Using Meal Planning to Save Money, Time and Your Sanity
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The day has been long. You are rushing from one activity to the next, and that’s when it hits you. That unmistakable feeling of hunger, followed closely by anxiety because you haven’t given a thought to supper. Reluctantly, you stop and grab fast “food” to satisfy your need. But before you even have the chance to digest your subpar meal, you are hit with another wave of anxiety over the money spent and the garbage consumed.
Have you ever experienced this? The frustration of spending too much of your hard-earned money on low quality meals makes you sick in more ways than one. Take heart, dear friends. There is a solution, and it comes in the form of a meal plan.
I know, it sounds too simple to be effective. Can writing down a few meal ideas on a sheet of paper really save you money? Will you be able to implement home-cooked meals with healthy ingredients? What if you are already stretched for time, can you possibly fit in cooking? The answer to all these questions is yes. But first, you need to have a strategy.
Successful Meal Planning Preparation
There are 5 simple steps to creating and implementing a successful meal plan. By following these steps, I am confident you will save at least $100 every week. How did I come up with $100 in savings?
Look at three common scenarios where you impulsively buy food. Quick takeout or drive through meals easily cost $30 for a family. A full meal for a family or couple at a restaurant ranges from $50-$75, and extra items purchased at the grocery store can add an additional $10-$20 on your bill. If you fall prey to each of these impulse buys every week that adds up! Look, I love food and enjoy the experience of dining out. I am not against spending money at restaurants. But make it part of your budget and schedule so you really enjoy spending your hard-earned money!
Determine the End Goal
To be successful at meal planning, or any endeavor, you must have the end in mind and make goals to achieve the desired result. Determine what your end goal is. Most often, meal plans are created to save money on food, eat healthier meals, have quickly made meals available, or any combination of those desires. I’m quite confident that saving money and eating healthier will come naturally by having a meal plan. But if the goal is quick meals, knowing that ahead of time is important for the success of sticking to the plan.
Consult Your Calendar
A meal plan is meaningless if you aren’t going to have the time to cook meals. Look at your calendar for the week and determine which nights you will be home to cook. If you don’t have a calendar or haven’t written a schedule of your priorities yet, I encourage you to visit my post on Scheduling Your Priorities here for a free printable to get started!
If there are a few nights that you have scheduled plans, cook a large meal on the nights you will be home so there will be leftovers to quickly eat on your busy nights. If every night is packed with activities, dust off your slow cooker and let it do the work of cooking for you during the day, so there is a delicious meal waiting for you when you arrive home. Also, if you have plans to dine out, make note of that on your meal plan, so you don’t have food waste.
Peruse the Pantry
To save money, it only makes sense to cook with the ingredients on hand. Scour through your pantry, fridge and freezer to see what you have available. Which ingredients are perishable and need to be used first? Those items should be incorporated in the first meal on your plan. To go a step further, and make this step easier, keep an inventory sheet for your pantry and freezer. That way you can quickly glance at your list to see what you have already spent money on, and find ways to use it before spending more money, and possibly wasting food.
After you know what you have, look at the sales flyers for stores where you purchase food. See what is on sale and think of ways to use those foods in your meal plan. Take note of sale prices and know when there is a good deal. These are great opportunities to stock up on foods to save money. Especially on meats, cheeses, dry goods and frozen foods. They can be preserved for a long time and used a couple weeks later.
Schedule Those Meals
Whew! We are finally to the exciting part of deciding which meals to make. Sometimes this can be overwhelming, as either everything or nothing sounds good. Keep it simple. Start at the beginning of the week and decide how much time you have that day to cook. Then choose a main dish based on what you have on hand, or what is on sale. Fill in the rest of the meal the same way. It doesn’t have to be a fancy, four course meal every night. (Although that sounds delicious!)
On Mondays, my family is usually home so I make a large meal, with enough leftovers for lunches and enough protein to create a new, quicker meal. Look at the example meal plan from this week. I roasted a large chicken and had plenty of meat leftover to plan at least one more meal that will be quick to put together as the protein is already cooked. We also eat leftovers for lunch every day so I don’t have to plan additional meals throughout the week. On Friday we have plans, so I didn’t plan a meal.
It is important to note that you don’t have to stick to your meal plan exactly. You can always switch meals around or change them if you have a craving for something different. However, having a plan allows you to know exactly what is available to cook with in your home. If my family wants Chinese instead of cheesy chicken, broccoli and rice casserole, I know that I can make a chicken and broccoli Chinese dish with rice, because I have all the main ingredients ready to go. This is the difference between a healthy meal at home, or spending $40 for takeout loaded with MSG and who knows what else!
Make Your Grocery List – and stick to it!
This last tip is vital for saving money each week. The grocery store can be a battlefield where we wage war against our budgets. Having a list made in advance, and only buying what is on that list ensures you don’t spend more than is necessary. It also keeps food waste down, and is friendlier for your waistline.
If you find an item that you really want, try walking away and finishing your shopping. At the end of your list, if you feel that item is important and fits in your meal plan and budget, then allow yourself to get it. Marketing companies are experts at getting us to make purchases based on emotion and then justifying the purchase later with logic. Take the immediate emotion out of the equation by walking away and see if the purchase is still logical for you. I promise you will save money trying this trick!
Make the Plan
To recap, the 5 steps for a successful meal plan are:
- Determine the End Goal
- Consult Your Calendar
- Peruse the Pantry
- Schedule Those Meals
- Make a Grocery List- and stick to it!
Now all that’s left is finding a style that works for you. Currently, I am using this plan, which I created for you to use! I place it in a protective sleeve, and use a dry erase marker to make my plan each week. In the past I have loved using my Moleskine Classic Notebook to keep track of my meal plan and cleaning schedule. The great part of a whole notebook designated for meal planning, household chores, and my schedule is that I can look back on past months and see what we have eaten for meals. Sometimes, I even go back a whole year to see what meals we made to get inspiration on seasonal meals, or for quick meals that fit a busy season in our lives.
Meal planning is a homemaking task that is neither complicated or boring. Quite the opposite! When you have a plan for your meals, it takes away the frustration and anxiety that accompanies the question your family inevitably asks, “What’s for dinner?”. Now instead of fumbling through your cupboards to find a take-out menu, you can confidently tell your family to look at the meal plan. You will experience the success of saving your family money and time, and know that you are truly nourishing them with real food. That, my friends, is a great achievement!
I want to hear from you. How do you meal plan? Are you a once a week planner, or do you plan a month in advance? Let me know in the comments below.