If you’re friends with me on Facebook or happen to follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve taken a face-first dive into meal planning.
Living on one income is difficult for any family, and I’ve made it a priority to find ways to save money in any way possible. This includes making my own dryer sheets (these will be tested out in a few weeks when I finally get them made), buying groceries in bulk, making my own baking mixes, and writing out meal plans for weeks at a time. A few people have asked for more details, especially with the mixes and bulk grocery meal plans, so I figured I’d dedicate a few blog posts to the topic.
Before I get into my own experience, I just need to add in a disclaimer: I have found all of my ideas and many of my recipes by searching through Pinterest and will be linking to them as I reference them.
A few of the practical tips everyone should know going into this type of meal planning:
- Prepare items that have similar ingredients. Buying in bulk saves a ton of money
- Compare prices and watch for sales.
- Make lists. Shopping lists, prep lists, to-do lists. The only way I’ve been able to keep my mind organized is to write all of it down.
- When you freeze your meals, lay the plastic bags flat in the freezer. This is the easiest way to organize your freezer and have the most space available after all the food is put together.
I try to set aside a week to do this whole process.
Monday and Tuesday: The first two days are all about researching recipes. I try to pick two different proteins and look for recipes containing similar ingredients. For example, burgers are an easy staple at my house. I use ground beef, and it’s typically cheapest when you buy the 5lb packages, so I try to find other recipes that contain ground beef. Burritos, an Italian inspired meat sauce, and chili are all super easy options. The same goes with produce- if I can use onions in several recipes, I can spend less on groceries. Buying in bulk is the best option whenever possible. I also try to include at least two different soups, stews, or chilis. I make these while I prep the rest of the food, and it provides even quicker dinners for days when time completely escapes me.
Wednesday: After I’ve picked out my meals, I start planning out my shopping trip. As I stated above, if I plan on doing something with ground beef, I like to get at least five pounds. My burgers weigh about a quarter of a pound, so I make eight burgers on meal prep day. That leaves three pounds to work with. Last month, I chose to make a hearty meat sauce to use in lasagna..it ended up making seven small lasagnas. I like to have at least a pound and a half of chicken for each dinner because they’re typically paired with veggies and some sort of grain (and I don’t eat large meals all at once). This allows for dinner for two plus a small lunch of leftovers. For produce, I really just estimate how many fruits and veggies I’ll need: half an onion per dinner, 1-2 bell peppers, etc. I try to write out my shopping list according to how the grocery store is set up- produce, meat, dairy, and then dry goods. It avoids going down multiple aisles, and I like to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible.
*before doing any shopping, I also like to make sure my fridge and freezer are as cleaned out as possible to make room for the rest of the week*
Thursday: This is my expensive day- shopping! If it’s your first time doing freezer meals, it’s important to invest in a few of the non-food basic supplies. A permanent marker, freezer plastic bags in both gallon and quart sizes, foil containers for items like lasagna or fajitas (if they’re on your recipe list), and parchment paper if you do burgers. I also have some glass pyrex containers for any soups I make, but those aren’t necessary. After I’ve gathered all of those supplies together, I head to the grocery store. I try to keep an eye out for sales and compare prices, and I’ve consistently gotten good deals at Aldi.
Friday: I start the morning with getting the first soup recipe in the crock pot. Many of those recipes take 6-8 hours to cook, so I cook one during the day and the next one overnight. After I’ve prepped those ingredients, I take a short break from standing and start getting my freezer plastic bags ready. I like to write what the meal is, the date it was made, the basic instructions (cooking time and temps), and sides to make when the meal is cooked all on the outside of each bag. It saves me a lot of stress trying to remember/find the recipes later. I then get back in the kitchen, prep all the veggies, and portion them out in different baggies (they go back into the fridge until I finish the recipes the next day). I also make any of the other beef-related recipes on Friday because raw beef doesn’t bother me like chicken does.
Saturday: This is the one day that I can enlist my husband’s help with the meal prep, so I save all the chicken work for him. Raw chicken has always bothered me, but pregnant me has a special aversion toward it, so my husband’s main task is cutting chicken and portioning it out into the different bags. While he does that, I combine the rest of the ingredients with the pre-portioned veggies- every meal I’ve made in bags has some sort of sauce. After the chicken is all cut, we split it up evenly into the bags, remove all the air possible in the bags while sealing them up, and set everything in the freezer.
My first time making frozen meals was about a month and a half ago. I spent around $100 for four weeks worth of groceries. The menu for that month included lasagna*, fajitas, burgers*, Greek chicken*, lemon ginger chicken*, red pepper chicken (I can’t find the original source for this recipe to save my life), vegan chili*, chicken gnocchi soup, and beef stew*. Recipes for starred items are either recipes I came up with or were handed down to me from friends and family. There weren’t any meals that were complete failures, but I’ve found little ways to tweak them to make them even better. The next post, I’ll include recipes for the starred meals, but they won’t be exact. Much of my cooking is by taste, so many of my own measurements are just rough estimates.
Please comment with any and all questions you might have about this process, or ideas of more details you’d like me to write about in the future. This is such a change from my typical writing voice that I’m somewhat floating in uncharted waters!