One of the key things to saving money and staying under budget is knowing how to meal plan. The cost of food is one of the biggest expenses in most family budgets.
When you use a meal planning binder to plan meals, it makes the process much easier and more organized. This is a must for busy moms and dads who need a simple and quick way to meal plan.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be complicated either. It doesn’t mean that you have to cook every meal from scratch or cook for an hour!
It’s perfectly ok to have chicken nuggets, hot dogs, or frozen pizza, especially on those busy school nights when the kids have karate class.
When I set out to meal plan, I needed an easy way to implement it. Each week, I kept telling myself that I’d start meal planning but then the week would pass and nothing happened!
Finally, I signed up with meal planning service and it forced me to start because I paid for it and didn’t want to waste money! After a few months, I stopped the subscription and realized that I just needed recipes or a list of meals to look at when meal planning.
How to Put Together a Meal Planning Binder
I use printables to guide me through meal planning. I have cute meal planner printables like Meals I Can Cook, Weekly Menu Planner, Grocery List with Checkboxes
1. List meals you can cook.
When you sit down to meal plan, it’s helpful to have a list of meals you can cook without a recipe and that your family likes. You can even start with something as simple as frozen pizza and hot dogs.
I highly suggest having a few no brainer meals on your list, things that you can easily heat up and make into dinner. Some of my favorites are chicken apple sausage, mac n cheese, and pizza.
2. Decide on how many meals you’re going to plan for.
Are you planning breakfast, lunch, and dinner? To start, I’d focus on planning for weeknight dinners only and have a set plan for breakfast and lunch. This is so you can get into the habit of meal planning.
Breakfast can be cereal or eggs and toast and lunch can be sandwiches or leftovers.
More: Meal Planning 101
3. Do an inventory of what’s in your pantry and fridge for food that needs to be used up.
Do you have leftover broccoli from Costco that needs to be cooked soon? How many chicken nuggets are left in the freezer?
I can’t tell you how many times I have forgotten food in the fridge. We are house sharing so we store our food in half of the fridge space! But we also have a smaller fridge in the garage.
I have a family of 4 so the space issue gets tricky and I have to clear out old food often. That’s why I have to stay on top of things and be organized!
4. Take advantage of shortcut items at the grocery store.
I just wanted to let you know that it’s perfectly fine to buy pre-chopped vegetables (have you heard of mirepoix?), rotisserie chicken, marinated meat, and whatever makes it easier for you to get dinner on the table.
My favorite shortcut items are Thai curry sauce, BBQ sauce, Better Than Bouillon chicken base, chopped broccoli, boxed mac n cheese, and frozen meatballs. By using these shortcuts, I am able to give my family more variety for dinner, without that much more work on my part.
5. Limit new recipes to one per week.
The reason I left the meal plan subscription is because I couldn’t keep up with all the new recipes. As enticing as Pinterest and Facebook is for finding new recipes, I had to change my mindset.
I had to be honest with myself, that I’m a busy mom of 2 and I’m exhausted around 5pm. It was unrealistic of me to think that I could pull off a gourmet dinner, made from scratch using more than 5 ingredients, and try to do it more than once per week.
More: 20 Meal Planning Ideas for Beginners
Every time I try a new recipe, it requires a lot of energy and brain power! And sometimes, the new recipe doesn’t turn out right or my kids don’t like it. That’s so disappointing, right?
Now when I try a new recipe, it’s on a weekend and I have my kids try it to see if they like it. Then I have a backup option, just in case.
6. Create your weekly meal plan.
Using your Meals I Can Cook and taking into account what needs to be used up in the fridge, list meals for the week. In order to start as simply as possible, aim for just 5 meals.
My basic meals include a protein/meat, a vegetable, and rice or grain.
7. Make a grocery list.
Now figure out what you need to get at the grocery store. I know it’s tempting to skip this step but you’ll always forget something if you don’t make a list.
More: How to Get Organized with Meal Planning