One of my bullet items for planning and organization musts this year was to save time in the kitchen. Because I work, need to make time for homework at night for my children, and need to make time for me at night to hit the gym, saving time was the most important factor for me. But, I wanted to save money and make sure I provide healthy meals for my family as well.
We go to the grocery every two weeks and my family consists of four. I never really planned out an exact menu, just made a list of things we were out of or running low on. I rarely checked the fridge or pantry and just sort of guessed on items from memory. I'd end up purchasing things we already had or didn't really need. It resulted in spending more than necessary.
Because I didn't have a menu planned, I found myself always thinking about what I should cook and end up cooking the same meals over and over again. My family was getting tired of the repetitive meals, and I was tired of making them. Also, I'd forget to thaw meat or check to make sure I had the ingredients for what I intended to cook that night and we'd end up eating out from a local restaurant. Those meals add up and result in huge amounts of money spent unnecessarily and often aren't the healthiest choice. Another added bonus is that if you are planning ahead, you are able to actually use coupons more easily.
Because meals had become such a pain and costing more money and time than they should've, it was obvious that meal/grocery planning for my household was necessary. I began with this list of what mattered most to me:
Meals - what's important:
- Must be easy and quick in prep (no more than 15-20 minutes prep)
- Must be healthy
- Must be something that all 4 of us like
- Must be easy clean up
I then started a list in an Excel spreadsheet tab of entrees that I know how to cook as well as sides. I was pretty surprised at how many different things that I could actually make and wasn't cooking. I also took out some of my recipe books and added some quick and easy meals. I try and add 5 new meals about once a month. This keeps my family from getting bored.
From there I added another tab to the spreadsheet with a two-week calendar for meal planning - dinner only. Lunch and breakfast are easy for us, but dinner has always been the challenge. My calendar consists of two full weeks: Monday to Sunday. I include the entree with the sides for each day. There is no trying to figure anything out the night before or day of the meal. It's already done. That alone saves so much time and frustration. As I am cleaning up after a meal, I look at the menu for the following day and make sure to move whatever meat is needed from the freezer to the fridge for thawing.
I added one final tab to my spreadsheet for a grocery list. I know the layout of my local grocery very well, so I categorized my list by the specific layout. This saves me time at the grocery as well as helps me stick to my list and not forget anything or add anything not needed. I print a few out, keep them with my recipe books in my cabinet. I tape a grocery list and the two-week menu onto the inside of that cabinet door. As I run out of an item, I mark it on my grocery list. I never forget or duplicate an item because of this. The only time I have to spend before I go to the grocery is planning the meals for the following two weeks and noting what meats and sides are needed that I may not have.
Below is the printable link for my two-week menu and grocery list. Edit to your needs and likes. I recommend making the list of the entrees and sides you already know how to cook and start from there. Meal planning will save you time, money, and frustration. It will also keep you from eating out and/or eating unhealthy meals.
I have a couple of great go-to recipes. If you are interested in me sharing some of those meals, comment below and let me know. - Jill - xoxo