Seriously, I cannot be the only mom out there who gets stressed out by the idea of meal planning, or adding one more thing to the quickly growing mommy-do list.
Meal planning used to be this whole big stressful event of having 23 tabs open in my web browser trying to find recipes with ingredients I’ve actually heard of and can afford, trying to understand this extreme couponing thing (there’s a post idea for later), and trying to determine which local grocery store has the best sales. Talk about too much going on at one time.
Then, once I finally have my grocery list and came home from shopping, there’s the meal prepping to do. The to-do list seemingly never ends. By the time I was done shopping with my screaming newborn baby (I love her and have no problem with taking her, but she refuses a bottle so grocery trips are a race against the clock), I would be so tired and say, “just forget it, I’m done” on the meal prep.
But without the meal planning, in my house, we get an endless cycle of nobody knows what they want for dinner and it’s 8pm before we make a decision, so we eat fast food.
If you can relate to any part of what I just said, then you have come to the right place! I have put together a step by step guide to take the stress out of meal planning.
What is meal planning?
Meal planning is when you ask yourself, “What’s for dinner” once a week instead of every day, so that when your husband asks, “What’s for dinner” every day (every morning, I should say), you can respond with something other than, “I dunno babe, whatchu in the mood for?”
Why should you meal plan?
1. Saves you time
2. Saves you money
3. Lowers your stress
4. You can plan to eat healthier
5. It leaves you feel more productive
How do you start meal planning?
First, you need to take an inventory of what you already have in your pantry, fridge and freezer. If you want to save money, and prevent accidentally rebuying an item that you hardly ever use, don’t skip this step!
I know this sounds a bit extra, but the good news is that this should only be super time consuming once. After the initial go around, you’ll only have minor adjustments to make going forward.
Next, decide on your budget. Are you going to be able to eat a huge juicy steak or ramen noodles this week? Or is your budget somewhere in the middle?
After you’ve set your spending limit, decide how much food you want to prep. Do you want enough extra food for hubby to take for lunch at work, enough food for dinner next week in the form of freezer meals or dinner for just this one night. (If you’re reading this post because the word “lazy” in the title spoke to your soul, then I would suggest the freezer meal option so you can slave away in the kitchen a little less often. Don’t worry, no judgement here!)
Okay, next step. How far into the future do you want to plan? My husband and I hate shopping and also we are on a budget now that I stay at home, so we find it best to meal plan two weeks out (aka, once per pay period). But you might choose to plan weekly or even monthly if you’re just that ambitious. I am definitely not.
And if you’re as on a budget as we are, then next you’ll probably want to glance through local newspaper coupons, couponing apps and grocery store flyers to check for great deals on meats, produce, etc.
Now, you’re ready to start planning recipes and a grocery list. This is the fun part. When you plan, you might consider the weather or your busy schedule. For example, if Monday will be really cold, then I’d probably plan for soup or hot sandwiches. If Wednesday you’ll be busy until 7pm, I’d suggest maybe an Instant Pot recipe (if you don’t have one of these, I highly suggest it) or some kind of quick and easy dinner. You might also want to consider planning theme nights like “Taco Tuesday” or “Fishy Friday”. On Sundays, we always do a crock pot meal. So, “slow-cook Sunday” as it’s been called. We do this so that when we get out of church, we can immediately eat and not spend money eating out with the crowds.
After you come back from the grocery store, I would suggest some light meal prep. Completely optional, though. Usually I will just portion meats down to meal sizes before freezing. You could go one step further and dice up your veggies too, but I usually just portion the meats because we buy in bulk. And it’s a whole lot easier to thaw one pound of ground beef than to thaw 5 pounds, cut what I need and freeze it back.
So, hopefully this guide was very helpful and if you have any additional tips you like to add, please leave those in the comments below! And I’d love to know, what are your favorite meal plan recipes? Leave those in the comments section also!