Is meal planning on your list of resolutions? If not, it should be. Meal planning saves you time, save you money, and saves your sanity on busy weeknights. It can be tempting to just jump in and pick out 7 recipes for the week, write them down in your planner, and call it a day. Unfortunately if you do it that way you will never be successful. You will go to make one of your meals, realize you are all out of the milk you need to make it, and promptly call the pizza man. You can’t meal plan without knowing what you have. That is why your first step should be creating a pantry and freezer inventory. Don’t worry. I have tips and a free printable to get you started.
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Create Your Inventory
Print out your pantry and freezer inventory.
Write down what you have in your pantry and freezer in the itemized areas on the sheets.
- Remember to include your quantities in the square provided when filling out your inventories.
- I like to write down the number I currently have in the first box then mark it out and update it as ingredients get used. (See picture above for reference.)
Decide on some freezer meals that you can make. Prepare those meals and add them to the “meal” section on your freezer inventory sheet.
Meal Planning Tips
Now that you know exactly what ingredients and meals you have, you are ready to start meal planning. There are many different ways to do this so I’ll share specifics in another post. For now, I want to share some extra tips that make meal planning easier for my family.
Breakfast and Lunch
Don’t forget about breakfasts and lunches when meal planning. Even if you don’t typically eat these meals at home they will affect your meal plan. For instance, if you don’t pack a lunch to work each day then you will need to make a plan for your leftovers. This can be as easy as planning a leftovers night for one of your dinners. You can also incorporate leftovers into a brand new meal later in the week.
Group Meal Items Together
There is nothing more frustrating than going to make a planned dinner and finding that someone in your family has eaten one of the ingredients. Prevent this by grouping meal items together in a labeled basket in your pantry. For example, if you need rice noodles, coconut milk, and peanuts for Tuesday’s dinner place them all together in a small basket labeled “Tuesday”. Next, simply let your family know that items in the labeled baskets are off-limits for snacking.
Instead of running out to purchase an item you’re missing, get creative. See if something else you have on hand will work as a substitute. Here is a pin with common ingredient substitutes to help you out. Also, don’t forget that most veggies can be swapped for any other with only a small change in flavor. Most proteins can also be switched (or ommitted altogether). I substitue ground turkey for ground beef all of the time.
I am a firm believer that the easier you make leftovers to eat the higher the probability that they will. Instead of dumping leftovers into large containers after dinner, pre-portion them into smaller containers. When you or your family members need a quick, single-serving meal these pre-portioned containers can be heated up. This will also make lunches a breeze whether you eat at home or pack them for work.
Now that you have your pantry/freezer inventory you are ready to save money and time with meal planning. Don’t forget to keep updating your inventory as you use items and meals. This will help you save money by keeping items from going to waste as well as keep you from eating out due to convenience. Before you go, tell me, what is the biggest money-waster for your family when it comes to food? Let me know in the comments!