Being a meal planner has its advantages | #24CarrotDiet

Frugal Friday: Remember the Leftovers When You Write Up Your Meal Planner

Are you a meal planner, or do you decide what to cook around suppertime each day? You may think you don’t have time to cook meals at home from scratch, let alone to plan a whole week’s menu ahead of time. But did you know that meal planning can actually save you time in the long run? It can also save you money and help keep your family healthy.

The more time you spend on planning, shopping for, and preparing food at home, the healthier your family’s eating habits are going to be. You’ll eat fewer take-out meals and less processed foods. You’ll eat more fruits and vegetables, and a greater variety of healthy foods. Being a meal planner may even help you to avoid weight gain.



Reasons to Be a Meal Planner

  • It will save you money: Shopping the sales and planning meals around seasonal foods will help cut your grocery bills. And knowing what you’re going to cook ahead of time means that you won’t get stuck having to buy a missing ingredient at a higher price than you’d normally pay. You will also find it easier to stick to your grocery budget if you shop with a list and avoid making impulse purchases.
  • It will save you time: Being a meal planner allows you to group like meal prep tasks so you can do them all at once. For example, chop all your vegetables in one afternoon or cook a large batch of meat and then divide it up for use in several meals. Cooking a second chicken for soups and casseroles when you prepare a roast chicken takes almost no time at all. But it will save you cooking time later in the week. And having just one clean-up to do is a big bonus!
  • It’s environmentally friendly: A meal planner knows she can save electricity by putting two chickens in the oven at once. She may also buy those chickens or other ingredients in bulk, which cuts down on packaging. And because she’s making the best chicken soup recipe from scratch, she’s cutting back on even more packaging. Forget the stuff in the cans!
  • It’s better for your health: You know that if you have a meal ready to go, you’re a lot less likely to stop at the drive-thru on your way home. But did you know that meal planning is also associated with greater variety in foods and better adherence to dietary guidelines? People who plan meals ahead of time eat more fruits, vegetables, and salads. A French study even found that being a meal planner reduces your chances of being overweight or obese!
  • It means hubby and the kids can cook for you: A make-ahead casserole your husband can put in the oven on his day off means that you can take a day off from cooking. Your older kids and teens are perfectly capable of cooking a crockpot meal. Get them to defrost the meal a day ahead, and start the slow cooker before they leave for school in the morning. By suppertime, all they have to do is prepare side dishes and serve the meal. It’s a great lesson in autonomy and it helps them gain confidence in their cooking skills. Plus you can put your feet up one in a while!


Make the best chicken soup recipe from scratch – using planned leftovers! | #24CarrotDiet
Soup is probably the easiest kind of planned leftover you can make
(Graphic made in Canva from a public domain photo by Pixabay user stevepb)


Being a Meal Planner Doesn’t Have to be Complicated

Some people really go all out when it comes to meal planning. They create fancy menu planning templates, or they post a menu plan on the kitchen wall. Some people spend hours poring over recipes on Pinterest and writing up shopping lists. Others invest in sectioned food containers and cook huge batches of food. And some moms prepare all their school lunches and snacks a week in advance.

It’s OK if that’s not you.

Meal planning isn’t just for the perfectly organized PTA moms who were probably born holding a glue gun in one hand and a Swiffer in the other. You don’t have to be super organized or super creative to be a meal planner. You just have to be able to think ahead a little bit. And you need to know what kind of food your family likes.

If you can’t manage to fill in a weekly menu planner and stick to it, just don’t use one. Try planning meals for just two or three days at a time instead. Focus on suppers. The rest will fall into place. If you really aren’t cooking your own meals at all right now, just plan one meal a week at first. Look for easy recipes and slowly build your cooking repertoire. Once you are in the habit of cooking that single meal each week, it will be easy to add a second meal. Work gradually from there, until you reach your personal goal.



Use Planned Leftovers to Make Menu Planning Easy

If you routinely cook at least one larger meal each week, it’s easy to use leftovers from that meal to create a second or even third meal for later in the week. For example, a large batch of spaghetti sauce could be divided into several smaller portions. Freeze one for your next pasta dish or use it right away to prepare a make-ahead lasagna that you can freeze for later. Add spices and beans to another portion, and you’ve got a quick batch of chili. Add a little tomato paste to thicken your sauce, and you can create sloppy joes or homemade pizza pockets with that last portion. See how easy it is to make four meals out of one?

