If there’s one thing that (sort of) alleviates the Sunday Scaries, it’s going to bed knowing you have a full fridge of groceries and a meal plan for the week. Just me? Don’t lie, you know it sounds nice to not have to worry about what you are going to eat on Monday (or Tuesday thru Friday). Meal planning for the week is easy with the right strategy, so I’m here to teach you how to save money, eat healthier and stress less about your meal plan!
Meal planning is hands down the easiest way to eat healthy, and to make sure you don’t eat Chick-Fil-A for lunch every day. Not to mention, the cost of getting takeout for lunch and/or dinner adds up real quick. If you go out and grab lunch every day, regardless if it’s fast food or from your local sandwich shop, you’re most likely going to be spending an average of $8-12 daily. That’s about $50 a week just on lunches alone! Add nightly take-out dinner which usually ranges about $10-17 and you’re spending about $125 on weekdays alone just on yourself. That’s at least $500-600 a MONTH on eating out PLUS whatever random groceries you buy and waste by not eating them. If you live with your SO and they have the same habits, then it’s double that! Not okay.
Now that you have anxiety over how much your weekly take-out habit is costing you, let me back up to the original point of this post: How to save money, eat healthier, and stress less by meal planning like a pro. I could seriously write a book on this topic, so for brevity’s sake I’m going to make a few more blog posts on the subject in the future. For now, your intro to becoming a meal plan pro starts with making a weekly dinner meal plan and adding easy lunches to the mix, and I’ll follow up with a few more detailed posts in the next few weeks.
Ain’t Nobody Got Time for A Meal Plan
The first step is admitting you have a problem. Just kidding, (kind of) but you definitely need to become aware of your habits. Plenty of people say they don’t have time for a meal plan, and I think that’s bullshit. You don’t have a half hour to write a grocery list, an hour to go to the store, and 30 minutes an evening to make dinner and eat? Honestly, it takes me longer to get to Chipotle and back than it does to make dinner, so I don’t want to hear it.
Then, there are the people who like the idea of cooking and bringing their lunch to work, so they like to pretend they do it. I used to think, “Yeah I totally bring my lunch all the time! And I cook dinner at home most nights!” but then I looked at all of the restaurant and take-out charges on bank account and realized I was obliviously lying to myself.
Regardless of your reasoning, I assure you that your belly and bank account will thank you once you give this a try.
Meal Plan day is the new Cheat Day
Let’s face it, if you don’t meal plan then every day is cheat day really. Pick a day and time to make your meal plan and grocery list, and another day and time to go to the grocery store. Now log it into your calendar and stick to it! I typically like to meal plan on Friday (once you get good at it, it becomes a quick lunch-break task since your brain is already in work mode) and grocery shop on Sunday so that my groceries are fresh for the week ahead. I suggest separating the two tasks, because once you get done meal planning you sure as heck aren’t going to feel like going to the grocery store. Well, maybe I’m just lazy, but if I meal plan in advance it makes the whole process much less daunting.
Next, decide how many lunches and dinners you’ll need that week. Take into consideration all of your after work obligations, workout routine, social life, etc. If you’re super busy on weeknights and weekends, maybe set your goal to cook at home for three or four dinners a week. As for lunches, it depends on your job and company culture. I usually shoot for bringing my lunch to work at least four days a week. Adjust it to whatever your lifestyle and schedule looks like and be reasonable!
Making your Meal Plan
The time has come, now you get to choose what meals you’re going to feed yourself with all week. Don’t get overwhelmed, this is a learning process and I swear it gets easier every time. Start by creating a Pinterest board of quick and easy weeknight meals (you can follow mine here) and keep it separate from your elaborate Foodie board filled with all of those 204-ingredient amazing recipes you’ll probably never make. Your Weeknight Meal Plan board is strictly for healthy, quick, easy-to-whip-up meals. These will end up being your rotating staples once you’re a pro. Once you have about 20 or so delicious looking meals on your Weeknight Meal Plan board, observe which meals have similar ingredients and pick your recipes. I typically print all them out so I have easier access to the ingredients while making my grocery list, and so that it’s easier when it comes time to cook. Decide WHICH nights you are going to eat which meals (dependent on your busy schedule we talked about before) and try to give meals with seafood and poultry priority over meals without meats or with frozen ingredients. I have this handy little meal planner notepad from Knock Knock with a magnet on the back, perfect for planning out your meal schedule and it has a magnet to stick right on the fridge.
