Meal Planning: Where Do I Start? (Part 1)

Meal Planning: Where Do I Start?--tips for starting your own weekly meal plan

When my husband and I first got married, I didn’t know much about meal planning.  I was used to cooking meals for myself and sometimes my sister, who was also my roommate.  What I made totally depended on what I happened to have on hand that week and more often than not it was a can of soup, pancakes (or some other breakfast food) or maybe a casserole if I was feeling ambitious and needing leftovers for a couple days.  It’s not that I didn’t know how to cook, but when you’re cooking for one, it’s just not super motivating to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.

Fast forward to 2016.  I’ve been cooking for my family of two, then three and now four for the last 7.5 years and it wasn’t until about a year and a half ago that I finally decided that I needed to start meal planning.  My reasons were simple: 1) I wanted to make sure my family was eating well, 2) I hated hitting 4:00 or 4:30pm and realizing I had no idea what I was making for dinner that night and then rushing to figure it out, and 3) I wanted to save money.  I decided that I have enough things on my plate as a mom, wife and adult, that if I could make my life a little simpler by planning out our meals for the week then I should do it.

I’ll save the process I went through to get where I am now for another day, but suffice it to say that I feel good about my current process and how it works for us.

Here’s what I do:

  1. Each week I get the ad for my local grocery store and browse through it, circling items that we are out of that are on sale.  (Obviously not everything we need will be in the ad, but if I can save a little money and time by knowing ahead of time what’s on sale, then why not?)
  2. I pull out a list of meals that my family likes to eat on a regular basis.  It’s just a list I’ve written out on a sheet of lined paper that I can add to as we find more meals we like.
  3. Then I take my list and put it next to the grocery ad so I can see what meals I can make using items that are on sale that I don’t have.  For example, this week I had written down that we needed teriyaki sauce, which was on sale.  Also on sale were broccoli and cauliflower.  Looking at my meal list, I can make teriyaki chicken with steamed veggies and rice because I already have carrots, chicken and rice.
  4. I have a dry erase calendar that I use to plan our meals for the week.  Knowing that it takes about 30 minutes to make, I can check our week and schedule it depending on what’s going on in the evening during the week.
  5. I repeat this process until I have meals planned out for each day of the week.  
Meal Planning: Where Do I Start?--tips for starting your own weekly meal plan

My main goal when planning out meals is to use as much of what I already have as possible and only buy what I need.  Some meals don’t require me to buy anything if I already have it all on hand and others I need a few ingredients.  This way, I know exactly how much I need of each item and approximately how much I’ll be spending.

Once I’ve got it all planned out, I know I have a little flexibility with moving the meals around because I know I’ve got everything I need to make whatever meal I’ve planned.  Some weeks I follow it to a “t” and other weeks I move the meals around if something comes up or I just feel like making something else that night.

A couple of other tips:

  • I try to plan my shopping trip for the same day every week (usually Mondays, since I can double up on ads).
  • I always keep easy no-prep meals on hand, like frozen pizza and freezer meals, for days I just don’t feel like making the effort what I’ve planned.

What has stopped you from meal planning for your family?

6 thoughts on “Meal Planning: Where Do I Start? (Part 1)

  1. Teriyaki chicken! Yum! I needed a new idea for this week! And I love the dry erase sheet. I have tried a bunch of different methods, but have settled on cooking 4 good meals a week and having no fuss (boxed mac n cheese, frozen pizza, etc) or leftovers the other nights. I don't plan by day, just by week…that way I can choose what sounds best each day. 🙂 Thanks for sharing Shani!

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  2. Nice meal planning tips Shani! I like the way how you find ideas what to cook inside the
    grocery ads. Also, you took it to the next level by comparing those upcoming ideas with
    groceries you already have at home. Great way to use food supplies, because if we don't think
    about it, our tendency is to flood our pantry with food we don't need. I should use this
    strategy to get rid of food I have sitting on my shelves for months.

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  3. Thanks Sacha! I've found that I always save money by using both the ads and what's in my pantry and less food goes to waste because it has a purpose. I used to buy a bunch of food thinking that I “might” use it and then it would go bad or sit forever. This is definitely the best way I've found! Good luck!

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