Fast forward to 2016. I've been cooking for my family of two, then three and now four for the last 7.5 years and it wasn't until about a year and a half ago that I finally decided that I needed to start meal planning. My reasons were simple: 1) I wanted to make sure my family was eating well, 2) I hated hitting 4:00 or 4:30pm and realizing I had no idea what I was making for dinner that night and then rushing to figure it out, and 3) I wanted to save money. I decided that I have enough things on my plate as a mom, wife and adult, that if I could make my life a little simpler by planning out our meals for the week then I should do it.
I'll save the process I went through to get where I am now for another day, but suffice it to say that I feel good about my current process and how it works for us.
Here's what I do:
- Each week I get the ad for my local grocery store and browse through it, circling items that we are out of that are on sale. (Obviously not everything we need will be in the ad, but if I can save a little money and time by knowing ahead of time what's on sale, then why not?)
- I pull out a list of meals that my family likes to eat on a regular basis. It's just a list I've written out on a sheet of lined paper that I can add to as we find more meals we like.
- Then I take my list and put it next to the grocery ad so I can see what meals I can make using items that are on sale that I don't have. For example, this week I had written down that we needed teriyaki sauce, which was on sale. Also on sale were broccoli and cauliflower. Looking at my meal list, I can make teriyaki chicken with steamed veggies and rice because I already have carrots, chicken and rice.
- I have a dry erase calendar that I use to plan our meals for the week. Knowing that it takes about 30 minutes to make, I can check our week and schedule it depending on what's going on in the evening during the week.
- I repeat this process until I have meals planned out for each day of the week.
My main goal when planning out meals is to use as much of what I already have as possible and only buy what I need. Some meals don't require me to buy anything if I already have it all on hand and others I need a few ingredients. This way, I know exactly how much I need of each item and approximately how much I'll be spending.
Once I've got it all planned out, I know I have a little flexibility with moving the meals around because I know I've got everything I need to make whatever meal I've planned. Some weeks I follow it to a "t" and other weeks I move the meals around if something comes up or I just feel like making something else that night.
A couple of other tips:
- I try to plan my shopping trip for the same day every week (usually Mondays, since I can double up on ads).
- I always keep easy no-prep meals on hand, like frozen pizza and freezer meals, for days I just don't feel like making
the effortwhat I've planned.