Meal Planning 101: Saving Time & Money

By: Wren Fair

Many of us lead busy lives. You might have a full time job and kids or be a working college student. Whatever your time obstacle may be, I think we can all agree that preparing and eating meals at home is a challenge. Sometimes even the best of intentions fall prey to exhaustion after a long work day. Incorporating regular meal planning into your week can help alleviate stress and save you money.

Meal planning sounds simple in theory: you create a menu for the week, go to the store and buy what you need to make those meals. Easy, right? Well, the real challenge of meal planning comes after you have made your menu and gone shopping, when you have to implement your plan and stick with it.  Even if you succeed one week, you will need to be consistent and continue to reinforce your meal planning habit. The following are some tips to help you develop a meal planning method that will save you both time and money throughout the week.

1. Make a Date With Your Meal Plan-

One of the hardest parts about meal planning is actually one of the easiest to solve: making the time to do it. In our convenience food society, meal planning can fall to the backburner when hot, delicious food is only a phone call away. To develop your meal planning habit, pick a day of the week to sit down with the other members of your household and discuss the next week’s meals. Though daunting at first, I find that it usually only takes about thirty minutes to plan a week’s worth of meals. Try using this menu planner to organize your meals for the week.

2.   Take Inventory-

Before you start meal planning take a quick look through what you already have in your fridge, freezer and pantry. Write down what will soon be past its prime and anything you’ve had longer than a month. Do you have some potatoes you need to use in the next couple of days? Plan to have mashed potatoes as a side for the first meal of the week. Use the list you made as a basis for the next week’s meals.

3.   Beat the Grocery Store Rush-    

If you’re like me,  going to the grocery store can be a chore in itself!  The crowds, the lines, and the continual awkwardness of maneuvering my cart in a cramped grocery store aisle can be enough to keep me away from the store and thus foils my meal plan. If you can, scout out your grocery store and try to sync your weekly grocery run with the least busy shopping times. When you aren’t fighting for space, you just might take more time to debate between different products and make healthier choices!

4. Keep It Simple-

When developing your meal plan, consider the amount of time you will likely spend preparing each meal, especially on weeknights. While an elaborate meal may sound good in theory, when you’re coming off a long work or school day you will likely want to spend as little time as possible preparing a meal. If a meal will take longer than one hour to prepare, save it for the weekend or your day off.

5. Buy In Bulk-

Buying non perishable food items in bulk will save you money and make your meal planning process that much easier. When you buy commonly used items like grains or canned tomatoes in bulk, you can plan several meals incorporating those ingredients without having to worry about adding them to your regular grocery list.  You save money as opposed to buying the products individually, and you can be assured they won’t spoil before you use them.

6. Utilize Leftovers-

Speaking of bulk, if you are already cooking anyway, why not double the recipe? You can freeze leftovers or pack them in tomorrow’s lunch!

7. Make Meals in Advance-

Another time saver is to make your meals in advance. Pick one day a month to make a few meals and then freeze them. Freezer meals are great for a quick breakfast or on a night when you just can’t muster the will to cook. If you have a slow cooker, crock pot stews are also an option. Just add the ingredients in the morning, and by the time you come home, dinner is served!

8. Shake It Up-

Last but not least, don’t forget to have fun with your meals! If you feel yourself getting into a rut, cooking the same meals week after week, explore new recipes on the internet or experiment with a spice you’ve never used. The challenge and anticipation of trying something new will help you look forward to meal planning.

We’ll discuss the components of a healthy meal and how to save money at the grocery store in our next installment: Meal Planning 102: Healthy Eating on a Budget

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