I am a huge advocate of meal planning. Who am I kidding? I am a massive advocate of PLANNING. So meal planning always came easy to me. So when I came across the term reverse meal planning, I was intrigued.
I had never heard the phrase before and found myself (with a little googling) falling down a rabbit hole.
Shortly after realizing what it was, I discovered this is what I do most weeks. It is also called backward meal planning. You start with what you have and work backward to the meal.
Let’s first chat a little about the benefits of meal planning.
What Is Regular Meal Planning?
Meal planning is simply a way for you to plan out what you are going to eat ahead of time to avoid the business and indecisiveness of not knowing at mealtime. It’s a way to have control over the chaos.
Regular meal planning is sitting down with a pen and paper and coming up with meal ideas for every single dinner (or meal) for the week. Then make a list of all the ingredients you need for said meals.
It is as simple as that.
I understand that it takes a little time. But the amount of time you spend making those lists, searching for recipes, and going through your refrigerator, cupboards, and pantry will come back to you every night at dinner, and you won’t be hangry and snippy.
First, a better relationship with your family and pets because you are not hangry and snippy.
Benefits of Creating A Meal Plan
By planning out your actual meal plan and then your list, you will save money. It’s a given. You will not be wandering through the grocery store all willy-nilly trying to come up with things you might need.
You know what you need and want because you created a plan and have a list. This saves money on the items in your cart because there are meals planned for these items.
Saves Food Wastes
Planning your meals and using what you buy is a crucial function of meal planning.
So, if you are buying a large package of ground beef, you know that some of that will be for tacos, some for meatloaf, and some for hot meatball sammies. And you know which days those will happen. So none of that meat is going to be wasted.
I have a great post about zero waste food lifestyle that you might enjoy.
Buying a package of chicken breasts and letting it sit in the refrigerator for too long because you don’t know what to do with it is heartbreaking when you have to chuck it.
Don’t be a meat chucker.
There is nothing worse than having to throw meat away. That stuff costs too much, dang it.
Mealtime anxiety is a thing, guys. When you have no plan for dinner, and nothing has been taken out of the freezer, you feel it. Standing in front of the open refrigerator with zero ideas hurts your head, heart, and stomach.
It’s too hard. Do you know what is easier than facing the unknown? Ordering a pizza.
Having a plan on hand, knowing what you and your family is going to eat makes life so much easier. And happier. For the whole house.
Having a meal plan saves so much time. It allows you to defrost and throw in the crockpot or Instant Pot earlier in the day or prep a casserole to throw in the oven after work.
Knowing what you will put in your belly at the end of the day (or for all meals) saves time.
Prepping parts ahead of time or cooking in bulk will save time later. When you have a meal plan for these things, you know its coming and have it covered, saving you time later in the week.
Allows For Creativity
Knowing that you want to have chicken twice next week ahead of time will allow you the opportunity to find a new recipe to try. It gives you the chance to check Youtube or Pinterest (or blogs) for that recipe you saw and pinned or saved.
It also gives you time to look back and remember those favorites that you haven’t made in a while. This reduces mealtime boredom and your daughter saying “Baked chicken, AGAIN!?!”
It’s a given that real homemade food is just healthier. When you order out or buy convenience foods, you don’t always know what’s in them, or you can’t pronounce the stuff that is.
Creating a meal plan is so much healthier for you and your family. Using real, whole foods is so much better for your body. And there is just no better payoff than knowing you are putting good quality food into your life.
When you are following a healthy weight loss eating plan, you MUST plan. Whether its Keto, Vegan, or Weight Watchers, you need to have a plan; otherwise, you will derail your whole system.
The road is paved with good intentions, but the sidewalk can be bumpy.
Stay on the road and off the sidewalk. Do it with an eating plan in mind.
This way, an intentional plan is in mind, and success is yours.
Menu Planning Hacks
There are five hacks to menu planning that will help you keep that grocery budget down. These are principles I don’t stray from.
1. Create A Budget
I shop every two weeks (typically twice a month), and I have $450 per month. This includes my BJ’s haul at the beginning of the month as well. My 14-day grocery cycle is allowed $125-$150 every other week. And the rest to BJ’s. That is all.
2. Shop The Flyers
I have started doing this again. I have not found a whole lot yet but am paying attention for sales on the items we usually use. I also am looking out for the house and home sales as well as Christmas gifts. I get my Mother in law practical gifts for Christmas like laundry detergent, toilet paper, and coffee.
3. Stay Out Of Stores
This is huge for me. I stay at home. As I have gotten older, I find I like to stay home more and more. There is always plenty to do and fun to be had. I find leaving the house once each week is plenty.
I have limited myself to one Target trip per month. That might be the hardest part.
4. Know Your Best Price
If you can keep track of your best price, you will know when to stock up. For example, my best price for mayonnaise is $2.99. I remember when I see that price, I get three to five jars.
5. Use What You Have
Before you go grocery shopping, make a plan for the items you already have in your refrigerator and cupboards. This way, you will spend less at the grocery store, and you won’t have to throw anything away.
That last hack leads me to reverse meal planning.
