Are you tired of scrambling for last minute dinner ideas or overspending on unhealthy takeout? Or maybe you are just plain sick of the stress around “What are we doing for dinner?” If you are looking for how to get started with meal planning, we have five easy tips to help you ease into this time and money saving routine.
Whether you are a parent juggling multiple daily to-do’s, a busy professional, or simply someone looking to eat better and save money, meal planning is an essential skill to develop if you want to eat well consistently and save money on food…both good things right??
And if you have never embraced the planning side of things before, you will be amazed at how much peace this can bring to your week. It might seem a bit daunting, but it doesn’t need to be. Truly it doesn’t!
The key is to start. Start small and maybe try one of these tips this week. It does take time to establish a new routine (66 days, according to recent research), so be patient with yourself as you try to bring this worthwhile money saving routine into your week.
Step 1: Schedule a Dedicated Time Each Week
The first step in getting organized is to allocate dedicated time to do it. This might be a Sunday morning, afternoon, or any other day that suits your schedule. By intentionally carving out time to put together your plan, you’ll set yourself up so it becomes a habit rather than an afterthought or something you meant to do but never quite got around to it.
As you are getting started, allow yourself an hour to 90 minutes to pull your plan together (we will get to how to do this below). Put it on your calendar and let your family know as well.
Step 2: Start Slowly
When you are starting something new, taking small steps towards your goal will help you step by step. Instead of overwhelming yourself, plan for just two or three meals in the first week. On the remaining nights, consider having a “no-cook” night, as we discussed in our previous blog post, Tip #9.
The key here is to initiate the process. Simplicity is the goal in the beginning.
the rabbit hole of scrolling through endless pages of recipes on large websites or Pinterest, but try
your best to resist this urge.
Step 3: Select Meals that Work for the Whole Family
We often say at The Dinner Daily, “One Family, One Dinner.”
Before you dive into your plan for the week, make sure you are selecting meals that will work everyone’s needs. If you have allergies in your family or know your picky eater will refuse certain foods, then take that into account when pulling together your plan. Don’t fall into the trap of making more than one meal per night.
One of the major benefits of planning your meals is reducing stress and saving time. You definitely don’t want to be cooking multiple meals to satisfy everyone’s taste each night and, in the process, become a short-order cook. That will only lead to more stress and money spent.
Step 3: Look at Your Schedule First, then Plan
Now that you have blocked off the time for the planning, decided on the two to three nights you need to plan for (remember we are starting small to start), and have selected your meals, it’s time to get your cooking nights on your calendar. This might seem a bit like over-planning, but this is a crucial step for success.
First, consider nights you won’t be home or other commitments. Ask your spouse what their calendar looks like, and review your kids’ schedules. Plan what meals go with what days depending on how things look. For instance, if you know you will have a crazy day at work or will be working a bit late, that might be the day you plan the slow cooker meal or the easy make-ahead dinner. Conversely, if there is a day during your week, no one has any commitments, and everyone will be home, that might be the night you plan for the oven baked meal or the skillet meal that requires more active cooking time at the stovetop.
It also will save you the frustration of having cooked dinner only to realize “I won’t be home until later” or “I have an evening group project, and I won’t be home.”
It is all these small details that don’t really take a lot of extra effort, but really can be the difference in making your plan work and your weeknights easier.
Step 4: Create a Shopping List
With your meal plan in hand, it’s time to create a shopping list for your store. Review each recipe and jot down the necessary ingredients, organizing them by department. This will make your time in the store go so much faster and also prevent costly impulse purchases. Make sure you also note how much you need for each ingredient so you don’t overbuy (leading to food waste) or not buy enough (leading to another trip to the store and often costly impulse purchases).
Walking into the store with ripped out pages of a magazine for your weekly meals on multiple pages is not the way to go here. It takes too much time in the store and often results in backtracking from aisle to aisle. Having an organized shopping list by department might seem like a simple little thing, but it makes a massive difference in time and money savings.
Step 5: If Time Allows, Prep Ahead of Time
If you have some extra time on the weekend or at the beginning of the week, we highly recommend doing some prep before the week starts. Wash your veggies in advance and chop them as needed for the recipe. For instance, if you will need chopped onions or bell peppers this week, get that out of the way in advance. Store them in airtight containers in the fridge, and then they are ready to go when you are. It makes such a difference in reducing stress during the dinner hour!
Our members often tell us that the chopping of veggies at the end of the day is a stressful task, and one of the main reasons they turn to a less than healthy dinner option. If that is you, remove the friction and get this out of the way at the beginning of the week
If you have more time, you could even cook some of your dinners in advance and freeze them or store them in the fridge so they are ready to go when you are.
Although you don’t need to do the prep in advance if this sounds overwhelming (remember our simplicity goal) but it will save you precious time when things get busy and chaotic and keep you on track with your goals of eating healthy and saving money.
Take the First Step
Meal planning really can make your life easier and healthier. From better eating habits and spending less at the grocery store to reduced decision fatigue, meal planning opens the door to more organized weeknights. It also means more quality family time around the table and better family memories in the years to come. So, grab a pen, start with Step #1 above, and get ready to enjoy the incredible rewards of being organized with your meals.
Want some help with meal planning? You can also have us create a ready to go plan that will work for your whole family (and based on the sales at your store). You can try it out for free for two weeks HERE.