If you’re looking for a how-to guide for meal planning, chances are you’re not a fan of meal planning, but understand that it could make your life a little easier. I absolutely love meal planning! And basically every other type of planning that exists. I know that I am not in the majority in this respect. So, I thought I would share a little of what I do to make meal planning simple.
I have a few methods and habits that have made meal planning a breeze. I still occasionally goof and have a week of dining out and spending too much on convenience foods, but adopting these habits significantly reduce the occurrence of overspending and worrying about what’s for lunch.
In this post I will outline my three key habits. After that, each week I will post my shopping list and meals for the week. I hope this helps you simplify this aspect of your life so you can spend more time doing what you love.
Make a shopping list
Ok so maybe that seems obvious, but it’s incredibly important. Going into the grocery store without a plan is a recipe for disaster – we just want recipes for yummy meals! Here’s how I build my shopping list:
- Choose three dinner & lunch friendly recipes from cookbooks and blogs and write down what you’ll need.
- Be sure to check the measurements so you don’t come home and realize you’re short on something important.
- Bonus if the recipes can provide enough food for dinner and some lunch leftovers (if you’re one person look for “serves 4”, if you’re feeding two look for “serves 6” or more). It’s also great if the leftovers are freezer friendly.
- Extra extra bonus if there are some overlapping ingredients. If a recipe calls for only half an onion, I try to find another that also calls for half an onion. One way to find overlapping ingredients is to choose recipes with similar cuisine bases. If I want to buy a big head of Napa cabbage, I better be incorporating a few Chinese and other Eastern Asian recipes in the mix to use it all up.
- Figure out an easy breakfast and lunch option for the week.
- If you’re down to eat oatmeal every day for breakfast and a sandwich every day for lunch, this will be easy for you. If you need more variety, the planning is even more important.
- Write down what you will need for 3-7 lunches and breakfasts (depending on your reliance on leftovers). Example: if you like wraps get a package of tortillas, a tub or two of hummus, and some veggies that you like. It might take a few weeks to figure out if you’re buying to much or too little.
- Fill in the gaps.
- Like I said above, it can take a bit to figure out the quantity you need, but if your shopping list doesn’t quite look like enough for a week, plan to get some snack foods like fruit, nuts, snack bars, etc.
- Have condiments to jazz up any last minute boring foods. A steamed potato and frozen veggie mix is my go-to for filling in a meal planning gap, it’s much better with interesting condiments!)
- It’s also a good idea to check the weekly sales of your grocery store here. If a 5lb bag of apples is on sale, then it’s a great time for a week of apple snacks!
Set a prep day and don’t compromise on it!
“Sorry Jessika, Sunday evening is my meal prep day, I can’t go hang out.” I tend to get my laundry going and then start cooking on Sundays as a way to generally prep for the week ahead. If I can make ahead some lunches, wash and put away my laundry, I know my week will be so much easier.
Sunday just happens to be best for me because I have a very Monday-Friday type of schedule. Think of whatever day you tend to have the least stuff going on and go for that. I also cook a little on Wednesdays as I’m running out of my leftovers from Sunday.
Yes, it sucks to plan ahead some times. Think about your future self and how happy you’ll be to have a nice bowl of chili for lunch on Tuesday instead of frantically spending $6 on a crappy frozen meal you picked up from the grocery store on your way to work.
Have a contingency plan
You forgot to grab our lunch on your way out the door. You messed up the recipe and it tastes terrible. Your coworkers asked you to join them for lunch at your favorite restaurant. You got stuck late at work. And so on. Shit happens.
Have plans for these things! I keep a few cans of soup in my desk drawer for when I forget my lunch. If you are asked out to lunch but are trying to save money, don’t worry about turning down the invite or tagging along for the social aspect but only having a beverage or side dish.
And there we have it! I’ll post my shopping list next Sunday. I planned on starting this last summer and totally forgot – so it’s going in my calendar right now!