Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Meal Planning 101

A couple of my passions in the kitchen are cooking from scratch (as much as possible), and doing it inexpensively.  One of the ways I believe you can do that is by meal planning.  But what is meal planning? Does it really help me save money?  How does it work?  What does it look like? I know everyone has their own system, but I would be happy to share with you mine, and I hope that it will help you develop a system that works for you, resulting in great, home cooked meals, at low prices, for your family. 
Let's start by tackling that first question...
What is meal planning?
Meal planning is simply coming up with a game plan.  It is looking at your day, week, or month and answering the question "What are we going to eat?" 
Why is meal planning important to saving money? 
I can't tell you how many times I stood in the kitchen after work, unable to decide what to make for dinner, so we just went out.  I was throwing away a lot of food because it was going bad, as well as, spending too much money on fast food, all because I didn't have a plan. I knew this had to end, so I began planning out my menu for the week on a piece of paper.  What resulted was we were eating at home more, using the food we had purchased at the market, and were spending less on eating out.  You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that all of those things resulted in savings, but here are the two big reasons why...
  • I was able to plan:  If I know I am going to have a crazy schedule, I can plan meals to fit into that schedule.  I know each day what we are eating so there is no more guessing.  Also, you can watch adds and coupons for sale items and either purchase accordingly or plan around them in your shopping.. 
  • I was able to prepare:  If I know what I am making for dinner I can get everything prepared the night before if needed. (i.e. thawing, any food prep, getting things into the slow cooker, etc.)
  Bottom line, planning saves you money.
How does it work?
This is what meal planning looks like for me. 
BREAKFAST:  Normally it is just my mother-in-love and I at breakfast.  She eats her honey-nut Cheerios and I usually eat toast or some sort of egg dish.  As long as I have those things on hand at breakfast I am good.  On Saturdays, however, we have cinnamon rolls.  It is a tradition I started a while back and my husband really enjoys it. 
LUNCH:  For lunch we will have leftovers from the night before or a sandwich and chips or carrot sticks, something crunchy.  My mother-in-love will eat some soup due to her medical needs.  So again, as long as I have something to make sandwiches with and soup, we are good. 
DINNER:  This is where the REAL planning comes into play.  When I think about my meals for the week, I look at it like this...
  • BEEF
  • PORK
This helps me not get too repetitious throughout the week and helps me stay organized.  I will choose my entrĂ©e, at least one vegetable to go with it, and, because I have a meat and potatoes man for a Studhubs, a starch. 
What does it look like?
My tool of choice for meal planning is a basic calendar that I hang on my fridge.  *lol*  Classy, I know.  This is what has worked for me and I will tell you why.  I may plan a week at a time, I may plan two weeks at a time, I may even plan a month at a time, but no matter how I plan, my tool works.  There are MANY templates out there for meal planning.  Pinterest is busting at the seams with them.  I say try a few and figure out what works best for you.
Just so you can have a visual idea of what I am talking about, here is what my calendar for April looks like so far...
Do you have any advice to help this all come together?
I'm so glad you asked!  *lol*  Yes, I DO have some advice for you.
  1. Set yourself up for success:  I don't recommend doing a months worth of planning starting out.  I would start with a week.  You are developing a new habit, and there will be some kinks to work out.  If you try to take on too much at one time you may get frustrated and give up. Also, this will help with waste.  Most produce are good for at least a week in your fridge.  You will throw away less if you plan smart. So, start small.
  2. Start with meals you are familiar with and then move on to new things:  Most home cooks have 5-6 meals in their back pocket that they are comfortable with.  On your first week use them.  Then, as each week progresses, replace one of your go-to meals with something new.  Pinterest is a great place to find new recipes (Did I mention that I am on Pinterest? I know, I know, shameless plug)!  As time goes by you will find that you are repeating meals less and less.  Not to mention learning some new skills in the kitchen as well! 
  3. Look at your schedule when planning for the week:  One of the problems I hear most people bring up is not having time to cook because of busy schedule.  When you are planning your meals for the week, look at your schedule.  Don't plan a meal that required an hour+ for prep and cook time on a night you have 4 things going on.  There are too many 30 minute meals out there for that.  Also, by looking at your schedule, you can take time the night before and doing any prep work you may need for the following days meal.  Bottom Line, you have to plan cooking around your life.  That is the secret for meal planning success! 
Now, I claim to be an expert of nothing, but I do know that these simple steps in meal planning have been successful for me.  Ultimately, through trial and error, you have to find what works for you in terms of meal planning.  I hope this give you a good starting point, or even clears up a couple questions you may have.  I would to hear your tips on meal planning, the templates you use, and any other input you have!  And as always....
Happy Reading, Happy Eating, and Happy Living,
~The Kitchen Wife~


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