When Dylan and I were first married, it was really hit or miss what nights we’d have a meal cooked or what nights we’d be having teriyaki or pizza. Over the years, I’ve really come to love cooking and planning out my week. There are so many parts of homemaking that I still need to work on (a lot… hello mount laundry). But as a working mama I do have a few systems in place that really help keep life flowing.
By far the biggest time and money saver has been meal planning! Y’all, this post is longer than my others because I give a lot of helpful things I’ve learned along the way, so get ready. There are about as many ways to meal plan as there are people in this world, but this is what works for us. Some mamas can plan out a whole month! That sounds like #homemakinggoals to me (is that a hashtag? let’s make it one). For now, I can’t wrap my head around that. This may seem super basic to some people, but I had to learn it slowly over time and it has made a HUGE difference in our family’s eating habits and my happiness and stress levels.
I’ve gone through different seasons with meal planning. Some seasons, I seem to have no problem coming up with what to have. Some seasons our budget is so tight I wonder how we’ll make it. SO I’ve got my current method of meal planning below, and then some problem/solution ideas down below that!
My current method: BUJO all the way!
Are you on the bullet journal train? I am in planner love! Basically, a bullet journal is a make-your-own-planner/journal all in one. Some people get really fancy with it, but I keep it basically like what I would find in a weekly planner and then add in prayer list/gratitude list pages. Really I started doing this because I’m super picky about planners and couldn’t find one I loved this year.
Every Sunday, I look at my monthly page and my Google Calendar to see what we have coming up that week. I get that down first so I don’t run into the issue of “I planned this dinner that takes an hour to make, but we aren’t home that day until 5:30” (totally been there/done that).
Then, I plan in some meals I want that week. Lately it’s just been a lot of old favorites on repeat. I think about how much time and energy I’ll have at various times throughout the week. See Friday? Bacon & pancakes? I put the bacon in the oven and I swear I could make my sourdough pancake batter with a blindfold by now. I know come Friday if I can’t do it on autopilot, it’s not getting cooked. See Tuesday? I know I have a limited time between my staff meeting and bible study so…. the kid gets some macaroni and cheese and veggies and I don’t lost my mind.
I either make my grocery list while I’m making my meal plan or go through after I’m done. I like to do this on paper because I like to lay it out based on where everything is in the store. If you are tech savvy, I listed a few apps below that can help you out!
My grocery list this week was TINY because (a) we are stocked up on meat from the butcher in town and buying pork roast at Costco (I buy meat in 10-20 lb increments and cut it and freeze… one day I want to buy by a 1/4 pig or 1/4 cow!) (b) we get our produce from a local co-op service so I don’t usually buy it weekly (c) we stocked up on fruit leathers, granola bars, etc. at Costco a few weeks ago (d) I just baked sourdough bagels AND sourdough and whole wheat bread so we were stocked on all that.
IF YOU HAVE TROUBLE COMING UP WITH WHAT TO COOK EACH WEEK:
- Make a themed meal plan. This helped reduce time wasted on Pinterest and Google hunting down recipes when I didn’t know what everyone liked. There are tons of ideas for this on Pinterest, but I would do something like:
- Monday = new recipe
- Tuesday = Tacos/Mexican food
- Wednesday = Stir fry
- Thursday = Pasta/italian
- Friday = leftovers or grilled cheese & soup
- Saturday = surprise
- Sunday = Slow cooker
- Use a pre-made plan. I have also used apps like eMeals that send you a recipe plan & grocery list for the week in advance. I love this when my kiddos were each 3-6 months old and I was back at work and couldn’t think straight. I don’t use it now because the recipes don’t always match up with our produce bin.
- Keep a record of recipes your family likes! I use Paprika to track recipes I want to try. If something is a huge hit, I put it on a card and into a recipe tin in the kitchen because I’m old school and sentimental sometimes.
- Be realistic. There’s no way my family is getting a four course meal I found in a fancy recipe journal on a weeknight. I’m saving that for winter break or when my kids are 20.
IF YOUR GROCERY BUDGET IS SUPER TIGHT
- Meatless meals! At one point, we were living off of my teacher income and little else for 3 months… we discovered that lentil tacos are the BOMB (No, trust me, they are. My meat-loving husband was convinced there was some kind of meat hiding in them.)
- If you can, buy some things in bulk. I buy meat in bulk-ish. The butcher near our house sells 10lbs of chicken breast at $1.99/lb. That’s AWESOME for out here, and it’s fresh, quality meat. I use some and freeze some in 1-2 lb bags. I also buy coconut oil in bulk, some types of snacks, dish/laundry soap, etc.
- Calculate before you hit the register! Bring a calculator to keep track of where you’re at in your budget while you shop so you don’t get a surprise at the register.
- BRING CASH. You can’t overspend if you don’t have it.
- Shop the sales! Some grocery stores, like Safeway, adds their ads into an app so you can see what’s on sale. I’ve gotten incredible deals this way (we had steak & lobster for New Years Eve because I saved $70 on meat using the app!).
- Make what you can. Canned beans only cost $1, sure. But an entire pound of beans also costs $1. I use my pressure cooker so they’re done in 45 minutes… and they’re way better. GAME CHANGER. I also bake most of our bread. Although, I don’t always have time for sourdough (my favorite to bake) so I’ve started using a bread machine I got secondhand. I just dump everything in and a few hours later there’s warm bread. YES!
IF YOU DON’T HAVE THE TIME TO MEAL PLAN
- I would argue you don’t have the time NOT TO! So much time is saved throughout the week by just spending a small amount of time each weekend! Now that I’m in the routine it hardly takes any time at all. I got this week’s plan down in about ten minutes because it’s all recipes I already know!
- Try using a grocery service! I have used Walmart Grocery and LOVE IT. You’re buying in the app so you know exactly what you’re spending and can adjust to fit into your budget, if they have to substitute something, they upgrade (so a bigger size or a better brand), and they load it in your car while you sit there like the queen (or king) you are. Safeway and other groceries also offer the service and run coupons on them frequently! Some even deliver them to your door.
- Use a lot of repeat meals. Most of my time meal planning is spent when I go hunting around for new recipes all the time. If I’m under a time crunch, I stick to old favorites.
- See the tips above for picking recipes
MEAL PLANNING APPS:
None of these are paid endorsements, just things I’ve used that have worked. I don’t always use all of them.
- E-meals: recipe & grocery list app. Free app, monthly subscription service.
- Paprika: Recipe app. Can scale your app up/down, customize the recipe, etc. I love it and use it to save recipes I want to try. It is a purchased app, not free.
- Walmart Grocery: You can order your groceries and pick them up at a participating Walmart near you. This is great for when I have to sneak in grocery shopping during nap time. Sneak the sleeping kids in the car, head to the store in quiet, and they do all the work for me. SCORE! [If you want to try it out, use this link for your first order. You’ll get $10 off and I get $10 off my next one. Woo!]
- Google Keep: Great for keeping a grocery list. You can share with someone else so they can add things (or stop and get them), and I’ve never tried the feature, but you can have the app remind you when you are near the grocery store to look at your list.