Meal planning is exactly what it sounds like, planning out the meals you will serve. I prefer planning my meals each week, but I know many who plan monthly. Meal planning helps to save time, but also reduces stress and saves money.
When you know exactly what you are going to be serving it is easy to start preparing your ingredients when you have small bits of time throughout the day. It is also nice to not have to worry about what you will be serving and whether or not you will have what you need for the recipe, because you have already planned the meal and done the shoping for it. Meal planning is most effective when it is flexible though to allow for last minute emergencies that may occur. Once, we had a power outage on a night I had a big dinner planned. I was able to swap the night of the big dinner with a planned grilling night, with no problems.
Setting up a meal plan should take several things into account. First, ensure you are planning foods your family will actually eat. Second, use a store ad to plan your meals using items that are on sale that week (this is why I plan weekly) and also be sure to include any items you have a lot of on hand, possibly from a garden, previous sale (things you stocked up on), or otherwise. I like using Allrecipes to find recipes that use certain ingredients. The trick is to read the reviews the recipes and implement the advice given. Third, plan meals that will either give you lots of leftovers to use for another meal or plan for a "leftover" night once a week where you heat up all the leftovers and everyone eats what there is. The goal is to have as little waste as possible and to maximize your time and your money. Finally, be sure to plan meals that fit your schedule. Do not schedule a big meal that requires lots of preparation on a night when you will be out all day. Those are the nights for leftovers, stock pot meals, or pre-made meals.
When implementing your meal plan, be sure to check your meal plan every few days to prepare for the upcoming days and to make any necessary adjustments. If you realize that your spouse decided to eat the leftover roast beef, that you were going to use for tomorrow's dinner, for a late night snack, you will be able to rearrange the plan. This also allows you to purchase any ingredients that may have been otherwise used up or that you prefer to buy fresh the day you need them. You wil have the opportunity to ensure the meat is defrosted in time, too.
I would love to hear if any of you successfully follow meal plans. What are some of yout tips? I started doing meal plans about 3 years ago and wish I had come upon them sooner.