I’ve been meal planning for about two years now, beginning shortly after my fiancé and I moved into our first home as a way to save money on our grocery bill and to reduce our food waste.
Now that I have been doing it for so long, it has become second nature and is something I factor into my weekend routine to prepare for the upcoming week. However, after speaking with many of my friends and family, I realized meal planning was not something that many people are familiar with. After a very eventful trip to the grocery store with my brother and seeing that his bill was almost double mine (for one person!!), I figured this was something I should share.
So, in an effort to share my time and money saving tips, I’ve created a simple guide to meal planning and hope it will help you (and my brother!) start reaping the same rewards.
What is meal planning anyways?
To put it simply, meal planning is reducing the need to ask the dreaded What are we having for dinner question to one day, instead of every day of the week. Seems simple enough right? So how do you do it?
Where do I begin?
Effective meal planning can be broken down into four steps:
- Deciding how many meals you need to make
- Finding recipes and creating a roster
- Shopping for what you need
- Preparing your meals
Decide on how many meals you need to make
I normally plan my meals on a weekly basis (starting Saturday to Friday) since I buy a lot of fresh produce (so it doesn’t keep much longer than a week). However, if your meal planning will incorporate more non-perishable items, you can stretch out your planning to two weeks or more. If you’re first starting out, I would begin with one week to keep things simple. However, as always, find whatever works best for you.
As I mentioned in previous article on Managing your Money, I am a huge fan of written lists – so I love writing out my meal plan on paper. I take a single sheet of paper and fold it in half (horizontally). On the top half I write out the days of the week (Saturday to Friday) and on the bottom half, I make my grocery list of the ingredients I need to buy.
Finding recipes and creating a roster
This part is definitely difficult when you’re first getting started. Personally, I’ve found a lot of success with a few different blogs.
Two of my favourites are:
Authored by Gina Homolka, this blog features recipes which are both “skinny” and “tasty”. Two of my reasons for loving this blog are the kid-friendly options (which appeal to both my stepson AND my fiancé) and that each recipe includes the Weight Watcher points (which was helpful when I was following the program).
Authored by a classically trained chef, Jenn Segal, this blog is her way of sharing her perfected family meals with others. I am particularly in love with her breakfast recipes (her Banana Pancake recipe is a huge hit at our family brunches).
Now, I know what you’re thinking now – how do I even begin to pick recipes from the millions available online? So to make it easier, here are some quick tips for picking recipes:
1. Pick recipes you actually want to eat
tip: you’ll be more likely to stick to your plan
2. Pick recipes based on things you already have in your kitchen
tip: this will save you money for not having to buy so many ingredients
3. Pick weekly recipes with the same ingredients
tip: this will eliminate waste and save you money
4. Pick recipes that will make left overs
tip: you can take these for lunch the next day!
After a couple of weeks, you will find recipes that you love. Once this happens, you can keep a couple in a weekly rotation and sub in new recipes you want to try. For my own meal planning, I keep a roster of recipes saved on my computer under my favourites so I can quickly find them for future weeks.
Shopping for what you need
So now that you’ve found (and written down) the recipes you will make for the week, you need to put together your grocery list. Before writing down all the ingredients required in the recipes, search your kitchen for items you already have (when this becomes part of your weekend routine, you will begin to develop a mental inventory of things you have, or don’t have, in your fridge or pantry).
After taking inventory, start going through each recipe and cross of the items you have. Anything left over gets added to your grocery list (this is where picking recipes with common ingredients will help keep your costs down).
Another way I keep my cost down is to purchase in bulk. For example, when I buy meat, I will buy family sized portions and separate them at home into freezer bags making multiple portions. This allows me to shop less frequently for meat and save money that would have been wasted buying the smaller portioned packs.
Preparing your meals
Now that you have all your ingredients to make your meal, all that’s left to do is just that: make them!
Some meal planners will spend a day preparing all their meal for the entire week (pre-making and freezing, prepping ingredients for upcoming recipes, etc.). Personally I prefer not to do this as I like preparing my meals fresh. However, find whatever works for you.
Congratulations, you did it!
As I hope you have discovered, meal planning is not difficult but it does take planning and commitment. By adopting this process, my hope is that you will transform the way you and your family think about what you’re eating and ultimately make your life much easier and less expensive.
Remember: the key to success (and adoption) is to make your meal plan work for your lifestyle. If you need to plan a night to have take out, do it! Have fun with your plan and soon, you too, will begin to reap the many rewards.