Are you tired of asking “What’s for dinner?” Do you tend to skip cooking dinner because you’re just too tired to think about what to even cook after a long day at work? Do you maybe have a big collection of recipes (printed or pinned?) just waiting for you to someday try it?
I have a solution for you. It’s not even hard. It takes about 15 minutes once a week. It’ll save you time and money and frustration.
(So, there’s this “new trend” of meal prepping, where you cook in a big batch and portion out what you’ve made to eat throughout the week. That’s a form of meal planning, but not exactly what I’m talking about here.)
When I’m talking about meal planning, I mean – literally – plan out which meals you’re going to eat on which days. And sure, that might sound intimidating or like a lot of work or like too much thinking, but I promise it’s not like that. I’m not even going to make you do (much) math. This isn’t a complicated puzzle that has to be 100% perfect.
This is literally as simple as “pick some meals and assign them to a day”.
The benefits of meal planning – why you should be doing this!
You’ll save time
Planning your meals out for the week has an initial investment of, oh, 15 minutes or so. But I can easily spend 15 minutes on one day pondering what (or where, if it comes to that!) I want to eat. You’ll have to go to the grocery store, too, but that’s already something you do. And I’ll bet with meal planning you’ll cut your time at the store! No more wandering halls and comparing veggies thinking “which ones should I get for this week?” You have a list, and you’re gonna stick to it, and it’s gonna get you in and out of the store in no time!
Related Reading: How to Make a Healthy Grocery List
You’ll save money (and reduce food waste!)
If I come home from a long day and don’t have a meal planned out ahead of time, I look through my pantry and fridge and think “uhhhhhh this looks too hard, I’m gonna ask Shane to pick something up on the way home,” or we end up going out to a restaurant. Let me tell you, fast food is not cheaper than cooking at home. And we all know restaurants’ prices are super inflated! Shopping at the grocery store to cook at home will save you money first by cutting out the convenience cost of restaurants and fast food, but it doesn’t stop there. Meal planning ensures that you’re buying the foods you’re actually going to use, so nothing will be going bad sitting around waiting to get used! This eliminates food waste which is good for everybody – especially your wallet.
You’ll eat healthier
Cooking at home and controlling your own meals is the key to eating healthy. As long as you’re using whole foods and choosing recipes that aren’t terrible, you’re going to be eating healthier. At home, you can control which ingredients go into a meal, how much salt you added, how much oil or butter. Control your calories, control the way you cook the food to conserve nutrients, and eat what you like, the way you like it.
You’ll finally get to try those recipes that look soooo good!
I have a tendency of scrolling through Pinterest and going “that looks good, that looks good, that looks REALLY good!” and pinning a ton of recipes but never trying them. Meal planning lets me pick both old and new recipes to broaden my horizons, try new foods, and expand my recipe binder at home – full of recipes I know that I love!
How to Start Meal Planning
All of those benefits sound pretty great. Everyone wants to save time and money, and I think the solution that many has is the drive-thru. Tsk, tsk – if you added up all those small expenses at the end of the week, you’ll see the good chunk of change that could have been spend at the grocery store, on higher quality foods! Meal planning helps you start toward a healthier lifestyle, and keep it going! A healthy lifestyle has great benefits, too – and here’s a hint: a lot of them coincide with meal planning! That’s because meal planning is a key player in a healthy lifestyle, or at least it makes it way easier.
And, it’s easy to do. You – yes, you – can literally sit down and do this right now if you wanted. It’s not hard, it’s just a matter of doing it. So, let’s do it. I like to break meal planning down weekly. I usually do it all on Sunday, since we’re a Monday-Friday workweek kind of family.
Related Reading: 10 Awesome Benefits of Living a Healthy Lifestyle
1. Choose your meals
You know your schedule. You know when you’ll be home and at what time. You know how many days you’ll realistically cook a meal (here’s another hint: it’s okay if you don’t want to cook every night!) If you’re new to cooking, meal planning, or eating healthy – start small. There are seven days in a week. Start by planning three meals. Yeah, not three whole days, just three meals. Think about the foods you normally cook and the recipes you’ve been wanting to try. Pick three based on what sounds good, is within your abilities as a cook and within your time constraints. (Maybe don’t choose a whole pig roast for Wednesday night…) You can also base meals around what you already have in your pantry or fridge – use up what you’ve got before you go buy more stuff!
