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Mister and I haven’t even lived together a year, and I’ve already grown sick of the “what’s for dinner?” chorus. Not that he doesn’t help me cook or do it himself occasionally. He just lacks the culinary experience to dream up dinner out of a cupboard of random ingredients—ingredients that don’t look as obvious as a frozen pizza or pasta and marinara sauce. So if we want a varied diet, that falls to me. Thus, we’ve ventured into meal planning.

There are actually a number of reasons to attempt meal planning. For us they are:

  • To avoid the dreaded “what’s for dinner?”
  • To try new recipes
  • To cook healthier and more from scratch
  • To save money and eat out less
  • To be smarter consumers (reducing waste and making conscious decisions about the products we buy)

How do we meal plan?
Our grocery store circulars come on Thursdays and the sale prices start on Friday. So every Thursday, I print a meal plan worksheet/grocery list (a doc I created), grab my laptop and this week’s ad, and start brainstorming. Here’s how:

  1. Write down any meals away from home or plans that will affect dinner that week. Consider what days you have more time to cook and what days you’ll need something quick. Consider assigning a yoyo day (you’re on your own).
  2. Look at what you’ve got “in stock”—what’s in the fridge, freezer, or cupboards that might inspire a dinner? What’s going to go bad soon and how can you use it up?
  3. Look at what’s on sale that week at your favorite store, especially protein and produce.
  4. Using what you’ve got and what’s on sale, come up with meals for the week.
  5. Use sites like Pinterest, AllRecipes.com, and food blogs to find new recipes. But also bank on your regulars (for us that’s about once or twice a week).
  6. Write down all the ingredients you need to pick up for this week’s meals (double check your list).
  7. Add any staples to the list that you’re low on or ran out of during the week (for us, it’s always cereal, milk, cheese, fresh fruit, and lettuce, plus the occasional oil, flour, sugar, butter, etc.).
  8. If you’re up for it, consider coupons to supplement your list. I spend maybe a half hour searching the web each week and printing some coupons—nothing crazy. We buy very little premade and prepackaged food, so a lot of manufacturer coupons don’t apply for us. Cereal, however, is a big one, and I’ve made a recent pledge to never spend more than $2 on a box of cereal.

We bank on having leftovers for lunches, so on the weekends I whip up a big crock pot meal, soup, or casserole to serve that purpose. Weekday breakfast is pretty standard American-style: cereal, bagels, fruit. Therefore, the only other meal I plan for the week is one big weekend brunch: pancakes, cinnamon rolls, scones, etc. with bacon of course (Mister loves it).

Friday night has become date night in our house. We go to the grocery store together and tackle the list. We tag team running to grab things, we compare prices and ingredients, we look for organic and natural options, and we try to stay under our monthly budget. And for the last six weeks, I must say it’s been a wild success! I can’t imagine going back. We love knowing what’s for dinner each night and experimenting with new food. And we love knowing we’re making healthier choices for our bodies and wallets while we’re at it.