In the new year, one of our goals is to get our grocery budget down even more. One of the best ways to do that is to meal plan. I am to a point that I try to meal plan for all three meals as well as snacks throughout the week. However, that may seem incredibly daunting. So, let’s just start with planning dinner.
When I first started planning dinners, it was overwhelming, because I thought I had to plan elaborate meals that included far too many ingredients. But that’s not the point of meal planning. The point is to have something on the table in a reasonable amount of time that your family will eat (and not having to rush to the store at the last minute because you don’t have everything).
Instead of scrolling Pinterest for crazy recipes, start by making a list of meals your family likes. Tacos. Spaghetti. Lemon chicken with veggies.
Once you have a good list, pull out your calendar. If you don’t regularly use a calendar, a sheet of paper with the days of the week written on it will work. Transfer 7 of your meals to the calendar (assuming you’re going one week at a time). Consider ingredients as well as time and effort for each meal. If you want variety, space out meals with similar ingredients.
Some people have themes for their meals, such as meatless Mondays. If that works for you, do it. For me, it just makes me think harder. If I have to think about all of this too hard, I end up not doing it. And then I have a problem because I run to the store and overspend or run grab fast food.
Now, make your shopping list. I also like to write how much I need of each ingredient next to it; that way, you won’t buy too little and have to make a last-minute run to grab something. Also, check your freezer and pantry. You may already have some ingredients on hand. Cross those off your list. Don’t forget to check for certain spices.
When you go shopping, the most important thing is to stick to your list. I find it a lot easier to stick to if I’ve already eaten. Don’t go to the grocery store hungry! You will buy everything that looks good (I know from experience).
Once you get home and get everything unloaded and put away, make sure not to sabotage your meals by prematurely eating an ingredient. If possible, keep meal ingredients grouped together in the fridge and pantry. It helps keep you from eating them since you know they have a planned use, and it also helps you get dinner ready faster since you know where everything is.
Every night, check what the plan is for the next day. Do you need to take hamburger out of the freezer? Do you need to start the crockpot the next morning? Keep yourself from thinking, What’s for dinner? at 4 in the afternoon.
After you’ve mastered meal planning for week, try planning two weeks at a time, then a month. And if you want, get more adventurous. Scatter in those meals you see on Pinterest that look delicious. If it’s a great as it looks, add it to your list to make again later.
Once you’ve got the basics down, you can learn to use leftovers from one meal to make others, as well as learning to meal plan around sales, cutting down your grocery bill (and time spent) even more.