Meal planning. Without a doubt, it’s my #1 way to save time, money, and sanity every single week. We are breaking down why it’s so popular, different ways to meal plan, and bonus tips to save you time and money on the regular. (Make sure to snag your FREE printable meal planning template.)
Before we delve too far into meal planning, we need to talk about your grocery budget. One of the first tips we shared here at Fourganic Sisters was How To Make A Food Budget Fit Your Family. Hopefully that helped you narrow down a food budget to fit your needs. Next, we’ll show you how having a meal plan will save you time, money and sanity.
If you’re on Pinterest as much as I am, you’ve likely seen hundreds of pins and posts on every kind of meal plan and meal prep you can imagine.
Why is meal planning so popular?
Here are some keys reasons:
-It helps you make healthier choices.
-Meal planning can save you time.
-Meal planning can save you money.
-You’ll likely have less waste when you plan more efficiently.
First, let’s break down these reasons why meal planning is so important. (Then we’ll show you simple steps you can take to make a meal plan work for your family, even if you’re crazy busy.)
Meal Planning Can help you make healthier choices.
If you’re planning meals, you have total control of what’s on your menu. If your goal is to get a certain number of veggies in each day, or eat more fish, etc., you’re the boss! I know whenever I don’t have something already planned for dinner, I make convenient choices, which will most likely not include fresh vegetables.
How to meal plan to Save money.
For similar reasons, you could spend more money if you don’t have your meals planned. Either you’re stopping by the grocery store several times a week to pick up an ingredient here or there (and maybe making more impulse buys) or you’re grabbing takeout, which is definitely pricier than cooking at home. For our family of five, eating somewhere like Chipotle or Panera costs us more than $30. However, we can typically spend $10 or less to cook a meal at home.
Meal planning can help you Save time.
I don’t know about you, but if I don’t have a planned meal, I spend
How to cut down on food waste with a meal plan.
Just like every dollar has a place in an effective budget, every grocery item should have a designated place in your food plan. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought produce on clearance and let it sit and rot because I didn’t have a plan for it.
Now, I’ve learned how to either make simple swaps in my meal plan or freeze it when I can.
FRESH GOES FIRST
Here’s another helpful hint that can be applied to ANY type of meal plan. Fresh food gets eaten first. Things like carrots, celery, onions, sweet potatoes, cabbage, butternut squash, or spaghetti squash will easily last you more than a week when stored properly. However, produce like fresh greens, cucumbers, etc. will spoil much more quickly. Plan to use these items up first.
Stick to simple sides. Have four or five go-to side dishes with just a few ingredients that you can whip up with staples you always keep on hand. In summer, this could be a simple cucumber, tomato, and onion salad with olive oil and red wine vinegar. That’s an easy way to put produce to use that’s on the verge of needing tossed.
How To Make An Efficient Meal Plan
First, decide what kind of foods and menus will be a priority. For us, we have three young children (one in elementary, one in preschool and one toddler) and are involved in many kid and community-related activities. We try to keep our cook time in the kitchen to 30 minutes or less each night. Quick and easy are the types of meals we like, preferably both! ?
Next, choose your meal-planning frequency. Would you feel more comfortable planning one week at a time, every two weeks, or just once a month?
Now, write out any important events you have in that time period. Do you have any recurring meetings or practices, activities or church? Write out what you have going on, and plan your meals around those events.
Types of time-saver meals
While we make plenty of traditional meals using the stove or oven in many different applications, there are a few routes that can be time-savers in the kitchen. Here are those types of meals we pick from:
-Sheet pan meals
Instant Pot Meals
The beauty of the Instant Pot is its multi-functionality. It’s great for meal prep, like cooking batches of rice, beans, chicken, etc. It’s great for soups because you can sauté, cook and simmer in the same pot. You can use it as a slow cooker… so much to do with just one tool.
One-pot or One-Pan Meals
I’m obsessed with one-pot/ one-pan meals. I really don’t mind doing dishes, it’s just the sheer amount of them that can be daunting sometimes. (Even with a dishwasher) Some of my current obsessions are a one-pot chicken parm pasta, anything that can be made into a cauliflower rice skillet (we aren’t even low-carb, just lazy sometimes.) I am also in love with this Salsa Chicken skillet at Budget Bytes, or her Beef and Cabbage Stir Fry.
