I love to cook. I hate meal planning. Anyone with me? Pre-budget savvy me = 3-4 trips minimum to the grocery store per week, shopping mindlessly through the aisles, piecing together random ingredients in the fridge, tons of wasted food, time and money. Reinvented frugal me = 1 trip to the grocery store per week, intentional grocery list and meal plan in hand (hello mama on a mission!), planned but flexible weekly meals, and aiming to run a zero waste home. Failing to plan means planning to fail. So why has it taken me so long? Time, energy, laziness, and mostly the perception that meal planning was complicated and time intensive. While meal planning does require some up front time and thought, the overall time, money, waste, and frustration that you will save on the back end is worth it. I've recently adapted my own version of meal planning in efforts to save money on groceries each week and would love to share my recipe for simplifying meal planning with you (ha, no pun intended).
So here's what works for me, adapt and improvise as necessary to your rhythms + routines:
Determine one day per week to spend meal planning + grocery shopping. Treat it like a weekly appointment. It takes me about 1 hour per week to meal plan and 1 hour per week to grocery shop. You can choose to combine meal planning + grocery shopping and set aside one day for these tasks, or you can break them up into different days. In this season of life with a busy, active toddler, I like to meal plan on Wednesdays during nap time for the next week and grocery shop on Sundays. Creating standard work streamlines decisions and frees up brain space.
Create a lazy list of family favorite meals. What meals does your family routinely eat? Compile a list of 10-20 family favorites including breakfast, lunch, and dinner options. This doesn't have to be complicated, fussy or Pinterest-worthy. Think: spaghetti squash + frozen meatballs, roasted brussel sprouts + baked chicken, pizza made with Trader Joe's pre-made crust, avocado toast with a squeeze of lemon and everything bagel seasoning, you get the idea. I keep this list in my phone for when I need to meal plan in a jiffy without thinking.
Only plan dinners. Why does dinner typically require the most effort? We often misconstrue this meal, but I find it usually takes more time and thought in comparison to the others. Our family typically eats different variations of eggs for breakfast, salads or leftovers for lunch and then we add variety at dinner. This works the best for us, which is why I focus on dinner. Plus we love carving out daily, intentional, distraction-free family time at the end of the day. So many conversations happen at the dinner table, my hubbs and I take every opportunity to actually talk face to face, listen, and engage with each other and Oliver. I digress. Also don't overcomplicate dinner; we eat avocado toast weekly and let's be honest I could probably eat it for every meal. Yum.
Unpack, unload, wash all produce + food prep, immediately after grocery shopping. This seems like a joy kill, but why would you put away unwashed produce only to take it out right before cooking only to add another step to the process? Stocking your fridge with washed and dried produce saves prep time (and keeps your fridge cleaner, bonus!). If you're feeling productive, take the extra step to slice, dice, and cut what you need for the week whether that's for tomorrows lunch or dinner later that week. The more up front prep time you do post grocery shopping will end up saving time and energy throughout the week.
One of my favorite podcasts that inspired and motivated me to change my process (or lack thereof) is The Lazy Genius. For those of you struggling to simplify and streamline your current routine, head on over to her amazing blog and check out podcast episode #76 The Laze Genius Meal Plans.