How To Meal Plan Effectively

Meal planning is the number one tool I use to save us money. I put off meal planning for a looooong time. I thought that it was going to be too much work and that there was no way that I could fit one week’s worth of groceries in our tiny London flat. But I started meal planning about two years ago and I don’t think I’ll ever go back. It ends up saving me so much time and money.

I won’t lie: it does take some getting used to and a little thought and preparation, but in the long run you’ll be saving yourself loads of time and effort. Before I started meal planning, I remember hating when 4:00 or 5:00 rolled around. I had to wrack my brains to figure out what I wanted to make for dinner. Now I just spend about a half hour to an hour (depending on how distracted or uninspired I’m feeling) planning for the whole week. If only the rest of my life were that organised.

Now on to the goods…

How to meal plan like a pro:

how to meal plan | easy meal planning | the gathering table

Choose your starting day. If your new to meal planning figure out which day of the week will work best for you to be your starting day. For us it’s Thursday. We have a grocery delivery that morning with the week’s food.

Use it up. Look through the refrigerator and cupboards and see what needs to be used up. That way you won’t have as much food go to waste, the less food you waste, the more you save. And that leaves your pocket book happy. 

This also helps you make sure that you don’t double up on ingredients. You know what you have before you start planning.

Decision time. Gather your recipes and decide what to eat. To do this efficiently, at the beginning of your week select meals that use the fresh ingredients and towards the end of the week save meals that use canned good, frozen foods and other foods that carry a longer shelf life.

Carry the same fresh ingredients through a few meals. You could use the same vegetables to make fajitas one night and a Mediterranean wrap the next just by switching up the herbs and spices. If you plan on making a slaw as a side for one of your meals, find other uses for the remainder of that cabbage in other meals. Less waste! 

Go meatless. To optimise your saving opportunities, go meatless as much as possible and bulk up on pasta, rice and potato dishes as they are cheap and filling. Other meat free options that aren’t as carb heavy and can pack a punch on flavour are eggs, beans and pulses. I aim to have meat no more that 2-3 times per week. I usually save our biggest meat meal for Sunday and have a smaller amount of meat on one or two other nights. 

Vary it up. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut when it comes to meals. If you’re like me you’ve had moments where it feels like you’re eating the same three things over and over. Meal planning help alleviate that. You know what you’re having for the whole week. It’s right there in front of you. I like to do one or two Mexican nights, an Asian dish, one or two pasta meals, in the winter we have soup once or twice a week etc. 

Write it down. Sometimes you just can’t think of what to eat or nothing sounds good. I’ve been there. Sometimes it feels like every week I’m there. Ha! I started writing down meals that we love and could eat over and over. When it’s time for me to meal plan I pull the list out and start making selections. To help save on time, but still help keep things interesting, I mostly do meals that I’m familiar with, ones that I’ve made loads of times, but then will make one or two new meals. If you’re making several new meals a week you’ll easily get burned out because cooking something new takes more time. When you’ve made something over and over you don’t need to stop and look at a recipe. Save the new meals for days when you know you won’t be as busy and your week will go much smoother. 

Be flexible. I don’t like feeling tied down to a set schedule. There are times when I look at my meal plan and really don’t feel like eating what I have on the schedule. If you feel married to your meal plan, you probably won’t last at it for long. I usually stick to what we have planned for the week, but not necessarily for that day. I just try to use my fresher ingredients first, other than that, if fajitas are on the menu for Thursday and I’d rather have black bean tacos that are scheduled for Saturday, I just do it. I’m crazy like that. 

how to meal plan | easy meal planning | the gathering table

The method. I created a notepad (the one pictured above) with the days of the week listed and then three other sections. Under each day I write a dinner meal listing the ingredients that need to be purchased for that meal. In the final three sections I list any other grocery items that we need for the week. This way we have our grocery list and meal plan all in one convenient location. 

I know there are loads of other meal planning schedules, sheets and calendars out there, but I prefer this method. It’s small. I can tuck it away in my desk drawer and it’s completely out of the way. I know what items I need for each meal because the ingredients are listed directly beneath it. It’s simple, but well organised. 

Do you meal plan? What are some of your tips for doing it well?

2 thoughts on “How To Meal Plan Effectively

  1. I love your meal/food budgeting techniques!… Well, your whole blog really…

    In another post you said you try to use frozen veggies to help things be cheaper. I would really like to hear more about how you do that. What recipes do you use frozen veggies in? How do you cook them? Which vegetables do you find are cheaper and worth it to get frozen? I’m trying to cut our food budget because it got a little out of hand for a while last year, any recommendations would be welcome!

    1. Thank you, Devan. It’s always nice to hear that someone like the blog. So often it feels like it’s just my parents reading 😉

      Often I use frozen vegetables for a side dish. . . I’m still not great at doing well thought out sides, I’m trying to improve on that since Trent constantly asks for things that aren’t one pot meals. So it’s often last minute so I heat up some frozen peas or corn or something.

      But I do jazz up frozen green beans: heat butter or oil, throw in the green beans (they don’t have to be thawed) and salt them. After they’re mostly cooked through and mix in the zest of one lemon. Let that cook until fragrant. Throw in a hand full of sliced almonds. Let them cook for a few minutes till the flavours marry a little then serve right away. It’s my favourite way to do green beans.

      If we’re doing Asian, I love having edamame beans. I usually heat up some butter in a pan, sauté some minced garlic for 30 seconds then add the edamame beans. Let them cook for a few minutes. Edamame doesn’t have to cook as long as say peas or green beans.

      I have found that frozen vegetables work great in curries, or really most any one pot meal. I use them in pot pie and shepherd’s pie and soups. Frozen corn works great on pizza.

      Hope that helps and thanks for the question.

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