Meal planning can be a complicated, lengthy, bothersome project. Trust me I know. I’ve tried doing it several times. I always seem to be able to a get the grocery budget down, and the shopping all set. However, when it comes to what is for dinner tonight…???. There are so many different ways to meal plan, by week, month, year (okay year is a little much but I know people that do it). Then there is the fly by the seat of your pants meal planners. In all honesty there is no “right” way to meal plan because it is purely based on how YOUR family works. On the go, healthy eaters, lavish meals, etc. However, there are a few tips that can help make your grocery budget last longer and your dinner plans not be as stressful no matter your family dynamic.
Step one: You need to establish how you are going to plan and create a budget. Budget planning is essential to meal planning. For instance, I do my main grocery shopping once a month. In order to do that I have to have a general idea of what I am going to be making for the next 31 days. I run to the store every now and then if I need more milk, or eggs etc. You know the little things you can’t buy in bulk because they expire. For the most part though I found that I can keep my monthly budget at or under about $100 if I don’t buy a lot of unnecessary treats. Since we have started eating healthier though my budget is usually around $150 or under for the month. Setting a budget is so helpful because it prevents you from rationalizing buying unnecessary stuff. If you already know what you are going to spend you work harder to keep to the budget or if you’re like me, you challenge yourself to stay under the budget. Either way figure out what your budget is. Understand too that some months will be higher than others. Laundry detergent, toothpaste, deodorant, toilet paper etc. are not things you buy every shopping trip. So don’t forget to allot extra cash every few months for those times when you run out of those extra things. Anyway, I digress. Getting your grocery budget set is really the key to meal planning because it helps you determine what meals you can make for what price.
Step 2: Formulate staple meals. My “staple” meals are chili, chicken, tuna fish, and tilapia. These are meals I can make for pennies or dollars and don’t require a lot of time either. Find a few good meals that you can make quickly and easily and that don’t cost much. These will turn into your staple foods (the ones you always have on hand) which are very helpful for those months when money is a little tighter.
Step 3: Start meal planning. I plan dinner more than anything. Mainly because lunch will usually either be leftovers or a sandwich. Since I work away from the house I usually try to keep salad fixings and lunchmeat in the fridge so SugarBear doesn’t starve if we don’t have left overs. Start by determining what your favorite meals are and which ones you are willing to have repeatedly. This eliminates a lot of guess work. If you can afford it, try and have at least two days a month that you either pick something up or eat out just as a relief for you and something fun for the family. Understand that your meals don’t have to be extravagant. You don’t have to have three courses and dessert. Typically, your “main” part of the dish is your meat (fish, chicken, beef, etc.). Your side dishes can consist of anything from veggies, fruit, pasta, salad, or nothing. I have made just a main dish before. The key to menu planning versatility and really just knowing what your family likes to eat. You can have salad as a main dish or a side dish much like mac and cheese. Everything depends on you and what all your family likes to eat.
Here is an example of one of my meal plans for a week
|Monday||Cereal||Grilled cheese||Chicken Chili|
|Tuesday||Oatmeal||Left overs||China Delight (his favorite restaurant)|
|Wednesday||Bagels||Tuna Fish||Tilapia w/ rice|
|Thursday||Cereal||Salad||Dinner at his Mom’s|
|Friday||Pancakes||Left overs||Out to eat|
|Saturday||Breakfast “muffins”||Hot Sandwiches||Chicken Teriyaki|
|Sunday||Shakshuka||Grilled cheese||Fried Chicken w/ biscuits and veggies|
As I said before I plan for dinner more than anything. For us breakfast isn’t usually a big thing until the weekend just because I don’t have time for it before I leave for work and him being a guy is stubborn and won’t eat breakfast lol. I usually try to keep things like cereal (healthy kind) and oatmeal etc. just so if he wants to eat breakfast he can. Lunch also isn’t a big deal for us since usually I am at work, and he forages if he is hungry. Hence a constant supply of salad and lunch meat so he won’t starve when there are no left overs. If it is easier for you don’t worry about “planning” breakfast and lunch. Honestly they are kind of meals that take care of themselves. As long as you have breakfast foods in the house don’t focus to much on that.
Step 4: Inventory. Knowing what you have and what you don’t is kind of the make or break of meal planning. Now this is something that is time consuming and boring and I hate doing so chances are you will too. However, once you do it you never have to do it again as long as you keep up with it. There are at least two ways I know of that you can do this.
Way 1: Get pen and paper (or your computer or iPad) and go into your kitchen and inventory everything you have from the fridge to the pantry. If you want the process to go faster, then wait till you need to go to the store because your stock will be low and therefore it won’t be as difficult to do this.
Way 2: Inventory as you buy. This is easier in the beginning but can get difficult because you won’t have those “rare buy” items on the inventory list so you may run out and not know it. This way basically catches up to you eventually. You won’t have everything inventoried for a while but eventually as you buy and replace things when they run out you will.
The importance of inventory is because it tells you what you have, what you need, and how often you buy it. This saves on budget and helps you make a meal plan using ingredients you already have to their full potential. (You should really inventory your whole house but that is for another post). Inventory is a step you can skip however, if you are just starting the meal planning parade and don’t want to dive too deep in just yet.
Step 5: Don’t freak out. When all is said and done, don’t stress and worry about it to much and if you “fail” don’t let it bother you because there is always next week/month. Just dust yourself off and try again. Meal planning is something that you have to design for your family. There is no right or wrong and if you are eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches a few nights a week then that is okay! Work with what you have, what you can afford, and the more you do it the easier it will be.
I hope you enjoyed the first week of the “Finding Normal” series and that some of these ideas helped at least a little or maybe just gave you some encouragement in your endeavors. Leave a comment below with your ideas for meal planning or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I always love hearing from you! Don’t forget to like my facebook page ( https://www.facebook.com/thegoodwifesblog/ ) to get updates in your newsfeed and subscribe to have updates sent straight to your email box. You can also follow me on Twitter ( @goodwifesblog ) and Instagram ( https://www.instagram.com/annapartlow20/?hl=en ) As always thank you for your support!