Avoid the dreaded “What’s for dinner?” question and save time (and money) by planning your meals. In today’s post I’ll share with you my tips and tricks for planning a weeks worth of meals.
You come home from work tired and ready to plop on the couch with a glass of wine and catch up on your TV shows. Oh wait, you have to eat. Not only do you have to eat, but your family also has to eat and that means you need to figure out what’s for dinner.
We have all been there.
Most of us solve this dilemma by grabbing takeout, going out to dinner, or resorting to a boxed meal. If this happens to you often, you probably know how expensive this can get! Not to mention unhealthy.
Sitting down for a few minutes each week to put a meal plan together is the way to avoid all of that. It’s really easy to do and will end up saving you time and money all week!
I’ve been meal planning for years – yes, years. Since high school to be exact… I did most of the cooking in my house! I would pick a bunch of random recipes to try for the week, then get my mom to take me to Wegmans (40 min away), and then come home with over $200 worth of food.
Yeah, it was a little out of hand. I should also mention that all of those recipes required different ingredients. Which means I would end up with tons of extra stuff that would go bad and get thrown out because I had no use for it.
So, yes meal planning done the wrong way can end in failure. But, done the right way it can save you from a lot of aggravation!
I’m going to break this down into steps to make it a little easier to follow. I plan breakfast, lunch, and dinner all week because I find that this helps me stay on track in using the food that I have. Plus, it avoids a breakfast or lunch rut!
1. Check your schedule.
Decide how many nights you need to plan for. If you will only be home 4 nights out of 7 then you obviously aren’t going to plan 7 meals. Maybe you know you’ll be working late a few days, or maybe you have to take the kids somewhere, etc. If you know you’re going to be tight on time you can plan a make-ahead meal for those days – cook it up on the weekend and utilize your freezer to keep quick meals at the ready. I always like to have options if I’m in a pinch.
2. Check your pantry.
I like to buy pantry staples in bulk so that I always have something to make a great meal with. I always have chicken breasts, salmon, tilapia, homemade sausage, and ground beef in my freezer. My refrigerator is always stocked with vegetables, fruits, eggs, milk, cheese, herbs, onions, and my favorite condiments. The dry pantry is stocked with pasta, rice, quinoa, different types of vinegar, tons of spices, fresh garlic, and tomato sauce.
These are the things I use most often in an array of meals. I always go through my pantry when I’m writing up my menu plan. By doing this, I can replenish things I’m low on and I like to plan my meals around what I already have!
3. Pick your meals!
This is the fun part (for me)! Since I come up with my own recipes to share with you, I usually start with that. I generally do 3-4 recipes per week for the blog and then the rest I use for old favorites or new recipes I want to try.
I recommend you pick 3-4 dishes that you want to make based on the stuff you have in your pantry. Write them down and then jot down what ingredients you’ll need to pick up. From there I like to plan the rest using an extra ingredients I might have.
For example: If you are making a recipe that uses 1 cup of coconut milk you’ll want to find something to do with the remainder of the can of coconut milk. You can use it in smoothies, freeze it, or look for recipes that use it. By doing this, you aren’t wasting anything and you are getting two meals out of similar ingredients. This is what saves money!
I usually plan to have 5 completely different meals making sure I’m using up all of the ingredients I’m buying. The other two days I like to leave open for going out, takeout, or a pantry meal.
4. Go shopping!
This is also fun for me. Yes, I love going grocery shopping, especially if I can go to Wegmans! I love that store. Unfortunately now that I live in Delaware, the closest Wegmans is about an hour away. We still go from time to time, though!
Shopping is much easier when you have a plan – always go with a list and stick to it!!
5. Execute the plan.
This can be the hardest part for some. To make sure I stick to the plan I always reference it throughout the week. I look at it each day so I know what I’m making and can prep anything ahead that I want to. I recommend you wash and prep all of your produce (that you can) when you come home from the store – this saves SO much time. The worst part of cooking can be the prep. Do it once and you’re ready to go all week long.
Note: If I end the week with some leftover ingredients (i.e. fresh produce or meats) that won’t last much longer, I always start the new week with those ingredients.
I hope you found this helpful. I know it’s pretty in depth for something that sounds so simple. However, if you’re on a budget or trying to eat healthier, a meal plan can really help keep you on track.
I wanted to give you as much detail as possible so you understand my strategy. Of course, there are many different ways to go about planning your meals, but this is what works for me!
If you’re new to a weekly menu, don’t overwhelm yourself with 7 home-cooked meals. If you eat out a lot you may want to start slow and ease your way into it – maybe start with 3 meals a week.
Just a few minutes one day a week can set you up for great meals, save you loads of time and money!