Are you sick and tired of asking yourself what in the world to fix for dinner? With simple meal planning, you don’t have to ask yourself that question anymore! Keep reading to learn all the benefits of meal planning, plus grab 3 FREE printables!
Welcome to week 2 of the money-saving grocery shopping challenge! Last week I shared information on how to comparison shop to save money on groceries. You guys seemed to really enjoy that post! I’m so glad you found it so helpful!
This week I’m going to share some great tips about meal planning and how it saves money on groceries. I’ll also share some great tips to really help you out with meal planning!
Meal planning is deciding on purpose what you’re going to eat for every meal throughout the week up front. This happens before you make a grocery list and buy the groceries.
Learning how to plan your meals will not only save you time and money but will also help you eat healthier.
What is meal planning?
Meal planning is kind of like asking the question “What’s for dinner?” one time for the whole week. Wouldn’t it be nice to only hear it once instead of every night?
Basically, it’s a plan to map out what you’re going to eat for the week (or the month). You can plan just dinners or an entire day’s worth of meals. Also, you can plan every snack in between those meals if you wish. If you are sitting down with a piece of paper and planning out meals, then you are meal planning. It’s that simple.
Why is meal planning important?
There may be different reasons meal planning is important to different people. However, I feel it’s important because it saves you time and money, it’s better for your health, and it eliminates food waste.
1. Saves you money
When you don’t have a lot of time to cook, it’s easy to just grab something at a fast-food place. I don’t know if it’s the same where you live, but the cost of fast food in our area has skyrocketed! Just last week we had Wendy’s for dinner. Our cheeseburgers looked like someone had sat on them, yet our entire meal was around $30! There are only 3 of us, we don’t eat a lot of food, and we didn’t even get sodas.
Planning meals and cooking at home saves you money. Cheapism compared the price of a chicken dinner for one person cooked at home with the price of eating out. The average price for a chicken dinner with vegetables eaten out was a little over $13, or $16 if you include a tip.
However, the same meal cooked at home averages out to cost about $6.41. The article breaks down the prices of all the foods included plus herbs and spices. They also factor in the time preparing the meal, including planning it and shopping for it. The total still comes out to be $5 cheaper than dining out.
2. Saves you time
If you’re anything like me and love to save time in the kitchen, then you need to start meal planning. Everyone is different, so you need to choose where you need the time-saver. Plan the easiest meals on your busiest days. Prep vegetables ahead of time to save even more time.
Here are some other ways that meal planning can save you time:
- Lessen trips to the grocery store: Planning your weekly menu ahead of time and making a list will help you buy everything you need for the week in one trip.
- Lessen aisle wandering: Knowing exactly what you need will keep you from wandering the grocery store aisle in search of sales or dinner ideas.
- Prepping ahead: Since you plan your own meals you know exactly what needs to be prepped. When you have some extra time, chop veggies, such as onions, that need to be chopped. That way you’re not chopping before meals, saving you a lot of time.
- Plan leftovers: Making larger meals will give you leftovers, saving you time on lunches throughout the week. Leftovers can also be used for an extra dinner night. Or you can use leftovers in different meals. For example, leftover chicken can be chopped up and used for chicken salad.
3. It’s better for your health
Everyone has different health needs and restaurants cannot provide for all those different needs. If you’ve ever looked at the nutrition facts at some restaurants, then you’ve more than likely noticed the high amounts of sodium in just about everything.
When you plan ahead and cook your meals at home, you’re able to make smart choices about what you’re eating. You are choosing the ingredients and the amount.
Here are some reasons why meal planning is better for your health:
- More control: Planning out your choices ahead of time means you have more control over your choices. If you’ve made healthy choices, you will more than likely stick with those choices if you’ve planned ahead.
- Staying accountable: Planning and prepping meals ahead provides a little more motivation to eat healthier. If you’ve spent time planning and prepping, you’re not going to want to let that go to waste.
- Eating the right amount: Take the time to pre-portion your foods so you are not overeating. Planning to prepare and cook the right amount will also save you from wasting food.
4. It reduces food waste
I understand it’s not possible to go 100% waste-free, however, meal planning can help greatly reduce food waste. Leftover foods can be used for lunches the next day, or for another night’s dinner if there’s enough. Also, if a meal uses something you can only buy a lot of, such as spinach, think of ways you can use up the rest of the spinach throughout the week. Reducing food waste saves you money and keeps you from feeling like you’re just tossing your money in the trash.
