Planning Meals: Saving Time, Money, and Improving Your Life

Our well-being should be number 1 priority, but for many of us it takes the back seat to convenience. When we are functioning at our best, we bring out the best within ourselves and those around us. The process towards a better life all starts with preparation, its key for being efficient and successful in obtaining a healthy lifestyle. Planning out errands and meals drastically improves your life, saving you both time and money. But when it comes to getting ready for the week, nothing beats having a game plan for meals during the work week. I will use my own work week as an example to show the ideology that is expressed within this article.

My significant other and I weren’t always efficient; we used to eat out at least once a weekend, buy occasional lunches, and ended up spending more and more money with daily/every other day trips to the grocery store. After we started adding up our bills and other expenses, we looked at our food spending and were pretty shocked and disappointed in ourselves. From the frequent trips to the store to eating out, we realized that we were bleeding money away.  Those few $20 purchases turned into $200-$300+ a month in frivolous spending. Those cases were all avoidable, but we used the excuse of not having time and doing everything last-minute, but financially we were paying for it.

After we realized how much money was being wasted we decided to make our own tool and start budgeting. In order to save money and end our excuse making, we needed to plan our meals. So we focused on making bulk meals that can be turned into new dishes throughout the week if necessary, and especially for lunches for work. We started planning out our errands better in order to limit our trips using our car and spending money on gas, and when able planned our days so we could walk to the store. We completely eliminated impulse purchases by being more disciplined with our grocery list and shopping habits. Even when we’re on errands we try to turn it into a game and race to getting everything done as quickly as possible, mainly based in the idea that we’d rather be doing something more productive with our lives than shopping at the store.

Now we save $200-$300 a month if not more on groceries and eating out, simply by planning out our meals and errands. I cannot express enough the importance of list making and planning meals out for the week and the positive impact it will have on one’s life. From a simple checklist to a brief chat of goals for the weekend during dinner, we noticed a drastic increase in our ability to get things done when we began structuring out our time. We both have life goals set out and know that our income and time are very important towards actualizing them, so this minor investment in time plays out for big impacts in the long run.

Planning out our meals allows us more time to spend together and with family and friends because we don’t have to worry about housekeeping tasks. The ability to limit our trips saves money on gas and doing them quickly allows us to use our time more wisely. We have less stress, we rush less, and eat healthier since we know exactly what we’re going to be eating; not to mention we get to spend more time doing what we want and when we want it. From hobbies, to working out, to reading, or even Netflix and relaxing- we have more time doing what we enjoy which results in a better state of well-being. So give it a shot, plan for yourself, with your significant other or with your family.

Below is a basic outline of what my significant other and I do during our work week in order to make our meals from scratch, from breakfast, to lunches for work, and for dinner.  If you are looking for an excellent tool or spreadsheet for planning out meals, see this planner from Budgeting Time and Money Pt. 2. I hope you enjoy the insight into our weekly life and I hope that this schedule can aid you in your journey for optimizing your health and life for you and your loved ones!

Sunday: We’ll use our morning before breakfast to make our chia seed pudding for the week and more granola if we ran out. If we haven’t planned out our meals for the week, which is usually done on Saturday, we’ll plan during breakfast. After we make and eat our breakfast we’ll make 1 -2 bulk meals. The first will be used for dinner that night or for Monday. We usually try to make a meal that can be used as a leftover dish, meaning we can make it into an entirely different dish on Monday, Tuesday, and potentially Wednesday. The second bulk dish will be used for our lunches for the work week, so usually a multi-grain medley, pasta dish, salad, etc. If there is a day we chose to go out and eat, it’s usually on Sunday, this allows our bulk meals to last even longer, plus we have additional days were we can save those leftovers for dinner or lunch. If we have the time/ingredients, we’ll also make a bulk meal that we can freeze for later use.

We try to only eat out 1-2 times a month, but when we do we always go to a place where we can use our leftovers for lunches or dinners, that’s the main deciding factor on where we will go out to eat. Typically Indian, Chinese, Italian food, even pizza or along those lines of communal dishes is our usual go to. This results in the lunch/dinner leftover bulk meal that we made last the whole week. I always feel that having a prep day for food in before the work week helps with the transition for Mondays, since you don’t have to worry about making a whole dinner from scratch after a longer feeling day at work. Which results in usually a 15 minute prep or less to make dinner then you can relax for the night.

As stated above, Sunday is also used for prepping bulk meals. So we’ll try and make up a slow cook meal like chili, veggie broth, or even lasagna that can be used as a back up or ingredient to a meal we want to make later in the week; if we find ourselves having more produce than the meals we plan for the week we’ll usually just make something to freeze to avoid spoilage. That way if we’re busy in the upcoming week(s) we have solid options for lunches, dinners you name it, we can just be defrost it and enjoyed.

