New Year, new you, right? We all struggle with wanting to be more organized, sticking with healthy eating goals, and saving money. One of the best ways to do all 3 of those is to meal plan and I’m going to teach you how to meal plan the easy way.
My husband and I have been married for 10 years now and we have been very good about meal planning at times and at other times we’ve struggled. We’ve been consistently doing a good job for about a year and a half now and so I want to share with you what we have found that works for us. Everyone is different, so this may not be what works for you but I’m sharing because maybe it will work for some of you out there.
How to Get Started
Ok, so the first thing you’re going to want to do is stop and take stock of what you have. Go through the pantry, fridge, and freezer. Make note of what you have and pitch anything out of date. This is also a good time to organize it all and wipe down the surfaces.
Once you know what you have try to make a list of a few ideas of things you might be able to make from what you have. For example, I have some ground beef in my freezer so I’m going to put low carb tacos on my meal plan for this week.
Planning to make one or two things from what I have and being familiar with what I have helps with saving a little money and with the planning process.
How to Meal Plan with Plan to Eat
For the past year and a half we have used an online tool called Plan to Eat. It’s essentially a place online where you can store your recipes, organize them into meal plans, and generate a shopping list. Plan to Eat costs a few dollars a month (we paid $19.50 for an annual subscription during the Black Friday sale).
You don’t have to use a tool like this but it has helped me stick to our plan ever since we started using it and so it’s actually saved us money because I’m making all the meals and food isn’t going bad while we spend more money on eating out.
To show you why it’s so helpful I’m going to walk you through how I use the 3 main tabs of Plan to Eat: Cook, Plan, and Shop.
This is where you can store all your recipes in Plan to Eat. If you find a recipe online that you like you can import the recipe easily. Simply Click “Add recipe” and then “import from the web”. Copy and paste the url of the recipe and Plan to Eat will pull the entire recipe over. You can then make any adjustments you’d like and click save.
Plan to Eat will organize your recipes by category. Let’s say you have some chicken in the freezer that you want to use but you can’t think of what to make. Type “chicken” into the search bar and it will pull up chicken recipes for you.
When you’re ready to cook you can click “cooking view” to pull it up on your screen to cook while looking at your computer or phone or you can print it out.
If you want to add a recipe that isn’t online then you can simply type in the information when you click “add recipe”.
So now that you have some recipes in the system let’s talk about how to plan. If you click the planning tab then you will see a calendar to the right and your recipes to the left. You can drag recipes over from the left into the spot you want them to be in on the calendar. My calendar is empty because we just got back from Florida and I’ve got to plan now.
If you click on a meal on the calendar then you can also add an ingredient or add a note to that meal. For example, on the night I want to make low carb tacos I know that I will need to add an ingredient like sour cream since it’s not specified in my recipe but I want a little to top my tacos.
I may just make a note if one night I’m planning to eat leftovers or planning to eat out. Adding something to a note means it will not be added to my shopping list but adding something to ingredient means that it will be added to my shopping list.
When I’m all done with my plan for a week I then click over to the shop tab. Select the date range that you would like to shop for and Plan to Eat will make a grocery shopping list that’s organized by category.
I then go through the list and delete anything from the list that I already have on hand.
You can then print your list out to take to the store or you can use it to order your groceries online like I do.
Walmart Online Grocery
So as soon as I have my list I head over to the Walmart online grocery page. I love using their grocery pickup service. I put the items I want into my cart (just like you would on Amazon or any other online store) and I select a time for when I will pick up my groceries.
When I get the text my order is ready I check in on the app and then drive to the store and park in the designated pick up area. Someone brings out my groceries and loads them into my car.
If they are out of something then I indicate whether I would want them to substitute a similar item or not. This does happen because they can sell out of something between the time when I order and they actually shop for it, but they will only bill me for items that I actually receive and I can decide if the substitutions are acceptable or not.
Using this service saves me a big chunk of time and money. I don’t have to search through the store for random items as I can type them into the site and find them in an instant. I’m also not tempted to make impulse purchases just because something looks good- I stick to my plan.
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An important part of this process is what happens after I follow my plan and actually make the meals. I evaluate what works and what doesn’t. If a recipe wasn’t great I delete it from my recipes in Plan to Eat. If a recipe needed adjustment I go back into the recipe and edit it.
I look at my receipt and figure out the cost of each meal and put that into my recipe notes as well so that I know which meals are the cheapest. This helps when the budget is tight.
Life is unpredictable. Sometimes something comes up and you literally don’t have time to make the meal you planned. You can still save yourself from going out by having a back up meal on hand that you can make in minutes.
Typically I try to have on hand some canned soup or something in the freezer that can fill in in a pinch. This can save you on the day when you forget to put the pot roast into the crock pot before going to work and you “have nothing to eat”.
Streamline Your Routine
In order for meal planning to succeed you have to figure out what works and make it a regular routine. Make a regular planning night and shopping day. Figure out what meals your family likes. Once you do this then it becomes much easier and much less daunting.
If you have a plan in place and you know exactly what you are going to make each night of the week then you’re less likely to go out because you know what you’re making for dinner and you know you have all the ingredients.
You don’t have to use Plan to Eat or shop online for your groceries like I do (even I don’t always shop online for my groceries) but if you are struggling with your grocery budget or sticking to a plan then maybe these tools and my strategy might help. It’s worth a try, right?
Want more ideas for how to meal plan? Check out these posts: