Meal Planning 101

Tips to keep your meal planning cheap and simple

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Written by Caitlin Schille 

Meal planning is the latest fad in the dieting world, and for good reason! Meal planning facilitates a healthy diet by making it easier to cook at home, avoid eating out and access healthier foods. Not only does meal planning encourage a healthy diet, but it can save time and money, too!

Let’s Get Started

Before you officially plan out your meal calendar, do some recipe research and get inspired.

  • Set aside a couple of hours one day to plan your meals. You can plan on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis; just pick what works best with your schedule and budget.
  • Browse through cookbooks, recipe cards, blogs, etc. for new and familiar recipes.
  • Keep track of meals by keeping a meal journal. Simply take note of recipes you’ve made in the past, marking the ones you did or did not like.
  • Be mindful of the seasons and weather. Find recipes that use in-season produce, and ones that you will be in the mood for. Leave the soups for rainy days and the barbeque for sunny weekends.
  • Make a list of possible dishes for the week. It’s best to find a few recipes more than the number of days you’re planning for; that way you can be more flexible when it comes to keeping a short shopping list.

Getting Organized

Organize your recipes, meals and lists so that they are easy to find and read when you need them during the week.

  • Try to keep all your recipes together in one place. Organize your recipes by category on Pinterest, a Google Doc or in a recipe binder.
  • Have a theme night for a few or all of the weekdays. Mondays are pasta, Tuesdays are soup, Wednesdays are tacos, etc. Get the family involved by letting them choose their favorite dishes for the next month.
  • Plan for all three meals. Having breakfast, lunch and dinner planned will make it less likely for you to make a drive-thru stop in the middle of the week and more likely for you to save money!
  • Plan for leftovers. One way to do this is to make a little extra in your dinner meals. This can give you lunch for the next day, or give you a few nights of quick meals.
  • Record your meals on a calendar and make a shopping list. You can do this the old fashioned way with a paper and pencil, or you can use one of the many meal planning websites and apps. Here are just a few you can choose from:
    • emealscom: this website, recommended by Dave Ramsey to help you save money, lets you choose your recipes and creates a shopping lists to make meal planning easy.
    • mealplannerpro.com: this free website service not only helps you plan your meals, but it keeps track of your caloric, fat, protein, carbs and fiber intake.
    • Pepperplate: this app excels at organizing your recipes, planning meals and building your shopping list while allowing you to share them with others. Available for most smart phones, Nooks and Kindles.

Wrapping Things Up

Taking a few minutes after grocery shopping to prepare meals can help save time and money during the week.

  • Chop up fruits and vegetables, and place them in the freezer to keep them from spoiling. This can cut down prep time for quick weekday meals.
  • Prepare and freeze full meals ahead of time. You can make smoothie bags with sliced fruit and veggies for a quick and healthy breakfast. Or, prepare your crock pot meals and put them in the freezer until you’re ready to cook.
  • Cook the meat for several meals at one time. If you have a few meals with chicken, cook and dice or shred the chicken to decrease prep time. Getting a rotisserie chicken and shredding it is also a great way to have quick protein for your meals.
  • Keep a well-stocked pantry with simple, common ingredients. These may include olive oil, beans, herbs and rice.

Money-saving Tips

While you’re planning your meals, keep these simple tips in mind to help you save some extra dough.

  • Plan meals around what you already have, or plan meals that use the same ingredients. This shortens your grocery list and your bill.
  • Check for sale items. You can either plan your shopping trips around grocery sales, or plan meals that include sale items.
  • Don’t overstock your fridge. This leads to things getting stuck in the back and getting forgotten.
  • Make double batches and freeze one half for later. This can prevent food from going bad, and it gives you two meals for the price of one.
  • Buy your ingredients in bulk if you can.
  • If you really want to try something new, try growing a garden. This can give you a lot of fresh produce for a fraction of the price. Chop up and freeze any extras to use throughout the following months.
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Caitlin Schille
Caitlin Schille is a writer for Healthy Magazine and an exercise physiologist at Timpanogos Regional Hospital. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in public health and loves to write about public health issues. In her free time Caitlin enjoys playing tennis and going kayaking.
Caitlin Schille

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