My own version of meal planning has evolved over the years. It was hard for me to come to the realization that we had to plan meals, but I have learned to enjoy it. I didn't grow up meal planning. My mother can just throw stuff together. That is how I learned to cook, but I also like to make certain meals and I don't like having to go to the store because I'm missing one ingredient (or many). I don't like grocery shopping and eventually by meal planning I figured out how to only go grocery shopping once a week. I could probably go every two weeks except for the fresh produce and the small apartment fridge.
As with many things, we can learn by doing. Just pick one way. Try it out for a while. See what works for you and what doesn't. Our MOPS speaker today showed us her way of meal planning, and it is a good way to do it, but each of us has to do what works for us. I liked how she presented it in a very open-ended way.
We all have challenges. We all have goals. We all have some sort of budgetary restriction. We can all save money and time, while sticking to our family's goals and challenges if we take up some intentional planning with our meals.
These days I plan about 5 dinners per week. I plan on having leftovers or a back-up easy meal (maybe a crock-pot freezer meal) the other two days. I pack up leftovers and freeze them for David to take for lunch. We only recently settled into this routine and it is working very well for us. I am thankful he likes leftovers. We have eggs for breakfast. Sometimes a breakfast meat, sometimes just cheese. My 3 year old likes cereal or yogurt for breakfast and then she has a bigger mid-morning snack. David takes leftovers for lunch. I eat leftovers or I will make myself a salad, quick soup (from scratch) or sandwich.
Some things I have learned recently to reduce waste and maximize efficiency:
1) When I only need 1/2 and onion or pepper, I chop up the rest and freeze it otherwise it ends up in the back of my fridge and goes bad before I remember to use it. If it's in the freezer I use it in stir-fries or soups when I need it.
2) I buy meat in bulk and freeze it in meal-sized portions, OR I cook it and then divide it up into meal sized portions. I sometimes buy in bulk from Zaycon Foods and I prepare crock pot freezer meals in gallon freezer bags. I can just put the whole bag in the crock pot and have a meal ready in about 4 hours. If I have stuff to do I put it in at about lunch time and it is ready by dinner time. Here is a link to my crock pot recipes.
3) Putting leftovers in the freezer. While David doesn't mind leftovers, he prefers to eat the same thing at a later date. I don't blame him and this has greatly reduced how much we have to discard. By freezing it doesn't go bad before he wants to eat it and we cycle through meals with some variety and he can even choose what he wants to take each day. We use containers that have dividers and I add frozen vegetables on the side (that I transfer directly from the bag frozen) that end up getting steamed while he warms up the leftover entree.
4) Going into Costco with a plan, knowing it is a war zone. Let's face it: Costco is full of expensive temptations. Go there with a list. Only buy what is on your list. If you can't do this, don't go to Costco. We only buy what we know we will need. I have very specific things I know I will use. I don't buy anything that I will only use more of (or have to waste some of) if I buy it in bulk. Generally I buy unprocessed meats, eggs, cheese, coffee, grains, legumes, vitamins, OTC medications, supplements, diapers, wipes, toilet paper, printer ink cartridges (if you wait for their coupon you get $20 off two double XL packages, which is a great deal). I can't afford to buy processed meats, meals or specialty cheeses or anything else that generally gets featured at the taste-test carts.
5) I find I save a lot of money buying in bulk. We try to find a store that has gluten-free flours and pastas in the bulk section.
6) I am not a "couponer". I use coupons sometimes but they don't make coupons for most of the things I buy. The times I have tried to use a lot of coupons, I ended up going over in my budget because I was trying to change what we ate according to what we had coupons for and I found it did not save me money because I was buying things that were too processed and we just didn't eat. I cook from scratch and I save more money that way.
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