Lack of planning can lead to spending a lot of money on food, throwing food away, and feeling stressed about what meals you’re going to eat that day.
The thing is, we want to be proactive instead of reactive.
Deciding each day what to eat instead of planning in advance takes up a lot of our mental capacity.
In this article, I’ll let you know why you should plan out meals and how to meal plan in 9 easy steps.
What Is Meal Planning?
Meal planning is simply where you plan out what meals you’ll be making and eating in advance.
It doesn’t mean creating a menu fit for a fancy restaurant but rather working out what you and your household will be eating.
Even when you aren’t properly using a meal plan, you will be eating meals and buying food.
If you’re going to be eating and shopping anyway, you might as well do so in the best way to save you money and time.
Why Is Meal Planning Important? (Benefits of Meal Prep)
1. Saving Money
Meal planning can be a huge money-saving activity for you to start up.
When you plan meals, you save money and make your life easier in the long run.
If you are buying food without having a clear weekly meal plan of what you are going to use it for and by when this can end up in the food being thrown out.
Start your own meal plans save money because you know exactly what you need to buy, which means no buying food just because it’s there.
It will also save you money because you will cut back on eating out and buying food when you think you don’t have anything in the house.
2. Save Time
Meal planning saves you time in the long run. You save time on busy weeknights when you’ve planned and bough exactly what you need from the grocery store.
The first time that you do it, it may take you a bit of time while you work out what to do. After that, you’ll find it much quicker and easier the base work is set.
You won’t have to think about what you are going to be eating each day and panic over not having anything in or prepared.
3. Healthy Eating (Eat out less!)
When making last-minute meal plans, chances are that we aren’t going to pick healthy recipes!
I know some of you are exhausted by the end of the day, and cooking a healthy dinner sounds like too much effort compared to getting takeout.
It can also be hard to see the overall picture of what you are eating when you are just looking at it on a day-to-day basis.
When you’re planning for a week (or longer), you can plan healthy meals and get exactly what you need at the store- no extras.
One of the healthy hacks that has stuck with me is that canned veggies and fruits last longer and are just as healthy.
Canned beans? They’re easy and mostly pre-cooked, so they take way less time to cook.
Fruit cups? They’re always on my grocery list, so I don’t have to cut fruit all the time.
4. Prevent Food Waste
When you don’t plan your meals, this is when you are most likely to have a lot of food waste.
Your grocery list should have fresh fruit and veggies and meats when possible, but I know some stuff goes bad quickly.
They need to be eaten by a certain date, and you probably don’t have a very long time to do this.
If you aren’t planning what you’re eating and going to the grocery store regularly, this is when you can end up with food that goes bad.
5. Reduce Life Stress
Planning anything, in general, will lead to a lot less stress. Stress can come from having a lot of things to do, that comes at you at once.
When you are reacting to things instead of being proactive, things can get on top of you really quickly.
Having a lot of things to do at once isn’t fun for everyone, and then if you add in the kids asking you what they’re having to eat – stress levels can rise.
6. Keep The Family Happy
I’m sure that a high priority on your list for life is to make sure that your family is happy.
What are some ways that you can keep your family happy? We think:
- Spending more time with family members
- Feeding them good food
- Having less stress and being organized/having a good routine
- Giving them a consistent routine to rely on
How Meal Planning Saves Money
Meal planning saves money because you won’t be buying whatever catches your eye.
If you know what you are going to be eating, then there will be no need to have to make extra trips to the shop to get something to eat.
When you know the meals that you need, you can buy the food just for those meals and not buy extra that will end up costing a lot of money.
When you are on a budget, it’s more important than ever to make sure that you are meal planning.
The reason for this is that you’ll be able to see how much your food is costing you and make any changes if necessary.
You can break down how much the meals you have planned will cost you and see how much money is in your food budget overall.
9 Steps For How To Meal Plan
1. Decide how many meals you need
The first step is deciding how many meals you need to meal plan for.
This is where things will vary based on your family and how often you want to go to grocery stores.
For example, you may want to go every week, every 2 weeks, or every month (these are the most common).
You’ll also have to think about how often your family eats and whether they’ll be getting any meals elsewhere that you don’t need to buy for, e.g., food at Grandma, at friends, or at sporting events.
2. Get a meal-planning template
Once you know the number of meals you’ll need to make, it’s time to get a meal planning template to get started.
I suggest starting with the weekly meal planner and taking it one week at a time and getting it ready to fill in with meal ideas.