When you cook a chicken or a roast, save the leftover meat, vegetables, and gravy to make soup. You can also use leftover meat and vegetables to make casseroles, like shepherd’s pie. Use leftover ham to make Dublin coddle, pea soup, or Western omelettes. There’s really no end to what you can do with planned leftovers. Just think of the foods that you like and try to identify dishes that use the same ingredients. Cook more than you’ll need for a single meal, then use the leftovers to make a second dish for later in the week.

Delicious Chicken Soup from Scratch

It’s easy to cook up a batch of homemade chicken soup from scratch, especially if you use leftovers to start your recipe. You can put almost anything you want into your soup, but this is a recipe I created a little while ago when I had leftover roast chicken and vegetables to use up. I also had cooked rice from an earlier meal, and I needed to use up part of a fresh cabbage we’d bought to make cabbage soup. If you don’t have cabbage, you can easily substitute any dark green vegetable such as spinach, kale, or even broccoli or green peas.

12 cups chicken broth
4 stalks of celery, diced
3 carrots, diced
2 cups shredded cabbage
1 large onion, diced
1-1/2 lb cooked chicken breast, diced
1 cup leftover cooked vegetables
2 cups cooked rice

Because much of this soup is already cooked, it takes very little time to prepare. Simply add the fresh vegetables to the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Add the cooked meat, vegetables, and rice, and cook just long enough to heat through.

If you prefer to cook your homemade chicken soup in the crockpot while you’re away at work, place the broth and fresh vegetables in the slow cooker and set it on low. Cook for about 4-5 hours. (If you’ll be away longer, it helps to have a timer delay or a “keep warm” setting on your slow cooker.) Add the cooked ingredients and heat another 30 minutes before serving.



Why You Should Be a Meal Planner: Bottom Line

Being a meal planner doesn’t have to be complicated. Start by just planning and cooking one meal at home each week. Then try expanding your repertoire by learning to use planned leftovers to turn one home-cooked meal into two, three, or even four different meals.

It’s easier to eat a variety of foods if you plan ahead. Meal planning can also save you time and money, and it’s more eco-friendly than buying take-out or processed foods. Preparing for meals ahead of time is part of a healthy eating plan, and it can help improve your family’s overall nutrition. It can even help prevent you from gaining weight or becoming obese. So be a meal planner! It really isn’t that hard at all.

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Advantages of being a meal planner – PLUS a bonus recipe for the best chicken soup recipe from scratch! | #24CarrotDiet | menu planning ideas | planned leftovers
You don’t have to go all out to be a meal planner
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Did you enjoy this article? Check out some related content below!


Shepherd's pie is an easy, affordable family meal that you can make ahead - 24 Carrot Diet (Graphic made in Canva using a licensed domain image from cyclonebill/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)



Do you eat one dark green and one orange vegetable each day? (Graphic made in Canva using a public domain image by Pixabay user silviarita)



Cooking on a Budget - Pea Soup (Graphic made in Canva using a public domain image by Pixabay user Security)


Original content © 2018 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter
Public domain images by Pixabay users [users]

This article was published on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!

56 thoughts on “Frugal Friday: Remember the Leftovers When You Write Up Your Meal Planner”

  1. Great ideas Kyla. We don’t always meal plan but when we do life seems to be a lot smoother. We should try to get in the habit more often. I like your idea of starting small by just planning one meal and then building from there. It does really save time and money. I do agree that a slow cooker for meal planning is a must have. Especially if both are working.
    Sam Monaco recently posted…Breakfast Egg Nest RecipeMy Profile

  2. An outstanding meal-planning technique that I have ever found online. I have a question to ask you, is this meal planning method applicable to the vegan people?

    Thanks Kyla for sharing such a nice and effective aricle.

    1. Yes Saidur, meal planning works no matter what your dietary choices. There are always some leftovers when you cook a big meal, whether it be grains or vegetables, or perhaps a large batch of legumes cooked up but only partially used in a recipe. This meal planning approach is perfect for vegetarians and vegans, as well as for omnivores who follow special diets 🙂

  3. I wish I could stick to meal planning all the time! I cook only for two (hubby and myself) so it’s very flexible but sometimes I do feel like we would benefit from planning our meals. Thank you for sharing the recipe above. I really need to branch out from our regular meals.
    xox Nadia

    1. Start small, Nadia! Just plan for one larger meal in the week that will provide leftovers for one or two other meals. It could be a big roast or a ham, a large batch of spaghetti sauce, or maybe a breakfast with tons of biscuits and breakfast sausage. Get creative, and think about what else you can make with the leftovers 🙂

  4. I have to admit that now with all our kids out on their own, we have gotten a lot more lax about meal planning. When we ( I should say I) do take the time to decide our dinners for the week ahead, we definitely eat healthier and actually even tastier food. I love how you remind us to give ourselves a break and if we can’t plan out the whole week, start with 2 or 3 days and take if from there. I am going to try your soup recipe this weekend!

