I’ve Been Meal Planning for More Than 20 Years—Here’s What I’ve Learned

Meal planning comes second nature to me. It is truly the only way I know how to do it. My mom was a meal planner and she taught me her Jedi ways before I was married, so for more than twenty years I have been making a weekly menu and grocery shopping accordingly.

When it comes to making a meal plan, people seem to fall into three categories. One, old-school planners like me who live by the list. Two, those who want to meal plan, and might even succeed a few days a week, but wish they could do more. And three, those who fly by the seat of their pants every night and are 100% okay with that method.

If you're looking to step up your meal plan game, not only am I about to share my best tips and tricks but I'll also show you how to execute it for some easy weeknight suppers.

Related: 32 Easy & Cheap Meals That Begin With Black Beans

Why should I make a meal plan?

Wonder what all the fuss is about? Avid meal planners will tell you we do it for a few reasons. See if any of these sound like something you want in your life too!

  • Save Money. When you plan what to cook, make a grocery list based on those recipes and then shop using your list, you tend to make fewer impromptu purchases.

  • Stress-Free Suppertime. Taking the guesswork out of the age-old question "What's for supper?" means less hectic meal times and more time to relax and enjoy the food and your family.

  • Others Can Help.  If your meal plan is written down in a place where your spouse or older children can see it, they can help prep dishes or put things in the oven ahead of time so when you come home supper is already in progress!

Related: 25 One-Pan Dinners For Busy Nights

How To Make A Meal Plan

When I sit down to plan out my meals for the week, I do it the same way I have every week for two decades. Here's how I do it:

  • Write it down I list each day, then add a main dish and sides under each one.

  • Look at the calendar What matters about what day you eat what meal? Every day is different, and it's helpful to plan your meals to match your schedule. If I know I'm going to be gone most of the day, we have an evening event, my husband has a late meeting and will need something that can be easily reheated, I need to plan accordingly.

  • Take stock After I have sorted out all the meals I want to make, I check my fridge and pantry to see what I have on hand and what I need to buy. This includes one-time-use ingredients and restocking of pantry staples. This is also when I might find something I forgot we had, so I can adjust the plan accordingly.

  • Make a list Now it's time to make the grocery list. For this meal plan, I know every single thing can be found at Aldi, so it is a one-stop shopping trip.

Six-Day Meal Plan<p>Krista Marshall</p>
Six-Day Meal Plan

Krista Marshall

A quick note for our family. We are blessed to be able to go out to eat every Saturday night so my plan only includes six evenings, but day seven could also be used for a "clean out the fridge" night where leftovers are put to good use.

Related: 200+ Best Crock Pot Recipes

How To Use A Meal Plan To Grocery Shop

Once I have my handy dandy daily supper plan, I head to my kitchen to take inventory of what I have on hand and what I will need to fill my shopping cart with. For example, even though I need eggs for the panko-crusted pork chops, I already have them, so they aren't on the shopping list.

Many people organize their grocery list according to aisle order for shopping efficiency, but I prefer to write things down in meal order. That way if I need to make a last-minute swap at the store, I know which meal I'm adjusting, or in some cases, changing completely.

<p>Krista Marshall</p>

Krista Marshall

Related: 42 Best Fall Dinner Ideas

How much money can I save with meal planning?

It can sometimes shock people how much money they save when they start planning and shopping for meals with a list. Plus, if you aren't stopping at the store every day as you try to scramble to figure out what's for supper, you're saving both time and gas too!

Need more proof? I'm a numbers girl, so let me share some with you. The entire list above can be purchased for under $100! That is approximately $4 per person per meal for a family of 4 like mine!

Related: 35 Best Cheap Dinner Ideas

Best Meal Planning Tips

Here are a few more tips and tricks to keep in mind when you set off on your meal-planning quest:

  • Look for sales When you have your list ready, check out your grocery store's weekly ads to see what is on special that week. It might be worth switching something to save some extra cash.

  • Do double duty Try to buy things you can use more than once. For example, the box of instant rice on my grocery list? I can serve the Hawaiian meatballs with it, and then on Mexican night, add a can of Rotel to it for another quick side dish.

  • Swap proteins That goulash on the menu? Sure, it calls for ground beef, but maybe ground turkey is a better price this week. Go for it! Your meal plan and shopping list are tools, not laws!

  • Avoid specialty ingredients Sometimes it is okay to find a recipe you want to try that has an ingredient you might never use again, but if you're trying to stay on budget, those are better avoided so you aren't throwing money away.

  • Stock your pantry (and fridge) Having a fully supplied pantry and fridge is so important in meal planning. Being able to rely on staples not needing to be purchased over and over can save a ton of money. Make sure when you run out of something, you make note of it so when meal planning day comes, you can add it to your list!

  • Switch stores We all have our favorite grocery store, but if you can save some major cash, maybe it is time to find a new, less expensive one. If you have an Aldi in your area, that's a great place to start!

Related: How To Make A Pantry Staples List

Recipes Included In This Meal Plan

Did you see something on my list that you'd like to make? You can find some of these recipes, or similar inspiration,  right here on Parade.com.