What are the Benefits of having a meal plan and How to Create one?
With my busy schedule, I’m a fan of organizing and being prepared. When I plan out our meals, it takes the guesswork out of “What should we have for dinner?”
I love to cook but I hate to plan and prepare at the last minute
The Benefits of Meal Prep
Save’s Time and Money
One of the biggest benefits of meal planning and meal preparation is the time and money savings.
Knowing exactly what to get when you are grocery shopping will reduce needless spending and if you organize your grocery list properly, it’s a much quicker trip through the store.
There is less food waste when you are only buying for your planned meals.
Promotes Healthy Eating
When you pre-plan you are eating home-cooked, healthy meals instead of fast food, takeout meals, or restaurant meals (which is also a huge money saver).
I find that it’s easier to stick to my healthy choices when I have the ingredients ready to prepare home-cooked meals.
You can plan for any dietary needs and create healthy habits around food in your home when you are planning.
Taking the guesswork out of what you are preparing for dinner after a long day means less stress. Knowing what I’m making and that I have all the right ingredients makes for a more pleasant evening.
Meal Planning Strategies
Meal Planning Ideas
If I’m planning for a whole month, I do my meal planning, make my grocery list, and do my grocery shopping on the last weekend of the month. If you are only planning for one week you would do it every weekend. You get this idea.
I plan my menu from recipes that are either favorites or try something new. I like to spend on social media places like Pinterest looking for not only recipe ideas but also ideas for batch cooking and make-ahead meals. You can also Google “simple recipes” and be served up so many ideas. The internet is a great way to find new recipes.
My meal planning has a pattern to it and we typically repeat meals that we enjoy. This is the weekly idea guide that I use when I plan our meals. I also switch this up during different times of the year. In the summer we keep it more simple and add more salads. In the winter you might want to add things like soups and stews to the line-up.
- Monday – Mediterranean – For our family, it typically is a pasta dish but meatless Mondays are also an option.
- Tuesday – Taco Tuesday – This is our theme and we almost always have tacos. We do however rotate with turkey, beef, fish, and shrimp.
- Wednesday – Breakfast for Dinner – We have chickens so there are always plenty of eggs in our house. I’m a big fan of Frittatas. You can add many different leftovers to your mixture and help clean out the fridge.
- Thursday – Loving Lemons – We love lemons and on Thursday I use a lemon-based recipe. It usually includes fish, chicken, or pork.
- Friday – Fast Friday – We do something simple like sandwiches or burgers. Almost always something we can do on the grill in the warmer months. Sometimes we just do appetizers for dinner.
- Saturday – Saturday Night Special – Saturday is when we either have something special or just something very easy, depending on the day’s activities.
- Sunday – Sunday Dinner – Both “Handy” and I were brought up in families that had a big mid-day family meal after church. In our homes, it was typically a roast. We continue that tradition but we switch it up with a whole chicken and a turkey breast. We don’t always have pork or beef roasts.
Organizing Meals and Grocery list
- Make a list of favorite meals
- Print out a blank calendar (available in my free printable’s)
- Plan around what’s in your freezer, refrigerator, and pantry
- Use grocery store sale flyers as your guide (seasonal foods are typically your best bang for your buck)
- Plan around things that you can use for multiple meals.
- Plug in things you know you do consistently like “Pizza Night”. For us, it’s Taco Tuesday! Any holidays or nights out. Then work around them.
- If you aren’t already a friend of Living Large in A Small House, you can have access to this in printable form along with a blank calendar for your planning. All you have to do is share your email address with me. Included in the library is my FREE scratch cooking checklist. You can also read about my from-scratch kitchen HERE
- Follow your grocery list to avoid impulse buying
- Buy all of your meat and pantry items for the whole month. Store your meat into meal-sized portions in the freezer. This helps with portion control cooking to promote a healthy diet
- Buying in bulk will cost less money
- Only purchase a week’s worth of fresh produce and fresh fruits for the following week.
- Use frozen fruit instead of fresh for yogurt, oatmeal, or smoothies. Quick, easy and it doesn’t spoil
- Plan your meals around items that are on sale and seasonal ingredients
- I’m a huge fan of Instacart. I used them during Covid and I’ve never stopped. It allows me to go down my shopping list and add the items I need to my cart. You save money if you pick up your groceries but even that is so much easier for me than actually shopping so it’s worth the money I pay for the app.
