First, let’s talk about the different types or frequencies of meal planning.
- Weekly Meal Planning- This is the easiest starting point. Most people pop in the grocery store at least once a week anyway, and you typically have a good idea of what your upcoming week looks like. On Saturday, Sunday, or whatever day works best for you, sit down and choose meals for the week, jot down a list of the ingredients and any other breakfast/lunch/snack items you might need, then head to the store.
- Bi-Weekly Meal Plan- Go every other week! The process stays the same but you cut your planning sessions & grocery trips in half. It requires a little more thought to plan the most-perishable ingredients in the first week and more lasting ingredients for the second. However, it really wasn’t a huge adjustment for me, and I loved the time it freed up for me.
- Monthly Meal Planning – I’m not gonna lie. When I heard of people doing monthly meal planning, I freaked out a little. How do you know how many meals you need? Milk doesn’t last that long. Or bananas. Or lettuce. Or ice cream (not because it’s perishable, just because it’s delicious). Meal planning monthly can feel like a big step from bi-weekly, but if you have a fairly predictable schedule, you can figure out a rough number of total meals needed for the month. Of course, you have to stop by the store mid-month to pick up some more fruit, veggies, or milk, but you would be surprised how much produce will last several weeks, and how many “back-up” meals you can have on hand that use mostly frozen/canned/dry ingredients. This really stretches the groceries to cover the whole month.
When deciding on the length of your meal plan, keep in mind several factors to determine what works best for you!
- Paychecks– First, consider how much cash you will have on hand, depending on when you get paid. If you get paid monthly, you might be able to buy all your groceries upfront. If you get paid weekly or even sporadically, weekly might be better. If all of your regular bills are due at one time, it may be best to build your larger grocery trips into a different time of the month.
- Storage- While we were in our 7×7 apartment kitchen with no pantry, storing any more than 1-2 weeks of groceries was out of the question. However, now that we’re in our house that has a glorious pantry and a larger fridge, we can store more and shop less frequently.
- Schedule– Consider your weekdays and weekends. When is best for you to go grocery shopping? Would you rather do smaller, more frequent trips to accommodate an unpredictable schedule? Is your routine fairly stable and easy to plan for? Is the grocery store nearby, or do you have to make a special trip? These questions can be helpful in making a system that supports and eases your lifestyle, instead of adding unnecessary stress and frustration.
- Bargains– If you love couponing and incorporating on-sale items into your meal plan, you might plan more frequently and/or go shopping on specific days to make the most of these items. If you do want to plan more long-term, make sure to meal plan once the sales come out.
- Personality– When it all boils down, don’t try to be someone you’re not. We can all grow to learn more skills, but make a system that works with your natural tendencies and strengths. If you’re a planner (like me), why not tackle a larger chunk of time to make you feel prepared? If you’re more spontaneous and tend to change plans, give yourself more room to be creative and maybe take it week-to-week.
Choosing your meal plan is the first step. It also isn’t set in stone. I started out weekly to get the feel for it, then later moved up to bi-weekly, then monthly, once I felt more comfortable. You also might utilize different methods in different seasons of the year or seasons of life. As much as my planner-heart hates to say it, meal planning really is all about flexibility!
Want the rest of the series, the printables, and a fast-track system to get you meal planning?