You’ve heard me say it before but, I’m going to say it again for anyone new here. I hate cooking. In fact, I hate everything that has to do with feeding people. The shopping, putting the groceries away, cooking the food, cleaning up after them. It’s not my bag. But, being prepared does reduce the amount of time that I have to invest. And, having the easiest meal plan ever makes things even better.
It used to be that, every night after work, I would stop by the store and grab whatever sounded good. Then, I would come home and cook it. Or, better yet, I would stop at a restaurant and grab food that was already prepared.
But, then our son got sick and I decided to quit work to stay home with him and our monthly income got cut by $5,000. That was a big hit and we needed to figure out how to get control of our spending so that we could pay all of our bills.
Like most households implementing a budget for the first time, we learned that the biggest expense (outside of rent/mortgage) was food.
Once we cut back the grocery budget I had to figure how to make the whole process easier on myself. Here I was faced with doing a task every night that I absolutely hated. Plus, I had to be on a budget to do it! Enter meal planning. It was a total game changer and I’m so happy that I stumbled onto it.
What is meal planning?
The basic idea with meal planning is that you choose a specific window of time i.e, seven days or 14 days. Then, you choose which meals you are going to prepare during that window. For instance, are you going to meal plan for just dinners or for breakfast and dinner, etc.
Then, you start to plug recipes into the days of the week for you chosen meals. So, for a seven-day window that covers breakfast and dinner, you would choose seven breakfast recipes and seven dinner recipes.
Finally, you hit the store and buy all of the ingredients that you need for those recipes that you have chosen. After I get into it, the whole process was actually really simple.
It’s a very systematic and organized way to approach meal preparation and that really jives with how I do things. At first, I thought of meal planning as more for people who were sick or overweight.
I mean, the actual definition of meal planning says a guideline for controlling the aspects of what one eats especially for diabetes and other diseases affected by food intake.
But, after a little bit of reading and research, I found that meal planning is just a smart way to save money and spend less time on preparing food for my family to eat. Who wouldn’t love that!
Why is it important to have a meal plan?
For me, a meal plan is important because it keeps me organized. I work at home and I only grocery shop on the weekends. When you work freelance, if you’re not at your computer logging time, you’re not getting paid.
So, it’s not so easy for me to just run down to the store and grab something for dinner. And, just because I work from home doesn’t mean that I want to head out to the grocery store when I’m finally done for the day at 5 pm.
Creating a meal plan gives me peace of mind that I have everything that I need to make meals for my family and, I don’t have to answer “what’s for dinner?” because the menu is on the fridge and they can look at it themselves.
Now, real talk, there are plenty of times when I fall off the wagon and don’t make a meal plan. Whether it’s because I didn’t feel like it or, no wait, that’s pretty much it, I didn’t feel like it.
I’m not saying that once you start meal planning you never go back. I’m just saying that when you do use it, it helps.
Does Meal Planning Save Time?
Meal planning saves time in a number of ways. First, the grocery shopping takes way less time (more on that later). With a meal plan and a grocery list, I know exactly what I need to get from the store and I don’t have to wander up and down the seasoning aisle to figure out what I should buy to make the pork loin that’s in my basket.
It’s all pre-researched, written down on the list, and all I have to do is pick it up and buy it. Second, meal planning saves time with the actual preparing of the food.
Since all of the meals on my menu are pre-researched, they are usually 30 minutes or less to prepare. And, I design it that way on purpose. I specifically choose meals that will take 30 minutes or less to get on the table. I don’t stand in front of the pantry trying to think about what I can make with a can of black beans and some breadcrumbs.
Third, meal planning saves money when it comes to deep cleaning the kitchen because I rarely have old food in the fridge, freezer or pantry. I’ve bought the ingredients that needed for the recipes I’ve chosen … and I used them.
How much money can you save meal planning?
One of the coolest things about meal planning is that it really does save money. I can build the plan based on the meat sales that the different stores in our area are having.
So, if there is a sale on pork, I’m going to have at least four meals on the menu that call for pork. And, I’m going to specifically look for recipes that contain pork.
Since I am always looking for quick and easy meals, that usually means fewer ingredients too. So, that saves money because the recipe just calls for a few things.
And, since I’m on a mission when I’m grocery shopping, I’m not wandering up and down the aisles waiting to be inspired, I spend a lot less on stuff that looked good but, I never cooked.
Meal planning for weight loss
The best advice that anyone can give you when it comes to losing weight or staying on a diet is “prepare your food”. Inevitably, you will get hungry while you’re dieting. And, you will get so hungry that you will lose your self-control and eat something that is convenient or that you are craving.
But, if you have your meals planned and you have all of the ingredients in your home to make them, it is way easier to stay on your diet.
I don’t necessarily meal plan for weight loss but, I have some dietary restrictions so, I eat a different meal than the rest of my family. With meal planning, it’s super easy and inexpensive to make two different meals at dinnertime.
Tips to make meal planning easier
When I first started meal planning, it was like starting a new job. I didn’t know what I was doing, I was tired at the end of the day, and overwhelmed with all of the tips and hacks.
It would have been great if someone would have told me how to keep it simple and just gain a little momentum. I mean, I jumped headfirst into freezer meals, once a month meal planning, and a whole list of recipes that I was never going to cook and my family was never going to eat.
So, from a veteran meal planner who hates cooking, here are my tips for the easiest meal plan ever:
This is something that I have just started doing but it’s been a game-changer. I’m actually saving more money because I am building the shopping cart online right next to the meal planning.
So, if I add something to the menu and then go to the online cart to add the ingredients but, one of the ingredients it really spendy, I switch the recipe.
Plus, I’m not actually driving to the store and pushing the cart up and down the aisles. I just wait until they text me that my order is ready and I drive down to the pick-up lot and they load the *** into my car!
It’s pretty amazing and I’ve been recommending it to anyone who will listen.
So, my recommendation here is to make sure that you look for recipes that are 30-minutes or less. I’m not kidding about this one. It made all the difference for me.
Obviously, during the summer when barbeque is the preferred way to cook dinner, it’s much easier. But, during all of the other months of the year, look for Crockpot, InstantPot, air fryer, and 30 minutes or less meals. Make it simple on yourself.
And, don’t forget to line the crockpot with foil if you’re going to go that route. It will seriously save you some time on the cleanup.
Set a budget
This is a must for your meal plan. The whole reason that you are even starting to meal plan is that you want to save money and avoid being in the kitchen any longer than you have to be.
When you set a budget for your meal plan it helps to hold you accountable to that goal. You have boundaries that you have to stay within.
Plus, it gives you a challenge to try and beat next time. Remember, the more you save on groceries each month the more that goes into your savings account so that you can reach financial goals.
So, it’s a big deal to set a budget and stick with it.
When you’re first starting out you might be worried about making sure that all of the recipes that you’re adding to the menu have enough nutrition.
Plus, what happens if you go off script and make something new that your kids won’t eat? You’re making peanut butter sandwiches just to make sure they have some food in their belly.
That’s where Juice Plus can be a serious mother’s helper. You can have the peace of mind that you and your kids are getting plenty of nutrition while you get your bearings with this new meal planning thing.
Cut yourself some slack. Meal planning can be seriously overwhelming and totally seem not worth the effort. But, if you narrow your scope and just work on making the easiest meal plan ever, you’ll notice the benefits right away and be a meal planner for life.
What’s the one thing that you think about when you hear meal planning?