11 years ago I had a full-time job running 2 storage facilities and the accounts payable department for a sporting’s good warehouse. My boss owned both companies and when his help for the 2 storage facilities fell through, he leaned back on me to pick up the load. My 8 hour days turned into hectic 12 hour days, 6 days a week. Most nights I ended up feeding my family whatever was already premade from the grocery store. If it didn’t come in a box, can or the freezer section of my local grocery store, then it ended up being cereal for dinner or it was a holiday.
When I found out I was expecting Joshua, Dan and I decided that now was as good of a time as any for me to put up my working hat and be the stay at home mom we had hoped I could have been right from the beginning. It wasn’t the easiest decision to make. As much as I knew I wanted to be home with my children, I also knew we needed the money and if I quit working, our food budget was going to be one of the first parts of the budget that was going to have to be cut.
It was then that I met the world of meal planning. I have to admit, I was a little intimidated at first. I really didn’t know the first thing about meal planning and I had no idea where to start. So, I tackled this project like I tackle most, I jumped in with both feet and got to work. Trust me, it wasn’t easy, especially with no guidance, but eventually I found my rhythm and here I am 11 years later still planning my families meals. Meal planning really was the open door for me to and my family to start living a more prepared and self-sufficient lifestyle.
How Can Meal Planning Help You Prepare
Create a master meal list
If your family tends to eat a lot of prepackaged meals or take out, this may actually be a bit harder for you, just like it was for me. I had to figure out what to feed my family that didn’t come from the McDonald’s drive-thru or the frozen section of my local grocery store. This is when I went back to my roots and started jotting down the meals I enjoyed as a child and I asked my husband to do the same. Between our two lists and the new recipes I found online, we ended up with a massive list of meals that we could rotate over a month’s time.
Once you have your master meal list finished, you can start taking count of how many meals you have in your home already. Spend time cleaning out your freezer. Throw away what is expired or items you are unsure of, write down anything that you are keeping. Do the same thing for your canned goods and all your staples. You may be surprised to find out you have more meals lurking around your home than you thought you did.
Create a master recipe list
This is the perfect time to start creating a family cookbook. Jot down all your meals with a detailed recipe. Why? Because if you aren’t wonderful in the kitchen, you are probably going to need to follow a recipe, you also are going to need to know every item a recipe calls for so you can shop for those items and family cookbooks are wonderful heirlooms to pass on to your children. These are meals that they grew up eating and meals that they will always have memories of. My nana’s and mom’s cookbooks are very special to my heart.
Decide how many meals you want to plan for
When I started, I only planned a week at a time. This helped me get into the groove of things and to take notice to what was on sale at the store during certain weeks. Believe it or not, there was a system to how things were done and I found that one week I could get my chicken cheaper than another and I was sure to start watching for those sales. I did the same thing with my canned goods, snacks and any staples I bought. Before I knew it, my cabinets and freezer began to fill up and I wasn’t making as many trips to the grocery store. This didn’t just save me a lot of time, it saved me a lot of money too and I had a bit of a reserve in case there was ever an emergency or I couldn’t get to the store before the sale went off. Once you get to this point, you can start planning for a month ahead.
Create your meal calender
This is where you will write down all your meals, including sides that you want to make for the week or month. If you are doing this weekly, just put the meal and sides next to the day of the week you want to eat that particular meal. If you are doing for the month, then plug your meals into the calendar what you want on each specific day. Remember, it’s not set in stone and you can change the days any time you’d like.
Download your free Weekly Meal Planner
Make a shopping list
Look over your meal calender and make a list of everything you are going to need from the grocery store. Make sure you have the main ingredients, sides, staples and whatever else you are going to need to create each meal. If you divide your list up by grocery department and aisle, it will make shopping easier and quicker. The less time you spend in the store is the less money you are likely to spend.
Download your free Shopping List
Break out the sale’s flyers, coupons and savings card
It really does pay to shop around. This list will come from your master meal list, recipe book and your shopping list. Sit down each week with your sales fliers and jot down what is on sale that you need to buy. Make sure you mark the top of each list with the name of the store you’ll be shopping at. Knowing this will help you figure out which store has better sales, how much money you spent at each store and will stop confusion if you go to multiple stores. Be sure to mark quantities as well. I also jot down the total price so I am able to figure my budget better. This helps me to see if I can add in some special items I wouldn’t normally buy or do I need to cut down somewhere else.
Pick a day and time to do your shopping
My local store’s have sales that start and stop on different days. One store runs their sales from Sunday to Saturday and the other does their’s from Thursday to Wednesday. Pick a day and a time of day that works for you and then head off with your list(s) in hand. I like to go when the store is pretty much empty. It gives me the time to look over the items I need, jot down the prices and just take my time. I don’t feel rushed or crowded and it makes for a much more enjoyable shopping experience.
Self-sufficiency and meal planning
Even if you are striving to live a more self-sufficient lifestyle, you can still plan your meals. Your freezer, garden and home-preserved food items will take the place of the grocery store and you won’t have to clip coupons or worry about club savings cards. Meal planning while you are the one growing and raising your own food, will help paint a clearer picture of what it is you need to be growing and raising. You may have too many green bean plants in the garden and not enough tomato plants or you may find that you have too much of everything and you can open up a road-side stand!
Meal planning has saved my family a lot of time and money. I don’t worry any more about what is going to be on the table that night for dinner, which eases up a lot of stress. It’s a terrible feeling for dinner time to be inching closer and you know everyone is hungry and you have nothing planned to eat. So you pop open a can of some over-processed Spaghetti O’s and hope that tomorrow will be better. By planning out your meals and being sure you have everything on hand to make those meals you can offer much healthier options for your family and eventually you will begin to build up your food storage supply.