Home Management

How To Start Meal Planning

In our fast-paced lives, it’s easy to fall into the trap of ordering takeout or relying on processed foods for convenience. However, meal planning can be a game-changer when it comes to maintaining a balanced diet, saving money, and reducing food waste. In this blog post, we’ll explore the art of meal planning, from its many benefits to practical tips and tricks that will help you get started and stay on track.

What Is Meal Planning

Meal Planning is one of the best things you can do for you and your family. It’s the art of planning a menu for the week and using that menu to shop for all needed ingredients. By planning your meals for the week, you will not only be prepared for dinner but you can walk into your kitchen with confidence.

Meal Planning can be described in many ways. But the simplest way to describe it is that it’s the process of asking yourself one simple question: What’s for Dinner? You ask yourself this almost every day anyway. Meal planning is just being proactive.

Why Meal Planning Matters

Meal planning is something that many people believe they don’t have time to do, but it has a number of benefits for your family. First, it saves you time. When life gets busy, most families could use more hours in the day. Failing to plan your meals means that you will end up going to the store more often because you will not have what you need at home to cook each meal. You will also end up going out to eat more because you don’t feel like cooking or because it’s too much of a hassle to thaw what you have on hand.

Healthier Eating 

Meal planning allows you to make intentional choices about what you eat. You can ensure that your meals are nutritionally balanced, include a variety of foods, and meet your dietary goals. It also means that you and your family will be healthier.

Planning meals will help you to think about what you are putting into your body. If you shop daily on the way home from work, you are tired and hungry. Cooking something from scratch might be the last thing on your mind. It is much easier to get something that is ready-to-cook with only water or just popping it into the oven. But those meals tend to be high in sodium, fat, and carbs, and they are low in vitamins and minerals. By planning in advance, you will have healthier options available and will have the energy to cook them because you are skipping the trip to the grocery store.

Saves Time

Meal planning saves so much time in the kitchen. While it may seem time-consuming at first, it actually saves time in the long run. With a plan in place, you won’t have to figure out what’s for dinner every night or make frequent trips to the grocery store.

Having a grocery list will help eliminate time by skipping unnecessary aisles. No need to stroll down every aisle. You are not window shopping, you are getting specific items that will benefit you and your family this week.

“A good plan is like a road map: it shows the final destination and usually the best way to get there.”     H. Stanley Judd

No more standing in front of the fridge hoping a meal just jumps out and onto the table. Just walk into the kitchen and get started. You can even post your weekly menu on the fridge so everyone will know whats for dinner. Meal planning takes the guess work out of dinner.

You already know what to cook, just gather the ingredients and get started. If you need to defrost something, you already know what  to take out and when. All your ingredients are in front of you, so no manic dashes to the pantry praying you find at least a half of a box of spaghetti noodles.

Saves Money

Your grocery bill will be lower if you begin to plan out your meals. Planning your meals ahead of time will encourage you to cook more and not eat out as much. When meal planning, you are shopping once for everything you need for the week. Doing this eliminates trips to the grocery store. And by not going to the grocery store as often, you can save money on impulse purchases. Every buy one get one is not for you. These things will be on sale again.

By planning your meals, you can plan around weekly sales. You will also find that you are better prepared when you go to the store, so you won’t pick up eggs because you’re not sure if you have any at home. You won’t buy what you don’t need because you will have a list with you to control your urge to splurge.

Less Stress

Knowing what’s for dinner reduces the daily stress of meal preparation. It also helps prevent the last-minute scramble to find ingredients.

Getting Started with Meal Planning

Warning…In the beginning of this post I was trying to be somewhat professional. I get so excited and off-topic about things sometimes. I just wanted to make sure you understood why meal planning is important. Now it’s time to talk to you like a friend. Let’s do this!

Set Goals

Determine your meal planning objectives. Are you aiming to eat healthier, save money, or reduce food waste? Your goals will guide your meal planning process.

Create a Weekly Menu

Plan your meals for the upcoming week. Consider your schedule and factor in any special occasions or events. Start with dinner and then plan for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.

