Back to school can mean back to routines. However, between the pick up line and practices, homework and “Moooommmmm I need to my gym uniform washed!” you just might find that getting dinner on the table every single night of the week is a stretch. The busier we become, the easier it is to rationalize a meal purchased through the drive through or a pizza delivered to the front door. But if you can step back for just a quick few moments on a Sunday evening, you can better use the resources you already have to plan for the week ahead while also preparing a strategic grocery list that will help you purchase the items you truly need – instead of whatever sounds good when you hit the aisles. These back to school meal planning tips have helped our family save hundreds of dollars over the past six years.
Write Down Your Plan
No matter how awesome your intentions, if you don’t actually take the time to write down what you’ll be eating for the week, you’re highly likely to fail. Search Pinterest for free printables (I have one on my site) or simply use a notebook. Program it into your phone or type out a document on your word processor. Writing down your plan is key. If a particular method has failed in the past, I’d advise you not to return to it but try something different instead. Get your plan on paper.
Consider Your Schedule
If Thursday night is Meet the Teacher Night or a soccer game, you probably don’t want to plan a meal that requires hours of preparation. Pull your calendar out and place it next to your meal plan. Make sure that you plan quick fix meals on busier nights and then “get ahead” by preparing components of other meals when it’s less hectic. Cut up extra veggies for tomorrow’s salad or go ahead and marinade that meat when you’re not slammed for time. Bake a frozen pizza or pull together sandwiches when you’re limited on time.
Just because you don Tuesday Taco Night, it doesn’t mean you necessarily have to stick to that plan. Meal planning is more about having everything you need on hand to prepare a week’s worth of food for your family than being a stern kitchen commando who keeps to a strict schedule. You can swap entire meals or just side dishes if necessary for time or just because something sounds better.
Begin With What You Have
Planning meals in the grocery aisles is a big “no-no” in my book. Before you buy anything you should begin by opening your fridge, freezer, cabinets, and pantry. Decide what you could make right now without any other ingredients. That’s your first meal on the plan. Continue by evaluating what you could whip up by only purchasing one or two products. For instance, if you have both pasta and sauce and only need a protein source, you could add meal to your plan and the single ingredient to your grocery list. This practice will keep you from overspending and letting foods expire before you eat them.
Use a Meal Planning Service
If you still go into freakout mode when it comes to meal planning, you can consider a subscription based service where you can get both meal plans and grocery lists delivered directly to your inbox. Probably the most widely known is eMeals but I also would suggest $5 Meal Plan or any of the great $5 Dinners Meal Plans including 20 Freezer to Slow Cooker Meals. Both have a minimal fee involved but you get specific lists and even videos for some of the recipe plans.
But since I’m the Queen of Free, I also provide plenty of FREE $50 ALDI Meal Plans! Among my most popular are:
- ALDI Meal Plan: 7 Dinners for Less than $50
- NEW ALDI Summer Meal Plan: 7 Dinners for Less Than $50
- ALL NEW ALDI Meal Plan: 7 Simple Meals for $50
- $50 Crockpot ALDI Meal Plan
We all make mistakes when it comes to meal planning. We forget something or simply don’t feel like fixing what we’ve planned even if we’ve got everything we need. Don’t dwell on the mistakes of your past. Instead, return to the practice and try again (maybe with a few of the methods mentioned above). You’ll save money in more ways than one when you plan your meals on a weekly basis!
My book is now available: Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After. You can also check out The Debt Free Devotional on Kindle.
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