- Monday: Oven Baked Pesto Salmon with Sauteed Spinach (salmon, cherry tomatoes, pesto, spinach)
- Tuesday: Avocado Chicken Caprese Salad (chicken, avocado, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, spinach)
- Wednesday: Peach Basil Mozzarella Flatbread (peaches, pesto, mozzarella, pizza dough)
- Thursday: Out with the girls
- Friday: Shrimp Cobb Salad (frozen shrimp, spinach, cherry tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, goat/feta cheese, corn, avocado)
- Saturday: Date night
- Sunday: Frozen Pizza
- Salmon Filet
- Package of cherry tomatoes
- Pesto (in a jar)
- Bag of baby spinach
- Chicken breast
- Ball of Mozzarella cheese
- Pizza dough (pillsbury has good pizza dough in cans)
- Frozen shrimp
- Eggs (you’ll want these for breakfast anyway)
- Goat/Feta cheese
- Can of corn
- Two avocados (one should not be ripe yet, one semi ripe)
- Olive oil (if you don’t already have it)
- Frozen pizza (this will stay good even if you don’t end up eating it this week)
Ok so here’s my logic with the above example:
- Switching up the protein/meat keeps it from getting repetitive (we’re meal planning, not prepping) plus one night without meat won’t kill anyone
- Three of the four recipes include cherry tomatoes and spinach, two of the four include pesto and mozzarella and avocado, and all four include ingredients that can easily be used for other meals throughout the week or in the future (eggs, pesto, goat/feta cheese, frozen shrimp) Catchy my drift? Each recipe has things in common aka you’re actually using up the ingredients you buy.
Once your dinner choices are made, make a list of all of the ingredients you will need. This will also give you a good idea of what can be used in lunches. Add to the list as necessary, I’d suggest some simple lunch staples like sandwiches to get you started. Or if you’re feeling overwhelmed, stick to your lunch take-out routine for a few more weeks while you get comfortable with dinner prepping, and then add lunch planning to the list.
Here’s what my lunch plan would look like for the example week:
- Monday: Turkey sandwich with chips, apple with peanut butter (turkey, spinach, pepperjack cheese, mayo, bread)
- Tuesday: Team lunch at work
- Wednesday: Chicken, avocado and ranch sandwich with a banana and chips (leftover chicken from last night’s meal shredded, avocado, ranch dressing, pepperjack cheese, bread)
- Thursday: Leftover flatbread
- Friday: PBJ with cheese stick, grapes and yogurt
Extra ingredients to add to list for lunch:
- ¼ lb of turkey from deli
- Package of sliced pepperjack cheese
- Loaf of bread
- Peanut butter and jelly (if you don’t already have it)
- Greek yogurt (grab a few for breakfast/snacks)
- Ranch dressing (if you don’t have it)
- Bananas (grab a few, they make good snacks and breakfasts)
- Sunchips or some sort of healthier chip
Now, you’ve got four dinners and four lunches, a minimal grocery list with no waste and multiple frozen/long lasting items that can be used in the future. Also, you’ve got a lot of snacks and breakfast ingredients without even realizing it! Bread for toast, eggs, yogurt, fruit, chips to snack on, etc. You’re killing it already. March yourself right into the grocery store, and try not to deviate from the meal plan grocery list. I don’t care if pop-tarts are BOGO, stay strong! If you’re like me and need something sweet after dinner or lunch, grab a bag of individually foil wrapped Dove dark chocolates – meaning don’t go overboard and get ice cream, Oreos and a batch of bakery cupcakes.
Sorry for the insanely long post, but there are a lot of little details I wanted you to know about to make your meal plan experience as easy as possible! Sometimes it takes a little finagling of meals and you won’t always find the perfect combination, but I’m planning on posting more meal plan examples in the future! I’m also doing a post with more packable healthy lunch ideas and one about using weekly sales flyers and digital coupons.
So many meal planning tips, so little time. Make sure to pin the image below for future reference when planning your next weekly meal plan! I’d love to hear your input or healthy recipe ideas in the comments below too 🙂