I have a strange addiction to planning. I’m in probably a dozen planner groups on Facebook, I follow over a hundred planner girls on Instagram, and my favorite part of the week is sitting down with my planner and a cup of coffee to figure out my life. My second favorite part of the week? Meal planning. I know, it sounds CRAZY, but seriously. Knowing how to meal plan has made me a better mom because I’m less stressed when meal time comes around, a better wife because I cook what we BOTH like and what will keep all of our bodies running the way they should, and a better person because I’m just generally nicer when my belly is full.
Initially, my meal planning journey started with needing to get our budget under control. It’s nuts how much you can spend on food for two people (much less four, two of which have major food allergies) if you don’t plan out what you’re going to make, especially if your go-to is to run to the nearest fast food or restaurant. I spend less than $100 on groceries every week, including all of our dairy-free everything (which is ridiculously expensive, y’all), and I have meal planning to thank for it.
Now, though, I just want to make sure my boys have the most well-rounded meals they can so they can “grow up to be big like Big Tex” (our eldest’s favorite reason to eat his supper). By figuring out how to meal plan, I give myself the best shot at not being stressed out about ensuring they get all the fruit, veggies, protein, and calcium their little growing bodies need. It also means that I have colorful plates to put in front of them and us, which makes all of us more likely to eat well.
How to Meal Plan to Save Money & Eat Healthier
Gather up your meal planning supplies
For me, this includes my planner (you might need your Google calendar instead), a blank notepad, a pen, the sale ads, and a cup of coffee. While you’re doing this, clear out your kitchen table, bedroom, den, wherever you’re going to meal plan. Yes, this means you get some time with NO kids! Often, this means I have to do it during a nap or before they wake up, but the quiet means I’m able to focus and get it done more quickly without missing the discounts on our favorite foods.
Take inventory of what you need to use up
Check your fridge for anything that you need to eat before it goes bad and make a list. From veggies that you bought last week, side dishes you have leftover, or main courses, write it all down! Go through your pantry, too, and just make a mental note of what staples you have at hand. These two mini-steps alone will help with your budget immensely!
Sit down and browse the sale ads
I have my two favorite stores that I use so I go through the sale ads for the week to see what’s cheap. This will help me keep everything under budget when I go to actually figure out what I’m making this week.
Look at your week
By looking ahead, you can see what nights are going to be your craziest and which ones are going to be the most chill. I like to write down Monday-Sunday on my notepad if I don’t have a planner that has specific places for it and make notes of what nights need to be easy meals. For example, don’t plan a labor-intensive meal for the night you have two practices and a concert– make those a Crockpot, Instant Pot, or take-out night (yes, even with meal planning, you’re allowed to eat out! Just PLAN for it instead of it being your “oh crap, now what?” option). On nights you have less or nothing going on, meal prep for the crazier nights so that you can just dump it into your Crockpot that morning or into your Instant Pot that night.
Come up with theme nights
Want to make it easier? Make each day of the week a theme every week. For example, Italian Monday, Taco Tuesday, Soup Wednesday, One-Pot Thursday, Meatless Friday (heyyyy, Catholic friends), Grilling Saturday, Comfort Food Sunday, etc. This will save you a ton of time in trying to decide what to make because you’re just choosing a dish among that genre, rather than every dish on Pinterest. Of course, if there’s something you’re REALLY wanting, you don’t HAVE to stick to this, either, but it gives me a nice starting point.
Start planning out meals!
Go through your favorite recipe books, your go-to meals, and Pinterest to find meals that will satisfy each member of your family. I try to make sure there’s a good mix of meals throughout the week so that Ryan doesn’t get cranky with too little meat, I get my fill of veggie-heavy meals, and the boys get their share of finger foods (“chicken on the bone,” anyone?). As you go through your meals, make sure you’re using foods that still need to get eaten from last week, as well as staples you already have, to keep your budget lower. For example:
- I’ll use leftover-from-fajitas sauteed onions and peppers in an omelette with leftover pico de gallo on top.
- I’ll take leftover grilled chicken and shred it to put into honey lime chicken enchiladas.
- I’ll make a kid-friendly hot dog supper a little more grown up by using leftover chili (either the stovetop or Instant Pot version) on top with some cheese and onion for chili dogs for the adults.
- Leftover roasted veggies get put on top of quinoa with a tzatzkiki-ish dressing on top for a healthy, quick lunch.
Don’t forget about breakfasts and lunches
I tend to not be super creative when it comes to breakfast and lunch. I get a couple types of lunchmeat, enough greens to last me for the week for salads for lunch, and a couple of options for breakfast (steel cut oats that I can make a big batch of in the Instant Pot for the week, scramble a dozen eggs on Sunday night, toast, and fruit, for example, and then different combinations of that throughout the week). I also eat a lot of leftovers for lunches. Whatever your morning and mid-day meal style, make sure you account for it in your meal planning so you don’t forget about budgeting for them!
Grocery list while you meal plan
As you find recipes you want to use, make sure you make a grocery list! It’ll save you time because you’re not going back to find the recipe after meal planning to see what you need, and it’ll help you make sure you’re staying on budget. After all, if you have a super long grocery list halfway through the meal-planned week, you might want to reevaluate your meals or choose inexpensive/leftover/staples-in-your-pantry ones for the rest of the week.
Don’t be afraid to experiment
Y’all, it took me YEARS to come up with this system that works for us. Don’t be afraid to tweak it or change it entirely. If something isn’t working well for you, change it! If there’s a meal you don’t feel like eating that night, switch it with another night or eat leftovers (or something from your pantry or freezer– just make sure you use up anything that’ll go bad before it does).