Another week has passed and once again you’re fridge has been ravaged by the scavengers. It’s like when the Grinch steals the last pea away from the mouse. There is just nothing left. Time to hit the grocery store. This week you’ve told yourself to go in with a list or at least a idea of what you want this week. Without it you may end up with 17 bags of frozen peas and some Oreo’s (again). Enter the meal plan.
Meal planning can save time, money, and lots of stress. The action of creating a meal plan can help busy moms stay ahead or keep on a healthy diet on track. In my experience meal planning has been vital when going through elimination. There have been weeks where my grocery shopping was a little less structured and in three days time I realized I had nothing to eat that aligned with what my elimination allowed. Other weeks I overbought and found myself wasting items that weren’t always cheap. By deciding to really commit to meal planning every week I was able to squash the stress that accompanied my boyfriend asking me the age old question “What’s for dinner?” I could just point to the meal plan on the fridge.
Most of the weekly meal plan templates that I found online had one fatal flaw in my eyes. None of them allowed me to compare what I already owned to what I needed to buy. I felt like I’d come home with a bag of something only to find three more bags hiding away in my pantry. I needed a better way to organize my list so I didn’t buy duplicate items. I created my own meal planning template to share with you guys that includes this idea of a side by side comparison of pantry staples and what still needs to be purchased. To download the free template subscribe below!
Quick disclaimer before you being. At first meal planning may take you some time and a bit of organization. I promise you after one or two shopping trips your meal planning process will being to take less and less time and become almost second nature to you. Give this a try for a few weeks and let me know what you think!
Step 1: Evaluate your week
Do you have an after work meeting on Tuesday? Maybe that night plan something simple like stir fry or a salad. Will you be leaving for a trip Friday night? Be mindful that you won’t need meals for the days you will be away. (I only say this only because I’ve forgotten this step before and had a lot of good food go to waste.)
Step 2: Scope the weekly ads
If you’re more on the frugal side (like myself) make sure to check out whats on sale for the week. If the ads don’t come to your mail box most grocers also host their weekly ads online. The night before I go to the store I sit down with my meal planning template. I jot down a list of things that are on sale that I might want to incorporate into my meals for the week. After this first step my plan might look something like this:
Step 3: Know your pantry/freezer/fridge
Staples are the backbone of any cooks sanity. With a properly stocked pantry you can whip up a meal Chopped style, trust me, there has been many a night where my boyfriend was thankful for my pantry ways. If you feel as though your pantry needs some tweaking stay tuned I’ll have a post about easy pantry staples for any home chef, whether on elimination or not!
I begin with a quick list of what exists in my pantry/freezer/fridge that I need to use up or have an abundance of. This is also a good time to document on the Extras section any pantry items that need to be restocked.
By formatting my plan this way it allows me to see all the information side by side, what’s on sale at the store vs what’s already in my home. Resolving the issue of buying items that I already have. Lets take a look at how my plan is progressing:
Now lets bring the lists together!
Step 4: Create your meal ideas
Take these two lists and come up with possible meal ideas for each day you will need to have something prepared. Let’s take my plan. Chicken is on sale this week, I have rice and walnuts in the pantry and basil growing in a pot on the porch. Ding ding meal 1: Pesto stuffed chicken and rice. I select what day I believe I could prepare such a meal based on my schedule and assign it in the plan. To make my life as easy as possible I often bring left overs from the night before for my work lunch. By doing this not only do I save money on ingredients for the week but I simplify my own life by not having to whip up a lunch in the morning.
I continue to puzzle piece my ingredients together in the same way until I have filled out all my days or until I have exhausted both lists. If you feel as though this is the difficult task be sure to utilize the resources on the internet! Yummly is a great site to get recipes based on ingredients, you might even discover something new you want to try and create! Don’t worry if you don’t have every single item to create a dish, simply add that item to the Extras section as you go along.
For those of us on elimination I understand it can be hard to search the internet for meal ideas when many of the ingredients in the recipe we can’t use. This is when you get to make use of your knowledge of food substitutions. If it calls for olive oil and you can’t have it, switch out with another oil that agrees with you. If the recipe calls for onion and that’s a no go, leave it out! Unless you are baking most recipes will still turn out just fine with these types of adjustments.
Be sure to save all the yummy meal ideas you’ve come up with in this step from week to week! Once you get rolling you will simply be able to look at the ads and pick out potential meals you’ve already taken the time to mindfully create.
Lets take a look at where our plan is before we move to the last step:
Step 5: Create a master list
Lastly I take all the items and create one single master grocery list for the week. I assign numbers out to the side of my items so that once I get to the grocery store it’s simple and straight forward. This allows me to look at all my ingredients at a glace and see how much I need to buy. By formatting your list this way you won’t have to remember how many meals you need chicken for in the heat of the moment. Just follow the list.
I know many people enjoy grocery list apps. By all means you could use those as well by following Steps 1-4 and on step 5 inputting that list into your app. I’m partial to pen and paper personally but to each their own! Be sure to check out my template to get you started brainstorming!
In the end my final plan looks something like this.
I am now very prepared to go on my grocery shopping excursion. No need to come up with ideas on the fly. No need to go through the grocery store wondering what I could possibly make this week. No need to wander the isles looking at all the packaged food that I can’t have. Go with a plan and execute it!