When we first bought our house, our move-in expenses were a little higher than we thought they would be. We decided to start meal planning so we could stick to a weekly grocery budget. At first, it was *so* difficult because what if I didn’t *feel* like eating the thing that we had scheduled? Or what if we got invited somewhere for an event but had food that would go bad in the fridge? Read on to see what things I learned along the way so you can avoid some of the growing pains that we went through.
First, find what tools will work best for you. I’ve been through a few different kinds of meal-planning boards (most of which didn’t work for one reason or another), but what really ended up sealing the deal was a two-part system for us. First, we have a shared calendar where we list what we’re eating for the week so that it can be referenced by either of us from anywhere. After a few months of “What’s for dinner tonight?”, I didn’t have a ton of patience and implemented easy access to the answer to that question. Second, I write out the week on a dry-erase board that’s on the side of our fridge, with what to thaw or marinate the day before, so we can be aware of prep work as we’re in “dinner” mode.
Another thing that I found was to digitize our recipes so those could be accessed by either of us. Whoever is home first can take a peek at the recipe to be aware of what prep needs to be done, as well as what the timing is for prep and cooking.
Here are a few variations of weekly boards that I’ve designed that can help you with your meal-planning journey:
I also implemented a “Freezer Board” once we got a freezer in the garage because I could never keep track of what meat we had available for meals without braving the weather and sticking my head into an ice box.
Another handy tool I added was a “Fridge Things” board. Really it’s just a dry-erase board but you can personalize the text or if you want it lined or not. This is where we jot down the things that we notice we’re almost out of as we’re making food. Then those items get transferred to a digital list (also shared between both of us) before the weekly grocery trip.
If magnetic isn’t your style, this one might work for you as well:
The biggest tips I can give you are these:
- Plan a “leftovers” night to help clear the fridge out
- Set a weekly budget for groceries (try a number for a while, and see if you’re hitting or missing the mark. Adjust slowly so it’s not a jarring shift).
- 1-2 meals should be “flexible” so they can be moved around if your schedule changes at the last minute.
- Be realistic about how much time you have each night for cooking - no one has full five-course meal energy after a long day of working or activities so get to know which meals are low labor but still hit the spot.
- We do one “fancy” dinner on Sundays, where we try a new recipe and spend more time cooking than we’re able to during the week.
- Trial and error is your friend. Not all of my systems would work for others, so try a few different things and see what works best for you!
Give some of these things a go and let me know what did or didn’t work for you! Or maybe you have a system that I didn’t touch on that has changed your life - let me know so we can share it with others as well.
One of the best things about meal planning (once you get it dialed in) is that it reduces food waste. You know how much of each thing you need, and only buy what you need for the pre-planned recipes. With increased grocery costs, this is definitely something to keep in mind. We like to do a "splurge / fancy" meal once a week and tend to stay on the budget side for the rest of the week. This article covers a recent survey on cooking at home vs eating out. Some really interesting stuff to keep in mind, especially for Earth Day (but really, we should think about it all the time).