12 Meal Planning Tools That Will Keep it Simple
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Meal planning has become a routine for me and I never thought I would be able to say that. Once I finally developed a simple and efficient strategy that worked for me, things got easier. Everything I was finding online was overwhelming or took too much time. But when I found something that was easy and fast, I actually started to enjoy meal planning. It helps me stay organized with our week, helps me stick to our grocery budget every month, and it’s kept our fridge and pantry less cluttered.
Throughout the last two years I have been consistently meal planning every week and limiting our grocery trips to once every two weeks. This has done amazing things for my stress level and for our budget! During those last 18 months we were focusing heavily on paying off debt and I fully believe that meal planning was one important piece of the puzzle that helped us do that. It kept us from eating out constantly and we were able to take that extra money and pay off all our debt as quickly as possible.
During this process, there have been so many tools that I’ve grown to love, and some that I can’t live without when it comes to meal planning. Some of them I use all the time and others I rotate or have changed during different seasons of our life. I’m sharing all of these tools with you in hopes that you will find them helpful and useful in finding a meal planning routine that works for you.
1. The Busy Mama’s Guide to Simple Meal Planning
This has been the absolute game changer when it comes to meal planning. Previously, I was not a fan of meal plans because it would take up so much of my time, we would spend more money that desired, and at the end of the month we would have so much food go to waste because we couldn’t stick to the elaborate meal plan. Finally a friend mentioned this simple strategy to me and I evolved into something that work for our family. Two years later, I couldn’t imagine ever doing it differently. This meal planning strategy is so simple and it takes very little time to implement. I wrote it all out into a guide that’s available for you to download for free. All you need to do is enter your email in the form below and the guide will be sent straight to your inbox for immediate download.
2. Boogie Board LCD Writing Tablet
The Boogie Board LCD Writing Tablet is something so simple yet we use it all the time. We keep this on the fridge and use it as a running grocery list. Whenever we run out of something like milk, taco seasoning, paper towels, whatever, we can easily write it down here so we don’t forget. This helps because when I sit down to make our meal plan each week I have a better idea of what’s needed and I can use it to start our grocery list. This also makes communication way easier between my husband and I. Instead of him telling me he used the last of the butter and then me forgetting to add it to the grocery list, he can simply write it on the board as soon as it’s gone (or even almost gone) and there’s no lack of communication. And to make things even simpler, if we just need to make a quick grocery store run for 5-10 things, I just take a picture of the tablet with my phone and then I know I have the grocery list with me later that day.
3. Weekly Family Calendar Planner Pad
Although this calendar planner is meant to encompass more than just meal planning, that’s mainly what I use it for. We’ve been using this for several months now and I love how I’ve incorporated this into my meal plan strategy. It makes it easy to write out our plans for the week so if there’s a birthday dinner or something where we know we’ll be eating out, I write that in and then fill in the rest with cook at home meals. I actually use the left hand side for meal planning so I can write out breakfast, lunch, and dinner for each day. If you download the Busy Mama’s Guide to Simple Meal Planning you’ll see how I simplify breakfast and lunch. And because we grocery shop every two weeks, I also use this by tearing off the previous week’s page and writing my initial meal plan and grocery list on the back. It really helps me stay organized.
4. Magnetic Dry Erase Menu Board
Before I started using the notepad planner above, I was using a chalkboard to write out our meal plans for each week. It wasn’t exactly like this Magnetic Dry Erase Menu Board but it was comparable and something we already had on hand when we got started meal planning. Both the erasable menus and the notepad planners work great, it’s really just a matter of personal preference. Right now I’m using the notepad because it’s easier to take down and carry with me while I chase a toddler all over the house. The point with both of these tools, for me, has been that they keep me organized but they also make meal planning pretty and fun which keeps me motivated to do it.
5. Grocery Store Weekly Ads
I have not found the time or energy to start couponing, but I love taking a couple minutes to look over the weekly grocery store ads (or circular ads) whenever I start meal planning for the next two week block. It’s a great place to start with meal planning because you can purchase items that are already on sale and save money without having to hunt down coupons. If ground turkey is on sale, we buy what we need and freeze some extra because we know it’s something we use on a consistent basis, probably at least once per week. If tortillas are on sale, then I know it’s a good idea to incorporate tacos into the meal plan. It’s a good money saving way to figure out what to have for dinner for the next two weeks.
