Do you keep saying you want to start meal planning? But you don’t have the time to sit down and decide what you are going to feed your family for the whole week?
Maybe you tried meal planning, but life got too hectic, and your meal plan failed miserably.
Or perhaps you are planning your weekly meals, but you absolutely hate doing it and wish it could be streamlined in some way.
If any of these things ring true with you, then you need a meal planning system in place that will help you easily create your meal plan and stick to it.
Today I am going to help you with that! There are many ways to create a system for meal planning. But today I am going to focus on helping you create a meal-planning binder.
First, let’s talk about the benefits of having a meal plan and sticking to it.
The way I see it, there are three main benefits of making and sticking to a meal plan.
First and foremost, meal planning allows you to control what you are putting into your body, making it much healthier for you and your family than getting takeout or going out to eat.
Secondly, you are going to save so much money by meal planning! The less you eat out, the more money you will save.
Lastly, there is nothing better than a good old-fashioned meal, where you sit around the kitchen table with your family! You will create an atmosphere that will allow for family bonding and togetherness.
It will create the kind of memories your kids will remember when they get older. That makes it worth it, don’t you think?
Okay, so let’s get talking about how to create a meal planning binder!
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How to create a meal planning binder
The benefits of having a meal planning binder (or another meal planning system) are clear. You will have all of your meal-planning paraphernalia in one place.
When you are organized and have everything together, you will be able to quickly and easily grab your binder and start meal planning!
So the first thing you have to do is gather all the supplies to create a meal planning binder.
But real quick…as you know, meal planning will definitely save you money. If you want to save even more money by getting cashback on some of the groceries you were going to buy anyway, you should definitely try Ibotta.
Ibotta is a cash-back app that is free to download and use. New users that sign up through this link can earn up to $20 in welcome bonuses!
So if you don’t have Ibotta yet, you can sign up here.
Also, if you absolutely hate meal planning or you have tried it, and you just can’t seem to figure out a system that works for you (and you’ve already tried a meal planning binder without success), you should take a look at $5 Meal Plan.
$5 Meal Plan is a meal plan service that sends you weekly meal plans right to your inbox and the grocery list for the meal plan already done for you!
All you have to do is check off the things you already have and head to the grocery store to get the rest.
Most of the meals work out to be around $2 per person. And it’s only $5 a month!
So if you would like to check it out, they have a free 14-day trial you can sign up for here.
- Meal Planning on a Budget
- Quick and Easy Ways to Reuse Leftover Food
- Easy Meal Planning with Dinner Theme Nights
- The Easy Way to Make a Monthly Meal Plan
Materials you will need to create a DIY meal-planning binder
The ring size will depend on the number of pages you will keep in it. If you will be doing weekly meal planning and plan to keep all of your previous weeks of meals, you may want a one-inch binder.
If you are doing monthly meal planning or weekly meal planning on a monthly calendar, you may be able to get away with a half-inch binder.
Also, decide if you will keep any recipes in your binder. If you use any handwritten recipes or prefer to print recipes out (instead of going online every time you need them), you may want the larger ring-size binder.
I would also suggest using a binder with a see-through pocket on the front, so you can put the current week’s meal plan inside the pocket to refer to. Here is an example of a binder with a clear front pocket.
Blank notebook paper or my meal planning guide printables
You can definitely use blank notebook paper in your binder to create your meal plan. But if you want meal planning sheets that are a little more user-friendly, you can download my meal planning guide for free meal planning binder printables.
The free meal planning binder printables you’ll receive are:
- a cheat sheet to help you get started
- a monthly calendar
- a sample monthly meal plan
- a weekly meal planner with a grocery list
- a place to write your family’s favorite meals
- an inventory list
- ideas for theme nights and side dishes
- tips for success
You can download my meal planning guide here, and I will send it right to your inbox!
Clear pockets/page protectors (optional)
If you are keeping recipes in your binder, you may want to consider getting some of these clear page protectors to keep them in. These clear pockets will protect your recipes from spills and splatters when you are referring to them while cooking.
A set of dividers in your meal planning binder will help keep you organized. You can separate your binder into sections like “meal plan,” “favorite meals,” “food inventory,” and “recipes.”
Once you have your binder set up, it’s time to determine your method of meal planning to figure out the best way to use your new meal planning binder to set yourself up for success.
Meal Planning Methods
I’m going to tell you about three different ways you can meal plan so you can figure out how best to use your new meal planning binder so it works for you!
Weekly meal planning
Creating a meal plan weekly is probably the place to start if you are brand new at meal planning. Weekly meal planning will keep you from getting overwhelmed when trying to come up with meals for your family.
