I remember the first time I sat down to menu plan.
I was in college, broke, and had no idea how I was going to stretch my $50 food & grocery budget to last me close to two weeks. As I sat down with my paper and pen, I had no clue what I was doing, but I was determined to eat well no matter what my budget was.
The first few weeks were rough. It became abundantly clear that if I was going to do this, I would have to give up some of the extra indulgences I was so used to having regularly. I had to adjust my mindset about not picking up the extra bag of chips and find a healthier and cheaper snack instead. It was an adjustment – one that wasn’t perfectly easy or straight-forward.
While all my friends were blowing their money on pizza, takeout, and beer, I was optimizing and strategizing to eat well, save money, and best of all – heaps of time that could be spent elsewhere.
What mattered to me at that time wasn’t the social aspect of food or having all that I wanted – it was keeping my hard-earned money in my pocket so that I could visit my boyfriend (now husband) every weekend who lived an hour and a half away. I menu planned so I could have more time and money.
Like I said, those first few weeks were rough. But after a while, I realized that I could have it all – more money in my pocket, more time that wasn’t spent scrounging around the kitchen or back at the store, and my weekends with my sweetie.
I actually felt like I was smarter, more efficient, and had a sneaky secret that most of my friends hadn’t figured out yet. I learned to plan, optimize my shopping list, and use ingredients multiple times over to roll them into different meals so I wasn’t eating the same thing all week.
I felt like a genius who saved time, money, AND didn’t have to think too hard about what I was going to eat.
Years later, I’m still in love with menu planning. I have a weekly routine of sitting down and planning all my meals and prep for the week.
These days, it’s less about the money and now I love it more for the fact that I’m spending less time in the kitchen staring into the fridge looking for dinner ideas and more time with my family or taking time out for myself.
I bet you could use a little extra time – and maybe even money – to hang out with your partner, kiddos, or even yourself too. It’s amazing that something as simple as menu planning can actually do that for you.
I’ll show you how to take 15 minutes out of your week to menu plan to ensure you can feed my family healthy meals seven days of the week – and still have time leftover for the things that really matter (like taking a mama time-out once in a while).
How To Menu Plan In 15 Minutes
- Take inventory of your fridge, freezer and pantry. (2-3 minutes)
- Start thinking about meal ideas using the ingredients you already have on hand. What ingredients would be needed to round out a meal?
- Rely on old standbys that you and your family love. Refer to past menu plans and recipes or create a list of meals that are always crowd-pleasers.
- Set intentions for 5 to 7 meals during the week (I only really plan for dinners, since they have the most variety in our kitchen and I always build in buffer days for leftovers and/or going out to eat with family or friends) (5-7 minutes)
- Transfer your meals to days of the week on a calendar (Google calendar is great for this, because you can access it from your computer, iPad or cell phone – but any calendar will do). (2 minutes)
Once you have your menu plan in place, all you need to do is create a shopping list with additional ingredients you’ll need for your meals (don’t forget to include breakfasts, lunches and snacks) and hit the store.
All week long, you’ll have a reliable plan to guide you and you won’t have anyone asking you “what’s for dinner?” every night of the week… and if they do, you’ll have a response immediately for them!
I’m so thankful for that $50 per week budget from college that threw me into this menu planning lifestyle. It has changed the way I spend time in the kitchen, with my family, and still make time for myself.
Now it’s your turn – share in the comments below three ways you love to save time in the kitchen to make more time for what matters to you.