Life is hectic. And moms’ lives can be a downright circus. But one thing that can contain and manage some of that crazy is planning.
I’ve been meal planning for years and frankly couldn’t get by without it. It’s a life saver for my time, my budget and my sanity.
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The benefits of meal planning & shopping lists
You know those terrifying dreams where you’re at school and you have a test you didn’t study for? Or you’re not wearing any pants? Or both?
That’s honestly close to how I feel walking into the grocery store without a list. I feel lost and start wandering the aisles aimlessly, close to ending up at the checkout with three bags of family size chips, a tub of cream cheese icing and a toothbrush.
But I understand not everyone is as neurotic as me. I mean, I’m not sure why, but whatever. So even if you’re a fly by the seat of your pants kind of shopper, or somewhere in between neurotic and breezy… there are still ways everyone can benefit from meal planning and shopping lists.
- It saves time in the store
- It saves money because you’re not buying things you don’t really need or already have
- It cuts down on wasted food
- You’re less likely to pick up a fast-food convenience meal (more expensive and less healthy) if you have a plan for dinner and all the ingredients are at your fingertips
Steps to successful meal planning
To get the full benefits of meal planning and shopping lists to save time and money, the work starts long before you get to the store.
- Start by scouring your fridge and pantry
Taking stock of what you already have will go a long way to cutting down on waste. And you’ll likely learn that you already have some of the ingredients you need. In that case, you may just need one more item to create a whole new meal.
- Check your calendar
It helps to know what’s coming up for your family over the next week so you can plan around activities and events. If you have a school fair coming up where you’ll be buying food, don’t plan a meal for that night. If you’re ferrying the kids to sports all night on Wednesdays, plan a crockpot meal you can dish up when you finally get home or plan leftovers for that night that can easily be reheated.
- Find recipes tailored to your schedule
Now that you know what kind of meals you need for each night, you can plan what to make. Pinterest is a great place to start for finding new recipes.
I’m also a big fan of cookbooks. I check out new ones from the library every chance I get and compile my favorite recipes from them in my own book.
- Write down your meal plan
Whether you like to plan one or two weeks at a time, I find it helpful to write it down. It takes the guesswork and stress out of deciding what to make each night. It also helps you keep the schedule on track.
I build in leftover nights to my meal plan to stretch the budget and reduce waste. But I need to make sure I make certain meals in the days leading up to leftover day or there would be no leftovers.
Also, my husband and I share dinner making duties as we juggle the kids’ extra-curricular activities, so it ensures we’re both on the same page.
- Make a shopping list
This is where all your planning really pays off because you can go to the grocery store with a precise list of what you need.
Believe me when I tell you that I am super particular about my shopping lists. I like to make them as easy to follow as possible. If not, I’ll get off track and forget to pick up things that are on the list staring me in the face.
So whether you like to group your list by types of items or by the layout of your favorite store, these printable shopping lists you see here can be customized to fit your style.
You might also like to combine your meal plan and shopping list on one page. You can do that with these pages.
Here’s a peek at my shopping list (below). I like to segment mine into:
- Recurring Items
- New Items
- Occasional Items
- Household Necessities
This is because I always seemed to come home from the store and realize I forgot some things, things we needed on a regular basis. And nothing annoys me more than needing to make multiple trips to the store throughout the week. It wastes time and money.
You can customize your own shopping list like this. When you download this printable PDF bundle, type in or write in your weekly recurring items and make copies of that page. That saves you from needing to write down the same things each week and cuts down on the likelihood that you’ll forget them.
The benefits of meal prep
If you want to take this whole prepping and organizing thing a step further and really rock the house, add meal prep to your weekly routine.
If it always seems like you’re rushed in the mornings and at mealtime and you’re reaching for unhealthy snacks… with meal prep you can:
- Save time by grouping small but time-consuming tasks like chopping, slicing and storing, into a one day a week prep session.
- Preserve some sanity by having prepped items at your fingertips when you need them.
- Cut down on calories by having healthy snacks like veggies and fruit already chopped and ready, which makes them just as easy to reach for as a bag of chips.
Steps to successful meal prep
I’m not gonna lie, this is not my favorite thing to do. So it’s good to make this process suck as little as possible, or you’ll put it off and never actually do it. I know, because I’ve put it off for so long.
- Set aside time
I like to do my meal prep on Sunday afternoons. It’s really up to you and your schedule, but try to pick a day that you can set aside an hour or two to get everything done that you need.
- Have a plan
Consult your meal plan for the week and prep anything you can that will make the process of cooking dinner, packing lunches and/or snacking easier and less stressful. Some good options are:
- Slicing veggies and fruit for snacking
- Chopping veggies and fruit for dinner recipes
- Prepping breakfast foods
Because I like a good list for ev-er-y-thing… I have a meal prep worksheet I fill out to make sure I don’t forget anything.
