Saturday, February 19, 2011

Meal Planning 101

At the beginning of each week I sit down and plan out a general menu of what we will be having for dinner. This accomplishes two things. First, It helps me avoid standing there in front of the open fridge thinking, “What the heck am I going to make for dinner?” at 5:30 (when someone under 4 is inevitably hanging on my leg and whining because they want a snack or they have a foreign object up their nose). Second, it gives me a basis to plan my shopping list so I'm not in the middle of making something only to realize that I'm out of a key ingredient (which is when the aforementioned under 4 person might learn some unsavory language). I find it also helps us eat out less often because when my husband, Matt, calls on his way home and asks if I want to meet him at Chili's, I'm much more likely to say no when I already have something delicious bubbling on the stove. In addition to dinners, I will usually plan one or two baked goods or special breakfast or lunch items as well. I also take a peek in my pantry and freezers (yes, that’s freezers plural) and check out how my stockpile is doing to see if I’m starting to run low on anything.

Once you get into the habit of planning your meals, you will likely come up with your own personal method but here’s how I do it to help you get started:

  1. Check out what’s on sale. I'm in Pensacola, the land of the glorious Publix supermarket, so I always go to the weekly ad on and quickly check out what meat and produce is on sale. These are the items that almost never have coupons available and are the most expensive. By planning my meals around the cheapest protein and veggie options, I keep my yearly food expenses lower. For example, if chicken is on sale for $1.99/lb but ground turkey is at its regular price of $3.99/pound, I’ll choose to make chicken enchiladas that week instead of meatloaf. Same thing with produce. Note: If you're not in an area that has Publix, I'm really and truly sorry, because you're going to be totally jealous of the savings we can get there :) However, you can still check out the ad or couponing site of your local grocery store and plan your shop that way. Check here to see if there is a couponing site for a grocery store in your area.
  2. Take an inventory of your pantry and freezer, check out what other items are on sale, and pick several recipes that use those ingredients. I look through cookbooks, check out my Clean Eating magazines, and sometimes just do a google search like “chicken peppers brown rice clean eating” which might give me something like this Honey Mustard Chicken and Brown Rice Pilaf with Red Peppers and Kale
  3. Take a look at your calendar for the week and see which nights you’ll have more time to cook and which nights you won't and plan your menu accordingly. For example, if you have 2 soccer games on Tuesday night and you’re volunteering at preschool during the day, that would be a great night for planned leftovers or a meal from your freezer stockpile versus making a chicken pot pie from scratch. I have a good freezer stockpile of meals so I only plan to cook 3 or 4 nights a week and we eat a meal out of the freezer the other nights. I love cooking but it’s nice to know that there are some nights each week where we’ll be eating a home cooked meal that didn’t require me to doing anything more than push buttons on the microwave :)
  4. Get all of the recipes together and make a shopping list of what you’ll need. Don’t forget to add on anything else you might need for the week that’s not related to dinner, like milk or cereal. Gather your coupons and head to the store and you'll be ready for a week of healthy meals.
That's it! Not too hard right? This is the method I try to use a majority of the time but there are certainly more basic ways to meal plan. Even if you're not basing your menu around the sales, by planning out healthy meals for the week, you'll probably still save money by not going out to eat as much and only buying what you need at the store. Not to mention you'll probably be eating better because you won't be just reaching for whatever's easiest at 6:30 when you're starving and the kids are cranky. During the summer when I'm in the pool eight hours a day teaching babies how to not drown I have a nanny who watches my boys. Some weeks I would just hand her a Clean Eating magazine and tell her to pick out four things that she would like to try making and that was our meal plan. My Mom meal plans by having my step dad pick three things out of her Cook's Illustrated Best Light Recipe Book. Go with whatever works for you :)
Check back each week for Meal Plan Monday where I’ll share what we have planned for the week based on the sales. Good luck!!


  1. WOW,'ve really inspired me!!!

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