Hello friends! Everyone is talking about meal planning these days and how it saves so much money at the grocery store. There is another benefit as well, meal planning is a great way to save TIME. (And who doesn’t need more of that?!)
For some people, meal planning comes pretty easy, but for some of us, the process is some vague idea that floats out in space in the “I really should be doing that but I have no idea how to start” realm. If you are one of those people, then don’t despair! I have you covered! I have been using this meal planning method for several years and it has made a HUGE difference in not only the grocery bill but also in the time that it takes for me to fix supper. Another benefit is that I no longer waste half an hour wondering “What can I cook this time with what I have on hand?” or waste an hour running to the store for additional ingredients.
1. Write down all the things that you fix on a regular basis
In the interests of transparency and honesty, if I’m going to skip a step, it’s this one. It always comes back to bite me though, when I spend hours looking at the meal plan wondering what in the world do I put down? If you write down all the things that you cook on a normal basis (and maybe some things you want to try!) then it becomes more like picking things from a menu to put down instead of trying to come up with 14 different meals off the top of your head.
- It is easier for me to think of things if I write down categories first and then fill in the blanks. Do whatever is easiest for you, but I do recommend categories to help you find what you want easier when you are referring back to your master menu.
- Leave some room between categories or keep it in a text document that you can add to for when you find new recipes that you love or when you remember old favorites to add to the list. Here is a sample list of some of my family’s favorites. If you would like the recipes for any of these, then send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will either do a blog post on them or email you back with the recipe or a link to it. Many of these can be found on my Pinterest profile at pinterest.com/contentmentquesting/
My Sample List of Things that I Cook on a Regular Basis
Mexican Chicken Casserole w/ Doritos
Quesadillas (Chicken or Steak)
Sweet and Sour Chicken
Beef and Broccoli
Chicken Fried Steak
Salisbury Steak/Smothered Steak
Bacon Wrapped Chicken
Loaded Chicken (Colton’s Copycat)
Breakfast for Supper
Vegetable Beef Soup
Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese
Slow Cooker Pho
Loaded Baked Potato Soup
Grilled Cheese (can add meat and customize for more of a meal)
Million Dollar Spaghetti
Pasta Florentine (Olive Garden Copycat)
Follow along with the Printables!
Starting the Meal Plan
You can do this in any time increment that you want to. I usually do mine for 2 weeks at a time because that aligns with my husband’s paychecks. In this example, I just did a week to show you how I do it and how I break down the process.
When you get paid, write down all the days until the next paycheck (or all the days that you plan to cook) and pick one item from your list for the main dish for supper each day. Take leftovers into account. For example, my list might look something like:
Mon: Fried Rice and Sweet and Sour chicken
Thurs: Chili dogs
Friday: Pork Loin
Saturday: BBQ Pork
Sunday: Chicken Strips
Notice that Wed. is Chili and Thurs. is Chili dogs. That uses up my leftover chili. Also, notice that Friday is Pork Loin and Saturday is BBQ Pork. Guess where the Pork for the BBQ comes from? That’s right! It’s leftover pork loin, which makes Thursday and Saturday really easy days for cooking!
Fill in your side Dishes
For me, it’s really easy to come up with side dishes after I have the main course planned out. So let’s take our menu for the week and add to it.
Mon: Fried Rice and Sweet and Sour chicken with miso soup (from the instant packet)
Tues: Tacos with cheese dip and tortilla chips OR guacamole OR black beans and Mexican rice
Wed: Chili with Fritos, shredded cheese, and low-fat sour cream
Thurs: Chili dogs with slaw and chips(possibly that leftover cheese dip from Tuesday night)
Friday: Pork Loin with mashed potatoes and green beans and salad (made from leftover taco lettuce and tomatoes + whatever else you want to throw in)
Saturday: BBQ Pork with slaw (from Thursday night) and baked beans (from a can)
Sunday: Chicken Strips with mashed potatoes (from Friday night) and macaroni and cheese
Remember that I started by saying “when you get paid” for making the meal plan? The reason for that is that’s probably when you are about to go grocery shopping! (Or that’s when I go grocery shopping, anyway.) I try to make one large run close to payday and make my list as comprehensive as possible. This does several things:
- It makes you aware of how much you are spending on groceries
- You spend money on only the ingredients you need for the things that you will fix in that time period
- Spend less money overall
- Waste less food
- You do not spend time wondering “what’s for supper?”
- It is flexible. Don’t feel like tacos on Tuesday? Pop that pork loin in the oven instead! Treat it as more of a “menu” to pick from instead of a rigid plan.
- Organize your shopping list by sections in the grocery store. This is especially helpful if online shopping is not an option and you have a cranky toddler in tow that does NOT want to be grocery shopping (Like I had. He was seriously asking me if we could check out when I pulled into the parking lot!) or you have limited time in the grocery store.
My example shopping list (for the week that I did the example meal pan) for a family of 4 might look something like this:
1 bag slaw mix
1 head lettuce (or bag of shredded lettuce, if you prefer)
1 5lb bag potatoes
Onions (usually a cheap 3 lb bag)
1 can green beans
1 can black beans
Macaroni and cheese
Box of instant brown rice
Box of instant mashed potatoes (I use those as part of my breading in the chicken strips)
Miso soup packets
1 can chili ready diced tomatoes
Tomato sauce, (1 can)
1 can (generic) Rotel
Chili seasoning mix
Taco seasoning mix
Generic “Velveeta” cheese
2 lbs ground turkey (for the chili)
1 lb ground beef
Off to the Races! Err… I mean, Grocery Store!
Now finish out your shopping list with whatever else that you need, and head to the store! Your list is in store order, so you can quickly go through and get the items that you need that are on your list. If you can, avoid going to the store when your small child needs a nap or you are hungry! If I am hungry when I grocery shop, it always shows on the grocery bill! I always throw in impulse buys when I am hungry that I would otherwise avoid.
When my kids were little, there were sometimes that I would go to the store and I knew I would be pushing nap time. It always increased my stress level and my brain did not function as well and I forgot things because I was half-distracted the whole trip trying to keep my kid from coming apart at the seams. Online grocery shopping might be a really great option for you too if it is available in your area.
Obviously, buy store brands of what you can. All those little bits of savings really add up. I have never been much of a coupon person, but if that is your thing then go for it! However, don’t buy things with coupons that you would not ordinarily buy. I often find coupons for brand-name products, but if I use the generic of that product, then I do not bother with the coupon. Often the generic is less than the name brand with the coupon. I know some people have had great success with couponing, but it just is not for me. I have pretty limited storage in my house, so there is a limit to how much I can stock up on. Also, to be completely honest with you, the effort of finding and organizing all those coupons is more than I want to mess with.
When you get home
After I put up all the groceries, often I do not feel like cutting the meat up into little sections and freezing it. I have found that for me if I leave the meat in the sack, or up front in the fridge and I leave the foil or bags out, I remember to go back and do it later. I have had several pounds of hamburger meat go bad because I kept on putting off sectioning it out and freezing it. What really hurt was forgetting a pound of premium bacon in the car overnight! Not good. It made me sick to throw it out, but better to throw something out than to risk making the whole family sick!
Whatever your favorite foods are, I hope that this method for creating a custom meal plans helps you and your family save time and money. I hope it also helps you to eat better and enjoy one another’s company more. The very first step may sound a bit tedious, writing out all the things you cook on a regular basis, but it pays off every time you make your list when you have a “menu” of things to choose from instead of trying to think of 14 different meals off the top of your head.
Happy Meal Planning and thank you for joining me on my Quest for Contentment!