Meal Planning | Frugal Tips

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Meal planning is a life saver for me.  Before I started, I remember waking up in the morning and running from the moment my eyes open and my feet hit the floor, pushing dinner off until the last minute.  Then suddenly at 5:00 my stomach growls and I’m faced with the dreaded decision:  What am I going to make for dinner tonight?  The meat is still frozen, all of the vegetables need chopped.  I can just feel the wrinkles in my forehead setting in while I stress over what to feed my family who has already asked me six times what is for dinner.

When I finally gave into the idea of meal planning, I realized that by taking just 30 minutes per week to sit down and force myself to think about meals and my grocery list I was not only saving time but money.  When you buy just what you need you lower the risk of items spoiling before you use them and you also aren’t faced with running out of ingredients before getting back to the store (unless you don’t plan right – it happens sometimes). 

When starting out it can be overwhelming.  Where do I begin?!  Fortunately the internet is full of resources and tips.  I’ve decided to compile a quick list of tips for you to mull over while considering getting yourself into a meal planning routine.

Five Tips for Meal Planning Newbies                     

  1. Decide what you are going to plan. Are you planning for just dinner?  Or lunch and breakfast too? 
  2. Set aside a regular time (weekly, bi-monthly, monthly) to plan.  I plan on Mondays (but you can choose any day that works for you).  Make a habit out of it.  If you start one week then don’t stick to the plan the next week, chances are you are going to fail at this.  You must first create a habit in order to be successful with this long term.
  3. Organize your ideas.  Keep them all in one place – whether it’s in a binder, in a recipe box (in a specific section for planned out meals), on your laptop, or in your phone.  Don’t try to store everything in your head – chances are you’ll mix it in with all of the other lost information and never be able to retrieve it all again.
  4. Get your supplies ready.  What my table usually consists of when sitting down for the afternoon is the following:  my laptop, grocery store sales fliers, a cookbook, my recipe box, my iPod (or a small notebook to jot down my grocery list), and a coupon organizer.  It is also a good idea if you don’t keep a mental inventory of your kitchen to keep a list on the fridge or somewhere handy to jot down anything you are running low on.
  5. Make your list!  I like to look at what is on sale first (usually starting with meats) and kind of plan around the best prices, while comparing to coupons that are available.  I don’t buy just anything as I try to avoid over-processed foods and try to stick to seasonal produce.  Once I get a feel for some of the main ingredients I will use, I will then start building my recipe list and finalize my shopping list. 

Something else that might help you is centering your meals around certain themes for each day of the week.  Like Monday can be a crock pot day since it’s often busy, Tuesday Mexican food, Wednesday Italian, etc…  It’s easier on the meal-planning process, and you can usually manage to save quite a bit still; however, I like to keep things changing.  The repetition can become monotonous to some.  It might be a good idea to begin like this for the first couple of months while building the routine and then begin adding more variety once you become more comfortable in your meal planning.

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