfast/lunch/staples that we use and I add that to the grocery list.

Step 5: Go to the grocery store and make record time getting out of there!  The great thing about only buying what is on your list is that you end up spending very little time at the store because there are few decisions that need to be made.  I tend to shop at ALDI (or only store brand items at a larger grocery store) so my decision making is even less since there’s usually only one option of the item I’m looking for. Plus I save money by only buying the food we actually need that week instead of impulse buys or things that sit in my pantry for months.

And that’s it!  Once you get the hang of this, you can go for the Master’s level of meal planning….. pick a few recipes each month that freeze easily, buy double the ingredients, make one meal for that night and one to freeze for a later date.

Enjoy all your new found free time and saved money!

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