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???”
Thinking about what to make for dinner can be stressful. Creating a healthy meal at the last minute is challenging.
Without a meal plan, we often turn to processed foods and meals that are loaded with unhealthy ingredients.
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.
There is no way we could have had the same family connection without sitting down to dinner together.
Creating a system for meal planning doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, it only takes a short amount of time to develop a weekly habit that will simplify getting dinner on the table.
I’ve created this Essential Meal Planning Basics Guide to share with you the tips, tricks, and secrets that make creating a weekly meal plan easy.
Meal Planning Basics
1. Create a Recipe Binder
I have a serious cookbook addiction, but I rely on my recipe binder to create my weekly meal plan.
Here’s what makes my recipe binder different:
- I’ve limited it to main courses only.
- I labeled my tabs and organized my recipes based on cuts of meat.
I know that meat takes up the biggest part of my grocery budget. Therefore, I need to plan my meals on what meats (or proteins) are on sale.
Here’s my step-by-step instructions on How to Organize Recipes in a Binder.
2. Inventory Your Freezer and Pantry
Every month I make a trip to Costco.
Buying in bulk means I always have meats, grains and pastas on hand. Therefore, I start my meal plan by inventorying my freezer and pantry so I can use the ingredients I already have on hand.
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.
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 these stores, 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.
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
Once you’ve planned your weekly menu, you need to create a shopping list.
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.
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.
This service has been a blessing to our budget. Nothing goes in the cart we don’t need. We don’t use it weekly, but often enough that it makes a big difference.
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.
Consulting my meal plan first thing means I make surethe meat is thawed and that all ingredients have been purchased.
Sometimes I’ll have a plan for dinner, but someone in my house will eat one of the ingredients behind my back. Teenagers are often guilty of this!
If you find you are short an ingredient, 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!