I also have some go-to recipes I like to use, especially for breakfast. Getting myself and two young kids out the door in the morning with a healthy, hot breakfast takes planning. And pre-made scrambled egg and oatmeal jars ready to heat or cook cuts down on a lot of time and stress.
- Have good storage options
There’s no sense doing all that chopping and slicing if you don’t have a good way to safely store the fruits of your labor. (pun intended)
I urge you not to use single-use plastic sandwich-type bags. There are a lot of great alternatives to plastic bags, like Tupperware-style, reusable containers, reusable storage bags or bags made from biodegradable material. Also, one of my favorite options is mason jars.
- Rock out or mellow out, make this time your own
Maybe you like to crank up some music and rock out. Maybe you like to light a candle and listen to softer tunes. Maybe you’re trying to make your way through all seven seasons of Gossip Girl on Netflix. I’m talking about you, not me of course. No judging here!
Whatever interests you, do it. You could even make this a time you look forward to each week.
Meal Plan Like A Mother! – 8-page printable pack
Want some help planning and prepping your meals like a boss? Then get the 8-page Meal Plan Like A Mother! printable pack here for just $1.99.
The Meal Plan Like A Mother! pack includes:
- Title Page
- 2 Meal Planning worksheets
- 2 Meal Planning & Shopping List combo worksheets
- 2 Shopping List worksheets
- Favorite Recipes worksheet
Prep It Like It’s Hot – printable pack
Get the Prep It Like It’s Hot printable pack here for only $0.99, which includes:
- Title page
- Weekly & Nightly Prep worksheet
- Meal Prep Recipes worksheet
Or you could grab the best value, the entire Plan Like A Mother! 20-page printable bundle for $4.99. Click here to see it.
Plan Like A Mother! – 20-page printable bundle
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Jennie from Four to Love says
This looks like a great system for meal planning! Our weeks go so much more smoothly when we remember to meal plan. Love the tip for building in leftovers – this is something we definitely try to do. Do you usually repurpose them or just eat the same meal a couple of times?
Thanks! I try to repurpose the leftovers whenever possible. For example, I often turn taco leftovers into a taco salad or quesadillas. And I’ll cut up leftover chicken and put it over a salad with whatever veggies are in the fridge. Actually, a lot of my stretch meals involve salad. 🙂 So as long as I build lettuce into my shopping list, I know I can make it work.
megan beaver says
I really need to read this. I really want to meal prep but Im so disorganized. Those pintables are pretty and look very helpful. Thank you.
Thank you! I tried to make them pretty because I look at them ALL the time. 🙂 I use these myself, and they have totally changed everything for the better.
Jennifer Cannon says
One thing I am doing is ordering my groceries online and either having them delivered to me or picking them up. It is easier to stay on budget and not be so distracted by last minute purchases!
Absolutely! I like doing that sometimes too. It totally cuts down on impulse buys.
Qua’ Tesha says
This was great. I do try to write a grocery list but I love winging it too lol. I love grocery shopping. But I do tend to write a list to save time and money!
Amen to you for winging it! I’m not that organized. 🙂
I love everything about this. I am really really bad at making a grocery list and meal prepping. My husband and I spend way too much money on eating out and always have to make multiple stops weekly at the grocery store because we forget things.
Thanks! I know what you mean! When I’m disorganized we eat out and waste money and time too. I use these meal planning pages myself every week and they have totally been a game changer!
Kristie | Girl Mom Chaos says
Total side note: I am from Florida, too! We live in Virginia now but I lived in Florida for most of my life.
I LOVE to meal plan! I’m a former wedding planner + planning has always been a HUGE part of my life. I live by my calendar + lists. Thank you for sharing the steps you take to meal plan. Step-by-step articles like this are perfect for me to follow + make me feel like I’m getting all the information + tell me EXACTLY how to do it.
Thank you so much!! And I’m glad to hear from a Floridian. 🙂 I absolutely could not live without lists! I’m a former TV news producer so I work better when I’m organized and have a plan.. and a backup plan. 🙂
Leah Weber says
Meal planning is the bane of my existence. I wish I enjoyed it but it’s the one thing about being a homemaker that I just can’t get through, your lists will definitely help though!
I hear ya! I don’t like it either. But it really does make everything go smoother when I do it. Good luck!
Looks like a great set of printables! I like to meal plan several weeks or even a month at a time and then just reuse it over an over. I also like to shop online at our local store so I can just literally grab and go! Thanks!
Good for you! Sounds like you’re on top of it! I love grocery pick up too! Saves a ton of time and money.
Alexandra Pilo says
Good shopping tips, to save money and eat delicious.
susie liberatore says
I never had thought about this before.. I love that this idea and how easy you make it seem.
Great! You should try it. Doing this every week really does save some of my sanity. 🙂
Wow! What a great meal plan. Great tips, I try to plan and then something always happens and I don’t. I am going to refer to this when I try to plan again.
Good luck! It can be hard to stick to it sometimes. But the benefits really are amazing… saving time, money and stress!