I had thought about meal planning for a while now but most days I think, we can hardly figure out what we are going to eat today never mind all week.
After tracking our purchases (we use these cute purchase tracking sheets – you can download free here), we found groceries was our biggest surprise. We were spending way more money than I thought we were. Most months were over $900. If someone had asked me what we spend on groceries a month I would have guessed in the $500 range. This is one area we thought we could cut our expenses.
I was also starting to dread dinner time way too often. I would find myself staring in the cupboard and in the fridge trying to figure out what to make for dinner. Meanwhile the kids are asking “What are we eating?” and saying “I’m hungry”. No matter how long I stood staring in the fridge, nothing new appeared and nothing started preparing itself.
We were deciding daily what we were eating that night based solely on the first meal we felt like then heading to the store rather than making an equally good meal choice using what we had on hand.
We were shopping without a list (a big no no) and not paying attention to what we already had on hand. We’d end up with 6 boxes of spaghetti noodles. We’d keep buying more because we couldn’t remember if we had any left. And there is nothing worse than going grocery shopping then getting home and feeling like you still have nothing to eat. Having spaghetti noodles but no sauce, or everything for tacos except the shells.
I had finally had enough.
I started meal planning for the following reasons:
- We were spending too much money on groceries.
- We were wasting way too much food – which was wasting money.
- Tired of trying to figure out dinner last minute – it was becoming stressful.
- We were going to the store way too often – wasting family time.
- We weren’t eating as healthy as we should. Trying to come up with something quick while we were hungry was causing us to eat more convenience foods than we would have like.
By meal planning we were hoping to:
- Save money
- Save time (quicker shopping trips and less stops for one item)
- Eat healthier
So now that we made the decision that this is something we were going to try, this is how we started.
- Set aside time to plan your meals before going grocery shopping. Don’t try to do it 10 minutes before going to the store. It will only make you feel frustrated. For me the most important component to the setting aside of time was changing my mindset.
- Instead of thinking “UGH! I have to meal plan, I don’t have time for this”. I would make myself go over the reasons I am doing it. Turn it from something you have to do to something you want to. Grab a hot tea or a cold beverage and think of it as a few minutes of relaxing time. Get out your notebook, list, schedule (see next point) and recipes. Pinterest is where I keep most of my recipes.
- Make a quick note of what you have on hand. Check your cupboards, fridge and freezer. Some people write this down, I usually just make a mental note. Try to incorporate these into your meals. You have already paid for these things – use them up. Business closely monitor their inventory levels because it makes good financial sense – we should be doing the same in our homes.
- Take a close look at your schedule for the upcoming week. Take note of how many nights you are pressed for time. Have to be at soccer practice across town at 6pm? Don’t plan to make lasagne from scratch that night.
- Just because you are planning doesn’t mean you have to plan elaborate meals or try new recipes every night. Doing that will have you quit meal planning after the first week. There is nothing wrong with planning a grilled cheese, soup and carrot stick night.
- During the summer months, I take a quick peek at the weather forecast. If they are calling for hot temperatures, I don’t plan to use the oven. I plan BBQ nights on ones they aren’t calling for rain.
- So now you know what items you already have, which nights need quick meals and which nights to avoid the oven. You have your nice cold beverage now start planning. You already have chicken breasts, rice and frozen corn. There is one meal. Write down your meals for the week and make a list of the items you need to buy. Keep in mind that some foods are more perishable than others, try to have those items earlier in the week. This will save you from having to head back to the store.
- Think about waste. If you plan to try a recipe with broccoli, plan to have broccoli with say your chicken a day or so later. Don’t plan to have 5 different vegetables this week unless you can use them up in the same week. This is what I was bad at. We were wasting so many vegetables, eating ½ of everything.
- Use the flyers. Check what is on sale. If broccoli and apples are on sale, don’t choose cauliflower and oranges this week. This sounds like a no brainer but it was something we just weren’t doing. We were shopping for what we felt like, when we actually wouldn’t really have cared if we had broccoli instead of cauliflower.
- I just keep my weekly meal plan in a binder for now, but have seen some really cute decorative boards that I may get around to making. But for now keeping it in the same binder that I track my household purchases works just fine.
If you are wanting to save money on groceries, save time and frustration, give meal planning a try. It can feel overwhelming until you actually give it a try. Start simple.