Today I want to talk to you about how to meal plan. Setting up a meal plan for the week is a brilliant way to save money and to save time. It is also the best way to make sure that you, after a long day, won’t end up wondering what to make for dinner.
Why did I start meal planning?
When Nathan and I got married and moved in together, I really wanted to figure out a system for our groceries and our meals. I wanted to avoid not knowing what to have for dinner or finding out there’s nothing to eat. I also really don’t like wasting food (and money)! On top of that I just liked the idea of being organised enough to need only one shop a week.
One of my favourite websites, Fun Cheap or Free, gave me the solution I was looking for. Jordan Page writes about budgeting, productivity, food and lifestyle. She does this in a no nonsense way and make it, therefore, easy to implement her methods in your life. There are actually multiple articles at Fun Cheap or Free on how to meal plan. Read my favourite articles here and here.
With every method out there, make sure it works for YOU
When I started using Jordan’s method, it took me a while to get used to it. But after a year of using this method it has become routine for me. The method is all about shelf-cooking. This is making up meals according to what you already have. All that’s left to do then is buying essentials and complementing ingredients. Jordan even set up a website especially for shelf cooking. Check it out here.
We live in the countryside and the Aldi where we usually shop is a 45 minute drive from us. So for us being organised for that one big shop a week (sometimes even two weeks) is crucial. I love Jordan’s shelf cooking method and I want to recommend it to you!
So how to get started?
For me, a notepad like this one from Poundland (I prefer a ringband notepad) and a little magnetic notepad is all I need. I keep the magnetic notepad on the fridge to write down ingredients when we run out of it. On the left page I write my grocery list. On the right page I write down the days of the week and my ‘what to finish list’. When writing my grocery list, I try to keep the categories of products in mind. I always stick to the following categories:
– vegetables & fruit
– meat, poultry, fish
– others (this would be anything that doesn’t fit within the previous categories like: bread, pasta, cleaning & beauty products and so on).
When I have everything laid out on paper, I add some of the things that I’ve written on the magnetic pad during the week. I don’t always buy all of the ingredients I’ve run out of in one shop since I want to stick to a budget.
Next it’s time to check what I do have. For this I go through my cupboards, fridge, freezer and utility room (we keep our potatoes etc. in the utility room). I write these ingredients down under my ‘what to finish’ list. Not every single ingredient will be written down. I just look at what needs to be finished and what has been in my cupboard for a while.
After writing those ingredients down, I try to compose meals with the meat/fish/poultry that I have as a starting point. I also use the Aldi deals as a starting point.
This is the part I used to find tricky in the beginning, but it has gotten so much easier. For meal inspiration I mostly use my cooking books and one of my favourite recipe websites, Yummly. Yummly is a useful website which allows you to add ingredients when you search for a recipe. When you’ve found recipes you wish to make, you can save them under categories to use them later.
When selecting the meals, make sure to add the complementing ingredients to your grocery list. Also tick off any ingredients you’re going to be using from your ‘what to finish’ list.
I continue with this process until I have figured out five meals. The last two days of the week are usually leftover days where we improvise a bit. When finished, I take the list on the left with me to the shop and I fold the page on the right to hang it on the fridge!
On the grocery list I usually add some basic ingredients just to have them on hand (potatoes, freezer vegetables, sauces). The beauty is that I often end up stretching our food longer than a week! Most of the times we are able to do our groceries once every ten days (or two weeks even). When that happens, I just re-asses what we have after a week and make another meal plan (without buying anything new apart from bread and milk in our village shop).
There you have it! The meal plan method I can’t live without. I am very curious to know! How do organize your groceries and meals? Do you feel your method needs improving or do you feel like you kick bottoms with it?!