Ultimate Meal Planning Guide

  • weekly meal plan
  • + fast recipes kids will love
  • + savings at your grocery store
  • + organized grocery list
  • = stress-free mom
  1. Meal Planning 101: Getting Started
  2. Meal Planning for Maximum Grocery Store Savings
  3. Meal Planning by Theme
  4. Monthly Meal Planning

Meal Planning 101: Getting Started

Is meal planning something you wish you did, but you don't know where to begin? Like all things, making small adjustments can lead to big change. Instead of finding seven new recipes the first week of meal planning, aim to plan just two meals.

Here is a step-by-step tutorial from Life as Mom to get started:

  • Get a piece of paper and pen,
  • Consult your calendar to fill in events that affect meal times,
  • Take inventory of what you have in your freezer, pantry, and refrigerator,
  • Look to grocery ads for inspiration,
  • Browse recipe resources or find family favorites,
  • Write down on your calendar the two meals you want for the week,
  • Create a grocery list with the ingredients you will need,
  • Go to the grocery store.

Remember to be flexible. If for some reason you aren't able to put the right meal on the table on the right day, don't consider it a failure. Sometimes the best-laid plans aren't executed. Dust yourself off and try again.

Meal Planning for Maximum Grocery Store Savings

Meal planning saves you money, even if you don't use circulars. You can use these ideas to save even more.

  • Level 1:
    • When you go to the grocery store armed with a grocery list and a plan, you avoid buying things you don't need at the grocery store. This is the basic way to save money through meal planning.
  • Level 2:
    • Plan using the circular in your store. You can find grocery store circulars in the mail and many grocery stores post the circular online. Find out what your family likes to eat and match the sale items to your favorite recipes. If your family is tired of your "standards," use this opportunity to search for different recipes. You don't want to experiment with a new meal when you pay full price.
    • Create a grocery list organized by department. This will get you in and out of the grocery store quickly. Studies show that you spend $1 for every additional minute over 30 minutes you stay in the store. An organized grocery list will help you avoid backtracking.
  • Level 3:
    • Match the sale items in the weekly circular with coupons. The universe of coupons is large, but you can look for help online. The best resources are Deal Seeking Mom, Mrs. Moneysaver, and Couponing 101. These blogs have sections for selected grocery stores where they combine the sales with the coupons.

Meal Planning By Theme

Planning by theme is a great way to narrow down recipe decisions and make planning easier. The drawback is it's more difficult to work from the grocery circulars and doesn't allow much variety.

Themes could not only be cuisine type, but also cooking method. Here's an example:

  • Day 1: Noodles
  • Day 2: Casserole
  • Day 3: Mexican
  • Day 4: Entrée Salad
  • Day 5: Pizza
  • Day 6: Grilling
  • Day 7: Crockpot

Monthly Meal Planning

If you want to organize even further, you can consider meal planning once a month. The expert on this is Once A Month Mom. She takes one day at the beginning of the month to make 3-4 breakfast items, 4 lunch items, and 8 dinner items resulting in enough leftovers to feed the family throughout the entire month. She has 10 main tips for successfully planning once a month.

  1. Assess Needs
    • How much do you need?
    • How many do you need to feed?
    • Consult your calendar -- meals to cook per week, go-out to eat, etc.
    • Time in kitchen -- how many hours do you want to spend cooking?
  2. Research Sale Items
  3. Plan Your Recipes
    • Keep your options open
    • Meat
    • Vegetarian
    • Seasonal Items
  4. Find Recipes
    • Family Recipes
    • Cookbooks
    • Recipe Forums
    • Blogs
  5. Select Recipes
    • Organize into meal time categories
    • Label your recipes by meal time category
    • Eliminate recipes that are too heavy on ingredients, too heavy on appliances, too heavy on certain tasks, or too many like ingredients
  6. Evaluate Quantity
    • Print the recipe and go off what the recipe says it cooks for (e.g.: 4 people)
    • Assess the serving amounts of each recipe (you need to multiply the recipe by the number of days you plan to eat it again later -- example: If you're a family of 4 and you want to eat it for 4 days throughout the month, alter the recipe to feed 16 people)
    • Decide on the container
    • Do the math (calculate the new servings per recipe)
  7. Create a Grocery List
    • Print individual copies of each recipe
    • Print a master grocery list
    • List each ingredient for each recipe
  8. Create Instructions
    • Separate by meat product (chicken, beef, pork, etc), baking, and slow cooker recipes
  9. Substitutions or Equivalents
    • Which resources will I need for this recipe?
    • Recheck each recipe to confirm measurements and ingredients
  10. Create Labels
    • Recipe title
    • Instructions
    • Date
    • Print