Meal planning for me is CRITICAL to success. When I don’t plan, I make such poor eating decisions. I would come home from work, think about dinner, and nothing would sound good, so I would end up eating a massive bowl of Marshmallow Mateys. Not good!
I wanted to share some tips for menu planning that have helped me:
- Keep it simple – When beginning to menu plan, it’s not a good idea to select the hardest recipes off of Pinterest to try out. You will be pretty likely to get frustrated and give up! Pick easy meals (wraps, salads, crock-pot recipes, etc) and try them out first before you get more complicated.
- Plan for leftovers – Too many times, I have planned 7 nights of meals, only to hit the 4th night and realize I have 3 nights of leftovers sitting in the fridge going to waste. Often I would stop making meals, start on the leftovers, and then the ingredients I’d bought for the other meals would go to waste because I would never get them made. Allow for this when you are planning. A good rule of thumb to start is to make every 4th night “Leftover Night” so that you don’t have too much food going to waste. Another trick is to always use your leftovers for lunch the next day, if you have a job where you can bring leftovers to work. Reducing waste can help reduce your overall food budget!
- Allow for your schedule – If you know you are going to be gone one evening or you have activities or meetings, work that into your planning! Schedule a crock-pot meal for that night so that it’s ready the second you come in the door and you can immediately head out to your event.
- Plan for your ‘fresher’ meals at the beginning of the week – If you only want to grocery shop once a week, like me, then you are aware that fresh ingredients like lettuce rarely look great on the 7th day. So when meal planning it’s important to stack the ‘fresh’ ingredients to be used at the beginning of the week and use more of the frozen or non-perishable items towards the end of the week. That doesn’t mean eating junk food towards the end of the week! It just means salads should come at the beginning, and maybe turkey and cheese wraps towards the end, since wraps and deli meat last WAY longer than lettuce does.
- Prep, prep, prep – When you get home from the grocery store, prep your fruits and veggies! Wash your celery and wrap it in tinfoil so it lasts longer. Wash your berries and get them portioned out in containers for the week. Chop your veggies for your first few meals. Getting these things done right away makes it so much easier to cook later on!
- Make a list of the food you already have– This is going to sound tedious to some of you, but making a list of everything in your pantry and freezer can GREATLY reduce the amount of food you are throwing out and buying each month. Keep the list on your fridge and cross items off as you use them! It helps prevent you from standing in front of the freezer trying to dig to the bottom to figure out what you have!
- Think about investing in eMeals – eMeals is a meal-planning solution that is pretty darn amazing. You can select from a variety of plans (classic, healthy, etc.) and grocery store chains (I use Walmart). The program looks at what is on sale at that grocery store chain that week, and plans your meals for the week around those sale items! It also reuses items throughout the week to prevent waste (so if you put a roast in the crock-pot, you will use one-half in one recipe and the second half in a different recipe that same week.) Once per week, it emails you the list of your meal plan with a full shopping list, or you can use the app for easy access to your shopping list while you are in the grocery store. I think it’s about $60 per year, but they run Groupons all the time, so you can usually get it for about $30 per year. I have to say, we LOVE this service. It’s been an amazing help for meal planning!