Monday: Occasionally we’ll make a bulk meal if we didn’t have everything ingredient-wise on Sunday or didn’t have time on the weekend to cook. But for the most part everything is done so we can just reheat food and relax, which is always nice since Mondays are always a struggle getting back into work mode.

Tuesday: We usually don’t have to do much but divide up meals for lunches and just reheat/remake a leftover dish. The beauty in recreating leftover dishes is the fact all you need to do is 10-15 minutes of prep to prepare it and bam, you have an entirely new, hearty, flavorful, and delicious meal. If we know our meal to be made on Wednesday is big, we’ll do some prep and cut the veggies, or begin thawing ingredients to help cut down on the time it’ll take to make it in the upcoming days.

Wednesday: We’ll make our chia seed pudding for the rest of the work week and typically another bulk meal for dinner for Thursday and lunches for Friday. If we didn’t eat out on the weekend we’ll usually have to make a bulk meal for Thursday and potentially Friday. But if we make a larger bulk meal for lunches we’ll try to make another dish out of it or just reheat something from the freezer.

Thursday: This is another chill evening with ready to go meals, typically something that has been set aside or even finishing off some leftovers. If we prep anything it usually just involves soaking something or prepping dough so it can rise for 24 hours. Either way, all is done while food is being reheated so no time is wasted.

Friday: We both usually get out a little early on Fridays, so we use that time as our cleaning day/laundry day. There’s way less motivation to clean during the weekends so we like to have everything done before Saturday so we can do whatever we want with our free time on the weekend, plus the laundry mat isn’t crowded at all. While the laundry is washing and/or drying we’ll clean our place or get anything from the store for dinner that night, if necessary but typically we wait for Saturday for anything at the store. We even eat or cook while clothes are drying. It’s important to know we only do our laundry once every 2 weeks, so during the off week we have more time to prep/clean/relax. We fold our clothes while food is cooking or heating but for the most part after we eat dinner up and the chores are done. We typically get everything done before 730 leaving us with Friday night to enjoy.

Doing things together makes everything go by quickly, not to mention we’re both left feeling extremely satisfied and productive since we get our bulk cleaning done before the weekend and can simply chill and do what we planned and want to do. Everything takes half the time working together and we still get a chance to talk and hang out while completing a task; that rewarding feeling carries over into our relationship and strengthens our bond together.

During our Friday night dinner we like to briefly talk about our goals for the weekend that we’ve been talking about during the week, any errands we need to do, and what we want to eat for next week- this little brief conversation is huge to our success as we don’t waste any time on the weekend deciding what needs to get done, plus we don’t have to worry about making a rushed list or game plan.

If you have children, you can still do this as a unit. One thing that bothers me is how so many children have the option to be slothful and not help out around the house. It sets a precedent that the parents should do everything, which causes entitlement issues and develop into more serious social issues with age as they develop. To simply put it, make them do it, they’re your child and it’s their obligation to help since you as parents provide so much for them. Simply teach them the correct way and do it or do it as a family activity, like a couple/unit should.  I remember having to do things called chores, it’s the same concept but with a less authoritarian approach. Overall, it will strengthen your relationships and offer time to talk, educate, and learn. My parents didn’t involve us enough cleaning and cooking as a children, we still did chores but more so outside. Unfortunately we left much of the cleaning and cooking to my mom, which shouldn’t be the way when there are 5 other people in the house that could help because all are great life skills to learn at a young age.

Saturday: This is an errand/planning day for the most part. We’ll finalize our list and do any grocery shopping for next week’s meals, but typically use this day for relaxation and events. Since we have everything ready, we’ll keep to our usual schedule and do errands early in the morning before things get busy. Now we do sleep in, but we try not to sleep in more than an hour or so past our work week schedule; which helps us adjust back to the work week easily- not to mention it keeps our productivity up during the day. We don’t go out super late (past midnight) since our lifestyle isn’t oriented in the nightlife fashion. We aim to keep Saturdays open and relaxed. However if know we have a busy Sunday, we’ll do our prep-work Saturday instead of the usually Sunday.

As you may have noticed, a lot of our schedule revolves around waking up at a regular time and utilizing those morning hours to get busy tasks out-of-the-way, thus leaving the rest of our day to do whatever we please. When we know there will be events during the workweek that will result in us being busier than usual, we plan for this and adjust our workloads on less busy days. One must keep in mind that life happens, not everything is static, but as long as there are basic goals set each week you can make time in order to achieve them. Once you have your basic outline for your weekly routine the next and most important step is following through with it through disciplined and effortful action.

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