Meal planning is a great way to save money and reduce stress. It allows you to avoid the temptation of ready-made meals, which often include lots of extra calories, fat and salt.
Here are some key benefits:
Saves time. You can prepare your meals for the week ahead in advance and store them in the fridge or freezer.
Reduces stress. Knowing what you’re having for dinner means you don’t have to think about it at the end of a busy day.
Reduces waste. Having less food hanging around will help you avoid throwing things away that have gone out of date.
Helps keep track of finances. If you tend to overspend on food, by writing a list and sticking to it, you’ll be able to see where you can cut back on costs.
Plan around your schedule. We all have different schedules and routines, so there's no single meal plan that works for everyone. Look at your schedule for the week, and figure out how much time you'll have for cooking each night. Maybe Sunday dinner is a big affair, while Wednesday is always takeout because of sports practice or meetings after work. Set realistic expectations, so you don't end up disappointed or frustrated with yourself if you can't cook an elaborate dinner three nights a week.
Think of a time when you've been so busy during the week, you didn't have time to shop for groceries. When you finally got around to it, you probably grabbed whatever was convenient in order to get through the week. Then, come Friday, you had already eaten almost everything and had to buy more food — and household supplies like toilet paper.
That's one of the common ways meal planning can save you money on groceries. When you plan your meals weekly (or even monthly), you are less likely to make those kinds of last-minute trips to the store or order takeout because there's nothing in the fridge.
Another way meal planning saves money is by creating a regular grocery shopping schedule that ensures your fridge will always be stocked with fresh produce and other ingredients. And if you're not running out for a quick late-night snack at the grocery store, you won't pick up snacks that aren't on your list or eat unhealthy food just because it's there.
There are many great apps that help with meal planning and organizing your shopping list, but if you don't want one more thing on your phone, it can be as simple as writing things down in an old-fashioned notebook.
Here is an example grocery list:
Keeps food waste to a minimum
One of the worst feelings is throwing out perfectly good food that went bad before you could eat it. How many times have you bought a bag of lettuce only to have it wilt in your fridge before you could finish it? Too many? Yeah, us too. With meal planning, though, that doesn't happen because you're only buying ingredients for meals that are planned out for the week. Eating whatever is left in your fridge when it gets down to the wire is fine once in a while, but if you're doing that every week, things are bound to go bad.
Prevents impulse buys
We swear we have self-control when we walk into Trader Joe's or Target — but somehow we always leave with way more than we needed. A new kitchen item here and there is fine, but those little purchases can really add up over time if they're not budgeted