Your Crash Course in Meal Planning - 5 Easy Steps

Savvy Spending

Savvy Spender knows how to pinch a penny and about being on a budget. She has learned great ways to save money on everyday expenses.

Your Crash Course in Meal Planning - 5 Easy Steps

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"Are we there yet?" and "What's for dinner?" - two age-old questions forever engrained into parents' heads. It doesn't take much to answer the first question. The latter, though, is a whole other story.

Your Crash Course in Meal PlanningBy the time tummies start growling and patience starts wearing, it's tempting to just grab a take-out menu or zip on over to the nearest drive-thru. With fast food joints dotting every street corner and snappy food delivery just a phone call away, convenience too often becomes a priority.

Rising costs at the grocery store aren't much help either.

Over the past year, food prices in the U.S. have swelled more than 2 percent, and fresh veggies alone have increased nearly 7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A figure that is much more alarming, however, is this: one-third of American adults are obese, and nearly the same percentage of American children falls into the same category.

"Diet" and "exercise" have been society's buzzwords for years in an effort to battle obesity in America.

An idea that's been gaining even greater buzz recently is "meal planning."

Meal planning is so simple, it's often overlooked: for each day of the week, plan a dinner. That's all there is to it. The best part is it's never too late to start.

Save time and money and promote healthy eating today. All it takes is five easy steps:

1. Get ideas.

Pay close attention to what your family likes. If grandma's lasagna is gobbled up long before it makes it to the leftovers stage, the recipe is a definite keeper. Your family's restaurant favorites are another great starting point. Let's say your kid orders chicken nuggets at every restaurant. Search online or in cookbooks or ask your friends for their best chicken nugget recipe. That way, you can control price, calorie count and what's fueling your kids to get through their day.

Once you've gathered ideas, store them. Whether typed, written down on recipe cards or scribbled onto a notepad, this list is the jumping-off point for meal planning. After all, you can't have meal planning without meals to plan.

2. Get a board.

Likewise, you can't have meal planning without a plan. If you don't already own a dry-erase board, now is the perfect time to invest (chalkboards are equally welcome). Divide the board into seven spaces, labeling the spaces for each day of the week. Using your collection of recipes and dishes, assign meals to days. The beauty of the board? Erase, rearrange and swap meals until your week is just right.

Be sure to plan for the possibility of leftovers to avoid overcooking and ultimately, overspending on perishable foods.

3. Get coupons.

Saving is as important as planning. Browse the web and the mountain of mail for coupons that might come in handy. Once you get into the swing of meal planning, a week's menu can rely entirely on coupons you find. Stay updated on the supermarket's weekly deals and your area's seasonal produce to find the best deals for your budget.

4. Get a shopping list.

The grocery list is a simple solution to overspending at the store. It's simple: write down what you need before you set foot in the store. Before your week of planned meals begins, browse your pantry and fridge for foods you need. Jot down the missing ingredients so that once you get to the store, you can navigate the aisles like a money- (and time-) saving pro.

5. Get spontaneous (sometimes!).

Meal planning is boring without a few surprises to zest things up. Don't feel like you failed if one day didn't quite go according to plan. In fact, use this misstep to your creative advantage. Turn one night's to-be baked potato into the next night's cheesy beef-and-potato burrito instead.

"What's for dinner?" No need to fear. Meal planning is here.

More Posts From Food on the Table:

3 Tips to Save on After-School Snacks

Fresh vs. Frozen: 4 Tips to Help You Choose

3 Reasons NOT to go to the Grocery Store Without a List!

Sheri Alzeerah, Food on the tableSheri Alzeerah; Food on the Table

Sheri Alzeerah, a self-proclaimed "international hodgepodge," is proud to call Texas her home. Alzeerah was born in Canada, and moved to Texas in 1993 with her Bahraini/Iranian father, Filipina mother and two older brothers. As Food on the Table's editorial intern, she scouts out ways to save money on home-cooking and grocery-shopping. Her work can be seen in Texas Highways, Austin Monthly, UT's student newspaper and alumni magazine, various local newspapers and her personal food blog, Chow, Bella!

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  • Some other ideas on saving money on food are:

    1. Cereal with miilk with a half of a bannana.

    2. Noodles and chicken with some vegetables.

    3. If you can grow a garden or fruit trees - consider planting them as soon as possible.

  • What's worse is November's peanut butter price increase due to the scarce peanut crop this year. But don't let the draught dry out your wallet too. Peanut butter is so much more than the old standby for choosy moms

  • Take the excitement from the big screen to the living room by rounding up friends and family for game day at your house. If you've got a TV for the watching and couches for the sitting, the rest is a cinch. No need to splurge on ordered-in junk food.

  • While dishing out loose quarters on on-the-go snacks seems like a small price to pay, the expenses don't take long to rack up.

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