Making Things Easy (and Saving Money) with Some Simple Meal Planning

I’m a big believer in making things easy on yourself. The easier something is to do, the more likely it is that you’ll actually do it. Meal planning is one of those areas where this is especially true.

If you’re like me, just thinking about what to have for dinner can wear you out. There’s the matter of seeing what’s involved with making what you want to make, checking to see whether or not you have all of the ingredients, possibly stopping at the store to get missing items or thawing out meat, etc. All that before you even actually make something. Is it any wonder that so many people eat out?

Eating out too often is a big issue for me — it’s just plain old not healthy for me to be eating out as often as I do, plus my wallet takes a hit. So, I can save money (and feel less worn out) by planning out meals ahead of time.

I had success doing this previously by using a set of little yellow sticky notes. I’d write a meal on each sticky, and then shuffle them around at the beginning of the week until I had them the way I wanted them. That made it easy to take leftovers into account too. But that method fell by the wayside when I switched to a digital planner (Google Calendar) instead of a paper planner.

So, I’ve developed a new method that will also let me easily reorganize meals (while eliminating the problem of not being able to think of what to make for dinner.) I bought some magnets at IKEA, got out a Sharpie and began writing down the things we like to eat on them:

Preparing the Magnets

I came up with 24 different meals, along with appropriate sides, and wrote one meal on each magnet. I went ahead and did them in permanent marker, because I didn’t want them being accidentally wiped off. And realistically we tend to eat the same kinds of things anyway, so it’s not as though they’re likely to change. Then I stuck them all on the fridge:

Magnets on Fridge

These magnets are nice, because one of the edges sticks up, making them easy to move around. (Because let’s face it, sometimes we don’t feel like eating what we’d planned.) This way it’s still easy to choose something else instead without eating out. It also makes it easy to move things around so that similar ingredients are used up, making it easier to shop. Of course we will still be eating out too, but this will eliminate a lot of the unplanned meals out.

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12 comments

  • What a great idea. I recently moved into an apt by myself and I am having a hard time cooking. Instead of eating out, I would save the money and have leftovers I could bring for lunch. Heading to IKEA this weekend and I am going to see if I can find those magnets! Thanks for the post.

  • Kate, cool, I’m glad you like the idea. IKEA had several colors while I was there. They were in the organization section.

  • Meal planning is king.

    Quick tips–keep it simple (it can still be tasty even if its simple) and cook a lot. Freeze leftovers.

    Or cook “base” dishes, that can be transformed into different dishes by adding a few ingredients.

    A big batch of cooked potatoes could be used for mashed, potato salad, or added to a chicken or meat dish.

    I think you get the idea.

  • David, have you had a lot of success with freezing leftovers? I don’t know if it’s our freezer or if I’m just doing it wrong, but that doesn’t work too well for me. (Except for pancakes, those seem to freeze well.)

  • Ken

    Love the write on magnet idea..we have a pad of paper with cheapo magnet that keeps falling off. Great idea!

  • Ken, thanks, glad you like it!

  • What a great idea! We tend to go through rotations, eating the same pasta dish every week for 3 months and then switching to something else. I’d rather have a bit more rotation so that I don’t get sick of anything. I’m totally stealing this idea!

    And to comment on a comment–I’ve found that there’s a lot of trial and error with freezing things. I followed a recipe from Real Simple once (freezing calzones) and realized that the crusts needed to be parbaked first, etc. Anyhoo, I’ve been able to freeze a ton of stuff just by tweaking here and there.

  • CF, steal away :)

    I guess I’ll have to investigate freezing in more detail. I hadn’t realized there was more to it than “wrap & stick in container”. Frostbite or whatever on the food should have been a clue though…

  • it NEVER ceases to amaze me what people will think of. i LOVE this. i get so stressed out because my hubby doesn’t even think about what we’re going to eat each night – it’s up to me! so…a lot of times it’s fast food. tonight, it was PIZZA. yuck! i love, love this! thanks so much for it!

    ~bloom

    • bloominglater, I’m glad you like the idea (although I have to say PIZZA and yuck would never appear in the same sentence for me…)

  • That is INGENIOUS! What a creative way to make cooking a little less painful.