MEAL PLANNING 101: 6 THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE PLANNING YOUR MEALS.

I've shared my preference for once a week grocery shopping for saving time and money, but for that to work, you can't just go to the store blindly and expect it to work. It takes a little bit of planning to get your weekly menu and shopping list written out before you head to the store. If you go without a list, I can almost guarantee you'll add unnecessary items to your cart or forget something and have to go back to the store later.

No fancy system for my grocery list!

So how do you go about deciding what to make each week?

Here are 6 things to consider before planning your menu: 

1. What do you need to use up? If you have half a bag of lettuce that's going to go bad in the next few days, some chicken broth that's been in the fridge for a while, or some turkey meat that's getting close to the end of its life, think about what you can make to use it up before it goes bad. Get creative! 

2. What do you have in the freezer? We're big on cooking a huge hunk of meat on our green egg, buying a large pork loin and cutting it into 15 pork chops and a few roasts, or grilling up a few chickens and freezing them in shredded in meal-sized portions. This limits the amount of meat we need to buy on a weekly basis, and makes it easy to see what we're working with each week. We also keep a box of coconut shrimp or turkey burgers from Trader Joe's for nights we really need something that we can throw in the oven and be done. 

3. What's your lunch sitch? We take leftovers to work for lunch most days, so that means we need to plan at least a few meals each week that make enough extra food for my husband and I to bring to work. Usually, I make our bigger meals on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday to get us through the work week with leftovers. We each go out to lunch once per week, which helps break up the leftovers and gives us an out if we don't have any. Plus, this makes packing food for our days so much easier! 

4. What do you want to try this week? I try to make at least one new recipe a week so we don't get into the habit of spaghetti, tacos and hamburgers every week (Not that there's anything wrong with those. We definitely make at least one of them each week!) One new recipe is doable for me and it helps us find meals to add to our rotation (recent finds here and here).

5. What do you have going on this week? If one of us will be gone in the evening, we have an event to attend as a family, or my husband is having game night, those all impact what we'll have for dinner that night. Quick and easy is the name of the game on those nights since solo parenting + cooking isn't really possible, so we'll fall back on zoodles + meat sauce, tacos or homemade pizza. 

6. What's on sale? I'm not one to comb through newspaper inserts to find the best deals on groceries, and I only clip a coupon if it's something I would normally buy anyway, but if you do like to scope out the sales ahead of time and buy when things are on sale, take that into consideration when planning your meals. 

After walking through the steps above, which only takes 5-10 minutes, I start to write out our menu for the week. I find new recipes on Pinterest (follow me here) and have others on a frequent rotation that get worked in every other week or so like pork chops, because we have a big freezer stash, or homemade pizza, because we make crusts in bulk. 

Thinking through these 6 things before meal planning for the week will help to ensure you're using up what you have, only buying what you need, and reducing the number of trips to the grocery store throughout the week. 

How do you determine what to eat each week?