Meal planning is a great way to manage your food intake and your budget. Without a plan, I eat out a lot and tend to lose track of the budget. It is a slippery slope to my old ways of eating-convenient and crappy! Most families are on the go a lot and struggle with getting healthy food on the table. A busy AND healthy life necessitates a plan.
First, decide how often you think you will be grocery shopping. It may take you a while to get in a good groove. So be patient and work on it until you find a good routine. Once you decide on a length of time, then you can begin planning. I have settled into a variable 7-10 day routine for my grocery trips.
I will look at my calendar to see what we have planned for the next 7-10 days to develop a plan. I’ll also consider appointments, meetings, and which day I need to shop. For example, if I have an appointment that will interfere with dinner prep, I’ll try to plan a meal that is either made in the crock pot or grilled. If I can’t plan another grocery trip for another 8 days, then I look at my calendar and plan what we’re eating for each meal until the next trip. Some people prefer a monthly routine, only returning to the grocery store for produce and perishables. I discourage this because it’s easy for your meals to become box and can based when you shop this way. If it’s the only way you can work it in your schedule and operate on a plan-then that is better than no plan!
Some things to consider when meal planning:
1. Breakfast & lunch
2. Side dishes for dinner
4. How you can use leftovers from a previous meal (for example I make roast chicken and then make white chicken chili for another meal with leftover chicken-2 totally different meals)
5. Making extra of dishes you can pack for lunch or work into another meal (for example, if you make rice as a side dish, make extra and then make bean and rice burritos another night; and another idea is baking extra sweet potatoes to have leftovers for lunch or grill extra meat to make a salad for lunch the next day)
6. Have a fall-back meal. Mine is egg omelets and bacon. We always keep bacon, eggs and veggies on hand. Your fall back should be something you can easily whip up without much time or any shopping.
Try not to let yourself get overwhelmed. A little planning goes a long way. At first you might need to put notes on your calendar to remind you what you need to prep ahead. Marinades, sauces and dressings can often be made the night before to save time when you get home from work. I usually work at least one egg based meal and one bean based meal into our week to decrease costs. Another thing that has helped me is moving past the “3 dish plate.” Maybe it’s a Southern thing-but I always felt like there must be three things on my plate! Let me tell you a secret: it isn’t true! Yippee! How freeing is that?! I finally broke out of the habit of the three dish plate and have made up my mind that if I only have time and money for two nutritious dishes-IT’S OKAY.
I hope these are some helpful hints to get you started meal planning. I also suggest traveling with your own food because fast food is expensive on your budget and on your body (more later).
Next time you grocery shop, take a list with your meal plan out to the side and read those labels!