Starting to meal plan can feel daunting if you have been handling dinners in any other manner for years. There are simple ways to make the process easier, more attainable, and enjoyable. All of that creates a habit you are likely to stay with instead of ditching after a frustrating and time-consuming week or two.
This process is the number one action that has saved us the most money when we started to pay attention to such things. We were slow to responsible money habits and I hate creating routines that I then feel pressured to keep up with, for more examples we could talk about cleaning and exercising! This habit kept me on top of what I spend at the grocery and the results were so impressive I couldn’t ignore them. It hasn’t just saved us money. We have also dramatically reduced the amount of food that we waste.
The routine has also encouraged me to plan an easy dinner night, making for at least one night that I don’t head to the kitchen kicking and screaming. As a person always certain there is something more interesting going on when it is time for chores and responsibilities I had to come up with a few ideas to me stick to this. My top three things to make planning & cooking less stressful and take up less of my week are a tradition night, leftovers, and a small collection of seasonal recipes.
build in tradition night
Why over think every night? We have added in taco Tuesdays and Friday pizza nights. The tacos vary every week. Some weeks are easy and some weeks are complex Rick Bayless recipes, but it helps me narrow down what I am looking for while making the meal plan on Sunday morning. Pizza night keeps it really simple. I make multiple batches of pizza dough and then freeze them so they are ready to be pulled out of the freezer to thaw before dinner. Then everyone gets to make their own and dinner is ready in 20 minutes.
Pro tip: stop by the store and pick up the topping at the salad bar. It saves time and reduces waste even if it doesn’t save money.
build in a leftover night
Luckily, my husband and I don’t mind eating the same meal two nights in a row. So making a tray of lasagna or a roast chicken that makes lots of leftovers makes for an easy dinner the second night. This frees me up to some of those, assuredly, more exciting things I think I am missing on other nights. That usually equals spend time hanging out with Tom & Olive instead of standing in the kitchen cooking.
Build a collection of recipes
Building a collection of recipes that you want to cook from on a regular basis can help you cut down the time it takes to meal plan. I own a nice collection of cookbooks, have a pile of recipes handed down from my parents, and a decent Pinterest habit. This adds up to overwhelm when I sit down to meal plan. I created two binders that have recipes and an index of my favorites from cookbooks. One binder is for spring and summer and the other is fall and winter. This way it is more likely that what I am looking at will be in season and will match the weather.
When you are ready to start planning for the week
Gather whatever resources you use for recipes. Have them all in arms reach so creating the grocery list will be easier.
Pull out your trusty meal planning sheet
(or plain boring paper)
If you don’t have a special sheet for meal planning yet you can download the one I created by signing up for my mailing list or just use a regular piece of paper.
Check the weather
You don’t want to plan the BBQ when it is going to rain and you don’t want to be slaving over the stove is you have not AC and it is going to be 90 degrees outside!
Check the calendar
Got a special date night that is going to keep you out of the kitchen? Got a late meeting leaving the husband to feed the kids.
Look in the fridge & pantry
This a good chance to make sure you are using the things your already purchased and get a good sense of what you will need to pick up at the store to restock the pantry.
Pick the meals
This part always takes me the longest. It is part of the reason I have theme nights built in to make my decisions easier.
Write the grocery list
I divide my list into the areas of the store making it much less likely for me to forget something or have to spend time backtracking through the store for missed items.
Check the fridge & pantry for items you already have on hand
Save money and food and check the pantry and fridge one more time for items you don’t need to purchase.
Head to the store
And you are off. Now stick to that list and see if you can also stick to your hopeful budget.