Step 1: Structure your week
Lyter suggests a realistic structure for the week. "I use the basic structure of planning one lunch that I can pack in to-go containers for each weekday, plus four dinners, based on the idea that the average family eats out once or twice a week, and leftovers will get you through the remaining dinners," she says. "Having a loose structure makes it feel like you're not starting from scratch each week and makes meal planning less daunting." Lyter suggests dividing your weekly menu into a meal rotation: one fish night, one slow-cooker soup, one meatless dish, and one grain-based meal (like pasta). This basic menu allows for healthy, easy meals that leave plenty of leftovers.
Step 2: Budget your meals
Make budgeting a part of your weekly menu planning. "Planning really is the key to saving money because buying ingredients and making food at home is always less expensive than getting stuck unprepared and grabbing food on the go," Lyter says. Even if your usual week includes a restaurant or delivery, allot money for those outings and use the rest of your budget in the grocery store. To save even more, she suggests planning meals around whole foods rather than packaged, processed foods.
Step 3: Bulk up
Simplify your planning and budgeting by arranging your meals around items you can buy in the bulk section of your grocery store. Purchasing items like grains and nuts in bulk enables you to get more for your money and to have a pantry filled with simple staples that can form the foundation of many meals.
Step 4: Breeze through breakfast
Most weekly meal planning focuses on dinner, but you can easily work your breakfasts into the plan. Many of the items you will cook for dinner can be repurposed into breakfasts. For example, buy eggs, and then add leftover beans and veggies to make a filling omelet. Or, while you're making your grocery list, add oats from the bulk section -- you'll get more for your money, and then you can customize your oatmeal with dried or fresh fruit, honey or milk.
Step 5: Stash simple lunches
The easiest way to include lunches in your weekly menu is to pack to-go containers throughout the week. Chop up snack-sized portions of your favorite fruits and veggies, and then store leftovers in small containers throughout the week. Grab a few on your way out the door -- say, a small piece of leftover fish in one container, a serving of baby carrots in another, and slices of apple in a third -- and you have a ready-to-go, healthy lunch. Mix and match fruits and veggies with cheese and crackers, or toss leftover rice with raw vegetables and soy sauce. Prepare these lunch-sized containers as you go, and your lunches will be ready to grab and go each morning.
For more household tips, check out:
Super Moms guide to cleaning & cooking for the family