Do you know what’s for dinner tomorrow night? No? Trust me, we’ve been there before too. It wasn’t that long ago that we started our week not knowing what we were going to eat.
Sure, we had some food from the week before, but we didn’t have meals planned. So, we’d go to the grocery store with no list and buy groceries without much forethought about meals. Of course, we forgot ingredients and made return grocery store visits or, worst yet, fast-food restaurants.
To say that the way handled our meals was inefficient would be an understatement. Our no-plan plan sucked. It caused us to overspend on food. We rarely tried new cooking techniques and we weren’t eating as well as we could have; health wise or taste wise.
After we finally started planning our meals and grocery store visits, we experienced some very positive side effects. We started saving money, our meals tasted better, and we spent less time in the kitchen. Believe it or not, we actually enjoy the time spent in the kitchen far more now than in the past.
We believe that a meal plan is the foundation of a balanced diet and an overall healthy lifestyle. Below, we’ve listed some tips that we hope will help you make and stick to a meal plan. By the way, this list isn’t arranged in order of importance.
1. Pick Meals
There are lots of resources that you can use to find recipes or inspiration for new recipes. For example, while waiting in the doctor’s office, you might stumble upon a recipe in a magazine. There are dozens of food shows that you can get recipes from. Then there are countless websites and blogs that you can use to find recipes. Some of my favorites are allrecipes.com, pressurecookingtoday.com, and of course Food Network.
You can also use an app like Spark Recipes (links to Apple itunes store) to find new recipes. You can even search for new recipes by diet, i.e. gluten-free, diabetic, and vegan.
2. Make a Grocery List
Always make a list before you go grocery shopping. We broke this cardinal rule on many occasions, and it cost us. We would end up buying stuff that we already had or didn’t need. Other times we would forget to buy what we actually did need.
Unlike most people’s grocery store visits, the stores themselves aren’t planned out haphazardly. There was a lot of thought put into everything that you see there and the way you see it. They strategically place cookies, pies and chips in locations that you (and your child) are sure to see. Going to the store without a list can lead to over spending and eating poorly. Below are a couple of apps that’ll help you keep track of your shopping needs.
The app Pantry Manager is a much easier way to keep track of your inventory than paper and pen. The app Any List allows you to vocally add items to your list using Siri and share that list with others.
3. Don’t Shop While Hungry!
This is certain to leave you with a basket full of junk. There are some scientific reasons listed here. We’ve noticed that we feel much less restricted in our food choices when we shop while hungry.
4. Check sales papers and apps for deals
You don’t have to drive yourself crazy by checking every sales paper or grocery app before you shop. Or maybe price isn’t the only factor in determining where you shop. Maybe you choose to shop at Whole Foods for quality or ethical reasons. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. If, however, you aren’t bound to shopping at a particular store you should at least check the weekly sales papers for each of your local grocery stores. Most large grocery stores publish the weekly sales paper on their website. You don’t have to get too tedious, but sometimes there are deals that can’t be ignored, and it could be worth your while to visit multiple stores.
You could scroll through websites and scan sales papers but you might be better off just getting a comparison app like red laser.
5. Eat Leftovers
This option doesn’t work for some people because they don’t like the taste or texture of leftovers. For others, however, it is sometimes best to make enough food for two or more days. You can then freeze the rest. This is a great way to spend less undesired time in the kitchen during the week. Soups tend to work very well as leftovers. Sometimes it’s better on the second day than the first.
6. Prepare Meals on Off Days
There are many ways that you can prepare your meals on your off days. For you, this could mean chopping and dicing vegetables in advance. This could mean arranging the meals in their pans and freezing them to cook later in the week. It could also mean that you cook all meals, freeze them and warm them up later on in the week.
Some people like to cook all of their meals on their off days. This doesn’t work for us, but we know people that do use this strategy. While we don’t mind leftovers, we prefer to have a fresh, hot, cooked meal at least a few days out the week.
7. Use Different Cooking Methods
We know from experience that eating meals using the same cooking method or eating the same kinds of foods gets boring quickly. For example, don’t make all soup recipes, or all baked foods, grilled or even all fried foods unless everyone in your household is okay with that.
When we first started planning our meals in advance, we naively chose all slow cooker recipes. It didn’t take long before we regretted that decision. We didn’t just get tired of the same taste. Eventually, we got tired of the texture. Mix it up.
That’s one of the reasons we chose to buy the instant pot ip-duo60 pressure cooker (we believe it’s the best pressure cooker on the market); it has multiple cooking functions.
You don’t have to be the most organized person in the world to make meal planning work, but it does help to have some order. At the least, make sure that you have enough space in your fridge for leftovers. Organizing your pantry will help you with keep track of inventory.
Make sure that you have a system for keeping track of frozen meals. Otherwise you might forget about them. You can use the Remember the Milk app to keep track of frozen meals.
In the long run, having an organized kitchen (to some degree), will save you money.
9. Shop Weekly
For us, weekly grocery shopping works best. For one, we don’t have the space to store a ton of food. Also, grocery shopping weekly serves as part of our weekly reset. One day out of the week, we spend a few hours to get our house together (washing, and iron clothes, planning our meals) and make the necessary adjustments for the upcoming week. Weekly grocery shopping allows us to plan out new meals if we so choose.
10. Rotate your recipes
During our first foray into meal planning we made a near catastrophic mistake. Okay, it wasn’t that serious; but it was bad. Not only did we prepare meals for four weeks with very limited freezer space, but we also only planned seven different dinners. After three weeks of eating the same rotation of dinners, we were bored. It was a struggle to get through week four dinners. Needless to say, we will never do that again.
Now, we only plan our meals one week in advance and we try at least two new recipes each week. This is what works best for us. You might find that planning a whole month of meals in advance works best for you.
According to Paco Underhill, most shoppers have no plans of buying almost seventy-percent of what they purchase at supermarkets. With that, be sure to pick your meals before you shop, and always shop with a grocery list; it’ll save you money.
If you have any meal planning tips you’d like to share, please comment below.