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Meal Planning 101

April 8, 2015

I remember when I first started meal planning a couple years ago. To be honest, it was very overwhelming to me. It took a little while to get the hang of things but it has been oh so worth it! In Monday’s post I mentioned meal planning and a lot of you showed interest in it. Since I needed to make my meal plan for this week already, I thought it would be fun to share with you in more detail about how I meal plan and also hopefully give you some tips to get you started meal planning! Without further ado, Meal Planning 101:

IMG_9380Here is a snapshot of my meal plan for this week. I used to write my meal plans on my phone or in my homemaking binder on loose pieces of paper but my friend Erica recommended keeping it all in one composition notebook and I’ve been really enjoying this!

The first thing I do is put my meal categories on the left page. Then I fill in what we will be having in each category. Using that as reference, I write my grocery list on the right side.  I create my list by looking at each meal listed and then thinking through what I need for each meal. For example, under “breakfasts” I have written “Oatmeal with blueberries”. When it comes time to write my grocery list, I know it’s not just oatmeal and blueberries I need. I know that in my oatmeal I like to put blueberries, almond milk and flax seed. So those are the items I write on the grocery list.

Sometimes I grab more than what’s on the list but most of the time I just stick to what’s written here. It seems fairly simple but a lot goes into the meal planning process from the time I sit down to write my plan to when I’m at the checkout counter at the grocery store.

Here are some tips on how to meal plan successfully. Or as I’m calling it today, Meal Planning 101:

1. Pick your method

There are many methods of meal planning out there. A couple examples include:

– Using a calendar in printed form or on the computer

– Writing your list in a binder, notebook or on your phone

– Subscription meal planning websites (these do most of the work for you)

There’s no right or wrong method out there. I say, whatever method you will actually use is the right method for you!

2. Ask the right questions

There are many factors that go into our meal choices. Here are some good things to ask yourself as you plan:

– What ingredients do we already have in our home? Taking inventory is a great way to avoid waste and also save money!

– What pantry staples are we out of? Keeping a running list of ingredients you’ve run out of on the fridge is always a helpful reference!

–  What are your plans for the upcoming week? Are there nights you won’t be home and don’t need to cook? If you know you have some busy nights ahead, consider prepping slow cooker meals in the morning or buy ingredients for meals that cook quickly. A lot of times I plan for pizza on Friday nights because I know on that day I don’t usually feel like cooking a full meal.

3. Choose what meals to make

I think this is the thing that makes us all a little afraid of meal planning. There are about a billion different recipes out there, how in the world are we supposed to pick just a couple to prepare for dinner each week?

I suggest two things to help with this dilemma:

1) Create a list of meal themes (i.e. Italian, Asian, Comfort) and then meal ideas for each theme as a reference. For example: Comfort – chicken pot pie, Asian – stir fry, Italian – chicken parmesan and so on. Some prefer to make a list of proteins and then create meal ideas from there. For example: Chicken – chicken enchiladas, Beef – burgers. You get the idea :)

2) Make a list of meals you already know your family enjoys eating for reference. You know these people well. What do they like to eat? If you are looking for diversity in your meals or possibly new recipes, there are lots of awesome recipe bloggers out there or Pinterest is always great resource.

IMG_94264. Stay on budget

My favorite benefit of meal planning is the fact that it helps me stick to my grocery budget. Here are some tips to stay on budget while meal planning:

– Set your grocery budget before you plan. If I try and make my list before knowing how much I have to spend, I almost always go over my budget.

– Write prices next to each item on your grocery list and make cuts wherever necessary. This one can take some time, but after a little while of meal planning, you start to remember how much things cost. If you find that you aren’t remembering prices, try writing them next to each item the next time you go shopping. Now you will have that for a reference in future planning.

– Use a calculator. You will always find me on my phone calculator while I’m grocery shopping. It may look like I’m texting away, but I am in fact meticulously calculating each item as I put it into my cart. This might seem like a little too much work, but it’s so worth it. It really keeps me from overspending. A bonus from this as well is sometimes you will find you are under budget, which means you can add more into that cart! Hooray! Hot Tamales anyone? I snack while I shop and I’m proud of it ;)

– As you write your grocery list, change up your meals to keep costs down. For example, you will notice in my meal plan above, I first wrote “Shepherds pie” as Tuesdays meal but then crossed it out and wrote “Vegan enchiladas”. This is because I only wanted to buy one pound of ground turkey this week and I had already written down “Turkey burgers” for Friday. Since I knew I already have most of the ingredients for vegan enchiladas, it’s a much more cost effective meal choice than shepherds pie.

If you’re looking for more ways to save on your grocery bill, you can find them here.

IMG_8919I think we’ve covered just about everything about meal planning! If you’re still wondering whether or not to dive into it, here are three reasons to try it out:

1) Meal planning tells you what to cook throughout the week (no 5pm meltdowns over what to make for dinner).