Once you have planned your meals then using your recipes, create your grocery list. I organize by the aisle in my store and then either head to the store or my Instacart App.
If you’re not doing it already, I challenge you to give meal planning a try. I promise it will make evenings less stressful. It may seem like a lot of work but once it becomes a habit, it only takes a few minutes to plan your meals.
Meal Planning Tip
On Monday morning I take all the items out of the freezer that I will need for the week and put them in a ceramic dish that I have in the refrigerator. This eliminates the issue of forgetting to thaw out what you need to prepare your meals.
Meal Prepping Strategies
If you are someone who wants to batch cook, that could make your evening even easier. That doesn’t work for me because “Handy” doesn’t like his food mixed. That being said, I would be all over it if he wasn’t such a picky eater.
If you want to try batch cooking, my suggestion would be to invest in quality food storage containers. I prefer glass containers as they are both durable and easy to clean. They work well in the refrigerator or freezer.
When you batch cook you can freeze in portion sizes for your family. I like to freeze leftovers in single meal portions for me to eat on the nights when “Handy” has board meetings
Every Sunday is my meal prep day. I prep all of my vegetables for the entire week. I dice, slice, and mince and then store them in airtight containers.
You can wash and spin your leafy greens and then store them in a storage bag with a piece of paper towel.
I also prep proteins ahead of time. This might mean baking chicken breasts and browning ground beef or turkey for soups, casseroles, or salad toppings.
You can cook grains like brown rice or quinoa ahead of time.
I also hard-boil eggs for the week on Sunday afternoon. I like them in my salads or for a snack during the day.
Efficient Cooking Methods
This a great time of year to pull out the slow cooker and use it to have warm meals ready at the end of that day. Once again, how I wish Handy liked stews and soups. He will eat my crock pot Italian beef sandwiches so that is on my monthly rotation. It takes me 5 minutes to put everything together in the morning and we have yummy beef sandwiches at the end of the day.
I don’t have an air fryer however I understand that it is another way to quickly prepare foods for a meal.
Breakfast & Lunch Ideas
Plotting out breakfast and lunch isn’t something that I do because it’s only me for both during the week. I keep it simple and eat pretty much the same thing every day.
Yogurt, berries, and honey for breakfast. A salad that is full of veggies for lunch. But here are a few more ideas
- Avocado Toast with a poached egg and/or tomato slices
- Oatmeal with fruit
- Hard-boiled egg, sliced avocado, and a cheese stick
- Apple slices, 1/2 bagel with peanut butter
- Left-overs (probably my 2nd favorite thing after a salad)
- Deli Turkey rolled up, hard-boiled egg, almonds, and fresh fruit
- Tuna salad on romaine lettuce
- Green Salad with leftover protein from the week’s meals
Some of our Favorites Meals
This is the time of year when I typically have more time on my hands. I’m not gardening and preserving. I’m home a lot because of our cold weather. It’s the time of year when I like to try out new recipes.
During February, I will be organizing with many of my readers. Part of organizing for me is having all of my meals planned.
When I work all day and am organizing on the nights and weekends, I need to have everything to be like clockwork in our house.
This is my plan for February and you can get a copy in my FREE Resource Library if you are a member of Living Large in A Small House.
Meal Planning Recap
I want to leave you with this… Don’t ever feel bad about substituting something and/or opting for going out for dinner or having take-out on occasion.
Things happen and life is too short to stress over the small stuff. Plan your meals and relieve your stress and if you feel like you can’t make something on the plan work, feel free to switch things up. I always have frozen pizzas in my freezer for those nights when I just can’t.
This guide to meal planning is guarantee to be helpful. I promise that once you start making a weekly plan, you will see how easy it is and continue doing it.
By considering your nutritional needs, using seasonal ingredients, and selecting recipes carefully, you can set yourself up for success and enjoy delicious, healthy meals all month long.
If you have any questions or ideas, please leave them in the comments below.
Is there something I wrote about or a recipe you found on the calendar that you’d like me to share with you? Please let me know and I will post it for you.
Happy Meal Planning!
Peace and Love,
PS – There is still time to organize with us in February. Sign up now to join.
I’m an Interior Designer who lives in the suburbs of Chicago in a 1,300 sq., ft., home with my “Handy” husband, Keith.
I’m an open book about my life on my blog. Do you want to find out more about me?
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