A few months ago, if you asked me what we were having for dinner, I still could not tell you, even at dinner time. However, it wasn’t until I finally sat down and really researched the benefits of meal planning that I realized it was something I needed to do.
Not only can meal planning save you tons of money, but you will also waste less food, be more prepared on a daily basis (and save yourself time), and your family will start to eat better and healthier meals. On top of that, you won’t be stuck eating the same 3 things every week.
Below are just a few simple steps to help you skip all the hassle that I had to go through, while learned to meal plan for you and your family.
- Organize all your recipes: This is one of the hardest and biggest steps to meal planning. The first thing I did, was to make a list of all the meals we already cook. Although I might not have exact recipes, I did list ingredients on the pages for them so that I can make my grocery list weekly. After that, I went through all those amazing places online I had saved recipes, and took some time everyday to copy them into a word document, were I organized them on there before printing.Then I got a nice recipe binder, and got to work. Breakfast, Lunch, Snacks, and Dinner. Although this took some time, once this step is over you will have a great sigh of relief. Time to enjoy some new meals.
- Plan for more than one week: When I look at my monthly planner and organize for the month, I try to at least plan out a supper idea for every day. Although some weeks we might eat out, or eat leftovers, or not want to eat that for the week, planning ahead gives you an outlook of what you are eating to insure you are not stuck eating the same types of foods every week. Although I usually only shop for one week at a time, and plan the other meals the week before, it is nice to at least see a dinner layout to know what all we are eating every night. I usually don’t plan breakfast that far ahead, because I never know what my son will want to eat for the week before school. And as for lunch, I usually plan that around how much left we have to work with in our budget for that week.
- Stock up when you can for future meals: I am all about deal hunting. Even when I meal plan for the week, I always see what is on sale first at the store. I might switch a few lunches or dinners around, just so we save some money for the week. It is always smart to buy on sale, because next week something else will be on sale that you can use in another meal. This is another reason having recipes organized is good, so that you can see what ingredients goes in all meals more easily. If you happen to catch a good sale, especially on food that does not go bad quick, I will be the first one to tell you to stock up. You might get a few months worth of noodles, or whatever is on sale, for the same price you would have gotten one or two of them.
- Prep meals as soon as you get them from the store: I hate grocery shopping, meal prepping, and cooking. I do enjoy saving money, being prepared, and eating yummy food! With such a hectic life, I had to learn to do some things I truly hate just so I could have yummy meals easily for my family every day. Once I go grocery shopping, I always make sure to separate all my meat into different bags and label them for what I plan on cooking before sticking them in the freezer. Depending on what, or how, it needs to be cooked, I sometimes go ahead and separate the veggies and other accessories into the bag as well. That way, when I get home I simply take the whole bag and toss it into a skillet or oven for cooking.
- Every morning prep for the day: When I wake up in the morning, I have a list of morning stuff to do. One of them is prep for the day. Not only do I take out the meat I plan on cooking, but I also make sure we have everything we need. That way if we have run out of something, I don’t get left last minute trying to run to the store or cook something else. This is one of the simpler steps, but it also is very important when it comes to staying on top of your meal planning.
- Don’t forget your leftovers: It is too often we forget about leftovers. When meal planning, don’t forget to account for the times that you will eat leftovers. Sometimes I over shop and over plan for the week, simply because I had forgotten the days that we would not cook and just eat leftovers. Although I simply use that meal for the next week, it is still something to consider so that you are not wasting food or throwing it away.
- Be willing to try, and ditch, new recipes: When I first organized my recipes, I must have printed out about 70 of them. Of all 70, we probably cook about 30 of them. Some were just too complicated, some used ingredients that were just too expensive, and others either the kids or us did not like. Some recipes were altered before I even printed them out, because I knew certain things we would not eat. However, some things we tried just knowing we would love them, and yet we didn’t. That’s okay, at least we tried, simply throw away the recipe and find a new one to replace it!
- Alter recipes to fit your family: As stated above, some recipes I had were altered before I even printed them out. Others, to this day, have handwriting and scratches on them to were I have altered and messed with ingredients over time. There are times I tricked my kids into eating spinach, in a recipe that called for broccoli. Other times, it was that the recipe did not call for enough cheese. With most recipes, unless they have special seasoning, all seasonings get scratched out just because in the south we cook to taste and not exact measurements. Its all about personal taste.
- Don’t forget to have fun with your cooking: If I get frustrated with a recipe, I simply throw it away. Cooking is something to enjoy, have fun with, not something you should hate to do everyday. With dishes, no one will ever enjoy them. With cooking, you can make it fun. Don’t print out recipes you know you don’t have the tools, or skill for. As you cook more, the recipes will become easier. The point of meal planning is to enjoy cooking, and eating, not dread it even more.
- Always be on the look out: Just because there is a book full of recipes in my kitchen doesn’t mean that I am going to stop looking at recipes. There is always room for improvement, or new ideas, in ones recipe book.