Once upon a time, I would go to the grocery store with my partner without a list or a meal plan. This would result in a two hour epic journey down aisle after aisle where decisions were scarce and items were randomly tossed in our cart. Our bill would total more than a car payment. We would unpack our haphazard selection of foods and collapse on the couch, exhausted from not making decisions and desperately trying to get the other to decide instead.
Then we’d order a pizza.
Our groceries would last roughly five days. During those five days I would make several mini-trips back to the store for the items we needed to make full meals. After those five-ish days, we’d eat out until we made another ridiculously difficult trip to the grocery store. Pita Pit, Burrito Boy, and Pizza Pipeline were on our speed dial and knew our names and orders.
I couldn’t figure out why we were spending so much of our limited paychecks on food.
One day, my fiancé suggested we come up with a meal plan and get everything for said meal plan so we didn’t have to go to the grocery store several times per week (cute AND smart). I came up with seven dinners plus breakfast and lunch stuff and we ventured to the store with The List. I was annoyed by the $150 total as I unpacked everything in my teensy kitchen. However, the meal-planning itself was a success! Every day, I’d text my significant other and give him the remaining dinner options of which he’d choose and no one would have to go the store unless we wanted a bottle of wine.
Eventually, we got better at meal-planning and now, our weekly bill is roughly $80. I buy higher quality items so this took a great deal of effort. I got to know my grocery store and learned when they restocked certain items. I found a local butcher and watched their sales closely. I cut out most processed foods and pre-made items. This means more prep and time but over several months I slowly adopted new habits.
Here are my meal-planning tips for success:
1). Become friends with your freezer. One lasagna is way too much for us to eat in one sitting even if we eat it for lunch the next day, so we freeze half of it and make the second half a meal for next week. This also works well for large pots of soup or full crock pot meals. Invest in some sturdy plastic storage containers or a vacuum sealer so your meals keep their flavors.
2). Make a loose plan. Meal planning doesn’t mean you have to have specific meals on specific days. Our food preference can be affected by weather, our moods, and daily events. To keep variety and choice, list your meals for the week on the fridge and choose your meal for that evening based on what sounds best. Of course, you’ll have less of a choice by the end of the week and some dinners need more notice (crock pot, prep, etc), but the availability to select your dinner will make it easier to stick to a plan week after week.
3). Eat seasonally. Before creating my grocery list every week, I look up the weekly ads for my local grocery store. Paying attention to produce and meat, I look at what’s in season/on sale and attempt to include them in my meals for the week. For example, if pot roast, broccoli, and red potatoes are on sale, make a delicious crock pot meal with all three. You’ll save money by buying in season and it’ll be easier to decide what to make.
4). Bulk up. The bulk section is possibly one of the best grocery store discoveries I’ve ever made. One jar of ground cumin is approximately $6. The same amount of the spice in the bulk section is approximately $1.79. I can’t believe I ever bought jar after jar of this delicious spice when I could have been saving so much by getting it in a different part of the store.
5). Make a routine. There are so many tools out there to help you with this weekly chore. Here’s my typical week:
- The day before my grocery shopping, I open the weekly ad and see what’s on sale.
- Then I make my list of dinners using an app called Wunderlist. If I’m having a hard time coming up with meals, I go to Pinterest for inspiration.
- After I come up with all the dinners I need, I make my list of ingredients.
- I go to my cupboards and check off everything we already have.
- The day of shopping, I head to the store with my Wunderlist app, coupons, and my reusable grocery bags.
- When I get home, I prep everything that needs prepping (slice veggies, marinate meat, etc), and store everything in proper containers.
These tips have saved me time and money and I can’t imagine my life without meal-planning now. Give it a shot next week!