Once you've got your meal planning down pat, and you are looking to become a little more efficient, a little more organized AND save yourself money, you can try these tips and tricks:
1. Pre-Made Grocery List
You can buy these, but it's just as easy to make one (and more customized to you). I made mine in Microsoft Word so it separates the departments - Produce, Deli, Meat, Bakery, Dairy, Canned Good, Dry Goods, Toiletries, etc. and I arranged the list in the order we walk through our grocery store. I included items we shop for frequently, and left spaces for adding items.
- When adding items to your grocery list it’s easy to just check it off or add a quantity beside it
Coming up with meals week after week can be the hardest part of meal planning. It's frustrating and can feel like a HUGE job especially when you are starting from scratch. Having a piece of paper on the fridge that you can add to all week as you get ideas will make it much easier when you go to meal plan.
- Family members can add to it – helps kids to be more likely to eat what you have made
- Whenever you come across a good looking recipe write it on your list and say where you've found it (internet address, pg # of cookbook, etc)
- Whenever you get a craving for something add it to the list
- Whenever you are eating someone else’s cooking and you love it, ask for the recipe, and add it to your list
3. Organize your Recipes
If you don't have a system for your favorite recipes, you've got to get organized or sitting down to plan your meals at the beginning of the week will be a nightmare.
- Keep them all in one place – computer, recipe index, etc
- Make sure they are clearly labeled and easy to find
- If you try a new recipe, make sure to figure out if it’s a keeper or not and file it away (or throw it away)
I didn't think I'd like assigning a meal to a specific day, but I was kind of forced to when I went back to work. Some days I am at home all day and can spend time cooking, some days I don't get home until 6:30pm so I need something with minimal effort. Assigning your meals will make this easier.
- Write down each day and what meal you will be having.
- If you know you will be busy on a certain day then plan to make a slow cooker meal, fast meal, make a big meal the night before and have leftovers on the busy day, or make something ahead of time like a lasagna that can be thrown in the oven when you get home.
- You will know in advance when you need to take the meat out of the freezer, or if you have to throw everything in the slow cooker the night before, or if you have to make a make-ahead meal like lasagna, etc.
This is something I have just started doing and it's AMAZING how much money you can save by doing this extra step.
- Get grocery store flyers
- If you don't get them at home, look at your local grocery stores flyers online
- You will also find coupons online: You will either be able to print them out, or they will show you what in-store coupons your store has that week.
6. Another Way to Save Money - USE UP WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE
- Look through cupboards and find that lost can of beans – decide to make chili
- If you bought a huge amount of pork chops last week because they were on sale, find a recipe to use them this week.
- If there was an ingredient you bought last week but didn’t use it all, find a recipe that uses it up this week.
These tips and tricks will seem like its adding a lot more work to your meal planning, but trust me: In the end, you will save time AND money.