Have you ever wondered into your kitchen in the evening and asked yourself what do I want for dinner? You go about aimlessly opening and closing the pantry and fridge only to order out? I’ve been there too and all too often. When we realized how much we were spending on eating out and quick food, I started to really meal plan.
Meal planning and list making is something that I have grown into. Maybe it’s genetic? My mom is a list making, organized freak who either has something on a list or it’s labeled. If it’s not labeled or listed, it just doesn’t exist (or at least that’s what I’m convinced of). Making lists is how I get through my work day and how I stay on top of things at home. I literally have to write down that I need to vacuum in order to do it. It also feels great to cross things off lists!
Meal planning completes my list and money saving obsessed self. Planning out each of your meals for the day is a huge time saver and will save you money throughout the week! Our one (maybe two) trips to the store each week are nothing compared to what we used to do. Meal planning and checking our lists twice has helped us save hundreds over the course of the four years we have been married. Sure, there are lots of other ways you can slice saving money on groceries, but meal planning is my number one.
First things first…
Go through your pantry. Inventory what you have, what you need, and what has spoiled. Throw out the bad stuff and do not contemplate “it doesn’t smell THAT bad, does it?”. Because your significant other will shrug and you’ll put it back up there. Don’t do that. This is a time when you should look at what you use the most of and write down what needs filling (like all purpose flour, sugar, olive oil, salt, pepper, etc). This way when a recipe calls for a cup of sugar you don’t have to run to the store again (or your neighbor’s house).
Make a list of the meals your family loves. We have all of our favorite recipes printed and organized into our recipe binder for easy access. If we try something we don’t like, we don’t even place it in there! You may have a go-to cook book that has everything you cook in it: write down your absolute favorites.
List ingredients. On that list of your most favorite recipes, list what the recipe calls for that aren’t your normal pantry staples. An example would be “Sweet potato and kale hash > kale, sweet potatoes, navy beans”. This recipe also calls for salt, pepper, oil, spices and many other things that we have constantly stocked in our pantry. This will help you to quickly identify what you need to add to your grocery list.
Check your schedule. Since my husband works varied hours, I find it super helpful if I know what days he will be home earlier and what days he works late. If you have classes, clubs, and sports that your family goes to, it is helpful to have those written down before you start to plan your dinners.
Check the ads. Checking the sales ads will also save you money – that dish that is normally expensive to make because it calls for asparagus and sirloin steak is no longer a problem because it’s on sale at your store! Score for an indulgent meal! This also allows you to stock up on pantry staples for a lower cost and make your overall cost per meal lower as well.
Plan for snacks, breakfasts, and lunches too! When we first starting seriously meal planning, this is one thing I forgot. We had nothing for snacks and only one option for breakfast. This is important to keep everyone happy and not hangry. Most of our meals now make enough for desirable leftovers for lunch.
Stick to it. It sounds hard at first but it is so rewarding when you don’t have to struggle to find something for dinner or stress about what to pack for lunch the next day. It’s already there for you! Even with a limited budget like we have done in the past, it’s possible and it can be healthy, whole foods.