Meal Planning Hacks to Save Time and Money

I think working at home is wonderful, and you can know how to rock your job, but if you don’t know how to rock your home, then things get a little cray cray. It’s kind of like when you want to lose weight.  You might excel at working out, but if you don’t eat healthier, you might not see the results that you want.

I want to help you manage and streamline your home efficiently so that you can have more time to make memories with your family, more time to do meaningful work, and more time to spend on your passions.

Meal time hacks | Easy dinner | Save time

This week we are tackling dinner time. Here are my top six tips to streamline dinnertime so that it isn’t a constant stress in your life.

1. Meal Planning (the Lazy Way)

Meal planning is kind of like the word “budget” everyone knows that they should be doing it, but it seems like a real pain in the keister. Some people pull out their stacks of cookbooks and open up Pinterest and meal plan for hours each week or month. Girlfriend just doesn’t have time for that.

So, I meal plan the lazy way, and it saves me a lot of time and money each week. I have themes for four days of the week:

  • Tuesday: Tacos (switch up the meat or use up leftover to make)
  • Wednesday: Breakfast for Dinner (A surprising hit at my house. I usually just scramble eggs quickly and serve with bacon, toast, or pancakes)
  • Friday: Pizza night (either homemade, freezer, or $5 pizza from Papa Murphy’s)
  • Saturday: Soup/Stew/Chili/Crockpot Dump (basically it has to be quick for me to dump in the crockpot)

This leaves three other days to switch things up. Usually, I will schedule a new recipe to try on Sunday, since it is my slow day. Then Monday and Thursday are quick meals, like a rotisserie chicken and vegetables, teriyaki chicken, pasta, hamburgers, or a meal from the freezer.

We are super simple over here! Maybe when the kids are older, and life slows down a little, we will get more creative in the kitchen.

2. Have Go-Tos in the Freezer

I always try to have a little extra room in each week’s budget for an easy meal. I love shopping at Trader Joes, so my go-to meal there is teriyaki chicken and stir fry vegetables. I will also buy their ravioli and mini meatballs for a quick meal. Another fast option from any store is frozen, pre-cooked breaded chicken.

These meals are a lifesaver when you only have about 15 minutes to get dinner on the table.

3. Recruit Your Spouse

My husband doesn’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen, but he spent a lot of time reading and learning about sous viding (a way to cook in a water bath). I told him he could get all of the sous vide stuff he wanted if he used it. Sous vide cooking makes meat perfectly cooked and tender, and my husband enjoys doing it.

If your husband enjoys an aspect of cooking, then give them one night a week. If he is a grill master, make three nights of meat in one go. This will allow you to have easy protein to grab and use for a quick stir fry, tacos, wraps, sandwiches, whatever.

4. Grocery Shopping Hacks

I don’t mind grocery shopping, even when I have the kids. What I hate is that I can’t conquer all of my shopping in one store. I also hate that it takes me forever to find certain items. Can I get an amen?

I use Google Express often to buy essentials quicker. You can shop Costco’s current coupon deals with your Costco membership and avoid all of the Costco chaos – praise Jesus! I also use Google Express to stock up on pantry staples, like canned beans, tomato sauce, 25-lb bags of rice, and so on. You can shop from a variety of stores, but I usually shop Costco or Smart and Final.

I can easily get 30 pounds of pantry goods on my porch just by clicking a few keys on the computer. I am sure my UPS person loves me.

And that is not even the best part. When you buy something, they have an option for substitutes if your item ends up being out of stock. They give you several items to choose from, even pricier items. For example, I had purchased five cheap jars of alfredo sauce for $1,29, and as my substitute, I was able to choose $3.99 jars of alfredo sauce. When my delivery came, I received two cheap jars and three jars of the fancier stuff without paying extra. Score!

The only downside is that you cannot order fresh foods through this service, and you pay $4.99 for shipping.

You can get $10 off your first Google Express order with coupon code: M8KQYT43C <— That’s my referral code which gives me $10 free too.

5. Dinner Programs

I have tried a few dinner programs, including Blue Apron and Sun Basket. My favorite is Hello Fresh (full review coming soon).

I have made about 30 meals thus far from Hello Fresh, and there haven’t been any that were disgusting or overly hard. I think three of these meals were more time consuming than I would have liked, but most of them were quick.

I have a hard time following instructions when it comes to recipes, so Hello Fresh makes me really focus on that and has improved my cooking skills. It has also helped me gain new meal ideas and helped me gain a better understanding at what meals my husband and kids enjoys.

If it were just my husband and me, Hello Fresh might eliminate the need to go to the grocery store. However, having small kids means I am constantly buying fresh fruit and snacks. At $69 for three meals for two people, it is a little higher that what I like to pay, but it does feed my husband and I and our almost five and two-year-old. The vegetarian meal starts at $59 for three meals for two people.

If you want to give it a try, here is Hello Fresh coupon code for $40 off: CUQTS6 <—another referral code that earns me $20 in credit. Supporting me through my codes means more than you will ever know!

See also: Time Hacks for Getting More Done Each Day

6. Mini Freezer Meal Sessions

I use to do day long freezer meal sessions, and it was worth it, but it was a lot of work. It took a lot of planning and by the end of the session, I was worn out.

Now I do mini freezer meal sessions and wing it. I usually plan my freezer meal sessions around clearance meat deals. I regularly buy clearance meat – a.k.a meat that will expire in the next day or two – and freeze it for later. All of my friends think I’m gross, but I pay next to nothing for meat, so I’m not offended.

This past Sunday, I found a lot of chicken discounted at Target. I was able to buy three one-pound ground chicken packages for $0.99 and five chicken thigh packages for a little over $1 each, as well as a three-pound bottom chuck roast for $6.99.

I wanted to turn them all into freezer meals, but I didn’t want to buy anything extra for them, so I got extra creative with what I had on hand. The three ground chicken packages were cooked and made into Asian lettuce wrap filling with some hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and brown sugar I had. That was split into three bags.

I then made pesto with dried basil, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and sunflower seeds and poured that over two packages of trimmed chicken thighs with some Ranch seasoning. Two more meals done.

Two more packages of chicken thighs were cleaned from their skin and bone and placed into bags with salsa. Another two meals finished.

The pot roast was marinated with a little olive oil, steak sauce, liquid smoke and Lipton seasoning.

Finally, I took all the chicken bones and made a big crockpot of stock. The next day, I threw the remaining chicken thigh meat in with black beans, pinto beans, corn, and tomatoes for a taco soup. We had that for dinner Monday night and froze two other dinner portions.

For $15 worth of meat and two hours of prep allowed me to put 11 dinners in the freezer. If you don’t feel like winging it, here are some helpful links:

You don’t have to dread dinner time anymore. Just keep it simple and make time each week to plan. Your future self will thank you!

How do you streamline dinner?

Ashley Eneriz is a work at home mom of two little girls and a finance writer. She has a passion for writing children's books and teaching other moms how to make money at home.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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