What Is Reverse Meal Planning?
Reverse meal planning is a little different than regular meal planning. Reverse meal planning is meal planning with the stuff you already have on hand and then filling in the blanks with the items in the grocery store.
There are two different theories involved with reverse meal planning. Both have to do with creating a plan from what you already have on hand, but one is more complicated than the other when it comes from the shopping perspective.
Looking at what you have and creating a meal plan, and then shopping to fill in the blanks or shopping to replace the stockpile and then coming up with a meal plan from what you already have.
One involves more record-keeping and work on the back end.
Some might call this backward meal planning as well. You are planning backward with the items you already have on hand.
Grocery Shopping To Fill In The Blanks
If you were to go through your freezer and home to find you had some items that you didn’t get to or needed to use up, then you create your meal plan from there.
Grocery Shopping to Replenish Stockpile
Some find having the same things always in their freezers and pantries then coming up with recipes, and a meal plan from there works best for them. So going to the store to replenish these areas is what their lists are all about.
In my opinion, this gives much more structure and much less creativity to your meal plan. But it does allow you to shop the flyers instead of sticking to one store primarily.
I do a combination of both. I stock up on items when I see them on sale and then on my 14-day grocery cycle; I stick to one or two stores.
Steps To Backwards Meal Planning
Step 1. Do an inventory.
Grab something to take notes with and go to all the areas in your home to record an extensive inventory of what you already have for meals and snacks.
Check pantry, freezer, refrigerators, cupboards, cellar stockpiles and wherever else you might keep overflow. Come up with a list of all meats, fruits, veggies and dry goods that oy could create an inventory from
As I write this on a Tuesday, grocery day is on Thursday for a two-week plan.
I have in my freezer:
- 2 lb ground beef
- Pork roast
- Venison sausage
- Cube steak
- Four bags of frozen veggies
- Four bags of frozen rice cauliflower
- Sub rolls
- Various frozen convenience foods for my college son
These are items that just did not get eaten from the last two weeks whether it was because we had more leftovers than anticipated or we ended up going to the football game and decided to get food from the Booster Club concession stand.
Then give your pantry a peek.
In the pantry, there is:
- Shell pasta
- A box of Annies Mac and Cheese
- Some cookies
- Various Cereals
- Pasta sauce
So We can have the meat sauce with the shells as well as the mac and cheese with the meatball subs. We are all set on cereals, including oatmeal and cold cereal for the grocery cycle.
In the refrigerator, there is:
- A jar of ground beef leftover
- A butternut squash
- Beef roast
- A bag of carrots
- Two zucchini
- Various cheeses
- Nitrate free salami
- Seven eggs
These things need to be used up first before the stuff in the freezer.
I can use the peppers and the beef roast for salads.
The salami is fine. It hasn’t been opened yet.
The squash and carrots can be used as a side dish at the beginning of the grocery cycle.
Step 2. Create a meal plan with what you have.
So I do know that for dinners, we can have:
- Bacon-wrapped pork roast, cauliflower rice, and vegetable
- Hot meatball subs
- Cube steak stir fry
- Sausage and beef meat sauce for pasta
- Zoodles with ground beef and sauce
I don’t even need to go further to know this.
There are at least five meals before I have even started a grocery list.
Step 3. Fill in the blanks.
If you need five more meal plans (because you know there are date nights and planned leftover nights in your 14-day grocery cycle), then this is where you decide what you have not had in a while, what your family is asking for, and whether you want to try a new recipe.
This is where the second part of creativity comes into play. The first was coming up with meal ideas from what you already have.
We eat the same thing for breakfasts during the week; eggs and cereal/oatmeal. Sometimes on the weekends, we will do pancakes, waffles, french toast, or some muffins. Lunches are salads, sandwiches, and leftovers. Dinner is my only creative planning. As long as we have the staples for breakfast and lunch, we are set.
Make sure you list all your meal plans so you can move down that list every day.
Step 4. Create your grocery list.
After you have come up with your meal plan, make your list. Don’t forget to add the items you know you are out of and anything else you might need for the grocery cycle.
A Few More Tips On Reverse Menu Planning
The internet is your friend, but it could also be a lot like falling down a rabbit hole and sucking the time up like a sponge. Be aware when looking for new recipes.
Every morning after coffee, check your meal plan and take the meat out of the freezer if needed. It stinks to have put in so much work only to find you forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer and then order pizza.
If you plan on taking advantage of sales to stock up, make sure you keep track of what you have. It’s not saving money if you end up tossing it in the trash.
As you are taking inventory, pull out those things that you know you just are not going to eat and donate them to your local food pantry. I have a great post about how to find a food pantry in your neighborhood whether you need to feed your family or donate.
It will take some time to create this new system, and there might be some mess-ups but keep practicing. It has been so long since we ordered take-out/delivery. But it’s so good for our bodies and our wallets!
We tend to do a combination of both regular and reverse meal planning, too — although I really do need to get better at keeping track of what we have. I think ultimately what I need to do is put a spreadsheet on my computer, since tracking on paper just does not work for me (odd, because I love working on paper). thanks for the tips!