The 6 Most Effective Ways to Meal Plan!
Meal planning, simple, easy?
More like time-consuming and tedious!
No matter how large or small your family is (or if you are single), meal planning can take the stress out of meal prep and provide some structure around what everyone is going to eat.Meal planning, simple, easy? More like time-consuming and tedious! Click To Tweet
There is nothing worse than getting home on Friday night after a long week. Everyone is starving and you have to give in and order out just so everyone doesn’t rip each other’s heads off out of hanger!
Hanger-it’s no joking matter!
With a little bit of advanced planning and dedication (just like with your budget), you too can have stress free meal times! Just like with anything else, it can be a little difficult to get started, but after you have stuck with it for a few weeks you will never go back and kick yourself for not having started this sooner!
Not only will this save you from pulling your hair out while the kids are running around screaming they are hungry, but it will also save money on your food expenses. It really is a win-win!
“If You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Fail.” -Benjamin Franklin
When you have a plan, you don’t have to worry about running back to the store almost every day to get something to make for dinner and you can also plan better to avoid food waste. Hello, leftovers!
You see, food is kind of one of those things that you can’t live without, and although it would be great if we could all have huge gardens and live on self-sustaining farms (please hold while I daydream for a few minutes about dairy cows and a huge geodome greenhouse), the reality is, that is not the case for most individuals.
So we have to fork out our hard earned dollars to feed ourselves and our families. So take control of how much you are spending on food and where! Don’t forget, when you have your meals planned out, it is much easier to stick with healthier eating habits and not have to worry about those last second trips to McDonald’s while running one of the kids to dance class.
So, give it a chance and take a look at the 6 steps that I have outlined below on Meal Planning like a BOSS!
1. Start with Pinterest!
Update: I have added a frugal recipes board to The Daily Change Jar pinterest account, click the board above to follow!
Ok, so I think just about everyone at this point is on Pinterest, even my dad looks on there for recipes!
Between Pinterest and any other favorite recipes you have, you should have plenty of options. I personally created several boards on Pinterest to keep my recipes organized-although I have a crap-ton and could probably organize them better. I have two really large boards-one for healthier recipes, you know all the gluten-free, whole foods, paleo type recipes, and one for the not so healthy options, like Mongolian beef and Bailey’s ice cream (hey no judging here!)
I have two really large boards-one for healthier recipes, you know all the gluten-free, whole foods, paleo type recipes, and one for the not so healthy options, like Mongolian beef and Bailey’s ice cream (hey no judging here!)
Beyond those two boards, I have a board for recipes that I am going to be making from my meal plan, and another board for ones that I have already made that are “family approved” that I can always come back to when we run out of options or things that the kids ask for over and over.
2. Make a list of everything you need.
Make your list and check it twice!
So I have found the easiest way to do this is to keep an inventory of things that you already have.
This can be kind of overkill for some people, but I can’t tell you how many times I think I have a particular spice just to realize when I am in the middle of making the meal I am all out of it and have to call my husband to pick it up on his way home. It’s either that or I’m not going to finish making dinner.
You can keep an inventory either on your phone in Google Sheets, or print them out and stick them in your fridge or pantry.
It was always difficult to switch my husband over to the more “techie” way of doing things, but I have found it helpful to keep everyone on the same page.
I have also created shopping lists in Google Docs, which then both my husband and my oldest can see it and add to them if need be. Another tactic I have used it letting the younger kids write anything they would like from the grocery store (within reason of course) on our whiteboard door when they think of it.
This prevents the “you forgot to buy my favorite waffles” meltdown in the morning before school.
3. Plan for the future.
This really varies depending on your family. We personally like to plan 2-4 weeks ahead as I hate having to bring the kids to the grocery store with me every week. I’m sure anyone that has had to go grocery shopping with more than 1 kid can relate.
Although planning out this far in advance can be a disadvantage when it comes to fresh fruits and veggies. To try and prevent waste, either my husband or myself can make mini trips to the store to pick up items that are highly perishable. Which I always try to tie in with another errand, like dropping the kids off at school or running them to after-school activities.
Crockpot meals and freezer meals are always a great option too. It may take a few weeks to figure out a flow that you can get used too, but don’t worry, you and your family are unique and what works for someone else will not always work for you.
4. Make sure your meals match you days
Ok, so this one might sound obvious, but this is critical in preventing food waste. For example, we have dinner at my parents’ house almost every Sunday, on those days we don’t plan on making dinner-hello free food! Although it may work for some people to just pick 7 meals and make whatever they feel like for that day, our lives are not that simple, and I’m sure other families can relate.
While we are in the process of step 1, choosing what we are going to eat, we also need to be aware (or shall I say that I need to be aware) of the other activities that could interfere with dinner plans.
For example, BMX practice nights that run from 5-7:30 pm, there is no sitting down for dinner then when dad gets home just after 5 pm and we are all rushing to the track while inhaling some type of portable dinner. So in order to plan this out correctly, we use a “whiteboard” calendar. And by the whiteboard, I mean a printed blank calendar in a dollar store frame-cheap and effective!
5. Don’t forget to work the leftovers into your meal plan!
Ahh…leftovers. This can really be a hit in miss in our house. Generally, leftovers can be used for lunches or even breakfasts. However, there is that rare occasion when we actually have leftovers. With 4 kids, leftovers are not always commonplace.
If you find that you have leftovers often, write that right into your meal plan. On a night that you don’t feel like cooking is a great night to plan for leftovers.If you find that you have leftovers often, write that right into your meal plan! Click To Tweet
Otherwise, the approach we take is an optional leftover or frozen pizza kind of night. If there are leftovers, great!…eat those! If not, toss in a frozen pizza or warm up a can of soup, not in the can of course! (Ask my oldest about that-she almost blew up the microwave!)
6. Now make your grocery list
Now here comes the fun part!
Making your list.
One of the reasons I hate grocery shopping with my kids is because I get distracted and end up going back and forth through the whole grocery store multiple times because I forgot something that was in a different spot on my list but right next to something else I already grabbed. BLAH!
You see generally grocery stores keep things in the same categories and aisles. Genious, right? You know, all the cheese tends to be in the same place, the frozen stuff, etc… So try to group your items together when making your list, that little extra effort makes life just a little bit easier 🙂
Of course…don’t forget about snacks, lunches, and breakfast too.
You could do meal planning for this also, but that is entirely on you, I can’t predict when my kids are going to want to eat every minute of every day, so I just try to have a healthy selection for them to choose from…and Cheerios, when all else fails…Cheerios.
*Bonus-write on your food!*
Ok, don’t write directly on your apples. Berries and pens don’t mix.
But if you have a bag of shredded cheese for taco Tuesday and another for Thursday’s tortellini, mark that on the bag, you know so you don’t forget what you actually bought that stuff for!
There it is! Now your meal planning doesn’t have to be difficult and boring, it can be a fun family activity and well organized.
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I want to hear what you think…what kind of meal planning have you done with your family (or for yourself) that has worked and what didn’t work?
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