Instead of a recipe this week, I thought I’d share with you the process I go through to plan my meals each week. Now when I say “process”, I don’t mean this is some huge production that I undertake each week! I really just follow a few steps that help me stay organized and let me plan ahead.
Why Meal Planning is Important to Saving Money
Food tends to be one area of the budget where money is really wasted (at least for me). This comes in the form of eating out a lot and/or letting food expire so I have to throw it out. I’ve found if I put a little bit of time and energy into planning what I’m going to eat for the week ahead of time, it helps me cut down on wasting money on food.
Step 1 – The Prep Phase
I usually start prepping for my weekly meal plan on the Thursday of the week before. This seems to work better for me, but you might find there is another day that is better for you. During this phase, I think about what food I have on hand, what is getting ready to expire and what I’d like to make for the following week. I try to make a list of about 4-5 different things I can eat during the week. (I pick 4-5 different meals b/c I can usually get 2-3 meals out of one recipe and if there is anything left over, I can freeze it).
I write down anything I need to pick up at the grocery store so I can do that Thursday or Friday after work. The last thing I want to do is run around on the weekend trying to go to the grocery store when there are crowds to deal with!
I usually do this phase on Saturday morning. In this phase, I’m really doing nothing more than prepping things ahead of time so when I’m ready to cook, everything is already ready to go. I usually chop up any vegetables I’m going to use in my recipes, pre-cook my chicken if I’m using a recipe that calls for chicken or I prep my dried beans to soak overnight so they will be ready to cook on Sunday. This process takes me about an hour to do, depending on what I’m making.
Step 3- The “Cook For the Week” in One Day Phase
This phase always ends up happening for me on Sunday morning. I spend about an hour or two putting my recipes together and cooking what I can ahead of time. This phase may consist of:
- Putting chili or some sort of soup together in the crock pot and letting it cook all day so I can eat it a few more times during the week and freeze the rest for later.
- Shredding the chicken or beef I made on Saturday and adding any necessary seasonings (or freezing it) so it’s ready for my other recipes.
- Assembling and cooking a casserole or lasagna. Sometimes if I want to make the casserole or lasagna later in the week, I will go ahead and assemble it in the pan I want to cook it in, then cover it with foil and freeze it so I can make it later.
Example of a Weekly Meal Plan
This may seem like a lot of work to do but it really isn’t once you get the hang of it. The point of this is to spend a little bit of time planning and prepping so you can have healthy meals on hand and you won’t rely on fast food or going out to eat. When you are free on the weekend, you are able to prep for the next week but not take your whole weekend doing it.
Here is an example of a weekly meal plan for me (which would be used for both lunch and dinner):
- Meal 1 – Burritos or Tacos with chips and salsa
- Meal 2 – Chicken Quesidillas with Spanish Rice & chips and salsa
- Meal 3 – Mini pizza with turkey pepperoni, green peppers and onions. Side salad
- Meal 4 – Cheese tortellini with spaghetti sauce, steamed broccoli and bread sticks
- Meal 5 – Mom’s overnight casserole with a veggie on the side (frozen peas or corn)
* I will usually also have fruit on hand that I can cut up to eat with each meal as well as keeping frozen vegetables like peas, corn and green beans in the freezer so I can quickly add a vegetable to any meal. As I said earlier, I can get 2-3 meals out of most of these recipes and I freeze any leftovers.
- Thursday – Make my list of ingredients and write down anything I’m out of that I will need for my weekly recipes. Add the trip to the grocery store to my schedule and plan to go Thursday or Friday during “off” times (when it isn’t so busy).
- Friday – thaw out pound of hamburger and a piece of chicken (in a container in the refrigerator) to use for the burritos/tacos and chicken quesidila
- Saturday morning – prep and cook meat for burritos/tacos and quesidila, chop veggies and assemble overnight casserole, make pizza dough to keep in the refrigerator
- Sunday morning – Cook overnight casserole (divide up and freeze some in 1 cup containers for later and keep the rest to eat 2-3 times during the week), make Spanish rice and if I feel like it, make some sort of dessert or breakfast item for the week.
Here is another example of how to cook once and eat all week from a previous recipe I posted.