There are so many apps, websites, printables and planners to teach you how to meal plan or help you do the planning that it can be genuinely overwhelming when you sit down to do it. I’m still working on my method, but I do have a plan that works pretty well.
As some of you know, I work fulltime outside my home, and I’m a single mom. I have tried in the past to meal plan, clip coupons, use apps and schedule grocery shopping for a specific day every week. I just don’t have that kind of life. Some nights I end up working late, or my youngest might not be feeling well so I need to go straight home after work. Some weekends we have more plans than time, and some weekends I’m too burned out to face a shopping trip.
Life is somewhat unpredictable. That’s undeniable. I try to have strategies to deal with it. My ideal menu planning schedule is to meal plan Saturday mornings for Monday-Sunday and make the list, shop Saturday afternoon, and do any prep that needs to be done ahead of time on Sunday.
That would be ideal, as I said, but it doesn’t always work out. But I have learned not to stress about it. The timing of when you do meal planning is only important as far as knowing the dates of your store’s flyers so you know when sales will begin and end. Other than that, no matter where you are in the week you can plan. Here’s how:
Pick your store
The first thing I suggest is to pick ONE store to shop at each week, or two at most. I used to try to go to whatever store had the best prices and would divide my list between grocery stores, pharmacies and warehouse stores. It wasted time and gas, and although it did save money I was doing that when I wasn’t working full time and had more time to do it. Now, when my time is at a premium, saving a small amount of money doesn’t make up for the time lost running around.
This doesn’t mean I’m not budget conscious. I absolutely have to be. It just means I have to do it in other ways besides driving from store to store.
Now, I go to one or two stores. Mainly I go to Walmart because of the prices and because it’s about a two minute drive from where I work. I also love Aldi, but ours is pretty small so I can’t usually get everything on my list there. If I’m getting a lot of meat that week, I may go to our local grocery store, a Big Y, because they frequently have great sales.
Pick your proteins
So once I’ve decided what store I want to go to, I look up their flyer online. First I decide what meat I’m going to buy that week based mostly on price. I live in the northeastern part of the United States, so your prices may vary, but I try to keep the prices in this range:
Chicken under $2.99 a pound
Pork under $3.99 a pound
Ground beef under $4.99 a pound
Steak/beef and fish all tend to be expensive so I don’t get them often, but if there’s a good sale where they’re under $5.99 a pound I may buy them. I do try to buy more fish for the health benefits even if it’s more expensive.
Pick your recipes for the week
Once I have at least a week’s worth of meat picked out, I recipe hunt.
A lot of times, I have something in mind to make with the meat I’ve picked out. For example, if I’m going to buy ground beef, I may plan to make tacos since my family likes those. Then I can just add the needed ingredients to my list.
If I don’t have anything in mind, I look online. The easiest way to find recipes is to search using the words “easy” or “fast” recipes for the type of meat you have, and see what comes up. So if I’m buying chicken, I’ll search for “easy chicken recipes” or “fast chicken recipes.” If I see something that looks good, I check two things:
Prep and Cook time – I have limited time, so I don’t want to get ready to cook dinner only to find out that I should have set aside 2 hours to make the meal, or that it should have gone in the crock pot that morning and didn’t.
List of Ingredients – I look at two things here. The first is just the length of the ingredient list. If it’s too long, it’s too complicated and I won’t have the time to make it. How long is too long is a matter of personal preference. You may not mind mixing and blending 20 different ingredients, or you may think 5 is the right number. I’m in the 5-10 range. The second thing I check is what the ingredients are. If they’re all things I have on hand or can easily buy, it’s good. If the recipe includes expensive tropical fruits and vegetables or spices I’ll need to special order online, it’s out of the running. Looking at these two things saves both time and money.
Make your menu
Decide which recipe works best on which day. If there’s something that may take a little longer, you might want to save that for a weekend day when you have more time. If it’s quick and easy meal or a slow cooker meal, Monday might be a good day for that. I also look at who will be home so I can think about their preferences, and how much of the ingredients I will need.
This doesn’t take more than a few minutes in practice. The great thing about having a menu planned out is that if something comes up—a late worknight, not getting dinner into the crockpot on time, etc—you can just rearrange things. Pick a meal that takes less time to cook on a night when you’re suddenly running later than you thought. If you get home on the earlier side, cook something that takes a little longer. It may take some time to get the hang of it, but if you take a couple of minutes to think things out, you’ll be able to come up with a plan for each day of the week that works with your schedule.
Make your shopping list
Go through your recipes and look at what ingredients are called for. I like to do this in the kitchen because as I’m going through ingredients I can check to see what I have. If a recipe calls for onions and I’m not sure if I have any, I can check to be sure. That way I don’t buy things I don’t need, which saves money, and don’t guess that I have something I don’t, which saves getting partway into a recipe and realizing you’re missing something.
Once you have your list for your menu, you can add in anything else that’s needed around the house (HBA, paper goods, etc.) and you’re ready to go.
When you get to the store, you know exactly what you need, the quantities and you’ll save time and money on your shopping trip.
In my last post I shared a quick and easy recipe that I enjoy. In the comments below, let me know something that you enjoy cooking. If it’s a recipe that you found online, link to it!