New Year, new you? Did you set your New Year’s resolutions to save money and eat healthy? Eating healthy and saving money at the same time can be extremely difficult and can sometimes seem impossible. Meal planning is the best solution for both of these challenges.
What is meal planning?
You may have a good understanding of what it is but in case you don’t, meal planning is asking “what’s for dinner/lunch/breakfast” once. After that, the next steps are to shop and prepare the ingredients for the week’s food.
This all comes down to three simple steps:
Step 1) Select your meals for the week
You can do this all at one time or you can do this throughout your week but you should try to make sure that you have it done at least one day before you go to the grocery store to purchase your ingredients. The reason is that it will allow for you to make your shopping list and any last minute changes to your meal plan.
Here are some meal prep strategies on how to meal plan your week.
1. Cook and freeze
- Soups, stews, casseroles and lasagna can all be made in large batches and then frozen and defrosted for a quick dinner.
2. Don’t start from scratch
- If you have leftovers in your refrigerator or freezer, re-purpose it. Have you ever heard of spaghetti tacos? Supposedly it’s pretty good.
3. Check the refrigerator
- Use what you have. There is no reason to buy more garlic when you have it. That cucumber you have in your produce drawer isn’t going to eat itself. Incorporate the food you have in your meal plan to save some money.
4. Use portion planners
- If you are trying to control what you’re eating, this can be helpful. It will help you know exactly what to purchase for each of your family members prior to shopping.
5. Have you ever heard of a “hero” sauce?
- Basically, a “hero” sauce helps change up leftovers (hopefully intentional leftovers) so that way you don’t have any complaints on your hands. No one can say, “But we had this yesterday!” because the flavor profile is different. These can include barbecue sauce and peanut sauce.
6. Building blocks to healthy meals
- Like the food pyramid helps you know what to eat, building blocks will help you with a solid base on scheduling healthy meals. Try to have two types of protein, one or two grains, and vegetable medley to make into 3 different meals. An example of this would be some broccoli and peppers from one time would be delicious in some enchiladas on another night.
7. Schedule a lazy night
- Sometimes we just need a lazy meal. Instead of going through the drive thru, make one or two nights easy. Something that means only popping it in the oven or reheating. Sure, save money, but also be kind to yourself.
8. Fresh fruit.
- Bananas require no prep. Mandarins are portable and delicious. Fresh fruit is a great healthy option and it lasts longer than more fresh vegetables. It can be part of a meal or as a refreshing snack or desert.
9. Use frozen ingredients
- Specifically referring to vegetables but this could also refer to fruits as well. Most fruits and veggies are flash frozen so they don’t have excess salt, but they will last longer than fresh vegetables.
Step 2) Shop for Ingredients
Create your shopping list around whatever you ended up with. We have an example meal plan and shopping list (as well as a blank downloadable meal plan template and shopping list) below if you need to see an example.
Buy in bulk of foods that are non-perishable if they are more affordable to buy that way (like whole wheat pasta or frozen veggies). If you are low on an ingredient at home, use what you have first but it might be a good idea to pick up extra, just in case.
Pssst. Really, there is a secret step between here because it’s easier said than done.
Schedule time for the next step. Depending on the difficultly of your meal plan, it could take 1-3 hours and if you don’t end up scheduling a block of time for you to prep your ingredients, you may end up breaking your diet and your budget.
Step 3) Prepare those Ingredients
You will probably need a cutting board for this step. With that being said, the world is accepting the fact that a large majority of people are on budgets. Depending on your meal plan, you may have very different veggies, fruits, and meats to cut up. This might be a hack for you (though it does increase your grocery bill by $3) – Disposable Cutting Boards. This may be a slight time saver if you don’t want to constantly clean your cutting board.
It is helpful to wash all your fresh vegetables and fruit at one time, and start chopping for whatever recipes you need. If you are cooking ahead for your meals, go ahead and start scrambling that ground beef or boiling that water at the same time.
According to the Mayo clinic, you should make sure to eat cooked food within 3-4 days. So if you are planning for the whole week, you may have to freeze some of your meals. Make sure you have some freezable containers (that should also be microwaveable). If you do freeze your, make sure that it’s in the refrigerator at least 1-2 day(s) prior to that meal so it will be defrosted and easily reheated. Otherwise, that’s what the microwave is made for.
Packet includes: Meal plan sheet and shopping list.
Happy New Year and good luck with your goals!