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Picture this. You’ve already had a full day of doing the “mom thing.” The kids have reached their limits. Your husband will be home in an hour. You need to get dinner on the table fast, but you haven’t had any time to think about what to prepare. From the moment your feet hit the floor in the morning, it’s been go, go, go all day long. You head over to the refrigerator, hoping to find something you can throw together. You open the door and …nothing.

Moms everywhere are familiar with the dinner rush. I cannot tell you how many times I had found myself in the exact situation described above. All hopes of fixing a quick and easy supper in the small window of time I had available were dashed. Then, it was either hoping take-out fit into the budget, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches again.

After years of this, I finally realized it doesn’t have to be this way! A little effort spent planning ahead can save you a lot of time and money in the long run. Thankfully, planning ahead isn’t difficult. Put it into practice and meal planning will soon become habit.

Step One

Create a “master list” of sorts. Start by making a list of ten to twenty breakfast meals, ten to twenty lunch meals, and about twenty supper meals (or more if you prefer more variety). Keep this list somewhere it will be easily accessible when it’s time to meal plan. I keep mine with my cookbooks. Keeping it taped to the inside of a cabinet or on the fridge works well, too! A list of family-favorite meals can save a significant amount of time when sitting down to plan meals.

Step Two

Take an inventory of what you already have. This step is key to saving money! Go through your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. Write down everything you have. Maybe there is a box of spaghetti noodles you forgot about, shoved way back in a cabinet. Perfect! Add a jar or two of spaghetti sauce to your grocery list, and you have an inexpensive and easy meal. How about that bag of dried beans sitting there? Pick up some ham and fix ham and bean soup this week.

Step Three

Now you are ready for the first step in creating a physical meal plan. First, take a look at your calendar. Are there any times you won’t be home? Maybe you need to plan for a meal out. Maybe you will be extra busy a couple of nights that week and need to have some meals you can prepare quickly. Perhaps your husband works an evening shift and will not be home for dinner. On these nights, I plan something easy for me and the kids. Your meal plan should reflect your schedule.

Step Four

Write it out! Plan for a week’s worth (or more, if you’re feeling ambitious) of meals. Include all breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and even snack ideas. While I am very specific about which meals we eat each day, I prefer to keep a fairly general snack list. I write out a list of snacks my children can choose from. I aim for having simple, healthy snacks that are easy to grab, such as cheese sticks, fruit, nuts, etc.

Step Five

Get that grocery list together. There are great apps you can download for creating grocery lists. However, I still prefer good, old-fashioned pen and paper. (There’s just something so satisfying about physically checking items off a list, right?) Go through the meal plan you already created and write down any ingredients you need to purchase for each meal, as well as any snack items you need to get. Want another big money-saving tip?

Challenge yourself to only purchase items on the list. Those extra items we throw in the cart on a whim add up quickly!

When making meals, prepare a double batch of those that can be easily frozen. Put the extra meal in the freezer to use next week, or use it for lunch the next day. This will save you time down the road!

All of this might seem more time-consuming and even a little overwhelming at first. However, once it becomes habit, the benefits of saving time and money far outweigh the small amount of work needed to meal plan.

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Alyssa Hemmer is a wife and a homeschooling mom, raising her family on a few acres in Northwestern Illinois. She spends her days teaching her little ones, reading good books aloud, sipping great coffee, and tending to her household. She is a project starter and …sometimes a project finisher. She is also a recovering perfectionist, slowly learning (by God’s grace) that it is okay to not be perfect. She is enjoying the beautiful life the Lord has blessed her with.