Recently, I was asked to write a full post about meal planning and the steps I usually take to make sure we have mostly nutritious, homemade meals throughout the week. Everyone approaches meal planning differently, but I have found this routine to be the most efficient and doable for us.
- Find a method that works for you. I used to write everything down, but now I use Google Drive to record our meal plans. I created a template that I insert the meals, sale items and grocery list into weekly. I love this method, because Kevin can also see the meal plan whenever he wants, and I can access it from my phone for grocery shopping. I’ve had way fewer “Crap I forgot the list moments!” since I started using this method.
- Start small. When I first began meal planning, I only planned my dinners. I was in grad school, so I had a more flexible schedule when it came to breakfast and lunch. Eventually though I realized that life would be a lot easier if I also had a plan for breakfast and lunch. Since I already had the hang of planning dinner, adding two more meals wasn’t that overwhelming. For breakfast, I just plan a few options for the week then determine what I eat based on how I am feeling and what my morning schedule looks like. For lunch, it usually depends on if we have leftovers from dinner. In case we don’t, I also make sure to buy salad ingredients, so I can throw together quick veggie packed lunches the night before.
- Set a budget. I love grocery shopping and could easily do some serious damage and spend countless hours perusing the aisles. However, I also enjoy saving money, so I go into the store knowing how much I want to spend. Our grocery budget ranges from $60-$75 weekly. This is guaranteed to cover our breakfasts, lunches and dinners Monday-Friday and breakfast during the weekend. Lunch and dinner during the weekend are a wild card depending on our schedules. I usually spend about $60 on my main grocery haul then we may run to the store for other odds and ends throughout the week, which occasionally pushes the budget up to $75. My breakdown is about $15/protein sources, $20/fruits and veggies, $10/dairy products and $15/for odds and ends, but it really varies based on what we already have.
- Look at your schedule. The first thing I do is check our schedule for the following week and plan our meals around our lives. It seems intuitive, but I didn’t do this when I first started and there were multiple times I would have a lengthy recipe planned for a night I was in class till 8pm. It was not ideal.
- Shop your kitchen first. I despise throwing food away and buying food that I already have, so I always scan our pantry, fridge and freezer before writing down the items I want to buy from the store. I try to plan my meals around these ingredients, rather than picking a meal that requires that I buy a ton of new ingredients. This helps save money and reduces food waste.
- Check the ads. I am pretty sure there is some techy app for this, but I still love the good ole’ grocery ads and look forward to their arrival every Wednesday. One time we didn’t receive the ads on our normal day, and I was convinced Kevin was pulling a prank on me. He’s smarter than that though and knows not to mess with me and my grocery ads. My point is, the grocery ads are gold. You will save a ton of money if you base your weekly meals on the sales. I also use the ads to determine when I will stock up on certain items. Once you have your sale items that you want to buy, add them to the list of food you already have in your kitchen.
- Choose your meals. This is likely the most difficult and time consuming part of meal planning. You could easily spend hours looking up recipes. We have developed a pattern that helps me save time choosing our meals.
- Make a bigger, versatile meal on Sunday and/or Monday. My cooking motivation is at it’s peak during the beginning of the week, so I try to make bigger meals that give us lots of leftovers I can use for lunches or in other meals throughout the week. It usually involves some sort of meat, a plethora of roasted or grilled veggies, potatoes or a grain.
- Theme a night. Let’s be real, sometimes you just get tired of meal planning. We’ve found that having a themed night makes the process more exciting. We go through different phases and are currently on “Restaurant Meals” (Kevin’s idea). Once a week we are trying to recreate our favorite restaurant meals at home. This is a great way to get out of your comfort zone and learn new cooking techniques!
- Know your tendencies. By the time Thursday night rolls around, I could really care less about making some fabulous meal. I want to be in and out of the kitchen in 20-30 minutes. I’ve learned to only plan very simple meals like salads, omelettes, sandwiches, etc. on Thursday nights. If I had something extravagant planned, we would likely end up at a restaurant.
- Making balanced meals that fit your needs. Personally, I don’t like eating big dinners. I prefer to eat a larger breakfast and lunch to fuel my body throughout the day. Kevin, on the other hand, prefers the opposite. In order to meet both of our needs, I make ½ our meal veggies (and sometimes fruit), include a meat or seafood for protein most nights then have a quick grain source for Kevin like pita bread, naan or rice, if he wants it.
- Go shopping! For me, this is the most enjoyable part of the whole process. The important part here is to stick to your list. It is so easy to throw that random item in the cart that you don’t really need. Doing this multiple times will lead to me blowing the grocery budget. My strategy to combat this is to do one lap around the store only getting the items on my list, then I allow myself to go back and get those spontaneous items. Usually, my basket is so full at this point and my arm feels like it is going to fall off, so I just decide to go checkout. (Side note- Use a basket if you are only shopping for 1 or 2 people. You will buy less and get an arm workout.)
So, about 1000 words later, you have some insight into my meal planning mentality. While it does take more time than calling for takeout, I believe it is worth it in the long run. It saves us money and ensures that we are eating a more balanced diet.
Want to chat more about meal planning? Please feel free to leave any questions or comments below!