Hey Freebs Nation! You guys have been begging me for a while to sit down and walk you through how I do my meal planning. You're in luck because I'm going to show you just how easy it is to feed my growing family of 8 (soon to be 10!) for just $25 a week during #Shelftember.
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See, that wasn't so bad! Meal planning on a budget sounds like a daunting task, but it's really not so terrible once you get in the habit of doing it weekly. Follow how I meal plan for my family of 8 and you'll be a pro in no time!
Quick disclaimer: having a budget of $25/week isn't the “norm” over here, just something that we do during Shelftember! I usually recommend $100/person/month, starting at $300. You can find more info on that in THIS post.
INVENTORY YOUR FOOD
The first step when I'm doing my meal planning is to inventory my fridge, freezer and pantry. But keep in mind that you don't have to inventory your kitchen staples, since those are items that you probably always have on hand. You can make this easier on yourself by going off of your complete kitchen inventory. (Learn all about how to do that HERE.)
The fridge is the first place that you should look and try to do your meal planning around because it's the food that will go bad the quickest. I grab a notebook and my favorite erasable pens and write down what I have that's either about to expire or that is a partial container that is taking up too much space.
When I get to the freezer, I'm looking at leftovers that need to be eaten or bulky items that are taking up space. Make sure you you check out my freezer hacks post so that you're using your freezer to the best of its ability!
Once I get to the pantry, I'm really only looking at items that have been opened that need to be used. Things like open bags of chips, bread crumbs, pancake mix, you get the idea! (Since I know you're going to ask, you can see how I do my pantry organization HERE.)
PLAN YOUR MEALS
My next step to meal planning for my large family is to plan meals for the week based off of what I have and need to use. This can sound scary, but it's really not that bad as long as you use my tips!
HOW TO CHOOSE WHICH MEALS TO HAVE
The first place that I start is by looking at what protein I have. Some meals come together really easily! Looking at my list, I see that I have sausage, spinach, pasta shells, and lots of cheese. I know that I'll be able to make spinach-stuffed shells for dinner one night without having to try too hard!
Sometimes you're left with random ingredients that you know could go together but don't necessarily know how. The next place that I look is in my recipe binder. It's where I keep ALL of my recipes that I've made and my family loves. I have it organized by meat and meal type. It's an easy place to look to get ideas.
I like to turn to AllRecipes.com (or Google) when I'm left with random items that I'm not quite sure how to put together. It's great because you can put in the items that you have and it'll bring up recipes using those exact ingredients!
HOW TO ASSIGN A MEAL TO A DAY
As I'm doing my meal planning, I write down everything that I have and will need for each meal. This includes what I'll need to use from my inventory, what I'll need to buy from the store, and what I'll need to do for the meal (such as making rice, baking bread, and roasting veggies).
Then I'll figure out the best day to have that meal. If you'll look at the list below, you can see that I'm making rice twice this week. We're having white rice with egg rolls and Mexican rice with the taco lasagna. Instead of making two separate batches of rice for each of those meals, I chose to make the egg roll meal first.
I can grab my Instant Pot and make a double batch of white rice in no time. I'll serve half of it with the egg rolls meal. Then, I'll take the leftovers and transform it into Mexican rice to eat with the taco lasagna meal. When you think this way and repurpose your leftovers, it makes your life so much easier!
I always work in one or two nights for leftovers. That allows us to clean out our fridge and keeps us from being wasteful. Our world changed once I learned how to reheat and repurpose our leftovers properly! Yours will to, so make sure that you check this post out!
WRITE YOUR MEAL PLAN OUT
Once I know what meals I'm having, and the order that I need to have my meals in, I write them down on a magnetic dry erase board that we keep on the fridge. My meal planning board is a great way for the whole family to see what we're having for dinner every night.
So there you have it! If you want more details on how to meal plan, make sure that you check out THIS post. I'm curious to know what meals YOU would've made using my list of ingredients that I had to work with. Let me know in the comments!
Want more? Check out these posts!