How to Start Meal Planning

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Do you plan your weekly meals?  If not, you should!  Here are some benefits of taking the time to Meal Plan; saves money, less stress, fewer trips to the store, creates opportunity for healthier eating, eliminates the great family dinner debate, and is an easy place to start organizing your entire life.  Step by step, here is how we tackle this:

1. Create a Shopping List-
To get set up, first make a list of everything the family normally purchases at the grocery store, add to that other things you might cook with now and then.  Next, set up your list according to the aisles in the store and group the items accordingly.  Make sure to leave some blank spaces in each section to add items that may not be on your original list. Your best bet is to type this up and print out copies to use each week.  When our garden is producing we will be able to eliminate the produce section of this list and save even more $$.

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2. Create a Weekly Menu-
Use a simple spread sheet or get creative! Here is a basic sample you can type up and print out: Weekly Menu. You can also use a chalk board, magnetic board, your refrigerator, or any of the thousands of ideas floating around Pinterest.

3. Choose a Day to Plan and a Day to Shop-
For us, it works best to plan leisurely on Friday when we get a few seconds then do the actual shopping on Saturday mornings.  You can also plan and shop on the same day, whatever works best with your schedule. Also, you may choose to plan for the entire month all in one day then just shop each week accordingly.

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4. Read your Local Sale Flyers-
When you are ready to sit down and plan, grab your local stores sale flyer(s). Take a look at their major sales and any other items you may need to purchase that week.  We try to coordinate whats on sale with what your menu looks like. For example, if ground turkey meat is on sale we might make chili, meatballs or minestrone soup.  After consulting the flyer and taking into account the weather, family activities, whats growing in your garden, special events, whats fresh this time of year and holidays, it is time to make the menu.

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5. Making your Weekly Menu-
Making your menu might seem daunting but its only 7 days, right? You can do it! For our family we use pretty much the same formula each week, with a few variations here and there: a soup, a pasta dish, breakfast for dinner, take-out, a major protein, vegetarian and something new.  We did not intend to do this, it is just how the process evolved and it works for us. We really just plug in the recipes for each items and give it a day and its done. Easy.

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6. Check off your Shopping List:
Now, go through all of your recipes and highlight all the ingredients you need to purchase on your shopping list. Then check your pantry and refrigerator for every day items you need to replenish and mark those off as well. For example; we know every week that we need to purchase milk, eggs and bread, it is not on the weekly menu but we know our family needs it. You may also wish to go online and print any coupons for items your purchasing to save some extra cash.

7. Do your Shopping and Stick to the Menu:
All that is left is shop and cook.  Make sure to stick to your menu during the week because then all your hard work is for naught.

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