  5. Great tips. I used to plan a meal when I was a full-time housewife and my child was still small. Now, I just cook without any planning and cook whatever I have in the fridge. Thanks for sharing your blog.

    1. I’m sure all that meal planning has given you a lot of skills and insight that you continue to use, even today, Thelma. You are a creative and enthusiastic cook. I always love to read your food posts!

  6. You have some great pointers here. Thanks.
    I have a different way to look at meal planning though! I have a rough idea in my head as to what I will be making the following week after considering what my kids enjoy most. This does not always (often not) go according to plan as I land up buying random stuff when I see anything new/interesting in the Supermarket and something new for the family to try.

    It just tickles my culinary creation, makes kids more adventurous eaters and if its not something you like then at least you tried it once!

    That changes my meal planning so I simply looking look what I have in the fridge and make do with what I have, which also leads to less wastage.

    1. I definitely agree that we should try new foods, especially when we’re preparing meals for kids. I try to plan a little before I shop, and I adapt after the groceries are bought. Or I just plan for a few days at a time.

      No matter how you prefer to plan your meals, eating foods from the fridge & pantry helps to cut down on food waste.

  7. My family has been doing meal plans for almost a month now and I’m so happy we’ve started. It definitely have saved a lot of time and money. And it’s fun thinking of what to eat for this week.

  8. I am all for anything that saves me money and is healthy too. I love the soup recipe that you included. I started during the weaning process for my daughter. I need to actually start it for myself. I usually just prep some stuff the night before for work that is the extent of my meal planning lol .

    1. Meal planning can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be, Tachira. We go back and forth between just planning a few days at a time, and planning & prepping food for up to two weeks in one shot. I go with our food budget, what’s available in the stores and at the farmers market, and how much time I can devote to cooking or advance meal prep.

  9. I don’t do meal planning coz even i want to, it doesn’t fit to my current lifestyle. However, food leftovers are a huge no no for me.

    1. There is always a way to do some meal planning, Blair! If it just means planning one meal a week that you’ll eat at home instead of getting take-out, then do that. If it means prepping a few days worth of cut fruits and vegetables that you can grab on the go for work snacks, or to use in your morning smoothie, that’s great too. People think you have to commit to planning and prepping a whole month’s meals at once. But you don’t. If you want to meal prep, you can find a way to fit it into any lifestyle 🙂

  10. I like your statement that the husband and kids can cook. That doesn’t work for me. They could but it’s too much work. I like to meal plan not for the saving money and utilizing food on hand but I like looking up new recipes.

    1. I love checking out all the great recipes too, Rose! And remember, if you make up a crockpot meal that the kids or hubby can just dump into the slow cooker and turn on, they can cook a whole meal with no fuss. Try getting them to make a soup. These are often the easiest of crockpot recipes.

  11. This is a great idea, i have to admit that I too often throw out food so I really need to take the advice on board as it does pain me to waste!

    1. A lot of people just throw out the leftovers. I know my mother used to do that until a few years ago. She had been so used to cooking meals that were precisely portioned, that when she started to cook food that she & Dad couldn’t eat in one sitting, the rest of the food often went to waste. It took some convincing, but now she’s using up her leftovers 🙂

  12. Meal planning is such a smart idea. I like the idea of setting things up so that teens can cook. It’s great to make cooking a total family affair. I wasn’t encouraged to cook as a kid, and I think it would have been a valuable experience.

    1. My mother did all the cooking when we were kids, too. I was allowed to cook very occasionally but never to prepare the meals Mom had planned for us. I really wish she had taught me things like how to cook a roast or a whole chicken. When I left home, I had to learn all of that on my own.

  13. I literally just bought some containers and have been thinking of embarking on the journey of meal planning for both my fitness journey and financial saving! So this was major confirmation for me. Thank you for giving such great points and ideas!

    1. When it’s time to make a change in our lives, I believe that we’ll find the inspiration and support we need to do it. Glad I was able to encourage you on your journey, Brittney! Come back and let me know how the meal planning is going 🙂

  14. We want to try it with my husband. The main reason is that we want to save a money but every time we go for shopping we buy things we don’t need so we need to start planning

    1. It’s best to make your grocery list before you go to the store. Consult the current specials, plan your menu around seasonal foods and ingredients that are on special. Check your pantry for ingredients before you write up the list, to be sure you really need them. When you shop, allot a small portion of your budget for buying items you hadn’t put on the list. But otherwise, stick to it as much as possible. It gets easier with practice 🙂

  15. I love to plan my meals! some call me a control freak but I don’t think I am. I just love to have that prepare feeling and not be withering about what to cook. Love some of these recommendations!

