I hate meal planning.
For years I railed against it. “How am I supposed to know what I’m going to want to eat on Friday when I’m shopping on Sunday?!” I would proclaim (I’ve written about it before in my Surviving the Grocery Stores post).
But I knew in the back of my mind that meal planning was critical in keeping within my grocery budget. One of my personal New Year’s Resolutions this year was to meal plan more often and I’ve been pretty much sticking to it. January I was $20 under our budget of $650/month, $196 under budget if you consider that I used some gift cards we had gotten for Christmas. In February I was $7 over, but this also included everything I spent for Ben’s birthday.
I think I’m more successful this time around because I’ve kind of put my own spin on the idea of meal planning. I’ve changed my perspective on it from being this super rigid Type A kind of activity, to a more flexible and workable guide for the week.
More of a tool to use to bring home the supplies I need than an iron clad law. Meal planning got so much easier for me when I realized:
- There’s nothing wrong with putting chicken nuggets on a meal plan. It’s a plan, and its yours. Put things on it that you actually will eat, that your kids will actually eat. I used to look to Pinterest for my meal planning ideas and I think thats partly where I started to get overwhelmed. In my world of 3 kids under 6, grilled Ahi tuna and asparagus spears do not exist.
- Since its your plan, you can change it. Your meal plan can be a loose idea of what you’re going to eat. Show me the law that says if you write Crock Pot Burritos on Monday, you’ll be hauled off to jail for having soup and sandwich instead. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
After those two things clicked in my brain, this whole thing got so much easier.
What I do now:
I shop for groceries every other weekend because of my limited work schedule. So when I plan I do it for 2 weeks.
I’m a very visual person and I need to have everything laid out in front of me, so I got this nice little planner off of Amazon.
Then I get out my favorite cookbook, Skinny Taste Fast and Slow, and my iPad and pick out about 5 or 6 what recipes I want to make. I also add in quick and simple things, like frozen pizzas, soup and sandwich night or pasta with butter (an old favorite from my childhood). I plan for all three meals, but breakfast and lunch are always super simple; cereal, Pop Tarts, frozen waffles, sandwiches, mac and cheese (from a box, not homemade bacon asiago). And yes, chicken nuggets.
I make sure I have enough ideas for each day on the plan, accounting for leftovers and any kind of function we’ll be attending like birthday parties or holidays that will substitute as a meal.
Then I write all of the ingredients and items I’ll need to buy in the margin of the planner as I add them to the weekly plan. If I’m going to use something I think I might have, I just write a little question mark next to it so I don’t rebuy something I already have. Like the time I got maple syrup three trips in a row.
We still have some.
Last year when we were redoing the kitchen (wow I can’t believe it was already a year ago) I bought this little chalkboard standing sign. It’s still on the counter and went unused for months, but now I use it to plan suppers.
Usually I write out four nights at a time because that’s as far into the future I can plan my life (and that’s as much as I can fit on the sign). And its chalk… very easy to erase and change 😉
To keep track, I leave the meal planner accessible and cross out the meals I’ve used, so I can easily see what’s left.
This system has really been working out so far. I like the flexibility and I love that it’s been keeping me on budget. Seeing what we’ve had and what we’re going to have has really helped me provide better meals. No more “have we already had pasta like three times this week or is it just me?” More like “if we have pasta tonight we should have baked chicken and some veggies tomorrow.”
The best part though… We. Have not. Ordered. Take out. In months. We used to spend upwards of $50 on take out in a whack between meals, sides, drink and a tip. And we also would order out a few times a month (despite the monthly takeout magnet on the fridge that is supposed to keep us on track). So this is huge.
The thing is, we weren’t ordering out because we were craving it. It was more because I was too stressed or busy to plan anything, and by the time dinner snuck up on me, it was way too late to defrost any meat or do any type of meal prep other than opening a menu.
So there you have it. My brand new mindset for meal planning thats working for us right now.