Meal planning saves you time, stress, and money
It’s 4:30 p.m., your stomach just made that first awkward grumble, and you realize that you don’t have anything in the house for dinner. What do you do? Order in? Pop by the grocery store for ingredients? Scrounge up the last few wilted pieces of lettuce from the bottom of the crisper, try to make a salad, and then decide to go out to eat? These may be the easy solutions, but they are hard on the wallet. Meal planning is a great way to save time, stress, and money.
Plan your week
When I talk about meal planning, I’m not talking about spending your whole weekend cutting up veggies and portioning out lunch and dinner in bento boxes in the fridge. Although you can certainly do that too. There’s lots of inspiration on Pinterest.
What I’m talking about is sitting down for 20 minutes before grocery day and planning out what meals you will make for the week ahead. Then, writing out a grocery note that includes your staples and the ingredients you will need for your weekly meals.
For example, my meal plan consists of seven days, taking into consideration my schedule on those days and the time I will have to prepare dinner. If I’m working late, I’ll plan for something quick. If it’s the weekend and I have lots of prep time, I’ll plan for something bigger.
Flyers are your friend
The price tags at the grocery store continue to rise, so it’s more important than ever to read those sale flyers. When I sit down to make my meal plan each week, I use the sale flyers, especially for produce and protein, as the base of my planning.
Pack a lunch
One of the easiest ways to stay on budget is to brown bag your dinner leftovers for lunch. It’s quick and easy to grab a sandwich at the coffee shop next door for $5. But over a week or a month, those $5 sandwiches can add up significantly.
Reduce food waste
The other thing I always consider is: how can I stretch my perishable ingredients to save money and reduce food waste? The number one thing you can do is choose dishes that share ingredients across the week. Instead of buying 750g of Greek yogurt for a dish that calls for two tablespoons and pushing the rest to the back of the fridge to go moldy, plan for ways to use the rest of the yogurt this week. Reducing food waste is increasingly important as environmental factors affect crop yield and inflation affects the cost of food.
One of the biggest places I unintentionally overspend is that quick trip to the grocery store in the middle of the week to pick up something for dinner when I’ve forgotten to thaw whatever protein I’d planned to make. When I get to the store, I always grab more than I need and pay full price for things that may have been on sale earlier in the week. And, because those ingredients are not on the meal plan, I often end up with produce leftover that gets composted.
When I talk about reducing food waste on my meal plan, I am primarily talking about produce, dairy, and protein. Pantry staples like grains, tinned goods, herbs and spices, and shelf-stable condiments will keep over multiple weeks.
I also freeze a lot of my protein – that way I can buy it when it’s on sale and have it stored away for the coming weeks. You can get several meals out of one pork shoulder that is on sale for $1.99 per pound if you portion it out and freeze it. This isn’t an ad for a vacuum sealer but, dang, I love my Food Saver.
The bottom line
I know what you might be thinking: meal planning is time-consuming and how can I possibly know what I’ll want to eat Friday on Monday?
The truth is, it will take time to get used to meal planning, but if you plan out your week and share ingredients across dishes, you’ll be able to make your plan flexible. I often find myself switching up a Monday and a Wednesday here and there and reordering my plan based on which meal looks best to me that day. But, because I have shopped with the whole week in mind, I have all the ingredients on hand to make those small changes.
Of course, you need to make it work for you if you want to stick with it. But when 4:30 p.m. comes around and you already know that there’s a delicious chicken Caesar salad in your future and it will only take 20 minutes when you get home, you’ll be happy you did it.