One of my most important frugal habits is meal planning. When I started to get more serious about my finances again this summer, one of my goals was to stop eating out. To do that, I knew I would have to get way better about following through on my plans to cook food at home. If I was going to stop eating out, the food had to come from somewhere!
Enter, meal planning. It has been a lifesaver. Since I’ve gotten more serious about it, I’ve all but stopped eating out unintentionally (planned meals out with friends and family are still occurring). This has helped me save the $$$. Big time. It’s definitely one of the keys to my success, which is why I’m here talking about it.
So, how do I do it? Well, I think it starts with knowing yourself and what you will eat. I mean this in two ways: 1) what you will eat in terms of food that you like (i.e. don’t plan to make kale salad if you hate kale); and, 2) knowing what you eat and how often throughout the course of the day. The second part is what I like to refer to as meal templates. Basically, these are rough outlines for what I eat throughout the day. Mine look like this:
- Breakfast – protein, carb, fruit, coffee
- Morning snack – fruit and coffee
- Lunch – main, veggies and coffee
- Afternoon snack – fruit and protein
- Supper – main and veggie
- Evening snack – fruit, popcorn, or whatever I have around the house
I use the meal templates, combined with my knowledge of what I like to cook and eat, to do my meal planning. I typically do my meal plan on Saturdays. First, I start by looking at my cupboards and freezer to see what food I already have in stock and try to plan things that will use that up. I sit down and write out a list of what I’m going to cook and eat that week. Then I make a grocery list to ensure that I buy everything I need and go shopping. I typically do one large grocery shop every weekend and it lasts me for the whole week.
The other part of this that I find crucial to my success is planning enough time for food prep. Again, this step is all about knowing yourself and your schedule so that you can organize this in a way that works for you. For me, I do tons of prep and cooking on Sundays and then cook less throughout the week, since my weeknights are usually busy and I get home from work late. I prep all my veggies for lunches and at least a few main dishes. Then I usually cook one or two main dishes later in the weeknights, to have enough to tide me over.
And there you have it; that’s the system I’ve devised for meal planning. I will say that this has taken me lots of trial and error over time to come to a system that works for me. I would definitely encourage you to try it, but don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work perfectly the first week. Tweak it and keep going. Cooking and eating at home is definitely a huge key to frugal sucess! I hope that you can find ways to make it work for you and to have as much fun along the way with it as I do!