Planning meals in advance have never crossed my mind when I was in my 20’s. I just open the fridge and decide right then and there on what to cook for lunch or dinner.
Nowadays, with 2 kids living in our house, I often find myself struggling to come out with ideas of what we’re going to eat that day. The older one requested pizza. My youngest can’t handle spicy food. My husband is always asking what was for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
And I have to maintain a sensible budget on top of it.
That took a lot of brainpower, and my mommy brain after taking care of the kids all day simply just can’t handle it.
Often times I find myself googling recipes for ideas only to find our pantry didn’t have some of the ingredients. Then it’s 5 pm and finally, I give up and resorted to ordering out. Subsequently, my plan to save some money goes out of the window.
It took a while before finally, I spend some time to sit down and write a meal plan. It was a bit overwhelming at first, but after a while, I saw a big difference and advantages of planning meals in advance.
What are the benefits of planning meals in advance?
- You can save time and effort from those frantic moments of trying to scrounge around and figure out meal ideas for the day. That time could have been focused on something else.
- The meal plan will make sure you have all of the ingredients on hand. That means no more last-minute trips to the shops and reduces the aimless wandering and overspending when you’re there.
- You can also reduce ordering takeouts and instead have healthier home-cooked meals.
- You can budget your weekly and monthly meals easier, and save money as a result.
- You no longer had to search through cupboards and hope something tasty would jump out. (Me. Before the meal plan happened).
- No more wasted food. When you meal plan, you have a purpose for each ingredient you buy. That means no more ingredients (or money!) going to waste.
Basically, the goal is to reduce the dreaded “what’s for dinner?” question, a stressful mind-sucking chore, that will put pressure on you. Every. Single. Day.
Can I hear Amen for that?
I quickly made this Meal Planner printable to write down my plan. You can also get it for free and print it by yourself to start your own weekly meal planner!
How to use the meal planner
There are several ways to use this printable meal planner. Here are some examples to get started:
- Laminate or place it in a frame with a glass front. Here is my favorite laminator. Perfect for turning any printable into a dry erase board! Then use a whiteboard marker on the glass so you can re-use each week. Put it in your kitchen.
- Create copies and file in a binder to repeat meals each month or so.
- Laminate and place in on the fridge for easy access and so other family members can see.
If you don’t want the hassle of printing out this file, you can buy my Weekly Meal Planner Book on Amazon (no affiliate links because this is my book!). This 100-page book is perfect for planning your meals in advance for a whole year!
Ready to give it a try?
Now let’s get started! My favorite time to write down meal plans is on the weekend. I started kicking off the planning on Friday, then shopping on Saturday morning (or night — less people in the stores), and then using an hour or so on Sunday for meal prep.
If you’re not usually the “planning” type, don’t worry, this simple steps to meal planning will guide you to create healthy, homemade meals for your family and save money at the same time!
1. Take note of how your family eats
Every mom will easily figure this out and it will be different for each family, but it’s still important first step nonetheless. Figure out what your family’s days and evenings look like.
By examining your family’s calendar, it will show who is home, what time they get home, what everyone needs to be doing, and how much time you will have for cooking during the day and/or before dinner.
Based on your family schedule, decide the number of nights you want to make dinner at home. You can also opt for a simple meal for those busy days.
For example, every Thursday I have to take my oldest to a soccer tournament so I need to find easy to cook meals or simply reheat some leftover from the fridge for that day. Meanwhile on weekends we usually eat outside or have takeouts, so I can sneak in my spare hour on Sunday to have some meals made ahead for busy Monday.
2. Decide how long you need to meal plan for
This will depend on how many times you want to go to the grocery store. Usually for me, planning weekly meals are easier and more flexible for my family. This will keep my shopping trips down to once every week (before I usually went 2 or 3 times a week grocery shopping). A 7-day meal plan also works better for my budget planning because I have a weekly budget plan.
On the other hand, if you are a better planner than me, having a monthly meal planner will save you more time and can keep your budget even lower.
3. Come out with meal ideas
The easiest way is to first list your family favorites. Next, you can ask your kids and partner to have an input of what they want to eat. That will easily create a number of meals planned for the week. You can fill the rest with your own ideas or from other resources (Googling, favorite food blogs, or a recipe book). Print or save any new recipes you found.
Here are some of my favorites recipe book:
A bit of advice, if you don’t usually cook complicated dinners, don’t put them on your menu. Be realistic. I like to try a few new recipes every week, but the majority of my menu is usually old favorites.
The next step is to arrange those meal ideas on the weekly meal plan based on step number 1. The ‘easier’ meals go to busy days, while the more complicated ones go to days where you have more free time. It’s also okay to make dinner more than once during the week. Some days we just love nachos or tacos so much, we have them twice a week.
4. Make a grocery shopping list and grouping food items
Now that you have your planning done, it’s time to start with your grocery shopping list. Go through each meal and every recipe, and write down every ingredient that you need.
Don’t know where to start? In this post, I have a master’s list of what to stock on your pantry. The list will come in handy to keep your pantry well-stocked.
Now that you have the list, decide how much of each item you will need for a week or month’s supply. Take a look at how you can use one food item for various meals. For example, the ground beef can be used in tacos and spaghetti for the next day.
Scan the pantry and check what you need to restock as well.
To get your shopping experience easier, group all the ingredients together by departments in the grocery store. Take it a step further and put those sections in order of how you like to hit the store.
It might require a bit of time and effort at first to check what you have on hand. But as a result, you will know exactly how much the quantity of each item in your pantry needed and avoid having extra trips to the grocery store. It will free up so much time (and money!) in the long run.
What is your favorite method of meal planning? I’d love to have you share your tips of planning meals in advance in the comments below.