Meal Planning Basics
As a busy mom with a hungry family, do you ever find yourself asking, “Why does my family want dinner every single night???”
I mean seriously!!!! Why do they constantly need to eat? 😉
As every parent knows, when you don’t have a dinner plan, you are screwed. The family wants to eat and when the family is hungry they get cranky!
And when you failed to make a dinner plan, you know what happens, don’t you?
I’ll tell ya what happens: Processed foods, fewer nutrients, and weight gain!
Y’all. Listen up.
When you create a meal plan, you are doing more than just planning what to eat.
A meal plan is a choice to live a healthy life.
There is no way I could have lost 10 pounds without a meal plan.
There is no way I could have helped my daughter through her IBS without a meal plan.
Friends. I come bearing good news!
Creating a system for meal planning doesn’t have to be hard.
In fact, before you know it, you will have developed a weekly habit that will simplify getting dinner on the table.
To all the parents that are doing the hard work of simply trying to feed your family every day, I see you. I feel your pain.
That’s why I’ve created this Essential Meal Planning Basics Guide.
I want to share with you the tips, tricks, and secrets that make creating a weekly meal plan easy.
Let’s dive in!
Meal Planning Basics
Step 1. Create a Recipe Binder
Here’s what I need you to do: Grab a binder that makes you happy, cuz this sucker is going to be your weekly go-to, so it should be pretty.
Plus, office supply junkies like me are always looking for an excuse to put pretty binders and colorful tabs to use.
Are you asking: Why do I need a binder? I have all these cookbooks!
I have a serious cookbook addiction. As in, I probs need an intervention I have so many.
That said, I rely on my recipe binder to create my weekly meal plan.
Here’s what makes my recipe binder different:
- I’ve indexed all my favorite recipes out of my cookbooks so it is all in one place.
- The only recipes that get put in the binder are main dish recipes. It is about getting dinner on the table, so muffin recipes need not apply!
- I labeled my tabs and organized my recipes based on cuts of meat.
Why have I organized it that way?
I know that protein, mainly meat in our house, takes up the biggest part of our grocery budget. Therefore, I plan my meals on what meats (or proteins) are on sale.
Did you get that?
Plan your meals around what protein (meat) is on sale!
Ready to make your own recipe binder?
Here’s my step-by-step instructions on How to Organize Recipes in a Binder.
2. Inventory Your Freezer and Pantry
Start your meal plan by what you already have on hand.
Do you have a pork tenderlion in your freezer? That’s the start of your meal plan.
Can of beans in the pantry? What can you make with it for dinner this week?
It doesn’t take much time to just inventory what you have and then pull together a recipe using those ingredients.
BONUS! This is a great way to save money and prevent food spoilage.
3. Use Your Grocery Store Sales Flyer
The best tip I have for creating a meal plan is to find your grocery store’s sales flyer and plan your meals around that week’s loss leaders.
A loss leader is a product that is sold at a loss to attract customers.
In the ad above, a whole roast chicken for just $4.99 is an example of a store’s loss leader. They are selling a chicken that cheap in hopes you’ll come in to buy it, then spend the rest of your grocery money in their store.
I’ve got two free printables that will help you identify loss leaders.
The first is my organic price list comparison cheat sheet.
While you may not shop at any of the stores on the list, download it so you can easily see prices for the most commonly purchased products.
Compare these prices to what you find in your sales flyer.
Let’s say you see on the comparison chart that organic ground beef is $4.99/lb at Costco. That’s the every day price.
A glance at your store’s sales flyer shows organic ground beef is being sold for $3.99/lb.
At a savings of $1 a pound, that’s a great deal! Add a ground beef meal or two to that week’s meal plan and you’ll be saving money.
For items that you buy weekly, I recommend creating your own price list to keep track of weekly prices. By keeping a log of prices, you’ll quickly be able to identify a good deal.
You can download a free printable grocery price list here.
To use the price list, simply keep track of the prices on foods you buy each week for at least 6 weeks. During that 6 week cycle, you should be able to identify when a product is at it’s lowest price. That’s when you want to buy!
In fact, if the discount is really good, I want you to buy several and tuck them into your freezer or pantry. (See step 2!)
Once you’ve identified your price points for the items you purchase regularly, I suggest creating a master price list.
Download your free printable grocery price list here.
4. Use a Meal Planning Grocery List
Are you still with me?
At this point, we’ve:
- Organized the recipes our family will eat.
- We’ve seen what we have on hand and we’ve started to create our meal plan for the week.
- Then, we’ve consulted our weekly sales flyer to look for cheap proteins to create the rest of our meal plan.
Now, we’ve got to shop for the remaining ingredients to actually be able to cook the recipes we’ve planned.
Again, I have my own way of creating this shopping list.
I start by writing the name of the recipe in the first box of my free downloadable weekly menu plan and shopping list.
Then, I add what ingredients I need to purchase to the shopping list.
Making the shopping list on the menu plan means it is all on one document.
I can use the document to shop the store, then I can bring it home, hang it on the fridge, and I know what recipes I’m making each night!
5. Stick to the List!
The number one way to overspend at the grocery store is to start putting things in your cart that aren’t on your shopping list!
Sticking to your shopping list also results in a quicker trip to the store. You’ll zip in, add only what you are looking for to your cart, and dart back out.
If you have difficulty sticking to your list, consider ordering online and picking it up at the store. Many stores now offer this service – some even offer the service free.
Have a Walmart nearby? Use this link to get $10 off your order. Look at you! You are already saving!
This service has been a blessing to our budget.
Nothing goes in the cart we don’t need!
Try it and see how much you save when you stick to a spending plan.
6. Consult Your Meal Plan First Thing in the Morning
THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP!!!!
We’ve all been there. It’s time to make dinner but you forgot to thaw the chicken.
The best advice I’ve ever received is to know what you are having for dinner BEFORE you get your morning cup of coffee.
At first, I took this step literally.
I kept my meal planning/shopping list on the coffee maker. That way, I had to look at it before I could get my coffee.
Consult your meal plan. Make sure whatever protein you are cooking is thawed or pull it out of the freezer if need be.
Sometimes I’ll have a plan for dinner, but someone in my house will eat one of the ingredients behind my back.
Spoiler alert. Teenagers are often guilty of this!
If you find you are short an ingredient, and you catch it first thing in the morning, it allows you to make plans to drop by the store before you get started cooking.
That’s it! Once you get into the routine of setting aside time to meal plan, you’ll find it gets easier and easier to do.
Pretty soon, getting dinner on the table will be a snap!