What Exactly IS Meal Planning?

You've heard about this meal planning system that's supposed to make your life so much easier, but what exactly is it and who does it work best for?  Maybe you've even tried it and became frustrated.  It was likely because either you didn't have the full picture of what meal planning is, or, you didn't give yourself time to get adjusted.

The good news, is that meal planning really will help to save time and money AND it's for everyone who creates meals at home (even if they aren't fully made from scratch).

We can break meal planning down into 4 steps:
  1. Gather Your Recipes
  2. Inventory Your Kitchen
  3. Select Meals
  4. Shop For Ingredients
Sounds super easy when it's broken down like this, right?  And it is!  Once you get into the swing of it, I can assure you it will become easy and second nature.  Let's look at each of the steps in more detail.

related: 6 Common Mistakes Made When Meal Planning (and how you can avoid them) 
             The Ultimate List Of Meal Planning FAQ's
             6 Reasons Why You Should Be Meal Planning

1. Gather Your Recipes
     The absolute easiest way to ensure you are rotating enough meals that your family doesn't get sick of the same thing every single week is to gather a list of recipes you make for your family.  You can make one giant list or create a list by protein (vegetarian, poultry, beef, etc.) or type of meal (quick, slow-cooker, instant pot, etc.) and then a separate list of sides.  The idea of this list is when you sit down to select your meals it will make it very quick because you won't have to try and think of meal ideas.  It's all on a list!
     **This step only has to be created once to be used weekly going forward.  Add to it as you discover additional meals your family enjoys.**

2. Inventory
     Yes, you can absolutely meal plan without taking an inventory, however, you won't be using up your perishables before they go bad and you will likely purchase items you already have in your home.  You should do a quick inventory of your fridge, freezer(s), and pantry.  I like to keep this inventory list up-to-date by checking off and adding on each week, but you can certainly choose to re-inventory every week.  It will just take a bit more time.

Related: see The Beginner's Guide To Meal Planning: A Step-By-Step Guide, for more help on creating an inventory

3. Select Meals
     Using the list(s) you made in step one, sit down and create a meal plan for the next week.  I sit down with my lists and recipe folder on Thursdays to create the next week's meal plan and grocery list.  Don't forget to also look at your family calendar.  This will help you plan meals that you have time to make.
     For instance, if you have limited time for meal prep/cooking, you can insert a slow-cooker or instant pot meal, leftovers, or a meal that takes 15-20 minutes.  For instance, my husband loves leftover chicken made into a Chicken Cheesesteak Sandwich.  This is pulled together in about 12 minutes if everything is pre-cooked and 20 minutes if I need to cook the chicken, peppers or onions.

4. Shop For Ingredients
     When you create your meal lists for the week, you will also create your grocery list.  This is what you will use to shop for ingredients.  Pick a day of the week, maybe Saturday mornings, that you go grocery shopping.  Make sure you've first consulted your inventory list to try to avoid purchasing items you already have.
     If I haven't yet inventoried when I select meals for the week, I write down every single ingredient, grouped by type (spices, dairy, canned, etc.).  I then inventory before I go grocery shopping by crossing out the items on my list that I already have on hand.

How about you?  Have you just begun meal planning?  Have you been doing it for years?  Have you discovered some useful tips?  I would love to hear from you!!  Please share your struggles or successes in the comments below.

1 comment

  1. We have a list of 30 favorite meals that we rotate throughout the month. And there's always soup-and-sammy day for times when I don't feel like cooking. Planning really does take so much of the stress out of feeding a family.

    Love your simple, no-nonsense approach!


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