No one can deny the fact that meal planning helps limit waste and saves families cash.
I've tried [too many] meal planning systems, including a few stints where I paid for a meal planning subscription service. No matter the system du jour, I usually found myself with wasted ingredients and a sense of failure.
Because the only thing predictable about my life is, well, it's unpredictability.
I need a meal planning system that is f l e x i b l e.
We have two little ones who mostly eat like birds and occasionally eat like nature's most feared predators. And we have a lifestyle that includes emergency evening visits to hospitals, travel, random chaos, and plain old exhaustion.
Here's what I've found gives us greater grocery budget success:
1 - I only plan five meals at a time. And they aren't attached to days. Any of those meals are fair game, depending on our mood and how much time I have to prep. I work from the groceries already in the fridge and pantry, and use up what we have before I buy more.
2 - In addition to those five meals, I make sure I have an emergency meal on hand. I store one pound portions of ground beef in our freezer - frozen flat. I smoosh (technical term) the meat in the freezer bag until flat and about a half inch or so in thickness. (Basically a giant beef patty. Or pancake.) I make sure I have a meat pancake in the freezer at all times. I also make sure I have canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, kidney beans and chili seasonings in the pantry.
When the world goes haywire (I'm exhausted, I forgot to thaw something, all of us have the flu...you get the idea) I pull out the meat pancake and throw it in a big hot skillet. It's flat, so it easily browns despite being frozen. I just spend some time flipping it around and chunking it up with a wooden spoon. Dump in the tomatoes, sauce, and spice...and voila! Cuppa chili anyone? My hero, handy emergency meal, has kept us from abandoning our meal plan altogether, and we still keep our habit of eating at home. The next day we'll happily return to our regularly scheduled program.
Leftovers, breakfast for dinner, and sandwiches are also great standbys for 'life happens' nights. Even so, the thought of a nice warm bowl of chili waiting for me at a moment's notice is quite the comfort food.
I was inspired by oceans of meal planning printables on Pinterest this week, and created my own little diddy. Just click the image for the printable PDF. Hope you find it handy! What are your tips for flexible meal planning? Please share!