We all know that meal planning is one of the best ways to reduce our grocery budget, but sometimes its hard to execute. I am famous for a coming up with a meticulously detailed meal plan, and then being too busy to actually make the meals with the food I purchased. Or sometimes it just sounds better to order a pizza.
We are in a “gazelle intense” period of our lives trying to pay off debt and save for a down payment on our first home, so ordering a pizza is not an option right now. And neither is wasting a bunch of food I bought at the grocery store because I don’t feel like cooking the meals I planned. I needed to come up with a better solution to meal planning, and I believe I have found it! Today I am going to share a few tips on how to simplify meal planning.
Plan easy meals. We would all love to eat gourmet meals, but for busy wives and mommas, thats not usually realistic. I don’t even put complicated meals on my menu anymore because I never seem to find time to make them. If I want to make something more complicated, I will make a separate trip to the store on the day I plan to make it.
Make sure you plan a few meals that are your go-to for those nights you are running late and need something quick. Even if that means throwing a few 99¢ frozen pizzas into your cart, so be it. You would rather pull a 99¢ frozen pizza out of the freezer than blow $20+ having one delivered.
Plan meals around the same basic ingredients.
Sometimes I go to the store without a list. *GASP* “But isn’t that the first rule of meal planning?” The first rule of meal planning is don’t talk about … sorry, I couldn’t help it. I have found that by keeping my menu simple, I know off hand a few basic ingredients that I can always use to make full meals. For us staples like rice, dry or canned beans, tofu, and fresh vegetables can be repurposed into several different meals so I know I am always safe picking those up. You just need to be careful that you aren’t grabbing things that happen to be one sale whether you need them or not. Wasted food is wasted money.
You can still use those shrivelly bananas.
This is a concept that Dani Johnson teaches, and it has really transformed the way I look at our food waste. Got a tomato with a gross spot on it? Cut it off and use the rest of the tomato. Wasting food is not only wasted money, its poor stewardship. Being faithful with what we have so God will bless us with more is a Biblical principle that applies to all areas, including food. I’m not advocating that you feed your kids moldy bread, but I am encouraging you to change your perspective! Not hungry for an apple? Too bad, they are about to go bad on the counter and you need to use them up!
Keep it simple.
This is what it really comes down to. You don’t need a complicated meal planning system, just write down your meals and buy the ingredients for them! I do glance at the sale ads before I meal plan, and sometimes that inspires our dishes for the week. But I’m not a slave to it because meal planning saves my family a lot more money than sale shopping ever did.
Meal planning is not an exact science, and after a few weeks you will start seeing what works for you and what doesn’t. Don’t be legalistic with yourself, just do what works!
I am including a free printable of my meal planning system, and you can download it by clicking the image below. I like to fill this out and put it on the side of my fridge so I can quickly reference it. I cross meals off as I make them. I print two per page, then punch the second one to go in my A5 planner.
You’ll notice this is not separated by day. One huge stumbling block to successful meal planning was me assigning specific meals to specific days. What if something came up and I didn’t have time to make that particular meal? Then my whole week was thrown off.
I plan for 7 dinners, and about 4 lunches. Generally there are enough leftovers throughout the week to cover the lunches. If I plan a full 7 lunches, then we end up with a fridge full of food that doesn’t get eaten. This is another area where you will need to adjust to fit the specific needs of your family. I don’t plan breakfast unless my stepsons are here. They like a big waffle breakfast every morning, but the rest of us are content with a bowl of oatmeal or some tofu scramble, so I just keep those two things constantly on hand.
Do you have any great meal planning tips that help you stay on track?