5 Creative Meal Planning Hacks
How to meal plan in a creative way, no matter how you get your groceries.
Meal planning doesn't look the way it used to. Pre-2020, meal planning was as simple as making a list of what you wanted to eat + a list of what you need to buy, then going shopping. Boom. Simple. Awwww, those were the days.
Now. Post 2020, it looks a little differently:
- You *might* grocery shop in person.
- You might have your groceries delivered.
- You might pick them up from the store.
- You might have entire pre-portioned meals sent in a box to your doorstep.
Here is a quick list of creative ways to stay organized for your weekly meal prep based on the type of grocery shopping you do.
1. Classic. You grocery shop in person.
We love your enthusiasm. You already know how to meal plan. You'll fill out your meals then check your pantry and refrigerator for what you've got. You'll make a grocery list, and you'll go shopping.
Here is your extra credit... whether you use our meal planning inserts, or make your own list the hard way, I'm sure you are checking things off as you shop. The extra credit is to highlight or cross them off when you put them away. How many times have you gotten home and gone "I know I bought such and such..." looking for the items. By double-checking against your list, you know you got what you paid for.
2. You have your groceries delivered.
You can follow the same procedure above. You meal plan based on what you want to eat/cook, then you make your list of items needed. Cross-reference it with your pantry and refrigerator.
Then you place your order online for all the needed items.
When the items show up at your door, check them off your grocery list to ensure you've received what you paid for, and nothing got missed.
3. You pick your groceries up from the store.
This one's simple. How many times have you gotten the wrong item because the one you wanted was out of stock (or they just couldn't find it)? It's happened to me so many times. What happens when your recipe calls for spaghetti, but they gave you macaroni? What do you do?
- If you won't eat the substituted item, you can return in if the store allows.
- Try to come up with a meal that uses the item and either switch out one of the meals on your plan or create a meal for the next week ahead of time.
- Add the missing ingredient to a new meal plan and you are preparing nice and early for the next grocery pickup.
Make sure you check off the items as you put them away!!!
4. Meal delivery. The easiest way to cook when you are busy.
I love a good meal delivery service. My personal favorite is Green Chef and I'm not even getting paid to say that. Here's how I meal plan when I'm getting a meal box:
- Write out all the meals I'm having delivered. If I get five meals this week, and they come on Monday, I'll write a meal for each dinner for Monday through Friday.
- I like to cook the meals as quickly as possible to ensure the food is nice and fresh, which means I push them to the closest days on my meal plan. I save any dining out, leftovers, or other dinners for the other days of the week.
- Look at the meals that are being delivered and ask yourself if you'll need anything to prepare them. Most of the time they call for olive oil, butter, salt, pepper, etc... but sometimes I like to add some French bread or a side salad or a second vegetable dish. I add these to my meal plan and add the ingredients to my grocery list.
- Most meal delivery services don't come with all the meals you'll need, or all the snacks (some do, but let's face it, that gets pricey). I try to think of what we will need for those other meals and add it to the meal plan.
5. Other meal planning tips.
If you are trying to live frugally right now, it's a good idea to survey your pantry and refrigerator prior to planning. Use what you've got. Create recipes around the things you already have. If you make one chicken dish, why not make two dinners with chicken and use the leftovers for a lunch. Per pound, it's cheaper to buy more of one ingredient.
Meal delivery hack: Get less food than you think you'll need and supplement with extra veggies or an extra carb like brown rice or pasta. I feel like our family never eats all of the food in the boxes meant for four and so sometimes we get the box for two and just supplement with extra items. We've also been known to cut a recipe in half and use it over two nights this way.
I love to cook. I get lofty with my plans. Have you ever seen that joke, "I'm not the same person I was when I bought all these vegetables"? Well, that's me. Then it never fails that some major family event or pre-planned dinner party gets in the way and I have to put an entire dinner worth of food in the freezer or even worse, it get's thrown out because it spoils. Look at the schedule! Do you have plans already? Is Tuesday going to be crazy and you know you'll be too tired to cook and want pizza anyway? Plan for this.
Plan for less. I like to make sure I only plan for six out of seven nights. I leave the seventh night as a bonus night. If we've been very well behaved and cooked at home all six nights, we will just eat out the seventh night, but what usually happens is we end up needing that unplanned night during the week for leftovers, make-your-own-dinner night, or an unplanned emergency and I'm so glad that I didn't have food going bad at home.
Finally, if you don't already have a system that works well for your family, we offer an excellent Meal Planning Planner Insert in our shop that has been tried and tested by thousands of wonderful people in the planning community. You can find it here or if you want to print it yourself, click me.
Do YOU meal plan? Any tips to share with the others? Leave them in the comments.