Meal planning has become a must for me! It takes about two hours each week for me to plan a menu for each day, make my grocery list and place an online order for grocery pickup. That two hours keeps me on budget and ensures that I always have healthy meals planned out for my family.
Creating a meal plan each week has also helped me to lose weight by not running to a drive thru or grabbing junk food and calling it lunch! My kids are better off when eating real food and seeing their mama modeling the household duty of cooking for the family.
Want to reap the benefits of meal planning? Here’s how to get started.
Note: I’m writing this with the assumption that you want to plan for one to two weeks at a time, with shopping every one to two weeks. For me, I shop every Sunday since that’s just what ended up working for our schedule and budget. You always have the option to do the meal plan for a full month and do one big trip with trips as needed for fresh items, or a monthly plan and shop weekly still…whatever works for you!
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1. Assess What’s On Hand
The first thing you need to do is check to see what you have already. This includes not only staples in your pantry but freezer meals, frozen meat, produce left from last week and anything left in your fridge (eggs, cheese, butter, etc.). You’re going to start with creating meals with these items first. Examples:
- a pan of frozen homemade lasagna paired with a fresh salad
- taco meat from the double portion you made last week can turn into taco soup this week
- a pound of the ground beef you bought in bulk with spaghetti from the pantry and the rest of the homemade sauce leftovers
- broccoli that you didn’t use up last week
2. Check Out Sales (or Not)
In different seasons of life, we might be able to make time to shop at more than one store each week. Or you can alternate weeks. Right now, I prefer Walmart and a few things from Aldi but Kroger is close to me and has some good sales, so if there’s something I really want from there (like when chicken was on sale for 77 cents a pound), it’s worth it to me to pay a little more for the rest of the items so I can stock up on the sale stuff.
I usually will check Kroger first but if there’s nothing I want from there, I’ll do a Walmart pickup. Then later in the week, I’ll stop by Aldi when hubby can watch the kids…it makes it a quicker trip for me. I stock up on those items (e.g., tortilla chips, salsa, gluten free snacks and pasta, produce sometimes, diapers and organic eggs) weekly, but after we move and have more space, I plan to only go once every two weeks to Aldi.
You may choose not to shop around for your meal planning and that is totally fine! I will say that I mostly look for deals on meat; during times I have plenty in the freezer, I don’t really look for sales.
3. Write a Rough Draft
Now you’ll make a list of ideas for dinners based off what is on hand and what is on sale. I have learned that you MUST have recipes for each item! There has been too many times I’ve put “meatloaf” or whatever on the meal plan and ended up either not having all the ingredients once I finally did find a recipe, or I’ve forgotten about looking up a recipe entirely and gone to make dinner and said, “Ah, crap.” I come up with six dinner ideas and have one day for leftovers to ensure that we don’t throw food away.
For lunches, breakfasts, and snacks (yes, you need to include these!), I have a list of go-to ideas so it makes this part of the menu planning easy. You will find what works for you as you get more experience with this. Some ideas include:
- Lunch — tuna, lunch meat, hot dogs, cheese, fruit, raw veggies, crackers or chips, soup, homemade pizza, leftovers
- Breakfast — oatmeal, grits, scrambled eggs, hash browns, breakfast potatoes, bacon, cold cereal (we eat a reduced gluten diet, but there are tons of wheat options you could add here)
- Snacks — smoothies, nuts, fruit, raw veggies, crackers, chips, cheese, applesauce, yogurt
4. Finalize Your Meal Plan
Take your list of meal ideas and assign a dinner to each day. Consider the order of things…make a whole chicken, then take the bones and make broth, then make chicken soup the following night (throw the leftover meat in there with some veggies). Have corn on the cob one night and cut the kernels off the leftovers to add to cornbread the next night.
Also consider what days you’ll have more time for prep and which days will be hectic. Take the whole picture into consideration as you add in your lunches and breakfasts when meal planning. If I have a dinner that will require a lot of prep work, I’ll ease my load that day and do cold cereal for breakfast and lunch meat for lunch, for example. The Instant Pot or a crock pot can make things a lot easier on you as well.
I add snacks in last and base it on what might be lacking for that particular day. If we have carb heavy meals, I’ll write in protein snacks, and vice versa. If we don’t have fruit with meals, I might put smoothies in for snack that day. Popcorn on light cooking days (I try not to spend a lot of time on snacks and this includes doing dishes).
Use arrows on your rough draft, scratch things out, and when you’ve got it how you want it, write a clean copy to put on your fridge and/or in your planner or mom binder. I have some free meal planning sheets in my Resource Library for you!
5. Create Your Grocery List
The last step to meal planning is to go item by item and make your grocery list. This is why I feel it’s imperative to account for every meal including snacks and to have the recipes you’ll use. Reference these when making the list for your meal plan.
Don’t forget items like butter or oil for frying, condiments like ketchup and salad dressing, and also household items like toilet paper, dish soap, wipes and trash bags.
Tip: Keep a small white board on your fridge and keep a running list of items you’re getting low on. Simply add those to your list each week to ensure you never run out of anything.
I have been into ordering my groceries online for me to pick up. This has really eased my burden of shopping with four kids under six! I can concentrate on what is a good value and it is easier to stick to my list. If you haven’t tried Walmart grocery pickup yet, use this link to get $10 off your first order ($50 minimum). There is no charge for pickup at Walmart!
What secrets do you have to help meal plan for your family? What is your favorite schedule for menu planning and grocery shopping? Talk to me in the comments!