As part of our “How We Meal Plan” mini series, I’d like to tell you about how I use PTE for myself (see Riley’s post for part one). I am genuinely a Plan to Eat convert and cannot imagine my life without the help of Plan to Eat.
While Plan to Eat is great for large families or people trying to navigate dietary restrictions, it can help families of all sizes and people with any eating preference. Our hope is that by sharing our stories of how we actually use Plan to Eat in our personal lives, we can help you find the best ways to use it for your family too!
I’ve worked for Plan to Eat for almost two years, and before starting here I didn’t realize I was in need of meal planning help. Previously, my grocery runs were sporadic and ineffective. I would stop by the grocery store whenever I was in the area and pick up things here and there. I rarely ever used a list, let alone a shopping list created from recipes. Sometimes, I would write a note for a few needed items, but if it wasn’t in my purse, it would always get left at home.
My pre-Plan to Eat meal planning style was “not planning”, which meant that we collected a lot of extra food we didn’t use, we ate out frequently, and I wasted a lot of money at the grocery store. Full disclosure, some months I spent as much as $800 on groceries for only two people because of all my frequent and haphazard grocery visits!
When I started using Plan to Eat, I realized my “methods” for meal planning and grocery shopping were all wrong! I was wasting time and money at the store and we rarely had the necessary ingredients for even basic recipes, which led us to eat at restaurants more often.
My current approach to meal planning isn’t perfect, and I’m certainly not a “super user” of Plan to Eat for my personal needs, but my new style of meal planning keeps me organized and saves me a lot of money!
How I Meal Plan
First, I try to only grocery shop twice a week now. We don’t have a ton of storage space in our kitchen, so buying in bulk isn’t helpful. Plus, we eat a diet of minimally processed, whole foods, so two weekly trips to the store helps keep fresh foods stocked. Typically, I check around the house for what we have on hand and then plan 2-3 days in advance before going to the store.
Since I work from home and only cook for me and my husband, I have time in the evenings to cook and experiment with recipes. I enjoy cooking and find a lot of new recipes from social media. I try to cook one new recipe each week and I don’t mind recipes that require a bit more prep or active cooking time. When I want to try something new from my Plan to Eat recipe book, I use the filters and sorting options to find recipes that I may have forgotten about.
I already have 700+ recipes in my Plan to Eat account, so I keep a group of favorites in the Queue, which I plan from when inspiration is low. The Queue is awesome for meal planning because it helps me quickly find the recipes my husband and I love, and it keeps them accessible in my account. Periodically, I will trade out the recipes in the Queue to switch it up and include seasonal recipes.
For meal planning, I only add dinner recipes to the Planner. For breakfast and lunch, we typically meal prep and eat single ingredient foods, like eggs with diced tomatoes or grilled chicken and peppers. I add these items to my Meal Planner as Ingredients in a saved Menu.
While Menus can be used in all manner of ways, I like to use Menus like a meal planning template. I have my weekly planning Menu, which has all my weekly recurring items I need to buy, like eggs and chicken. Then, when I start my weekly meal plan, I add the template Menu to my Planner and fill in the rest of the week with our dinner recipes.
After I’ve planned our dinners for the next 2-3 days, I will make sure the serving sizes for those recipes are adequate. We like to eat leftovers for lunch and dinner, so even though there’s two of us, I always make sure to cook enough for 4-6 servings. Then I like to go through my own cupboards and fridge and “shop” for the items we already have.
My husband is also a big game hunter and I will check in the freezer for anything we might have on hand that can be substituted for meat in a recipe, like ground venison in place of ground beef. I’ll pull that item from my freezer and cross the corresponding ingredients off my list. I use the Plan to Eat app for my shopping list, so it’s really easy to walk around the kitchen with my phone in-hand and tap items off.
While I’m in my kitchen, I will also add any extra items we need, but aren’t already included in the recipes, like trash bags or milk. I rely on the Staples list to guide me with what we normally have on-hand and then add those needed staples in bulk to the shopping list.
Then, I take my list with me to the store and cross off items as I add them to my cart. As long as I stick to using my shopping list in Plan to Eat, it will save myself time and money at the grocery store. I have my list organized according to the aisles in my favorite store, which prevents me from backtracking and wasting time.
I’m simplistic in the way I use Plan to Eat, but it’s a quick process that works well for me and my small family. Thanks to Plan to Eat, I’m no longer forgetting things from my grocery list, I’m consistently cooking nutritious meals for me and my husband, and I’m learning new cooking techniques! We also save a lot of money each month on groceries and we eat out less because dinner is already planned and shopped for!