Save Time & Money with Meal Planning
by Christy Shingleton, Community Branch Manager
Meal planning can seem tedious, boring, even overwhelming. And it can be. If you let it. However, there is also a lot of joy to be found in meal planning. I save money and time, and I eat better. Plus, I’m not bored by the food on my table. What’s not to love about that? Working full-time with a baby at home, I haven’t perfected the whole meal planning thing, but here are a few of tips and tricks that have helped make it easier and more efficient for me.
8 Ideas for Easier Meal Planning
Schedule some time weekly or monthly to plan meals
I meal plan monthly with freezer meals, but when life gets in the way, sometimes I resort to a weekly plan. Pick what works best for you and your family. There’s no right or wrong here!
Prep freezer meals
I discovered the concept of freezer meals when I was seven months pregnant. Wanting that first month with a newborn to go as smoothly as possible, I googled “freezer meals” and found some that looked good. I chose three different plans, a total of 20 meals. Having already stocked up on freezer bags and sharpies (must-haves!), I got to work. It was a long 4 hours, but at the end, I had 20 bags full of crockpot-ready meals in the freezer. When my son was born, we simply thawed three of the premade meals per week, tossed them in the slow-cooker and voila! Dinner done! Worth noting: if you meal plan monthly, shop on one day and build the meals the next. I’ve done it all at one time, and it’s a bit overwhelming.
Find your best way to organize
Meal planning wouldn’t be complete without a way to organize your plan. We use an app called AnyList* and it has changed my meal planning life! You can import your favorite recipes from all over the internet, type in your go-to recipes, and then choose which ones to add to the meal planning calendar, which then generates a customized grocery list. We started using AnyList for its grocery list sharing function, but quickly upgraded to the meal planning and recipe version. It’s so convenient! I can throw recipes on a calendar while I’m waiting at the doctor’s office, mark what we need from the store, and have my husband pick up the ingredients on his way home from work. But you way doesn’t have to be hi-tech; if old-fashioned pen-and-paper work for you, go for it!*The AnyList app is iPhone only, but you can access the service via a web browser as well.
Pick a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday to be meal prep time
You’ve got your plan, now let’s make it happen. Batch cooking can be so helpful! Even before I did freezer meals, I would batch cook on Sunday afternoons, taking a four-pack of chicken, prepping four different seasonings, then wrapping each chicken breast in aluminum foil. Throw them all in the oven in one casserole dish and, just like that, a variety of chicken dinners. Add some quinoa or rice, maybe a few veggies, and you’re set for the week! You can even prep lunches for work or school.
Create a theme for each night of the week
For us, Sundays are casserole night, as we have more time at home to bake it. On Mondays, we have pasta, followed by Taco Tuesday. Each Wednesday, we have chicken, and so on. Just vary the type of casserole, pasta, or other choices each week. Mondays don’t have to be shrimp scampi; it can be spaghetti and meatballs one week, chicken alfredo the next.
Keep your pantry stocked
Keep basics on hand so that if you fall short in your planning, you’ll still have a few back-up meals ready to go. We always keep pasta, sauce, and beans on our shelves (beans are a great filling addition to any meal, and pasta is superfast), as well as potatoes and the fixings for a baked potato bar.
Use what you have first
I’m a huge fan of rotating foods in your pantry. Don’t let that can of black beans sit there for a year. They are delicious! Find ways to move through your inventory to keep foods fresh. And while this isn’t directly related to meal planning, it’s worth mentioning: keep a shelf in your refrigerator set aside for leftovers and foods that expire soon! Use that shelf as a planning assistant – what can I do with those limes I haven’t used yet? How can I use that sour cream up? Hmm…
When you can, plan around supermarket sales
I love the idea of planning meals around what is on sale. I don’t always have time for it, but if you do time, all the better! Make it part of your planning time each week. Sit down with the sales flyers, and go to town!
The beauty of meal planning is that by being efficient, you can save an obscene amount of time and money. It’s well worth it to me to do that few hours on the front end and then have meals for an entire month. Even if you can’t bring yourself to invest that prep time, or if you run out of freezer meals like me (before you restock), you can create an efficient meal plan just by consistently using the tools that work for you and focusing on keeping organized. When it comes to time and money, every little bit helps. And when you add those benefits together with a delicious, home-cooked meal, what’s not to love?
Questions about other strategies to stretch your dollars further? Check out more posts on our Financial Insights blog! If you’d like to speak one-on-one with one of our team of financial coaches, email us to set up an appointment.