If there was one habit that I picked up that has saved me the most it is using a Meal Plan. Every week I write out what we are going to cook at home and post it. Use a piece of paper, a calendar or a white board to post your plan. I use this magnetic whiteboard from amazon that I got for around $10.
Here is a picture of my current meal plan. All of the meat for the next 2 weeks is in the freezer so that only leaves sides and snacks for my grocery list. You can be as brief or as detailed as you want with your meal plan. I list the proteins of the dish and then come home and throw together some sides which usually consist of a vegetable and a starch. If you benefit from more organization, write out all components of your meal plan. Do what works for you.
The area of our budget (which I keep on the other door of my fridge) that saw the most savings since we started meal planning has been in our restaurant/take out food. We cut our spending in this area by 80%!
Freezer Inventory – I use my freezer a lot, so the first thing I do at the beginning of the month is I take inventory and write down everything that I have in the freezer. I make special note of anything that is on the older side and make an effort to use it up. Every day I look at my meal plan and pull anything out of the freezer and put it in the fridge to thaw. This was probably the biggest change to my cooking routine. Prior to meal planning, I would get home, look in the freezer for meat to cook and then microwave it on defrost and inevitably end up partially cooking the meat and messing up my recipe.
Creating your plan – Everyone has their favorite recipes to cook. Start with planning to make meals that you know. Save the new adventures of a intricate recipe for a day that you don’t have a lot planned. I try to make at least 3-4 of my meals during the week low maintenance. This week it was; Nachos – used up the taco meat and beans from the previous week, Chili – which I prepared the night before to pop in the slow cooker, Pork – frozen pulled pork from last week, Pasta and Meatballs – frozen cooked meatballs from a couple weeks ago.
Prep what you can the night before – Every day take a look at you meal plan and think about what can do to save some time. Move any meat from the freezer to fridge to thaw. Are there any veggies that you can wash/peel/chop so that they are good to go for tomorrow? Any crock pot meals that can be completely put together the night before and stuck in the fridge?
Finding Accountability – I post my meal plan on a forum that I’m active on in order to hold myself accountable. You are more likely to stick with something when you already told others what you plan to do.
Cut yourself some slack – It takes time to form a new habit. You may on occasion ditch the meal plan and order a pizza. That’s OK! Don’t be discouraged. If you find yourself wanting a low fuss day try to make that a day where you eat leftovers or use your slow cooker. It’s less tempting to cheat when dinner is ready to go.
Share with me your meal plan, tips, tricks or success stories in the comments!