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How does eating a variety of food and saving money at the same time sound to you?
This meal planning for beginners guide will give you step-by-step instruction on how to start meal planning so you can have a variety of delicious home-cooked meal while saving you money.
Being a working mom with a busy schedule, having a good home-cooked meal every day is a hassle and time-consuming. I generally don’t have the time to cook every day or make regular trips to the grocery store. Hence, on a daily basis, I always find myself asking the most dreaded question – “What is for dinner”?
Eating a variety of meals with a tight budget is quite challenging but having a simple meal plan can save the day. So you don’t need to break the bank to eat a good variety of food.
If you keep good food in your fridge, you will eat good food
– Errick McAdams.
What is Meal Planning?
Meal planning is planning your weekly or monthly meals. With meal planning, you write down your meals for a specific timeframe like weekly or monthly.
With meal planning, you don’t need to ask yourself “What is for dinner” every night but rather once a week.
Use a meal planner and write down a variety of meals that you and your family would love. You can try different meals while saving money.
The Importance of Meal Planning
1. Have Healthy Meals
Meal planning is essential if you intend to have a healthy delicious meal with your family. Having a good menu plan means you can take into consideration any dietary requirements and making sure your family have a well-balanced diet. You can follow the Eatwell guide to maintain a healthy diet. A healthy meal will provide you with the required nutrients for the body.
2. Save Money
Meal planning can save you a lot of money if done right especially when you have a tight budget. There have been several times where money has been tight for us, and we needed to make sure we could still eat healthy food. With carefully planning meals, we were able to turn things around.
3. Save Time
Being a working mom, I am always looking for ways to save time and meal planning does just that for me. When you have a busy schedule, you can use a meal planner to plan your meals and do your meal prep for the week ahead. You can also cook in large batches and make extras to put in the freezer for those days where you are extremely busy, and you do not have time to make dinner.
4. Avoid Wasting Food
When we waste food, we are also throwing away our money. Think of how hard you had to work to earn every penny. On countless occasions, I have had bowls with leftover food, or vegetables and fruits left in the fridge, and I had to throw away because there were inedible. With carefully planning my meals, I can now take into consideration any leftovers, and I only shop for the items I need.
5. Eat Variety
With a busy schedule, you are more likely to eat the same food continuously if you have no meal planning system in place. Eating the same food over and over has been one of my most significant issues in the past. The cons of this, it may have nutritional gaps in one’s diet. When you meal plan, you can be sure to plan for something new every week thus making sure you have the essential nutrients and calories.
6. Reduces Stress
Imagine after having a stressful day at work only to come home and have an even more stressful day in your kitchen trying to make dinner for the family. There are side effects of stress on the body. So following the steps in this meal planning for beginners guide can help reduce some of the pressure you have trying to put good food on the table for the family.
Have a written meal plan and place in a visible area in your kitchen and it will take out the stress and the uncertainty of – “What will I cook for dinner tonight.” When you have kids, you have to worry about what they will eat continually. With a simple meal plan system in place, you won’t have to worry about that.
How I Plan Meals For A Week
This basic step-by-step guide will teach you how to create a weekly meal plan so you can be able to make budget-friendly and healthy meals like a pro for your family.
1) Check your Calendar
Before you start creating a basic meal plan for the week, it is crucial for you to check your calendar for the week. Check those activities that could interrupt your dinner time after work. Check if you have any appointments booked during the week or if you will be working late. Include these events into your weekly planner as a reminder as it will help you to create a meal plan that can accommodate your schedule and make it easy for you.
2) Schedule a Day
After checking your calendar, you need to pick a day and schedule for your menu planning. I wrote a post on time management where I mention about scheduling your day. It is essential to plan your day because it keeps you focused, so you know what you need to do at certain times.
I usually pick two days to do my menu planning, and I start on Friday after work or Saturday depending on what I have going for that week. If I have to plan my menu, go shopping and do meal prep all in one day, it will be extremely exhausting and too much work.
Break down the meal planning process throughout the weekend or on days you are off and tweak it depending on your schedule for that week. For me, on Friday after work, I would do an inventory of what is available and also clean out the fridge. I would also write out the menu for the week and pick a recipe.
On Saturday I could do grocery shopping and then on Sunday I meal prep. I usually alternate the days I do my shopping between Saturdays and Sundays. However, pick a day or two that works for you and schedule your meal planning.
3) Check for Leftovers
To avoid any food wasting, you want to make sure you incorporate any leftovers into your meal plan. Use an Inventory Planner (also included in the meal planning printable) and write down any leftover food you may still have left. Maybe you didn’t finish the cooked rice or still have some leftover chicken.
