Oh, meal planning. It’s a chore nobody wants to do. But effective meal planning is the first step to reducing food waste and saving money on your grocery bill every week.
Over the past few years, Josh and I have created a solid meal planning strategy that has drastically decreased the amount of food we waste and it has helped us save money and time. This week I am sharing that strategy with you!
1. Build a collection of your favorite recipes
The first step to a successful meal plan is to find recipes that you actually want to eat, and with enough variety that you don’t feel like you’re always eating the same five meals. Some of you might prefer to use actual cookbooks, and others think finding recipes on Pin
terest is easier. It doesn’t matter where you find your recipes as long as they are easy to search through each week, are quick to prepare and have a minimal list of ingredients. The photo below is the collection of books Josh and I rotate through every week. When we are making our plan each week I simply grab the stack of books and flip through them to find recipes that sound good.
2. Plan meals around your calendar
Before you pick your meals for the week, look at your calendar and identify how many days you need to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner that week. Then choose a number of recipes according to that schedule. For example, every Thursday or Friday Josh and I sit down and look at our calendar for the upcoming week. We decide how many days we need to prepare meals and th
en we choose the number of recipes to prepare based on our schedule. We shop at the farmers market on Saturday and the grocery store on Sunday so we meal plan for Sunday-Friday. I record the meals we are going to make in my phone along with the cookbook they are from so I don’t forget where to find the recipe. In the photo below you’ll see we are making three meals this week, but last week we only made two because Josh had lunch covered at work all week. You will also see that we don’t make lunches – we only eat dinner leftovers for lunch. Another trick that makes meal planning easier!
3. Cook with common ingredients
You will save money and time when you choose recipes that use common ingredients. This doesn’t mean you need to eat the same thing every day, it just means you will cut down on the individual ingredients you will buy. This way you use any perishable ingredients you may have left from last week before they go bad. For example, this week carrots, kale, onions, and chickpeas are common ingredients on our menu. This comes in handy when you need to buy more than what a recipe calls for, like half of an onion or a tablespoon of fresh herbs.
4. Shop at home first
Before you make your grocery list, shop at home first. Search your fridge, freezer and pantry to see what food you already have. Then, look through your collection of recipes and choose the ones that include those ingredients. This task is made easier when you have a well-stocked pantry because you will already have a lot of those ingredients. I’ll show you what’s in our pantry in a later post. Once we have identified what ingredients we need to buy, we add them to our joint shopping list. We use a free app called Cozi. It allows us to build lists for each store we shop at, and our accounts are synced so we can add and check things off and it will update on the others’ phone too. It has seriously been a life-saver app!
5. Make time to cook
And last but not least, make sure you have time to prepare the meals you plan! Schedules change and things get crazy mid-week so it’s important to get in the habit of making time to cook. I like to make this easier by prepping 1-2 meals for the week on Sunday night. Some meals can be made ahead of time and reheated and others are best when made fresh, so I will either make the entire meal on Sunday or just chop up ingredients so they are ready to go when I need them. To make this more fun I often turn on a podcast or some music to entertain myself.
Meal planning takes time to learn and perfect. Some weeks you won’t plan enough meals and you’ll have to eat scrambled eggs with hot sauce for dinner (speaking from experience). Some weeks you’ll overestimate how much you need and have tons of leftovers. But every time you have too much or too little, you’ll learn more about how much you actually need to buy each week. That’s how we figured out that Fridays make good leftover days, and that we can save money by shopping in our own cupboards first. It didn’t happen overnight, instead we changed and adapted our meal plan to fit our lifestyle.
Oh, and by the way, it’s perfectly acceptable if one of your planned meals is to eat cereal or scrambled eggs for dinner. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to go gourmet every night.
Do you meal plan? If so, what tips and tricks work for you? Is there a part of meal planning that is difficult for you to stick to?
Next up: reduce food waste by learning how to store food properly!