We all know I’m a planner girl. My husband mocks me for it, but bills don’t get forgotten, kids get to where they need to be, and meals get put on the table. The fact that it’s pretty is just the incentive to actually use it (instead of let it collect dust like most notebooks on my shelf). Meal planning has literally changed our life, as dramatic as that might sound. By knowing how to meal plan and using my meal planning tips, I ensure that our budget stays intact, we eat out WAY less, and the food that goes on our table is healthy and filling, no matter what else is going on in our crazy lives.
Being a mom means I have two little boys who are hungry all. the. time, a yellow lab who also thinks he’s starving all the time, and a husband who thoroughly enjoys home-cooked meals when he’s actually home. Taking time to do my meal planning has let us eat healthier meals while also saving a TON of money, between not eating out and planning to use leftovers instead of just trashing them.
These are my top 5 quick-and-dirty tips for getting started with meal planning. BUT, if you want a step-by-step how to for meal planning so you can save money AND your whole family can eat healthier all day long (without more work), this post is the post for you!
How to Meal Plan: My 5 Best Meal Planning Tips
Take inventory before you start
To keep our food budget down, we use leftovers in different dishes all the time. In order to plan for that, though, I have to know what’s in our fridge! For example, we had fajitas the other night which meant leftover grilled chicken, sauteed onions and peppers, and pico de gallo. In our house, that means we’re having omelettes with onions and peppers and pico on top one night (or a Thursday morning, since my husband has a weird “weekend” schedule) and honey lime chicken enchiladas another night. I also take a quick glance in our pantry to see what staples I have that I can use in dishes that week (diced tomatoes, chicken broth, quinoa, etc.), as well as what needs to be re-stocked.
Sit down with your planner (or Google calendar, if you insist on being 21st century)
Knowing what your week looks like will help make sure that your meal plan is actually feasible. If you have a bunch of super busy evenings, planning meals that take forever to cook isn’t logical. Tuesday nights are our crazy night of the week because we don’t even get home until 7:00 (which is about half an hour past my kiddos’ bedtime) so that’s ALWAYS a Crockpot, Instant Pot, or take-out night. Likewise, if you know it’s a super laid-back night (Saturday or Sunday, for example), you can plan a meal that takes longer to prepare or even get extra meals ready to cook that night so you can just pull them out and dump them into the Instant Pot or Crockpot one day that week.
Have a space in your planner for your meal plan
I have an entire section for each day where I put my meal plan, but that doesn’t mean you have to! It could be a post-it note, jotted down the side, or even a 6AM “appointment” so you remember what you’re making that evening. That way, you can not only plan ahead the night before easily (i.e. Note to Self: Put food in the Crockpot in the morning before work!), but you also can switch meals around as your schedules or moods change.
Do theme nights!
Meal planning does not have to be complicated! You can do the same type of meal on each day of the week (i.e. Italian Monday, Taco Tuesday, Soup Wednesday, One-Pot Thursday, Meatless Friday, Grilling Saturday, Comfort Food Sunday, etc.) and it’ll make for much easier planning because you already know what TYPE of food you’re making and you just have to come up with the specific dish.
The key to this one is knowing what’s in your freezer and pantry, as well as knowing what HAS to get made this week. There are plenty of times where my meal plan just doesn’t sound good (like the day it got unexpectedly cool and I made Instant Pot tomato basil soup). So, I’ll make sure that I make the meals that have ingredients that will spoil (generally anything with vegetables that need to stay refrigerated) the rest of the week and make whatever sounds good that night, as long as I have all or most of the ingredients in the house already (this is the way I stay on budget). If not, there’s usually something else I’m making that week that sounds ALMOST as good and I’ll just switch nights on my meal plan.