Imagine knowing the ever present “What’s for dinner?” question that pops out of someone’s mouth the minute you finally sit down for that 5 minute break you’ve been trying to get since breakfast… or knowing exactly what and how much to buy when you’re grocery shopping. Imagine having a plan. Now imagine that plan not only makes your life easier, but is easy to follow and saves you money at the store. Mommy Happy Place, no?
Here’s the skinny on meal plans-
- They save you time
- They save you money
- The time spent planning is more than saved later
- They keep you sane
Okay, that’s just my take. But let me tell you what happens when I don’t have a plan- I start trying to plan my meal prep in my head in the store as I see things. Inevitably, I make 2980428579 trips to the store over the 2 week period I would usually plan just picking up items I forgot. I have all kinds of things that don’t go together to make a meal. I end up wasting food because I didn’t have a plan for it and just bought it because it looked appetizing. You can see why a plan works for me, huh?
Whether you need a printable like these from Tip Junkie, or an Excel Spreadsheet, or just a Google calendar, you can put together a plan that works for you and your family. I mentioned before that if you want minimal work, you can pay a few dollars a month for eMeals. I have the service, and it’s great. I use some stuff from them, some from my own recipe stash, and try to toss in something new each week. We eat organic or minimally processed foods, so sometimes it’s hard to stick to their menu choices for those plans. I tend to lean more towards traditional meals with organic ingredients. To each their own.
Okay now to get down to planning. First decide how long you want to plan for. We get paid twice per month, so I usually try to plan a pay period at a time. Now make a list of meals that you know your family enjoys. Pop in a new recipe or 2 that you saw on Pinterest and want to try recently.
Now try to group your meals. What I mean by this is try to plan meals that work off of each other. I might grill chicken tonight to go with veggies, and go ahead and grill extra for the next nights chicken enchiladas. Or if I’m doing a roast in the crock pot, I might make the next day or day after that pot roast sandwiches. Make less work for yourself by prepping food together. If I’m chopping veggies for soup, how difficult is it to chop a few extra and put in a container for stir-fry? Grouping meals might also allow you to take advantage of bulk meat pricing at the meat market.
If you’re planning on your computer and not a sheet of paper, you might find it helpful to link to any recipes right on your meal plan as you go. That will save you time when it’s time to get cooking.
Now extrapolate these meals into a grocery list. Or download a spreadsheet template that does it for you. I won’t lie. It takes some time to do your first plan or 2, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a breeze. I can populate meals for 2 weeks in about 30 minutes including grocery list.
Here’s a sample of meals for my upcoming week. We’re starting at Tuesday because we’ll be out of town over the weekend and Monday.
- Beef pasta bake
- Beef Cups
- Whole Roasted Chicken
- Rice Pilaf
- Green Peas
- Roasted Carrots
- Chicken and Dumplings
- Corn Bread
- Oven Fried Potatoes
- Kielbasa and Cabbage
- Corn cakes
- Whole Chicken free range- $9 (sprouts)
- Spaghetti Sauce- organic- 2 jars $4 (Aldi)
- Penne Pasta- Organic $2 (Kroger)
- Red Potatoes- organic $4/5lb (sprouts)
- Cabbage- Organic $2 (Sprouts)
- Ground beef- grass fed organic (3lbs) $15 (Aldi)
- Cornmeal Mix $3 (Kroger)
- Salad Greens- organic $3 (Sprouts)
- Rice Pilaf- organic $2 (Sprouts)
- Green Peas- organic $2 (sprouts)
- Baby Carrots- organic $2 (Aldi)
- Kielbasa- uncured beef $5 (Sprouts)
- Cheddar Cheese 2 pkg $6 (Whole Foods)
- Italian Cheese $4 (Whole Foods)
- Eggs- organic cage free $4 (Sprouts)
Total- $67 for the week
Now I have some staples on hand like the ingredients for the biscuit dough for beef cups and for the chicken and dumplings, milk, mayo, herbs, etc. I only add those when I’m low. The chicken for the chicken and dumplings will come from the roasted chicken, the coleslaw and the cabbage with kielbasa will come from the same head of cabbage, corn meal for 2 different recipes. I’ll make the biscuit dough for the dumplings the same time I make it for the beef cups and just refrigerate it. I shred my own cheddar, it’s less expensive and has no additives for anti caking and such. I do buy the 6 cheese blend italian cheese pre-shredded though. It’s more cost effective.
Now that’s just dinner. You can get really creative and add in lunch planning and breakfast planning. Our breakfast is easy. Hubby eats oatmeal with chia, walnuts, dried cranberries, and makes it with milk. Toddler eats yogurt with O’s and cranberries and drinks milk. I most often forget breakfast in the rush to get out the door in time for little man to get to school on time. Lunch is easy for us too. Deli no nitrate turkey and black forest ham, pitas, fruit, sald greens. The little man has ham, sliced cheddar, and some type of crackers pretty much every day. It’s the only thing I’ve found he’ll eat consistently.
I usually spend about $125/wk total for all 3 of us eating completely out of the house save the odd lunch or dinner out. If I don’t have a menu plan that amount usually doubles, as does our eating out. Give it a try. You might be surprised at how much time, energy, and money it saves you.