2) Meal planning keeps you from overspending on your grocery budget.

3) Meal planning prevents you from having to make several trips to the grocery store each week.

Triple win!

Do you like to meal plan? If you have any questions or tips on meal planning, I’d love to read them in the comments!

Happy Planning!




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  • Reply Ronja April 8, 2015 at 5:06 am

    I’ve been battling with the question as for what to make for dinner lately, and I love that idea of creating a list of meal themes! That makes it easy to change it up every week, yet makes it so much easier to choose what to make. Such a great idea! Thanks for this, Chrissy!

    • Reply Chrissy Meyst April 8, 2015 at 6:10 pm

      Thanks Ronja! I’m so happy to help!! :)

  • Reply Emily April 8, 2015 at 8:34 am

    Great tips! I have high goals of getting better at this some day…I will be pinning this as a reference once I finally decide to get disciplined enough. ;)

    • Reply Chrissy Meyst April 14, 2015 at 9:34 pm

      Thanks Emily! Haha, all in due time ;)

  • Reply Brittany April 8, 2015 at 9:59 am

    I get overwhelmed when I think about meal planning, but your explanation makes it seem do-able! I have a blank notebook sitting here that I was trying to figure out what to do with…might just have to make it my meal planner. :)
    Stopping by from Women with Intention Wednesdays – hope you have a great week!

    • Reply Chrissy Meyst April 8, 2015 at 6:03 pm

      Thanks Brittany! I’m so happy you found it helpful. With a notebook available, it’s meant to be ;) Keep in touch and let me know how the planning goes! :)

  • Reply Brittany April 8, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    Such a great guide! I JUST started meal planning for Will and I this week and I can totally see how a composition book would be helpful. I had so many papers flying around everywhere haha!

    • Reply Chrissy Meyst April 8, 2015 at 6:02 pm

      Thanks Brittany! Lol! I know those papers can get out of control! I think you’ll really like the notebook as well :)

  • Reply christina April 8, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    this is so helpful!

    • Reply Chrissy Meyst April 8, 2015 at 6:01 pm

      Thanks Christina, I’m so glad! :)

  • Reply Laura April 8, 2015 at 5:25 pm

    Really great stuff Chrissy! Keep it up!

    • Reply Chrissy Meyst April 8, 2015 at 6:00 pm

      Thanks Laura! Xo

  • Reply Liza Perez April 8, 2015 at 8:18 pm

    I am absolutely loving your blog! I am going to try this! The most stressful part of cooking after a long day of work is figuring out what to make out of what I have in the fridge that day. Thanks! One tip to save money, take a look at the grocery store ads and see what’s on sale or buy one get free. Using a recipe that may include those ingredients for that week would save you even more money! (If your a coupon shopper check out iheartpublix.com and iheartcvs.com)

    • Reply Chrissy Meyst April 8, 2015 at 8:35 pm

      Thank you so much Liza! I totally get you about cooking after a long day! Do you like using the slow cooker? It’s my best friend haha ;) Thanks for the coupon and bogo tips those are great!

  • Reply Pamela Chades April 8, 2015 at 9:15 pm

    LOVE! Im so going to start doing this! XO

    • Reply Chrissy Meyst April 9, 2015 at 10:08 pm

      Thanks Pam! And yay! Can’t wait to hear how you like it!

  • Reply Tricia Munger April 9, 2015 at 9:25 am

    I meal plan for every two weeks. Then just pop into store for milk and veggies on the off week. Eating things with most fresh items week one and second week eating the soups or frozen meat items, etc. Saves me a lot of time! Started shopping this way when I had my third and was tired of dragging littles to the store. I also try to have meals/ingredients on hand for an emergency meal for a sick or needy friend and/or if someone drops in unexpectedly. This is a huge money saver. Beats ordering take out and going off budget. One thing that as your kids get older may be another good idea is to always have a hidden treat food or a box of brownie mix if they are invited last minute to a party where they have to take something. Or you forget you signed up for sports snack. If you plan these things into your budget then you won’t have to make a stop and over spend on these often pricey items on the way to the party. $1 box of brownies versus box of bakery brownies at $6-$8. Another meat idea, since you mention using meat as a condiment, which is way healthier and cheaper, is to buy a turkey or ham and bake it and enjoy it the first night then slice and freeze for soups, casseroles, taco toppings, and scrambled egg add-ins. So up front cost may be a little higher but if you shop sales and buy right after holidays it can be very economical :) thanks for the post! Love hearing everyone’s ideas!

    • Reply Chrissy Meyst April 9, 2015 at 1:32 pm

      Wow Tricia those ideas are amazing!!! I especially love the idea about being prepared for sick or needy and having brownies for last minute plans. Taking notes! Thank you! :) Xo

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