I personally have a recipe binder. I only add recipes that I have made and loved, so I know that anything I pick from there will be delicious and easy – I’ve already made it! I usually flip through it (“That was good, that was good, OH YEAH that was REALLY good!”) and pick out a few, then go to Pinterest and find something new. Once I make a new recipe, if I like it, I print it and add it to the binder. If there was something I’d change, I make a note of it right on the paper.
This might be intimidating if you don’t have a place where you keep your recipes. That’s okay! The longer you do this, the more new recipes you get to try (luckyyyy), and you have an opportunity to build a brand new recipe book. Don’t worry about finding 25 recipes to have at your disposal right off the bat. Just pick a few to try each week. By the end of the month, you’ll have a good backlog of things you have tried and probably loved.
So, like I said – start small. Pick three meals. Three recipes that you already love or want to love. Mark them in some way – a sticky note is what I use, I’m not fancy here – so you can find them on the day you are gonna make it.
Assign those meals to the days when you know you can or will cook. Write it down somewhere – a calendar on the fridge, a sticky note on the fridge, a super cute framed printable on the wall (use dry-erase markers on the glass of the frame), a chalkboard, whatever. Just keep it in the kitchen somewhere.
Not sure what days you’ll be craving which meal? That’s okay, too! You’ll know which recipes you have for the week and can make up your mind that day, depending on how you feel. We swap ours around a lot if one of the recipes sounds better than the other that night!
“BUT WAIT!” you scream. “I’m only eating three meals all week!?”
What about the rest of my meals!?
If we’re only planning a handful of meals a week, obviously that’s not all you’re going to be eating! You need breakfasts and lunches to take to work or school with you. You need snacks, and you need quick meals for the nights you don’t have time to (or just don’t want to) cook!
I gotchu. Supplement your shopping list with “in-between” meals. Buy supplies for sandwiches, eggs, nuts to snack on, simple dinners like pasta and a jar of sauce. Sure, you can plan out those meals, too! Maybe you even want to have meal prep Sunday for your lunches! Now that’s some serious meal planning 🙂
2. Make your grocery list
You’ve got your meals picked out and in front of you. You maybe even have some of the ingredients in your house already, especially if you built your recipes around them. Cool! Now you need to fill in the gaps – what is on the ingredients list that you don’t have? Add them to your grocery list. Don’t forget to add the amounts – I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve just written “tomatoes” and couldn’t remember if it was diced, sauce, crushed, fresh, etc, or how much I needed. Be specific and write out “One 14.5 oz can tomato sauce”. Do this for all your ingredients.
This is the part where you may need to do some math. It depends on your family size and how the recipe was written. if the recipe only serves two, but you have four in your family, obviously you’ll need to double it. That’s easy stuff. Write down the amounts you’ll need for your family, which may be different from what the recipe calls for. (Also adjust the recipe if you decide to keep it – either retype it with your ingredient amounts or print as-is and write “Double Recipe” on the top or something. Don’t expect to remember all these little details! Why waste brainpower!?)
Don’t forget to add your supplemental “in-between” foods!
3. Shop for your ingredients
Some people love the grocery store (me), and some people hate it. I have good news for both – if you love the grocery store, you get to go to the grocery store! Yay! If you hate the grocery store, you have a concise list, know exactly what you need, and can get in and out quickly. Yay!
Since your grocery list is so detailed about amounts and types of ingredients, there’ll be no guesswork. The hardest part will be choosing the right checkout aisle. (I always seem to get the aisle where the woman in front of me is paying in all pennies and nickels???!!??)
4. Cook the meals
The fun part! Hone your cooking skills, try new foods, eat healthy options while saving time and money!
5. Repeat for next week!
You found a recipe you loved, and now you can’t wait to try another one! Woohoo!
Amy’s Meal Planning Secret
Shhhh….we’ve been talking about homecooking with your meal planning. But guess what?
Not every planned meal needs to be homecooked.
Yep. If you are a Pizza Friday or Taco Tuesday family, those can be a part of your meal planning. You’re planning to eat pizza on Friday. And that’s totally okay. Everything in moderation!
That’s literally all there is to it! Don’t overcomplicate this. This is something you can do right now. Start toward your healthy lifestyle or learn to cook (or both!) with meal planning. Save yourself the frustration, the time, the money. Seriously, this can only benefit you! Wouldn’t it be nice to see that recipe you saw on Pinterest on your calendar, with the ingredients for it in your fridge!?
Do you plan your meals for the week? Do you have a go-to recipe book?