8 steps to meal planning
1. Schedule planning time
Schedule out an hour or two where you can sit down and focus only on meal planning for the week. Try to do this the same day of every week. The more consistent you are the easier this will be for you.
Look at your schedule and decide how many meals you need to plan. Some meals can give you leftovers, therefore you can plan fewer meals. Also, think about any nights you have dinner plans elsewhere or any afternoon activities.
2. Shop your stock
Before you start your meal plan for the week, check your pantry, fridge, and freezer to see what you already have. Do you have enough ingredients to make a meal? If not, do you have almost enough? Shopping your own stock before you start making your list will save you a lot of time and money.
3. Shop the sales ads
Go through the grocery store sales ads and see what’s on sale. Seeing what’s on sale can give you some ideas on what to make for the week. Buying meat in bulk will also save money, so plan around that as well.
4. Choose easy recipes
Choose recipes that fit into your schedule. If you know you’re going to be busy one night, don’t schedule recipes that take up a lot of time that night. Save more complex meals for when you have more time. Instead, look for slow-cooker recipes, Instant Pot recipes, and recipes that require 30 minutes or less to make.
- Tip #1: Try to make the first meal of the week the simplest. By starting off easy, you’re more than likely going to keep the motivation going all week.
- Tip #2: Check the weather before choosing your recipes. If it’s going to be cold and rainy one day, that’s the perfect day for soup. If it’s going to be hot, you may just want a large salad.
5. Write out your menu
Now that you’ve shopped your pantry, checked the sales ads, and found some easy recipes, write down your weekly menu. Write out the days of the week and beside them write out what you’re going to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can even add in the snacks if you wish.
I have a notebook that I write one menu in. On one side I write out my weekly menu and on the other side, I make my grocery list. Then I rewrite my menu on a card and hang it in the kitchen so I can easily see what’s for dinner that night.
6. Make your shopping list
After meal planning for the week and writing down what you’re going to fix each day, write out your shopping list. Include all the ingredients you need for each meal and any extras you need for snacks, pets, household, etc.
7. Get the groceries
Since you’ve done all the extra meal planning and made your list you should be in and out of the grocery store in no time. Remember to stick to the list and no aisle wandering! You may accidentally end up giving in to temptation and buying an extra bag of chocolate for $5 and regretting it when you get home. (Yes, I’m speaking from experience.)
8. Prep in advance
Earlier I mentioned making your easiest meal on the first night. Try to fix that on the day of your grocery shopping trip. If you’re like me, grocery shopping can get stressful and exhausting. Simply because you have to do all the shopping, then come home and put everything away!
The day after your grocery shopping trip, try to prep as much as you can. Chop any veggies, prepare meats, etc. If you purchased items such as meat in bulk, take the time to place them in freezer bags to be frozen for later.
- Make a list of your favorite recipes. It’s a lot easier and faster to choose recipes when you have them listed out right in front of you. I have all of our favorite recipes written down so I’ll choose from the list when I’m meal planning. Then I’ll choose one night to make something totally new. It’s just a fun way to mix things up.
- Have theme nights. Having a theme each day of the week makes meal planning a lot easier, too. Here are some fun dinner theme ideas:
- Meatless Monday
- Salad bar night
- Mexican night
- Breakfast for dinner
- Plan for leftovers. Planning to have leftovers will save you from throwing away food and throwing away money. Fixing a casserole one night will leave you with enough food to have for another night.
- Fix extra meals. Some recipes can be doubled and frozen. Freezer meals are a great way to save you time and money later on. When I fix meatloaf, I make an extra one to stick in the freezer for later. It’s so easy to thaw out and pop in the oven.
Meal planning may seem a little tedious, but it doesn’t have to be. Planning your meals ahead of time will help you save money on your grocery bill every week. It will also save you the stress of having to come up with a new meal every night!
Not only does meal planning save you money and stress, it’s also a huge time saver. While it may seem like it takes up more time, it’s actually saving you time each day. Planning out your meals and prepping ahead will give you extra time to do other things throughout the week.
Another added bonus to meal planning is keeping healthy. You know exactly what ingredients you’re using and how much. Cooking at home is a lot healthier than eating out.
Do you have any meal planning tips to share? I’d love to hear them!
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