Write these down because when you are deciding on the number of meals you need to make, you will need to take into account any leftover food. Remember one of the benefits to meal plan is to avoid wasting food.
You could decide to serve any leftover food for breakfast or lunch depending on your preference for you and your family. Whatever the case make sure to include any leftover so that you don’t have to throw any food away.
4) Take Inventory
You need to take inventory of what you have so you don’t buy items that you already have in your pantry (cupboard). Check for things you already have in stock and plan your meals around those items. Doing an inventory before heading to the grocery store will save you money, and you will only be buying the items you need.
One of the things that made meal planning so easy was having to organize my kitchen. With an organized kitchen (cupboard) everything is more visible, so you do not have to waste time looking for items. Use an Inventory Planner (also included in the meal planning printable) and make a list of things you have in your cupboard, pantry, fridge or freezer.
You need to Clean out your fridge and cupboard to make space for the new items when you go grocery shopping. Meal planning can be a challenge when you have a disorganized cabinet or a cluttered fridge, as it will defeat the purpose of saving money because you may end up buying items you already have or products getting expired because it is not visible. Having a clutter-free cabinet means you will easily locate items for when you need them.
6) Decide on How Many Meals you Need
Now that you have checked your schedule and written down the activities that could affect your dinner time or the days you think you will not be able to cook dinner, decide on the number of meals you want to prepare for the week. I usually go for 2 meals a week.
If you plan on having takeout dinner or a night out, you should also write that down. Don’t forget to include any leftover food. I only plan for lunch on the days i am not at work, and I don’t need to worry about lunch meal for my toddler because he has his lunch at the daycare. I usually have a sandwich during lunch. However, if your kid takes lunch to school make sure you plan for that as well.
7) Pick Recipe
Hang on just a little bit more, and you will have for yourself a
You had previously checked your pantry for ingredients you already have so you have an idea of what is in stock and what you need to buy. You can research for recipes on the internet, or you can use Pinterest or cookbooks to find new recipes you can add to your collection.
Don’t try out a new recipe on a weeknight but aim to include one new method now and then so you can have a variety of meals.
Plan for a new recipe on days you are less busy, so you have enough time to experiment. For each recipe, make a mini shopping list so that you don’t forget the essential ingredient that needs to go into your dish.
8) Write Shopping List
You now have your recipe and a list of ingredients you already have at home. Use a Master Grocery List from the meal planning printable and make your shopping list. Write down the list of things you need to buy from the grocery shop. Take into consideration the mini shopping list you created for each recipe.
Don’t forget to include the list you created when you took an inventory of the things you have. Use both lists and cross off any items you already have so that you buy just what you need. Group like items on your shopping list together to save you time for when you go shopping. You want to avoid moving back and forth between aisle.
When you have a busy schedule, you want to make sure you only go shopping once a week to save you time. To avoid making regular trips to the supermarket, also plan for other household items. Check for any other items you may need like cleaning supplies, snacks, baby items, laundry detergents, and any other necessary items. Add these items to your grocery list and group like items together.
10) Get Organized
You want to make sure you have an organized system in place for reference. Print out several copies of your planner and have them organized in a binder folder. It will help you stay organized, and you will have a list of meals you can always use as a reference in the future.
Every week you can add a new recipe to your list of meals and have them organized in a folder. Being organized will keep you motivated, and before you realize, menu planning would be very easy and fun for you and your family.
11) Sales! Sales! Sales!
When you have a tight budget, you want to make sure you can still eat good food and not have to pinch into your savings. To save you money, always check your local market for any discounts or seasonal products and take advantage of the discounted prices.
You might have seasonal items on sale, and if there are non-perishable items, you may probably consider buying in bulk for future use. You can also check for grocery coupons or use offers from your local supermarkets. Take advantage of sales items and offers. It’s a great way to save you money.
You now have a meal plan for the week. So the next step is – Shopping! Isn’t that exciting? How easy was that? Now take your grocery list and do your shopping. Try not to buy spontaneously or pick items that you don’t need or didn’t plan. You can limit your trip to the grocery shop by also shopping online to save you time.
After you have done your shopping, the next thing is to meal prep. If you will like to know how you can meal prep like a boss? Let me know. Go ahead and download your FREE Meal Planning Printable and start meal planning like a Lean Boss.
What are your tips on meal planning, and how do you meal plan? Please leave your comments below.
Welcome! I’m Mariette and a mom to a toddler. While trying to improve my life, manage my home and time, I will also like to help you do the same. I am passionate about inspiring other moms to get organize and simplify their life so they can thrive at motherhood and work. Learn more –>