Planning the week ahead of time and shopping once a week fits into my schedule, but you can plan 2 weeks at a time and do biweekly shopping as well.
3. Gather recipe “staples” & food
Ok, so the next step needs to be getting together some recipes and staple foods.
There’s no need to think that you need to create a restaurant-worthy menu plan- but plan nourishing meals that hit the right food groups.
At the top, having whole grains in the house with bread and rice is a brainer for easy meals all day long. Then fruits and veggies to fill in around each meal.
But you’ll want to plan recipes that you can cycle in and out for fast cooking.
There are days when I get chicken soup, canned tuna for sandwiches, and apple slices for dinner because I know we need something quick and easy before we’re out the door.
It’s time to think about the easy recipes that you make or want to make. You can include more fancy ones if you want to, of course, but it’s good to have a base set.
You can find these by doing a good Google search or having a look on Pinterest.
4. Fill out your template
After you’ve had a think about the types of meals that you want to make, it’s time to fill out your weekly meal plan ideas template.
This doesn’t need to be set in stone – you can change things around if you want.
Try and think about the days on which you’d rather have an easier option – such as the end of the working week or days when you are very busy.
5. Take a food inventory
When you know what meals you want to make and what ingredients you need for them, start to do an inventory in your house.
What we don’t want to happen is for you to end up buying a lot of stuff that you already have.
We may think that we know what we have in the house already, but can be quite wrong!
Write down the food that you currently have in the fridge/freezer/pantry to prep for grocery lists next.
6. Make the final grocery list
Now you know what you have in the house and what ingredients you need to make the meals, you need to make a shopping list for what’s missing.
Make your grocery list based on the items that you need for the meals, and you’re good to go. And stick to your shopping list to avoid more wasted food!
7. Schedule a meal prep day
You’ve done planning meals and getting the food for everything, but the next step is to get it all ready and reduce stress at meal times.
You can skip this step if you want, but if you take the time to meal prep, things will get a lot easier for you over time.
Meal prep is where you cook the meals in advance, and can put them in your fridge or freezer for the rest of the week to then heat up when you need them.
Chopping veggies and fruits, precooking rice or pasta,a nd more can be little steps to do in your free time to make meals quicker when you’re busy and tired.
8. Keep food inventory up to date
Now that you’ve got your inventory done, it’s important to keep it up to date so that things are easier for you to meal plan and meal prep.
It’s important to have a schedule and routine that you stick to so that you keep on track. You can even order online using your grocery store’s app!
Once you’ve got started, all that you need to do is keep going! It will become easier and faster over time.
Recipes To Get Started
There are some recipe roundup posts that we have available for you to take a look at for ideas for recipes:
Are there factors to consider when meal planning?
When you are meal planning, it’s important to think about this properly, so that it doesn’t go wrong.
If you haven’t done meal planning before then you may feel quite resistant to it and want to revert to what you were doing before.
There are some factors that you will want to consider, such as:
- What your family wants to eat
- How to have healthy recipes, and still allow for treats
- Whether you want to eat out at all
- If anyone has any allergens
How can I shop more efficiently to save more money?
The best way to do this is to do what’s best for you. We all work in different ways and deal with temptations differently.
If you are tempted to buy things that aren’t on your meal plan, think of ways that you can counteract this.
You may find it easier to shop online or do grocery shopping when you aren’t hungry. Another good idea is using Instacart where you will get someone else to grocery shop for you.
Can I save more money on groceries beyond meal planning?
There are lots of ways to save extra money on groceries, such as going to farmers’ markets and buying local fresh produce.
We also love using Ibotta to get cashback on the items that we will be purchasing anyway.
How can I make my meals fast to cook on busy weeknights?
There are lots of quick meals out there, and it’s always a good idea to have some recipes in your repertoire that you can call upon.
Some simple ideas are frozen pizza, pasta dishes, omelets, etc.
We love using our Monthly Meal Planner to get easy meal plan ideas for these times.
If you had been on the fence about starting meal planning, we hope that we have helped you to see that with a little bit of organization, it can be easy.
When it comes to starting new things, we often come up against a lot of resistance, but that doesn’t mean what we are trying to do is bad.
When you have a busy life, the more organized you are, the easier things are going to be for you.
Meal planning will help you save time and money, as well as help reduce your stress levels.
Because of this, we think that meal planning is more than worth the time it takes to put together.