Meal Planning: How to Make it Easy and Affordable

Over the last few weeks, I've had several conversations with different people about meal planning, and I thought I would share how I make it work.

First, the overview: I cook almost every night. We usually save going out to eat for the weekends. We're not afraid of leftovers, and so some meals I cook can feed us for two nights.

Let's say it's Sunday, and I know that I need to go grocery shopping. First, I look in my pantry, refrigerator and freezer. What's in there?

  • Black Eyes Peas in the pantry
  • Lettuce from the farmers' market in the refrigerator
  • Ground beef and chicken in the freezer
Chris had asked me last week to make black eyed peas so that's easy. I check the pantry to see if I have rice to put them over. Check. And I have my grandmother's chili sauce to put over them, so there's one meal; although, I might want another veggie.

The lettuce from the farmers' market can make a delicious salad. I decide that I can defrost the chicken, bake it and add it over the lettuce with pecans (already in my freezer), cheese of some sort (have a block of parma in the refrigerator), and I can make a dressing (I have olive oil and red wine vinegar). I decide I might want to buy some onions.

The ground beef I decide to cook up and season with Italian spices (in the pantry) and have spaghetti one night. But, I'll need to get a package of frozen spinach and a jar of sauce. I already have the noodles in the pantry.

That's three meals already, and that's usually what I plan for. Considering leftovers and the occasional dinner plans that come up, three planned meals usually works well.

So here's what I do when I go to the grocery store:

I look for a veggie to go with the black eyes peas: I buy one acorn squash that I'll split and bake in the oven. Meal #1 done.

I grab one bunch of green onions for the salad, and as I'm passing the chicken section, I see they have split breasts on sale. I buy two packs of those, and add one to the freezer, leave the one that's already there, and cook with the other. That means I just stocked my freezer some more on sale! Meal #2 done.

I grab a jar of pasta sauce and head to the freezer section for the frozen spinach. (Add frozen spinach to your pasta sauce and you get a lot of veggie points!) When I grab the frozen spinach, I see that the Boca burgers are Buy 1 Get 1. I remember that I do have extra buns in the refrigerator (or freezer, can't remember) (why don't they make packs of buns the same quantity as burgers??) So I grab two packs of the Boca burgers for my freezer. That gives me more freezer stock, and an easy extra meal this week if we need it. Meal #3 and #4 done.

Then I buy all of our staple stuff: juice, bagels, sandwich fixes, etc.

My final trick is to come home and make a list of the week's meals and place it on the refrigerator. This way, after a long day, I don't forget what I bought, and get a take-out pizza out of desperation.

I find shopping like this has decreased my grocery bill because I only buy what I need and items that are on sale which can be stored in the freezer.

How do you plan your meals?

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