Until recently, my typical grocery shopping trip consisted of getting a number of things off a list of “stuff we ran out of” and a few things for 1 or 2 meals for the week. I spent way too much money on groceries back then and we still ate out most nights. Sound familiar? We knew this wasn’t the best plan, especially after I decided to stay home with my kids. We had no idea how to get started meal planning, but I knew that it would save us time and money.
At one point, my mother-in-law, who was a single mom, advised me “Just write down your meals for the week. Create your grocery list and stick to that.” So, I tried it. The first few weeks we did this method, we totally failed (read about that experience here). My plan was always missing something and so was my grocery list! I bought more food than we needed and we still ate out more meals than I wanted us to.
I didn’t give up! I kept trying different things until I finally had a system that we could stick with. It has been a year now and I feel more comfortable about our meal planning. In fact, now it is second nature. I do it easily. My kids love that they can see what we are having for dinner each night. My son even loves to help me brainstorm meal ideas.
Here are the steps to get started meal planning and stick with it.
Frequency and Consistency
Decide how frequently you will plan you meals and which meals you will plan. Do you want a weekly meal plan, or monthly, or something in between? How many meals per day do you want to plan? Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, including Snacks? Or some other combination.
Remember, you can always change your frequency or number of meals per day later. If it doesn’t feel natural at first, keep trying. Stay consistent in having a plan and using it to create your grocery list. It will become more natural over time, but if you are really struggling, change the frequency or number of meals.
Make Time to Save Time
It sounds contradictory, but you have to make time to meal plan, especially in the beginning. Eventually, you will save time, but it requires some upfront investment. Schedule your meal planning. Schedule time to sit down and create your meal plan for the week or for the month.
It takes me about 15 minutes to figure out my meal plan for the week. That’s not bad considering it helps save me from having to make a decision every single day about what we will have for dinner.
Use a Template
Templates help with consistency. If you want to only plan lunches and dinners, your template will reflect that. If you’re planning weekly or biweekly, choose or make a template that has enough spaces for those plans.
You can download one of mine or make your own. I have gone through many different “templates” in the past year. It is ok to try one template and change to another as you figure out what works best for you and your family.
Consider your Calendar
Do you have any plans that need to be incorporated into your meal plan? Will you be having visitors? Do your kids have a weeknight activity that you need to plan ahead for? Build these into your plan. Include easy, “go to” meals or plan for take out on the nights you will be busy. Don’t forget other commitments like snacks for play dates or breakfast for work colleagues. Whatever “extras” you may need to account for, make sure you write those down.
Now that you have the tools, you may sit down to plan your meals and go completely blank. Don’t worry, this happens to me nearly every week. Browse Pinterest (follow me on pinterest!) for recipes.
Look in your pantry and freezer. Are there staples or foods you already have that you can use? Maybe you only need a few more ingredients for a specific recipe.
Try using “theme” days during the week: Meatless Mondays, Slow Cooker Wednesday, Friday Night Movie Night, etc. When I have a “theme” day, it is easier for me to brainstorm ideas.
Create your Plan and your Grocery List
Start writing out your meal plan. Use a pencil so that you can erase if you change your mind. Be sure to write out your grocery list at the same time.
Save your Plan
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel every time you meal plan. I use mine for inspiration, but you can also just reuse them. If you have 3-4 weeks built out, just rotate them so you’re not eating the same things every week. If you try new recipes and like them, keep them on your plan. Or make changes if you know something just didn’t work for your family.
Creating a meal plan saves time and money. If you find yourself having the “What’s for dinner?” discussion most evenings or you want to save money on your grocery bill, follow these steps to create a meal plan and you can stick with it!