If you need to meal plan breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you may also want to meal plan weekly or do a 2-week rotating meal plan (see below).
I only meal plan our dinner meal. This allows me to meal plan for four weeks at a time. If I had to meal plan all 3 meals a day, I don’t think I would be meal planning in 4-week intervals. That would be way too overwhelming!
2-week Rotating Meal Plan
In order to create a 2-week rotating meal plan, you come up with two weeks’ worth of meals and then just repeat that same meal plan starting in week 3.
A spin on this method would be if you could come up with two different 2-week meal plans, then alternate them so you won’t eat the same thing twice in a month.
This would work well if you could come up with 28 different meals (7 days a week times four weeks) that your family likes to eat.
But if your family eats leftovers, you will not need 28 meals because you can strategically plan for leftovers within your meal plan.
If you would like to incorporate leftovers into your meal plan and want to learn some ways to repurpose your leftovers, check out my post on how to reuse your leftovers.
Monthly meal planning
I call it monthly meal planning, but really you are meal planning for four weeks at a time. This is what I have been doing for several years, and it really has made a difference in decreasing dinner-time stress.
Since I have been doing it for so long, my system for meal planning is quite streamlined. I use a store-bought monthly planner to write in my meals.
I write our food inventory on the “Notes” lines next to the month. Then I just fill in the four weeks with our meals. I use some theme nights to help me fill in my meal plan.
If you would like more info on dinner theme nights, you can find my post about it here.
Don’t feel like you have to go out and buy a monthly planner to start with. They can be quite pricey. I buy mine every year at Dollar Tree, so if you are reading this at the beginning of the year, you might be able to find one there.
Otherwise, I have included a blank monthly calendar and an inventory list in my meal planning guide to get you started.
The thing I like most about meal planning for four weeks at a time is that you only have to meal plan once every four weeks!
Let’s face it, meal planning isn’t the most fun thing to do in life, but it’s gotta be done if you want to eat at home and save money!
Now that we talked about three different ways to use your new meal planning binder, let’s talk about grocery shopping.
Decide When You Will Grocery Shop
After you decide which method you will be using for meal planning, you will have to determine how often you will go grocery shopping.
If you are weekly meal planning, you will have to shop for groceries weekly.
If you are meal planning with the 2-week rotating meal plan, you could grocery shop weekly or biweekly.
If you decide you are going to try meal planning for four weeks at a time, you will have to decide if you will grocery shop weekly, every other week, or monthly.
Yup, some people actually only grocery shop once a month!
We grocery shop every other week, which seems to work best for our schedules. We do end up hitting up Lidl or Aldi on the off weeks for things we forgot, things Walmart was out of, or things we ran out of (i.e., milk).
But when we go into Lidl or Aldi, we only get what we need. Everything usually fits into one or two reusable shopping bags.
Another thing to consider when deciding how often you want to shop is how much space you have for storing food.
Do you have a large enough pantry to store the dry goods you will be purchasing for two weeks at a time? Do you have enough freezer space to store your frozen foods for two weeks?
These are all things to consider when deciding how often to go grocery shopping.
Determine Your Mode of Grocery Shopping
After you create a meal planning binder, decide on your method for meal planning, and determine how often you will grocery shop, you will want to decide on how and when you will obtain your groceries.
Will you go into the store for your groceries? Will you shop online and do grocery pick-up? Or will you shop online and have your groceries delivered?
What weekday will be best for you to do your grocery shopping?
Take into consideration your work schedules and your children’s after-school and weekend activities when determining how and when you will do your grocery shopping.
For example, we prefer to shop online and do grocery pick-up on a Saturday morning every other week. It fits into our schedule the best at that time.
My brother-in-law and sister-in-law have a newborn baby, and they find it easiest for them right now to order their groceries online and have them delivered.
So think about what will work best for your family and try to stay consistent with it. The more consistent you can be with meal planning and grocery shopping, the more it will become part of your routine.
This will make it easier to stick with your meal planning schedule and help you to eat at home more!
You do not have to spend a lot of time and energy on creating your meal plan. Once you have a handful or 2 of meals your family enjoys, it’s just a matter of putting them into a rotation that will meet the needs of your schedule and time constraints.
When you create a meal planning binder and use it consistently to help you with meal planning, you are setting yourself up for success with eating at home.
The nights of ordering takeout or packing the kids up in the car to go out to eat will start to become few and far between as you develop your meal-planning routine.
So go ahead and download my free meal planning guide to help you create your meal planning binder to start eating at home more so you can eat healthier and save money!
What systems have you used for meal planning? Have you tried the meal planning binder system? I would love to hear! Please let me know in the comments.