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One of the top ways to save money or stick within a budget is to meal plan. Everyone knows that, right? And the resources available for meal planning can be found everywhere. Most people I’ve seen who talk about meal planning also talk about doing freezer meals or bulk cooking. While there’s definitely value in either of those methods, they’re just not for me. Personally, I think the whole finding a recipe, and buying ingredients to fit those recipes for the week is daunting. There are meal planning services out there that you can use to do just that. Again, that’s too much for me.
Besides, I’ve mentioned more than once how I don’t measure when I cook, unless it’s baking. So, again, recipes aren’t really my thing. I like the idea of meal recipes and I certainly get inspired by the awesome looking recipes out there. Since I don’t like to “follow the rules”, per se, I needed to find another method to meal plan. Enter the easy, stress-free meal planning method!
Ever since Hun and I have been together, this is how we’ve shopped. We have a weekly or bi-weekly food budget by which I use to do all of our grocery shopping. There are some weeks we may go over a bit, but there are also weeks we are under our budget. Depending on what activities we have, our budget for the week may differ slightly. Plus, because we don’t really buy boxed foods/meals, I tend to buy only what we need to make different things.
One other caveat, Hun doesn’t really like vegetables and if I didn’t make them available, he wouldn’t notice. In fact, when were newly in a relationship, he quite frankly told me he doesn’t eat vegetables. I, of course, balked at this idea and wondered why. But, I also laid down a rule, which went a little something like this: I will make vegetables. I expect that you will try them. If there’s something you really don’t like, we can talk about it. But, if we’re to have children and grow our family, there will be vegetables in our home at all times.
Although it may be surprising, he went with it. And now, 4 1/2 years later, there are (almost) always vegetables at the dinner table. More often than not, he will eat just a bit, which makes me happy. And, back when things were new when it came to vegetables, we would talk about the taste and texture. For example, I used to make steamed/boiled broccoli on the mushier side, now I don’t have to.
There are, of course, some things Hun just doesn’t much like. I just choose not to stress about it or hound him about eating vegetables. Afterall, my thinking is, he’s an adult and he has the right and ability to make his own choices. This is also how I stay on my side of the street, so to speak, when it comes to certain things.
Enough about how I handle vegetable eating and on to the easy, stress-free method of meal planning I use.
First, we make grocery shopping a family affair.
These days, we do our grocery shopping once a week, usually on Friday or Saturday. Most of the time, we shop for our groceries in the morning or early afternoon. Then, we spend the rest of the day on errands or some family adventure. I like it this way, because it cuts down on the stress of wrangling the boys on my own or trying to plan grocery shopping excursions around tired and hungry times. Plus, in this way, I’m not as likely to buy any unnecessary or convenience/boxed foods.
Since the boys usually sleep until 10 or so, by the time they’re fully awake and we’ve had breakfast, it’s nearing afternoon. If we were to buy groceries, by the time we’re back home and settled the boys are going really crazy because they’re both hungry! This is never a good thing when you breastfeed, believe me. Not to mention, I’m usually hungry again as well and my patience is super thin.
Know your staples.
I know what we eat most often. I know what Hun likes, what I like, and ways to spice things up. This helps when it comes to making lists, too. For instance, Hun loves pasta so we have it at least once a week in some form or another. We also have rice a few times a week, since Hun is Puerto Rican. I’m still working on perfecting my rice game, but it’s definitely improved over the last 4 years. And, since Hun isn’t big on vegetables, we shop for our meat cuts first. We buy beef and pork primarily, but go with more chicken if that’s what works in your family. Additionally, Monkey Boy and I have a few eggs most days, so I always have at least a dozen eggs on hand.
Don’t forget the sales.
Since we shop once a week, I make an effort to check the sales at our favorite grocery stores. If they’re having a sale on chicken, for example, I make sure to buy a couple. That way I can cook one and freeze at least one more. And, because I make most of our food from scratch, it’s nice to know when things like flour, sugar, and butter are on sale. That way, I can buy an extra one or two of those items as well.
I know many people find and use coupons. We don’t. Primarily we don’t because often it’s not stuff that we really want or need and also because at least one of the stores we shop at regularly doesn’t accept coupons.
Buy bigger cuts or packs of meat.
This goes along with not forgetting to shop sales, but is important even if there isn’t a sale going on. When you buy bigger packs or cuts of meat, you often can get more meals out of that one purchase.
So, even if you’re spending $12-15 on a beef roast, depending on what you choose to make, you should be able to get at least 2 meals out of it. Or, if your family doesn’t struggle with vegetables, you may even get 3 meals out of that one cut of beef. This also goes for things like pork shoulder. Every now and again, I’ll buy a pork shoulder (bonus when it’s on sale!) and cut it myself, in different ways. I can get chops/steaks, and boneless “ribs”, but also a smaller roast. Often, one pork shoulder will yield me at least 4 or 5 different meals (not all at once, unless you like pork that much).
Pull out your calendar and meal plan for each day of the week.
This step can be as detailed or not as you like. If you want or need more variety in your meals, by all means, feel free to plan your breakfast, lunch and dinner on this calendar. I’m not that detailed, unless I know ahead of time that we’ll all be home one day during the week. Generally, I just plan out what I’ll make for dinner each night and go from there. Monkey Boy and I often have leftovers from another day, make a sandwich (his favorite is pb&j), and add in yogurt and/or fruit. As I mentioned, we typically have eggs for breakfast, though sometimes we have cereal or even lunch for breakfast and then snacks later.
When it comes to our dinner meals, I write which meat and an idea I have for making that meat, plus our starch and our vegetable(s). In doing this, I can make a note in my daily planner on when I might need to do something extra, like soak beans, make tortillas or bread, or make one of my quick and easy barbecue or tomato based sauces.
And there you have it. An easy, stress-free meal planning method! Outside of the shopping and the actual cooking, there’s little to no prep work or even thought involved. When I do make enough of one meal that can become 2 major meals (or a side of a major meal), then I certainly freeze those. This especially happens when I make soups, stews, or shredded beef/pork!
And, just in case you’re not sure this is as easy as it sounds, I’ll list a few of the benefits I’ve found with this method.
- Lunch or snack eating meals are simple, homemade, and hot!
- Your refrigerator and leftovers remain in balance. In other words, you likely won’t have lost leftovers somewhere in the refrigerator and you’ll also have many ways to reuse any leftovers you do have.
- You can still vary your meals, include family favorites, and even experiment with new recipes whenever you like.
- Dinner/meal time stress is greatly reduced! (The biggest benefit in my opinion.)
- Less food waste!
This method of meal planning can also help to structure your week, even if you do choose to make some meals ahead of time.
And, just to help you out, I’ve created a calendar and basic grocery list to get you started meal planning now!
Tell me, do you meal plan? If not, what are your struggles in meal planning? Also, tell me some of your favorite meals to make.