Food and groceries can cost way too much.
Do they have to?
Well, it turns out that the common advice of meal planning is you always shop with a grocery list because it’s the best way to save money. However, it doesn’t have to be painful, time consuming or take a lot of effort. The trick is to do the hard work once with this simple method, and reap the benefits week after week.
First, let’s take a second and see the enormous benefits of meal planning before we go through how to meal plan so it’s easier than whatever you are doing now.
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Why meal planning saves you money?
- You shop with a grocery list, which has been shown as the best way to reduce that grocery bill.
- You only buy what you need because you know what you need
- The food you purchase is less likely to spoil because you know how you will use it
- You are less likely to eat out because your dinners are planned
- On the same note, you are less likely to buy expensive snacks or other items on the go
First, we need to realize just how repetitive meals are
I have yet to find anyone who doesn’t have staple foods in their diet. If you spend some time thinking about it, you will realize that you like to eat the same foods every day. This is especially true for breakfasts, lunches and snacks. Dinner is usually more variable. However, we usually rotate the same dinners.
What does this mean? It means in general you buy the same groceries every week. If you are not meal planning, you are doing more work than necessary because you remake the same grocery list every time and probably plan the same core set of meals every time. Why not do it once instead?
Warning: This will require work, but you already do this work every week. Now we will do just a little bit more upfront to drastically reduce what you have to do every week.
Make Lists of All the Meals and Snacks in your Household
To start, pick a meal such as breakfast, lunch or dinner and write down every meal you or anyone in your house eats. Repeat this for the other two categories. You also want to do this for snacks. In the next step you will use these lists to come up with meals for a week.
Put together Four Weeks of Meals
After making lists of meals based on the type of meal, you want to take those lists and lay out meals for a week. So in this step, you are writing down all of the breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners for a week. Then repeat it until you get 4 weeks of meals to give yourself variety.
Generate grocery lists
Once you complete that, for each week you now want to make a corresponding grocery list. Label the grocery lists so you know which week they correspond to.
Organize those weeks into a master schedule
I like to use a blank calendar template and write down the meals for each of the 4 weeks. That way, I simply have to look at the calendar to see what the week’s meals are and where I am in the rotation of weeks. When it is time to shop, I simply get the correct grocery list for that week and add on any other items that we might need.
Subscribe and download our free templates using the form at the end of this post.
Don’t like making dinners or thinking up recipes?
Are you already struggling with dinners? Looking up meal ideas and recipes not your thing? Good news is you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Find and utilize a cookbook that not only gives you recipes but also has grocery lists for you. Here are my two favorites and why:
New Leaf Complete Freezer Cooking Bundle: Includes over 100+ recipes, she has already grouped them into sets of 7 with premade and organized grocery lists. The extra bonus here is for those who don’t like to prep dinner every night. These meals are all freezer prep style so you prep them all at once and simply throw into the crockpot or oven day of. Most freezer meal planning usually entails pre-cooking, New Leaf does not.
Once a Month Meals: Includes over 6,000+ recipes that support all types of dietary choices. You pick the meals for the week and it generates you a grocery list. There are options here to do freezer prep style, instant pot or just traditional cooking.
In my opinions, they are both worthy investments because meal planning will save you big. They remove the work out of meal planning and prepping so you are more likely to do it. New Leaf is a one-time fee while Once a Month is a subscription.
Like incorporating new meals?
Leave one day a week for new meals or for trying out a new recipe. This means 90% of your grocery list is ready to go but you just need to add a few items for that one meal.
Why meal planning saves you time?
In the beginning of this post, the reasons that meal planning saves you money were covered. If you meal plan using this method in particular you can save time by:
- Having pre-made grocery lists
- Having your meals planned
Now, you simply check your meal planning schedule to see what’s on the agenda for the week and use the corresponding premade grocery lists. Like I mentioned before, you can even remove the time you spend making dinner every night with freezer meal prep.
Meal Prep Hacks
In addition to the process I have outlined in this post. Here are a few easy meal prep hacks to make your week even easier.
- Schedule easy meals on your busiest days and your hardest meals on your easiest days.
- Schedule meals that make a lot of leftovers early in the week, so you can use them in lunches.
- Pack two sets of lunches every other day to save yourself time and work.
- Invest in excellent lunch containers, these are my all-time favorite.
- Pair meals that have some of the same ingredients (like chicken) in the same week so you can cook it once for both meals.
- For snacks, eat the most perishable snacks early in the week. For example, eat the strawberries before the apples.
- Because you will be doing most of your prepping and shopping in bulk, ahead of time. Be sure to keep a running list of items you might not buy as regular as you run out. I keep a whiteboard on the fridge and add things like ketchup, olive oil, flour, coffee to the list when I notice we’re getting low.
- Consider some bulk cooking of snacks, sides, and desserts on the weekend. I like to make a big batch of rice ahead of time if I know scheduled meals go well with rice. I also like to make date bites and granola bars for easy to grab snacks. Chopping veggies like peppers, celery, and carrots for easy snacking will also help you snack smarter. Lastly, I always hard boil a dozen eggs for easy snacking too.
- To make clean-up a breeze, line your baking dishes with tin foil before baking, and have a box of crock pot liners on hand. Doesn’t get easier than that.
- For breakfasts, pancakes batter can easily store in the fridge for a few days. Already made pancakes, waffles, muffins and quick breads (like banana bread) also freeze really well. Just pop them in the microwave for a quick and delicious breakfast.
Utilize the Free Printables
Along with this post, we have designed a set of free printables so you can start meal planning today.
Simply subscribe and download for free. Print as many copies as you need. What’s included?
- In the first 4 worksheets, you will find space to make complete lists of breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners.
- You can then use the calendar to make a schedule of meals.
- You will also find a grocery list template to make grocery lists that go along with each week of meals.
- Lastly, I have added in a template for a recipe page.
For more on freeing up more of your time, check out how I overhauled cleaning for max effectiveness in the littlest amount of time possible.
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Dr. Trina Fitzpatrick is a wife, mom, blogger, and a breastfeeding advocate. She is the co-author of the Week-by-Week Bump Smart Course, the Nesting Planner and the Breastfeeding Handbook. She attributes her success at breastfeeding her own children into toddlerhood with working with lactation consultants in the hospital in the early stages and on a weekly basis afterwards. By writing at MomSmartNotHard, she educates mamas-to-be on all things pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Read more about Trina.