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Ten Tips for Successful Meal Planning

I think these two words bring different thoughts for different people. I know I may be unique, but all of my adult life I have found I love planning my trip to the grocery store – writing the grocery list, pricing out the items, going shopping.

When our daughter came along, though, I knew I needed to get more serious about the actual meal planning part. Not only did we need to save money, but I also realized how chaotic the dinner hour can get with a little one. For us, dinner time was when our daughter wanted to be fed and now its when she wants to play. For many families, the dinner hour is when everything comes together – kids are arriving home from activities, parents are coming from work, lots of communication is happening about the day, homework, relationships… And, all while trying to think about what items you have at home to make a meal and you’re considering whether its easier to run out to the grocery store for missing items or for fast food.

So, with all of that I decided on saving money and my sanity and plan meals each and every week! To be honest, I think more than anything else, I just love putting a price on the weekly meal plan and “playing the game” of sticking within that budget. Now, I know it meal planning may sound like a bit of work, but it’s much less time consuming and cheaper than not having a plan! I promise! There are so many reasons to meal plan – saving time, money and energy being the key things! Where a lot of people get stuck, I think, is how to actually start.

Ten Tips for Successful Meal Planning

  1. Just get started! Any plan, regardless of how good or bad it is, is better than having no plan at all. I love having a list of meals on my fridge so I don’t find myself scrambling at 4PM wondering what will be for dinner. It’s a lot easier planning the week’s meals on a lazy Sunday than the day of, I welcome the opportunity to just go on auto-pilot and prepare a meal, rather than think and prepare!
  2. Review the week’s sales circulars. Planning your meals around those items will really help make your grocery trip more cost effective! If the local grocery store is having a sale on chicken breast, we’re sure to put chicken parmigiana on the menu. Reviewing the circulars helps ensure you take full advantage of your store’s sales cycle.
  3. Start your shopping list during the week by writing down items you need. By starting your week during the week and keeping a runny tally of things you need, you won’t forget them on shopping day. If I do forget, I try to go without it so I can avoid a second or third trip to the grocery store and some some money that way.
  4. Shop around the edge of the store. These tend to be the fresher, less processed items. It’ll save you some money and you’ll have better nutritional options in those areas. There there are healthy options all throughout the store, but they tend to concentrate on the edge of the store.
  5. Don’t bring your kids if you can help it. Grocery stores are designed to appeal to children, they keep all the sugary cereals and all the sweets at their eye level so they can beg and plead for them. If you can help it, and I know it’s not always easy, try to go without them.
  6. Keep your normal meals and create new meals by tweaking ingredients a bit. With pasta, for example, buy whole wheat instead. When thinking about rolls or biscuits, try making your own using whole wheat flour.
  7. Cook ahead of time. Whether you make a couple of meals to freeze for busy nights or just make extra to freeze half, I’ve found it’s wonderful to know there is a home cooked meal sitting in the fridge or freezer. It’s a lot easier to defrost and/or stick something into the oven than to make a meal entirely from scratch! Another tip, I’ve made four loaves of bread at a time to freeze so that we could save money in that way.
  8. Do what you can ahead of time. This kind of sounds like the one above, but here I’m talking about the daily preparation. Last night, for example, we had a vegetable medley roast with steak. I washed and cut the vegetables in the morning as well as marinated the steak so that everything was ready to go into the oven that evening. I was much more motivated in the morning and didn’t have to really think about it, then, all day.
  9. Use leftovers! Whether you rethink them and use them to create a new meal or just eat the same thing twice, this saves so much money! I even write leftovers into our meal plan each week. I know that we’ll have them to use and I want to make sure we use them. If you hate eating leftovers, but often have food leftover from your meal, just start making less at each meal. This way, it’s helping the environment as well as your pocket book. Learn how much your family really eats.
  10. Have fun and keep it flexible! A meal plan is supposed to be helpful to a simple and peaceful home, not an extra burden.

There are so many benefits to meal planning, especially giving you more time and energy to do the things you really want and need to do! For a lot more helpful information on meal planning and healthy eating on a budget check out “A Month of Meals [3]” – complete with the work done for you (meals, recipes, weekly plans for a month, and shopping list)! I also write on my blog – Baby Get Green [4].

(Photo: ralphbijker [5])