I have always been an organized person, but when I found myself living on my own, I began meal planning. I was shocked at how much food I threw out each week due to rotting. I hated seeing good food go to waste and seeing my money go in the trash. Now, I have seen the eye rolls and heard the “I could never do that” comments, but planning meals is really not as complicated or time consuming as it seems. The money you save by focussing on what you purchase, the satisfaction of not throwing out rotten food, and the ease of weekday dinners is well worth the effort of meal planning. I am going to walk you through how I meal plan in the hopes that it can help especially as you may be looking at meeting certain health and financial goals with your New Year’s resolutions.
I sit down on Thursday evening with a cup of tea or a glass of wine, and spend an hour planning my meals from the coming Saturday to the following Saturday. I do my grocery shopping on Friday evening since the sale items are still fully stocked and the grocery store isn’t as busy at 8pm on a Friday night. (I recommend doing your planning the night before your normal grocery trip.) You can go old school and do your meal plan on paper, but I keep everything in my phone and use an app called “Meal Board”. If you choose paper, I recommend making a box for each day of the week and write breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
First, know your pantry. Check your fridge, freezer and cabinets to see if there are any basics that need restocking. I usually add items to my list as I notice we are running low such as milk, eggs, peanut butter; but I do double check when I make my grocery list to ensure I don’t forget anything. Also, check for any items you have that need to be used up and incorporate that into your meal plan. For example, I had goat cheese and cherry tomatoes in the fridge that needed to be used up. So, I added goat cheese to the tossed salads for lunch; and for dinner, mixed cherry tomatoes and onions in a saucepan with beef tortellini. I also had pork chops and diced cooked chicken in the freezer, so I didn’t need to purchase any meat for that week.
Next, know your budget. I check the flyers for my local grocery stores as my Superstore does price match, and I review the points available for certain items to build up my cashback. I plan my meals based on what food stuffs are on sale. For example, Olivieri tortellini was on sale for $4.99 when its normal cost is $7 so I knew that would be a good dinner choice for the week. And since it was the beginning of the month and I wasn’t buying any meat that week, I bought 2 tortellini packages and froze one of them. However, don’t buy something just because it is on sale; buy it because you will use it that week and ensure you aren’t overextending your budget.
Lastly, know yourself. Check your schedule for the week. We had our Bible Study on Wednesday and I had an evening physio appointment on Friday, so I knew I wanted easy leftovers for those days. My husband was going to be off-site at work, so he needed lunches that didn’t require reheating. I do most of my meal prep on the weekend since my baby keeps me busy and won’t always give me time to prepare a proper meal during the week. On Sunday, I cut up the vegetables for salads and stirfrys, roast chickpeas, make the tortellini stirfry, and cook rice. I put the veggies for the stirfry and the cooked rice into the freezer to ensure they stay fresh. In fact, I put most of our end-of-the-week meals into the freezer in case we have more leftovers than I anticipated or we get invited for a meal out with friends. This prevents food from spoiling and stocks my freezer with extra meals.
But most important about knowing yourself and meal planning is knowing what you can handle. During the first couple of weeks with the baby, I could barely find the time to eat much less to plan meals. We just stocked up on the very basics (bagels, freezer pizzas, pre-cut veggie trays, apples, spaghetti) and replenished as needed. So be forgiving if you’ve had a busy couple of weeks. Also, don’t think that planning meals means you have to try new meals or more complex meals. Your meal plan could have chicken fingers every Thursday for dinner, and peanut butter sandwiches for lunch every day. The point of the meal plan is to make less stress for yourself. I feel less stressed when I don’t have to open my cabinet each night and wonder what to make for dinner; and I have found we order less fast food when we have healthy, yummy meals ready to eat in the fridge.
I have included below, a snapshot of my meal plan for the week of January 2 2015 plus the accompanying grocery list on my MealBoard app. Happy planning and happy eating!