It seems like no more than I’m rolling out of bed, I’m already trying to thing ahead and figure out what dinner’s going to be. Do I have everything at home? Will I need to stop at the store? How much time do I have to make this meal? One thing that helps me stick to a grocery budget and not have the stress of what to make for dinner is by meal planning. When I talk about meal planning, lots of people counter right away to tell me that they don’t have the time or energy to put a meal plan together. That’s when I explain how much time and energy I spend running around on weeks when I don’t have a plan in place. Weeks with a plan seem to run so much smoother. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
Know What You Like
There’s no point in planning for meals that your family won’t even eat. Make a list of the meals your family really enjoys. If you want to add in a few things that are new to try, that’s fine too. Stick with one new recipe a week, especially in the beginning. Once you’re familiar with your prep and shopping routine, it’ll be easier for you to add in new things.
Organize Your Recipes
Keep everything in one easy to find place. Take the time to write out all your recipes in the same format so you get used to looking for everything in the same place. Once you’re more familiar with your prep and shopping, you’ll be better at adding in new recipes, but when you’re starting out, it’s best to be as consistent as possible. Try numbering the steps so you’re able to mark off what you’ve already done and you’ll know right where to pick up when it’s time to start cooking.
Make a Plan
Start with a week. Write out the days of the week and pick out five of your recipes from your list. Add those recipes to different days on the calendar. You don’t need to commit to eating those meals on those exact days if you don’t want to, but you’ll know what the choices are for the week. I try to leave one day mid-week for leftovers (if you’re using leftovers as lunches, you’ll need to add another recipe for this day) so we’re not wasting anything. Usually one night we eat out (during my son’s football season we’re usually eating on the way to or at the football game for example) or do something different with dinner. If you plan to eat at home every night, make sure you have seven recipes selected. As you get more comfortable, work towards planning for longer periods of time. Ideally, you’d plan for a month at a time.
After you’ve selected your recipes and know what days you’re planning to make your meals, make your grocery list. Be sure to check your pantry, freezer, and the sale flyers before you head off to the store. If you’re trying to make a week more budget-friendly, make sure your meals are using mostly staples from your freezer and pantry. The goal here is to only have to go to the store once for everything you need. This will allow you to have more time because you’re not running for the store every night for something to finish the meal you’re making, as well saving you money from buying stuff you don’t really need at the store.
Make your life easier by prepping everything you can in advance. Brown your ground beef so you don’t need to cook it later. Chop fruits or veggies. To make it even easier, store things together in a container when possible, after you’ve already measured them. When they can’t be stored together, try to store them in small containers with the ingredients already measured (think like a tv chef here and how they have everything already done when it’s time to actually cook the meal). Pick one day (usually shopping day is the easiest) to prep everything. That way all the work and mess (or at least a majority of it) happens at once so you get the worst out of the way all at once.
Pre-Make Whatever You Can
It’s so easy to come home and throw dinner in the oven instead of having to worry about assembling things and prepping. If you’re planning to make dishes that can be assembled in advance, do it in advance. For example, if I’m making lasagna, enchiladas, and baked tacos for the week, I’d cook my ground beef, assemble the enchiladas and lasagna, and keep aside some pre-cooked ground beef for taco night. When I get home on lasagna or enchilada night, all I need to do is pull them out of the fridge and pop them into the oven (write the time and temp on the aluminum foil your cover them with or a piece of tape on top of the dish). For slow cooker meals, prep everything you can the night before so you can just dump everything in the slow cooker in the morning before you head out the door for work and school.
Do you meal prep? What tips do you have to share? If you don’t already meal prep, what else would you like to know?