Our Meal Planning Process

One of my 2013 New Year’s Resolutions was to start meal planning instead of winging it each day.  With a second baby on the way and a decreased salary from being on maternity leave, I felt the urgency to really reign in our budget.  YNAB helped jumpstart a renewed commitment to our budgeting this year, but I wanted to take it even further by cutting costs wherever possible.

The single biggest waste in our budget was the FOOD category.  So many little meals out added up to a huge chunk of change at the end of the month!  Plus, we were going grocery shopping multiple times a week, casually picking up non-necessities (e.g. chips, ice cream, junk!) without a second thought.  Talk about a time waste, not to mention how much that $5-10 here and there really starts to add up!

In just this one month of meal planning, our food costs have decreased dramatically (as in, we shaved ~25% off our food category), and we’re not even being overly aggressive about it!  I’ve been feeling so accomplished having a plan and sticking to it.  No more, “What should we eat for dinner tonight?”.  I actually look forward to sitting down and planning my meals out for the following week now – it only takes up about 10-15 minutes of my time too!  Not nearly as daunting or overwhelming as I thought it would be.

For those who don’t really meal plan, this is how I got started:

1.  Do a brain dump and list out all the meals you can whip up quickly.
I focused only on dinners and only on meals I already knew how to make.  I didn’t want to completely overwhelm myself with planning all 3 meals.  We typically eat the same things for breakfast and lunch every day anyway.

Master_Meals

2. Write down the meals you want to make that week.
I do my meal planning on Friday nights and do my shopping over the weekend.  I hung a whiteboard up in my kitchen and wrote the meals there for the whole family to see.  When deciding what meals to make, I also think about what ingredients we already have in the house (Oh, I have leftover ground pork from the lettuce wraps I made last week… let’s make some Sloppy Joe’s with them this week!).  I usually try to have one or two nights where we can just eat leftovers, and I also reserve a night for eating out so I don’t have to cook every day.

Weekly_Meal_Plan_2

3. Create a grocery list based off your meal plan.
I separate the ingredients by category (produce, dairy, meat, carbs, canned foods, condiments) to make my shopping trips more efficient.  I also keep an ongoing list on my fridge and add to it throughout the week whenever we’re running low on something (usually staples like eggs, milk, bread).

4.  Shop!
I found that ever since I started meal planning, I’ve rarely had to go to the market more than once a week.  Like everything else in my life, it’s been SO NICE to have a plan in place and execute on it!

Do you meal plan and what’s your approach?  Do you plan weekly, bi-weekly, monthly?  Any other tips you can pass along to this newbie?

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