When you decide to eat a meal out, is it because you are consciously choosing to do so? Or is it because you haven’t the time or ingredients to prepare something at home? If you are like most people, it is probably the latter. Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. With a bit of planning, less than 15 minutes a week, you can cut back on your grocery bills, eat healthier, and feel better. All it takes is a meal planner.

Features Of A Meal Planner

A meal planner is a just a collection of items that will allow you (or any other cooking person) to get a meal on the table with ingredients that are on hand. It will have the following items:

  • A menu plan. A menu plan is what you will eat for the meals in the coming week. It will list out all the dishes that will be prepared so you can check for nutritional balance, and also take into account family schedules.
  • Recipes. The recipes portion of the planner has two purposes: it allows you to assemble the instructions for making a meal in one place, as well as provide a basis for the next portion of the planner.
  • A shopping list. The shopping list is what allows you to have the ingredients on hand to make the meals you have planned. Nothing is worse than to start a recipe and find that you have forgotten to buy a key ingredient. By taking the ingredient list from the recipes, you can ensure you have everything on hand.
  • Reminders. These instructions would allow you to remember to start dishes on time, or pull things from the freezer. If you are planning a slow cooker dinner that takes 8 hours, you need to be reminded to get it started, or dinner won’t be done on time.

Putting Together A Planner

I like to keep everything together in one spot. I have assembled a meal planner using basic office supplies which allows me to keep everything in one place (the front of the refrigerator).

I fastened a sheet protector to the front of a poly folder. The sheet protector holds the menu plan for two weeks. For each day on the planning sheet I have a spot for any activities that are going on that might affect dinner (early evening meetings, for example); a box for the food plan, including side dishes; and a box with reminders for the next day (such as defrosting meat, or assembling the slow cooker meal for the fridge).

Inside the folder I have sheet protectors into which I slip the recipes for each day. This makes it easy for me to find my recipes, or to hand everything over to my husband.

In the back pocket of the folder I keep the shopping list for the plan, and the shopping list for the next two week period. I add items as the week passes that will need to be purchased during the next shopping trip.

I clip the entire folder to the front of the fridge using a heavy-duty magnet.

Using A Planner

The first step is to fill out my planning sheet. I list out the days as well as meal-affected events such as meetings, travel and birthdays (for which we eat out). Then I look through my recipes and pick things that fit the schedule and the season. During summer we do a lot of grilling and salads, but I save the labor-intensive food for the weekends.

At this point I have filled out the menu planner and have a pile of recipes. I record each recipe’s ingredients on a shopping list, then file it in the planner pocket for that day.

The shopping list is then double-checked against the planner board in our kitchen for things we are out of, and also compared to our pantry ingredients to see if there is anything we already have on hand.

With a menu planner, we are able to keep our food budget in a good place and only go out to eat when we wish to, rather than because we don’t have our acts together enough to cook. Do you have any tips for meal planning? Share below.

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