Meal Planning 101
If you’ve never meal planned before you may wonder what it is, how to do it and why you’d want to. Here’s the quick and dirty details on the benefits of meal planning, and how I do mine.
I can easily prepare meals in advance, and prepare more than one meal at a time. This saves a lot of time and allows me to have most of my meals made or prepped well in advance.
I save money by planning my meals based on what’s on sale and using up what we have in the house.
I always have everything I need to make dinner on hand.
I let each of the older kids pick an entree; they love being able to make a decision and looking forward to ‘their’ meal helps get them through ones that aren’t their favourite.
Having a plan allows me to serve my kids a whole foods based diet; no scrambling at the last minute warming up processed food.
Dinner time is less stressful, and we eat on time.
I do a two week menu plan, but lots of people do one week at a time and that’s fine too. Even if you start out with a Monday-Friday plan and wing it on the week-ends, you’ll still save time, money and energy.
Tools: Meal Repertoire, Master Shopping List, Flyers, Notepad (electronic or paper. as you like)
Step 1: Inventory
I do a quick inventory of the cupboards and freezer. I make a note of what we have a lot of, so I can choose a meal that uses that ingredient. I also note what staples we are low on. I usually bake 2-3 times a week, so I check my baking supplies too. This is a very informal process, and I’ll often have the kids check while I sit and take notes. As I’m choosing my meals I’ll have them check to see if we have the ingredients
Step 2: Select Meals
Using the information from the sale flyers, our inventory and our family schedule, I select 10-12 meals from my Meal Repertoire. Wondering what that is? It’s just a fancy term for a great big list of things we like to eat for dinner. I have about fifty dinners on ours, which I keep in a spreadsheet. I simply copy and paste onto my meal plan, easy-peasy! The actual menu planning portion takes me no more than 5 minutes. We have pizza every Friday, and sometimes we’ll eat a previously prepared meal from the freezer or I’ll plan for leftovers, so usually I am shopping for ten meals.
Step 3: Prepare Shopping List
Using my Master Shopping List – a list of things we buy on a routine basis, which saves me from re-inventing the wheel every time – I make our shopping list. I remove anything that we don’t need this trip, and add any staples we are low on. Then I go through my menu and add the ingredients I need to buy. Since I know my grocery store very well, I can generally write this list in order of the aisles without even thinking about it.
And that’s it! The whole process takes me about half an hour start to finish, just enough time to savour a nice hot cup of coffee. It’s actually pretty relaxing, and it’s fun to get the kids involved.
Why I Do A Two Week Meal Plan:
Curious about why I do two weeks at a time instead of one? Think that’s a little too Type A for you, too much work, or that you’ll never be able to pull it off? Here’s why I [usually] do two weeks at a time:
It does not take twice as long to plan, shop or prep, which saves me valuable time
I save even more money by making fewer trips to the grocery store
When I switched from every week to every two weeks, my primary motivation was saving time. Planning two weeks only takes a minute longer, I just pick 12 meals from my repertoire instead of 6. I was spending about 90 minutes a week shopping, plus time to put away, wash fruit and vegetables, prep for meals, etc. All told I was spending three hours every week-end taking care of the groceries. When I switched to every two weeks I found that at most it takes an extra thirty minutes, and depending on the day, no extra time to speak of. On average I save at least two hours a month, which is totally invaluable to me.
In addition, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was saving approximately $50 a week on groceries just by making fewer trips to the grocery store. This bring my already moderate grocery bill down about $200 a month!
In the spirit of full disclosure, we do end up making a quick trip to the grocery store on the off week for a few items that don’t stay good for two weeks. However, that is a very fast and inexpensive trip and my SO will often do it at off-hours.
If you’re new to meal planning, there’s nothing wrong with starting a week at a time. However if you’ve been doing it for a while, I encourage you to try two weeks at a time and see if you can also save time and money.
Every few months we have an “eat what’s in the house week” when I try to buy very little and we use what we have on hand. Sometimes that makes for some very creative meals, or it might mean that we don’t all eat the same thing because we’re using up a little of this and a little of that. It’s not necessarily everyone’s favourite week, but we try to make it fun and we can usually save at least $100, plus it reduces waste by preventing spoiling and freezer burn.
Difficulty level: Experienced