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How Meal Planning Changed our Lives

What do you want for dinner? No you pick this time. Ah, let’s just go out. Well, I’m having popcorn and ice cream for dinner. That was the typical conversation in our house four days out of the week. By two grown adults. And yes – we ate popcorn, cereal and ice cream for dinner way more times than I care to admit.

The truth of the matter is that making dinner on a weeknight after a long, and sometimes stressful day at work is HARD. It’s the last thing I want to do. So we’d end up ordering in or going out and spending a week’s worth of grocery money on one dinner. Not conducive to saving money, I can promise you that.

Recently Nick and I started a new process.

Every Sunday, we plan our meals for the week. We inventory the fridge and pantry and make a list of what we need. And then I write down the recipe for each meal so the first person home can get started on dinner. No questions asked.

And what can I say… it’s worked! Limiting the amount of decision making after a long day of decision making makes it really easy to eat at home – together. And to eat dinner that is waaaay healthier than a dinner party with Orville Redenbacher and Ben and Jerry.

Here are some things that I think made this work for us:

1 // Stick to a schedule.

Every Sunday at 10 am (basically after breakfast, and when it’s too hot to be outside).

We also found it helpful to have a process. First, we go through the fridge and pantry and throw out any expired or moldy items. This also helps us understand what we have. Then we’ll come up with the weekly meal plan, figure out what items we already have and what needs to be bought, and write it all down!

We also found that doing this after breakfast makes for the most pleasant versions of ourselves. Do not try meal planning while you’re hungry!!

2 // Write it down.

We use this dry erase board from Target that sits on the counter next to the fridge. Easy reminder and it looks nice!

We also build our shopping list in Asana – a project management app that we use to organize our personal lives as well. It has a really nice mobile app so we can cross off the groceries we buy individually and the other person is notified. I’ll do a post on this in the future!

3// Take out the guesswork.

Many times our weeknight meal arguments were rooted in the fact that I was responsible for making dinner, even if I had to work late. Not because Nick didn’t want to help, but because he felt overwhelmed having to figure out a recipe to cook that I would enjoy.

The most useful part of this meal planning experiment has been is that I write out the recipes for our meals in advance. This eliminates the guesswork and makes it easy for the first one home to get started on dinner without feeling overwhelmed or stressed out.

4// Inventory like a boss.

But actually. We do this every week. We figure out what’s still good, what’s on its last legs, what we need to throw out and what we need to buy more of. We’ve found it helpful to keep track of when we bought an item as well to identify how long it takes for us to go through it (big box of protein bars from Costco, anyone?). This helps us determine if we need to buy smaller portions to limit food waste or if we should save money by buying something at Costco instead.

Also as a part of inventorying our food, we’ve applied the Marie Kondo less is more approach. We don’t need 17 flavors of protein bars that will clutter up our pantry – it’s best to keep it clean and organized so you can see everything you have on hand easily at a glance. You’re more likely to use up everything and less likely to have a lot of food waste.

And yes, it *is* do-able. Our pantry and fridge used to look like we were stockpiling for the apocalypse – we even went through a period where the door wouldn’t shut… Now, it’s much more manageable, and we’re eating a lot more because we can find and access it without creating a small avalanche in the kitchen.

5// Make it easy on yourself.

Grocery shopping has never been one of my favorite errands. I always seem to forget something and buy several other items that I don’t need. Recently we’ve been using services such as King Soopers/ Kroger’s “Clicklist“, Target Driveup, and Instacart to save us time and headache at the store.

Bonus? It’s been saving us money and forcing us to eat healthier. HOW???

Even though some of these services have an additional fee (note: they often give you the first delivery free to try it out!), the money we end up saving on impulse buys and the time it takes to wander through the store is well worth it. And for those of us who are terrible at mental shopping cart math (forget about tax anyone?), you can see the bill before you check out allowing you to take things out of the cart without fear of being embarrassed or holding up the line behind you.

Also, it’s much harder to grab that delicious looking sleeve of Oreos when you’re ordering online! We find that doing this exercise after breakfast when we’re full makes it much easier to stick to buying fresh fruit and vegetables over those delicious snack cakes calling to you from the end caps.

Do you meal plan?? Share your tips in the comments below!