Apply Meal Planning to Save Life and Time
- IWB Post
- May 12, 2015
For many of us, cooking dinner every night is a frustrating, time-consuming process, even if you know your way around a kitchen. At that, your grocery spending has spiraled out of control, yet you often feel like you have “nothing” to eat, you can adapt meal planning to make every meal a success.
With careful planning and organization, you know ahead of time what to serve for dinner and what to defrost ahead of time, and you have all of the ingredients that you need on hand to make every meal. More importantly, your grocery spending becomes more manageable when you plan your meals.
Meal planning involves creating a corresponding grocery list to successfully execute the meals in your plan. Learn more about the benefits of meal planning and see some of the best tips and strategies below to help you get started.
- Saves Money. Armed with a plan and a list, you only need to make one trip to the store each week, thus eliminating the opportunities for impulse purchases. You also save money by taking advantage of weekly sales to tailor your menu, avoiding duplicate purchases, and reducing the urge to order take-out.
- Saves Time. You have to spend about 30 minutes to plan a week’s worth of meals. When you plan your meals, you can efficiently shop for groceries using your list, and you only have to shop once a week. You can spend dinner time preparing and enjoying your meal, instead of standing in front of the refrigerator waiting for a dinner idea to magically pop into your head.
- Helps You Eat Healthier. By planning three meals a day, seven days a week, you can resist the temptation to order from a pricey take-out dinner menu.
- Helps Reduce Food Waste. Many times, the loaves of bread spoil before we put them in the freezer, and the spices and condiments passed their expiration dates before we could use them. Now I create my shopping list after looking at what I already have in the kitchen. A meal plan can also help you finish leftovers, because a refrigerator full of forgotten food wastes money.
- Helps Reduce Your Stress. No more worries about what to have for dinner; you now have a plan. You’ll know when to pull food out of the freezer, avoid the mad rush through the grocery store at six o’clock, and most importantly, reduce the amount of money you spend.
Now that you have a handle on why you should create a meal plan, let’s explore how you can successfully integrate meal planning into your life.
10 Tips & Strategies for Successful Meal Planning
1. Make a Master List of 10-20 Meals
Ask everyone in your family for a list of their favorite meals. Prioritize the list, highlighting foods that you can quickly prepare and meals that don’t require too many ingredients. Organize this list by category, including non-vegetarian, crock-pot dishes, fish, vegetarian meals, side dishes, and soups.
Gather the recipes and keep everything in a handy notebook or store them on your computer for easy access. You will refer to this list often when you plan your meals.
2. Write Your Meal Plan on Paper
List the days of the week down the left side to log your meals, and use the right side of the paper to make your grocery list. You can then easily bring this plan with you to the grocery store.
Plan one week at a time, also you can easily plan two to three weeks or even a month’s worth of meals. Post the plan on the refrigerator for everyone to see.
3. Plan for All Three Meals
When you don’t plan for breakfast and lunch along with dinner, you are more likely to skip meals or visit the drive-thru. You can make quick and easy breakfast foods and with some careful planning you can still head out the door on time in the morning. You can also use leftovers from the previous night’s dinner to prepare lunches. Make an extra serving or several extra servings at dinner time to pack for the next day’s tiffin lunch.
4. Review Your Family Calendar
Are you working late this week? Do you have plans to visit relatives for Saturday night dinner? Do your kids have any event during the week? Take all of these scheduling issues into consideration when planning your meals. Once you know your family’s schedule, you can plan accordingly. For example, eat leftovers for those late nights at the office, and take the night off from cooking when you visit your friends..
5. Plan Your Menu Around What You Already Have on Hand
To get started, you need to organize your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. Group the food in your pantry by category, including baking ingredients, canned goods, condiments, coffee and tea, pasta and rice, sauces, and snacks. Clean your freezer and refrigerator and throw out any expired food.
Once you’ve organized the food in your home, and thrown away anything that’s expired, take inventory of what you have on hand. Plan meals around the food you already have. In addition to reducing your grocery bill, this helps to eliminate duplicate purchases.
6. Plan Your Meals Around Your Grocery Store’s Sales Circular
Most grocery stores run their weekly sales circular on Sundays. The Sunday newspaper also includes special offers, which you can take advantage of.
7. Plan Your Meals Around Foods That Are Currently in Season
You can find the best prices on fresh produce during harvest season. Your menu changes dramatically from summer to winter.
Whatever the season, take advantage of the seasonal produce from your garden, farm stands, or u-pick farms; you won’t find those prices at other times of the year.
8. Declare One Night “Clean Out the Fridge” Night
If your family regularly throws away leftover meals, institute a “Clean Out the Fridge” night, where you only eat leftovers. In addition, look in the pantry for canned goods nearing their expiration dates and add them to the menu. This reduces food waste, and gives you a night off from cooking.
9. Make a Double Batch of Your Favorite Meals: One for Dinner and One for the Freezer.
The more home-cooked, prepared food that you have stored in your freezer, the less stress you feel when planning your menu. Foods that don’t freeze well, however, include cooked pasta, cooked potatoes, fried foods, milk sauces, and raw salads.
10. Refer to Your Meal Plan Daily
Don’t forget to check your meal plan daily to see what you need to defrost, and to make any adjustments based on last-minute schedule changes.
Do you create a meal plan for your family? What are some of the best time and money saving strategies that work for you?