  16. I have to admit that I prepare a list for grocery shopping but I do not plan the meals in advance. On workdays my husband and I eat lunch at restaurants close to our offices and dinner is usually light. But I love to cook healthy meals on weekends. Your chicken soup recipe looks like what my mother used to cook from time to time. Have not prepared it in ages and now in winter is a great idea.

    1. Eating a bigger meal in the middle of the day is actually very healthy. So it’s great that you eat a bigger lunch and light supper. But have you considered planning even just one of your work lunches ahead of time? You could prepare a large supper on the weekend and use leftovers from that meal to create a packed lunch for Monday. This can save you time on a busy work day. And cutting out even one restaurant meal a week will save you money in the long run 🙂

  17. I tried meal planning and it does save you a lot of money. I can’t remember why I gave up on it, but I definitely have to bring it back in my routine.

    1. Meal planning does require a certain discipline, especially if you’re planning for a week, two weeks, or longer. And it can mean a significant investment in groceries at the beginning when you are prepping your freezer meals. But it really does save both time and money later 🙂

  18. I do cook big meals and we eat leftovers at least twice. I also take the leftovers to work for my lunches. Nothing goes to waste.
    But I am not a plan ahead-er. When I go to the grocery store I buy the meats that are on sale. Then when its time to cook, I choose from what is available in our freezer. It works for me.
    🙂 gwingal
    Nikki Gwin recently posted…How to Style Open ShelvesMy Profile

    1. I’m glad you found the information helpful, Andrea! Even with a big family to feed (there are six of us) we often have leftovers. So I know it can be challenging to find ways to use them up and prevent food waste 🙂

  19. First of all, I really like your chicken soup recipe above and will try it out ~ great idea for eliminating waste and reusing left overs. I have honestly tried meal prep on the weekends but it takes up my whole weekend making meals a head of time. What I do and it works for me is plan ahead 2 days which is working just fine for now. You do have excellent suggestions and really a worthy post full of great suggestions/ideas.

    1. We often just plan for 2-3 days at a time. And honestly, if you cook larger cuts of meat or double up on roast chickens, there’s not a lot of extra effort involved in meal planning. I just chop a few extra vegetables when I cook one meal, and tuck them away in a freezer bag until they’re needed. If the meat is already cooked, so much the better!

      Also keep in mind, you can write up a menu plan for 1-2 weeks and not prep all those meals at once. Just write up your grocery list and shop for your ingredients. As you prepare one supper, just think ahead a day or two. If you’re cooking carrots tonight, ask yourself if you’ll need carrots for tomorrow’s meal, or the next night’s. Or maybe you like to have cut veggies in the fridge for snacks and packed lunches. If so, cut up a few extra carrots for that. Do the same for each ingredient you need to prep for the current night’s meal, and you’ll have at least some of the meal prep done for the next few days 🙂

  20. I have some cooked chicken in the freezer. It’s been there awhile so I hope it’s still good. It will make a great soup with the carrots, onion, potatoes, celery, and peas that my daughter gave me!

    p.s. Please link up with me 🙂

    1. Chicken in the freezer is apparently safe almost indefinitely. But for the best flavour it should be used within 9-12 months. Let me know if you try the recipe!

      I found your blog on Bloglovin and followed it, but had trouble finding your profile there. Can you send me your link on Facebook?

  21. I was a meal planner for many years while I had 5 at home to cook for. It began when my kids were in high school and grade school and I discovered that there was a period of time when all 3 would come into the kitchen while I was beginning dinner (one at a time) and say “what’s for dinner?” So I began not only to ‘plan’ out a week’s worth of meals, but to POST the list on the refrigerator to avoid the constant ‘asking’. LOL. All they had to do was check the list! 🙂

    It also made it very easy to make up the grocery shopping list. So I fully agree that meal planning is both helpful and needed. Good ideas, Kyla.

    1. My kids used to do that, too! They’ve pretty much stopped now that I involve them in the shopping and the cooking. The younger ones don’t take too much interest in the meal planning, but they’re helping now with writing up the grocery list. And my oldest is my meal planning buddy. Whether we’re writing up a menu for two weeks, or just planning day to day, my oldest daughter is a huge help. We make ,ost of the food decisions together these days 🙂

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