How To: Make A Weekly Meal Plan

January 5th, 20125:00 pm @

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What To Eat notepadHow much did you spend on food last month?  If you can answer that question, what percentage was on groceries?

One of the easiest ways to save on your monthly food expense is to create a weekly meal plan. Now, we’re not suggesting you dine-in 100% of the time (what’s the fun in that!?), only that you plan for both options. Cooking is also much healthier than dining out.

A recent OECD study found that the French spend more than 2 hours a day eating and drinking. That’s twice the amount of time at the table than Americans, Canadians or Mexicans spend – yet we’re the ones with the highest obesity rates. So we would argue that it’s more about what we’re eating over here on the North American continent! Another interesting study comparing American eating habits with the French was based on disposable income. US consumers spend 6.1 percent of their disposable income on food, while the French spend 13.6! So to add those studies together, we theorize that we have access to cheaper and unhealthier food – that we scarf down – which is then making us fat!  ;)

So here are a few tips for creating a weekly meal plan and eating the frugal bon vivant way (and quite possibly the French way).

How to make a meal plan:

  1. Make a meal idea list. We use the KnockKnock What To Eat notepads, because when “fun meets function,” we actually stick with a plan. Whether you’re using plain paper, fun notepads, Excel, or an iPhone app – it’s all about recording what you’re going to eat for the week.
  2. Don’t plan to cook for the whole week. We usually leave 2-3 days free of cooking plans because we know that we’ll be going out or eating leftovers. So write in “Chipotle” or “leftovers” as needed.
  3. Brainstorm. Even if you’ve been cooking for decades, it can still be tough to decide what to cook for the week. We only have a few cookbooks, so mainly use magazines and online sites for recipe inspiration. Here are a few good ones: Dinner Tonight, Epicurious, Martha Stewart Food, and the Everyday Food magazine (which is a favorite for finding quick recipes).
  4. Think in season. One of the reasons we really like the Everyday Food cookbook (also great for new cooks), is that it is organized by season – so you’re not off looking for fresh pumpkins in June, when clearly it’s not peak season yet. Epicurious has a cool Peak Season Map as well.all-out-of-pad
  5. Try to match up some ingredients for multiple meals to save money (& not waste leftover food). For example, this week we’ll be using cilantro, jalapeno & sour cream in several different recipes. This strategy is much more important in winter, when it’s more expensive to get fresh veggies & herbs at the grocery store.
  6. Don’t do all your shopping at one store. Stock up on staple items at your local supermarket, and then hit Trader Joes, Whole Foods, or farmers’ markets (in-season) for produce and specialty items. This is a great strategy to get some organic products too, as shopping 100% at Whole Foods can get pretty spendy.
  7. Use up all your ingredients. It might take a few weeks to get in the rhythm of using all of the groceries that you’re buying, but stick with it and remember to throw produce that’s about to go south in the freezer for future use.
  8. Make a shopping list. When you’re done adding items to your meal plan, go through your fridge & cupboards to see what items you actually need. This eliminates most of your short trips to the store. We use the free Grocery IQ iPhone app now so we have our list on the go, but previously used the All Out Of KnockKnock notepads.

We’ve found Sundays to be the best day to do a quick meal plan and go grocery shop, so you feel ready for the week.

How about you? What is your meal plan strategy?

Originally published June 2009