Today we have a guest post from Sarah of Let’s Talk Mom Business. She’s bringing you some amazing meal planning hacks to save time and money. And who doesn’t need some of those? Take it away, Sarah…
8 MEAL PLANNING HACKS TO SAVE TIME AND MONEY
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If you’re not in the meal planning groove, it can seem a little bit intimidating. Most people envision hours searching for recipes all over the Internet only to fall off plan half way through the week after a long day.
After years of good intentions but failed plans, I’ve developed a few time saving tips and tricks for meal planning that help us stay on track and save money on groceries.
These are the top 8 things you can do to easily create a meal plan if you’re a beginner.
1. Meal Plan Around Your Family’s Life
One of the first things I recommend doing as you plan your meals is to pull out a monthly calendar and write out all of the upcoming events for the month. This is anything that would impact dinner time. This could include:
- Extracurricular activities that run late
- Date nights
- Work travel or events
- Nights you know you want to dine out
Having a good picture of what the month holds helps you know how many meals you need to plan for and which nights require quick and easy dinners.
2. Know What Your Family Will Actually Eat
My absolute greatest pet peeve is food waste. I also hate slaving over the stove for an hour only to have each of my kids refuse to eat what I made. To avoid these things, I started a family favorites meal list that I’m constantly adding to.
A family favorites meal list is just a list of dinner ideas that your family has already confirmed that they liked. As you put together your meal plan, you can simply choose items from this list before finding new meals to try.
Keep an ongoing list in one place rather than having recipes all over the place on Pinterest, in notebooks, in cookbooks, and such. Each time you try something new and your family likes it, just add it to the list!
3. Have Quick Emergency Meals Prepared
Everyone will have a night or two each month where things are just crazy and there’s no time to cook a full meal. The answer to this is to take some time at the beginning of the month to prepare a few freezer meals.
Commit to only using these meals as a last resort so that you have them on hand on particularly challenging nights.
If you don’t have the time or desire to meal prep each month, buy a few pre-made meals at the store that you can freeze as a backup plan.
Having emergency meals ready to go is the best way to avoid calling for take out or a trip through the drive-thru.
By the way, if you’ve never made freezer meals before, here is a FREE class to get you started.
4. Schedule Leftover Nights Into Your Meal Plan
I always recommend reserving at least one night per week as a leftover night. You might even be able to do two nights per week depending on your family’s appetite and if you use leftovers for lunches.
Leftover nights are perfect for busy nights where the kids have an extracurricular activity or you get home late from work. It’s also a great way to make sure you’re not throwing away uneaten food.
5. Take Inventory of Your Freezer and Pantry
Before sitting down to create your meal plan, take a quick inventory of your pantry and freezer to see what you already have. Take note of expiration dates so that you can use these items first.
If you have a surplus of something but aren’t sure how to use it, you can type individual ingredients into sites like allrecipes and the site will give you recipes using those specific ingredients.
This is a great way to minimize your spending at the grocery store and use things that you already have on hand.
6. Meal Plan for Two Weeks or a Month at One Time
If you absolutely dread meal planning every single week, start creating a plan for longer periods of time. This is also a great tip for if you want to bulk buy groceries to save money on your grocery bill.
You can plan meals with similar ingredients throughout the month to buy those items in bulk. You can also double, or even triple, recipes so that you get multiple meals out of one cooking session.
This is a great way to save both time and money!
8. Keep It Simple
It can be fun to scroll through Pinterest and plan for delicious recipes with a laundry list of ingredients. Those meals are great, but what are the chances you’ll actually want to make it come Thursday night?
Reserve complicated recipes for the weekend or parties so you aren’t overwhelmed with getting dinner on the table every night.
Some of the best simple recipes are a marinated protein + grain + vegetable. You don’t have to be Suzy Homemaker every night to feed your family well!
8. Set Aside Some Time to Meal Prep
Meal prep doesn’t have to be an exhausting 8-hour day slaving over the stove to prepare for the upcoming week.
Instead, prepare ingredients that can be cooked or easily thrown together later in the week.
Instead of buying pre-chopped fruits and vegetables, save yourself some money at the grocery store and do it yourself.
Taking an hour one day per week to prepare for the upcoming week can save you a lot of time and frustration later in the week.
You can also marinate proteins and freeze them for later in the week. As they thaw, they will continue to marinate. Cutting your proteins in preparation for meals later in the week is another great time saving tip.
If you’ve read through all of the time saving tips and tricks for meal planning and you’re still thinking it seems a little bit overwhelming, consider using The Meal Plan Alternative: A Flexible Solution to Meal Planning Struggles.
The Meal Plan Alternative will help you create a general routine and template for what your meals will look like throughout the week without a concrete plan you feel like you have to stick to.
It’s a flexible solution that gives you the chance to adjust as needed throughout the week.
Use these Meal Planning Hacks to Save Time and Money
Now you know how to save time and money with meal planning and it’s time to take action. Be sure to meal plan around your family’s life. Avoid waste by making food your family will actually eat and then eat your leftovers! Have freezer meals prepared for those nights that there just isn’t time to cook.
Make your simple meal plan with the ingredients you already have on hand in mind. You won’t have to create a brand new meal plan each week, you can do it for 2 weeks or even a month at a time! And setting aside some time to meal prep will make it so much easier!
You can save time and money with meal planning. Start today!
Sarah is a Southern California mom of 3 blogging over at Let’s Talk Mom Business about the budgeting and frugal living strategies she and her husband used to crush $100,000 in debt while living on one income. Her superpowers include getting out of Target with only the things on her list…and an iced coffee!
Related Post about Saving Time and Money:
- Top 10 Frugal Food Tips
- How to set a Grocery Budget you can stick to
- 10 Simple Tips to Stretch your Dollars
Do you have any meal planning hacks? Let us know in the comments below.