The Importance of Meal Planning

Meal planning matters! Why? Because it ultimately saves you time, money, and stress, by not having to make several little trips to the store, fidgeting through your kitchen cabinets wondering what to cook, and throwing random junk in your shopping cart. Plus having a plan ensures that you have everything you need to be successful, so you are always prepared. 

Make the time to make a plan. Making a meal plan is as simple as sitting down once a week or every few days and planning your meals for the week (make your grocery list while you are doing it). Make your own or go to for meal plan and grocery list templates that you can print.
Steps to Successful Meal Planning

1.            Determine how many days your plan is for. As easy way to decide this is to determine how many days are in between grocery store trips. For example, if you shop on the same day every week, once a week, then your plan should be for 7 days. If your schedule allows you to shop every 3 days, then your plan only needs to be for 3 days.  Shopping for longer stretches (past 7 days) might not be as productive as your fresh produce may start to wilt or over ripen, which could create more waste.  
2.            Determine what meals your plan covers. Some people prefer to only plan the trickier meals (like dinner), while some people do better planning every meal. Whichever method you use, just make sure you end up with good food choices available to you. Just because you “plan” for a snack doesn’t mean you have to eat it (if you are not hungry ten you obviously don’t need it). However, if you need a snack, it’s good to be prepared and have healthy choices readily on hand.
3.            Keep balance in mind. Change meat options and include vegetarian meals. Create balance by making sure you are having complex carbohydrates, protein, and plenty of veggies.
4.            Grab your cookbook or other healthy recipe source, a pen, and paper to write your list on. A clipboard can also be nice to use, not only for making your plan and grocery list, but it will be easier to cross things off of your list while you are at the store.
5.            Fill out your meal plan and make your grocery list as you are choosing your meals. For example, if you want to eat oatmeal and blueberries for breakfast, then you need to add oatmeal and blueberries to your grocery list.
6.            Organize your grocery lists according to the aisle that you are likely to find the food in. Make actual headings like “produce”, “dairy”, “meat”, etc.  It makes it much faster when it’s time to shop, and keeps you from wandering the junk aisle.
7.            If using recipes, write down everything you might potentially need. Same thing goes if you are “winging it”. Write down EVERYTHING you need for your plan to be followed. This may seem like extra writing, but it will keep you in “planning” mode if you are not disrupting yourself by constantly checking your cabinets while you are trying to make your list.
8.            Check your stock-up list and add any extra to your grocery list. Keep a mini list on your fridge for incidentals as you run out of them. Then when you are ready to go to the store, simply transfer the mini-list to your master list. This keeps you from not having spices, and common ingredients on hand, as well as non-food items, like dish soap. If you live with others, ask them to write down items on the stock-up list if they use the last of an item. So if they used all of the eggs, they simply write eggs on the list, so you know to add eggs to your master grocery list.
9.            Shop your own pantry, fridge, and freezer before going to the store. Now that you made your list, see if you already have some of those items. There’s no point in buying more chicken if you already have chicken in the freezer that needs to be used up.  
10.         Once you are at the store, only purchase what is on your list. This will keep you from randomly grabbing things (which runs up your food bill). Plus, if you leave the junk food at the store (because it’s not on your list), you’ve already eliminated most of the temptation. Saying no to the cookies that are in the grocery store is easier than saying no to the cookies sitting in your kitchen. Think about it. 

With a little planning, it's a whole lot easier