Years ago, I was the type of girl who’d arrive home from work somewhere between 6-8pm, stare into the black hole that was our refrigerator, and figure out what we were going to eat for dinner based on whatever was inside. There wasn’t a plan in place, no thought had been given to the meal beforehand, and it resulted in a lot of “I dunno, what do you want to eat?” “I don’t care, let’s order pizza!” – conversations in my household.
As life became busier and there were more considerations to work around, such as when both my husband and I began college while still working full-time, I started to realize the value of a meal plan. We then had both of our work schedules to schedule around, plus study groups and night classes, and I had zero desire to resort to takeout or fast food every time we needed to eat quickly. A rough meal plan began to take shape, and I tried to become more organized by keeping a running shopping list as the week progressed, and finding new inspiration for meals. I had always loved to cook, but in the hustle and bustle of life while we were building our careers, dinner became getting something yummy on the table as soon as possible.
When I began making a meal plan, I noticed some improvements immediately. I began shopping more purposefully, instead of throwing whatever sounded good or was on sale into my cart and trying to make meals out of whatever I had purchased. We also began spending less money on takeout and pizza.
In the years thereafter, our life changed even more. We moved to a new state, started over with new jobs and schedules, changed schools, had a child. The meal plan became even more essential — it grounded our family time, finances, and eating habits. It allowed me to make the nights that we would actually eat dinner together special, as my husband and I were attending school different nights of the week and wouldn’t be together each weeknight. It allowed me to stock our freezer with meals before having our son, which became invaluable after an unplanned C-section and the subsequent recovery.
A meal plan needn’t be super complicated, but sketching out an idea of what your family is doing each week and therefore, planning meals that work into that schedule, is smart to do. For instance, if your child has soccer practice on Tuesday nights, don’t plan a meal that involves lengthy prep time. Save your sanity and plan a slow cooker meal that can cook all day and be ready to serve when you get home. These are the considerations to take into account when making your meal plan.
Shopping in bulk is a good way to save some time and money as well. For items used frequently, you may be better off getting those foods in large quantities at a place like Costco, Sam’s Club, Amazon, or Jet. Find what works for you, shop around for the best prices, and divide out your purchases accordingly. I have a list of things that I purchase frequently from Costco, and if I always have some chicken and ground beef on hand, I have a nice basis for some meal planning.
My last tip is in regards to the frequency of your meal planning. I’ve tried a lot of different methods over the years, and have had ultimate success with weekly meal planning. For time, sanity, and productivity reasons, I don’t want to be at the grocery store several times a week. But, when I made a meal plan and grocery shopped for more than a week, I had less success with keeping fresh foods fresh, and throwing out a bunch of produce that’s gone bad is not conducive to my meal planning and budgeting efforts. A week is the magic ticket for our family to restock on fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, possibly eggs, other pantry staples, bread, lunchmeat, and cheeses. I tend to shop at Costco once a month or so, to restock on bulk purchases there, such as chicken, beef, butter, cereal, applesauce, and eggs. When deciding what to purchase in bulk for your family, compare cost per unit, price, and take into consideration how quickly you’ll use the item. We go through a lot of eggs in my household, for instance, so purchasing the two dozen organic cage free egg pack at Costco for $6.99 is a good buy.
Good luck with your meal planning endeavors!