"Mum, what's for dinner?"

Those are the words every mum dreads, every night. What IS for dinner?

For a very long time, my meal planning was sporadic at best. Sometimes it was nonexistent. Many nights, I'd stand in front of the fridge or freezer, wondering what the heck I was going to pull out of thin air to make a meal with. Many of those nights, I'd end up spending $20 across the road on chicken and chips.

It was not good for our budget, or our health.

So the middle of last year, after listening to Dave Ramsey's The Total Money Makeover (affiliate link), I decided our food budget needed an overhaul. And I was determined to find a way to make meal planning finally WORK for our family.

This is what I've come up with from scouring the interwebs to make my meal planning way easier.

Step 1: Write out any appointments, classes, or other events you're doing this week.

I don't remember if I heard this tip from somewhere else, or came up with it myself. But when I started my meal planning journey in earnest, I created a printable that let me write down not only the meals for each day, but also our activities for each day. This was a game changer.

It meant no longer planning too ambitious a meal for a day when we were busy close to a meal time. If you do want to include take away meals in your budget, these are the nights perfect for them. If your budget can't handle that right now, leftovers or premade meals are your friend here.

Step 2: Make a list of everything in your fridge, freezer, and pantry - especially the things that are getting close to the use-by date.

Taking inventory of your kitchen is a must. It'll help you use up those leftovers and the last of the sour cream tub before it goes mouldy. This, in turn, saves you money. Winning all over the place!

While you're writing your inventory, go ahead and throw out those week-old leftovers that are starting to grow fur. Eww.

Step 3: Create a meal plan from what you have on hand, and create a shopping list as you go.

Jordan Page calls this "shelf cooking" - where you make a meal plan based on what you already have in your kitchen, and supplement with things you buy. It's backwards from what I was doing all along, and it works so much better!

For instance, while doing your inventory, you wrote down pizza bases, passata, and mozzarella cheese. If you also have some leftover roast chicken or other meat you can quickly cook, you've got pizzas just from things you already have at home.

Put a tick or a star by these items (or cross them out) showing that you've come up with a use for them.

Let's say you found some mince in the freezer, and you have a bit of sour cream and salsa in the fridge, and a box of taco shells in the pantry. Obviously you're having tacos one day this week.

But you're out of cheese. You can't have tacos without cheese! So you put cheese on your shopping list.

Do the same with every meal - tick off the ingredients you're using, and write down any you need.

Bonus meal planning tip: Note the forecast for each day of the week.

I live in stinking hot South Australia, so every week during the summer, I jot down the predicted temperature for each day BEFORE I plan my meals. I don't want to be cooking a roast or a lasagna on a day when it's going to be 40 degrees outside. My house is already hot enough, thank you very much!

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