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Everyone has heard that the best way to prevent yourself from standing in front of the fridge at 5pm scratching your head about what to make for dinner is to meal plan. The challenge is making it a habit that fits into your life and doesn’t take up a ton of your time.  I am the first to tell you that it wasn’t easy for me to get into the habit of meal planning, but I am so glad it has become a routine for me. We are able to eat healthier, reduce our fast food visits, and cut our grocery spending every month.

The first step to meal planning is to know your current habits.  Knowing your habits helps you create a plan that fits seamlessly into your life and targets specific areas you can improve on.

  • Are you stopping at the grocery store 4 times a week to pick up “one thing” and walking out with $50 worth of groceries?
  • Do you struggle to come up with meals that you can make quickly when you get home from work or after school activities?
  • Are you struggling to keep track of recipes that your family will actually eat because you’re finding recipes all over the internet, on Pinterest, and in cookbooks?
  • Do you run out of food before your next planned grocery trip? Or maybe you have way too much of a certain pantry item, because you forget you already have a stocked inventory at home.

This is just a sampling of the things I personally struggled with before coming up with a system that helps me ensure that I stay within budget, have a clear plan for meals, and my family will actually eat what I make.

How to Figure Out Your Current Habits

The best way to figure out your current habits is to take a look at a typical week or month for your family. Here are some of the questions I asked myself as I created my meal planning strategy:

  • How often are you going to the store?
  • If you’re going to the store more than once per week, is it because you forget things or run out of food before the end of the week?
  • How long does it take you to cook dinner on a typical night?
  • Where do you find the recipes that you use and how do you track them?
  • What nights are you defaulting to take out or food delivery?
  • Does your family like to eat the same things repetitively or is it important to introduce variety?
  • Do you have a grocery budget and are you staying within your budget every month?
  • How many nights per week will you eat out?

When I first became really intentional about meal planning, I was shocked at how inefficient I was being and how much more I was spending on groceries than I thought. I would go to the store 3 or 4 times per week and spent DOUBLE what I believed I was spending when I actually tracked it!

Make sure that you know what your food/grocery budget is and track your spending along the way.

Related: Budget Basics: How to Create a Family Budget

Decide on Your Goals

Your goals have a huge impact on the strategies that you’ll use as you move forward.  Maybe you want to eat healthier, real food meals but are concerned about your budget.  You might need more meals that take 30 minutes or less to make.  Your goals could be as simple as keeping better track of meals that your family likes so you’re not always throwing away uneaten food.

My personal goal was to find more quick meals since we have so many after school activities.  I’ve had several nights where we get home at 6:15pm and it has taken me an hour to get dinner on the table.  That’s the perfect recipe for ordering take out more than I’d prefer!

Start Meal Planning

Now that you have a good idea of your habits, you can create a customized meal plan for your family. I can knock out a meal plan for two weeks worth of meals in about 15 minutes. Here are some of my best resources for how I meal plan quickly and save money on groceries:


Resources I Love

$5 Dollar Dinners: If you love the idea of a meal plan but hate actually creating one, I highly recommend $5 Dollar Dinners. Erin outlines amazing meal plans on a budget. 

MyFreezEasy: If you love freezer cooking or are interested in using it as part of your meal planning system, the MyFreezEasy shop is the place to start. Erin lists out all of her favorite tools, freezer meals plans, and more for making it as simple and budget-friendly as possible.

Real Plans: Real plans is an amazing meal planning resource, particularly for families with special diets. Real Plans helps you quickly create a meal plan based on the types of foods your family likes to eat and/or dietary restrictions.

Thrive Market: I order most of my pantry staples from Thrive Market. Think Costco meets Whole Foods with thousands of healthy food and personal care items. Get 1 month free PLUS 25% off your first order when you go through my link.

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Sarah Nichols

Sarah Nichols, founder and CEO of Let's Talk Mom Business, has a background in business, research, advocacy, and family finances. LetsTalkMomBusiness.com combines her Masters in Business Administration (MBA) and her love for budgeting and frugal living to help others take their family finances into their own hands by teaching budget basics, how to earn income from home as a mom, DIY tutorials, and frugal fun.

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