When I moved out on my own for the first time after high school, I had to figure out meal planning on a shoestring budget. I initially started by going to the store and buying what looked good at the time. The problem with this strategy was I would often forget what was in the refrigerator and I never knew what to cook.

Half the battle with dinner was trying to figure out how to make a complete meal with what I had in the fridge. After a few months of wasting so much food because I forgot what I bought until it spoiled. I decided to come up with a simple way to eliminate food waste and have a plan before dinner hit. I began creating meal cards for the meals I liked.

Each card has the title of the meal and the ingredients needed to make the meal. Once I had my small stack started, I would add to it when I found new recipes I liked. These cards have been a dinner lifesaver through the years and they’ve grown quite a bit. Each week I pick out 6 cards, create an ingredient list for those 6 meals and then shop for those ingredients.

I list the meals on my dry erase planner and chose one meal each night. The order always depends on what is happening that day. I do six cards because the seventh day is usually a left over day where we eat what is left before I shop again. As I make the list each Sunday night, I go through the cupboards and take inventory, restock what I don’t have and create a list for the next week’s meals from the cards.

Once the shopping is done, I clean all of the fruits and vegetables, dry them and then put them back in the refrigerator for easy prep and healthy, quick snacks. This simple meal planning has saved money and time.