6. The $5 Meal Plan
I can’t say enough good things about The $5 Meal Plan service. It’s the best budget friendly meal planning service out there. For an affordable $5 a month, you receive a weekly, budget-friendly, meal plan sent to your inbox complete with grocery shopping list for download. And my personal favorite feature is the build your own meal plan tool which allows you to pick your own recipes to make a custom meal plan and grocery list. The build your own tool works great for my pick eater household and it allows me to incorporate both our traditional or favorite meals in with the $5 Meal Plan meals for more variety. You can read my full review of the service here.
7. Hungry Girl Simply 6 Cookbook
A friend recommended the cookbook Hungry Girl Simple 6: All Natural Recipes With 6 Ingredients or Less and it’s been a great resource. I’m all about simplicity so I love that the author, Lisa Lillien, keeps the ingredient lists minimal. The recipes are easy to follow and Lisa is know for making meals that are both healthy and satisfying. If you happen to follow Weight Watchers Freestyle or you just want to incorporate healthier eating into your meal plan, this book is excellent. And I love using this Post-It Page Markers to tab the recipes we like for quick access. You can even color code the tabs by meal type or according to tried it vs. want to try it.
8. A Recipe Box or Binder
While I love using both the $5 Meal Plan and the Hungry Girl Cookbook mentioned above, I also like to keep things simple by including some recipes that we know and love. Many of these recipes I have memorized and know what ingredients are needed and how to cook it, but some of them I do not. I love keeping all the tried and true recipes in one spot so I can stay organized. I think of it like a recipe bank that we can go back to for inspiration. Sometimes we stop making a certain dish on a regular basis and then forget about it. The recipe bank helps me go back and refresh my memory on what we know and love. And as we find new recipes from the $5 Meal Plan, Hungry Girl, or else where that we like, I add them to the file. One of my favorite recipe organizers is this Rifle Paper Co Recipe Box.
9. MyFreezEasy’s Freezer Meal Planning Success Guide
I’ve learned that one of the best ways to curb the temptation to eat out is to have a meal that’s already prepped and ready to go. So often the reason we feel tempted to eat out is because of a tiring or stressful day at work, so having a meal at home that’s already been prepared and just needs to be heated can be the perfect solution. Erin Chase, the same girl that created the $5 Meal Plan we love, has a FREE Freezer Meal Planning Success Guide which will teach you how to prep, thaw, and cook freezer meals as well as knowing what will freeze well and what won’t. Our household has never been so prepared as to have a week of freezer meals prepped, but it helps to have at least one on hand for those bad day emergencies. And these Disposable Foil Pans with Lids make it easy to prep the freezer meal, store it, and clean up when done.
10. A Planner or Calendar
When meal planning, it’s important to have an up to date calendar or planner on hand. This allows you to look at the two weeks ahead and figure out how many dinners you actually need to plan for. If you’re going to have a busy week and be eating out, you don’t need to plan a meal for every night or that food will likely go to waste or push you over budget. It also helps to know what’s going on so you can schedule quick to cook meals on busier nights when you still need to eat at home. I personally use the Day Designer for Blue Sky Daily & Monthly Planner but Google Calendar is free, digital, and works well too. Use what works for you, just make sure you’re paying attention to the calendar when meal planning.
11. A Monthly Budget
Creating a monthly budget allows you to make a plan for a money rather than wondering where it all went at the end of the month. Groceries are a budget category that are variable and for that reason, I love looking for ways to reduce grocery spending because it gives us more money to put towards debt pay off or whatever we’re currently saving for. Knowing the grocery budget balance is an essential part of meal planning because it helps me stay under the budget. We meal plan and grocery shop once every two weeks which is about twice per month. Therefore I know not to use more than half the monthly grocery budget at each purchase. This keeps our grocery bill low and gives us more flexibility to work towards our financial goals.
12. The 2019 Healthy Meal Planning Bundle
I will confess I’m a learnaholic and I love getting new materials that will teach me something or help me with personal development. I love Ultimate Bundles because it allows you to get access to a ton of educational resources on specific topics for only a fraction of the total value. One of the top bundles is the 2019 Healthy Meal Planning Bundle which will help you still plan for healthy meals even with a busy lifestyle. This bundle includes 1,072 recipes, 39 done-for-you meal plans, nutritional info for every recipe, the ability to sort my dietary needs or health goals, and it integrates with the Real Plan app (a customizable digital meal plan app). And it even includes ebooks and ecourses such as “21 Days of Eating Empowerment” and “Why Won’t My Child Eat.” Everything that’s included in this bundle is valued at a total of $1,038 but because it’s all been bundled together, you can purchase everything for $49.97 which is a steal of a deal! This bundle is only available through December 31, 2019 so don’t wait long to decide.