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Meal Planning 101: How to Save Money, Time and your Sanity

I don’t know about you, but dinner time can be one of the least enjoyable times of day for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the eating part and spending time with my family checking in about how our day went, but the figuring out what to eat, preparing the meal and the clean up are definitely not my favorite!  Because of this, meal planning is one of the easiest things you can do to set yourself up for success. The key is just to start, and to set aside a little bit of time each week to do it. And, after practicing just once or twice, you’ll begin to find what works for you and your family.

Here is a recap of some simple steps to help you get started:

  1. ASSESS YOUR UPCOMING WEEK. 
    Our schedules can vary greatly from week to week depending on work, after school activities, evening commitments, travel plans–the list goes on. Here are some things to consider as you assess your week.
  • How many meals do you need to plan for?  Take a few moments to think about what you have going on next week week. Taking a quick inventory of everyone’s plans will quickly give you a rough idea of how many meals you’ll need to get through the week.
  • What do you have time for?  If you have a crazy busy week coming up, be on the lookout for quick, slow cooker or make-ahead meals that can served up in a hurry.  Also consider what meals would be good to serve as left overs.
  • What does your grocery budget look like this week? If you plan well, you’re likely to spend less grocery shopping because you’ll be shopping from a list. Did you know that when you go to the store without a list, you can spend up to 40% more!  Here are a few tips to for how to meal plan for maximum savings:
    • Plan meals around items you already have: Before making your plan, go through your pantry, fridge, and freezer and make a “To-Use” list. Start by building your recipes around those items so you have less to buy at the grocery store.
    • Always include at least one meal you’ve made before: Don’t feel like you have to try to reinvent the wheel every time you cook. What are your “go-to” recipes that your family loves? The more favorites you use, the less likely you’ll have to buy new pantry ingredients.
    • Prepare recipes that can be repurposed or that use similar ingredients: Good meal planning is like putting together a puzzle. Try to select recipes that fit together or else you’ll be buying a lot of different ingredients. For example, I was going to make rice for a recipe, then I would try to find another recipe that used the leftover, so that I could make once and eat two different ways. 
    • Plan for leftovers: Planning on leftovers and being able to take last night’s dinner for lunch is a huge savings. Beyond that, you can also make extra for freezing, so that there is always a back-up meal in stock.
    • Post your menu:  Posting your weekly menu in your kitchen will not only hold you more accountable for cooking, but it will keep your family from constantly asking you, “What’s for dinner?” They can simply just refer to the menu.

2.   SELECT AND CALENDAR YOUR RECIPES.
     
Once you know how many meals you’ll need, it’s time to find some healthy
      recipes and fill in your calendar for the week. Here are some tips to help.

  • Create a master recipe list.  Having a list of go-to meals is one of the easiest ways to expedite the meal planning process. Consider trying one or two new recipes and use a few old favorites to fill in the gaps. Every time you find a new meal you love, add it to the rotation!
  • Find a few new dishes to try.  Finding delicious, healthy recipes isn’t hard–you just need to know where to look. Health-conscious cookbooks and food magazines are great but the internet can literally provide millions of healthy recipes at your fingertips.  You can search for healthy recipes on Pinterest or on websites such as Cooking Light, Food Network – Healthy, Clean Eating and Eating Well.
  • Fill your calendar.  Based on your schedule for the week, fill in your calendar with meals that will work best for each day.  A late meeting at work may require a crock pot meal or on soccer practice nights you may need a quick recipe that’s good on the go.  Save the new recipes you want your family to try for the nights that everyone is home.

3.  WRITE YOUR GROCERY LIST.
    
While you’re creating your calendar of meals, jot down ingredients for each
     recipe. Then, take inventory of what you already have on hand while writing out
     your shopping list.

 

4.  PICK A TIME TO SHOP.
    
Peruse the sale ads and gather your coupons before heading to the store. 
     Once you’re armed with your list and money saving coupons, head to the store
     and stick to only items on your list.  If this is a problem for you, you might want
     to consider shopping services like ClickList or On Demand Grocery Delivery or
     Pickup.  Not only do these services save you time, but they also save money
     because you’re not tempted to purchase items that are not on your list.

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