Once upon a time, I took a teaching job halfway across the country and so Brandon and I packed up our belongings and trekked from Austin, Texas to Tacoma, Washington. Our decision was made, in part, because my newly-acquired Masters degree would earn me quite a bit more money in Washington. We were living large, right? Wrong! Long story short: When you accept a teaching job for only half the school year, but there are nine months left in the fiscal year, your paychecks are two-thirds what you expected them to be. Thus began my love affair with all things frugal including meal planning.
Back then, my meal planning was based solely on budget, but here are my current meal planning parameters:
1. Look ahead and mark off any days we may not be eating at home or that require a special menu. (Three weeks ago I straight up forgot to plan Rollie’s birthday dinner and put a normal dinner there instead. Whoops. But the system does work most of the time.)
2. If there was anything I skipped this week for any reason (like a forgotten birthday dinner or eating a backup meal* instead) - move it to next week and/or reappropriate the ingredients for another meal.
*One of my FAVORITE frugal living blogs is the Frugalwoods. They taught me to always keep easy backup meals on hand for those days when I just cannot bring myself to cook, but we want to save money. For example, right now I have a box of Costco frozen pizzas in the deep freeze and some of the Costco chicken enchilada soup in the fridge. If I haven’t used them as their expirations near, I build them into the weekly meal plans.
3. Any recipe requests from the house? Any meals that were a big hit that we haven’t had in a while? (By the way, having this blog to look back on is SUPER helpful for this step.)
4. Fill in the gaps with our weekly meal themes** and our current dietary goals***.
**I stole the meal theme idea from Haley and ran with it. I find it SO HELPFUL. Our current weekly themes are:
Sheet Pan Tuesday
One Pot/Skillet Wednesday
Slow Cooker/Instant Pot Thursday
Fiesta Friday (basically anything I can pair with a margarita)
Stir-Fry Saturday (or any Asian dish)
We’ve also had, in the past: sandwich night, leftovers night, breakfast for dinner, grill and chill, meatless Mondays. The possibilities are endless. Choose categories that you like and that work for you and change them up when they don’t! I will 100% be reinstating grill and chill as soon as the Washington weather cooperates. I also hope to instate regular date nights once life is more normal.
***Right now we aim for at least one vegetarian meal a week, two seafood meals a week, limit red/fatty meats to one meal a week, and are working to up our veggie intake. This changes periodically, but we’re feeding two toddlers and working hard to teach them healthy food habits.
5. Plug meal ingredients into Walmart Grocery app as I confirm each meal. (If you are a first time user - signing up with my link earns us both $10.) Then I add our weekly staples and schedule my grocery pickup for a convenient time. It’s free and I’m usually in and out of the parking lot in less than ten minutes.