Sheet Pan Meals
Sheet pan meals are so clever. I have at least one on constant rotation. As long as you get the veggie-to-meat size ratio perfected, everything cooks fairly evenly.
Slow cooker meals
What kind of meal plan will work for you?
Some people prefer to stick to a simple routine. This may mean the same 5-7 meals on rotation for your family.
Others like to have a routine, but also variety. This could mean having a Meatless Monday or Taco Tuesday but changing up the meals inside the theme. You could plan to do a pasta dish every Wednesday, for instance, or Slow Cooker meal every Thursday.
Get input from everyone in the family! Kids are way more likely to eat what you’re serving if they feel like they have a voice. There are plenty of healthy, organic options for chicken tenders. 😉
Plan in action
We typically like to stick to this type of routine. Last year, for example, Mondays were Girl Scouts. I wanted something easy to prepare, quick to cook, and easy to clean
How do I make a meal plan on a budget?
First, do you have a grocery budget? You can learn more about how to create an effective grocery budget here.
You can break your meal plan budget down by days, meals, or just overall weekly, bi-weekly or monthly.
How much food do you go through in a week?
How long does a loaf of bread last in your house? A gallon of milk? A dozen eggs? Getting a handle on how quickly items need replenished can help you start to naturally work out a meal plan. You can have a running list of your “regulars” you need each week, like bread, milk, eggs, cheese, oats, etc., then you’ll get a better feel for how much room you have in the budget for meal planning.
Shop your fridge/freezer/pantry first.
When you’re going through your meal plan, go through your fridge/freezer and or pantry and cross off anything you already have. (If that frees up space in your budget, here are some ideas on what to buy.) You can also use what you have as a guide for your plans. If you have a stash of chicken in the freezer and some kale on the verge of spoiling, simply plugging a phrase like “chicken kale dinner” in Pinterest or Google can put you on the right track.
More Meal Planning Time-Savers
If you have time to throw a quick dinner most nights, but can’t find adequate time to actually grocery shop, grocery delivery or pickup is the way to go. Between Insta-Cart, Walmart Grocery Pickup and or/delivery, Kroger pickup or delivery, Amazon Prime Pantry, and so on and so on, the possibilities keep growing in this field.
We try to add some “Work Smarter, Not Harder” tips in our meal plans to help save a little time each plan period. This could mean cooking up double or triple batches of rice or quinoa, or extra chicken to shred for multiple meals. It not only saves prep and
Alissa’s Spaghetti Sauce is also the perfect batch cooking recipe. I can’t tell you how many times it’s come in handy to have at the ready. (And even though I put in all the work of prepping and cooking, my kids still refer to it as “Ali’s sauce.”)
Even if it’s as simple as cutting up three onions rather than one, it adds up. I also feel like if we have fruit and veggies cut up and ready to go, we are more likely to grab that option rather than a more processed snack with easier access.
I’ll also add that if you do decide to cut up multiple batches of veggies in advance and don’t have an immediate plan for them (like in 2-3 days) FREEZE it! The goal is to reduce food waste, not add to it! 😉 A simple freezer bag will do.
How Meal Planning Saves Time, Money, and Sanity
By taking time to meal plan once a week, (or two) or once a month, you’re saving yourself the time it takes to decide what to make for dinner each night. You’re saving money by having a plan for everything you buy, leaving less room for spoilage and/or waste. Meal planning takes the stress out of running to the grocery store every other day because you realize you’re out of x, y, or z ingredient to make a meal. You can choose easier-prep meals on the nights that will be busiest for you. If you need some inspiration, check out our free meal plans here.
Finally, give yourself some grace. Every day of every week won’t be perfectly planned. Things come up. Unplanned meetings. Sickness. Major life changes. Keep an open mind. This is simply a template to hopefully help manage the busyness of life a little better.
It’s your turn…
Now tell us in the comments, what type of meal planner are you? Weekly? Monthly? Go-with-the-flow? Do you have a specific goal in mind when you choose to meal plan?
Have an idea we missed? Shoot us an email and let us know!