My Guide to Meal Planning – Week by Week
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Ah, meal planning. The one thing that can make or break our budget each week.
With a plan, I make some rockin’ dinners, my husband has lunch for work the next day, and we save quite a bit of money.
Without a plan, we eat junk food, make a lot of fast food runs, throw out food that just sat around unused, and we spend more money than is necessary for a family of four.
The short amount of time it takes to meal plan is well worth the money spent on food that will just sit and go bad and most certainly worth the healthier bodies from less fast food and junk.
The key to a successful, week by week, meal plan is just a little organization.
All you need is a calendar sheet, a pad of paper, and a pen! No need to have any special calendar, just print your monthly calendar from your computer or email or use the one on your wall!
There are times I just divide out sections on a piece of scratch paper for each day I’m planning meals. I don’t always bother with a calendar.
The simpler, the better.
I only plan one week at a time or I find that I throw away more food. Any longer and I find myself buying everything at once but not taking in to account produce goes bad quicker than I’ll get to it in my plan.
We also have more left overs than I anticipate, so I can usually stretch things for longer.
One big trip to Costco and maybe one trip to the market during the week will get us by for a few weeks, including leftovers. Less trips to the grocery store over all!
Ok, here we go.
Step1 – Fill in your calendar with all your events that will affect meal times. Include birthday parties, going to a friend’s house for dinner, date night, a church function. Anything and everything. List it. If it is during lunch time, write it across the middle of the date. If it is a dinner time activity, write it toward the bottom.
Everything filled out for the month?
Step 2 – Open your fridge and cupboards and make a list of all the “stars” of a meal. “The star of the dish”, so MasterChef!
List things like pasta, salmon, chicken, rib eye, tofu.
Is tofu a main dish?
Step 3 – Make a separate list of everything you have that you will use as a side dish. Biscuits, broccoli, potatoes, fruit, party weinies. . .
Be sure to mark down a special note if there is only a specific serving of each side. Such as, asparagus – 1 meal, or broccoli – enough for eternity (anyone else shop at Costco?).
This will come in handy. You do not want to get to the store thinking you have enough of something to make a side for several meals, only to get back home and realize you only have enough for 1 person in 1 meal.
Step 4 – Pair your stars with their sides. Write down what sides you will pair with each main food.
If there are holes in your meals, write down the sides you will buy to make each complete. (I like to do this in another color pen so I know what to transfer over to my shopping list.)
Step 5 – Plan your week. Put each meal you created into a date. Lunch or dinner.
(I don’t generally plan out breakfast. My kids are picky and my husband is addicted to Acai bowls. I just make sure to keep certain things stocked; acai, peanut butter, waffles, bacon, strawberries, mozzarella cheese, etc.)
Now fill in the holes in your week. Pick meals you have pinned on Pinterest. Go through your favorite cookbook. Plop in your good old stand-by enchiladas.
Don’t forget to put a left overs night in there!
Just remember to think about what happens on each day you are planning. Dinners on some week nights, for us, are a little skimpy because my husband works evenings and my kids won’t eat full-on meals. Sometimes I’ll slave away and make a big meal, but most hubby-work-nights, we go light and fun.
Keep in mind the cost of the different things you are planning for. If you are trying to cut spending back a little, consider the cost of things like meat. That can be a big expense. Throw a couple meatless meals into your plan.
Step 6 – Make a list of every single item you will need for each meal. Excluding the items you wrote down in steps 2 and 3. You already know you have these things.
Don’t forget to list things like ketchup, soy sauce, rice vinegar. All the little things you overlook until you get home from 2 hours of shopping and realize you don’t actually have them.
If you skip this step, you could end up like me and have 3 large jugs of ranch dressing and 4 jars of salsa in your cupboard.
Is your shopping list ready?
Not yet, 1 more step!
Step 7 – With shopping list in hand, go through your cupboards and fridge again. This time, scratch off everything you already have. Flour, breadcrumbs, pickles, mustard. You have it, you scratch it.
Don’t skip this step. Imagine all the ranch…
Step 8 – Get to the store!
Yea, I know I said 1 more step, but this one is kinda the end game.
Stick to your list. Be strong. Do not buy all sorts of things you don’t need or have not planned for! Those ingredients will just sit and rot in your veggie drawer until your mother in law comes over and finds them.
Another thing I like to keep in mind when I shop is simple staple items; spaghetti and sauce for something quick when the week gets away from you. Pizza Lunchables for when the kids pull out their puppy dog eyes.
Who am I kidding? They don’t have to beg for Lunchables. No cooking, no dishes? I’m on board.
Other things I keep on hand are pretzels and dip (my daughter’s favorite), waffles, mini pancakes (because when you hear your 2-year-old scream PAMCAKES MA! over the baby monitor, you’ll be glad you grabbed them), tuna, mayo, refried beans. I keep things that are easy for us to grab and give to the kids if we need something in a pinch.
No, I don’t just hand my kids the mayo…that’s saved for myself.
Tailor your list to your family.
What are some of your favorite go-to meals? I’m always looking for new ideas!