A few weeks ago, I was driving home from grocery shopping at 7pm. All 4 kid were in the car, hungry. One was screaming. Another was asking every 32 seconds for a snack (he'd already had 3). A third kid was dramatically moaning every time the baby stopped screaming long enough to suck in a breath. Ironically, the back of the van was full of food. $250 worth, in fact.
Can you relate? I'm guessing you can!
This story has a happy ending though, because 20 minutes (yes, 20 minutes!) after we arrived home, all 4 kids were happily eating a healthy meal.
My secret? Meal planning!
I don't always succeed at meal planning. Sometimes we have nights where I am still groping for a dinner idea at 5pm. We've definitely had our share of frozen pizzas.
But now that we're committed to eating healthier, I'm doubling down on the meal planning. So, I figured this is the perfect time to share my process with you!
Why Meal Plan?
- Meal planning means that you always know what's for dinner! For me, this is probably the biggest perk. I hate the feeling of feeling behind the curve all day and standing in the pantry at 4pm drawing a blank. It also generally leads to less healthy choices when I don't plan.
- Planning all your meals will save you money. You'll save at the store by knowing exactly what you need and sticking to a list, and you'll save by not stopping for fast food every time something comes up.
- Having a meal plan prepared takes the stress out of the afternoon and evening. You know what's for dinner, you have the ingredient, and getting it on the plate is SO much easier.
Meal Planning Steps
Gather the grocery store circulars(ads) for the stores you visit. If that's just one, no worries. But you might consider 2 or 3 if lowering your budget is one of your goals. Here's a quick video I recorded on Facebook that explains how I use these ads.
Choose your proteins. I generally choose my meat first. If chicken is on sale, I will plan several chicken dishes. If I have lots of beef in the freezer (from previous weeks when it was on sale) and so I general incorporate that too. You can use what's on sale, or buy what's on sale for future use and use what's in your freezer. Or a combination of both.
Consider your schedule. Having guests? Going out of town? Having Friday night pizza delivery? Make sure you account for these in your plan. Also plan a leftover night once a week if you generally have leftovers. n our house, we usually eat them all for lunches, but if that's not the case, you don't want them to go to waste. Plus, it's a solid night off cooking!
Bonus tip: Use paper plates for your leftover night (not styrofoam if you'll be using the microwave to reheat) so that you don't have to wash many dishes. Go ahead and add those to your list now. I'll wait.
Ok, now it's time to choose your meals. I use my menu printable (sign up below to get it free!), and I start by filling in guests, nights out, etc like we considered in step 3. Then I start filling in meals I want to make that week. I try to consider nights when we eat earlier or later due to activities and plan easier meals, crock pot meals etc.
That night when I had everyone fed 20 minutes after arriving home? It was a crock pot meal I planned specifically because I knew that was likely to happen. So, food was ready when we walked in the door. All we had to do before eating was put the perishables away.
So, you're probably looking for 10-12 meals to write in, based on your schedule and leftover preferences. Don't forget the sides and veggies!
Bonus Tip: if you can, choose one of your meals to make a double portion for the freezer, Having a stash of ready to heat meals in the freezer will be a lifesaver in the future.
Write the ingredients for each meal on your shopping list as you add it to your menu.If you grab my free printable below, you will have a menu and grocery list conveniently on the same sheet (plus, it's pretty). It helps to have the menu with me when I shop, in case there are ingredients on flash sale I want to substitute or there are ingredients that are unavailable.
Add your staples to the list, as well as the breakfast and lunch items you will need for the week. Don't forget this, or you'll end up at the store again, thus cancelling out some of the benefits of this planning you're doing.
Go shopping. Make sure you actually check your list while you are in the store. I may have skipped this step a few times... I don't recommend it.
Prepare your planned meals each night and enjoy not stressing about what's for dinner!