For our family, every minute during the week is usually pretty hectic. After coming home from work and picking up the little one from daycare, the last thing I want to do is figure out what to cook.
In the past, we used to eat out more often than I’d like to admit. This added up to too many calories and too much wasted money.
That’s when we decided to make a change and start meal planning.
Once I became committed to putting our health and wellness first, I began meal planning religiously. This helped greatly reduce weekly expenditures, cut back on eating unhealthy frozen meals, and reduce eating out.
Now, when Wednesday night rolls around and I’m tired and ready to relax, I can open up my meal planner and see what I’ve already bought ingredients for and throw something together quickly.
Follow along with these 5 tips on meal planning: how to eat healthy and save money.
- Pick 1-2 new recipes per week and then rotate staple meals that you can make quickly and easily
- Stay organized with a meal planning journal and write out grocery list while planning meals
- Pick themes of meals to follow each week and recycle previously planned meals
- Keep pantry stocked with basic items
- Allow for flexibility throughout the week
1. Choosing Recipes for the Week
When I first started meal planning, I had a very difficult time sticking with it. I had tons of fun searching on Pinterest and flipping through my favorite cookbooks to find unique recipes. I would spend hours picking out 4-5 brand new recipes and then would write out my seemingly endless grocery list.
During this process, I never considered the fact that I would be cooking these meals after working all day with a young baby who wanted to be held constantly.
After a few weeks, I realized meal planning does not have to be an elaborate ordeal with gourmet meals every night. All you need to do is plan out a few meals that are quick and easy to throw together.
I usually aim to plan out 4-5 dinners per week and make enough for leftovers for lunch the next day. This allows us to have a night or two to eat out because that’s something we enjoy doing as a family.
And sometimes everyone needs a break from the kitchen!
Typically, I choose 1-2 new recipes to try each week for days that I may have a little extra time in the evenings and am feeling adventurous. The other days, I rotate between some staple dishes that are quick, easy, and healthy. For us, these staples are usually tacos, chickpea pasta with veggies (we love Banza pasta), or a quick stir fry with different protein and veggies.
2. Use a meal planner to stay organized
Using a solid meal planner is a must for successful meal planning.
If you prefer a paper planner, I love Erin Condren’s Meal Planner (and all of her planners for that matter). This planner helps you record what you will cook each day of the week and track which ingredients you’ll need. Not only does this keep me organized, but it is also so colorful and filled with fun stickers.
Also, you can access my free meal planner plus shopping list and recipe index. You can either print this out and fill it out, or just update it on your computer each week.
While picking out our meal plan for the upcoming week, I have found it to be very helpful to keep a running list of ingredients which we would need to buy for each meal. This helps me save time later since both meals and my grocery list are planned at once. It also keeps me on track while in the grocery store and helps to cut back tremendously on weekly grocery bills. Having a set list in the store has helped reduce impulse buys and reduce wasting food each week.
3. Pick Themes for Meals
One helpful trick to cut back on the amount of time spent meal planning is choosing general themes for each day of the week. For example, you can try Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Asian Wednesdays, Slow Cooker Thursdays, and Pizza Fridays.
If you have a basic idea like this before picking out meals, it makes it easy to quickly pick a meal from each category. You will have your week planned out in no time!
Also, you can always recycle previously planned meals. After you initially plan out 4-6 weeks of meals, you can follow that same schedule over and over again. When you keep your meal plan in one journal, after a month or two of meal planning it is easy to flip back to previous weeks and repeat recipes. This would save you a tremendous amount of time in the long run since you’ll already have grocery lists and recipes all laid out. You can always swap meals out over time to add some variety as needed.
4. Keep Pantry Well Stocked
In order to keep the weekly grocery bill down and the amount of time required shopping to a minimum, we try to keep certain non-perishables on hand. These include grains (rice, quinoa, lentils, pasta), beans (black beans and garbanzo beans), tomato sauce and diced tomatoes, frozen vegetables, onions, and garlic.
During the week, we keep a running list on the refrigerator of staple items that we run out of. This way we always know what to replace instead of ending up with three cans of black beans and zero cans of tomato sauce.
Also, it is worth investing in a variety of spices and oils. If you are brand new to cooking, I’d start with a basic spice rack and then add on from there. This allows you to cook a greater variety of styles of food. A little investment up front pays off in the long run.
5. Always Allow for Flexibility
Also, while meal planning, you have to learn to always be flexible. Cooking for a family means sometimes one person may not be in the mood for what you had planned. Or sometimes you’ve just had a hectic day and need to go out for Taco Tuesday!
That’s ok! Life is all about balance and finding the happy medium between clean eating, meal prepping, and enjoying great food and family.
For tips on how to save even more time during the busy week, check out this post on 2 minute quinoa.
If you want some ideas for a clean-eating meal plan, download my free 1 week plan with shopping list.
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Check out a newer version of this post with even more tips here!
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