Meal Planning

Meal planning is an excellent way to save money, time, and resources while improving the quality of your family’s meals. 

This reusable menu board is based off of a post by Little Birdies which I saw on Pinterest.

Free Printable Menu Planner & Grocery List Below.

Benefits of Meal Planning

Save Money

When done properly, meal planning can result in significant savings at the grocery store.  here's how:

  • Buy only what you need to prepare the meals you have planned.
  • Avoid repeat trips to the grocery store to pick up one or two items (which almost always turns into 5-10 items).
  • Reduce impulse purchases by shopping with a list and sticking to it.
  • Learn to use what you have on hand and avoid waste.

Eat Healthier

Taking the time to plan meals in advance allows you to make healthier choices and ensure all of your nutrition needs are met. 

  • Scrambling at the last minute to get something on the table almost always results in compromises when it comes to nutrition.  Fast food is not usually healthy food whether purchased from a restaurant chain or thrown together in a hurry at home.  

Reduce Stress

Stress comes from uncertainty, frustration, and being unprepared.  All of these can be reduced through meal planning.

  • No worrying at the last minute about what you are going to prepare. 
  • Less stress about how you will stretch your food $. 
  • Peace of mind knowing you’ve got a plan in place that meets your needs.

Each week I pull the recipes for my meal plan from my Recipe Binders and slip them behind my reusable menu board so I don't have to search for the one I need when it comes time to make dinner.  Once the meal is prepared, the recipe goes back in the correct binder until next time.

Meal Planning Resources

You are your own best resource when it comes to choosing meals.  Create a list of your favorite breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and simple desserts.  Use this as a starting point when planning meals.

If you are cooking for others, seek their suggestions.  Ask them to contribute to your list of favorites and strive to choose meals that will please everyone’s tastes. 

Ask friends and family to share their favorite recipes with you.

Flip through your cookbooks for simple, healthy recipes that appeal to your tastes.

Browse websites for menu ideas, meal plans, and recipes.  The more specific you make your search, the quicker you will find what you are looking for. 

When seeking new recipes to try, be discriminating and realistic.  Select recipes which call for ingredients that appeal to you and those you are cooking for.  Keep it simple.  Avoid complicated or time-consuming recipes as well as recipes which call for exotic foods or foods you think you should like but have never tried.  Stick with foods you know you like to avoid waste and frustration.

Before Planning Your Menu

Shop Your Pantry

Search your cupboards to determine what you have on hand.  Identify items that need to be used and plan ways to incorporate them into your meal plan. 

Consider Your Schedule

Do you have meetings in the evening? Will you be working late one or more nights?  Plan simple, easy to fix meals on the days when you are busiest.  Consider preparing extra the night before so that you can eat leftovers or cook something in the crock pot so that it’s ready when you get home.

Check the Sales

Scan the weekly ads to see what’s on sale and plan accordingly.

Shop in Season

Take advantage of fresh produce and other items when they are in season.  The cost and quality will be better when the items are readily available. 

Divide Up Your Plate

Picture your plate as a circle divided into four quarters.  Fruits and vegetables should occupy half of the circle.  One quarter should be filled with a lean protein (lean meat, legumes, eggs).  Grains (preferably whole grains) should cover the remainder of your plate.   

Think Variety

Try to incorporate variety into your menu.  Variety adds interest and often improves nutrition.  Here are some suggestions for incorporating variety into your meal planning.

  • Plan a meatless meal once a week.
  • Substitute breakfast for dinner once in a while.  Have a pancake supper or an omelet. 
  • Have sandwiches for dinner, especially on busy nights when you have to be somewhere.
  • Alternate new recipes and old favorites.
  • Create a 'bar' (taco bar, salad bar, sandwich bar, build-your-own-pizza bar, etc.

Free Printable Menu Plan

Right-click to download this PDF file here.

Establish a Routine

As with any new skill, menu planning becomes easier with practice.  Stick with it, and you will begin to see the benefits it brings.  Over time, you can make adjustments until you have a routine that works for you.

Be Consistent

Establish a set time or day in which to plan out your menu for the coming week/month.  Doing it at the same time over time will help to make it a habit. 

Create a System

Create a folder, binder, or other system for storing meal plans.  Consider placing recipes in with the plans for easy access. 

Recycle Menus

No need to reinvent the wheel.  Stash old meal plans in your meal planning folder for reference.  Reuse plans you like or mix and match meals from different weeks to create new plans. 

Create Theme Days

Establishing a theme for each day can make meal planner easier.  For instance, Mondays might be pasta night, while Wednesdays could be chicken night and so forth. 

Narrowing down the number of choices for each day from everything imaginable to a specific kind of meal can make meal planning less overwhelming. 

Other ‘themes’ to consider are ground beef night, fish night, breakfast-for-dinner night, crock pot dinner, leftover night, new recipe night, meatless meal, salad night, soup night, and so forth. Get creative and enjoy the process. 

Incorporate Leftovers

Don’t overlook leftovers when creating your meal plan.  If you’re making a large beef roast one night, plan to have roast beef sandwiches for lunches throughout the week.  If you’re roasting a chicken one night, plan to use the leftovers in a casserole another night. 

If you have a different meal planned for every night of the week and you find the refrigerator is bursting with leftovers, skip one of the meals and save it for the next week’s meal plan. 

Be Flexible

Your meal plan is not written in stone.  Feel free to switch things around as needed.  Life happens, guests arrive unannounced, people get sick, and things pop up unexpectedly.  Be ready to adapt as needed to the circumstances of your life.   Swap out meals or trade meals between days as you see fit. 

Shop from Your Meal Plan

In order to save time and avoid waste (of food and funds) create your shopping list from your meal plan.  Avoid adding in a lot of items not required to prepare the foods you've selected.

Create a Reusable Shopping List

Create a generic shopping list that contains all the items you regularly buy – your staples.  Type it up on the computer and print out copies.  When planning your menu, place a check mark beside or circle the items you need for the current week’s menu.  Write in extras as needed.  This will save you the time and effort of rewriting your list every time you go shopping. 

Another option is to use a shopping list app such as ShopShop.  

Free Printable Grocery List

Right-click to download this PDF file here.

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