Think about all the meals you already cook on a regular basis. Write them down. Think of some things you would love to cook if you had the time or just haven’t cooked in awhile. Was there anything this week you had a craving for? Take out a sheet of paper and just write down as many meals that you can think of. Don’t worry about knowing the recipe right now. Just get those meals out of your head and onto that paper.

Gather Recipes

Collect recipes that align with your meal plan. You can use cookbooks, websites, or meal planning apps for inspiration. Choose recipes that are realistic for your cooking skills and time constraints. If you only have 30 minutes, don’t try to cook a roast (unless it was in slow cooker all day). Personally when it come to recipes, I love Pinterest, All Recipes, and The Cozy Cook. Be sure to print them out to make things easier.

Check Inventory

Get another piece of paper. I know, I know, what’s up with all the paper and list making….? Hey, you want to save money and time or not? Now, get that paper and go to your pantry, fridge, and freezer. Write down everything you already have in there. Don’t worry about basics like salt, pepper, and flour. Just write everything you might be able to make a meal from even if it’s just a side dish.

This might seem a little much but once you do this once or twice, you shouldn’t need to jot anything down. After a while, you will be able to walk up to your pantry and make a mental note of what you have and how you can use it. But if you have a stockpile you may want to use a pantry checklist.

Your inventory check should have given you a starting point for your menu plan. If you have any potatoes, your meal plan can include mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, potatoes Au gratin, homemade fries or wedges and potato salad. Spaghetti sauce can give you spaghetti, chicken parmesan, spinach stuffed manicotti, lasagna, and ravioli. You see where I’m going here? Ok, let’s move on.

Meal Plan

Time to put some meals together. Another sheet of paper…. I know. Just use the back. I promise once you get the hang of it, you can plan in minutes with one sheet of paper. Look at your inventory list, now look at your list of meals you created. Ask yourself: What can I make with what I already have?

Once you come up with a few meals, think about how many meals to plan for. You have to think about your week. Do you normally eat out every Friday? Don’t plan a meal for that day. Do you usually over cook and have leftovers? One less meal.

Make a Shopping List

Once you’ve chosen your recipes, create a shopping list. Organize it by sections of the grocery store to make your shopping trip more efficient.

Make a list of all the ingredients you need to make those meals you came up with. Add your needed staples like milk, bread, and eggs. Then, go shopping. You should be able to get in and out faster since you’re not browsing. There is no need to go down the condiment aisle if it’s not on your list. Going down aisles just to browse will cause you to add unnecessary things to your cart ultimately adding more money to your shopping trip.

Pro Tips for Successful Meal Planning

Prep in Advance

Spend some time prepping ingredients in advance. Chop vegetables, marinate meat, and prepare any sauces or dressings. This makes cooking during the week much quicker.

Batch Cooking

Cook larger quantities and freeze portions for future meals. This is especially helpful for busy nights when you don’t have time to cook from scratch.

Use Leftovers Creatively

Repurpose leftovers into new dishes to avoid food waste. For example, turn roasted vegetables into a frittata or stir-fry.

Stay Flexible

Life happens, and plans can change. Be flexible with your meal plan and adjust as needed.

Rotate and Repeat

Don’t feel pressured to create an entirely new menu each week. Rotate your favorite recipes and repeat them every few weeks to simplify planning.

Involve the Family

Get input from the family to make sure you aren’t waisting your time cooking something they won’t eat. You can even involve kids in meal planning and preparation as a fun family activity.

I hope I didn’t overwhelm you. Meal Planning is not meant to be complicated or stressful. The goal is to save you time and money and make healthier choices. I know sometimes you find yourself just throwing things in your cart just because it’s on sale and you end up with more food than your family can consume. And you still don’t have everything you need for a complete meal.

Give meal planning a try. It may take a bit of time and effort to establish the habit, but the benefits are well worth it. You will find that it saves you so much in time and money that it’s worth the little effort it requires on a weekly basis to plan out your meals. Once you start meal-planning, you’ll never go back to shopping haphazardly again.

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