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Beginner's guide to meal planning

Four simple steps to save you time and money!

It is almost always cheaper (and healthier) to cook and eat at home. Unfortunately, it is easy to feel like cooking at home is too time consuming, too expensive and too messy. We end up eating out too often and subsequently wasting a lot of time, money and food.

Meal planning doesn't have to be difficult, but it does take commitment and effort. The pay off is that meal planning and budgeting are the two sides of the same coin: where you have a meal plan and money savings, too. If you're ready, let's get started!

  1. First, start small. For a true beginner, start with one recipe that makes 4 servings. That way, with leftovers one person could eat four times, two people could eat two times or four once. You could double the recipe for 8 servings, if needed. Once you've mastered one recipe, try two or three recipes per week.
  2. Next, schedule it. You picked out your recipe(s). Now it's time to determine which day(s) will work best in your schedule to cook. Add cooking to your calendar and make it a priority. Rely on quicker meals like leftovers, eggs, toast, fruit, peanut butter sandwiches and veggies, etc. to fill in the rest of the meals for the week as needed.
  3. Then, make a list. Look at the recipe(s) you plan to make and make sure you have all the ingredients needed. Take inventory. The ingredients you don't have need to go on a grocery list. Consider snacks and side items to round out the meal(s). For example, if you're making soup, what will you eat with it? If you're making a stir fry, what will you serve it on–noodles or rice? Do you have those items?
  4. Finally, follow through. Go to the store with your list and shop for the items you need for the week. To avoid impulse purchases, stick to the list. Make a commitment to your meal plan: if it's not on the list, it doesn't go in the cart.

Don't let a bump in the road derail your whole plan! You may need to adjust the day you cook your meal(s), but stay committed to your plan. Make a menu board or write the meal plan down somewhere visible or create a Pinterest board dedicated to your meals for the week.

Involve the family in the recipes, shopping, cooking and cleaning up. Try new things and experiment. But, most of all have fun! Like anything else, meal planning is a skill that takes time and practice to perfect. Good luck!

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