6 Steps to Meal Planning Success

Either Monday or Tuesday night, I grab my small notebook and start to menu plan for my grocery shopping trip the following day.  I’ve menu planned almost weekly for the last two year or so.  I couldn’t imagine trying to go grocery shopping without a menu planned it.  I would spend so much money and time just wondering the store trying to think of meals and going back for that random item that I forgot that I needed.

I’m not gonna lie when people say that they don’t menu plan, I do wonder how you grocery shop and what your grocery budget might be like.  But I know it can work for some people but I need a plan and this is how I do it.

1: Find a best menu planning method that works for you

I know this is very undescriptive but there are so many options out there from pretty printables on Pinterest to a Menu planner petite planner from Erin Condren.  My personal favorite is just this simple $3 notebook that I scored from the Target Dollar Spot in January.  I’ve done the big binder with all the sheets and we don’t have a colored printer so the pretty sheets just wouldn’t be the same but the little notebook has really worked for me.  It’s not the full-size notebook and fits perfectly in my backpack and doesn’t take up much space in the cart when I have it out.   One side of the page I make a list of the days of the week (more on this below) and the other side is the items that I need to get.  Simple and that’s how I like it.


But I do think that finding a method that works for me has what makes all the difference in how regular I menu plan and I do it every week.  I don’t have a ton of pages to keep track of or flip through when I’m at the store.

I do want to stress that this is the method that works best for me.  If you like all the colorful printable or like the big binder with multiple pages, that’s great.  If it helps you menu plan and saves on your budget, that’s even better.  You do you!

2 – Figure out the day that you are going to need to cook and what those days look like.

This is can either make or break your menu plan and grocery budget.  The first thing I do when I sit down to do my menu plan before I start to think about recipes or write down what items I need to get at the store.  I write down the days of the week then I take note of the days Wes is at the station (I don’t cook on those days) and if we have any other plans in the evening.   If I know that I’m going to my parents for the day, I’ll pick a crock pot meal or something insanely simple to cook for dinner because I don’t feel like cooking when I get home with the kids after their house.

Knowing how your week looks, what days can you make the long meal because you are going to be home or what days do you need that simple and quick meal because you have 5 other things going on that night.  The more you think about your week, the more you can plan for it and less likely you are going to say ‘screw it’ and pick up fast food.

Also, you need to think about breakfast and lunch as well.  I don’t normally menu plan breakfast. I have a couple of simple meals that I rotate through and keep the items on hand.  Lunch depends on a lot of what my dinner menu looks like.  If I have a meal for dinner that will produce a lot of leftovers then I’ll just do that for lunch but if they won’t, then I’ll plan something for lunch normally something that I can prep once and eat it for the rest of the week.

3.  Take Inventory of your pantry, fridge, and freezer.

This will save you huge on your grocery budget.  Before you get you lost in your recipe page on Pinterest, take stock of what you have already brought.  Do you have that meal that you were going to make last week but you ended up going out instead?  If it was good enough for you last week, move it to this week and if you are missing a couple of ingredients, add them to your list.   Think about that meat that is frozen in your freezer that you forgot all about – make something with that.  Or find a way to repurpose your leftovers.    You probably have more complete meals in your pantry/ freezer than you think you do.  Use it and save yourself some money.

4.  Check out the Ads.

We almost all know that the best deals are the front page.  That’s where the best deals are and the rest of the ad is fluff.    I don’t shop the ads as well as I should.  I like to look at them for meat but I don’t really do it with the rest of my grocery items.   I would like to get better at buying my pantry items at the best prices I can find like I do with my meat.

5.  Finally, write down the recipes

I don’t really do themed days but some days of the week we do have the same thing as pizza Friday and Binner (breakfast for dinner) on the weekend.   I try to find recipes that are simple, don’t require a lot of different ingredients especially ones that I don’t normally have.  Some weeks, it’s all new recipes, other weeks it’s a bunch of old favorites or a mix of both.

6.  Making my list of items to get

After I figure out the recipes that I’m going to make this week, I write down all the ingredients that I need to get at the store. And all the other things that I need for the house or for the kids or snacks.

I used to make a big list, divided by store and store department but it all just got too much.  So now I just do one list.   I have a good idea of what I can get at each store so I just go through the list as I go through the store.

7. BONUS TIP Write down the price of the item and add up as you go.

I’ve only recently started doing this and it has really paid off on keeping my total within my budget.  Since I go to two different grocery stores to shop, I try to keep a total in my mind about how much I need for the next store so writing down all the prices helps me do that.

So those are my 7 tips on how to meal plan successfully and how it can keep your grocery budget in check too.

Do you menu plan?

Do you like to try out new recipes or do you make the same ones every week?




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