Meal planning: How to get started

I’ve been working on this meal planning thing for a long time and the first thing I have to say is that it’s a work in progress. I still don’t have everything figured out and learn something new nearly every month. My goal is to have a set monthly meal plan (with a couple of spontaneous flex days allowed) with a set grocery list to go with it. I’m not there yet. 🙂

I’ve been talking to a very dear relative who is just starting this meal planning journey, though, so I thought I’d go ahead a share what I have learned so far.

I had no thoughts of meal planning when I was newly married. We bought whatever we thought looked good in the store and tried to figure out some recipe to go with it throughout the week. If there was a recipe I specifically wanted to try I usually made a special trip to the store for the ingredients. This wasn’t such a big deal. We lived in Nashville, Tennessee, minutes from several grocery stores including Kroger, Aldi’s, and a family run health food store. Also (and this is the biggie) we had no kids. We could easily go to all three stores together and spend hours puttering around and buying different things to try. What a fun time that was! I don’t mean to suggest we spent tons of money on food, though. Some weeks we only had $25 to spend. I could get a little despondent about that but Kenny always turned it into a game of what fun things can we do with $25. 🙂

But life changes. For us we still don’t have a lot of money for groceries and I can still get down about it at times. But I’m learning. I’m learning to be thankful for what I have (I know people who have far less and have far better attitudes about it!) and to be creative and flexible. Flexibility is not something that comes easy for me but we can do ALL things through Christ which strengthens us. (Phillipians 4:13) And God cares about our meal plan. He cares how much we spend on our groceries every week. He wants us to be good stewards of the money he has given us. I try to remember to pray before I go shopping each week. I pray that he will show me the good deals and help me to use my money wisely.

The first thing to do is print out a monthly calendar. You can print these from Donna Young’s homeschool printables or a hundred other places on the web.

Next ask your spouse what his favorite meals are if you don’t know them already. My husband almost always gives me high praises about my cooking (another thing he learned as a newlywed) so I actually didn’t know his favorites. Plug those meals into the calendar first. If he is on any dietary restrictions that will have to be taken into account.

The third step is to ask your children for their favorites and plug those in. Those meals are likely to be easier than you think! My kids favorites are macaroni and cheese, hotdogs and hamburgers, and tacos.

Fill the blank spaces with your favorites plus a few vegetarian meals and at least a couple “flex” nights when you can be creative if you desire.

At this point you can take a break. The hard part is over. You have at least a springboard from which to work. You can use this monthly meal plan over and over until it isn’t working any longer. (it’s possible kids could grow out of wanting to eat tacos and pizza every week; I wouldn’t know that yet!)

After you have your grand plan print yourself another calendar. This calendar will have slots for just one week’s meals. It will include breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks if you serve snacks. Look at that monthly plan and transfer one week’s dinners to the weekly plan. Make sure you fill this calendar in with a pencil! Then fill in some easy breakfasts and lunches. And finally some snacks that hopefully you can either prepare ahead of time or that the kids can get for themselves. Our current plan for breakfasts and lunches is:

Sunday — toast/bananas
Monday — oatmeal
Tuesday — cereal/ toast
Wednesday — muffins/ smoothies
Thursday — eggs/ toast
Friday — cream of wheat or oatmeal
Saturday — pancakes or cereal

Sunday — at church
Monday — snackie
Tuesday — roll ups/ wraps
Wednesday — sandwiches
Thursday — snackie
Friday — roll ups/ wraps
Saturday — sandwiches

For snacks they eat fruit, peanut butter crackers, pretzels or whatever else they can find. Sometimes I schedule snacks but I rarely follow the schedule. That’s an area that is still in progress in the Bailey house. 🙂

After you have your weekly meal plan set make your grocery list to match it. You may find as you make your grocery list that you will not be able to afford everything on your list. At this point you can substitute high cost ingredients for things you have on hand or things that are on sale that week. This is why you used a pencil and why you need to be flexible. Think of this as the grocery game. How well can I feed my family on what I have available? Use everything at your disposal — your brain, the sale papers, any coupons you may have, food you are given, etc.

Eventually you will find that you are writing some of the same ingredients down week after week. At this point you can make a weekly grocery list on your computer with those items already typed in to save yourself more time (things like milk, bread, eggs, etc.).

O.K. Let’s review. Here’s what to do to get started meal planning:

1. Print out a blank calendar
2. Plug in your family’s favorite meals
3. Plug in your favorite meals
4. Include some vegetarian meals and flex days
5. Print a weekly calendar
6. Transfer dinners to the weekly plan and add breakfasts, lunches and snacks
7. Make a grocery list to correspond making changes to your plan as necessary

That should get you started. We can delve into other areas in future posts. If there is anything you would like to know more about please ask in the comments! God bless your journey. Meal planning is part of being a Proverbs 31 woman!!

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