Has your grocery spending spiraled out of control, and you still feel like you have nothing in the house to eat? By spending less than an hour each week creating a meal plan and grocery list, you can take control of your grocery budget. Meal planning also will improve the quality of your meals, eliminate unnecessary trips to the store, reduce food waste and help eliminate mealtime stress. Ready to get started? Following are some strategies to help you plan.
1. Most of us tend to eat the same foods over and over. Start by making a list of meals you typically make. Gather the recipes and keep them handy for easy access. Enlist the family to help make a list of favorite foods.
2. Decide if you want to plan meals for a week at a time or longer. A monthly meal plan works well for some people, while others do better planning weekly. Write out your meal plan and post it on the refrigerator for everyone to see. You can start with just planning dinner and add breakfast and lunch plans later, if it works for you.
3. Check the family calendar. If you know you have a late meeting one night, don’t plan a meal that requires a long preparation. Incorporate crock-pot cooking, super quick meals or plan for leftovers on those busy nights.
4. Take an inventory of your freezer, pantry and fridge. Organizing your pantry by categories can help you see at a glance what you have on hand. Plan meals around what you already have. This helps reduce your grocery bill and eliminate duplicate purchases.
5. Make a grocery list. Once you know what you have on hand and have an idea of what meals you will make for the week, sit down with your grocery store circular to make a grocery list to include items you need for this week’s meals, as well as sale items to stock up on for future meals.
6. Plan meals around foods that are in season. In winter, you might plan for heavier meals, like casseroles, soups and stews. In summer, you might grill most of your meals outside. Look for produce in season and on sale and plan meals around that.
7. When my kids were at home, we would designate a “fend for yourself” night. That night, I would warm up all the leftovers, and everyone would choose their meal from those items. If nothing appealed to them, they were free to make something themselves from pantry or refrigerator ingredients.
8. Plan for leftovers. This makes for a quick meal on a busy night. Grill extra chicken breasts and use the leftovers for an easy salad, burrito, quesadilla or soup. Stir-fry veggies and add leftover beef, pork or chicken for a quick meal.
Page 2 of 2 - 9. Cook double. If you go to the effort of making something like lasagna or enchiladas, it really doesn’t take any more time to double the batch and put one in the freezer for a busy night.
10. Refer to your meal plan each morning so you know what needs to defrost. If necessary, switch meals around to accommodate evening schedule changes. This will help prevent last-minute take out or fast food stops.
11. Keep a shopping list posted on the refrigerator or somewhere the whole family knows where it is. Train the family to write on the list if they finished off a food and it needs to be replenished. Keeping a running tally of things you need helps eliminate extra trips to the store.
12. Prep ahead. Do you have more time to cook on the weekends than during the week? Consider making several meals on a Sunday and freezing them to use during the coming week. Or, do the prep work on weekends, like cutting up vegetables, making marinades or assembling casseroles a day or two ahead.
13. Remember the Crockpot. It doesn’t take much time to prep a roast, soup or stew. It can cook all day and be ready for you when you get home. Plus, you will be greeted by a wonderful aroma when you walk in the door!
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.