Meal Planning…. Where Do I Get Started?

Filed under :Meal Planning

This blog post is going to be an extension of STEP #2 post on “How To Be Frugal With Your Family”.   I hope that you will also take the time to read all of the blogs on the website, because in many cases, they will all work together and go hand-in-hand to help  you create a frugal lifestyle for your family.

Meal planning is so important – without it, your family will waste thousands of dollars per year eating out.  That’s just the bottom line….

How many times have you found yourself in a situation where you forgot to take something out to thaw or you didn’t have that one final ingredient that you needed to cook dinner?  That is why planning and scheduling is so important!   If you can create a workable schedule for yourself and your family, so many of the “putting out the fire” situations will cease to exist…. once again you can be pro-active versus re-active.    Anytime you find that you are in a re-active situation, you will probably have to spend more money or time to resolve the problem than if you would have planned ahead and been prepared.

So let’s apply that to the meals we prepare for our family.  Most of the time, just a little time spent planning can relive stress and save your family money.   And, we’re going to take small steps to reach our ultimate goal…

To get started, we are going to do plan for only 1 week ahead.   We’re going to plan all of the meals that our family will eat during this one week – breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Not only are we going to what we will eat for these meals, we are also going to plan to purchase the items we need from the grocery store (or from what we have in our pantry and food storage) AS WELL AS plan for the time that it will take to cook the meals.  My opinion is that most meal planning fails to work because even though the person created the best plan for what each meal will be and they’ve made sure to purchase all of the ingredients, they’ve failed at planning the TIME to prepare the meal.  Do this sound familiar to you?

We’ll begin our meal planning by selecting breakfast meals, lunch meals and dinner meals.  Now, consider that this DOES NOT mean that you have to cook all of these meals.  Be realistic – for example, if your child buys their lunch at school, and if you’d rather them to have a warm mid-day meal instead of a sandwich, then plan accordingly for your meal plan.

Here’s an example (my meal plan for the coming week):

  • Monday
    • Breakfast:  Cereal for everyone, coffee
    • Lunch:  Spouse will bring leftovers to work, I will bring leftovers to work and children will purchase their lunch at school
    • Dinner:  Spaghetti with garlic bread and salad, tea to drink
  • Tuesday
    • Breakfast: Cereal for everyone, coffee
    • Lunch: Spouse will bring leftovers to work, I will bring leftovers to work and children will purchase their lunch at school
    • Dinner: Red Beans & Rice, Sausage, Tea, biscuits
  • Wednesday
    • Breakfast: Cereal for everyone, coffee
    • Lunch: Spouse will bring leftovers to work, I will bring leftovers to work and children will purchase their lunch at school
    • Dinner: Beef Stew, Garlic Bread, Tea, biscuits
  • Thursday
    • Breakfast: Cereal for everyone, coffee
    • Lunch: Spouse will bring leftovers to work, I will bring leftovers to work and children will purchase their lunch at school
    • Dinner: Chili, Tea
  • Friday
    • Breakfast: Cereal for everyone, coffee
    • Lunch: Spouse will bring leftovers to work, I will bring leftovers to work and children will purchase their lunch at school
    • Dinner: Chicken Soup, sandwiches
  • Saturday
    • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs, sausage, biscuits, gravy, coffee
    • Lunch:Chicken salad sandwiches, tea
    • Dinner: Tunafish Casserole, green peas, biscuits, tea
  • Sunday
    • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs, sausage, biscuits, gravy, coffee
    • Lunch:  Roast, rice, gravy, green bean casserole, fresh bread, tea
    • Dinner: Left overs from lunch

By the way, this is actually what my family’s meal plan will be for next week :-)    So, let’s get started by developing our shopping list for the grocery store.  First, I’ll go through my meal plan and determine if I already have any of the ingredients available in my pantry and food storage.   If I do, then I will not purchase those items at the grocery store this afternoon when I make my weekend shopping trip.  Something that  you need to consider is that if you plan on having leftovers to bring to work the next day, then you MUST prepare enough food when you cook that particular meal.  A good tip to use is to make sure that before you serve the meal, go ahead and make your “plates” for your lunches for the next day and put them aside.  That will prevent family members from coming back for 2nd’s and eating the extra food that you were going to have for lunch the next day.  What if you have unexpected guests for dinner one night and they have the portion that you’ve allowed for your lunch the next day?  Here’s an easy solution and it involves “planning” — when your grocery store has a special on the TV dinners (our WalMart currently has Banquet TV dinners on sale for 88 cents each), buy 10 of them and put them into the freezer!   Then you can always grab one to take to work with you in a hurry – or in case of unexpectedly not having leftovers from the night before.  It’s all in the planning!

Now let’s talk more about planning and TIME.   Even if you have the best intentions and the best meal plan, it’s nothing if you do not plan your time!  You have to plan the amount of time that it will take you to prepare the meals that you have on your list.   So, if you know that Monday’s are super busy at work and that you’re going to come home tired and not want to spend much time cooking, PLAN to put  your dinner in the crockpot that morning so that it will be ready to eat when  you get home.  And make sure that the meal that you’ve planned for dinner is something that you CAN cook in the crockpot.

Another trick that I use to save time and help me to plan is cooking at night after I’ve gone to bed.  You’re probably thinking that I’ve flipped my lid, right?  Well, consider this as an example:  on Monday for dinner I am planning to have spaghetti for my family.  To prepare and cook spaghetti, I will need to brown 2 pounds of ground beef (remember, I am making a double batch to have enough for 2 lunch meals on Tuesday), add the spaghetti sauce and simmer.  Well, tonight, before I go to bed, I can go ahead and take care of browning the ground beef, adding it to the bottled sauce that I purchase, and placing this into the crock pot to cook for 4 hours on low while I sleep.   When I wake up on Monday morning, the spaghetti sauce will be ready!  I just have to turn off the crock pot, let the sauce cool down while I am showering and getting ready for work, and then place the sauce in a container and into the refrigerator.  When I get home tonight, instead of cooking the sauce, I can just warm it up.  The only item I will need to cook is the spaghetti noodles, toast the garlic bread and brew a batch of tea.

Let’s take this a bit further…. on Monday night while I am cleaning up dishes from dinner, I will plan on putting my red beans and spices into the crockpot to cook while I am sleep so they will be pre-cooked for Tuesday’s dinner.  It will only take me a few minutes to put this together when I’m already in the kitchen cleaning anyway.  How about the rice to go with the red beans on Tuesday night?   Well, that’s another easy fix – I can go ahead and get the rice cooking in the rice cooker and it will be cooked in about 30 minutes.   All I have to do is turn it off and let it cool down and it will also be pre-cooked for the next night’s dinner.   If you’re in the kitchen cleaning up anyway, why not make the most of your time and multi-task?

If you take a few minutes to review and study your meal plan on Sunday, then you will know what you can do to make the best use of your time during the week to prepare your family’s meals.  It just takes a small amount of time to initially plan – and it will save you a lot of time and effort later.

Something else that is very important — you never know when SOMETHING unexpectedly is going to come up.  It happens even in the best planned situations.  Instead of completely throwing off your meal plan, make sure that you are prepared for the unexpected!  How?  Well, make sure that you have those TV dinners in the freezer, make sure you have some hotdogs and buns frozen and a can of hotdog chili in the pantry for a “just in case” scenerio.  Just be very careful NOT to rely on these emergency items and forgo your meal plan.

What meals does your family enjoy?  Are they meals than can be prepared ahead of time or, can they be cooked in the crockpot?  I’d love to hear some of your meal ideas!  Email me at information (at) simplefrugallife (dot) com.