My top three meal planning basics are juuuuuust a little different from what you might normally see online when people recommend you start a meal plan. The standard meal plan recommendations are usually this:
- Go through your recipes and decide what you want to eat this week
- Keep a recipe box or binder of your favorite recipes as go-to’s
- Buy groceries (in bulk if you can)
- Above all else: stick to the plan
The biggest problem for me was that “the plan” so often wound up resorting to overly processed food in order to be made quickly enough to get on the dinner table. I wanted to make fresh, homemade food for my family that didn’t rely on canned soups, seasoning packets, or other flavor boosters that take the place of longer cooking times.
We’re a meat-eating, dairy-loving, no-allergy family with zero special diets to consider. If I had a hard time figuring out what the heck to make for us, I can’t even imagine what it would be like for people and their families who are on special diets or living with allergies.
Something had to give!
I’ve been tweaking my meal planning skillz here for a few years now, and I want to share with you today my three top tips for making a meal plan for my family that works. We live in New York City, one of the most expensive cities on the planet, and I usually keep our weekly grocery shop for 4 people to ~$100/under. Don’t think that’s possible? It totally is!
Look at what’s in your refrigerator now.
Don’t just plan to cook what you feel like cooking; so often this means over-purchasing at the grocery store and food winds up either getting thrown out or shoved it in the freezer to be forgotten about there.
Don’t over plan.
Life happens. Try not to plan a full 7 days in advance and purchase food for each day; instead, plan one night for food delivery, if your budget allows, and one night of leftovers.
Make sure each recipe – or at least most recipes – in your meal plan can “chain” together.
(This one is my favorite tip!)
Not sure what I mean by “chain”? Check out this meal plan example:
Monday: Weeknight Crispy Orange Beef, served over white rice, with roasted broccolini
Tuesday: Chicken and Rice Soup, with leftover broccolini and leftover white rice
Wednesday: Vegetarian Skillet Chili, with avocado, sour cream and shredded cheddar on top
Thursday: Slow cooker shredded pork tacos, with leftover Vegetarian Skillet Chili on top, avocado, sour cream
and so on!
See what I did there? Each recipe “chains” to the next, for the most part. If you plan ahead as you’re cooking, you can use the leftovers from one meal to start the next! Sometimes, it’s the entire dish that’s getting leftover (as with the Vegetarian Skillet Chili as a taco topping), or it’s a component of the recipe (the white rice from the Weeknight Crispy Orange Beef gets reused in a soup the next day).
There are so many benefits to planning this way:
√you don’t wind up with a ton of excess food at the end of the week
√you’re still eating something new and different every night
√your grocery bills get cut down because you’re sharing ingredients between dishes.
Woohoo! Cash money and delicious food for everybody!