Meal Planning 101 + My Week's Meals

When I first moved out of home, I was the kind of person who did not plan meals. I could cook and I had a few staples in the pantry or easy meals like boxed Mac&Cheese but I hardly ever planned anything. It didn't help that I walked past the supermarket on my way home every day so I'd just pop in and grab what I wanted.

This was costing between $20-$40 every single day. And that's for two people.

And so I got larger and larger and had little energy, self-esteem or cash in my pocket. I guess I reached breaking point. I dropped down to part-time at uni but I was still at the cusp of overweight, lazy and poor. It took a while to get out of my funk and a part of that I owe to changing my lifestyle.

I started running even though I had asthma as a child and NEVER ran without my lungs giving up on me.

I switched from unhealthy alternatives to healthier versions.

I started eating MORE. You read that right. More.

I started eating breakfast even though all through high school I suffered stomach problems related to anxiety and had hardly ever eaten breakfast.

I snacked on fruit, I packed my lunch for uni rather than buying it. I stopped getting take-out and fast food. I haven't had McDonald's since October 2012 and I've never looked back. It just doesn't even appeal to me any more.

And I started meal planning.

1.0 Firstly, the proper tools

I initially started with something like this, from Kikki K.

It was magnetic and stuck to the fridge, which was great because Byron could see what we were eating for the week. But I've moved on since then (and I got an iPad Air for Christmas) so I'm now using a table I made in Pages. I have two planners going at the one time- one for the week it is and one for the week coming. 


1.1 Deciding On a Menu
For the week coming, I look at what's in my pantry and what is on special at Coles & Woolworths. I usually add to it during the week and then go over it on my shopping day. 
I flip through cook books, magazines and Pinterest. 
You might notice I mainly only plan my dinners. This is only because I'm not at uni at the moment but once I'm back I will for sure be planning my lunches and snacks. I usually only plan breakfast if it's something out of the ordinary.
Make sure if you plan anything extraordinary you put it on a day where you'll have lots of time to prepare. 
1.2 Budgeting
I like to write down what I'm going to buy and how much it is going to cost me. This prevents me from getting a shock at the end of the trip. Sometimes this can be hard because for things like fruit and vege, I have no idea how much it will cost me as prices fluctuate. I try to estimate what it will cost me based on what it did the past week and on any store promotions. Since I started meal planning, I'm saving between $50 & $100 a week. You can really narrow down that margin by buying what's in season, cooking with cheaper cuts and shopping specials and your local farmer's market. 
1.3 Leftovers
Sometimes you will go out for dinner and not use a meal or have leftovers. That's great! Freeze the leftovers and add it to your menu for next week. I cooked roast pork last week and there were lots of leftovers so this week we'll have them twice- once in stir fry and once in "dumplings" (what's really rice paper roll pot-stickers). 
1.4 Spicing Things Up
I like to add at least one new meal a week that I've never tried before. Sometimes they work out great and get added to my rotation. This way you'll never get stuck in the "meat and 3 vege" five nights a week situation. 
1.5 Don't Be Afraid to Rearrange
You were going to cook boring but healthy chicken and rice for dinner on Tuesday but suddenly remembered it's your boyfriend's birthday and want something a little fancier. No stress, just rearrange your meal plan. Swap boring Tuesday's chicken for exciting Friday's taco & margarita extravaganza. The thing I love about my Pages table is that it lets me drag the boxes around so I can easily swap things without any messy crossing off or deleting and re-typing. 
So get started on meal planning. You'll save money and stay healthy and it takes minimum effort when compared to the mad dash to the grocery store at 8 o'clock at night when you're starving!


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