Meal Planning 101: Nine Tips for Success

My life has been pretty chaotic lately. New house. New puppy. New classes. New jobs. Yikes! With everything my husband and I have had going on, cooking has been the last thing on our minds. We found ourselves throwing together whatever was on hand hoping that it covered all the nutritional bases. This seemed to work for a little while, but having the same meals over and over each week was getting a little old.

That’s when we decided to start meal planning. At first it seemed like just another chore, but once we realized how much money and time we were saving we actually started enjoying it! Meal planning each week allows us to be creative and try new recipes and foods. It also allows us to cook with foods that are on sale, keeping our wallets fat and bellies full.

We meal plan every week, but some people actually plan for the entire month by making meals and freezing them. My advice is to do whatever works best for you and fits into your busy schedule.

I’ve put together some of our tried and true meal planning tips. I hope you find some of them useful!

  • Pick a day to plan, shop, and prep. Make sure it’s a day that you don’t have too much going on so you don’t feel rushed. Prep as soon as you get home from the grocery store. If you don’t, you may forget and some foods may go bad before you get to them. Also, it will save you time during the week.
  • Keep a well stocked pantry of staples. Keeping your pantry stocked with the foods that you and your family use most often will save you time at the grocery store each week. It may be worth buying these nonperishable items in bulk.
  • Take inventory. Before making your shopping list, take a quick inventory of what you have in your fridge and pantry. Is anything expiring soon that could be used in a meal?
  • Save your recipes in one convenient place. Since I find most of my recipes online I will email them to myself and keep them in a folder in my inbox. That way I can scroll through or use the search to find something new.
  • Use a meal planning template. Find or create a template that works for you. I like something simple that has a blank weekly calendar and a shopping list. But use what works best for you even if it’s just a calendar or a notebook.
  • Consider themed nights. Having weekly themes may help make meal planning easier, especially in the beginning. Some ideas include meatless Mondays, pasta Tuesdays, seafood Saturdays, and leftover Sundays.
  • Plan for future weeks. Make future weeks easier by doubling or tripling recipes for sauces, casseroles and soups. Freeze the extras and reheat for quick and easy meals.
  • Check sale ads and coupons. Base your weekly meals on what’s on sale. If you’re a savvy coupon cutter then combine sales with coupons.
  • Make a list and stick to it! This will not only save you time and money, but it will also keep you from impulse buying.

For more tips and ideas check out our previous meal planning blogs:

Do you have any meal planning advice you’d like to share?

Photo credit: wabbit42

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  1. Thank you for this article on meal plans – I did my first one this weekend (after pay day), planned two weeks of meals, trying to incorporate some meals that share ingredients to help save on the budget. At first I felt a little overwhelmed with the task but worked on it throughout the day and came up with a meal plan that I felt satisfied with. Once I had the menu established, I went through each meal and plotted out what I needed for the dish and generated my shopping list from this. With a little time upfront, meal planning will save me time and stress when I get home from work to make the family dinner. Not only does it save me time, meal planning will save me money at the checkout. Thank you again

    1. Hi Tammy,
      Thank you for your comment and for reading the post. I’m glad you are having such great success with meal planning. I’ll admit…it is still a work in progress for me. Mostly because my work schedule is different from week to week, but I get better at it every time! It definitely saves me time, money and stress.
      Be well,
      Niccole

  2. I have recently changed job areas and schedule as well as gone back to school and joined dance. So i don’t have a lot of time and i am sick of eating out but the last time i bought groceries everything went bad since i wasn’t around. I am very new to meal planning and am open to any and all advice. Like what is best meal types for freezing, which vegetables are best in the fridge, etc. Thank you so much.
    Laura

    1. Hi Laura,

      Thank you for your comment. When freezing vegetables you want to get them at their ripest (from a farmer’s market or your own garden if possible) and blanch them. Blanching keeps them from ripening further, helps get rid of bacteria, brightens the color, and keeps them fresh and crunchy. Wash and trim the veggies to your desired size. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the veggies. Once the water returns to a boil, cook for 1-2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the veggies and put in them a bowl with ice water to stop them from cooking further. Drain and freeze. To freeze fruit just wash and remove all pits and cores, cut to desired size and freeze.

      Here are some examples of easy meals you can freeze ahead of time. You can double or triple your recipes and freeze in smaller portions for a quick lunch or dinner. Broth-based soups, lasagna, chili, soup stocks, pasta sauce and casseroles are pretty good and easy to freeze. I would do a quick search for freezer-friendly meals and you should be able to find many examples and recipes.

      Keep in mind that dairy, lettuce, cucumbers, hard-boiled eggs and egg-based condiments do not freeze well.

      I hope this helps!! Good luck!

      Niccole

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