Having a solid meal plan every week will not only save you the horror of the dreaded every day question “What’s for dinner?”. It will also save you time and money.
Imagine scenario 1 – you stroll into the supermarket with no clear direction on what to buy. You shop on impulse, whatever suits your fancy, and if your hungry while filling your cart, it will be even worse. Most likely you will buy more than you need, it will make meal cooking difficult as nothing goes together and you might end up with a lot of leftovers, or even have to throw away food.
Scenario 2 – you buy your groceries more or less every day, on your way home from work. You stroll in super hungry, you grab a ready-meal, frozen pizza or tv-dinner. You might even skip the supermarket and dinner preparation all together and just go for take-away. Most likely it will not be the healthy options you know you should eat. This is a surefire way to slim your wallet and add to your waistline.
Scenario 3 – you set up a meal plan for the next week, you write your shopping list accordingly and stride into the supermarked with confidence. You get everything on your list, avoid all temptations and leave with exactly what you need. In the long run this will save you some money and a lot of time.
So here is how you do it:
1. Grab your utensils
You will need: 1 pen, and 2 pieces of paper. One paper is for your meal plan, the other is your shopping list. And if you rather do it electronically, you can do that too.
Keep your calendar nearby, as your meals should tie in with what you have going on.
2. Check your inventory
Go through your pantry and your fridge and freezer. Toss out everything that is old and can no longer be used. Don’t solemnly rely on the best before date – most things are perfectly fine for a few more days, so just check if it’s still edible. Move these items to the front of the fridge, so you use them up first.
See if there are already some meals coming to mind while you check on your ingredients. Do you have enough for a full meal or do you need to supply with something? Note the meal idea on your meal plan, and the necessary supply on your shopping list.
3. What else would you like to eat?
Write down the other meals you would like to eat over the week. Check in with your calendar to see if you have a lot going on at times, or even are eating out already. For busy days plan something easy and quick to make , or pre-cook in the weekend so you only need to heat it up.
Check if you already have some of the ingredients at home, and put everything else on your shopping list.
Put the days next to your dinner ideas and your dinner meal plan is done!
4. Consider breakfast, lunch and snacks
Make sure you add the ingredients for these meals to your shopping list. I find it easiest to eat the same every day for breakfast, this makes the planning go smooth and ensures that I’m able to eat it all before it goes bad.
Do the same with lunch – do you eat it at home, do you bring it to work, or do you get lunch where you are? Again, if you make your own lunch, eating the same every day makes it easy to plan. You could also consider leftovers from dinner, just make sure you prepare enough.
Add your snacks. Consider healthy options as fruits and nuts. Having a solid shopping lists will make it easier to avoid the tempting options full of sugar and fat.
5. Check your shopping list
Have a final look over your shopping list. Make sure you wrote down the amount you need of every item, especially if you send someone else off with your list. If it only says milk you might end up with not enough or way too much.
Head out and buy everything on your list.
6. Go through your week
Check your meal plan in the morning. Do you need to take anything out of the freezer? Letting it thaw throughout the day will remove the waiting game in the evening when you need it.
Whenever you empty any staple items, make sure to add them to your next shopping list. Over time you could also create a template shopping list containing the items you buy all the time. That way you just need to copy it, add the amount you need and add any extraordinary items you might need that week.
7. When is the best time to go shopping?
I like to do my shopping towards the weekend. I try to avoid Friday evenings right after work, as they tend to be crazy. When it comes to time of the day I found that mid-morning is the best – there are few people in the store, and the products have already been filled up. You might have to go with trial and error here, and just shop at different times and days over the next few weeks or months to see what fits you best. Your local supermarket might also have regular days where they have discounts or limited items coming in, so that might also be a good day for you.
When shopping before the weekend you can use your spare time to prepare your meals ahead. You can already now cook the meals for the busy days, and put them in the freezer or store them in the fridge. You can also double your recipes one week and put the extra meal in the freezer for another week.
Make sure you have fun with this. Include your family, and maybe even have regular meal days – like Taco Tuesday or Pizza Friday. Cook your favorite dinners often. Go for seasonal fruits and vegetables, they are usually cheaper when in season, and you will get a great variety over the course of the year.