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Meal planning and meal prepping can be extremely stressful if you have no idea where to start. If you are constantly finding yourself getting last minute take out because you don’t know what else to do at 6pm. If you constantly find yourself going to the grocery store and mindlessly wondering through the store, then coming home with things that you already have at home. Or you grocery shop with the greatest of intentions, but end up throwing out a ton of food after a week or two because it never got consumed.
It is time to start meal planning.
Meal planning gets a little bit of a bad name because people think of all of the fitness gurus out there that tell you that you should only eat chicken and veggies for every single meal. Meal planning and meal prepping does NOT have to be like this. It can be absolutely delicious. Meal planning simply means that you have a written plan for the food you are going to purchase.
I have found that my marker board method of meal planning works great because it puts everything in the same spot. It gives you a full list of what you are working with. Marker board meal planning allows you to highlight foods that need to be used up. The marker board itself can be used every week and it can stick to your fridge for easy access. I love being able to have everything written out in front of me so I can make a plan!
Things You Will Need to Get Started:
- Marker board for inventory
- Different colored dry erase markers (These are the ones I have!)
- Patience and Time
Steps to Meal Planning:
1) Create a complete list inventory of items in the kitchen
My very first step of meal planning is to go through my pantry, fridge, and freezer to make a complete list of EVERY single item. I use my marker board to make this list in a way that is very simple for me to use. When I list things out, I try to be pretty specific without taking up a ton of space. If you have cream corn, I recommend not just writing corn. It will be helpful when you aren’t standing in your kitchen. If you have multiple things of chicken in the freezer, I try to write a small quantity next to the item.
There are also a few ways to categorize your food. You can list everything by location (Freezer, Pantry, Fridge) or by meal (Breakfast, Lunches, Dinners). I have done both and both work very well. Personally, I choose to organize it by location, but after a few times of doing this, you will figure out what works best for you. I usually have a category where I can list out snack foods that don’t need to be put into my meal plan ingredients.
I am not going to sugar coat this. The first week you do this, it will be HARD. This is the time to check expiration dates as well as quality of the items in your pantry. The first time I actually wrote everything down with my roommates, we were shocked at the amount of food that we had just sitting in the pantry. We have slowly used some of it up, but we are still working on a few items.
The second week will not be as hard. By then, you will have a good idea of what you have on hand. On the fourth week, it will only take you 10-15 minutes to go through it. Now that I have been doing this for a while, I am able to just add and subtract things from my list. I always have a decent idea of what we have on hand.
2) Make a list of meals you can make from the inventory
After you have a full list of your kitchen inventory, you can start making a list of meals that you can make from the foods already in your home. I have found it helpful to create a list of all of the meals that you would regularly eat. Listing out everything to have next to you
If you are coming short on ideas, check out Pinterest for some meal ideas. You can usually search for a specific ingredient to get a few meal ideas as well or just aimlessly scroll through looking for ideas. You can also search by method off cooking (Instapot, Crockpot, Grill, Oven, Microwave.)
When making a list, I try to include everything that I could make from my pantry. I blindly make a list of everything that I could make without worry about whether or not they fit for the week or if they “sound good.” I list as many possible meals. If there is something that I could make with the purchase of one item, I will write that on the list and put that one item on the grocery list.
3. Plan with Zero Food Waste In Mind
DebtKickinMom has taught me pretty much everything I have learned about Zero Food Waste. The whole idea is to plan your meals around exactly what you have and use it in multiple meals. When you are wasting less and planning around what you have on hand, you have to buy less when you go to the grocery store.
Once I make my list of meals on my marker board, I will highlight which foods need to be used first. I will make a little dot/ asterisk next to the foods that could go bad if I don’t use them this week. For example, last week I had some plain yogurt I didn’t like to eat by itself. I spent some time searching online and found an awesome recipe for yogurt pancakes that used it all up before it went bad!
If I am planning to make tacos one night, I will plan something for some of the toppings (lettuce/tomatoes) so they don’t go bad. My goal is to cook less often. Often times, I will make taco meat in a bigger batch and then make a pasta with it the next day to change it up. Other times, I will cook up ground beef and use half in one meal and plan half the pound for another meal so I don’t get bored of the same meal.
Zero food waste is really about making the most out of what you have. When you think about food with a grateful mindset and realizing how much food you have compared to some people, it can change the way you treat the food you do have. Being intentional with your food really makes you appreciate what you do have more.
4. Make your grocery list.
Now that you have a full list of the items that you need for meals, make your list for the grocery store. What do you need for sides? What snacks do you want, if any? If you drink coffee or tea, how much do you have at home?
I start by planning different things that go with the meals. If I am making spaghetti, I will try to have some kind of bread at home to make garlic bread. The smaller your grocery list, the better.
The longer that you do this, the more of a routine you will get in. Now, when I cook, I update the board as I throw packages away. If you don’t already, you will get an idea of your staple house ingredients. For me, I always have breakfast sausages, eggs, sour cream, chicken breast, taco seasoning, brown rice, and frozen veggies. If you need more suggestions, check out my list of 6 Foods You Should Always Keep at Home To Save You Money!
When I am working on making my grocery list, I always check Ibotta! Ibotta is a grocery rebate app. I am all about saving money on groceries. Instead of saving money up front like with coupons, it is a receipt scanning app. The app will pay you for scanning your receipt when you purchase certain items. I love Ibotta because there are a ton of different things on there. Alcohol, produce, meat, frozen foods, and household items can all be found with rebates. Checking it regularly can mean getting cash back on things that you are already getting! When you sign up for Ibotta, you will get a $10 welcome bonus when you redeem your first rebate! (Who can beat free $10!)
5. Save Big Money At the Grocery Store
Using my Marker Board Meal Planning, I have saved so much money at the grocery store. Because of it, I no longer go shopping blind. I don’t come home with a bunch of junk that I didn’t need. During the month of May 2019, I have been planning on moving. I have spent he month cleaning out my pantry. There have been so many things that I have been able to get rid of. Once you get into the routine, this system saves you so much time and money, you won’t believe that you ever did it differently!
My average grocery bill is between $15-35 a week. Before planning my meals, I would regularly go to the store and drop $75 on groceries a week for myself. This huge grocery savings has allowed me to pay off debt and put a ton of money into savings. Zero food waste, meal planning and meal prepping are a few of the things that helped me pay off $15,000 in debt on a low income.
If you need a few more grocery savings tips, here are a few other blog posts you might like:
- 13 Things to Do To Avoid Fast Food
- 6 Foods To Keep at Home To Keep you From Eating Out
- How This Single Millennial Spends Less Than $200 on Food Per Month
- My #1 Grocery Money Savings Trick