Meal planning. It sounds daunting and scary and definitely not something else you can possibly fit into your hectic schedule, right? WRONG.
First of all, I believe in you, and you want to know why? Because if I, the queen of taking the easy road, can do it…so can you!
I remember when Grant & I first moved out on our own, I would seriously stop by the store EVERYDAY after work to pick up dinner for that night. You can imagine by the end of it all, I had reserved parking at Kroger’s and a monthly grocery bill for a family of 5. Obviously, this couldn’t continue and we decided to start planning our dinners and shopping only once a week. There has been a lot of trial and error over the last two and a half years, but here are some of our keys to successful meal planning that we’ve learned along the way.
Like all changes, it’s not going to happen overnight. You don’t have to start this journey planning 7 meals a week. That’s enough to overwhelm anyone. We started with just a few meals a week, and nearly 2 years later, we’re slowly starting to plan a few lunches, too. Yes, this may increase your grocery expenses for the week, but it will also save exponentially by not using the drive-thru nearly as often.
Simply planning your meals for the week is not enough. You have to be excited about what you’re eating or you’ll probably find a reason not cook. I say this from experience, folks. Love Pinterest? Who doesn’t, right? Put that beautiful board of dream dinners to work, and make it part of your meal plan! If you’re already going to be scrolling for hours on Pinterest, you’re not even adding that much effort to your regular routine. Some other great resources we use include Food Network, Real Simple Magazine, as well as BuzzFeedFood.
Take an Inventory of your Pantry, Fridge, and Freezer
If you’re concerned about extra costs to your grocery budget, a great way we’ve saved is by using what we have already and buying only what we need. The only way to do this succesffully is by assessing BEFORE your trip to the grocery store and AFTER you’ve assembled your list of meals and ingredients. If you’re tech savvy, there are some great apps (here’s a list from Apartment Therapy) that help keep track of your pantry stock. Does your recipe call for ground beef, and you already have ground turkey? Use the turkey! It’s less wasteful, and will allow you to put your own spin on the recipe.
Make a List
This tip is not just for santa anymore. Making a list is crucial to ensuring you have what you need for your week of meals. I don’t know about you, but as much as I love my local store, the fewer trips there the better. Ain’t nobody got time for extra visits to the grocery store!! You might think you don’t need a list, and that superhuman memory might be the real deal, but we’ve found the grocery list really keeps us on track and helps us spend less. We’ve also found it easier to divide the week’s worth of meals into 4 categories: Produce, Pantry, Protein, and Dairy. (If anyone has another “P” for that last one, our alliterative souls would greatly appreciate it!
Grocery shopping can sometimes be an unwelcome chore. Categorizing our lists has truly sped up our trips and gets us to the part that matter most…eating our delicious set of dinners.
husband always asks why I take an earthly amount of clothes with us when we take a trip. The answer is simple: you’re going to feel a little different everyday. That translates to what you feel like wearing OR eating. While we recently have started to plan which days we eat what dinner, it’s not set in stone. This goes back to being inspired. Look at your list of dinners for the week, and decide what makes your most excited to get in the kitchen and cook it! Bad day, incredibly tired? Choose your easiest and fastest meal. Make your meals work for your lifestyle.
Have Fun With It
This really goes without saying, but if you’re going to add meal planning to your routine, you’ve got to have fun with it. Choose things that make you hungry just thinking about them. Try new and cooky ingredients. Let everyone get involved and pick their own dinners. It might sound like a big change, but it comes with even bigger benefits.