Meal planning for a week will be so much easier to wrap your mind around than trying to plan for a month. Once you have created new behaviors in meal planning and shopping then you can move to once a month planning if that better suits you.
We want to do all we can to get you to change your behaviors so keeping it as simple as possible is the plan and the work you did before is what will keep meal planning simple for you.
I will warn you though that these first few weeks will be the hardest for a couple reasons. One you are changing your behaviors when it comes to buying food and the other is that you will be emptying out your pantry, fridge, and freezer.
Once you get your pantry, fridge, and freezer down to where you can actually see what all is in there then meal planning will be super, super easy. I mean all you will have to do at this point is look at your brainstorm list, pick your meals according to what you and your family have going on, and write out your list.
Since your food on hand will be low it will also be less overwhelming.
But first, let’s get you through these first couple tough weeks but also save you tons of money over the first few weeks.
Get These Items Ready for Meal Planning
Before you start there are a few things you want to have in front of you. Those are:
- Brainstorm list of meals
- Calendar of all you have going on
- Pantry, fridge, freezer inventory list
Some folks get super overwhelmed with planning when they feel like every night should be a four course meal. That is not our intentions here. Especially when you start meal planning you want to keep it as simple as possible.
So, using these three items you will plan a main dish and one to two sides for each dinner. No more than two sides. Actually, many times I still only have one side. Like if I fix a one pot meal then I will just add rolls or a salad.
You also want to keep in mind what cooking method you want to use for each day. So, if you know you will be working late one night then you may want to be intentional on having a slow cooker meal that day.
Or you know that when you get home from work you will have about an hour before you gotta leave to take your kiddo to practice so you might want to fix a meal in the instant pot or a quick one pot meal.
Alright, let’s get started…
First thing you will want to do is start using up the food you already have on hand so let’s do that.
Shop From Your Pantry, Fridge, and Freezer
Just by meal planning alone you will save so much money on food and gain so much control in the kitchen, but we want you to have some quick wins with this.
To get quick wins and save the most you will shop from your own kitchen. This will save you some super cash, clear out your kitchen, and give you more sense of being organized and in control.
Start with your freezer inventory list. This is where you will probably find most of your main dishes and then you can add one to two sides from your freezer, fridge and pantry.
What are some foods you can fix over the next week that will align with your calendar.
One other thing you want to keep in mind is to use up foods that will ruin the quickest.
So, if you have some pork chops sitting in the fridge then put them on your list to fix early in your weekly plan. If you feel like you can’t fix them before they ruin then go ahead and put them in the freezer so they don’t ruin.
Maybe you have potatoes that are starting to get a little soft. Then you may want to plan a potato soup or some fried potatoes early in your meal plan to use those up before they rot.
Here is where you want to use it up and keep it low.
You get the idea.
Once you get to the point where your own supply is low then you can venture into other areas.
Like using discount methods to plan your meals…
Use Discount Methods in Your Weekly Meal Plan But Don’t Go Crazy
I know it’s fun thinking about Extreme Couponers and how you can bring home a buggy full of groceries for only 0.49 and a smile.
But those folks put in TONS of preparation, work, coupon cutting from multiple sources, using multiple people to help them do the shopping, and I’m sure much, much more.
Would it even really be worth your time and effort? Maybe if it’s something you love to do and it would be more of a hobby.
That’s not what we do. We will use discount apps and the sales paper only if you want to. Nothing extreme here.
Actually you will do just fine if you only use store brands.
But, if you really wanted to take your savings to a little further then take a quick scan of the front page and the back page of your sales paper to see if there are any foods you want to base your meal around. The front and back page is where you will find your best deals. The inside is, well, filler.
Sometimes I will take a look at the sales paper and rebate apps and sometimes I don’t. It just depends on my energy level when I’m planning and if I want to save a little extra money for something.
My favorites to use for groceries are the sales paper and ibotta. I used to use Rakuten when I shopped at Walmart but Walmart stopped their affiliation with Rakuten. Ohhhh what a sad day!! I think I even cried a little. I know my heart sure did hurt.
What is ibotta?
Just as a brief summary, ibotta is an app you can put on your phone and shop from on your computer. You will get money back when you buy stuff you already purchase. It doesn’t matter if you purchase online, from your phone or even in the store.
As long as the offer is available on ibotta then you can get money back for purchasing it.
Another discount way is simply by shopping discount stores. If you have an Aldi in your area then take advantage of that baby! I have one but not close enough where it would be worth my while.
Now, I do have a Save-A-Lot but after doing a price comparison between using this discount store and using store brands at Walmart I found that Walmart was actually a few pennies cheaper. Well, I could use free grocery pickup with Walmart I decided to take advantage of this to save me more money that I would spend if I were walking around the store.
Fill In Your Meal Plan
Once you have cleared out your pantry, fridge, and freezer; and took a gander at the sales paper you should be pretty set. But if you need more then simply use your brainstorm meal list and fill in the empty spots.
Once your kitchen on hand inventory gets low then you will be doing a lot more filling in. One good way to help you with this is simply by asking your family what they would like to have.
In my house I have two teenage boys and my husband. One of my teenagers is super picky and the other will eat just about anything. Same goes for my husband. So, I let my picky teenager pick three meals for the week and I let my other teenager and husband pick the other three.
Doing this keeps them from complaining about what we have because THOSE CHOSE THE MEALS! Genius!
One other thing you can do is have a leftover night. If you know from the past experience of cooking for you family that leftovers end up in the fridge then plan a night to have a smorgasboard of leftovers instead of letting them go to waste.
Or you can use leftovers for something else. Like when I fix tacos we almost always have taco meat left over so I will use this for Taco Beef Mac n Cheese later in the week.
Super Tip: Theme Nights for Your Weekly Meal Plan
A really easy way to figure out what you will fix each night is if you plan out theme nights. You could do this for all week or just a few days through the week. Like we used to have tacos every Tuesday and pizza every Friday.
But, there are so many more ideas out there other than tacos or pizza. I have come up with 78 ideas for theme night you can use if this would make meal planning easier for you.
Super Tip: Write Notes on Your Meal Plan
Make notes on your meal plan sheet you will post. These notes will be stuff to remind of things coming up and when to lay food out to thaw. So, if there is any prep that should be done ahead of time then write it on your meal plan.
This way you only have one place to look to see everything you need to know. If you get into the habit of looking at your meal plan every day then you will keep all things needed to know at the top of your mind. Nothing overwhelming about that.
Alright! You have your meal plan for the week all written out!
Now, let’s write out that grocery list…
Action Steps to Complete Before You Continue
1. Get out your brainstorm meal list, calendar and food inventory list.
2. Write out one week’s worth of dinners.
3. Make needed notes on your meal plan.
4. Post your meal plan where your family can easily find it. Feel free to share in the comments how much of this first week you were able to plan from your food you already have available? 25%, 50%, 75%, or even 95%? I was able to plan my first with about 95% of what I already had. The only things I had to buy were staples I needed for the meals.
Want the PDF Version?
The Simple Meal Planning Mini Course has been turned into a free PDF you can download to your computer and even print if you want. This PDF also includes space to complete your assignments and take notes.
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