You might be thinking that you don’t have time to plan your meals, because you feel like you barely have time to go shopping. Let me explain something. If you are squeezing in time to to go food shopping, then that’s the exact reason you need to plan your meals! Meal planning doesn’t take as much time as you might think, and ultimately gives you more time with your family. Meal planning should only take you about five minutes once you have done it a few times. No, it’s true!
Honestly, I won’t even go food shopping if I haven’t finished my meal planning. It’s THAT important to me. Why is meal planning so important? There are so many ways that meal planning saves time and money. I certainly could use more of both. Could you?
Less time in the Store
Meal planning saves time inside the cramped up store. I personally feel that the less time I spend in the store the better. I’d rather take 5 minutes to plan weekly meals and another 10 minutes to put my grocery list together (includes checking the fridge, freezer, and pantry), than wander around the grocery store an additional 30 minutes trying to figure out what I want to eat for an entire week. I’m done dealing with that darn wheel of the cart that seems to have a mind of its own. Add in the time to backtrack for missed ingredients. Plus the number of times you almost crashed carts with someone in the store. Ugh! No thanks! I am in and out of the grocery store in 30 minutes. Seriously! I don’t mess around!
Schedule Your Meals
Scheduling your meals on a weekly calendar saves more time. When you get home from work frazzled from a long day the last thing you want to do is figure out what’s for dinner. You check the fridge. There’s not enough leftovers. You check the pantry. No meals there. It hits you. Everything else is frozen! Now you’re stuck ordering take out and waiting for it to arrive. Schedule your meals (not in stone) on a calendar or chalkboard, so that you have a visual of what’s going on this upcoming week. This will save you time from frantically searching for meal ideas the minute you walk in the door. Hang this weeks menu where you can’t miss it. You’ll want see it in the morning when you’re packing lunch or making coffee. Take your frozen ingredients out before you leave for work. If it’s easier to remember it at night, then as your cooking tonight’s dinner take out tomorrow’s dinner from the freezer! Life is about what works for you and your family.
No More Over Spending
That last ones leads me right to one way meal planning saves you money. Many families live paycheck to paycheck. You really can’t afford to spend more money than you need. You can’t afford to order in every other night. Once you plan your meals, make a grocery list based off the ingredients you need (and you’ll learn which staples to keep stocked)…then buy off your list only! If you shop with no clear idea of what you’ll be making this week, then chances are you’re going to grab more of a variety of foods off the shelf. You’re still going to make another run to store to complete your meal, because you will undoubtedly forget ingredients. More off the shelf means more out of the wallet. You’ve heard that before. Stop the nonsense!
Keep a master list of the meals your family enjoys to minimize the amount of actual thinking you have to put into the meal planning process. Having a list is what keeps the meal planning down to five minutes. Personally, I only plan for a week at a time because fresh fruits and veggies just don’t last longer than that, and I’ll be running off to the store anyway. I will always tell you to do what works for you. The master list for dinner should be broken down into categories based on the main entrees: beef, chicken, seafood, pasta, etc. To get started, come up with at least 7 meals for each category – listing your sides out as well. Your master list should include each meal of the day including after school snacks.
Two for One Meals
Buying meats in bulk and getting more than one meal out of them is another great benefit to planning your meals. Like anything else, the bigger quantity you buy the less per pound your item tends to be. When planning meals, you should factor in at least two meals per meat that you buy. For example, when I buy a spiral sliced ham I will serve it sliced with sides of veggies one night, and then the next day use the left over ham to make ham and bean soup. Soup freezes very well, or you can pick up a case of mason jars and start canning like I did! Pork shoulder is another favorite in my house. I typically put a rub on the pork and stick it in the crock pot for the day. From the pork shoulder I make carnitas tacos one night, then add BBQ sauce to the leftovers and freeze for a pulled pork sandwiches another night. You can pretty much apply this concept to anything that you buy!
Great news! You can probably stretch those bulk meats even further. I am very strategic with portioning food and almost always have leftovers. There may only be enough left over to send to work with my husband as lunch, but that’s one lunch he doesn’t have to buy! I also love using leftover soup for the kids lunches. It breaks up the monotony of sandwiches.
Meal planning helps you to control the foods you eat. Most of us have goals to eat better or to continue eating foods that are good for us. I doubt when you’re planning your lunches for the week you’re thinking of packing mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, cookies, and a cupcake. All calories. Zero nutrients. When your grocery list consists of fruits, veggies, and proteins; and you stick to the list when you shop…you’re eating better too! Win!
Plan To Try New Foods
Meal planning can help avoid taste bud boredom. I would venture to say that most of us eat the same meals over and over. You might throw in a new meal here or there when you grow tired of eating the same thing all the time, but generally speaking you probably stick to your tried and true. By the way, there is nothing wrong with that! Think outside the box more often! You can plan to try a new recipe as often as you’d like – whether it be once a week or once a month. Schedule it (see above) and add the ingredients on your grocery list.
Make in Advance
Another awesome benefit of planning meals ahead is that if gives you a look into the future. Who doesn’t like to be prepared for the future? Spend a couple of hours a week cutting, cooking, and baking in advance. There won’t be as much rushing when you get home from work, or if you are home it gives you plenty of time to help with homework. I love to make muffins for after school snack. Recipes usually make 24, so I freeze the muffins and take them out as needed. Lasagna is another great dish to make in advance – pop it in the oven when you get home, and go sit down for a minute. Soups are great for making in advance too, again they are great for freezing or canning.
Online Grocery Shopping
Did you know you can do your grocery shopping from your living room while binge watching your favorite episodes? Yup, it’s been done. For free. Many stores offer online shopping. Some charge a small fee for same day pick up, so plan in advance. Too busy to pick it up? Take this convenience a step further and have your order delivered (check for fees associated with delivery). Grocery shopping online is a money saver and can keep your eating habits on track too. There is no way to put extra chips and cookies in your cart! Less money spent and less calories eaten! You do need to be aware of what happens when the store does not have the item you requested. You have the option to allow substitutions, but the substitution is at the stores discretion. Since I have had to go back out to get the items that were unavailable through online shopping I actually prefer to do the shopping in the store myself. Just a personal preference. If I’m in a real bind due to a busy schedule, then I will place an order and hope for the best.
Coming soon – How to Meal Plan!