How to Meal Plan

As you know, meal planning is something I highly recommend. Not only does it save us money, ends unnecessary stops to the grocery store, but it also makes our life much easier and organized!

Now, before I get into how I plan our meals, I just want to say that my ‘system’ might not work for everyone. I hope that this will just give you ideas on how to plan for your specific family. After all, each family has their own needs!

Some families like to plan a weekly plan that includes all 3 meals a day, while others plan out a month of just dinners and choose a meal that suits their mood that evening.

But the bottom line is, you have to have a plan. Whether rigid or loose, a plan will save you hours of time and hundreds of dollars each year!

Now, I’ve been planning our menus since we’ve gotten married almost two years ago and I have found that this ‘system’ works best for me:

Take Inventory

Scour the cupboards, the refrigerator, and the freezer for food items you already have to work with and use those as your starting point for the rest of your menu. Make up a basic outline of meal possibilities from what you find.

Maybe you have some pork chops that you picked up on sale, and you have some vegetables from last weeks shopping trip, and perhaps you always have rice on hand. Right there you could have a meal of BBQ pork chops, rice and vegetables!

As you are going through your pantry, fridge and freezer, mark down any items you need to buy more of. If you find you are low on milk or eggs or flour, add these to your grocery list.

**I like to jot down all my ideas on a small piece of paper titled ‘menu’ and on the other side I title it ‘grocery list’ to put down everything I need to buy. (I like to have my menu with me when I shop because sometimes I’ll forget why I’m buying something or it helps me remember to buy an item that I may have forgotten to write on my grocery list.)

**I like to use simple meals that do not call for a lot of ingredients as this saves on time as well as cash since I’ll most likely always have those ingredients on hand. (soy sauce, spices, etc…)

Tip: As you are preparing a meal, you may want to double it to put one in the freezer. It’s always nice to have meals in the freezer you can pull out when you don’t feel like cooking! I do this all the time with Spaghetti sauce and taco meat!

Look through your sale flyers

Quickly look through your flyers to see what deals your local stores have. If you coupon, now is the time to pull out your coupons to see which coupons will make the sales a great deal. For example, this week the Superstore may have toilet paper on sale and you also have a coupon which makes it a no brainer purchase!

I do most of my shopping at Real Canadian Superstore as I find they usually have the best overall prices. Occasionally, I’ll pop over to Buy Low Foods as they run great deals on chicken and other meats quite frequently. I don’t like to shop at a whole bunch of stores each week because I find that I will end up spending more than I intended. 😉

When I find a great deal on something we use regularly, I’ll stock up as much as I can. This saves tons of money. As another example, Walmart just ran a deal on Campbell’s tomato soup for 0.50 cents a can, which I like to always keep on hand to make lunches a breeze or even a laid back weekend meal served with grilled cheese sandwiches. I’m good for a while now! I try to build up a very nice stockpile of ingredients to work with when planning our meals. Some weeks I only have to buy the basics like milk and fresh vegetables!

Finish planning your menu

Once you have taken inventory at home, determined which sales you want to take advantage of, write out your menu with your findings.

At this time in my life I do not plan our breakfasts and lunches. I only plan for five dinners including side dishes, leaving one night open for leftovers and another for dinner out or a quick bowl of soup. I also don’t give each meal a specific night to be made since I like to cook for what I’m in the mood for that particular day. I try to have at least one chicken dish, a beef dish, and a pasta dish. (We don’t like fish!)

For breakfast, I like to have fruit, cereals, eggs, bread and the ingredients for basic pancakes or French toast on hand. I’ll occasionally buy bacon but that’s usually only if it’s in a dinner recipe I’m using. Lunches are most always dinner leftovers from the night before. We rarely let food go to waste!

I’ll try to plan some meals which are a bit more time-consuming and some which are very simple. (Throwing something into the crock pot, frozen pizza, etc.)

You may want to plan all three meals if you’re first starting out menu planning as you don’t want to forget anything at the store. The less trips to the grocery store, the more money and time you’ll save!

Make a final grocery list.

Now is the time when I go over my list to see if I’ve forgotten any pantry staple, milk or item needed for a recipe. I’ll also put all the items into categories according to the store layout. Produce, meats, dairy, canned goods, personal supplies…etc.

Since I love using coupons when I can, this is when I pull out the coupons I’ll be using and bring along some others in case I happen across a good deal. I’m working on updating my current coupon organizer in order to bring all the coupons I have every time I go out.

Make a list and check it twice!

Go shopping!

I recommend going at a time of day when the store is not very crowded and you can take a time to compare prices or mark-downs. I try my best to get to the grocery store before 10:00am on Monday mornings. This is what works for me and I also find the shelves are well stocked on a Monday. I’ve found that when the store is busy I’m more likely to hurry, therefore, I spend more money or forget something I’ve written down on my list.

You may also want to have a grocery budget and bring cash only. Having cash only forces you to stay within your chosen budget. We tend to get a lot of the same stuff each week so I know that I usually spend $50.00 each week, give or take.

There you have it! That is how I plan our weekly menus.

Remember, that is how I meal plan and grocery shop and it works for us. How you do it and how it works for you, may be completely different!

Do you meal plan? If so, what kind of menu-planning system works for you (monthly meal plans, weekly plans, loose plans, etc.)?