3 Steps for Efficient Meal Planning

Groceries are a major part of everyone’s expenditures – we all have to eat, right?  Not only are groceries a hit to your wallet, they also takes a toll on the environment.  Growing, raising, processing, packaging, distributing, and storing food all have a negative impact on the environment.  With approximately 1/3 of all the food produced for us being wasted*, there is a great opportunity to reduce food waste, be a little more environmentally friendly, and save some cash.  Doing all that  doesn’t have to be hard either!  All it takes is a little meal planning.  That’s it – it’s not rocket science, it’s just basic household management.  Meal planning does take a little time at first, and sometimes thinking of meal ideas is difficult and tedious, but over time it gets easier and you figure out what works for you.  Here are the 3 steps I follow.  

Step One: Plan Dinners

I grocery shop on a weekly basis.  When I’m making my grocery list for the week, I will literally write down each day of the week, then write what we’re having for dinner next to it.  I then go meal by meal and write down the ingredients I will need to buy to make that meal.  I tend to have a rotation of meals we eat frequently (I never get sick of tacos), which helps simplify this process.  I also use Pinterest and have a stash of cookbooks to reference.  

Step Two: Plan Breakfast, Lunch, and Snacks

Piles of Produce!

Next, I go through what I’m going to need for breakfast, lunches, and snacks, plus other basic perishable staples, such as bread and milk.  For breakfast, I like to keep things as simple as possible.  On the weekends we make eggs and toast for breakfast.  Then we alternate between having oatmeal or egg bake during the week.  The egg bake is awesome because I can make it up Sunday night, dish it into containers, and be done making breakfast for the week.  I’ll follow up with the recipe I use in a different post.  For the oatmeal we typically do overnight oats in the summer and more traditional hot oats in the cooler months.  There isn’t much for lunches since we eat dinner leftovers, but we do bring containers of raw vegetables to munch on.  Usually this is celery, carrots, grape tomatoes, bell peppers, etc. Snacks are typically cheese sticks and fruit.  For this part of meal planning, I typically end up listing off the same items most weeks.  Eating the same breakfast and snacks helps simplify the planning process and I don’t mind the repetitiveness in these meals.

Step Three: Review Pantry Staples

The last part of meal planning is reviewing whether you need to refill any of your pantry staples.  These are things like sugar and flour, rice, spices, quinoa, oils, condiments, etc.  These are your long shelf life items that you keep your kitchen stocked with at all times.  There always seems to be a couple of these items that need to be replenished each week.

Pro Tips:

  • Organize your grocery list the way you would walk through your grocery store – it makes it easier when the list if grouped together.  I start with produce, meat, dairy/eggs/frozen items, then lastly I hit the middle of the store, which is mostly pantry staples.  This mimics the way I walk through the store.  It also reminds me to do the bulk of shopping the perimeter of the stores – which is typically where the less processed, healthier food is located.
  • Coordinating dinners to each other can also help reduce costs and food wastes.  What I mean by this is trying to find ingredients that you can use across multiple meals – for example, if I’m buying lettuce for tacos, I will try to plan on having a salad for dinner later that week.
  • Freeze or otherwise preserve leftovers.  I have a tendency to get over ambitious about all the healthy foods I will eat in a week.  When I fall short on those ambitions, fresh produce can sometimes go to waste.  I am trying to get better and freezing, or sometimes canning, foods right off the bat if I don’t have an immediate plan for them.

    Making Homemade Pasta Sauce – Preserving Tomatoes From Our Garden

So that’s my meal planning strategy!  I have a friend who just have sandwiches for lunch every day instead of having dinner leftovers.  She still makes large dinners, but saves the leftovers for dinner the next day.  That’s an awesome time saving idea, since she’s only cooking every other night.  At the end of the day you just have to find the system that works for you.  How do you guys meal plan?  Any pro tips?  If you don’t meal plan today, I’m challenging you to try it out!