When I was newly married, I wanted to be the best housewife in the world! My ambition was to always be on top of everything. The house would always be tidy when my man arrived home. Dinner would always be ready the minute he stepped in the door. And we would never eat the same thing two days in row!
But as with everything in life, my ambition faded as the months went by. And I entered a season where I found myself daily asking the 4pm question of “what can I prepare for dinner tonight?”
I didn’t like the pressure I was feeling, so I decided to learn how to create a meal plan that works.
Why Doesn’t Meal Planning Save Money?
Charts in hand, I began flipping through cookbooks and chose meals for the next 30 days. At the time, we were saving for land and a move to the countryside, and my budget was limited. Everyone said they saved money when meal planning, and I was there for it!
But do you know what? Several weeks in, I realized my monthly meal plan was blowing our budget. I was only 15 days in, and all of our grocery cash had been used up.
And I was confused. Why wasn’t meal planning saving me money?
Why Can’t I Stick to a Meal Plan?
Have you’ve ever felt like a failure because you couldn’t hold to something that others love and participate in? That’s exactly where I was at with my meal plan!
Why couldn’t I stick to a meal plan? I knew home cooks both personally and online who loved operating on monthly plans! And I wanted the preparedness and peace of mind that came with having things set up.
But it just wasn’t working for me.
Not only was it causing me to spend twice as much on food, but I started feeling cramped by the meal plan. The kitchen has always been a happy place for me, and I love being creative in my space. But the meal plan left me feeling confined.
So I went back to not having a plan. And to the 4 pm question of “what are we having for dinner?”
How to Create a Meal Plan That Works
Are you fed up with trying to stick to a meal plan?
Perhaps you’ve found that you end up spending more money on groceries as well?
And while you didn’t like the plan itself, you did like the peace that you had while operating on one?
If yes answered yes to any of the above, let me show you how to create a meal plan that works! This method is simple. It doesn’t take hours of planning and it will help you stay within your budget, whether you live urban or rural!
Step 1: Identify Your Cooking Style
Most of the grocery budgets you find online are designed for homemakers who buy food at their local grocers or supermarket. For the most part, you can source all things at all times. Monthly meal plans make sense in this context.
You’re a typical cook.
But if you practice seasonal eating, these meals plans don’t necessarily work! As a gardener, frugal minded girl and someone who raises lots of her own food, I want to prepare meals from my gardens, my bulk food storage or the freezer. Sometimes things need to be used up, or they’ll spoil.
If you’re a seasonal cook, you have to flexible with day-to-day meal plans. And that’s why monthly meal planning doesn’t work for us folks and often, feels like a waste of time.
Here’s what I recommend you do instead!
Step 2: Create a List of Wholesome Meals
Instead of creating a huge meal schedule, I recommend you start forming a collection of your family’s favorite, simple meals. Be sure to take the season and commonly had ingredients into account.
Here are a few ways you can collect such recipes for your kitchen!
- Photocopy recipes and pop them into a binder.
- Create an online document where you store recipes for breakfast, lunch and supper.
- Make Pinterest boards for each meal of the day and pin recipes to each.
- Grab yourself a small recipe book (this is my favorite) and write recipes out by hand!
Even if you can only sit down and copy a few recipes at a time, do so until you have 7-10 recipes to choose from for each meal of the day. And then for the following weeks, you can use those meals to accomplish step 3.
And as your family grows tired of having the same meals, you can slowly add new recipes to the mix!
Step 3: Choose Your Meals Ahead of Time
The key to meal planning for seasonal (or frugal) cooks is not to plan a month ahead, but to stay just one step ahead. That’s right!
You can choose your meals the night before or, the morning of. All you have to do is flip through your little collection of simple recipes and decide, based on the ingredients you have on hand.
Once you’ve decided, be sure to do your meal prep at that time.
Perhaps you need to pull meat from the freezer to thaw. Maybe you need to put rice on to soak or scrub potatoes. Whatever the case may be, take time to ensure that the ingredients are ready when you need them.
Step 4: Develop the Habit of Simple Meal Planning
This type of meal planning isn’t so much about an elaborate plan. It’s about habit! And once you develop this pattern in your life, you’ll find a new type of freedom around mealtimes.
Because you’ll feel like you’re winning.
You’ll be able to stay within the bounds of your grocery budget. There won’t be any pressure or questions around mealtimes, because you have a technique (not a schedule) that beats the overwhelm. And you won’t feel like you “messed up the system” if you fail to hold to your meal planning schedule.
A whole new feeling of creativity and freedom will permeate your kitchen, in the most beautiful way!
How to Structure a Meal Plan
When you’re a frugal minded girl, if you garden and raise lots of your own food, it’s only natural that “normal” meal plans wouldn’t work. You’re in a different place than someone who primarily accesses food from the local supermarket.
Much like the housewives of old, it’s time for you to learn how to structure a meal plan that works for your lifestyle choice.
And this is it.